UPDATE: 09/10/08: IFC ultimately purchased the domestic rights to Che, not Magnolia Pictures. It will run for one week in December, and then be released in January via on-demand.

Word from the TIFF via the NY Post is that Steven Soderbergh‘s $60 million 4-hour-plus Che Guevara biopic, Che, has finally been picked up by Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures for a U.S. theatrical release. Take note: the company has chimed in and called the deal “premature,” though no denials have been issued. If so, we’ll update accordingly.

It’s speculated online by the NYP‘s Lou Lemnick and others that Magnolia will release the film—re: not films?—this December to qualify for the Oscar race. So, this means Che, or its two-part presentation, The Argentine and Guerilla, will not likely hit theaters in 2008 beyond NYC and L.A. However, Lemnick does hear that they’re “already booking theaters.”

Until now, many speculated that HBO would pick up the (so far) moderately divisive Benicio Del Toro-starrer for an exclusive premiere on television. Slashfilm’s editorial crew has remained hopeful of a theatrical release since Cannes. Peter favored a release for Che, while I thought the film would find more eyes and exposure as a two-part event a la Kill Bill. Of course, we’re talking four hours of heavy subtitles and history not generally taught in American high schools, so it’s a challenge either way. I do hope Magnolia targets demographics beyond the prestige-pic crowd.

Discuss: Would you prefer to see Che with an intermission or released separately as two parts? Do you think the film’s box office chances are nil? How should Magnolia market the film to get the biggest audience?

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Che

Today, director Steven Soderbergh‘s four hour subtitled Che Guevera biopic, Che (presented as two films entitled The Argentine and Guerilla) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Online, critical reception is already momentously loud and divided, in a “Here we go…” way. And as you might expect, the film(s)’s questionable commercial prospects and controversial depiction of the Argentine revolutionary, as played by an uncanny Benicio Del Toro, have some critics waiting it out and chatting about the terrible sandwiches given at intermission instead. However, Cinematical‘s Kim Vonyar is incredibly stoked on both films and believes that Soderbergh is a lock for the festival’s top prize, the Palm d’Or

“Consensus among many of the very smart people I know here at Cannes (well, except for Variety, apparently) is that Che will almost definitely win the Palm d’Or, and if Benecio del Toro doesn’t win the Best Actor Oscar come January, there’s something wrong with the world.”

Stunned by Soderbergh’s DV auteurism, Cinematical’s James Rochhi observed in the first full-length review around, that the biopics’ style, tone, character study and story choices are all open for heavy debate (umm, that’s cool, I agree with him), but says that Oscar talk for Del Toro is also certain. In summation, he proclaims…

“Bold, beautiful, bleak and brilliant, Che’s not just the story of a revolutionary; in many ways, it’s a revolution in and of itself.”

Put that in your pipe, eh? Sounds sweet. In his own way, Jeffrey Wells has stepped out as one of the first supporters/gushers of both films, calling The Argentine “brilliant” and Guerilla “killer.”

“[The Argentine] is what I’d hoped for and more. The tale is the tale, and it’s told straight and true. Benicio del Toro‘s Guevara portrayal is, as expected, a flat-immersion that can’t be a “performance” as much as…I don’t know, some kind of knock-down ass-kick inhabiting. Being, not “acting.” No sentimentality, very straight. Oh, God…the second half is starting right now…”

Note the phrase, “it’s told straight and true,” because many historians, college students, Cubans, critics and Slashfilm readers (I’m predicting…) will inevitably take issue with Soderbergh’s decision on what to leave out and what to include from the man’s combative, violent life and ethos. Another reason why these subtitled films are a hard sell. Variety’s Anne Thompson [no linkage] doesn’t dive into the films’ politics, but she was nonetheless underwhelmed and glum. She believes the majority of the press on hand reacted similarly…

“‘A folly.’ ‘A mess.’ ‘Great.’ These words came from some of the critics coming out of Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour 18 minute Spanish-language Che Wednesday night. At the end there was slight applause; no boos. My own description: noble failure.”

She adds that “Benecio [sic] del Toro gives a great performance…” but she’s particularly down on the direction of the second film, Guerilla, saying, “Soderbergh isn’t interested in the things that compel moviegoers to engage with characters: drama, psychology, motivation. He doesn’t dwell on the relationship between Che and Castro. He doesn’t tell you how ‘Ernesto’ turned into ‘Che.’” This works against the frenetic industry buzz that Spoutblog has thoroughly documented; that site points out that the films are being pitched to buyers separately…

“Rumor has it that the second half of the story is currently in better shape than the first; it remains to be seen what would be lost if half of Che was demoted to straight-to-DVD.”

Please, let’s hope this doesn’t happen. I don’t think the Interwebs (or Che) could survive the weight of so many blog tears and life-hating, unedited diatribes. We’ve posted a new video clip from Che (The Argentine half) below. It doesn’t reveal much, but it gives you an idea of the camera work and Soderbergh’s depiction of jungle warfare. One thing is for sure, Che’s t-shirt posse won’t be going away anytime soon (feh!).

Discuss: How do you think these films will be shown domestically? How does one sell four hours of Che? Honestly, who cares, it’s fantastic these films were even made (for $65 million) no matter how you feel (or don’t) about the man in question or how good they are.

Che

With the Festival de Cannes kicking off later this week, a bunch of new production photos have surfaced. First up is Steven Soderbergh‘s Che, a pair of films (The Argentine and Guerrilla) starring Benicio Del Toro as Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna.

Che

The running time for the two films combined is a whopping 268 minutes, or four and a half hours long. Let’s take a look at the newly released official plot synopsis:

PART ONE
On November 26, 1956, Fidel Castro sails to Cuba with eighty rebels. One of those rebels is Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine doctor who shares a common goal with Fidel Castro – to overthrow the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Che proves indispensable as a fighter, and quickly grasps the art of guerrilla warfare. As he throws himself into the struggle, Che is embraced by his comrades and the Cuban people. This film tracks Che’s rise in the Cuban Revolution, from doctor to commander to revolutionary hero.

PART TWO
After the Cuban Revolution, Che is at the height of his fame and power. Then he disappears, re-emerging incognito in Bolivia, where he organizes a small group of Cuban comrades and Bolivian recruits to start the great Latin American Revolution.
The story of the Bolivian campaign is a tale of tenacity, sacrifice, idealism, and of guerrilla warfare that ultimately fails, bringing Che to his death. Through this story, we come to understand how Che remains a symbol of idealism and heroism that lives in the hearts of people around the world.

After college, I kicked it around downtown Miami for a bit. While the city never became the new hipster mecca to replace Brooklyn as the, uh, booming condo industry promised, I did become aware that Fidel Castro has died approximately 1,000 times and that the locals like to celebrate each time like it’s the last time. I’m not sure any man’s exaggerated death has ever caused so much happy yelling and dancing in the streets. I parlay my awe because a few interesting images of Castro from Steven Soderbergh‘s ambitious pair of 2008 films about Che Guevara, The Argentine and Guerilla, have floated over to Ain’t It Cool.

Castro is being played by Mexican actor Demian Bichir, whose prior work I’m not familiar with. He replaced the great Javier Bardem after the project was delayed and definitely looks the part of a determined, intelligent revolutionary who would forever alter history from the depths of the jungle. Che is being played in both films by Benecio Del Toro, in what is clearly being mounted as a powerhouse performance. There’s the chance that by the time these films roll around, Castro will be no more, as he’s issued uncharacteristic messages of late about the transition of power in Cuba. But as a fan of Hollywood, his showbiz pals include Jack Nicholson and Oliver Stone, I’m sure he’s aware of the $70 million project and can get a private screening upon request.

With 2008 a landmark year for American politics and a world in turmoil amid revolutions, upheavals and violence, we can look forward to some serious heavy-lifting political biopics, with Soderbergh and Spielberg leading the charge. So, be sure to have a monocle, a brandy snifter and a good cigar on standby this year like you’re Colonel Mustard or something.

 

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