Genre: Horror Fantasy
Director: Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise
Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March, Julia Dean, Elizabeth Russell, Sir LancelotIn Brief: Though undeniably a sequel to 1942's Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People (1944) is almost not a horror film. It can even be argued that its fantasy elements all take place inside the mind of its young heroine (Ann Carter), but it does have characters from the original film and addresses the events of that film. Curse, however is a very different proposition — a kind of (maybe) delicate ghost story involving a lonely child. It is also beautiful and unique.
Genre: Comedy Romance
Director: John Ford
Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick, Arthur ShieldsIn Brief: John Ford and John Wayne scored one of their biggest — and perhaps best-loved — hits with this unassuming Irish comedy about a retired American boxer (Wayne) migrating to Ireland and the trouble and love he finds there. On the downside, the movie really is too long, and the attitudes about the roles of men and woman are on the archaic side. On the plus side, there's a first-rate cast, a savvy screenplay, the most gorgeous Irish countryside imaginable and a generous heart. It's not really a great film, but it's an endearing one.
Genre: Surreal Comedy/Drama
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Dianne WiestIn Brief: Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York (2008) represents not just one of the actor's most accomplished performances but one of his most challenging. It is also easily the most challenging film that's being shown as part of a monthlong tribute to Hoffman. It is a rich, fantasticated, heavily layered work that is apt to puzzle and even infuriate some viewers with its often nearly impenetrable story about the life, loves and losses of theatrical director, Caden Cotard (Hoffman).
Genre: Horror Drama
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte GainsbourgIn Brief: Impossible to fault as filmmaking, I believe Lars von Trier's Antichrist is equally impossible to defend on any other level. From its charged (but meaningless) title to its final assault on viewers' sensibilities, it is a repellent work — a nasty film that is nasty for its own sake. Ostensibly an examination of a grieving couple as they descend into mutually destructive madness, the end result is a cross between phony Ingmar Bergman and torture porn, with everything that implies.
Genre: WWII Thriller
Director: John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate)
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scoffield, Jeanne Moreau, Michel Simon, Albert RémyIn Brief: A solid and old-fashioned war thriller (it was old-fashioned when it was new), The Train (1964), is perhaps a movie the not-dissimilar The Monuments Men ought to have been a little more like. Here, it's all about an art-obsessed — and generally obsessive — Nazi colonel (Paul Scoffield) doing his best to get a trainload of art masterpieces out of France before the Allies arrive. The French resistance (headed by a not entirely willing Burt Lancaster) have other plans. Entertaining and fairly intense.
Director: Ben Stoloff / Wallace Fox
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Sally Blane / Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tristram CoffinIn Brief: A double dose of Bela Lugosi in two films that can only be called "personality vehicles" for the actor — Night of Terror (1933) and The Corpse Vanishes (1942). Night of Terror is the better made of the two, and is, in fact, the first true Lugosi vehicle. It trades on his name and features him doing all manner of things for no good reason other than the fact that he is Bela Lugosi. More threadbare, but just as much in the same mode, is The Corpse Vanishes. This is the fourth of Lugosi's infamous "Monogram Nine" films — and is easily the nastiest of the lot.
Director: David Lean
Starring: Charles Laughton, John Mills, Brenda de Banzie, Daphne Anderson, Prunella ScalesIn Brief: Just before David Lean set out on the path of the epic blockbuster, he gave us one final small black-and-white film, Hobson's Choice (1954), and it serves as a reminder of how great a filmmaker Lean was without the benefit of widescreen Technicolor spectacles. From its opening shot to its final fade-out, there's not an ill-chosen moment in this unassuming comedy about a tyrannical — and alcoholic — boot shop owner (Charles Laughton), his willful oldest daughter (Brenda de Banzie) and the timid bootmaker (John Mills) she marries. Charming, funny and just beautifully crafted.
Director: John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the Volcano)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola DavisIn Brief: The second film of the monthlong tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt (2008) finds the actor far removed from the supporting role of Almost Famous (2000) and co-starring with Meryl Streep. The film is an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's play and was made by Shanley. Hoffman plays a priest at a Catholic school, where the school principal, Sister Aloysius (Streep), becomes convinced that he had improper relations with one of the boy students. This may sound pretty pat, but it isn't. In fact, it is startlingly layered and makes for gripping drama — thanks in no small part to Hoffman's ability to make us never quite certain what to believe.
Director: Arthur Lubin (Black Friday)
Starring: Nelson Eddy, Susana Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carillo, Fritz LeiberIn Brief: Universal's big, splashy Technicolor 1943 remake (made on the same set) of its 1925 hit Phantom of the Opera is often dimissed as "too much opera" and "too little Phantom." There's some truth in that, but it's still a good — and certainly good-looking — thriller with its fair share of jolts. In its own way, this film added to the basics of the narrative by providing the Phantom with a backstory, which has found its way into many subsequent tellings of the tale.
Genre: Comedy-Drama with Music
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, Zooey DeschanelIn Brief: The Asheville Film Society launches its monthlong tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman with Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000), a movie in which Hoffman had a supporting role as the cynical rock critic, Lester Bangs. It wasn't a big part — he has a handful of scenes throughout the film — but it was a distinctive role that everybody seems to remember, perhaps more than the film itself. The film is Crowe's semiautobiography — and it presents a clearly heartfelt summation of his feelings on rock music. It may not be quite as good as it seemed in 2000, but it's still good, and it's a key film for Hoffman.
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