November 23, 2014

NO: Fascinating look at the power of media; new feature: Second Look

As we look back at Oscar season — and some of the best films of the year continue to appear in our area — the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of nominees that were overlooked for awards. This week’s pick is NO, opening soon at the Bethel Cinema.

We live in a world where the blare of advertising messages fills natural silence. Every day, no matter where we may look or listen, we subject ourselves to the endless refrain of product pitches created to inspire us how to act, purchase and think. Ultimately this endless marketing parade paints a picture of how we should live, care for each other, furnish our homes, clothe our children, pamper our pets and consider which leaders we follow.

NO — a striking film from Chile — explores the power of the advertising that surrounds us today by recreating a stunning episode from the history of persuasive media. This nominee for Best Foreign Language Film takes us back to 1988 when, in Chile, a dictator’s rule overpowered the people. Under public pressure, Chilean President August Pinochet agrees to a national vote to stay in power. If the people vote “yes,” he stays; if they vote “no,” he exits to open the door to free elections. While his supporters may consider the vote a formality, the opposition sees this electoral opportunity as a moment to define the country’s evolution.

Leave it to a brash, creative and unconventional advertising man, Rene Saavedra, to devise a campaign to inspire people to vote “No” on the unprecedented proposition. The film explores how Saavedra works through the possible advertising approaches before settling on an unconventional message; rather than use the government-allotted television broadcast time to focus on facts, he adopts a retail marketing strategy to pitch how people can feel when they experience electoral freedom. As if promoting soda pop or candy bars, Saavedra uses emotional gimmicks to sell a way of life that a “No” vote can welcome. As he leads his side to the election, he reminds us of the role that advertising plays in any political process.

Director Pablo Larrain uses a mix of film stock, digital imagery and historical footage to create a movie that looks like 1988. Much as Ben Affleck’s approach to the Oscar-winning Argo, Larrain employs the cinema sensibility of the time in his visual language; the colors are just bright enough to evoke the late 1980s while the production design captures how people lived in this period. Larrain never hesitates to accuse; while the film does not claim to be an authentic account it asks us to trust the lens through which it recreates history.

Gael García Bernal makes Rene a fully dimensional character by underplaying his bravery. As a character, Rene never lets the significance of the moment overwhelm his efforts; as an actor, Bernal never lets the character’s impact overwhelm his humanity. He wisely reveals Rene’s flaws in a series of domestic episodes. The man’s disappointments as a husband and father emphasize the importance of his creative work.

As we experience in every election, any issue’s importance can be undermined by a 30- and 60-second television spot. While we may consider this marketing effort unique to today, NO reminds us that any time people can access a camera, those creating the messages can use the power of media to influence how others think. It’s up to us to balance all the messages.

Film Nutritional Value

NO

* Content: High. The impact of persuasive media on an electoral process is a present-day issue the film examines through a look at a significant historical event.

* Entertainment: High. While the film is based on actual events, director Pablo Larrain creates a story that captures our attention from start to finish.

* Message: High. No matter what political views we may have, we must seriously ask ourselves if the media plays an appropriate role in our electoral process.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with our older children about the political environment in which they will participate is meaningful.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children can use the film as an opportunity to discuss how each voter must sort through the fluff to find the substance.

(NO is rated R for language. The film runs 118 minutes.)

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Check the nutritious movies available on television, DVD and online. Go to This Week’s Movie Menu in the online edition of The Reel Dad.

5 Popcorn Buckets

This Week’s Movie Menu

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? 

Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve. The choices on television can make it easy to savor something at the same time you nourish the mind and heart. This weekend, cable stations offer a pair of nutritious movies for you to consider.

As parents, we hope to embed enough fundamental values in our children that, when forced to make decisions, they act within a framework we help them adopt. But that doesn’t always happen. Many kids struggle, even the “good” ones we try to raise, and find themselves facing the consequences of bad choices they make. 

The Breakfast Club offers a family the chance to talk about these issues. The film takes us into a group of five high school students — including the Jock, the Brain, the Criminal, the Princess and the Kook — who meet in “detention” on a Saturday morning at a high school because each breaks some rules. These are ordinary kids we might observe in any classroom. Yes, some may have wild dress, and some may use objectionable language, but they are not inherently bad. They simply make choices to articulate what is difficult to express.

In this and his other films, director John Hughes never looks at teenagers through the eyes of a wise adult. He sees kids through their own eyes, as if enabling us to look at their challenges through a two-way mirror. He doesn’t judge how kids act or speak, nor does he impart an adult’s wisdom of how to fix any problem. Instead he shows how these people discover what root issues they need to confront to change the behavior that troubles them today and may shape their futures.

For parents, the kids in The Breakfast Club remind us to consider every word we hear as a clue of what may brew underneath. Sometimes we need to search the signals to hear the message. This film reminds us to keep listening.

The Breakfast Club broadcasts on Sunday, March 17, at 2 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. on IFC.

Few experiences bring people in a town together like the love for a sports team. And when the town is in West Texas, and the season of the year is the fall, chances are the town fans focus on the high school football team to bring honor and victory to everyone in shouting distance.

Friday Night Lights celebrates the passion for high school football that defines one town in Texas, Odessa, and its team, the Permian High Panthers. At a time when the town is feeling the pressure of an unpredictable economy, and the stress of racial tension, the focus on football offers a way for people to unite. But that passion becomes an obsession for some, as every voice in town seems to offer an opinion to the coach for how the team should play, what players should be promoted, and what strategy should be followed.

We learn, from this marvelous visit to a dramatic football season in Odessa, the pivotal role that high school football can play in a community. For this is a town, at this moment, that has little to cheer about, and much to create concern. Football becomes a way for those divided to unite, and a way for those feeling helpless to experience hope. Even if a football team’s victory is short lasting, and the glow of the moment quickly fades into the realities, the chance to bask in the light, on a special Friday night, can be intoxicating.

No matter what level of sport you may support, or participate in, the rush of victory is a real thrill. For the people in Odessa, that thrill becomes something they live for, and rely on, to get them through the real times they must survive from game to game, from season to season. Football is more than a game to these people. It becomes a way of life and an expression of all things possible.

Friday Night Lights broadcasts on Saturday, March 16, at 1:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Encore.

Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.

Second Look

Do you ever wonder why certain movies seem to last while others quickly disappear? Each month, the Reel Dad invites an emerging film critic in our area to take a “second look” at a recent film. 

Second Look explores how movies appeal to various generations – in the tradition of the original Take Two columns – as well as the qualities that inspire us to remember cinema treats that we want to savor a second (or third) time. 

This month, the Reel Dad is joined by Charles Khosla, a Greenwich resident and a junior at Rye Country Day School. He is an avid movie critic and writes a movie/tv blog, CinematicFilmBog.com. Charles also runs a film company with his twin brother Grant called GCG Images that makes non-profit documentaries.

Why The Master is the Most Engaging Film of 2012

by Charles Khosla, Age 17

Paul Thomas Anderson has proven himself to be one of the best directors of his generation and undoubtedly the most ambitious.  

In Boogie Nights he took on the adult film industry, in Magnolia he examined the lives of multiple emotionally lost people, in Punch-Drunk Love he explored the depths of rage and despair, and in There Will Be Blood he examined the limit of greed.  

The Master is his most ambitious project to date and also one of his finest.  Its subject, Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), is a lost drifter and veteran of World War II who winds up enlisted in a cult called “the Cause” led by philosopher Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).  There has been much controversy over The Master due to “the Cause’s” similarity to Scientology, but the film isn’t about the cult but the relationship between Quell and Dodd.  There are scenes with incredible tension, complemented by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s score and Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography, that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats.  

The Master is the most engaging film of 2012 that challenges the viewer with its complex story, causing it to be perhaps the most polarizing movie since The Tree of Life.  Anderson successfully directs the film keeping the viewer’s attention riveted on every scene, just like what Stanley Kubrick did in 2001: A Space Odyssey or what David Lynch did in Mulholland Drive.  

Paul Thomas Anderson has created one of the best character studies since the 70s when directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese dominated the film landscape with their films such as Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver.

Why The Master Deserves a Second Look

by Mark Schumann, More Than Age 17

Some movies deserve more than the brief moments they appear on screen. Their content and message demand we pay attention even if the director’s approach may challenge.

Paul Thomas Anderson is never an easy director to absorb. While There Will Be Blood offers an accessible setting and narrative, its lead character is obtuse; the extreme subject matter of Boogie Nights can upset any audience; the exaggerated conclusion to Magnolia undermines its emotional foundation.

The Master — while deliberate in pace and careful in character development — offers a painful examination of self-destruction. On the surface, critics of the film focus on its references to Scientology; on closer look we see that, while Anderson uses our awareness of that organization as a reference, he creates a striking look at why people can become dependent on belief systems if they fail to acknowledge the reasons for change.

In a detailed recreation of post-war America, Anderson establishes a time of social opportunity as a backdrop for this story of personal challenge. His visual details frame a narrative of how people, when trying to answer questions of self-respect, can destroy themselves through self-inflicted injury. Setting the story in this time period reminds us how, at defining moments, we can fail to understand what we need if we try too hard to make everything in our lives look right on the surface. 

So much happens in The Master that its slow rhythm and complex dialogue can overwhelm. But the movie so effectively challenges, as well as entertains, that Anderson reminds us the best movies emerge when a cinema chef dares to make us think.

Interested in writing a Second Look column with the Reel Dad? Drop us a line at dmark.schumann@gmail.com.