Movie Reviews

Che: Parts One and Two
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Review by Tony Sheppard
History, it is said, is written by the winners. But perhaps that’s an over-complication: It’s written by whoever writes histories, from their own perspective. Japanese textbooks probably don’t look like ours when it comes to WW II. Whether George Washington a hero in a noble and justified War of Independence, or was Benedict Arnold a tragic hero in a traitorous Revolutionary War in the Colonies, probably depends on if you grew up in the US or the UK. In the US South, you still hear about the War of Northern Aggression.

I’m no historian and certainly not an expert in the life of Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara. So I can’t comment directly on where the accuracy lies or who might or might not approve of this account. But it feels like a fairly non-partisan depiction, as though the audience got to tag along with the man and the action that surrounded him. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you do get the impression that he was a true believer, not a partisan hack or an opportunist. The film is epic in proportion, two parts running a total of 4h 17m (plus an intermission). The toughest aspect of this isn’t so much the sheer length but the relaxed pacing that makes it seem, if anything, even longer.

The first film tells the story of the Cuban Revolution, from dinner table plotting to addresses at the UN years after the fact. It is interestingly non-linear, as it jumps from later speeches and appearances, to and from the jungles and mountains of Cuba. If there’s a hero or a tactical genius depicted here, it’s Fidel Castro, who is seen calling most of the shots with Che (Benicio del Toro) following those instructions (something that is missing in the later Bolivian campaign). But it also demonstrates the concept of an insurgency that has the hearts and minds of an oppressed people behind it.

Watching the two halves back-to-back is interesting. It doesn’t just compare and contrast the events, but it also demonstrates what we are often told about Iraq and Afghanistan – that the same tactics won’t necessarily work in different places with different people. In the second film, we see Che as he attempts to repeat the success of the Cuban experience in Bolivia. This is a very different account, entirely linear in presentation, with as different in outcome as is possible. Here we see the insurgency failing among a people who have no reason to trust either side–with peasants who are unimpressed with money, for example, because they have nowhere to spend it, and with a counter-insurgency that’s playing from the insurgent’s handbook.

While slow, the overall effect is also compelling, and one gets an impression of the hardships, victories, and losses that would be lost in a lesser telling. And the two halves play somewhat successfully independently of each other, especially the first as a stand-alone telling of the Cuban chapter. If you have an interest in this subject and you get a chance to catch this before it disappears, I would recommend seeing at least Part I. It’s another powerful and significant collaboration between Soderbergh and Del Toro, who both won Oscars for “Traffic” in 2000.

17 Again
Directed by Burr Steers

Review by Katie Monson
In high school, Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) has it all: he’s the popular star of the basketball team, and is about to get a college scholarship. Just before the big game, Mike finds out his girlfriend, Scarlett (Allison Miller), is pregnant. He decides to give up college and settle down. Twenty years later, Mike (Matthew Perry) is unhappy with his life. His marriage to Scarlett (Leslie Mann) is falling apart; he is living with his best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon); his relationship with his children is nonexistent; and he is passed over for a promotion at work. While visiting his old high school, he reminisces with a janitor about his glory days. Later, he sees the janitor about to jump to his death, but when Mike gets to where he sees the janitor last, the janitor has disappeared. While looking for the man he falls into a magical whirlpool that turns him into his 17 year-old self.

Mike finds that being “17 Again” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. His children are suffering. Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) is dating the star of the basketball team, who is torturing her younger brother, Alex (Sterling Knight). Mike makes it his mission to help his kids. He realizes through all of this that he had the perfect life, and now he has to try and find a way to get it back.

Normally Zac Efron is not one of my favorite actors, but in “17 Again” he is charming and likable. Unfortunately, Matthew Perry has very little screen time, and in most of it he is sullen and grumpy. Some of the best parts of this movie are the scenes in which Ned is pursuing the principal of the high school, and when they finally go on a date, it is priceless.

“17 Again” is aimed mostly at kids and young teens, but there are some good moments for adults, and I found myself laughing a lot throughout the movie. You’ll find yourself remembering the “good ol’ days” whether they were good or not.

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