dir. Akira Kurosawa
Tues Nov 12 at the Varsity.If you can't read the credits for this gripping family drama, you may not recognize Toshiro Mifune, who plays a man some 40 years older than he really was at the time. The movie bears no trace of its original conception as a satire; Kurosawa's Shakespearian gift for seeing into the hearts of all his characters precludes satire's simplistic judgments. The portrayal of mental illness in the film is heartbreaking--heartbreaking because it is so realistic, not because it's all weepy and cute, and not because it's a metaphor for anything but itself. BARLEY BLAIR
Real Women Have Curves
dir. Patricia CardosoReal Women Have Curves has garnered a great deal of attention, because it appeals to the basest multi-culti instincts of guilty Capitol Hill latte drinkers. They can take a pretty walk over to the Egyptian, get their popcorn with just the right amount of butter, and sit in the theater's uncomfortable-but-quaintly-uncomfortable seats, while viewing a simplistic and thought-provokeless tale about one spirited teenage member of the underclass' struggle to individuate her young self in the context of her traditional, stifling, almost poverty-stricken family. There won't be any complications, because all the characters, despite the talents of the cast, will stick tightly to the storyboard as clichéd Colorforms: the imperial and small-minded dream-deferred mother; the sweet and sympathetic hangdog dad; the long-suffering, not-so-good-looking, and needs-unacknowledged older sister; and of course, the adorable white boy who appreciates the righteous, hear-me-roar ways of girls who don't live in Beverly Hills. Come on.
There's no subtlety in this film, like, at all. Every major scene devolves into sloganeering, a champagne socialist's daydream of life in the po' house. Real Women is a lowest-common-denominator piece of silky propaganda. It's an ABC afterschool special. Go rent Girlfight or Raisin in the Sun instead. MICHAEL SHILLING
Throne of Blood
dir. Akira Kurosawa
Fri-Sat Nov 8-9
at the Varsity.I've sworn off the original Macbeth for the next decade (one too many high school productions), but Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, adapted from Macbeth, is a horse of another color. Toshiro Mifune is Washizu (Macbeth), bluff, humorous, sincerely happy as the stalwart vassal of a great lord, but, alas, a bit of a dim bulb. The steely Isuzu Yamada, on the other hand, as Asaji (Lady Macbeth), radiates intelligence from every pore, and we're breathless at the drama she manufactures from absolute stillness; her lips scarcely seem to move as she pours poison into her poor husband's ears. When after the murders her stillness changes to unceasing, frantic motion, it's the wreck of her mind that we feel the most.
I'm almost out of space for exclaiming about this film, but let me just mention the work of production designers Yoshirô Muraki (with whom Kurosawa often worked) and Kôhei Ezaki and all the uncredited hands that labored to put together the spectacular costumes. The visual feast begins early in the movie, when we see the old lord and his generals, each in a different fully elaborated war costume--but those are the upper classes. Later in that same scene, however, six retainers lift a palanquin; when we notice each of them is in a harmonizing but subtly different costume, we know we're in the hands of sartorial genius. BARLEY BLAIR
The Hidden Fortress
dir. Akira Kurosawa
Sun-Mon Nov 10-11
at the Varsity.Precision in detail distinguishes The Hidden Fortress from an ordinary fairy tale, as if Hans Christian Andersen had collaborated with Isaac Newton. Will the spoiled princess learn to be gentle? Of course, but who would have guessed that her heart would change via a musical number worthy of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Will her general (Toshiro Mifune at his wily best) figure out how to return her to her kingdom? You bet; he invents not one stratagem, but a dozen. Will the two greedy buffoons get some of the gold for which they incompetently scheme throughout the film? Probably, but I'm not telling you how--you'll have to go find out for yourself. BARLEY BLAIR
The Daddy of Rock 'n' Roll
dir. Daniel Bitton
Wed Nov 13 at EMP.The cult of Wesley Willis always made me a little queasy, mainly because it carried with it the assumption that mental disability was somehow funny if accompanied by a Casio keyboard and a rock attitude. This video documentary goes a little ways toward showing Willis as he is (schizophrenic, obese, largely incoherent, vulgar, musical, charming), as opposed to how the mid-'90s alternative irony racket portrayed him (secretly brilliant, hilarious, ridiculous). Alas, it never goes too deep into Willis' psychic history. There are glimpses, but only after the bulk of the film has gone by, during which the cameras follow him around Chicago and make him the narrator. Much like his music, the novelty wears thin before much time has elapsed. After all, there's only so many times you can hear a person talk about the genitalia of zoo animals before wanting to change the channel. SEAN NELSON
How's Your News?
dir. Arthur Bradford
Thurs-Sun Nov 7-10 at
the Little Theatre.The first 15 minutes of this documentary--which follows a small group of mentally disabled adults armed with video cameras on a cross-country road trip--were unsettling and not a little depressing. I assumed I was in for a tale of painful self-esteem-building and tear-jerking biography. Once the RV hits the pavement, however, How's Your News? (named for the imaginary news broadcast hosted by the travelers) reveals itself to be a hilarious and deeply touching ride, for none of the expected reasons. Watching the subjects--who suffer maladies from mild Down syndrome to severe cerebral palsy, some of whom are barely able to speak--interview unsuspecting passersby results in an unusual viewing experience: You laugh at them, then feel like you shouldn't be laughing at them, then wonder why you shouldn't, then laugh all the harder. The laughter, which we are trained to view as derisive, is actually an embrace of the subjects' humanity, and a far more resonant one than you'd find in some old empowerment tract. Amazing. Doubly amazing is the fact that you can see this film and Jackass--another brilliant chronicle of a bunch of retards interacting with the real world--in a single day. The parallels (and perpendiculars) are astonishing. SEAN NELSON