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Gael García Bernal in No by Pablo Larraín
No posterNo sounds like the kind of thing a toddler in the middle of a tantrum might say, while stomping around your lounge room at bedtime. At the cinema, though, the tantrum belongs to the corrupt dictatorship of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, forced through international pressure to let others play in his sandpit. In 1988 he announced a referendum that would demonstrate — by fair means or foul — that the people loved him, weren’t interested in democracy and that those who thought different were nothing but communists and terrorists.

15 years after he and his military junta overthrew the legitimate left-leaning government of Salvador Allende, the question in the referendum would be a simple one: “Yes” to keep the dictatorship and “No” for a return to free elections. No, Pablo Larraín’s brilliant movie, looks at the campaign from the perspective of an ad guy — a Mad Man — played by Gael García Bernal, who harnessed the latest corporate sales techniques and the power of television to change the direction of a nation.

Larrain and cinematographer Sergio Armstrong have made the genius decision to shoot the film on the same technology that the protagonists had available to them then — Sony’s U‑matic professional version of the Betamax video technology. The film has low-res video grain, bold and badly registered colours and — most wonderfully — the habit of completely washing out in bright light. Windows and skies look other-wordly and it’s not counter-intuitive to suggest that this is the most beautiful film I’ve seen this year.

No will also be of interest to those on the left of NZ politics who want to know why it is that more energy goes into internecine strife than into, y’know, fighting the enemy. The NO campaign is a loose coalition of nearly 20 different Pinochet opposition parties from all points on the spectrum. Many believe that the referendum is a fraud (with good reason) and that the 15 minutes of free television time each night for a month should be spent honouring the disappeared and revealing the truth.

Bernal’s genius is to have the campaign rise above the misery, the fear, the anger and the resentment and become an inclusive, positive, uplifting statement about potential and about the future. The No campaign succeeded because it put its arms around the country and gave it a big hug — the Yes people had no answer, just negativity. He still loved his mimes, though, beyond all good taste.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation posterG.I. Joe: Retaliation is more of a reboot than a sequel to the 2009 Hasbro toy empire franchise killer, The Rise of Cobra. Of the principals, only Channing Tatum is around from the last one to hand over the keys, so to speak, to the ever-amiable Dwayne Johnson. Direction this time is from an interesting choice, John M. Chu who is best known for dance movies Step Up 3 and the Justin Bieber movie meaning that, at the very least, it’s got rhythm. Smartest move on the part of Hasbro, though, was to get Zombeland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick on board and the film has plenty of knowing wit — Bruce Willis as out-of-retirement General Colton looks like he’s enjoying this a lot more than the last Die Hard.

The Host posterI bet Andrew Niccol was told that The Host was a science fiction movie before he signed on to write and direct this adaptation of another novel by Stephenie (Twilight) Meyer. After all, he loves him some science fiction does the NZ writer-director (Gattaca , S1m0ne, In Time). Sadly for him, The Host is really just another teen will they-won’t they romance featuring a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) torn between two handsome and devoted suitors. The twist is that the girl’s body has been inhabited by an alien (metaphor-alert) and that her human and alien personalities are fighting it out via voiceover.

Ronan’s character has escaped from the alien-occupied city and found a hideout full of humans (led by Wiliam Hurt) but “Seeker” Diane Kruger is on her tail. Human-Ronan loves Jared. Alien-Ronan loves Ian. OMG, who will she choose? Fans of Twilight might appreciate all this but normal citizens like myself will wonder why all that staring and pouting has to go on for quite so long. It’s not a career-killer for the blossoming Ronan, though. She’s definitely going places.

Hyde Park on Hudson posterNot going anywhere but pleasantly is Hyde Park on Hudson, riding on the coattails of The King’s Speech as stammering Bertie (Samuel West) arrives in America with Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to persuade Roosevelt to support them in WWII. Roosevelt is played with delightful understatement by Bill Murray. Laura Linney plays his cousin, enlisted to provide company and comfort while FDR was struggling with the pressures of power.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 3 April, 2013.