Ben Hopkins – 37 Uses For A Dead Sheep (2006)

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portrait of the Kirghiz tribe, living a quasi-Iron Age existence in one of the remotest places on earth.

37 Uses For A Dead Sheep is a documentary with a sense of humour. However, as he recounts the eventful history of Central Asian tribe the Pamir Kirghiz, director Ben Hopkins stays on the right side of Borat-style ethnic mockery, treating his subjects with affection and esteem. He also turns a few of them into film stars in a range of reconstructions that entertainingly reveal the community’s journey over the last century or so.

Evocative title, that. Could the film itself possibly match it? Director Ben Hopkins finds the Pamir Kirghiz, a small Central-Asian tribe now living in eastern Turkey, and works together with them to craft a fleet-footed, intriguingly pomo documentary about this little-known group of nomads. Hopkins uses the tribes people to reenact moments from their history (shot in grainy 16mm), then shoots himself shooting them, then interviews them about it, while intercutting it all with images of their life today, in a village the Turkish government pretty much settled just for them. Oh yeah, there’s also a framing device in which the director talks to an old Kirghiz man about—you guessed it—all the things they can do with a dead sheep. It’s all very meta, but once Hopkins reveals the odd backstory of this people, pingponging between the Great Powers (Russia, China, the U.K.) who controlled their homeland at various times, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate approach to this material. The result is an inventive look at some truly unwitting victims of history’s relentless, unforgiving march. Continue reading

David Mackenzie – Hallam Foe AKA Mister Foe (2007)

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Synopsis –

Hallam is almost over the sudden death of his mother when he begins to suspect that his beautiful step mother may have had a hand in her death, and it doesn‘t help that Hallam fancies her rotten. After a confrontation with his step mum, Hallam escapes to Edinburgh. Out of money and out of friends, he finds his tree–top skills well suited to the rooftops of the city, where he lives ferally, attempting to avoid the perils of the streets below and becoming obsessed with a gorgeous girl who happens to look just like his mother. Continue reading

Alfred Hitchcock – The 39 Steps [+Extras] (1935)

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Criterion wrote:
Synopsis
The best known of Hitchcock’s British films, this civilized spy yarn follows the escapades of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who stumbles into a conspiracy that involves him in a hectic chase across the Scottish moors—a chase in which he is both the pursuer and the pursued. Adapted from John Buchan’s novel, this classic Hitchcock “wrong man” thriller encapsulates themes that anticipate the director’s biggest American films (especially North by Northwest), and is a standout among his early works. Continue reading

David MacDonald – This Man Is News (1938)

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David Kier, one of the thieves in a sensational jewel robbery and subsequent trial, is set free when the turns King’s Evidence on the other members. Kier refuses to give reporter Simon Drake an interview, as Simon thinks he will probably be killed by other gang members, but Simon makes note of his address. Simon is fired by his city editor, MacGregor, for failing to cover another assignment and the editor says he would not believe Kier’s murder if reported by Simon even if it happened. Simon returns home and is persuaded by his wife Pat to have a drink or two. The tipsy Simon, as a joke, telephones Sim and tells him that Kier has just been murdered, and the excited Sim hangs up before Simon can explain it is just a joke. Continue reading

Ken Russell – Mahler (1974)

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Director Ken Russell made a number of biographical films of composers’ lives including The Music Lovers, (about Tchaikovsky) and Lisztomania. Russell embellished the other films with certain characteristic flourishes, which include a focus on the composers’ sexual obsessions, poetically telling anachronisms, and scenes which show Richard Wagner in a bad light. The story of Mahler is recounted in a much less complex and flamboyant manner and is a relatively reverent study of the life and work of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, here played by Robert Powell. The film tackles the touchy dilemma of Mahler’s Jewishness in the anti-Semitic atmosphere of 19th-century Vienna. He converts to Christianity, which has no effect on his brilliant musical output but which eats away at his physical and mental well-being. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was a conductor and composer of the late Romantic era and specialized in huge symphonic works. Though his works were performed widely during his lifetime, they were less and less-often played until Leonard Bernstein’s active campaign on their behalf brought him renewed recognition as a composer of the first rank, every bit the peer of Brahms or Stravinsky. Continue reading

Marcel Varnel – King Arthur Was a Gentleman (1942)

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King Arthur Was a Gentleman is a 1942 British musical comedy film, directed by Marcel Varnel, starring Arthur Askey as Arthur King. Set during World War II, the plot involves the diminutive Arthur joining the army to prove himself to his girlfriend Susan (Evelyn Dall), who is in the same unit as him. Here, his idealistic notions about King Arthur prompt his messmates to trick him into believing that a sword they have dug up is the fabled Excaliber. Armed with this talisman Arthur strides forth to deal with the Wehrmacht. Continue reading

Stanley Kubrick – Barry Lyndon (1975)

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Synopsis
BARRY LYNDON is Stanley Kubrick’s epic costume drama based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s picaresque novel. It tells the story of a young rogue who wanders through life getting lost in various adventures, meeting his share of women and oddball characters. When Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal, trying desperately to maintain an Irish brogue) becomes jealous of Captain Quin’s advances on Barry’s beloved cousin, he challenges the man to a duel. Winning the duel, young Barry is forced to leave his home and his mother, and off on his adventures he goes. He meets thieves, lonely soldier brides, Prussian army leaders, and British widows, inventing new stories about himself at every turn of the road. BARRY LYNDON is lush and magnificent, sparkling with color, every frame reminiscent of the finest European art. The blues of the Prussian army uniforms and the reds of the British contrast sharply with the majestic green land and mountains in nearly every background. Kubrick often begins a shot close in, then zooms out to reveal the beautiful natural landscape and ornate rooms surrounding the now seemingly insignificant characters. With rousing performances from O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Hardy Kruger, and Leonard Rossiter, jaw-dropping camerawork, spectacular natural lighting, and a marvelous classical-music soundtrack painstakingly put together by Kubrick, BARRY LYNDON is a dramatic romantic epic that may be Kubrick’s most beautiful film. Continue reading