#160 Ashes and Diamonds/Popiół i diament

Watched: February 12 2018

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela (apologies for any spelling mistakes that may have occured)

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Three guys with machine guns are lying in wait by a chapel. They kill two guys that come driving by, one of whom dies falling through a chapel door (and catching slightly on fire somehow). However, it turns out that the assassins have hit the wrong targets…

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“There is more than one car on this road? How inconsiderate. They can blame themselves for getting killed.”

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It’s the end of World War II in Poland, and the assassins, Maciek Chelmicki (Cybulski) and Andrzej (Pawlikowski) are after communist leader Szczuka (Zastrzezynski) who has recently returned to his home country. They decide to try again at local hotel Monopol, where Maciek takes a room and starts flirting with barmaid Krystyna (Krzyzewska).

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As Maciek picks the best, most romantic, and most atmospheric spots for dates, he is naturally successful in his pursuit of Krystyna.

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His newfound love, coupled with exposure to the grieving loved ones of his unintentional victims and the bodies of the dead men themselves, combine to change Maciek’s view of the world. He goes to his friend and superior officer Andrzej and tells him he doesn’t want to carry out this assassination. He wants to settle down with Krystyna and live in peace.

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Just him, his girl, and loads of shots. What a life!

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However, Andrzej is not sympathetic and tells Maciek backing out now will make him a traitor and that he’ll just have to tough it out. How will this all end?

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Rambo-style!

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Ashes and Diamonds is the third installment in Wajda’s war trilogy, and the second one on the list after Kanal. We loved the part in the crypt and Maciek’s decidedly ’80s vibe (we think it’s the sunglasses he sports and how the shadows often give the illusion of a mullet).

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The ultimate hipster – rocking a mullet before it was cool

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Like its predecessor, this film is quite weird and somewhat unsettling at times, with damaged women acting as saviours for damaged men, and lots of religious symbolism. Also, we found the dancing in the end reminiscent of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. We really enjoyed it, and at an opportune moment, we will go back and watch the first film in the trilogy, A Generation (1955) even though it didn’t make the list.

Zbigniew Cybulski,  Adam Pawlikowski
Seriously though – doesn’t this look like it could be a still from some 1980s cop movie..? The young, charming maverick paired up with the old, cranky, by-the-book veteran?

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What we learned: Shit always floats to the top. Also, we do not know enough about Poland 1945.

Next time: Dracula (1958)

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#159 A Night to Remember

Watched: February 3 2018

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman, Anthony Bushell, and many, many more.

Year: 1958

Runtime: 2h 3min

Night

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First off, we can only apologize for the sporadic updates lately. Sister the Youngest has bought herself her own apartment, so we’re in the middle of moving and painting and everything that comes with it. Unfortunately, that means that at the moment we have less time to watch and review movies. We’ll come back stronger once she’s all settled in her new place and Sister the Oldest can once again enjoy the tranquility of her own place… Ah… The silence…

That being said, we’ve reached a new year, and 1958 starts on a very uplifting note with the epic tale of the RMS Titanic.

The band plays on as the Titanic sinks – a still from the 1958 film A Night To Remember
What a party!

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The year is 1912 and the Titanic, the largest, most unsinkable ship ever (in 1912), is on its first trip from Southampton to New York City. The passenger liner carries 2,224 souls from all walks of life, and we get to meet several of them, most notably Second Officer Lightoller (More). It is shaping up to be a wonderful voyage despite a few ice berg warnings.

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Them icebergs have better get out of the way, ’cause here we come! Whoot whoot!

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The Titanic is not the only ship out there – the Californian and the Carpathia are both sailing in the same waters, and they exchange warnings about the ice in the area. They also warn the larger ship, but because every passenger on the Titanic is eager to send messages home to brag about their whereabouts, the radio operator is too busy sending social calls to properly receive the warnings.

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“I simply MUST send a message home telling everyone we met a Second Officer! My friends will swoon!”

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Now, we all know how this ended. The ship sank, there were nowhere near enough lifeboats (thank you hubris and lax regulations), and around 1500 people died. Still, despite the awful ending, the film is really enjoyable and we loved it. We’ve been morbidly fascinated with the story ever since our grandmother (a.k.a. “Besta”) would sing sad songs about it when we were kids, so anything relating to this tragedy is eagerly consumed by both sisters.

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We were impressed with the effects, which hold up really well even in this day and age.

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A Night to Remember tells the tragic story of the maiden voyage of the ill-fated Titanic far more effectively (in our opinion) than James Cameron’s 1997 film. We loved that rather than to focus on just a couple of people, we got to follow a whole range of them, such as crew members, first class, second class and steerage passengers.

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We’re pretty sure Cameron stole some characters from this film, such as Plucky New-Moneyed American Woman (above) and Lively Irish Dancing Steerage Passengers (not pictured)

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It’s frustrating, emotionally devastating, stressful, engaging and wonderful, and like anything Titanic-related we ate it up. Thanks, Besta!

What we learned: Communication is key.

Next time: Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

#158 Wild Strawberries/Smultronstället

Watched: January 28 2018

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Jullan Kindahl, Gunnar Björnstrand

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Dr Isak Borg (Sjöström) has one son, one daughter-in-law, one mum, one housekeeper, and one dead wife. He is a disillusioned man with very creepy dreams. He also has an honorary degree, which he will travel to Lund to accept. After a last minute decision not to fly, he goes on a road trip with daughter-in-law Marianne (Thulin) and various other passengers they pick up on the way.

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She’s thrilled to be stuck in a car with him for several hours

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The two stop at his childhood summer home where Marianne goes swimming while Isak has flashbacks of his summers there, and of his cousin Sara (Andersson) who he was to marry. That was, until she went for his brother Sigfrid instead and left Isak emotionally cold and detached.

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“I couldn’t help myself. He assaulted me, and you know what the Bible says about those situations.”

 

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After reliving the emotional trauma from his youth, Isak and Marianne pick up a bunch of hitchhikers mirroring his various relationships, and pay a visit to his cold, distant mother before arriving at the home of his equally cold and distant son. We see a pattern.

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Modern day Sara seemed more fun than olden day Sara, to be honest

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We had actually never seen this before, probably because it seemed a bit too “drama,” but we ended up loving it. Wild Strawberries is very engaging, sad, melancholy, funny and at time unsettling.

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Such as this creepy guy, shown completely without context

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Isak is a tragic figure who has cut himself off from all human emotion since his childhood sweetheart left him and his wife cheated on him and later died. His relationship with his housekeeper closely resembles a marriage though, and the two seem to be fairly happy together despite their bickering.

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Our favourite character and everything we aspire to be

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The second Ingmar Bergman entry on the list taught us that our dog has a more refined taste in movies than us. He was completely riveted by this – especially the dream sequence which he paid full attention. Then again, he is technically 77 years old, so he probably related more to the main character than we did. Either way, our conclusion is that Bergman appeals to older dogs and (somewhat) younger humans alike. It’s a win-win!

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Older dogs and younger humans. It’s a beautiful thing.

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What we learned: Be careful, because you shape your children.

Next time: A Night to Remember (1958)

#155 The Seventh Seal/Det Sjunde Inseglet

Watched: December 17 2017

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

Seventh

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Knight Antonius Block (von Sydow) returns to Sweden from the Crusades only to find a country ravaged by the black plague and Death (Ekerot) waiting for him personally.

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Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!

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Block, who is apparently quite familiar with death as a concept (he returns from war after all), is not fazed by the ominous man, but challenges him to a game of chess. The wager: if Block wins he gets to return to his family, but if Death wins, Block will go willingly to meet his demise.

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“So… I poke it..?” “No, man. It’s called a fist bump. You literally make a fist and bump mine. It’s all the rage in the Crusades.”

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The chess game drags on and between moves the knight travels homeward with his philosopher squire Jöns (Björnstrand, who looks like a mix between Tony Robinson as Baldrick and Rhod Gilbert). Along the way, they gather a posse consisting of traveling performers Jof (Poppe) and Mia (Andersson) with their infant son, as well as an assorted collection of other Swedes.

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#SquadGoals

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While on the surface The Seventh Seal might seem a very existential, dark and serious film, it’s not as daunting a watch as many might suspect. In fact, there’s lots of humour in it, and Swedes have the best insults. And while it explores themes of life and death, good and evil, religion and God, it’s not too heavy or too depressing (well, sort of, but not completely without hope).

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Look! There’s song and dance! With absolutely no sinister context whatsoever.

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It’s gorgeous and iconic, and a film everyone should watch at least once. Don’t be put off by the dark subject matter – it’s really entertaining. Also, it’ll make you feel totally cultural and deep, so you can speak pretentiously about Bergman at parties and become the sort of person everybody loves.

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“Oh God, just shut up about that damned movie already. EVERYBODY has seen it! It does not make you special!”

 

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What we learned: You can’t cheat Death.

Next time: Throne of Blood (1957)

Bonus: The Monolith Monsters

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: John Sherwood

Starring: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey, Linda Scheley

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 17min

NOTE: At the time of watching (and writing) this, it was #155, but we see now that it has been removed from Mr Wright’s list. Still, it’s been watched and written, so we’ll just call it a bonus post and include it anyway, dammit! For details on numbering, read this.

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Meteors have been crashing into the desert in California, and geologist Ben Gilbert (Harvey) brings home a sample of the newly arrived space rocks. There is a storm, and the next day Dave Miller (Williams) arrives only to find his colleague petrified and his lab smashed, with lots of black rocks strewn around everywhere.

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“What a mystery! This calls for a huge sciency pot of sciency coffee and much pondering.”

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Meanwhile, Dave’s girlfriend Cathy Barrett (Albright) takes her class on a field trip to the desert and sends little Ginny (Scheley) home with another sample of the same rock. It ends badly.

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If you think pet rocks are a nice and safe alternative to an actual animal for your child, think again!

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Ginny’s fascination with shiny things kills her family, ruins their farm, and starts to slowly turn her to stone. Dave and Cathy start to investigate, together with a journalist, the police, and several medical doctors. They find that the mysterious rocks start to grow when exposed to water, and suck the silicon out of everything it touches when “activated.” Thank God it never rains in southern California!

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Just kidding. Of course it starts raining.

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With huge rocks making their way slowly and steadily towards the town, smashing everything in their way, it is up to Dave, Cathy, and Dave’s old professor Arthur Flanders (Bardette) to stop the advancing threat, save the town, and save the girl.

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But where to start? Why, by looking at maps and exchanging worried glances, of course.

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The Monolith Monsters is a silly, weird and fun sci-fi. The growing rocks are actually way more sinister than we would have thought possible, and while the premise of the movie is very silly, it is played straight. And it actually works.

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Evil killer rocks. We would have loved to be in that pitch meeting.

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The growing rocks are cool, we loved the newspaper man Martin Cochrane (Tremayne), and the film is a great mix between stupid (dat premise tho!) and serious. Very campy fun – thoroughly recommended if you like strange ’50s science fiction.

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It’s proving hard to find stills from this film, so here’s another picture of the titular “Monolith Monsters.”

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What we learned: Between Them! and this, the desert is no place for little blonde girls. Also, rocks are petrifying. Pun intended.

Next time: The Seventh Seal (1957)

#154 The Incredible Shrinking Man

Watched: December 10 2017

Director: Jack Arnold

Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, Paul Langton, April Kent, Raymond Bailey, William Schallert

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Somewhere at sea, a young couple are enjoying a day out on a boat. Louise (Stuart – who we absolutely adored), goes below deck to get Scott (Williams) a drink, and suddenly the man is enveloped by a mysterious, glittery mist.

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“Oh no! This must be one of those evil, communist, homosexual fogs that turn you gay!”

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Although he has no immediate ill effects, after a few months Scott remarks that all his clothes have become too big. Not by a lot, but definitely noticeable. A doctor’s appointment confirms that he is in fact shrinking, and together with medical experts the Carey’s start on their quest to save Scott from a terrible fate.

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“I’m not shrinking. We just underestimated the size of the new furniture we ordered.”

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As Scott shrinks, so does his self-esteem. He becomes angry and hostile towards his wife, with whom he no longer feels like the “man” of the household. He also grows increasingly pretentious as he tries to put his own existence into cosmic perspective. Or something. Oh, and he also has to go into battle with a house cat and a spider, which is less philosophical and more action packed.

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Exploring the usefulness of sewing supplies does not threaten your masculinity. Especially when you use said supplies to battle killer spiders.

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Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, The Incredible Shrinking Man explores identity, masculinity and fancy ’50s atomic science. Scott starts off as a normal, likable man in a happy marriage, but as he shrinks he becomes hostile and erratic. Then again, everything around him becomes increasingly dangerous, so you can’t really blame him for some of his attitude. Except for his anger with his adorable wife.

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“My stupid wife and her stupid cat!”

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It’s a great, old, classic science fiction film, and (most of) the special effects hold up really well even 60 years later. Scott isn’t a particularly likable protagonist/narrator, but it’s still a very entertaining watch, even if from the beginning you get a strong feeling that there’s no way this will end well.

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There’s a feeling of doom even before they bring carnies into the mix

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What we learned: To God there is no zero. Also, avoid being enveloped by mysterious fogs.

Next time: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein

Watched: December 25 2017

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 22min

Curse

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Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is smart, ambitious, handsome, charming and rich. He is also an arrogant jerk. And imprisoned. He confesses to a priest and tells his unusual, and somewhat unbelievable, story.

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“It all started, as these things tend to do, with a dead dog…”

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Orphaned at a fairly young age, Baron Frankenstein hires his own tutor, Paul Krempe (Urquhart), to be his teacher and later partner. Together the two explore the world of science!

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That’s just normal glass – his eyes are really like that. If you don’t believe us, watch Top Secret (1984)

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Their greatest achievement, the reanimation of dead tissue, brings about different reactions in the two scientists. While Kempe’s initial reactions is “yay! This’ll make surgery so much easier and safer!”, Frankenstein’s first impulse is to go out and harvest body parts to make himself a new man-puzzle. Kempe finally starts to see the sociopath in his student, and they have a falling out.

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“It’s MY turn to reanimate the corpse!” “No, it’s MINE!” “Who’s the one paying for all this?” “Screw this, I’m out.”

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Things escalate when Victor straight up murders another intellectual to use his brain for his creation, and then uses his successfully assembled and animated creature (Lee) to kill his knocked up maid Justine (Gaunt) who threatens to expose his shady dealings if he does not marry her.

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“Sorry, sweetheart – you’re certainly not good enough for the likes of me. Think of what the children will be like??? No, I’m engaged to marry my cousin. Yay gene pool!”

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Meanwhile, Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (Court) has arrived to marry him, which adds another complication. With the death toll rising, a creature on the loose, a falling out between the friends, and a Fair Maiden innocently roaming the large house at night, how on earth will this end?

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Let’s face it: fancy, defenseless ladies roaming around castles in the night with only a small lamp for company are usually not indicative of happy endings…

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The Curse of Frankenstein is quite different from its early predecessor Frankenstein despite their many similarities. For one, the monster (or, in this case, creature) isn’t really all that important. As creepy and scary as Christopher Lee is in this, the focus is all on the Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein.

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For such an unfortunate looking creature, he’s a surprisingly snappy dresser!

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Frankenstein himself is also very different. Personally, we feel that this take on the Baron is closer to the source material than many other incarnations – he really is an arrogant, egotistical, spoiled brat with a God complex in the book, no matter how bad he feels once everything falls apart. Cushing’s Frankenstein is particularly ruthless, and we love him for it. Well, not him as much as this version of events, we suppose. But we definitely love this film!

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…and this guy! #decompositionchic

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What we learned: If you’re going to stand up to a rich, insane, megalomaniac nobleman who doesn’t like being told what to do, you’d better have a contingency plan…

Next time: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

#153 The Bridge on the River Kwai

Watched: December 27 2017

Director: David Lean

Starring: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, Geoffrey Horne

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 41min

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Happy New Year, gentle reader! After a Christmas hiatus (and a ridiculously popular New Year’s tweet), we are finally back in business and continuing our journey through 1000+ films. And where better to start than David Lean’s classic WWII drama The Bridge on the River Kwai.

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Oh boy. Here we go again!

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During World War II, a British company led by Colonel Nicholson (Guinness) joins several other prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp. The camp commander, Colonel Saito (Hayakawa), tasks the newly arrived company, including its officers, with building a railway bridge over the nearby river. Hence the title of the movie.

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“It’ll be fun! Like building legos! Also, you can get nekkid and swim. It’s by far the most fun you can have in a prison camp consisting entirely of men.”

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Nicholson refuses to build the bridge, citing the Geneva Convention which forbids officers from being used for manual labour while prisoners. Saito, unable to kill him outright due to witnesses, instead settles for prolonged torture of all British officers.

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Torture: the best diet! Tried and tested by prisoners of war everywhere.

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When Nicholson is finally released from the iron box in which he’s been enclosed, the two colonels make a strange deal that the captured officers will oversee the work and construct the best damned bridge Burma has ever seen, dammit!

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“There’s no way I’m building a bridge for the enemy to facilitate their warfare. Unless that bridge is gonna be the best one ever constructed. Yeah, that’ll show’em!”

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Meanwhile, (fake) U.S. Navy Commander Shears (Holden), who originally warned the British officers about Saito, has joined an escape party and actually managed to get away! Hurray! Once he reaches safety, he is recruited to return with a small special forces party to destroy the eponymous bridge, joined by Major Warden (Hawkins), Lieutenant Joyce (Horne) and a very unlucky soldier who dies en route.

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Manly men to the rescue, betches!

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The Bridge on the River Kwai is a true classic, and despite lasting for almost three hours, it’s engaging throughout. You’re sort of rooting for both Shears and Nicholson, even though the latter goes bat shit crazy with bridge-building pride. So, really, one roots for Shears. Though Nicholson is admirable as well. Even Saito, the natural antagonist, is humanized in the course of the film. It’s all very emotionally confusing.

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Yep. Sums it up.

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A great, if tragic, way to start the new year. Here’s to 2018!

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“So, you got any new year’s resolutions?” “Well, I’m gonna build a great bridge and not back down under threat of torture and death. Oh, and I’m considering quitting smoking. You?”

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What we learned: Live like a human being.

Next time: Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

#152 Sweet Smell of Success

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Alexander Mackendrick

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Press agent Sidney Falco (Curtis) is miffed that columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster) is ignoring his clients, essentially withholding PR and success. Hunsecker’s reasoning is clear though: he asked Falco to break up his sister Susan (Harrison) and her jazz guitarist boyfriend Steve Dallas (Milner), and Falco failed to deliver.

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“I tried. I really did. But have you tried to make a girl fall out of love with a talented guitarist? It can’t be done, I tell you!”

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To get back on the good side of the powerful man, Falco agrees to try again, this time with feeling. He plants a story about the young musician being a dope-smoking communist and waits for the man to sabotage himself in his subsequent dealing with Hunsecker.

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“I just can’t believe it, Steve. You’ve been smoking dope this whole time and never once shared with me?”

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Sweet Smell of Success is horrible to watch, but in a brilliant way, with characters who are nightmare versions of real human beings. Tony Curtis’ Falco is entitled, sneaky, sleezy, and creepily ambitious – but ambitious in the sense that he feels the world owes him success rather than the sense that he will achieve it through hard work.

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“Listen sweetheart, I know I’m asking you to prostitute yourself to my friend, but it’s really for your own good. Trust me. You’ll love it!”

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Burt Lancaster’s Hunsecker is proud, manipulative, and controlling, with a very unhealthy relationship with his baby sister. Susan in turn is young and sweet, but with absolutely no backbone – she let’s her brother control everything and just withdraws when he tries to completely destroy her life. (OK, she tries a bit more than that, but it’s not really proactive as much as insanely passive-aggressive.)

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“Keep ruining my boyfriend’s life like that and I’ll… I’ll… I’ll lock myself in my room! Hah! Deal with that!”

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Seriously, both these guys make Ace in the Hole‘s Chuck Tatum look like a damn saint, particularly in their treatment of the women in their lives (although they don’t go easy on the men either). Despite the extremely unlikable characters, the film is amazing and at least as relevant today as it was in 1957, if not more. What a way to celebrate Christmas, peace on Earth and good will toward men.

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But get the fuck out of there, girl!

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What we learned: Women should expect to be attacked if they are dumb enough to find themselves alone in the company of a man. Also, people are scum.

Next time: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

#151 Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Bryan Forbes, Sid James, William Franklyn

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 25min

Quatermass

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Small meteors keep falling near small British village Winnerden Flats, much to the interest of Professor Quatermass (Donlevy). Frustrated with the dried up funding for his lunar base project, the professor decides to look into the strange meteors, only to find a fully constructed lunar base right on the outskirts of the village.

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“Yes – exactly like my model! But bigger. Like, DD big.”

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The entire area is under military control, and when Quatermass’ colleague Marsh (Forbes) is injured by whatever emerges from the gas in the hollow non-meteors, the two are separated; Quatermass is escorted away and Marsh is sent to the base for medical attention.

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“‘Tis but a scratch!”

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With the help of an MP, our hero manages to score an invite to inspect the base, which is supposed to produce synthetic food. But what he finds there is far more sinister than GMOs…

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“My God! And they told me my diet was bad!”

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Like The Quatermass Xperiment before it, Quatermass 2 is the Hammer film version of a BBC series, and it’s a great little sci-fi adventure.

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Banners and gas masks. What a charming party!

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There’s Cold War paranoia, conspiracies, propaganda, brain washing, alien colonization, pretty blondes, and mystery – everything you could possibly wish for in a science fiction horror. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The World’s End (2013), people appear normal and as they’ve always been, but something profound has changed which is hard to pin down. Add to that military operations and creepy gas masks, and you’ve got yourself an uncanny little gem, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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Did we mention the inflated trash bags?

A fun way to kick off the next 50 films!

What we learned: Everything will be answered later.

Next time: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)