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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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Gael Garcia Bernal stars in "No," now playing at the Oriental Theatre.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars in "No," now playing at the Oriental Theatre.

Say yes to the authentic Chilean political drama "No"

"No," director Pablo Larraín’s Academy Award nominated Chilean film, isn’t simply set in the late ’80s. It feels like you’ve been just dropped into the ’80s for two hours. The movie has a marvelous sense of place and time, while also telling a story about the mixing of politics and advertising that feels as relevant as ever.

I understand after an election year it’s hard to get excited for a whole movie about political ads, but with Larraín in charge, it’s a topic worth revisiting.

Mexican actor Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a popular, hip advertising man working in Chile. In 1988, he takes on his most intimidating and intense job yet: the campaign to vote against General Augusto Pinochet in the 1988 national plebiscite and to vote "no" for eight more years his often brutal reign of missing people and tortured political prisoners. Each party is given 15 minutes of television time every night to make their points and hopefully sway the nation to their side.

For the "no" campaign, Saavedra pitches an unconventional and daring strategy. Instead of pushing the tragedies and horrors of Pinochet’s presidency into viewers’ faces, he wants to sell the ideas of happiness, hope and optimism – emotions that have been subdued for years and replaced with cynicism and doubt – to the Chilean people.

His colorful, pleasant ads – featuring a bright rainbow-themed logo, a bouncy ’80s-drenched jingle and celebrity endorsements – don’t sit well with some of his political bosses, who worry Saavedra is coloring over the actual issues at stake, but the TV spots are a hit amongst the people. Best of all, they’re unsettling the "yes" campaign, led by Saavedra’s boss (Alfredo Castro), and pushing it toward slimy attack ads and intimidation tactics.

The story, written by Pedro Peirano based on Antonio Skarmeta’s unpublished play, is a somewhat standard underdog tale complete with cute kid and unenthusiastic wife, but little else about "No" l…

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"InAPPropriate Comedy" doesn't look good, but it's even worse than you could imagine.
"InAPPropriate Comedy" doesn't look good, but it's even worse than you could imagine.

Film critic confessions: I walked out of "InAPPropriate Comedy"

This past weekend, I did something that I’ve never done before. It wasn’t professional. I’m not proud of it. But simply put, it was something I felt I had to.

I walked out of a movie.

I’ve certainly wanted to walk out of movies before. Just this last year, I uncomfortably squirmed in my seat during Clint Eastwood’s cloying groan-a-thon "Trouble with the Curve," the worst thing to happen to baseball since the invention of steroids.

I even choked down both "Human Centipede" films without even taking a break for a trip to the bathroom or a church confessional (though I certainly wanted to go there afterwards).

But I stuck it out. I’ve always stuck it out. But this past Sunday, I went to a showing of "InAPPropriate Comedy," a sketch comedy film starring Rob Schneider, Lindsay Lohan and Oscar-winner – and Gillette Master of Style – Adrien Brody. And, as you might expect from the title of this article and the last four paragraphs, with approximately 30 minutes left, I walked out.

It was somewhere during a (clearly fake) hidden camera skit in which a loud, aggressive black man enters an abortion clinic and berates a horrified young couple into letting him use a wire hanger to get the job done faster that I determined that I had seen enough.

It wasn’t without some internal resistance. My usual first thought when I’m tempted to bail on a movie is that it could get better. Several movies have miserable openings but improve as they go along. The first ten minutes of Baz Luhrmann’s "Romeo + Juliet," for instance, are borderline intolerable, but after a while Luhrmann lays off the editing tricks, and the movie becomes pretty decent.

"InAPPropriate Comedy," however, wasn’t showing any signs of improvement. After a reference to Aron Ralston and a skit involving looking up Lindsay Lohan’s skirt, the film, directed by Vince Offer – better known as the ShamWow and Slap Chop guy –settles into a rotation of three or four humorless central skit ideas that ma…

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Director Dror Moreh talks candidly with six former heads of the Shin Bet in "The Gatekeepers," now playing.
Director Dror Moreh talks candidly with six former heads of the Shin Bet in "The Gatekeepers," now playing.

"The Gatekeepers" a riveting insider's look into the cost of security

"The Gatekeepers" is an Oscar-nominated documentary about the recent history of Israel as told by six former heads of the Shin Bet, the secretive Israeli security service.

If your eyes started drooping midway through the previous sentence, I wouldn’t blame you. True, that plot synopsis sounds more like a special episode of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" or "Meet the Press" than something you’d spend $10 to see on a weekend night. But thankfully, "The Gatekeepers" isn’t simply dry talking heads. Director Dror Moreh’s fascinating subjects provide surprisingly open and personal insights into the Middle East and the moral, ethical grey zone that is national security.

The six men – Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri and Avraham Shalom – take the audience through the difficult decisions and moments that haunted their terms in Shin Bet – and still haunt some of them now. The film hurdles through a massive laundry list of events – the 300 bus incident that ended with two executed terrorists, the assassinations of Yitzhak Rabin and Yahya Ayyash and many, many more – but never too fast and at the cost of the information or its subjects. It’s a surprisingly inviting glance into an insider’s world.

Some of them reflect on the "unnatural power" they had in Shin Bet to decide between either taking action or standing pat, both of which would usually come with deadly consequences. They’re tough men with equally tough minds, but their faces clearly wear the wearying toll of the unpredictable and chaotic conflict. Peri reflects at one point that "the moments end up etched deep inside you."

Ayalon, the head of Shin Bet in the late ’90s, laments near the middle of "The Gatekeepers" that "they wanted more security and got more terrorists." The documentary ends with disappointed comment that they "win every battle but lose the war." Their world involves hard questions with no easy answers, and even a successful mission com…

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Halle Berry stars in "The Call" - now playing.
Halle Berry stars in "The Call" - now playing.

Don't pick up "The Call"

Director Brad Anderson is certainly not a household name, but he has quietly built a cult following with his small, but effectively moody and atmospheric thrillers. Films like "Session 9," "The Machinist" and "Transibberian," while flawed, showed Anderson had a great feel for crafting eerie, slow-building tension and intriguing mysteries with an unnerving grounding in humanity.

So how did Hollywood reward Anderson’s work? By tossing him "The Call," a generic and cliché high-concept horror/thriller with little to offer in terms of brains or thrills. Considering the talent on screen and behind the camera, it makes me more sad than mad.

Halle Berry (previously seen embarrassing herself in "Movie 43") stars as Jordan Turner, a Los Angeles 911 operator attempting to rebuild her life after a simple mistake on a home invasion call ended with a young girl’s murder. In order to limit the life-and-death situations she has to face and the ensuing anxiety, Jordan switches taking calls for teaching operators. After another young girl (Abigail Breslin from "Zombieland") gets kidnapped, Jordan is thrown on the line yet again in the hopes of saving the potential victim and getting some redemption for herself.

The first two acts of "The Call" play like a fairly generic, standard-issue women-in-danger thriller with a storyline that fluctuates between silly and frustratingly cliché. It’s a concept that seems better suited for an episode of a TV crime drama or made-for-TV thriller, and screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio doesn’t find much nuance to make it any better.

There’s some potential in a person being in a helplessly distant place while chaos reigns on the other end of the line, but the constant switching between Berry in the office and Breslin in a car’s trunk never taps into the horrifying tension and mystery of what could be happening on the other end of the line.  

Instead, we get the typical set of close-call thriller moments, featuring various idiotic onloo…

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