EL CHEEEEEEHHHHHHHH


That’s the program you receive when you buy a ticket to see the roadshow version of Che, or as I like to call it, EL CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHH. I don’t know why, but I keep saying it in a kinda sorta low guttural whisper. No joke. I’ve been doing this for the past week or so, whenever it comes up in my mind. I was thisclose to asking the lady at the ticket booth “I’d like one for EL CHEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHH”. Inside the program is the cast & crew credits for the production, along with black & white pics of scenes from the movie. They do this because this version of Che doesn’t come with credits. No opening credits and no closing credits. Hell, the theater doesn’t even play trailers beforehand. This is because the roadshow version of Che is nearly five hours long.

I went to see it at the Nuart, which while being in West L.A., is still L.A., and is becoming more like it with each passing day. It’s been nearly seven months since my last visit and the changes are obvious — most of the free parking is now gone. The wonderful, wonderful side streets are now soiled with ugly piece-of-shit parking meters ($1 per hour, two hour limit). The free parking lot is now a pay lot. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! I need! I need! I need! says the city. Ugly white compact cars with “Parking Enforcement” on the side now roam the formerly peaceful streets, like roving jeeps of Nazis looking for Jews, only instead of Jews, they hunt poor schmucks who are five minutes late or simply misread the parking sign. LET MY PEOPLE GO!

I buy my ticket and wait in line. Some of my fellow young raza stand next to me, talking about the movie and calling their other friends on a cell to join them. My favorite overheard moment was one of them wondering why this was playing in West L.A. and not “you know…on our side?”. A pleasant-looking lady who appeared to be in her early sixties came up and asked us where we parked, because she wants to make sure she parks her car at the right place and not some part of the water where those goddamn sharks can go into a feeding frenzy because she parked too close to a three-foot-tall turd made out of metal and plastic with a large red blinking EXPIRED flashing from it. We told her where we parked, she thanked us and asked us to wish her luck, then went on her way.

Inside the lobby before the movie, the lady comes up to me again. She tells me that she found a spot, and then asks me if I would walk her back to her car after the movie, since it will be dark by then. I guess because I have a dick (tiny as it is), that qualifies me to be her bulletproof vest/knifeproof vest/rape shield for the evening. I say yes and tell her to meet me at the lobby afterwards. She thanks me and goes on her way.

The movie begins with a map of Cuba, the names of different sections of the island slowly fading in and out while a serious DUN DUN DUN & slow motion strings orchestra plays in the background. This both serves as a geography lesson for all of us great unwashed, and as an old-school overture just like in the epic movies of the good old days. The first thirty minutes or so are just random cuts to different times with different styles; 1954, 1964, 1958, black & white, color, television interview. Look at me, ma! I can do EVERYTHING! Eventually they calm down with that shit.

If you watch this movie wanting to know more about Che the man, you ain’t getting shit. Well, you get a little, but in the context of a 5 hour experience, a little ain’t shit. This kinda reminded me of the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon. You get the dude’s greatest hits, but you still don’t know shit about what made homebody tick. That was bad fucking news for Man on the Moon, because what was the point of reenacting shit you could watch on YouTube for real if you can’t at least give them some inside shit? All I learned from that flick was that Jerry Lawler and Kaufman’s rivalry was shtick and that having Cancer really fucking sucks. That’s it.

All you get from Che is that he is incapable of smiling and very capable at guerrilla warfare. But at least with the movie you get to see cinematic recreations of motherfuckers getting shot and blown up and pissing their pants. You get to see Che ask some dude if he did his math homework, and when the guy whines that he’s too tired, Che gives him the fuckin’ evil “I’m not gonna say it again” look which scares him into taking his pencil and notebook out. You get to see Che deny a condemned man his last confession, simply because the priest was late. You get to see Che give his troops the opportunity to quit halfway through the journey, and when three or four decide to, he calls them “faggot” and “pansy”! Go, Che, Go!

What little I got about the man, I actually got from watching The Motorcycle Diaries earlier that day. I do that kind of nerdy shit, I have to admit, but I always wanted to watch it. God forbid I actually pick up a book or something. But I would recommend those who want take the Che trip to do the same. It actually works as Che Zero, the prequel and makes for some interesting contrasts when you watch the other flicks. Or you could read a book about the dude, if you want to be like that.

What you don’t get from Che the man, you will get from Benicio Del Toro the actor, who I definitely think should get a Best Actor nod for his performance. He won’t win though, because he isn’t ACTING like most Oscar bait performances. His mistake is that he actually becomes Che, or at least, I really did forget I was watching Benicio Del Toro. You hear that shit a lot; “he disappeared into the role” or “I forgot I was watching an actor playing a role”, real well-educated faggy critic shit like that. But I’m not joking or hyperboling or any of that when I say I honestly forgot Del Toro was playing this part. He’s not acting, he’s just being. It sucks that he won’t win because if anything, he deserves it way more for Che than for his performance in Traffic. It’s hard to find an Oscar clip moment in the entire film, because it’s not that kind of party. Che is too internal a dude for that, he doesn’t cry and he doesn’t really yell or smash stuff up because his chick left him or his baby was born retarded or because he’s really a whore with AIDS which overall means no opportunity to YELL AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS HOO-HA IF I WERE THE MAN I WAS FIVE YEARS AGO I’D TAKE A FLAMETHROWER TO THIS PLACE! And that unfortunately means No Oscar for You, Benny. Sorry.

The first half of the movie is mostly battle scenes, which is cool because it keeps you awake. It plays like a hybrid of Hollywood crowd-pleasing spectacle and Sundance entertainment-be-damned approach. The director is Steven Soderbergh, and it’s almost like the Soderbergh who made Ocean’s Eleven and Erin Brockovich was in a wrestling match with the Soderbergh who made Sex, Lies and Videotape and The Limey. The Soderbergh who made Schizopolis and Full Frontal is busy jerking off all over himself in the corner, as usual. If I was a real douchebag, and I am, I would call this “a thinking man’s action movie”, because that’s what it feels like.

So the first half ends as Che and company have just finished kicking some ass, and are now on the way to La Habana. He rides in a jeep with his new chick, Aleida and everything closes out all sunny and Hollywood. I’d say this was good, but not great. If you come from a “Che was God” or “Che was the Devil” standpoint, your mileage may vary.

Intermission was supposed to be 15 minutes, but went closer to 20. But I’m sure nobody had problems with more leg-stretching time.

The second half begins, again with another geography lesson/overture (of South America) and immediately you can see the difference visually; it isn’t widescreen and epic-looking like the first half, and the colors are muted and washed-out while the first part’s palette was sunny and colorful. This half actually feels more like a Soderbergh movie.

Unfortunately, it’s a sucky Soderbergh movie. Whereas the first half is about Che’s rise and triumph, the second is about his shitty follow-up attempt that lead to his downfall. This could be said for the film as well: a shitty follow-up that leads to the overall downfall of the roadshow experience.

So Cuba is now Fidel Happy Land and all is good if you don’t like money or freedom or having your own shit. But Che’s not so satisfied. He wants to go to South America and do it all over again. Get some hungry boys and girls who have had enough of the bullshit over there and get into some of that good ol’ guerrilla warfare, baby. WOLVERINES! Fidel’s like “Dude, don’t you remember what happened in the fucking Congo? I’m not the one who came back shitting myself and hacking up a lung. Whatever dude, I’ll be up here in the meantime enjoying my lunches and my cigars at El Paraiso, so good luck bro”, and off Che goes.

It doesn’t go well at all. Most of the dudes who he hooks up with are fucking laggers and naggers, never giving a hundred-percent and always whining about wanting food or “why do I have to do this, I wanna do this instead” and you as an audience member just want to yell “Just what fucking part of ‘you will go without food and it will be tough’ did you not fucking understand at the beginning, motherfucker? GOD!”. But you keep quiet, in case some dude is sitting behind you with a .38 in his sweatpants. Those types ALWAYS wear sweatpants.

Che and the boys need food, and try buying it off the dirt-poor peasants. These poor farmers don’t have much, and what they have they fucking NEED. Still, the revolutionaries try to buy the last chicken and way too young sucklings from them. The farmers take the money, but there really isn’t much choice in the matter, and one of them even says later on something like “what good is the money when we don’t have any stores to spend it on”. At this point, whatever high you were riding from the first half is Fucking Gone. It’s all sadness and dirty peasant faces streaked with tears from here on through. Also there’s kids with untreated infected bloody pus-filled eyeballs too. Enjoy. Then the Bolivian army shows up, accuses the peasants of being in cahoots with the revolutionaries, and then proceed to take the REST OF THEIR FUCKING CHICKENS! ENJOY!!!!!

Another thing. The first half is shot in great looking locations. I mean, I’m sure they couldn’t film in Cuba, but goddamn if it doesn’t look like Cuba. The second half of the movie looks like it was shot in Northern California or Angeles National Forest or somewhere. It looks like they started shooting the second half for a week in another country (which would explain the occasional good location) and then they ran out of money and the director was like “we’ll just shoot the rest in my backyard”. I’m sure it was shot on location, and the terrain was pretty close, if not exactly like where the real events took place. All I’m saying is that it still looks fucking cheap, and watching this I kept expecting some eight-year-old boy to walk in with a birthday hat on and a hot dog in his hand pointing and yelling “Daddy, they’re making a movie here!”. Look, it’s a movie, we have to suspend disbelief anyway, and biopics will always be accused of fudging the truth, so just bite the bullet and shoot it on the fucking Scottish Highlands and be done with it.

Del Toro and some of the more known actors in the cast were able to blend in and make it so I thought of them as real people, and not actors playing real people. Some of the actors in the second half are not so lucky. At first, La Bamba himself, Mr. Lou Diamond Phillips shows up. That’s pretty fucking awesome, I thought. I’m pretty sure they dubbed his voice though, like his Spanish wasn’t authentic enough. I remember they did that to Erik Estrada in some movie a long time ago, and they also did it to Ron O’Neal in Red Dawn. WOLVERINES! I’m guessing Lou Diamond was cast because he looks like the real guy he’s playing, or Soderbergh has a thing for dudes who were huge in the 80’s, like Steven Bauer in Traffic. Kinda of like Tarantino with 70’s actors. Or maybe Lou Diamond is just the best fucking actor for the part. Did you ever think of that, me?

Then you got Bucho from Desperado showing up in the movie pretty much playing President Bucho. I thought Banderas was going to bust in through the ceiling and declare “Not yet!” before popping out twin 9mm handguns out of his sleeves and blasting, the way those scenes were going. Ms. Run Lola Run herself is along for a ride on the Che train, looking badass in her rebel fatigues and a rifle, then not so badass when she fucks up and mopes around in a hammock and starts crying about how useless she feels. It’s not you girl, it’s the movie.

And I guess when they broke for lunch, Lola left the public park they were shooting this movie in to eat something at Quizno’s across the street, and when she got there she bumped into none other than her Bourne co-star, Matt Damon. They probably did the whole “Wow! So nice to see you! How are you doing!” thing, then sat down to eat their subs. In between bites of his Prime Rib sandwich, Damon probably then asked Lola why she was dressed like she was going to war, and after taking a sip of her medium Diet Sprite, she explained to him she was shooting something at the park across the street with Steven Soderbergh. Damon was probably like “You’re shooting something with Steve?” and hits him up on his cell phone, telling him “Dude, I’m sitting across from Franka here at Quizno’s and she says you guys are filming something across the street”. Soderbergh’s like “Yeah. Do you have any free time?” and Damon’s like “Sure, the wife and kids are visiting the grandparents, so I’m cool”. And that’s how you now have Matt Damon showing up for one scene as a German priest speaking Spanish to Benicio Del Toro in the second half of Che.

As you can see, I just wasn’t so hot on this second half of the movie.

The thing is, Soderbergh shot these halves as two completely separate movies, which is how they will be released in late January. This special roadshow version was really just to qualify Che for Oscar consideration, I think. But he’s NOT GOING TO WIN! ARGH!

I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say the second half plays better if you dont watch it immediately after the first part. It really needs a time buffer of a day or at least a nice leisurely meal between viewings, not twenty minutes. But if you got the cash and want that snazzy program, then be my guest.

After the movie, I met with the lady at the lobby and I walked her to her car. We talked about the movie, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. When we got to her car, she thanked me and offered me a ride to where I was parked. I politely declined. Then she left. I should’ve said yes. I probably could’ve hit that.

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