#207 The Hustler

Watched: October 20 2018

Director: Robert Rossen

Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Eddie Felson (Newman) and Charlie Burns (McCormick) are hustling their way across the USA with the goal to challenge legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Gleason). Find him they do, and the bigwig agrees to play Eddie, starting at $200 per game.

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“How does this work again? Do they both hit the balls at the same time, or..?” “Dunno. I thought they were supposed to take turns or something.” – Real conversation between sisters watching this

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While Eddie gets off to a flying start, he gets drunk, conceited and easily manipulated and end up losing his entire $18 000 winnings back to Minnesota (the guy, not the state. Maybe we should just go with “Fats”?).

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He doesn’t mind what we call him. He’s just happy to be here.

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Humiliated and broke, Eddie leaves Charlie and half of his remaining money and skulks off into the night. At a bus station he meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), a charming alcoholic with a limp, and the two strike up a conversation and later a relationship.

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Ain’t no romance like a bus stop romance ’cause a bus stop romance don’t end (well)!

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The two seem happy together for a while, but then gambler Bert Gordon (Scott) offers to put up Eddie’s stakes in return for 75% of his winnings, and Eddie goes back out into the world of semi-professional pool playing – a world Sarah can see is no good for him. Or anyone else for that matter. But is Eddie ready to let his grudge against Minnesota Fats go? And how much is he willing to sacrifice to get a second chance at besting him?

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“I mean, what do you want with these people? That guy wears shades inside! And I swear that lady just took a flower pot, turned it upside down and called it a hat!”

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We love how there’s very little preamble and backstory to The Hustler. We’re thrown right into the action and never given a moment to stop and catch our breaths until the end.

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Who knew watching people play pool could be so exciting?

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Paul Newman is fantastic in it, and Piper Laurie, reminding us of a (wonderful) cross between Carey Mulligan and Stockard Channing (Grease-era Channing, specifically), equally so. Sure, it centers around pool (ugh – a sport!) but that is not what this movie is about. So if you, like us, tend to avoid these kinds of films, give this one a chance. You (probably) won’t regret it. It’s powerful, moving and heartbreaking.

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Ah, what could have been…

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What we learned: We know way too little about the rules of pool. Also, don’t pursue obsessions at the cost of human relationships.

Next time: The Innocents (1961)

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#206 The Guns of Navarone

Watched: November 4 2018

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, Richard Harris

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 38min

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In 1943, British soldiers are stranded on the Greek island of Kheros, about to be blitzed by Germany but unable to leave due to the Axis controlled guns (as in big, massive cannons, not just a couple of revolvers, mind you) on the nearby island of Navarone. As no bombing missions have been successful, the British assemble a commando unit to infiltrate the island and take out the guns.

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“We’re rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves, drink up, me hearties, yo-ho!”

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The unit is a team of “pirates and cutthroats;” Major Roy Franklin (Quayle) Captain Keith Mallory (Peck), Corporal John Miller (Niven), Colonel Andrea Stavros (Quinn), “Butcher” Brown (Baker), and Spyros Pappadimos (Darren). Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to climb an unclimbable cliff to sabotage the guns.

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“I’m scared of heights…” “I think I left the stove on.” “Whose fucking brilliant idea was this, anyway???” “Tell my mum I love her.”

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The team is gathered, plans laid and events put in motion. They’re a ruthless but charming bunch, and they set out on their hazardous journey where they encounter storms, Germans, trust issues, dangerous climbs in awful conditions, injuries, capture, torture and romance.

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Among their many perils: armed women with minds of their own!

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The Guns of Navarone is an action packed movie about manly men doing manly things. We loved the long sequences without dialogue and the (often lack of) score. Among our favourite scenes were the storm with the subsequent shipwreck and climb, and the incredibly tense ending when we were waiting for the booby trap to be triggered. We were quite literally on the edge of our seats.

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We imagine it was a sensation not unlike being held at gunpoint, but as we lead very sheltered lives this is really just guesswork

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The tension is oftentimes palpable and this is a very entertaining war epic, not unlike The Bridge on the River Kwai. So if you’re looking for a WWII double feature and you have several hours to spare, the two might make an excellent combo. Just be sure to wrap up warm and bring a snack.

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Alternatively, combine it with Mamma Mia for a Greek Wedding extravaganza!

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What we learned: Sometimes, you need a team of pirates and cutthroats. Also, we need to step up our rope-climbing game. Who knew that dreaded P.E. staple could have real world applications?

Next time: The Hustler (1961)

#205 Lola

Watched: November 1 2018

Director: Jacques Demy

Starring: Anouk Aimée, Marc Michel, Jacques Harden, Alan Scott, Annie Duperoux, Elina Labourdette

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Roland Cassard (Michel) loses his job and randomly decides to give a young girl his dictionary due to her resemblance to his old friend Cécile (Aimée) – even sharing her name. By chance, he then runs into said friend, who now goes by the name Lola. And is a showgirl…

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Would you believe she both merengues and does the cha-cha..?

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Lola, now a single mother, is very happy to see her old friend, and the two go out to dinner before her show one evening. Roland finds out that despite not having heard from him in seven years, Lola is still hung up on her baby daddy Michel (Harden). While waiting for him to return, the dancer passes the time with American sailor Frankie, who also develops a strange and unhealthy relationship with Lola’s young lookalike Cécile (Duperoux), seeming destined to repeat history.

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The young girl is easy prey too – the only person invited to her birthday party was a random dude she had met only once and who her mother wanted to bang. Way to make a girl feel special.

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Roland falls for Lola and decides to make his unrequited love her problem by telling her about his feelings and being childish and mean when she rebuffs him. Because naturally it is her fault that he fell for her and she should feel bad about it.

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Perhaps Roland should practise reading body language instead of guilt-tripping women when they don’t love him?

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Lola is an interesting movie – the perspective switches between characters and goes off in all kinds of directions, while still telling the story quite efficiently. Lola is a bit simple, but sweet, and we loved how she was never apologetic about her work or her status as a single parent.

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Of course, she had nothing to apologise for, being a fabulous woman and great mother, but we have a feeling not everyone would have thought so, especially in 1961

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While we’re still unclear how their days worked (does Yvon go to night school? How on earth do they get so much done before school? And did Roland come to work late five times in three days???), Roland acted like a stereotypical “nice guy” with Lola, and we’re very worried about Frankie grooming the young Cécile, we absolutely enjoyed this movie and we can’t wait for what else Jacques Demy has in store for us. Also, we need Lola’s corset. And top hat.

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If you’re only going to own one outfit, make it a classic!

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What we learned: Never go with service men.

Next time: The Guns of Navarone (1961)

#204 A Taste of Honey

Watched: October 30 2018

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Murray Melvin, Robert Stephens, Paul Danquah

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Jo (Tushingham) is an artistic sixteen-year old girl who’s neglected by her mother Helen (Bryan) and tired of the way her life is going. Following the girl’s short romance with black sailor Jimmy (Danquah), Jo is kicked out from her home when her mother marries a disaster of a man, Peter (Stephens).

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Strangely, it wasn’t the affair that dissuaded Peter from taking her on as his new daughter. It was her resting-weird-face which freaked him out.

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Jo moves out, gets a flat and a job in a shoe shop, as well as a new gay best friend in Geoff (Melvin). In short, she’s pretty much living the outcast girl’s dream. There’s one problem though – her romance with Jimmy left her pregnant.

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No inexperienced teenager would have stood a chance with this guy…

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Like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Taste of Honey was familiar to the extremely sophisticated Sister the Oldest from her literature studies, but only in writing. The film version of Shelagh Delaney’s play was no disappointment and we both enjoyed it a lot.

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On the question of favourite character we’re torn between both these two

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We can imagine that this one would have been at least a tiny bit controversial upon release with its depictions of sexuality (both young girls and homosexuals should keep that to themselves, thank-you-very-much!), interracial relationships and horrible parenting.

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Helen may look caring and worried, but only as long as Jo’s needs don’t interfere  with her own

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Despite the somewhat bleak subject matter, A Taste of Honey is not as depressing as it could easily have become. The dialogue is funny and witty, and the characters are interesting – especially the women and Geoff.

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Peter’s just your run-of-the-mill misogynist bastard though

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We loved Jo – she’s awkward, insolent, insecure, independent, stubborn, sharp and fabulous, partly thanks to Tushingham’s performance. This movie is a great little slice of kitchen sink drama with a fantastic cast and a strange but interesting peep show scene set in Blackpool. Not sure why we point that out that in particular, but it seemed worth mentioning. Definitely recommended.

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What we learned: Life doesn’t always go the way you plan it. And sometimes you make the same mistakes as your mother.

Next time: Lola (1961)