Apologies for having been AWOL for the last few days. Nothing mysterious to report, simply had a bunch of other stuff to do that totally consumed my attentions. In the meantime Cannes has been ticking along with Clint Eastwood's latest Changeling (or The Exchange or whatever it's called today) winning some good notices, and a rave from Variety's Todd McCarthy. The big event last night, other than the Champions League Final, was the unveiling of Soderbergh's monumental epic which has certainly split the critics into those who are proclaiming it a work of genius and those who say it's a mess, so much so that a debate is raging as to whether this version of the film will ever be shown again. Anne Thompson proclaimed it a noble failure; Todd McCarthy was less kind, writing: "No doubt it will be back to the drawings board for Che, Steven Soderbergh’s intricately ambitious, defiantly nondramatic four-hour, 18-minute presentation of scenes from the life of revolutionary icon Che Guevara. If the director has gone out of his way to avoid the usual Hollywood biopic conventions, he has also withheld any suggestion of why the charismatic doctor, fighter, diplomat, diarist and intellectual theorist became and remains such a legendary figure; if anything, Che seems diminished by the way he’s portrayed here. the pic in its current form is a commercial impossibility, except on television or DVD." Jeff Wells, on the other hand, was blown away. "I know I predicted this based on a reading of Peter Buchman's script, but the first half of Steven Soderbergh's 268-minute Che Guevara epic is, for me, incandescent — a piece of full-on, you-are-there realism about the making of the Cuban revolution that I found utterly believable. Not just 'take it to the bank' gripping, but levitational — for someone like myself it's a kind of perfect dream movie. It's also politically vibrant and searing — tells the 'Che truth,' doesn't mince words, doesn't give you any 'movie moments' (and God bless it for that). It's what I'd hoped for all along and more. The second half of Che, also known as Guerilla, just got out about a half-hour ago, and equally delighted although it's a different kind of film — tighter, darker (naturally, given the story). But I've been arguing with some colleagues who don't like either film at all, or don't think it's commercial. Glenn Kenny and Kim Voynar feel as I do, but Anne Thompson is on the other side of the Grand Canyon. Peter Howell is in the enemy camp also."
Meanwhile, matt j's been trekking up and down the Croisette for the best part of a week now. Here are a couple more of his reviews:
A contemporary mafia movie done the Italian way. Matteo Garrone's multi-stranded mob pic switches between four young boys and two middle-aged men on the fringes of the mob and their resistance or attraction to the criminal life. Based on the infamous Neapolitan Camorra families who exert a stranglehold on not only Italian interests but worldwide too, this is more an Italian Goodfellas than another Godfather, as it traces the mis/fortunes of the lower ranks — foot soldiers, money runners, teenage wannabes, and crooked toxic waste disposal contractors. The myriad strands and characters and their relationship to each other is often difficult to keep track of but fans of Roberto Saviano's source novel will no doubt get more out of it.
Johnny Mad Dog
A 'platoon' of young soldier kids roam the Liberian countryside killing, raping and terrorizing villagers before besieging an unnamed city. The brutality of their atrocities is outweighed by their apathy an callousness. Their adult general has brainwashed them to think of their guns as their parents and any sign of parental longing results in execution. They have been stripped of their childhoods and their humanity allowing them to act without empathy or guilt. The camera-work is frenetic and intense, the soundtrack blisteringly loud, the young cast totally convincing. This year's City of God.