THIS WEEK’S MOVIE RELEASES:
“No:” On September 11, 1973, a CIA-backed military coup overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende, ushering in almost two decades of a repressive, fascist government — headed by General Augusto Pinochet — that caused the torture and/or disappearance of more than 40,000 citizens. By 1988, facing international pressure to legitimize his dictatorship, Pinochet created a national plebiscite giving the citizens of Chile the opportunity to vote for or against extending his rule for another eight years. In “No,” which is based on the events surrounding the referendum, director Pablo Larrain has created an enlightening, if cynical, look at those who opposed the general and how they went about creating a free Chile. For the plebiscite, citizens could vote either “Yes” or “No,” and the foregone conclusion was that — no matter what — “Yes” would win. The “No” campaign was given free 15-minute TV spots — but only in the early hours of the morning when no one would be watching — to plead their case, for 27 days before the vote. Opposition leaders for the “No” campaign persuaded a brash young advertising executive, Rene Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), to spearhead their campaign, and he used modern advertising techniques — treating the campaign as if it were a “product” — to mobilize voters. Against all odds, with scant resources and under scrutiny by the despot’s minions, Saavedra and his team’s audacious plan won the election and set Chile free from oppression. “No’ is filmed in muted, faded colors, using plenty of hand-held camera shots with soft focus, to give the effect of a 1980s documentary. The acting across the board is superb, with many of the participants from the 1988 campaign taking roles in this “version” of the events. Gael García Bernal (“Y Tu Mamá También,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”) holds the screen as the cynical Saavedra, torn between his emotional attachment to the cause (his estranged wife is an anti-Pinochet radical) and his safe life as an bourgeoise advertising executive. Highly recommended. Extras include a very enlightening commentary with Bernal and director Larrain, as well as a Q&A with Bernal.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”: Up front, let it be known that I’m not a great fan of Steve Carell and Jim Carrey — I find both actors to be the epitome of (with a few exceptions, such as Carrey in “The Truman Show” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and Carell in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Dan in Real Life”) a snarkiness and self-pity that may make for laughs but certainly doesn’t extend the craft of mature male acting. That said, I rather liked “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” a somewhat by-the-book comedy about a pair of childhood friends — Carell and Steve Buscemi — who grow-up together to become the top-ranked magicians/illusionists Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton; together they ruled the Las Vegas Strip for years, raking in millions with illusions as big as Burt’s gigantic ego. What sets the film in motion is the bickering — and subsequent break-up — of the pair, which is exaggerated by the growing success of an outrageous guerilla street magician (Carrey) who wants to supplant them as a Vegas headliner. Throw in the always-delightful Alan Arkin as a magician-guru, the always lovely Olivia Wilde as the team’s put-upon (and sexy) assistant, and some spectacular illusions and magic tricks, and you have an enjoyable 100 minute outing. And, unlike a lot of stupid comedies these days, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” has a heart: The latter part of the film chronicles the boys attempts to get their act back together — to follow their true dream. Note: The film features James Gandolfini in one of his last roles — here as a pretentious hotel owner. Extras include a wonderfully clever “Making Movie Magic With David Copperfield” featurette, a gag reel, deleted scenes and alternate takes.
Also due this week: “The Call,” a cliche of a thriller about a 911 operator (Halle Berry) who takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted and thrown into the trunk of a serial killer’s car. Much of the film revolves around Berry getting Breslin to try to get clues as to her whereabouts; at one point, it’s revealed that the man also had killed a young girl that Berry had tried to save under similar circumstances six months earlier. Once the phone call ends, the film degenerates into a predictable psychological whodunit, a kind of water-downed “The Silence of the Lambs” meets “Cellular.” Still, there are a few heart-pounding moments for those who want a rush.
RECENT RELEASES OF NOTE:
“The Telephone Book”(1971) is a major, though forgotten, work from New York’s underground film scene of the late 60s and early 70s. Nelson Lyon’s production tells the story of a “hippie-chick” who falls in love with the world’s greatest obscene phone caller and embarks on a quest to find him. His random obscene phone call sends young Alice (Sarah Kennedy, a sexually adventuresome Goldie Hawn talk-and-look-a-like) on a sexual odyssey in search of the mystery caller, a journey that takes her to an orgy with stag film star Har Poon (Barry Morse of “The Fugitive”) and his overactive Whip Woman (Ultra Violet); an encounter with a bored lesbian housewife (Jan Farrand); a manipulative psychiatrist (Roger C. Carmel); an ex-Wall Street banker with an unusual problem (a very young William Hickey); and more. There’s some nice avant-garde touches, such as the use of a character in a flashback talking to the camera and to Alice, who is recounting the flashback to a psychiatrist dispensing coins from an old-fashioned belt coin changer; the bleeping of appropriate words while inappropriate words are uttered; the use of “dirty” cartoons to highlight sexual situations; and on-camera soliloquies by “real-life” obscene phone callers. The film culminates in a phone booth to phone booth aural sex encounter between the pig-masked world’s greatest obscene phone caller and Alice. The B&W film has plenty of nudity (and, for its time, a heck of a lot of female frontal nudity), soft-core sex, and explicit cartoons. Unfortunately, like so many avant-garde films, “The Telephone Book” is too fond of itself, and too self-indulgent; it’s definitely in need of some adept editing; too many scene are left to go on for to long and peter out (so to speak), losing their impact. But, for its time, the film really stretched the boundaries, and is an interesting footnote to the pioneering experimental art-film scene of America cinema. From Vinegar Syndrome/CAV Distributing.
Wine and mystery lovers: Uncork your favorite Château Margaux, pull up an easy chair, and get ready for a couple of delightful hours with “Blood of the Vine Seasons 1 & 2,” a French-made mystery series that revolves around a middle-aged, internationally renowned wine expert who investigates crimes in the heart of the famous Bordeaux vineyards and the Cognac and Champagne regions of France. Benjamin Lebel (Pierre Arditi) is an internationally respected wine expert whose annual books are the ultimate guide to the world’s best wines; when the local police chief asks his help in tracking down a serial killer who combines murder with Grand Crus, he gets bitten by the investigative bug and seeks out new mysteries to solve. Aided by his assistant, a young wine expert, Silvere, and Mathilde, the head of his lab, Lebel (either summoned by the police or on his own) unravels wine-and-vineyard related crimes: the audit of a Castle that leads to murder; the attempt to usurp a plot of miraculous vineyard; an arson fire that destroys the famous cellars of Baron Castayrac; the appraisal of 40 bottles of rare Sauternes that leads to murder; and miscellaneous misdeeds and deaths in the sun-drenched French countryside. The mysteries are delightfully easy-going but with full bouquets and are immensely fun to watch. My only gripe: the series is shot on video, which washes out the colors and pixilates the action; the dappled hues of the French countryside is better seen and felt with the warmth and depth of film stock. Both Season One and Season Two are two-disc sets with four episodes; $39.95 each from MHz Networks.