Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Monday, December 22, 2008


Adapted from the famous T-shirt, Che is director Steven Soderbergh’s massively long, two part movie about professional revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. A much more covert revolutionary himself, Soderbergh has shrewdly designed his career around the Scorsese Model of “one for them, one for me”. So an Oceans caper with George Clooney will be alternated with something more experimental like Bubble or Full Frontal. This one is definitely FOR Soderbergh, questionably for me, and probably NOT for most audiences. At least not those seeking the cinematic equivalent of light reading.

Che tries to transcend its genre but it’s still clearly a biopic. The main problem of biopics is that a film cannot easily present the totality of a person in such a brief running time. Che Guevara presents an even larger problem as he’s become less of a human being in the passing years than a marketable symbol. It’s a great irony that this communist revolutionary would end up being swallowed up by the capitalist consumer culture itself: to be bought, traded, and sold on t-shirts, mugs, hats and posters. There at least 3 different “Che Guevara” personas: The compassionate Dr. Guevara who tended both sick villagers as well as wounded enemy soldiers, the asthmatic soldier who risked his own life over and over for a principle, and the more controversial Che who at times acted as his own judge, jury and executioner. How does a filmmaker present these contradictions onscreen?

To read more of my review for click HERE

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stephen King likes Jason Statham

Stephen King has posted his annual list of the best movies of the year at Entertainment can read his critiques HERE but for the purposes of our discussion these are his picks:

1. The Dark Knight
2. Slumdog Millionaire
4. Tropic Thunder
5. Funny Games
6. The Bank Job
7. Lakeview Terrace
8. The Ruins
9. Redbelt
10. Death Race

Well, I gotta say that it's a pretty eclectic list, not surprising from King who has long displayed a love of both pulp and high lit. I also applaud his support for Jason Statham who is represented here with two divergent films himself: the bread and butter action film Death Race and the smaller, character based film The Bank Job. Statham's a better actor than people think and the only actor in my mind who could carry a role with the weight of a Lee Marvin.

The other choices are a bit odd. I mean, The Dark Knight at number one? I'm still not convinced that this is the great movie everyone thinks it is. I liked it well enough, but as a movie I thought it was flabby in story construction paling in comparison to the tight and economical storytelling of Batman Begins. Though it was a FAR better film, it resembled Spider-Man 3 where you had more villains than the running time could handle and a loss of control on just what the story was for in the first place.

Slumdog Millionaire should be number one. It's far better than The Dark Knight on almost every level and just as popularly entertaining. Some of the rest are just headscratchers like The Ruins, or simply pointless like Funny Games which Haneke seems to have made twice now. I am quite pleased, though, to see Mamet's Redbelt here . That was a great and nearly absurdly well-plotted sports film. As brilliant and outrageous as Mamet can be...

Friday, December 12, 2008


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is without doubt the best movie I've seen so far this year. It's the kind of movie that the motion picture camera was invented to make-using Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and '30s Warner Bros. gangster melodramas as a vehicle to make a cinematic fever dream of the colors and moods of an India of the imagination. No one can do justice to the suspenseful, tear jerking, emotional experience of the movie by merely describing the plot-How a young man from the slums is one question away from winning millions of dollars on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". Since it's believed he's cheating somehow, he's interrogated and tells the story of how his life experiences living on the streets have given him the knowledge to win the game. We see how his older brother is lured into a life of crime like Bogart in the old films-seduced by money, respect, and power while the "slumdog" of the title is driven by his love for an orphan girl they grew up with, forced into prostitution. He goes on the show in the hopes that she will see him on TV and they can be reunited...

But like all truly great films, it's not about the plot at all-it's about the way people look at each other, the feelings in their hearts as expressed by images and music...scored by one of Bollywood's greatest composers A.R. Rahman.

What I love about Danny Boyle as a filmmaker is that he shoots his latest film as though it were his first film. He's still excited about the possibilities of visual storytelling and is still experimenting. This is his best film to date.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Audiences may not realize it, but they've been starved of actual comedy writing in their Hollywood entertainment. Besides Woody Allen, the Coen brothers and the occasionally effective work of the Judd Apatow mafia, comedy "writing" has been left to nothing more but the following: "INT. SUBURBAN HOUSE-DAY-Will Ferrell does something funny here involving a stapler, tightey whiteys, and a gerbil. What it will be; who can say?" That is, most contemporary comedies are just strings of improvised sketches driven by the star persona. Funny as they may be in fits and starts, they do not linger on in the memory because there is no controlling idea or intelligence pulling it all together. Certainly, they're not based on storytelling and feature nothing resembling human characters. Once upon a time, there were actual scripts written featuring well drawn characters which were designed to be funny on paper; scripts by people like Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, Preston Sturges, Blake Edwards, Terry Southern, Paddy Chayefsky and John Hughes. Most of those guys are no longer with us, or no longer writing on a regular basis. This is why Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder is such a pleasurable surprise. With a cast featuring accomplished improvisers like Stiller, Black, and Downey, Jr. it's no surprise that there is a good deal of improvisation going on. What is surprising is how well drawn the characters are within the ad-libbing and how effectively told the story remains. The script by Stiller along with David Lynch regular Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen is not tossed out the window but embraced for its stinging satire of Hollywood and the Vietnam War genre it built. To read more of this review click HERE

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Got Milk?

I really couldn't help myself with an entry title as lame as that. But it's sort of fitting since Gus Van Sant's Milk is almost as lame as that joke. Despite the expectedly great performance by Sean Penn(who seemed at times to be channeling a 40 year old Jeff Spicoli) and equally fine work by the incredibly busy Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, and most surprisingly James Franco, Milk is a strangely passionless and by the numbers biopic. This is the kind of movie that people with no real sense of taste think is a Great American film, much like that forgettable Ron Howard movie A Beautiful Mind. It's heart is in the right place, it caters to universal feelings of injustice and presents a character who is fighting the good fight against said injustice. It spends 2 plus hours merely presenting Harvey Milk's campaign-we get speech after speech scored by Danny Elfman's mournful violins-without giving us Harvey Milk's heart and soul. The best scenes in the movie are those between James Franco and Penn as the two actors come the closest to shattering the glass wall that Van Sant wants to enclose the movie within. It's really only in these scenes that we get a sense of why Harvey was such a special person to so many people. Van Sant has been developing a stylistic tic in his last few movies-Gerry,Last Days, and Elephant-in which the drama is presented in as de-dramatized a way as possible, often being filmed from objective distances and keeping any kind of cinematic manipulation at bay. Basically, the anti-thesis of what makes cinema a worthwhile artform. It makes me wish that Bryan Singer could've made his version instead, The Mayor of Castro Street. Maybe he could still make it, you know, "once more with feeling!"