Though this certainly isn’t a movie I’ll be returning to any time soon, like a lot of Steven Soderbergh’s less mainstream efforts, I find it pretty easy to admire. When the two parts here were merged from “The Argentine” and “Guerrilla” to simply “Che”, it of course became subject to my “if you use a definitive title, you better be definitive” rule – and I also wondered how the two parts would differ … would they differ, even, in tone and substance, eg, and should I review them as separate entities?
Well, I was pleasantly surprised. The work as a whole is pretty definitive. Benicio Del Toro is Che and I can forgive the length of the whole thing because it kind of turns it into an endurance test. You’re mentally exhausted by the end of watching both parts in succession as I did, and I believe you should be. The parts do feel very much like separate films but also work perfectly well watched as a whole. Clearly the biggest difference between the two parts is that one deals in success while the other deals in failure; the latter being much more subdued and with far less dialogue than the first part.
The ending is powerful, a POV view of Che’s very last moments on this plane of existence – one feels almost like the audience itself is being put out of its misery, so much does it feel as though we’ve followed each one of the hundreds of days accounted for in title cards. I’ll admit I know little of the history involved here, and one of the failings of the movie I found was that either it plain didn’t clearly enough explain the context or it never engaged me enough for me to pick up on it. This isn’t a front to back telling of Che’s life, focusing more in the separate films on his greatest triumph and his final failure. But there are nuggets of wisdom imparted in the dialogue, and it certainly left me wanting to know more. Technically I can’t fault it, and though it’s not entirely my cup of tea it shows that Soderbergh is still a guy who makes a movie pretty much exactly what it should be.
I don’t know what led me to believe this, but it has to be said up front that I came to this expecting another horror movie – or, at least, something more horrific than what I got. This again has a very slow start – and a very slow middle … and a very slow end … – but it kept my focus for the most part because I really couldn’t fathom what, if anything, it was about. I found the first half hour or so wonderful, the sparse life of a tiny village going on around a little hall where most of its population, including our young heroines, are gathered seeing James Whale’s Frankenstein for the first time. We see the Spanish introduction to the movie, and then we’re cut away to the beehives of the title, seemingly disjointed.
There’s an odd pace to the editing throughout here, scenes start and finish before we’re able to fully comprehend their relevance and this would be a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that, I admit, it put me far from ease. We see the children here kind of testing their boundaries and then, from the germ of cinematic fantasy exacerbated by her elder sister’s suggestion, one of the youngest of those children taking the line between that fantasy and reality just a tad too far. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth certainly owes a lot to this movie – this is almost like that movie with the visual effects taken out, in fact.
If it weren’t for the adorable and constant presence of the two young girls here (the youngest, Ana, would’ve made the perfect Alice in Wonderland IMHO), I admit I would’ve found this too dull and arduous a viewing. Even still it’s a movie it’ll take me a long time to watch again. But I know that if and when I do, it will probably grow on me immeasurably. What struck me most about it is how I could never have guessed when it was made if asked – I didn’t check the year before putting it on, only assuming that it was old, but the photography is so clean and the costumes etc so timeless, I really wouldn’t have known if it was made much more recently. At first look it’s at least a better Frankenstein “spinoff” than Gods and Monsters, for example, and I can only give it the benefit of the doubt. I hope I can find the time to come back to this some day.
Again, here is why I do the Halloween marathon each and every year even though it too often entails sitting through too much awfulness than is healthy for a borderline manic-depressive, lol. Well, between this and The Strangers, I can safely say I had a great one this year (and I’m still technically halfway at this stage, hehe, continuing it today and through the weekend; in fact, repeat viewings of the classics will likely go on to mid-November, ROFL). I was apprehensive about watching this initially as it’s been a long time since I watched anything with subtitles. But the runtime of well under 90 minutes and my usual rule of, “ya know what? if it’s good, it’ll grab me,” forced me to put it on at the end of a long night when I could finally keep my eyes on the screen to read.
I needn’t have worried about that, really, for two reasons. One, this belongs to the great tradition of great foreign language movies – indeed, any language movies – where the dialogue really isn’t all that essential. Like Amélie or Life is Beautiful, you could easily watch this with the translations absent and still perhaps be just as terrified as I ultimately found myself. In fact, it might even help, so much is the fear here created by the feeling of being trapped in an unfamiliar location. Yes – did I mention? – this really is perhaps the scariest movie I have ever seen. That statement might be exhaggerated due to it being so long since I’ve been this terrified by a movie. But let’s just put it this way – these 80 odd minutes reminded me completely in the end of how I felt the first time I saw The Exorcist. This is coming from someone who has really been quite numbed by the sheer quantity of films of this genre that I’ve seen. I can’t speak highly enough of this movie, how overjoyed I was to realise I can still be made to feel this way in a darkened room for an hour and a half, lol.
There is clearly a Blair Witch-y influence going on here in the style, fake reality nightmare etc. The opening actually reminded me a lot of Hellraiser III though, too. It quickly becomes a kind of zombie movie more in the tradition of 28 Days Later, the sickness affecting people never really being defined entirely – George Romero’s latest installment in the “Dead” trilogy is another clear comparison and it must be said, I realise he really missed the boat having seen this. Then there’s the end of the movie, where it really enters Exorcist territory. I almost worried that this might ruin the movie for me, but it only terrified me more. When the religious side of things comes in here, and that creature stalking in shadow … I was literally staring at the screen, eyes wide, hand over my mouth, saying out loud, “WHAT … THE F*CK … IS IT?!!” It is simply a phenomenal production, incredible performances all around and a pace and tone that just never lets you go.
Throw The Innocents, Sixth Sense and Hook into a blender and you might come close to The Orphanage. It’s hard to describe it any other way and it’ll take at least another viewing for me to feel like I know what I’m even talking about while talking about it, except without any doubt to say that I found it just as good as people have been saying for the past year.
I think Mark Kermode said he counted 4 separate scares in the movie – I have to say only one really lifted me out of my seat and I’m pretty sure it must be the one he talked about that the stranger grabbed his arm over. For me, it’s the emotional content of it all that affected me most. There’s just a constant terror in the very atmosphere of the movie as a result of the mystery that builds around a young boy and his games, his imaginary friends and his mother’s attempts to understand. To even try to attempt a plot summary beyond that after a single viewing would be crazy – all I can say is, it’s beautiful. Sorry, review brain’s just not been up to the task lately, lol, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Hmm, now, what was I saying about movies that look better than they actually are? At least I knew what to expect here, the reviews I’ve read have been pretty unanimous – in fact, in some cases, I’m sure they might even be identical to I’m Not There reviews … it looks gorgeous, and Cate Blanchett is magnificent, lol.
And mine might be so too. ‘Cos while the beautiful set and costume designs etc carried me easily through the first hour, I knew I might struggle as it entered its second half. But it’s right there, following the assassination attempt, that I found myself irresistibly drawn to the story. It’s also there of course that it begins to become the Pirates of the Caribbean-a-like Duran Duran music video that Mark Kermode so relished shouting about on Five Live earlier in the year. It was all that ranting, in fact, that made me quite excited about seeing it. It kinda reminded me of that insane last half hour of Hot Fuzz, really – like, if you’re gonna run to 2 hours, all the while promising a storm, you can do worse than delivering it in the last 30 minutes.
A movie like this really needs to deliver a surprise like that (unless it’s just good – just to acknowledge the exceptions ) to hold me for 2 hours. It’s not enough to make a larger-budgeted, flatly-told, historically accurate TV drama. Yes, it’s a shame those TV things can’t have the costume and sets as here, but that doesn’t mean that once that budget’s available, one should simply do the “same but bigger”. The cinema demands much much more.
I’m glad to say, this gives exactly that in the end. Leave the accuracy to books and television. This gives us the glory and bombast that sparks the interest in the details, and in these ADD times I can’t think of anything more important in a period film. The final shot of her dress blowing about her over a map of Europe is just astonishing. Almost makes me want to pick up a history book.