Frameline continues through this week.
A+ Ikiru, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday, 7:15. One of Akira Kurosawa’s best, and arguably the greatest serious drama ever put up on the screen. Takashi Shimura gives the performance of his lifetime as an aging government bureaucrat dying of cancer. Emotionally cut off from his family–including the son and daughter-in-law that live with him–he struggles to find some meaning in his life before he dies. A deep and moving meditation on mortality and what it means to be human, Ikiru manages to be deeply spiritual without ever mentioning God or religion. Kurosawa followed Ikiru with Seven Samurai, a very different and arguably better masterpiece, and one where Shimura got to play an action hero. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Part of the PFA’s summer-long Akira Kurosawa Centennial.
B The Host, Pacific Film Archive, Friday, 9:15. A barely-functional family fights an uncaring government and a giant mutant carnivore, and it’s hard to say which is the scarier threat. I didn’t find this quite the masterpiece others saw–the political points are obvious, the third act gets confusing, and the big finale fails to satisfy. But director/co-writer Joon-ho Bong succeeds where it counts: He makes you care about the characters and scares you out of your seat. Much of the credit goes to the talented computer animators at San Francisco’s own The Orphanage, who brought the monster to life. Part of the PFA series Brought to Light: Recent Acquisitions to the PFA Collection.
C- We Have to Stop Now; Elmwood, Wednesday, 7:00. Talented performers and a funny concept don’t make a good comedy. That requires a strong script, as well. We Have to Stop Now– apparently a movie made up of bits and pieces of a TV show—lacks just that. The concept: Just as an extremely unhappily married couple, both therapists, agree to divorce, their book on maintaining a happy marriage hits the bestseller lists. Now they have to stay together for the book’s sake. (The fact that it’s a same-sex marriage is almost incidental.) Unfortunately, Ann Noble’s script manages to miss almost every opportunity to milk that rich vein for either humor or insight. The movie has a a few scattered laughs, some of them pretty big, and most of them involving their hilariously incompetent marriage counselor (Suzanne Westenhoefer). Stars Jill Bennett and Cathy DeBuono also display comic talent (they’re also easy on the eyes), but they don’t have enough to work with. The result is uneven, bland, and even at 79 minutes, too long. Part of the Frameline LGBT festival.
D- Bluebeard, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Friday through Sunday. [Note: I accidentally left this out of last week’s newsletter.] To put Catherine Breillat’s name on a film with no sex or nudity almost constitutes false advertising. But that’s not the problem here. Despite two very stylized bloody scenes near the end (the only moments that might keep Bluebeard from getting the softest of PG ratings), Breillat’s latest remains bloodless, lacking the passion and excitement that make her other efforts watchable even when their stories get ridiculous. In addition to being dull and lifeless, Bluebeard looks cheap. Set in the 17th century, the film’s few straggling extras appear to be recruited from a local Renaissance Faire. The one saving grace is a modern framing story involving two little girls in an attic, with one reading the story of Bluebeard to the other. They’re adorable, and very funny when they discuss things they clearly know nothing about. But a good framing device doesn’t make up for a bad story.
A The Bad Sleep Well, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 6:30. Few people know Kurosawa’s dark, contemporary, and suspenseful tale of corruption and revenge—and that’s a shame. It concerns a large, successful, and thoroughly corrupt corporation, and a young man (Toshiro Mifune) out to destroy it from the inside. It begins with his wedding to the president’s crippled daughter—an act that everyone reads as blind ambition (the engagement won him a top job), but is actually motivated by revenge. Kurosawa reveals the reasons for and depth of that revenge slowly in a startling, suspenseful, and bleak story that provides neither catharsis nor easy answers. See my Kurosawa Diaries entry. Part of the PFA’s summer-long Akira Kurosawa Centennial.