VIVA CHE (JUST WHEN IT SEEMED DEAD)

Nearly four months after it was screened at the Cannes Festival to widespread critical acclaim and a best-actor award for its star, Steven Soderbergh's Che has finally landed a distributor. IFC Films said that it had secured distribution rights to the movie about Argentine/Cuban rebel Che Guevara and would screen it in Los Angeles and New York before the end of the year in order to qualify for the Oscars. The performance of Benicio del Toro in the title role was widely hailed at Cannes and several critics suggested then that it would likely earn him an Oscar nomination -- if the movie was released. At a news conference at the Toronto Film Festival, where Che is also being screened, Soderbergh indicated that it was still uncertain whether the film will be released in two parts or as one four-and-a-half hour feature. (At Cannes, it was shown both ways, and Soderbergh had indicated he would like it to be shown that way upon its release, allowing ticket buyers to decide for themselves whether they wish to see it in two installments or in one.) Soderbergh also said that he is anxious for the film to be screened for Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro. "I've heard that Fidel, when he watches movies, pauses them so he can have a discussion for a while with the person he's watching the movie with, and then he'll start the movie again. This person said that sometimes it will take him many, many hours to watch a two-hour film. ... I'm trying to imagine how long it would take him to get through this, because obviously he's going to have a lot to talk about."

INDIE FILM COMPANY LANDS FUNDING FROM ABU DHABI

Giving a huge boost to Jeff Skoll's Participant Productions, the indie company whose films include Syriana and An Inconvenient Truth, the Abu Dhabi media company Imagenation has agreed to contribute to a $250-million revolving fund to finance 15-18 Participant features, the companies announced at the Toronto Film Festival Wednesday. Daily Variety observed today (Thursday) that the deal was particularly surprising given the Arab region's consternation over Syriana, which suggested that the neighboring Emirate state of Dubai financed terrorists. But today's Hollywood Reporter quoted Participant CEO Jim Berk as saying, "Nothing will stop, change or alter our approach to [social change], and there are no restrictions, requirements or elements in this fund that will change that in any way."

AT THE MOVIES CRITICS RECEIVE NEGATIVE CRITICAL REACTION

The revamped At the Movies featuring critics Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons is not faring well with critics following its debut last weekend. Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune said: "Certainly, those who loved the interplay of Ebert and the late Gene Siskel, or Roeper and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, were apt to be disappointed by the level of the discussion." On Entertainment Weekly's website, John Young wrote similarly: "While Siskel and Ebert honed their criticism skills by writing about movies at great length, Lyons and Mankiewicz are more comfortable in the realm of the sound bite. As a result, the dialogue between the new hosts sounds more like a series of scripted quips than a real conversation."

MOVIE REVIEWS: BURN AFTER READING

The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, which is set to open in many theaters at midnight tonight, is drawing some hot early reviews. "Because it is a comedy, the Coens' new film ... is something of a palate cleanser for the brothers after the rigors of the Academy Award-winning No Country for Old Men," Kenneth Turan writes in the Los Angeles Times. "But because it's a Coen brothers film before it's anything else, this is about as dark and nihilistic as comedies are allowed to get before the laughter dies bitterly on your lips." In the Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore writes that the Coens have "left behind the lyrical, literary and epic qualities of No Country for Old Men for an old school Coen-style farce, a comedy peopled with idiots and spattered with bloodstains, a film with profanely witty dialogue and so much plot, you almost need to take notes in the dark." Rafer Guzmán in Newsday writes that the film falls short of the Coens' best. "This sprawling, fitfully hilarious mess of miscommunication and murder doesn't stand up to Fargo or Blood Simple (still the Coens' most perfect film), but it's a chance to watch some top-notch actors jump their rails and head into terra bizarro," he writes. Chris Garcia in the Austin American Statesman describes the film as "a frequently funny and weirdly endearing taxonomy of stupid human behavior that only the Coens can pull off with such control and panache." And Clint O'Connor in the Cleveland Plain Dealer sums up: "Here's what you need to know about Burn. It's funny, very funny. And it features a hilarious performance by Brad Pitt.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.