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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Che



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#1 of 9 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 13 2010 - 02:01 PM

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Che (Blu-ray)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Studio: Criterion
Year: 2008
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1/1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 271 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Spanish/English
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $ 49.95

Release Date: January 19, 2010
Review Date: January 13, 2010
 
 
The Film
3/5
 
Steven Soderbergh’s fascinatingly splintered biography of revolutionary freedom fighter Ernesto Guevara makes Che an intriguing if somewhat problematic experience. Spanning parts of his life from a young adult in Mexico City meeting Fidel Castro for the first time in 1955 and getting swept up in his movement in Cuba through his last campaign in Bolivia before being captured, Che was originally intended to be two separate films, filmed in different styles and with very different tones. Put together now into one very long film, both halves contain moments of interest, but on the whole the first part is much more involving than the second. And director Soderbergh never really does penetrate that outer shell of enigma to help us understand what passions drove the man so vehemently.
 
Ernesto Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) was a doctor, writer, diplomat, and intellectual, but his iconic status internationally was earned as a passionate fighter for the rights of the common man in countries where dictatorships robbed people of their basic rights and freedoms. Raised to the rank of commandant during the Cuban revolution assisting Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir) in his efforts to oust the corrupt dictator General Fulgencio Batista and his forces from power, Guevara serves as a kind of Castro troubadour after their victory showing up during the next five years as an important mouthpiece for revolutionaries. His interest, however, is not about settling into a cushy life in Cuba as his contemporaries did rather but in assisting other Latin American trouble spots with overcoming their own dictatorial regimes. He settles on Bolivia and ousting its corrupt President René Barrientos (Joaquim de Almeida), but he finds that once there, the peasantry, who were so anxious in Cuba to overthrow those in power, are not at all sold on outsiders coming into their country to cause civil war.
 
The title character’s rise (Part I) and fall (Part II) couldn’t be handled more differently by screenwriter Peter Buchman (original script of part two by Benjamin van der Veen) and director Steven Soderbergh. Part I features a non-linear narrative with action jumping back and forth between the Cuban revolutionary expedition of 1957-58 and Guevara’s fiery and defiant appearance in the United States at the United Nations in 1964. There is momentum in the storytelling as the guerrilla fighters gain confidence and added recruits as they cross the country from east to west to bring down Batista climaxing in a wonderfully staged battle royal in Santa Clara when the rebels finally surround the Cuban army and make them surrender. The second half, covering the hideously disastrous eleven and a half month expedition to fashion a similar coup d'état in Bolivia, starts slowly and goes downhill from there with desultory handling by writer and director in making Che’s downfall something truly moribund. The first part was photographed using the RED high definition camera with anamorphic lenses to achieve a widescreen splendor that’s great for the epic storytelling; the second half, recorded with the same high definition camera using spherical lenses, reduces the scope of the storytelling and brings the abject failure of the operation just that much closer in the home viewers’ faces making the overlong second half truly a stultifying experience. The writer and director have fashioned an impressive way to introduce both halves of the movie: we’re given a brief, wordless geography lesson, first of Cuba and later of Bolivia (and all of South America) so that the audience who is ignorant of the locales can get some idea of the locations that play such important roles in the stories to come. But Part II of Che’s story should have been reduced by at least half an hour.
 
As the enigmatic Che, Benicio Del Toro shows quite a few sides to the character as we see glimmers of his passion, his charm, his gentility, and his fire. These moments, however, are doled out rather meagerly by the actor over the course of four-plus hours and never quite manage to combine into making the wondrously charismatic force that Che was rumored to be. (Regardless, the actor still won Best Actor at Cannes.) Almost all of the other characters in this film are more like cameo appearances since the focus is, as it should be, on the title character. Demian Bichir’s Fidel Castro captures some of the look and vocal timbre of the rebel leader while Santiago Cabrera is ingratiating as Che’s close friend and fellow commandant. Catalina Sandino Moreno appears in a few scenes as Che’s assistant Aleida who later becomes his wife in Part II. In the second film, Joaquim de Almeida makes an outwardly calm, inwardly frightened Bolivian president while Lou Diamond Phillips as Communist minister Mario Monje makes a couple of scenes really count. Look quickly and you might spy Matt Damon and Julia Ormand popping in for quick but minor little moments.
 
 
Video Quality
4/5
 
Because they were filmed with the RED high definition camera using differing lenses, the looks of the two films are very different though both are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The 2.39:1 first half features bold colors and erratic sharpness though there is some smearing in some of the long shots. The camera’s anamorphic lenses don’t appear to have a very deep field of focus, so oftentimes important characters in different places in the frame are a bit out of focus due to that. Darker scenes also seem to lose the clarity and dimension that the brighter scenes possess. The 1.78:1 second half as captured in high definition video, is grain free and more consistently sharp but with undersaturated color (likely to mirror the film’s sullen tone). As most of the film is spoken in Spanish, the white English subtitles are very easy to read but often go by very rapidly. The film’s first half has been divided into 42 chapters while the second half contains 44 chapters.
 
 
Audio Quality
4.5/5
 
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix makes excellent use of the surround channels to capture the revolutionary sounds of battle with directionalized effects occupying all available channels and the LFE channel being quite active when grenades are thrown and bazookas are fired. Alberto Iglesias’s score is also spare but well threaded throughout the front and rear soundfield offering sometimes a lush, enveloping aura that aids greatly in the storytelling.
 
 
Special Features
4/5
 
Each half of the film contains an audio commentary by Guevara biographer Jon Lee Anderson. It’s a masterful four hours of discussion of the man and his life filling in many informational holes left by the sketchy screenplay. If you have any interest at all in the subject, you’ll definitely want to hear this informative, heartfelt tribute to the man and his cause, and he spares no words in criticizing aspects of Che which he feels do not do the man justice.
 
Each disc in the two disc set contains a half of the movie and some bonus features. All are in 1080p usless otherwise noted.
 
 
Disc One
 
“Making Che is a comprehensive 49 ¾-minute documentary detailing the pre-production, actual filming, and post production work done on this epic film. Producer Laura Bickford, director Steven Soderbergh, star Benicio Del Toro, and writers Benjamin van der Veen and Peter Buchman all relate their experiences on making the story of the revolutionary come to life.
 
There are ten deleted scenes for Part I of the film. The scenes can be watched individually or in one 15 ½-minute group.
 
The film’s theatrical trailer is contained on disc one of this three disc set. It runs for 2 ½ minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen.
 
Disc Two
 
Part II contains four deleted scenes which can be watched together in a 5 ½-minute outing or separately.
 
 
“End of a Revolution” is Brian Moser’s 1968 documentary filmed some three weeks after the death of Che Guevara in which Bolivian officials, ordinary countrymen, and the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia comment on his work and the condition of the country. Presented in 4:3 black and white and in pretty rough shape, this illuminating documentary runs 25 ¾ minutes and is presented in 1080i.
 
“Interviews from Cuba” features a series of interviews conducted by producer Laura Bickford and star Benicio Del Toro in Cuba with actual participants in the revolution and some historians who discuss its long-range effect on Cuba’s history at the time and after the fact. These 1080i interviews are mostly in Spanish with English subtitles. The participants’ interviews last 23 ¼ minutes while the historians speak for 12 minutes.
 
Che and the Digital Camera Revolution” is an interesting discussion by Steven Soderbergh and his camera crew discussing the groundbreaking use of the RED digital camera for shooting this film. The discussion lasts 33 ¼ minutes .
 
The enclosed 21-page booklet is housed in disc one and contains cast and crew lists for both parts of the film, some stills from the movie, and an appreciation for the picture by critic Amy Taubin.
 
Also in the disc two package is a reduced sized poster for the film.
 
Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
 
 
In Conclusion
3.5/5 (not an average)
 
Che brings a new look and tone to the historical epic biography. Though uneven in its ultimate success of burrowing beneath the patriot to find the man, this Blu-ray presentation is overall a fine one which will undoubtedly bring the film some of the recognition it was denied at the international box-office.
 
 
 
Matt Hough
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#2 of 9 OFFLINE   Russell G

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Posted January 14 2010 - 04:37 AM

Well done review.  I have this one on pre-order, and look forward to watching it.  Soderberg is a bit hit and miss with me when it comes to the movies.  My main attraction to this is I know next to nothing about Che, and watching the movie is more appealing then reading a book.  Nice to hear the Blu is at least quality even if the movie is a bit iffy.


#3 of 9 OFFLINE   john a hunter

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Posted January 14 2010 - 06:24 AM

I am not an expert on the new RED digital  cameras( or any others ) but surely they would not be using anamorphic lenses to get the Scope format. Wouldn't they just adjust the camera accordingly?

#4 of 9 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted January 14 2010 - 08:23 AM

Not if they wanted to maintain the full resolution of the camera. To get a 2.39:1 A/R, they would only need to use a 33% anamorphic lens, as opposed to Panavision's 2:1 lenses which are used for anamorphic film projects. Any sort of matting would result in reduced resolution for the Scope portion of the film.
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#5 of 9 OFFLINE   john a hunter

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Posted January 14 2010 - 11:48 AM

I quick search seems to show that digital cameras record 1.78:1 and then crop to Scope and no anamorphic lenses are used
Certainly Avatar seems to be shot that way .  Any  experts around?

#6 of 9 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 14 2010 - 02:24 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by john a hunter View Post

I quick search seems to show that digital cameras record 1.78:1 and then crop to Scope and no anamorphic lenses are used
Certainly Avatar seems to be shot that way .  Any  experts around?
There are two bonus features with this set in which director Steven Soderbergh discusses the use of anamorphic lenses with this camera in filming Part I of the movie (which was actually filmed after Part II). I got my information for the review from the discussions in the bonus features. Since he served as the cameraman for his film, I'm going to assume that he knows what he used.



#7 of 9 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted January 14 2010 - 02:57 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Russell G 

Well done review.  I have this one on pre-order, and look forward to watching it.  Soderberg is a bit hit and miss with me when it comes to the movies.  My main attraction to this is I know next to nothing about Che, and watching the movie is more appealing then reading a book. 
Too bad you don't really learn anything from the movie.  The commentary's very informative, but the movie itself gives us a poor sense of Guevara and his life.  Dull, dull, DULL movie! /img/vbsmilies/htf/frown.gif


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#8 of 9 ONLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted January 14 2010 - 04:06 PM

I could have sworn that I read that some parts of this were filmed on film in Super-16 with anamorphic lenses.  I don't think anamorphic lenses were used for any of the RED-shot material.

Vincent


#9 of 9 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted January 14 2010 - 06:15 PM

[Blu-ray Reviews] My understanding is that build 21 of the Red One allows shooting 2.35:1 using the full sensor. I'm not sure exactly how this is done. However even if it were cropped, the Red shoots at 4k. Most digital intermediary work is done at 2k, giving the Red a resolution advantage over most of what you see in the theaters today, even if it were cropped.

I believe the anamorphic lenses referred to in part one are on the 35mm Panavision cameras used in that segment. Part one was shot on 35mm anamorphic, Super 16 and on the Red One.

Doug



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