Creature Features Presents Horror Express, Balboa, Thursday, 7:00. Bay area film buffs old enough to remember TV before the VCR have fond memories of KTVU (channel 2)’s late night series Creature Features. Each week, host Bob Wilkins–or in later years John Stanley–would bring us a horror or Sci Fi flick, usually tacky, occasionally uncensored, and interspersed with interviews and trivia. This Thursday, Stanley will be on hand at the Balboa to recreate the whole experience (without commercials, I assume). The feature will be a little something from 1972 that I’ve either never heard of or willfully forgotten: Horror Express.
A+ The General, Oakland Paramount, Friday, 8:00 and Sunday, 2:00. Buster Keaton pushed film comedy like no one else when he made this one. He meticulously recreated the Civil War setting. He mixed slapstick comedy with battlefield death. He hired thousands of extras and filmed what may be the single most expensive shot of the silent era (then used it as the setup for a punch line told in a simple close-up). The result was a critical and commercial flop in 1926, but today it’s rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. With organ accompaniment by Christoph Bull. Also on the program: The Oakland East Bay Symphony performing Camille Saint-Saëns’
Symphony No. 3, also known as the "Organ Symphony" (and again with Bull at the organ).
A- Double Bill: Kagemusha & Sanjuro, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. That A- goes exclusively to Sanjuro. In this sequel to Yojimbo, Mifune’s masterless swordsman reluctantly helps a group of naïve young samurai clean up their clan. This action comedy ties with The Hidden Fortress as Kurosawa’s lightest entertainment. The climax involves one of the greatest, and most unique, swordfights in movie history. On the other hand, Kagemusha, Kurosawa’s 1980 epic–made largely with Hollywood money–is one big, long, and empty bore. Visually beautiful, it lacks the warmth and humanity we expect from Kurosawa, and it offers nothing to replace that warmth–such as humor, irony, or insight. The story of a petty thief posing as a warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai in two roles) could have had all those things, but here is little more than an excuse to show thousands of soldiers massing and preparing for battle. But it is beautiful to look at. Although I have revisited both films in the last few years, I have not yet gotten to either of them in my Kurosawa Diary project.
A Double Bill: The Idiot & The Lower Depths, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday. Once again, the Stanford offers a mix of excellent and horrible Kurosawa. The Lower Depths is the one that earns the A, despite it’s feeling like a filmed stage play (which it is). Set in a grim flophouse in the 19th century (and based on the play by Maxim Gorky), the film examines several characters at the very bottom of the economic ladder. It’s depressing, of course, but it’s also warm, sardonic, and funny. A rare Kurosawa period piece without swordplay. The Idiot is also based on a work of Russian literature–a Dostoyevsky novel—but this time Kurosawa blew it badly. The dull and lifeless story concerns a man with a mental disability, his romantic prospects, and those prospects’ other romantic prospects. That sounds like a lot more fun than it actually is. For more on these films, you can read my Kurosawa Diary entries on The Lower Depths and The Idiot.
A Double Bill: The Bad Sleep Well & Throne of Blood, Stanford, Wednesday through next Friday. In The Bad Sleep Well, Mifune plays a young executive who leaps up the corporate ladder by marrying the boss’s crippled daughter. But the company has a suspicious past, including a possible murder, and this new hotshot may have an agenda of his own. Kurosawa stands Shakespeare on his head with Throne of Blood, his haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth. Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer manipulated by his wife (Isuzu Yamada) into murdering his lord. The finale–which is far more democratic than anything Shakespeare ever dared–is one of the great action sequences ever. You can read my Kurosawa Diary entry on Throne of Blood now, but you’ll have to wait for The Bad Sleep Well.