A City Paper roundup of what's playing this week


Directed by Pablo Larraín

Playing at the Charles Theatre

If you're yearning for another dose of election politics, but something perhaps with an exotic flair (it is spring break, after all), with a retro, South American twist, say, consider No, a cross between a comedy and a drama that depicts the ad campaign launched to vote Augusto Pinochet (dictator/president of Chile from 1973-1990) out of office in 1988.

The central character of No, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), is a Don Draper-type ad man-minus the alcoholism, the womanizing, and the brawn (maybe he's more like Ken Cosgrove then?). He's cutting-edge and persuasive, with a murky past and a young son whose mother he's separated from but for whom he still harbors affection. The parties opposing Pinochet (otherwise known as the Nos) tap Saavedra to spearhead their ad campaign, to be run on national television each night for a number of weeks leading up to the referendum. Instead of opting to play on grim reminders of brutalities past, as inflicted by Pinochet, Saavedra encourages and executes a hopeful, optimistic campaign-one that employs humor and marketing techniques. Their logo features a rainbow arcing over the word "NO." One vignette the team produces shows a couple in bed, a hefty husband pleading for some nookie and a cross-armed wife frowning, barking "no." At first, the tactic succeeds, winning the Nos popularity; but soon enough, the Yes campaign plots a counterattack, and the Nos must respond in kind.

Director Pablo Larraín incorporates documentary-style footage into No, and he shoots the film in the same way, which gives it a consistent circa-1988 feel. The real-life No campaign members have spoken negatively about the Oscar-nominated movie, accusing it of oversimplification, but as political narratives go, it holds its own in terms of entertainment value. (Jenn Ladd)

Pink Flamingos

Directed by John Waters

Playing at the Charles Theatre April 8 and 11

It's rare for a radical work of art to stay shocking nearly four decades after it was first produced. Picasso's collages, say, or Calder's mobiles may have seemed wild when they were created, but a few decades later they had become the provenance of kindergartners. A few works, like those of the Marquis de Sade are so radical, perverse, and filthy that they maintain their ability to disgust, shock, and arouse centuries after their production.

John Waters' Pink Flamingos, which turned 40 last year, is one of the rare pieces of art that will live alongside de Sade's Juliette as an eternal affront to good taste, despite the dastardly cabal of reality-television producers who have conspired to make us all willing to eat turds off the sidewalk.

But it's not just the overtly offensive scenes such as the one just mentioned, or Divine's mid-walk squat and wipe, but the overall conception of the characters. When the opening salvo from the Marbles arrives at Babs' (Divine) trailer, she opens it up and says "Someone has sent me a bowel movement."

"A turd, mama, a turd!" says Crackers (Danny Mills), her son.

But the truly shocking part is not the turd; it comes when the camera pans over to Edie (Edith Massey) in the crib.

Pink Flamingos is credited with being the first midnight movie and it is a movie to be seen with others, in Baltimore, right across the street from Club Charles. All is right with the world. (Baynard Woods)

The Sapphires

Directed by Wayne Blair

Opens at the Charles Theatre April 5

Here's where bright-eyed award-baiting cinema goes wrong, even if it reads like a festival-ready formula: Four young Aboriginal women form an R&B group with the help of a down-on-his-luck pianist and tour Vietnam, entertaining the troops while finding themselves and falling in love and all that good stuff. The opening titles inform viewers that The Sapphires was "inspired by a true story," which is a little different than "based on a true story." In a post-Argo world, where it is, for some dumb reason, shocking that a movie would fudge facts to heighten the drama, this is worth noting. Namely, it explains why The Sapphires is even more egregious than most when it comes to tugging on those heartstrings-forsaking emotional reality and even narrative coherence.

The movie ambitiously builds parallels between the American civil rights movement and the plight of the Aboriginals. The connection may be obvious to Australians, but the systematic oppression of Aboriginals is woefully under-discussed, particularly in the States; a crowd-pleasing musical-comedy acknowledging it is significant. But yes, the plot does still hinge on a well-meaning white person stepping into the story and sending events in the right direction for our P.O.C. protagonists. Here, a goofy, well-meaning white hipster from Melbourne enamored of black American music teaches young female indigenous Australian country-folk fans that they got soul. But this isn't The Help: The movie seems to be aware of the pitfalls of white-savior stories.

Once emotions and historical and racial context start to crowd the narrative, though, whatever tied The Sapphires to its terse reminders of Australia's racially problematic past quickly unravels. A frustrating stacked-deck third act crams Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, a Vietcong bombing, an explanation of African-American ambivalence toward Vietnam, and a quasi-tragic marriage proposal into, like, 10 thematically overloaded minutes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is a heartwarming underdog story, with noble nods to an oft-ignored part of the past. But it wants a little too much credit for just being pretty good and coasting along as art-house comfort food. (Brandon Soderberg)

Spring Breakers

Directed by Harmony Korine

Now playing

Like a midnight movie forced upon your multiplex, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is a love-it-or-hate-it culture jam that will freak out the squares who fear for today's fist-pumping youth, and it will confound knowing, slumming hipsters who came to the cinema looking for a dose of irony and some "lol, Skrillex" jokes.

The plot, which sounds like a turn-of-the-millennium edgy teen comedy rubbing up against an alienated woman's picture from the '70s-think Barbara Loden's Wanda with body shots-goes like this: Four girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine, in bikinis for almost the entire movie) don't have enough money to go to St. Petersberg, Fla., for spring break, so they rob a chicken spot. Once they get down to Florida, they proceed to party their existential pain away until underaged drinking gets them arrested. No money left, they are bailed out by Alien (James Franco, channeling his Hollywood leading-man charm and mannered sub-Brando weirdness at the same damn time), a cornrowed cracker rapper and d-boy with dime-store cult-leader appeal. Then they start robbing people and end up in a beef with Alien's former best friend and local drug lord, Big Arch (played by talented, troubled, and drowsy Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane).

Free from real-world logic and caught in a druggy beach noir drift belied by a bass-filled dubstep and thumping Southern hip-hop soundtrack, Spring Breakers ambles along like a movie Terrence Malick directed on molly. In one scene destined for cult status (and a loopy essay for an undergrad women's studies course), Alien fellates two loaded pistols the girls hold near their crotches. It's as vulnerable as it is absurd. Spring Breakers isn't a satire of youth culture nor is it a decadent celebration; it's somewhere in between, and always sincere. Probably a little too sincere, really. (BS)

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