A- Howl, Castro, Sunday, 7:30. What did you expect–a conventional biopic? Would that do justice to the Allen Ginsberg epic poem with which the film shares its name? Like the poem, Howl is challenging, cutting-edge, and unconventional. By weaving together an extended interview with Ginsberg (James Franco), scenes from publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s obscenity trial, and an illustrated reading of the titular poem, Howl gives an overview of Ginsberg’s early life, celebrates the work itself, and cherishes the freedom that made the poem possible. I’ve never read Ginsberg’s poem; this film makes me want to. Frameline’s closing night event. If you miss it, don’t sweat it. It will be around again in September.
Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The first of this summer’s silent film festivals celebrates Essanay films made in 1910, including several directed by Broncho Billy Anderson himself. Also included is The Jack-Knife Man, an early work by King Vidor (who went on to make The Big Parade and The Crowd). All the films will have live piano accompaniment.
A+ Double Bill: Casablanca & Singin’ in the Rain, Stanford, Saturday through Tuesday. What can I say? You’ve either already seen Casablanca or know you should. Let me just add that no one who worked on Casablanca thought they were making a masterpiece; it was just another entertaining propaganda movie coming off the Warner assembly line. But somehow, just this once, everything came together perfectly. On the other hand, there’s nothing meaningful, insightful, or propagandistic about Singin’ in the Rain, the great Hollywood musical about the birth of Hollywood musicals. But I’d be hard pressed to find another movie that’s more fun.
A The Hidden Fortress, Wednesday, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 7:00. Akira Kurosawa showed astonishing range within the samurai genre (as well as outside the genre). Seven Samurai is an epic drama with fully-developed characters and realistically unpredictable violence; Yojimbo is a black comedy; Throne of Blood is stylized Shakespeare. The Hidden Fortress is just plain fun–a rousing, suspenseful, and entertaining romp. It was also his first widescreen film, and contains two comic peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) who were the inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO. See my Kurosawa Diary entry. Part of the PFA’s Akira Kurosawa Centennial series.
C- We Have to Stop Now; Victoria Theatre, Friday, 9:30. Talented performers and a funny concept don’t always 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 (and are 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. A Frameline screening.