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07/23/2010

Oliver Stone's South American prez tour

Say what you will about Oliver Stone, the multi-Academy Award winning filmmaker.  But the guy is no slouch when it comes to gaining access.

Stone, no stranger to cinematic politics with Oscar noms for "Nixon," "JFK" and "Salvador" and a win for "Born on the Fourth of July," took a little road trip to South America in January, 2009.

His offbeat, odd little documentary, "South of the Border," is a filmed diary of a trek to visit controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that expanded to five countries and chats with seven presidents of the region.

While it fascinates for much of its short running time of just under 80 minutes, filmgoers might be a little startled by what jumps out of them at times.

Stone, looking like he's about to pop a shirt button and perhaps start an international incident at any moment, obviously wants to show that Chávez isn't the monster the "mainstream U.S. media makes him out to be."

Stone kicks a soccer ball around with some South American leaders, sips a little Chardonnay with others and spends quite a bit of screen time fawning about how different some of them are compared to their political reps in El Norte.

During visits with Chávez, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Lula da Silva of Brazil and even Cuba's Raúl Castro  (and others), Stone lobs the kind of softball questions entertainment journalists have been tossing him at film junket interviews for decades.

It's more amusing most of the time than journalistically intriguing, really.  Stone's lazy, soft voice is no challenge to the hard-hitting style of Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore ("Bowling for Columbine," "Sicko").  There is some appeal, but it springs from feisty, casually entertaining moments instead of in-your-face, confrontational hard questions.

With Stone, at least where "South of the Border" (which contains some subtitles) is concerned, the getting there and rubbing shoulders with South American leaders appears to be the primary interest.

That and taking shots at conservative U.S. media, of course.

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