Gerhard Benedikt Friedl – Hat Wolff von Amerongen Konkursdelikte begangen? aka Did Wolff von Amerongen Commit Bankruptcy Offenses? (2004)

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The most remarkable discovery in recent German-language cinema: Gerhard Friedl’s first feature is a hypnotic visual puzzle at the interface of documentary, essay film and pulp fiction. On the soundtrack: an unflinchingly ‘objective’ account of the labyrinthine genealogies, criminal involvements and afflictions of Germany’s economic leaders in the 20th century. On the screen: pans and tracking shots through European financial centres, production sites and landscapes. The sheer depth and crispness of these images is a treat in itself; a transformation into cinégénie of what artists like Candida Höfer or Jeff Wall have done by means of still photography. At times, image and sound are aligned, at others they just miss each other. They invariably suggest correlations. Paranoia? Irony? Can the prosaic, criminal state of affairs of a modern economy be depicted at all? Pierre Rissient, the French film historian, puts the film where it belongs: “Fritz Lang would have loved it!” Read More »

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. Read More »

Hal Hartley – The Book of Life (1998)

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from movie martyr:

Set on the eve of the millennium (December, 31, 1999), Hal Hartley’s The Book of Life manages to send up the notion of the apocalypse in Hartley’s typically offbeat way. The film, which is shot on digital video, follow Jesus (Martin Donovan) as he wanders around Manhattan, pondering whether or not he should unleash his judgment upon the world. He is accompanied by Magdalena (P.J. Harvey) who is his personal assistant and confidante. In a little over an hour, with only about a half dozen main characters and only the barest special effects, Hartley weaves a fugue of hope, resignation, and a generalized sense of millennial tension. Few writers are better than Hartley at spinning memorable dialogue, and his stuff here is as good as anything that he’s turned out. For example, when Jesus calls Lucifer (Thomas Jay Ryan) on his cell phone, he greets him with a simple, “It’s me…” Hartley always underplays things, even when the world’s about to end. Read More »

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. Read More »

Alfred Hitchcock – Lifeboat (1944)

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Several survivors of a torpedoed ship find themselves in the same boat with one of the men who sunk it.

In the Atlantic during WWII, a ship and a German U-boat are involved in a battle and both are sunk. The survivors from the ship gather in one of the boats. They are from a variety of backgrounds: an international journalist, a rich businessman, the radio operator, a nurse, a steward, a sailor and an engineer with communist tendencies. Trouble starts when they pull a man out of the water who turns out to be from the U-boat. Read More »

Steve Collins – Gretchen (2006)

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The feature debut from writer-director Steve Collins is a hilarious, compassionate look at youthful trauma, misguided affections and the discovery of self worth. Gawky and disregarded, Gretchen Finkle (Courtney Davis) is a high school senior with zero social prospects, save for her sleazy, would-be rebel boyfriend Ricky (John Merriman). The discovery of his infidelity leads Gretchen to a devastated reassessment of her priorities and aims in life. Winner of the L.A. Film Festival’s ‘Best Narrative Feature’ award and featuring remarkable performances by Davis, Merriman, Becky Ann Baker (Freaks & Geeks) and Stephen Root (Office Space, DodgeBall), ‘Gretchen’ balances soul-searching melancholy with a sprightly wit and deadpan comic invention to become a standout among recent independent features. Read More »

Jean Negulesco – Three Strangers (1946)

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Plot Synopsis from allmovie.com by Hal Erickson

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, three strangers make a pact before a small statue of the Chinese goddess of Destiny. The strangers are Crystal Shackleford (Geraldine Fitzgerald), married to a wealthy philanderer; Jerome Artbutny (Sidney Greenstreet), an outwardly respectable judge; and Johnny West (Peter Lorre), a seedy sneak thief. The threesome agree to purchase a sweepstakes ticket and share whatever winnings might accrue. Alas, the pact brings little more than misfortune for all concerned. Jerome steals funds from a client, then kills Crystal (with the goddess statue!) when she refuses to hand over her sweepstakes winnings. Johnny and his girlfriend Icy (Joan Lorring) decide to abandon their life of crime, but when it is revealed that the ticket is a winner, he sets fire to it to avoid having his name tied to the crime. If it seems strange that Peter Lorre ends up the romantic lead in Three Strangers, remember that the film’s director, Jean Negulesco, thought Lorre was the finest actor who ever lived–and as a result, he fought tooth and nail with Warner Bros. to cast Lorre in this film. Read More »