Director: Doug Schultz
Starring: Bebe Neuwirth (voice)In Brief: Since the closing film of the Asheville Film Festival was not available for review, these comments are merely drawn from the film's press notes: "Defiant Requiem tells the little-known story of the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin. Led by imprisoned conductor Rafael Schächter, the inmates of Terezin fought back...with art and music. Through hunger, disease and slave labor, the Jewish inmates of Terezin hold on to their humanity by staging plays, composing opera and using paper and ink to record the horrors around them. This creative rebellion reaches its peak when Schächter teaches a choir of 150 inmates one of the world's most difficult and powerful choral works, Verdi's 'Requiem,' re-imagined as a condemnation of the Nazis. The choir would ultimately confront the Nazis face to face."
Genre: Musical Comedy
Director: Thornton Freeland (Flying Down to Rio)
Starring: Eddie Cantor, Ethel Shutta, Paul Gregory, Eleanor Hunt, George Olsen and His MusicIn Brief: Like a wonderful time capsule, Whoopee! offers us a glimpse into a world that hasn't existed for a very long time: the 1920s Broadway theater. Almost no one who was a part of that world is still with us, and even those who might have seen such a show are seriously diminished in number. Yet at the flick of a switch, Whoopee! — starring the legendary Eddie Cantor and the should-be-legendary Ethel Shutta — has the power to take us back to that world in all its antique charm. Whatever it lacks in cinematic style, it more than makes up for in its energetic, appealing cast, bright tunes and sheer good-natured nonsense.
Director: Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns)
Starring: Walter Matthau, Ossie Davis, Amy Irving, Martha Plimpton, Craig T. NelsonIn Brief: Playwright and sometimes filmmaker Herb Gardner brings his play I'm Not Rappaport to the screen with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis in the leads. The first hour of its rather too expansive running time is very good indeed, if not especially great filmmaking. Matthau and Davis make an appealing pair of old men — not exactly friends, but who else is around? — whiling away their time in Central Park, each with his own problems. The dialogue — while sounding like dialogue — is good and penetrating. Then we get to what amounts to the second act and the film's desire to evolve into a more elaborate drama bogs things down pretty fast. It remains easily watchable, but it turns into less by trying to be more.
Genre: Sci-Fi / Comedy-Drama
Director: Chris Marker / John Hellberg
Starring: Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain, Jacques Ledoux / Stepháne Bertola, Gunnar Ernblad, Marienette DahlinIn Brief: Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962) has been shown by World Cinema before, so the real story here is the screening of this year's winner for Best Short Film at Twin Rivers Media Festival, John Hellberg's Mousse. This is a charming and quirky, fairly long (40 minutes) short that details a robbery gone wrong in ways that can scarcely be imagined. It's all about what happens when a Frenchman named Mousse holds up a Swedish betting parlor on the biggest racing day of the year. He also happens upon the most conspicuously odd hostages he could hope for, an incredibly geriatric police force and a compatriot so drunk that he might be dead. Clever, amusing, well-made and more than a little surprising.
Genre: Horror Mystery
Director: Harold Young (The Mummy's Tomb) / William Nigh (Black Dragons)
Starring: Lon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone / Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Arline JudgeIn Brief: It's finally the makeup showing of the canceled The Frozen Ghost (1945) starring Lon Chaney, Jr. in one of his better Inner Sanctum mysteries. This time it's paired with the full-tilt nonsense of the delightfully silly Mysterious Mr. Wong starring Bela Lugosi in the title role, Mr. Wong — a criminal mastermind matching wits against wisecracking reporter Wallace Ford (professional wisecracking reporter portrayer). It rarely makes good sense and even feels like a serial stuffed into a 60-minute movie, but it provides no end of bizarre entertainment with the most anticlimactic ending ever.
Director: Conor Allyn
Starring: Kellan Lutz, Mickey Rourke, Ario Bayu. Frans TumbuanIn Brief: The second ActionFest monthly screening is the same setup as last time with all proceeds going to Homeward Bound of Asheville, and the $10 admission includes free Ninja Porter (from Asheville Pizza) and soft drinks and popcorn from Carolina Cinemas. This time, viewers get the chance to see the film Java Heat starring Kellan Lutz (the Twilight films) and Mickey Rourke before its official opening. The film is a wild yarn — that doesn't always make sense — offering more style (the director obviously has seen a lot of Brian DePalma movies) than you probably expect, and a lot of often very explosive action that you probably do expect. Lutz makes a stolid, enigmatic hero and villains don't come any more perverse than Mickey Rourke.
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John WilliamsIn Brief: Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) stars Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (yes, this is where the famous fireworks kissing scene comes from) in one of the master's lighter and most pleasant 1950s films. The film is nothing more than a romantic suspenser soufflé of the kind that Hitchcock was rightly famous for. OK, despite some location work, the film does suffer from some of the most obvious rear screen and process work of Hitch's career, but with Cary Grant as a retired jewel thief trying to prove he really is retired to the police — with time out for romancing Grace Kelly, it doesn't matter much.
Genre: Hyper-Stylized Musical
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, Richard RoxburghIn Brief: If you've only ever seen Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (2001) on a TV screen, you really haven't seen Moulin Rouge! at all. This is a movie that needs to be seen in a theater on the biggest screen possible — and that's just what the Asheville Film Society is offering with this month's Big Screen Budget title: a theatrical event from a brand new digital cinema print. Luhrmann's musical vision of Bohemian Paris in 1899 is an all-consuming audio-visual spectacular that requires size to really work. This revitalization of the musical genre is one of the most stunning and remarkable films of the first decade of the 21st century — at once revolutionary and with a keen sense of film and pop culture history. Here is a chance to see it as it was envisioned.
Director: H.C. Potter (The Farmer's Daughter)
Starring: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Melvyn Douglas, Reginald Denny, Louise BeaversIn Brief: While it may be faulted for being the film that domesticated Cary Grant — and that it owes a lot to George Washington Slept Here — there's no denying that Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is an entertaining picture with a cast that most movies would kill to have. It's the basic story of folks from the city meeting their match — and then some — when they try to escape the bustle of city life for country living. The script is witty and the performances spot on. Plus, Grant and Loy are almost as good a fit as Loy and William Powell were.
Director: Jack Conway (Too Hot to Handle)
Starring: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Walter ConnollyIn Brief: Sophisticated comedy with Myrna Loy as the rich society girl who sues a newspaper for libel, Spencer Tracy as the beleagured managing editor, William Powell as a sharp former reporter who knows all the angles and Jean Harlow as Tracy's long-suffering fiancée. The plan is that Powell will marry Harlow, then seduce Loy and destroy her case. It's all the sort of thing that could only happen in the make-believe world of the movies, but that's exactly why it works so well and remains fresh and funny almost 80 years later.
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