Another period classic from Kurosawa


The princess, the peasants and the mighty Mifune

November 14, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

While Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World storms into the Charles this weekend - and as worldwide audiences await Tom Cruise as The Last Samurai - the theater will also present a rip-roaring period classic as part of its Mifune-Kurosawa series. First released in 1958, The Hidden Fortress, a Japanese medieval entertainment, renders a comedy of ethical equilibrium as a sublime 16th-century civil-war epic.

At the center is a righteous, ornery princess in disguise, piercing enemy lines to seek sanctuary in a friendly province, and a valiant, no-nonsense general (Toshiro Mifune), who sacrifices his own sister to protect her. But Akira Kurosawa tells the story from the perspective of two peasant helpers who hope only for a piece of her dynastic treasure and can't even be trusted with her real identity. (George Lucas acknowledges these antiheroes as the inspiration for R2-D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars.)

Using wide-screen for the first time, Kurosawa turns his sprawling frames into kinetic tapestries of anarchy. His chases and duels boast the oversized choreography and ruthless movements that would influence Leone and Peckinpah. It's Mifune's most gloriously uncomplicated performance - in repose his conscience may haunt him, but in battle he rouses the innocent fervor of Fairbanks or Flynn at their best.

The Hidden Fortress plays Saturday at noon and Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Charles. Call 410-727-FILM or go to the Web at

MFF events all over

Next week, AFI Silver Theatre salutes the Producers Club of Maryland, the group responsible for organizing the Maryland Film Festival. The AFI will showcase three films by Producers Club Fellowship winners on the Silver Spring theater's deluxe screens.

DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter's Lift (2001), starring Kerry Washington as a bright inner-city girl whose taste for the good life leads to shoplifting, unspools Monday at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. Michael Burke's The Mudge Boy (2003), with Emile Hirsch as a rural Vermont lad handling the death of his mother and the grief of his father with the help of his pet chicken, plays Monday and Thursday at 9:30 p.m. And Rodrigo Garcia's Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, a film of five separate yet intertwining stories featuring the solid-gold ensemble of Holly Hunter, Calista Flockhart, Cameron Diaz, Glenn Close, Amy Brenneman and Kathy Baker, goes on Tuesday at 9 p.m. and Thursday at 6:45 p.m.

Check for updates; call 301-495-6720 for general information or 301-495-6700 for pre-recorded program information. Tickets: $8.50 for general admission, $7.50 for AFI members, students and seniors.

It's a busy week for the festival. In addition to the local premiere of the documentary Girlhood, about two Baltimore girls' journey through the city's juvenile-corrections system (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., the Charles), the festival will serve as co-host for a screening of Barry Levinson's documentary Diner Guys at the Charles on Thursday at 7 p.m., a highlight of the Jewish Museum of Maryland's program, Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting.

The kickoff film at the first Maryland Film Festival in 1999, Diner Guys, an intimate group portrait of Levinson's Baltimore pals roughly 35 years after the events in Diner, is destined to become one of the all-time-great DVD extras - if some smart company ever gives Diner the home-video presentation it deserves. (Calling the Criterion Collection ... ) To purchase tickets in advance for either movie, call 410-752-8083.

Art films

Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, part of the artist's five-film Cremaster cycle, debuts locally at the Charles at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Village Voice's J. Hoberman describes it as an "art-world allegory" in which Barney himself "mutates from rural faun to serious young workman." Hoberman says the finale at the Guggenheim Museum is "Barney's apotheosis - the museum populated by chanting metal rockers, bubble-bath sirens, and a reverse Circe who challenges the artist in the guise of a naked tigress."

Noting that Barney misattributes the saying "Will is character in action" to Vince Lombardi, he says that Barney's recent success at the Guggenheim "might well be subtitled Triumph of the Will."

Which leads us to the Orpheum Film Series' presentation of The Blue Light, Triumph of the Will director Leni Riefenstahl's early "mountain" picture (co-written and co-directed with Bela Balasz) about a suspected witch (played by Riefenstahl herself) who alone knows the secret of the eerie blue light that glows from a high cave when the moon is full. Tom Warner, host of the cable television show Atomic TV, will introduce the film; it screens Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave. Call 410-276-1651 or visit

Cinema Sundays at the Charles this weekend gives Baltimore audiences their first chance to see Shattered Glass, writer-director Billy Ray's witty and incisive look inside the Stephen Glass plagiarism scandal at the New Republic. Hayden Christensen stars as Glass and Peter Sarsgaard as his editor, Charles Lane, in a unique journalism movie that mixes elements of exposes like Absence of Malice with comic components not that far from Office Space. Lee Gardner, editor of City Paper, will be the guest speaker. Bagels and coffee are offered at 9:45 a.m.; the movie begins at 10:30 a.m. For more information, call 410-727-FILM or go to

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