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Che (Blu-Ray)





(OUT OF 10)

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Benicio del Toro owns the role of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in director Steven Soderbergh's epic two-part biopic. The film is split into two discs, with a combined running time of 271 minutes, so be prepared for a lot of movie.

Che originally screened at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where del Toro won a much-deserved Best Actor award. Che was later split into two parts, and neither received a large-scale release. While that's a shame—Del Toro's work is remarkable—Criterion has remedied that problem with an exemplary Blu-Ray release.

Part I (also known as The Argentine) chronicles Che and Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution, leading up to the ousting of Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship. Soderbergh and del Toro aim for intense realism, shooting the pic on hi-def video and refusing to shy away from the tedium of guerilla warfare. Yes, there are fights, but there are also long sequences of Che trudging through the jungle, trying to cope with severe asthma bouts and pestering his soldiers about their inability to read and write.

The first film ends with Che's victory in Cuba, while the second film picks up years later during his failed campaign in Bolivia. Had Soderbergh decided to cover such little occurrences as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis (in which Guevara had a key part), this film would've probably clocked in at seven hours. Soderbergh did manage to get permission to film at the United Nations, and Che's 1964 visit to New York City is depicted, out of chronological order, in Part I.

The film was in production for many years (Terrence Malick was originally attached as director), and Soderbergh's crew devoted a lot of time to it. That is very evident in the finished product, one of the more accomplished biopics I've ever seen. While a four-hour-plus viewing experience isn't everybody's idea of a good time, I didn't get the impression that the film was bloated or overlong. Quite the contrary; I could watch filmmaking like this for days.

The films are mostly in Spanish (with some moments of English, especially during an American television interview). Some famous faces have small parts in the epic, including Franka Potente, Lou Diamond Phillips and Matt Damon in a brief appearance.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, provides a commentary, while Soderbergh offers commentary on some deleted scenes. Disc 1 contains an excellent making-of documentary, with participation from Soderbergh and del Toro. End of a Revolution is a short archive documentary containing graphic footage of Che after his death in Bolivia; you'll also find some recent interviews with people who participated in the Cuban revolution.

A Serious Man (Blu-Ray)





(OUT OF 10)

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Surprise, surprise ... the Coen brothers have made yet another masterpiece. This is just getting silly; they seemingly can do no wrong.

This time out, they are working from their script about Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a college professor trying to cope with cataclysmic life changes in the late '60s. His wife is leaving him; his brother (Richard Kind) is weird and won't go away; and his rabbis aren't helping. The Coens manage a great dark comedy about a put-upon man while brilliantly exploring the wonders of their Jewish heritage.

The stuff that we Coen fans have come to love is all here; these guys just can't seem to let a single sub-par frame of film go by. Stuhlbarg delivered one of last year's best performances, and the Coens have officially continued their streak of no bad films. Seriously: All of their films are good. It's remarkable.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Some decent featurettes about the Coens' creative process, the creation of the sets in an effort to capture 1967, and Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys, which details the mysteries of the Hebrew and Yiddish languages.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Blu-Ray)





(OUT OF 10)

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I didn't like Terry Gilliam's take on Hunter S. Thompson's infamous book when I first saw it, but over the years, the movie has grown on me, and now I kind of like it. I guess I just had to get used to the sights and sounds of Benicio del Toro's Dr. Gonzo vomiting a lot.

Johnny Depp was not yet a megastar when he put the old cigarette holder in his mouth and did his best Hunter impersonation. I found him tiresome at first, but re-watching it years later, Depp is pretty hilarious. Gilliam went nuts with this movie, though, and I still see it as the start of his decline as a coherent moviemaker.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This version regrettably does not retain all of the great special features from the years-ago Criterion Collection release. You only get a small featurette and some deleted scenes.

More by Bob Grimm


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