The Maya Indie Film Series, showcasing six Latino-themed films, runs this week (Friday through Thursday), at the Camera 7 Pruneyard theater.
Once again, I’m putting several Kurosawa films at the end of the schedule. If you’re getting sick of him, fear not. The centenary series are running out.
B- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Castro, Friday through Sunday. Howard Hawks’ musical battle of the sexes contains a handful of wonderful dance numbers and some good comic moments, but there are too many weak scenes to wholeheartedly recommend it. The real surprise is in the leading ladies. Gentlemen helped turn Marilyn Monroe into a star, but co-star Jane Russell blows her out of the water. In this film, at least, Russell is funnier and sexier. The Castro will present a brand-new 35mm print, each day on a different Blonde Bombshell double bill. Here are the second features:
- The Seven Year Itch: Billy Wilder’s first film with Marilyn Monroe is no Some Like It Hot, but it’s still a funny and observant look at the sex drives and fantasies of the 1950’s.
- How to Marry a Millionaire: This lavish 1953 romantic comedy fails to be either romantic or funny. But as one of the first two films shot in Cinemascope, it has considerable historical interest.
- The Girl Can’t Help It: It’s been ages since I’ve seen this over-the-top satire of the entertainment industry. I remember enjoying it.
A- The Public Enemy, Castro, Thursday. Not quite the best of the early pre-code gangster epics (Scarface outdoes it), but the one with the best lead performance. James Cagney lights the screen on fire as a violent thug with a little (very little) bit of heart and—because he’s Cagney—the grace of a tiger. On a Blonde Bombshell double bill (the bombshell here is Jean Harlow) with The Burglar, which I’ve never seen nor heard of. [This paragraph has been altered to correct an error.]]
D Vertigo, Red Vic, Wednesday and Thursday. What? I’m not recommending Vertigo? Everyone else thinks it’s a masterpiece, but it tops my short list of the Most Overrated Films of All Time. Vertigo isn’t like any other Alfred Hitchcock movie; it’s slow, uninvolving, and self-consciously arty.
Kurosawa Films at Different Venues
A Yojimbo, VIZ Cinema, Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday. A masterless samurai (always the best for story-telling purposes) wanders into a small town torn apart by two gangs fighting a brutal turf war. Disgusted by everyone, our hero (who else but Toshiro Mifune) uses his wits and amazing swordsmanship to play the sides against each other. In the hands of Akira Kurosawa, the result is an entertaining action flick, a parody of westerns, and a nihilistic black comedy all rolled into one. Allegedly inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, it was remade twice as Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Part of Viz’s series,Samurai Saga Vol.2: Kurosawa on Sword Battles.
A Sanjuro, VIZ Cinema, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. Yojimbo was such a huge hit that Kurosawa made a sequel. This time, Mifune’s masterless swordsman reluctantly helps a group of naive young samurai clean up their clan. Of course, they insist on doing everything properly and honorably; without him, they wouldn’t last a minute. The result is an action comedy and genre parody that ties with The Hidden Fortress as Kurosawa’s lightest entertainment. The climax involves one of the greatest, and most unique, swordfights in movie history. See my Kurosawa Diary entry. Part of Viz’s series, Samurai Saga Vol.2: Kurosawa on Sword Battles.
A The Hidden Fortress, VIZ Cinema, Saturday through Thursday. 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 Viz’s series, Samurai Saga Vol.2: Kurosawa on Sword Battles.
A- Throne of Blood, VIZ Cinema, Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday through Thursday. Kurosawa stands Shakespeare on his head with this haunting, noh- and kabuki-inspired loose adaptation of Macbeth.Toshiro Mifune gives an over-the-top but still effective performance as the military officer tempted 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. Read my Kurosawa Diary entry. Another part of Viz’s series, Samurai Saga Vol.2: Kurosawa on Sword Battles.
D Dreams, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 5:30. Anthology films—features that tell multiple stories one after the other—usually suffer from inconsistencies. Good sections are balanced with bad ones. In Dreams, however, the bad far outweigh the good. The worst “dreams” are truly wretched, while the best are merely pretty good. All eight vignettes are allegedly based on Akira Kurosawa’s own dreams, but real dreams are seldom preachy. Most of these didactic little sketches tell you exactly what you should think and feel about the subject at hand—usually about humanity’s relationship with nature. That’s an important subject, but preaching doesn’t help. See my Kurosawa Diary entry. One of the last screenings in the PFA’s summer-long Akira Kurosawa Centennial.