Movie Reviews and News (December 2004)

Despite dozens of respectful, worshipful reviews, I've been hearing very mixed reactions on the street for the new Eastwood film, "Million Dollar Baby," and some friends of mine who went to the premiere say the first two acts are pretty standard boxing-movie/sport-movie stuff... but with the third act, the plot makes an unexpected turn and the film takes things in a new direction, with Eastwood's character stealing the show, turning in a bravura performance.

If the buzz is true, it's surprising Eastwood's camp isn't pushing harder for a supporting actor Oscar nom for the old Clint. Or, to put it in more exact terms: Despite a movie flawed by clichés, Eastwood's acting is surprisingly transcendent, and yet it's his directing and the solid performances by Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman that are getting all the acclaim. Perhaps he's just being modest about his histrionic skills, and biding his time for a knock-out punch in a thespian category... Surely he won't land too many directing awards for this one.

[Update: After writing this, Eastwood nabbed Academy Award nods for both Best Picture and Best Actor, so perhaps the Oscar campaign for his acting work was stronger than the "Million Dollar Baby" industry trade ads led me to believe. Also, he won a Golden Globe for best director, so despite my prediction, the man's getting trophies even for directing work that's arguably less impressive than such previous efforts as "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River." But then again, Renée Zellweger was nominated this year for a best actress Golden Globe for "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" -- quite possibly one of the most vigorously soulless films ever committed to celluloid -- so we can't take the Globes too seriously.]

Spacey sing, sing, sings! about how straight he is.

I can’t help but suspect that Kevin Spacey made his new Bobby Darin biopic ("Beyond the Sea") because he's one of these triple-threat actors that has a lot of pent up anger about the fact that they can do everything (sing! dance! act!), and yet they're just seen as being the same as all the other actors (e.g., Brad Pitt or Al Pacino can't sing and dance like Spacey, and Spacey wants the world to know it). In every interview, I can just see Spacey thinking “I can outperform 98% of modern actors, dammit, and all those embarrassing years of dance lessons shouldn't go to waste!”

In addition to the flick, by doing a 12-city tour as Bobby Darin, Spacey solidifies this talent and makes it real -- he has to be a really awesome song-and-dance man to pull this off live in front of big audiences, which is something that today's musical-movie stars can't do (just think of Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger trying to do their "Chicago" stuff live -- they wouldn't hack it, because the only reason they were able to make Zellweger look like a great singer-dancer in the film was through rapid cutting and massive re-recording).

So, it's totally an ego thing -- which becomes even more evident with every "Beyond the Sea" article I read, because Spacey seems to have his entire cast and crew trained to repeat the party line of "Kevin Spacey is the greatest actor-filmmaker of all time. He was directing the film, producing the film, writing the film, editing the film, shooting the film, dancing better than Gene Kelly, singing better than Sinatra, and acting better than De Niro ALL AT THE SAME FRIGGIN' TIME. Please worship this man." And then the reporter will interview Spacey, who'll say something like, "I'm a very humble man, so I would never imply that I'm an genius and egomaniac, but have I mentioned that I'm better than the real Bobby Darin? I'm a god. Watch my incredible performance as the feisty science-soldier in 'Outbreak' for proof. Lick the ground I walk on. Now."

Of course, with all the former models and semi-talented pretty faces making beaucoup bucks as "actors", the multi-talented Spacey has every right to flaunt what he's got. The fact that he's 20 years too old to play Bobby Darin, coupled with his weakness for melodrama, being the only real negative against him.

{NOTE: "Beaucoup," a synonym for "many" and "much," is often incorrectly spelled in the phrase "beaucoup bucks." One of the most common misspellings, "boku," actually means "a kind of drum shaped like a truncated cone and meant to be played with bare hands. The Boku drum is played throughout eastern Cuba during carnivals and street parades called Comparsas. In sub-Sarahan Africa it is known as ashiko," according to the Wikipedia. In reality, beaucoup is an English slang word with French roots, with beau = fine and coup = stroke, according to The American Heritage Dictionary. The combined word meaning: "A fine stroke," which could be used in a sentence such as "A fine stroke of luck" -- "beaucoup luck, baby!" -- which might then be extended to "A nice chunk of cash," thus the popular "beaucoup bucks." In the Southern U.S., "boocoo" and "bookoo" are also accepted spellings, because any good southern would never be caught dead saying something vaguely French. Also, has anyone else noticed that biopic is now being pronounced in two ways in the popular parlance? Bio-pic and bi-opic … The first is correct, but I like the scientific sound of the second. Oh, and yes, over 100,000 websites can be wrong: the name is Bobby Darin, not Bobby Darrin.}

I’ve been flying around the country a lot lately, which has lead to my watching some films I might not have normally seen: I was not impressed by “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” although it had a couple of okay jokes (I liked the pirate and the pizza-down-the-pants, but after this mostly mediocre effort, the atrocious Duplex, and the other laughless clunkers Ben Stiller has churned out lately, he's now highly ranked on my shit list). I'm embarrassed to admit that I laughed all the way through “The Hot Chick,” although I prefer 1999’s “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” when it comes to Rob Schneider films (a dirty, secret, guilty pleasure). "I, Robot" was disappointing considering director Alex Proyas’ previous sci-fi effort, "Dark City," a perfect film; the FX in the lower-budget "Dark City" somehow looked better than the videogame-like FX found the expensive “I, Robot,” with its cheesy-action-movie machine-gun ending... bler....

However, the antidote to the bad plane-movies came with two new art-house flicks recently screened in NY:

“The Woodsman” is slow and often depressing, but the performances are extraordinary, and the direction is poetic. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal is flawless, as is the work by all of the supporting actors (check out the little girl in the park -- her scene with Bacon at the end of the film will burn itself into your psyche). After the screening I attended, Kevin Bacon and his wife/co-star, Kyra Sedgwick, had a lovely, laid-back conversation with the audience. It’s always nice when actors turn out to be intelligent even off-script. And it’s even nicer when you’ve actually enjoyed their film, so you don’t have to bite your tongue the entire time, desperately trying not to blurt out what sordid hacks they are. Bacon and Sedgwick are a grounded, class act -- onscreen and off.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” is incredible. Truly mesmerizing. You can’t watch this film without feeling the growing urge to learn Spanish, travel across South America, befriend lepers, pick up hot Latin chicks, get a funny best friend with a motorcycle, and join the Communist Party. Now I can’t wait for the Steven Soderbergh/Benicio Del Toro/ Terrence Malick “Che” feature, since “The Motorcycle Diaries” (“Diarios de motocicleta”) is the perfect prequel for the story of Ernesto “Fuser” Guevara de la Serna becoming the heroic, militant Che Guevara and setting off on a whirlwind tour of revolution.

Then, at a hotel, I saw “The House of Sand and Fog,” which was pretty gut wrenching, especially the third act, when everything goes horribly wrong just when you think everything is about to get nice and cutesy. You know, usually with a film like this at some point the ethnic family and the white people all realize how much they have in common and they reach an agreement that makes everyone happy. So as you watch the film, after 90 minutes of seeing these characters suffer, you’re waiting for the breath of fresh air at the end -- you're thinking, you're hoping, you're wrong. The ending is more devastating than everything that comes before. It’s not a perfect film, however, as it can be a bit melodramatic and manipulative at times (making up for this is some brief nudity from the eternally hot Jennifer Connelly).

Final notes:

Director Beeban Kidron's “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” sucked the big one, making the first “Bridget Jones” look like a masterwork classic comedy bonanza compared to this crap fest.

Spielberg and Hanks really dropped the ball with “The Terminal -- Bosom Buddies had less contrived situations.

Indie phenom “Napoleon Dynamite” was a stylistic knockoff of Wes Anderson’s work, but it was devilishly funny nonetheless; and it’s one of those rare films that grow funnier with repeated viewings.

The Aussie rock comedy “Garage Days,” from director Alex Proyas (the auteur behind the flawless, mind-bending “Dark City”) has a slick visual pallet, but the character high jinks quickly grow grating and the plot fails to captivate for more than minutes at a time; however, points have to be given for the ballsy choice of giving the band their comeuppance at the film’s conclusion.

Another Australian film, “Dirty Deeds,” stumbles upon moments of brilliance while lampooning the American Mafia genre; star Bryan Brown is engaging, as always, and the movie has real originality and cinemagraphic panache, despite a smattering of clichés and plot potholes.

And Brit hit “Shaun of the Dead” is drop-dead hilarious, but it's best watched after seeing a couple of your favorite zombie movies and Danny Boyle’s London-based masterstroke, “28 Days Later”; that way you’ll get more of the jokes, although the film is bloody amusing regardless.



The following article explains why Che Guevara was nicknamed "Fuser:"

"The Unfinished Journey of el Ché"

By Juan José Chacón Quirós de Quetzalcóatl

The life of Ernesto Guevara Serna is a journey into the conscience of humanity, a journey unfinished.

Guevara began as el Pelao, a 14-year–old boy known for his natural analytical skills. El Pelao began dreaming about a trip around South America with his older friend Alberto Granado.

It is the dream of every Latin American adolescent, el viaje, a journey to bring one to terms with the past, visit ancestors in original cities . . . Cuzco, Tenochtitlan, Chichen-Itza. It is also to visit the modern cities . . . Mexico, Rio, Santiago, meet fellow Latin Americans, and indeed discover whether we really believe in the idea of a Latin America.

El Pelao was destined for this voyage of discovery, although he first prepared himself by exploring Gardel's Buenos Aires Querido and the expanse of his Argentinean patria. In 1945, on a bicycle with a small engine, el Pelao made this thousands of miles journey around the Argentinean countryside, through the deserts, valleys and flat pampas in order to regain contact with Mial [Guevara's nickname for Alberto, short for "Mi Alberto," which is what Alberto's grandmother called him]. El Pelao had become el Fuser, from Furibundo, an invocation of his tenacity and fearless style of playing rugby and futbol.

El Pelao" was Che's childhood nickname of "Baldy." Later, as a teenager or young man, he also picked up the name "Fuser," a derivative of "Furibundo," which is Spanish for enraged or furious. A shortened version of furibundo might have resulted in "fuser," or, according to some sources, Fuser was a contraction for "Furibundo Serna" -- The Fast and Furious Ernesto Serna. Either way, Fuser was definitely Ernesto Guevara de la Serna's rugby nickname, and he had quite a reputation as an amateur soccer/football player as well. According to Alberto Granado in "Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary," he and Che lost interest in soccer when they took up rugby, and lost interest in rugby when they took up shooting. Shooting, of course, would turn out to be more than just a hobby for Ché in the future.]

It took seven more years of discussion and planning before Mial and el Fuser would ride through South America on La Poderosa II, a 500 cc Norton motorcycle. Despite the universality of the dream, most Latin Americans never get to this stage, opressesed by the tyranny of day-to-day life. El Fuser was about to graduate as a medical doctor when he decided the time was ripe for el viaje.

Their trip took Mial and el Fuser through the leper colonies of Latin America. The heightened sensibility needed to treat and respect lepers would later be a foundation for the politics of Guevara. By the end of the journey in Caracas, el Fuser was filled with questions. He had seen the pre-colombian ruins of Machu Picchu, the Amazonian forests, the militarized city of Bogota and, not least of all, Yanqui Imperialism at its crudest in the Chilean copper mines of Chuquicamata.

El Fuser finished his medical degree but quickly he found that as medical doctor he could do nothing but treat the afflicted individual. He became more interested in attacking the source of the disease, both individual and social. For this purpose he landed in Guatemala City shortly before Christmas, 1953. The elected government of Jacobo Arbenz was undertaking a gradualist approach to social change, including land reform. When Arbenz was deposed by a CIA sponsored coup in 1954, Guevara determined to devote himself to the Revolution.

His journey continued from Guatemala to Mexico City, where his fate became intertwined with Fidel Castro and other Cubans plotting to overthrow the dictator Batista. In the process, he became the legendary Ché Guevara — a pioneer of guerrilla warfare, ready to die for the idea of Latin America which by definition is a free Latin America. The rest is history.

Ché overcame asthma attacks, harrowing months of jungle warfare, and Batista's [Cuban] army, culminating in his great triumph in the city of Santa Clara, where he was reburied last week [in October, 1997].

In the new revolutionary government, Ché became the head of the tribunals at La Cabaña, and later President of the Central Bank and Minister of Industry. He left these glorious achievements for Africa. It was not without pain, but he wanted to fight, shoulder to shoulder, in the anti-colonial struggles.

Ché spent his last days in the Bolivian altiplano trying to gain support for the Revolution. Even Félix Rodriguez, the CIA operative in charge of Ché's murder, says his last days were filled with "grace and courage."

You could say he was an accomplished man, a true revolutionary, but more than that, he was a viajero, a traveler into the soul of humanity. He left everything behind but his love for justice, equality and freedom, his love for mankind.

And, for that, Ernesto Guevara Serna, el Pelao, el Fuser, el Ché remains the idol of Latin American youth. He exemplifies, in victory and defeat, the pride that has been lost in Nuestra America since 1492.

[Note: There are a number of theories regarding Guevara's nickname of "Che." Some say it's a sound commonly used in the Argentinean idiom, and Guevara was given the nickname during his travels because he used the sound so often. In fact, in film version of "The Motorcycle Diaries," it's implied that other Spanish speakers often nickname all Argentineans "Che." However, other sources insist that Che is Argentinean slang for "Hey you!" or "buddy" or "pal." Whether Guevara received his nickname as a child or later in life is also up for debate, with reliable sources taking all sides of the issue.]

© 1997 The Massachusetts Daily Collegian & Juan José Chacón Quirós de Quetzalcóatl. This article ("The Unfinished Journey of el Ché") was annotated and updated by Lucas Brachish in 2005. It's being preserved on Celebrity Cola because The Massachusetts Daily Collegian has seemingly dropped it from their site and the original author could not be reached. All other material on this page and the Celebrity Cola website is © Lucas Brachish, unless noted otherwise.


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In the new revolutionary government, Ché became the head of the tribunals at La Cabaña, and later President of the Central Bank and Minister of Industry. He left these glorious achievements for Africa. It was not without pain, but he wanted to fight, shoulder to shoulder, in the anti-colonial struggles.

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