#240 Onibaba

Watched: September 30 2019

Director: Kaneto Shindô

Starring: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satô, Taiji Tonoyama

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Sometime in the fourteenth century (we think) a mother-and-daughter-in-law team kill stray samurai and sell their stuff for food. The bodies? Dumped in a convenient hole and left to rot.

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Our disbelief was not quite suspended yet five minutes into the film, so the only thing we could think of at this point was that the dry grass must have really cut into the actors’ backs! Tres uncomfortable!

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A neighbour returns with news of their son’s/husband’s death, and the two women dispair. For a few days. And then the new widow starts sneaking off in the night to get her rocks off with the neighbour.

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The Queen of Eyebrows does not approve

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Mother worries that her partner in crime will leave her to her own devices now that she has a new lover. But when she meets a strange samurai with an even stranger mask she hatches a devious plan.

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Her new hobby: hanging out in fields at night with an unknown light source popping up at just the right time!

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Onibaba was strangely unsettling and it stayed with us for a long time after the credits rolled. From the animalistic lives of the two women in the beginning, to the demonic mask and the creepy ending, we were completely engaged.

 

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Admittedly, we thought Sir Brags-a-lot kind of had it coming, the way he treated his guide

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We loved the contrasts of light and dark, the intense music, the non-sexualised nudity, the mask, the epic eyebrows, and the general disconcerting feel of the entire piece. This is one of those movies we would probably never have watched if it weren’t for the list, so thank you Edgar. We loved it!

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If you’re wondering, the sexually frustrated tree-humping women did not strike a cord as much as the horror elements of the demon mask. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

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What we learned: Don’t shame two single, consenting adults for enjoying a healthy sexual relationship.

Next time: Red Desert (1964)

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#238 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Watched: August 25 2019

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 35min

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General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) has gone cray-cray trying to protect his precious bodily fluid from the commies, and orders an attack on the USSR.

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“No amount of phallic symbolism can protect me from their desecration of my precious bodily fluids!”

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Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Sellers), on loan from the Royal Air Force, soon realises that the attack is Ripper’s doing and no orders have come from the President or Pentagon. He tries his best to stop the general before a full blown nuclear war breaks out, but this proves difficult as Ripper is the only one able to communicate with the attacking B-52 bombers.

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“Hello? I need to talk to the President! What do you mean he’s busy impersonating a British RAF officer?”

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Meanwhile at the Pentagon an emergency meeting is called, with President Muffley (Sellers) and General Buck Turgidson (Scott) in attendance. And also former nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers). As if things aren’t complicated enough, the assembly learns that the Soviets have a “doomsday machine” which, if struck, will render the entire earth uninhabitable for close to 100 years.

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While this might be problematic for most people, some see the dismantling of society as a perfect dating opportunity

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This. This is the movie which sparked our love of classic movies back when we were young. It is just so damned entertaining, and strangely accessible, despite its serious subject matter (and black and white photography which will on occasion put people off).

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However, usually a bona fide war room will bring them right back in

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From the opening, to Vera Lynn, you will be completely engaged. It is beautifully and interestingly shot and the characters are utterly amazing – not just the ones played by Peter Sellers. Also, there’s a cowboy riding a bomb.

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Would we lie to you?

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Dr. Strangelove is frightening (the scenario was not entirely improbable and outlandish for a while), but also hilarious, sad and brilliant, and we love everything about it.

What we learned: Peace is our profession.

Next time: Goldfinger (1964)

#236 Band of Outsiders/Bande à part

Watched: June 26 2019

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur, Louisa Colpeyn

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 35min

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Odile (Karina) attends an English class where she meets would-be “American gangsters” Franz and Arthur (Frey and Brasseur, respectively). For some reason, she is charmed by these juvenile and annoying guys, and after being negged into submission she finds herself a key player in their “master plan” to rob her aunt’s employer.

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“And we’ll be like ‘Bang!’ and he’ll be like ‘Help!’ and we’ll be like ‘Give us all your money!’ and he’ll be like ‘Take it all!'” “Yeah, totally! We’re so cool.”

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Don’t get us wrong, there were things we liked about this movie. It’s very stylish, and there are fun and interesting bits such as the minute of (complete) silence. We really enjoyed the dance scene in the café (which you can watch here) and the record breaking tour of the Louvre as well.

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Heeeeey Macarena!

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We just could not deal with the characters. Odile is very simple, bland and easily manipulated, and Arthur is a negging dick, so they’re clearly meant to be. Franz is just boring, and both him and Arthur are playing at being American gangsters despite being far too old for that sort of behaviour (they both look about 40 but act like 15-year-olds). We’re at a loss to see how Odile would feel a need to impress these two and we fail to see her motivation.

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The only semi-charming thing they do with her is the Louvre run. Girl, you can do better!

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We just found them all really annoying and boring. Then again, this might be our own fault as we are probably expecting too much traditional character development from a French new wave classic.

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“OK guys, explain it to a simple Danish girl: what is the French fascination with love triangles?”

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We did love Mme Victoria (Colpeyn), the dog, the over-the-top death scene (won’t spoil it by saying whose), and the voice over – particularly at the end. It was just that the main characters irked us. A lot. And we found it difficult to see past that. Sorry, Godard (and Edgar)…

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No film with a random dance scene is a total waste though, so we’re glad we watched it.

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What we learned: Come on, Godard. Odile certainly was not thinking about her boobs all the time. Despite popular opinion, women spend very little time actually thinking about them. They’re just kind of there…

Next time: Blood and Black Lace (1964)

#234 A Hard Day’s Night

Watched: June 10 2019

Director: Richard Lester

Starring: The Beatles, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, John Junkin

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 27min

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It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright

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“Wait, why are we all running in the same direction if I’m going home to my girl..?”

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You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things
And it’s worth it just to hear you say you’re going to give me everything
So why on earth should I moan, ’cause when I get you alone
You know I feel ok

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“Finally. We’re alone…”

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When I’m home everything seems to be right
When I’m home feeling you holding me tight,

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“tight, yeah!”

 

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It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright, oww!

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“So, turns out I have to find my own girl to go home to. I can’t share Ringo’s. Any takers?”

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So why on earth should I moan, ’cause when I get you alone
You know I feel ok

When I’m home everything seems to be right
When I’m home feeling you holding me tight, tight, yeah

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“Now pout for the camera, boys!”

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Oh, it’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright
You know I feel alright
You know I feel alright

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“So, we’re all happy with these lyrics?” “Sure!” “Yeah!” “Love ’em!” “I mean, they are a bit repetitive maybe…?” “Shut your filthy mouth! This is perfection!”

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Very silly and charming, and an inspiration for so many different genres. Definitely watch this. Such fun!

What we learned: The Spiceworld of its time was almost as good as Spiceworld! But of course, Paul, John, George and Ringo will never be as charismatic and popular as Ginger, Scary, Sporty, Baby, Curly, Moe, Larry, Huey, Louie, Dewey, Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey, Doc, Posh and all the other Spice Girls.

Next time: A Shot in the Dark (1964)

#232 The Small World of Sammy Lee

Watched: May 25 2019

Director: Ken Hughes

Starring: Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 47min

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No, we are not dead. We just had to take a small hiatus due to exams and related stress enducing activities which take a lot of time away from writing. But things are calming down (only two weeks until the summer break for some of us!) and we’re ready to get back into it. And we do so with classic British crime film The Small World of Sammy Lee.

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A.k.a. The Loneliness of the Gambling Debt Runner

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Patsy (Foster) arrives at a Soho strip club looking for Sammy Lee (Newley), the compère at the club who she had a fling with, and a job. Unfortunately for her, he’s off gambling and getting further into debt with a local kingpin, so she’s left with his sleazy boss instead.

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Despite Sammy’s absence, Patsy gets an “interview” and is promptly hired.

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Returning to work, Sammy is not overly pleased to learn that Patsy has found a job there, but at least she’s hired as a waitress rather than a stripper. For the time being. Additionally, he receives a call informing him that his debt of £300 is to be collected immediately. Although he does manage to talk the debt collectors into giving him 5 hours to come up with the money.

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“Um, yeah, I totally have that amount of money lying around and will have absolutely no trouble getting my hands on them within the next five hours. Just you wait!”

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Sammy has to pull all his strings, exhaust all his contacts and juggle all his ideas to make the money in the allotted time in order to survive the night. As the night goes on, the deals get shadier and shadier, and he will pull all those who love him down with him.

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Including young, naïve Patsy

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Sammy Lee is charming and funny, but a selfish bastard. His contact with his brother is limited to asking for money, and he has lots of acquaintances and very few friends. He pleads with the men in his life for money, but dismisses all the women who want to help him, probably out of some false sense of chivalry. Poor Patsy deserves better.

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As does Sammy’s ever faithful and loyal friend/sidekick Harry

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The Small World of Sammy Lee is tense and engaging, and we enjoyed it a lot. We also secretly liked the gratuitous strip tease scenes with the elaborate scenarios, despite our lack of understanding of their sexual appeal (might be a gender thing). We loved the properly choreographed numbers, the clear themes, and the contrast between the show and everything happening backstage.

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Note to all: no man is worth participating in an Arabian Nights themed strip tease. If you’re gonna do that, do it for yourself.

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And while we weren’t necessarily fans of Sammy, we really enjoyed Newley’s performance and the character’s ingenuity in trying to raise the money. We watched this as a double feature with Bitter Harvest, and to us, this reads a bit like an alternate reality version of that (which we’ll come to in a few days) with Patsy as a less driven and less autonomous Jennie. But we’ll explore this further in the next blog post.

What we learned: What a compère is. And also, don’t gamble. Although we already knew that.

Next time: Bonus: Bitter Harvest (1963)

#231 The Servant

Watched: April 23 2019

Director: Joseph Losey

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Wendy Craig

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 56min

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Tony (Fox) has recently bought a house and like all houseowners he is now in dire need of a manservant. This need is met in the form of Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) and he is immediately hired. Tony seems content with his new employee and they fall into their roles quite naturally.

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One: the careless sleeper. The other: the sinister observer

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Despite playing his devoted servant-role to perfection, whenever Tony is not around, we see a different Barrett: he drinks, smokes and even moves differently. Tony’s girlfriend Susan (Craig) seems to be the only one who picks up on the more malevolent side of Barrett, and she soon becomes directly hostile towards him. We can’t blame her though – he goes out of his way to ignore her, even when she speaks directly to him.

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Personally, we tend to be careful about insulting the man in charge of the wine, but we admire her courage.

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Then, when Barrett moves his “sister” Vera (Miles) in, the tension in the household reaches new heights. Tony and Vera soon have an affair, then Tony catches Barrett with Vera (who, of course, is not actually his sister), and gradually the power in the relationship shifts from one man to another.

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“What does the fact that we have both slept with my ‘sister’ say about the nature of the tension between us..?”

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The Servant might start off like Jeeves and Wooster, but then it goes oh so dark. Bogarde is wonderfully creepy as Barrett, and there’s an air of malice and threat about him which we absolutely loved.

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Even his shadow is menacing

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The house is wonderful and practically a character in it self, and the dinner scene where we caught glimpses of people’s lives was amazing. We also loved the tension built by the dripping sink, as well as the Pinocchio nose shadow, the use of mirrors, and the score.

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We enjoyed this awkward seduction too. How many suggestive and impractical poses can one girl strike on a kitchen table before she is kissed?

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It’s a slow build, but exceedingly enjoyable, full of detail and hugely suspenseful. Just a beautifully successful union of writer, director and stars.

What we learned: It’s just as well we cannot afford servants… Also, deep focus was all the rage in the 1960s!

Next time: The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963)

#230 The Haunting

Watched: April 21 2019

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Fay Compton, Rosalie Crutchley, Lois Maxwell

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Eleanor “Nell” Lance (Harris) has been oppressed and mistreated all her life – both by her abusive mother and her overbearing sister. So when she gets a mystical invitation to spend a few days in Hill House as part of an experiment, she “steals” her own car and sets off.

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“To adventure! And possibly gruesome death.”

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The experiment, led by Dr John Markway (Johnson), is looking for proof of the supernatural and Hill House was chosen for its history of madness, murders and suicides and its reputation for being haunted. Dr Markway explains that Nell was invited due to an event in her childhood where rocks had rained on her house, possibly because of Nell’s latent telekinetic powers, something she herself fervently denies.

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“No, no, no! Nothing so dramatic has ever happened! I’m not dramatic! Shut up or I’ll jump!”

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The other participants in this supernatural shindig include psychic Theodora (Bloom) and house owner’s nephew Luke (Tamblyn). Weird, fragile, abused Nell has lived too much in her own head and not enough out in the real world, and she struggles to form natural relationships with the rest of the group, especially Theodora who she seems to adore and detest in equal amounts.

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“She’s my best and only friend. I love her. Do I love her too much? No. But is Dr Markway in love with her? I hate her! Why don’t they love me? Did I kill my mom..?”

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Our guess is that for a large audience, Shirley Jackson’s classic horror story The Haunting of Hill House is possibly best known from the 2018 Netflix series, but do not be fooled. This is the real story and the adaptation closest to the original novel. (Ok, so the new version was scary and fun, but the ending was just all kinds of wrong. We’re still miffed.)

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“Sure is good we’re not all siblings, what with all the sexual tension and such.”

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We loved the opening voice-over telling the backstory, and the aging of Abigail. We loved the clothes, the mirrors, the black and white, the Dudleys, and the pounding on the door the first night. We loved the characters, the sets and the ambivalence – are we dealing with supernatural events or mental illness?

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Ghosts or good old-fashioned “female hysteria”?

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The Haunting is everything we look for in a horror movie: intriguing characters, gorgeous and fascinating location, creepy atmosphere, chilling servants (never a good movie without them), good backstory, and an ambivalent explanation. Fantastic! Except Eleanor’s sister and brother-in law. They are just the worst…

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Even Mrs Dudley is more likable, and she’s not exactly a laugh riot.

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What we learned: Hill House had the most Extra decorator in interior design history. The set designers must have had a field day. Also, deep focus was all the rage in the 1960s

Next time: The Servant (1963)

#227 Shock Corridor

Watched: February 18 2019

Director: Samuel Fuller

Starring: Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best, Larry Tucker, Hari Rhodes, Paul Dubov

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Reporter Johnny Barrett (Breck) goes undercover as a patient in a mental hospital to solve a murder and win a Pulitzer. His girlfriend Cathy (Towers) is against it, but is finally pressured into acting as his sister to get him admitted for incestuous thoughts.

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“It’s not my fault, doc. She regularly shrinks down and seductively dances on my chest. How is a guy supposed to react to that?”

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Once inside, the ambitious reporter tries to make sense out of the three witnesses to the murder: Stuart (Best), a former soldier brainwashed by the Koreans into communism and then branded a traitor; Trent (Rhodes), an African American who imagines himself as a Ku Klux Klan member after a horrible time as one of the first black students in a segregated college; and Boden (Evans), a nuclear scientist whose guilty conscience regressed him to the mental state of a child.

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Interestingly, while the men’s ward has patients with a variety of fascinating problems, all the female patients suffer from the same affliction: zombieism nymphomania.

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With unreliable witnesses, dire circumstances and an opera singing “sidekick,” will Barrett solve the murder and win his prize? Or will he lose his mind, his girl and his career trying?

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“Your guess is as good as mine, ghost-and/or-racist-guy!”

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We loved Shock Corridor despite the fact that it features one of the worst reporters in the history of reporting. Seriously, each one of the stories he encounters from the patients he interviews is easily as interesting and important as the story he is chasing, but he is too focused on his goal to see it.

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Any personal history which led to this scenario would be Pulitzer worthy in our book

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The voice-over is very noiry, which we always enjoy, although we did feel like it made the movie a bit “tell, don’t show” at times. Still, we loved the dream sequences and how we could see what went on in the characters’ heads. We also loved the WTF choreography to Cathy’s striptease, the rainy corridor, and the backstories of all the patients. And we were glad that the horrible, horrible rape scene was portrayed as a nightmare rather than a dream…

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Though while we appreciate the aesthetics of such a scene, we are always left wondering who are the poor people tasked with cleaning up after?

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What we learned: Who defines insanity?

Next time: The Birds (1963)

#222 Billy Liar

Watched: March 02 2019

Director: John Schlesinger

Starring: Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Gwendolyn Watts, Helen Fraser, Wilfred Pickles, Mona Washbourne, Ethel Griffies, Finlay Currie

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 38min

Billy

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Meet Billy (Courtenay). Billy lives with his parents and works at an undertakers’. Billy juggles girlfriends/fiancées Barbara (Fraser) and Rita (Watts) while harbouring a secret crush on free spirit and original manic pixie dream girl Liz (Christie). He also lies through his teeth.

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Why on earth this lovely, innocent girl would let this man bring her to a cemetery is beyond us. Here, she clearly only has a few minutes left to live.

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Billy has an imaginary world where he is not only king, but pretty much every inhabitant, at least any person of note. This kingdom of Ambrosia is his escape from his boring, average life, as well as an outlet for his creativity. And a source of frustration for his fed up family.

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Who hasn’t dreamt of being a hero, loved and admired by men and women alike?

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Sexually frustrated ladies man, compulsive liar, rebellious teen and part time sociopath, Billy’s fantasies often end in him gunning down everyone around him, especially those who inconvenience him. He lies to protect himself and to seem more interesting. He’s not too good with criticism or confrontation, and he dreams of a more exciting life which he is too scared to actually pursue.

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We get it, Billy. It’s much easier to be the fictional ruler of Ambrosia than to actually go out and take chances with your life, risking defeat. Go Liz!

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Oh, did we mention he also tries to drug one his girlfriends to have sex with her? Which definitely ranks in the top three of “the worst thing that can happen when a man brings a woman to a cemetery”-list.

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Lucky for her he bought bad drugs. And also didn’t know which part of her to suck…

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You can probably tell that we’re not quite sold on the character of Billy… In fact, we found him somewhat sinister at times. However, there are still a lot of things to enjoy about this movie. As always, we loved Tom Courtenay’s face(s), we loved the banter in the funeral home, the twist dancing, and the flashes between reality and Billy’s fantasy world.

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For all his faults, it’s hard to completely hate a man who is so overly dramatic and extra.

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We also liked Liz. Where Billy had only his dreams, Liz had the guts and the follow-through. He talked a good game, but she actually went out and did things with her life. The only thing that confused us about her was why she would be interested in someone like him.

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“Shit! I just realized I’m Julie Motherfucking Christie! So long, sucker!”

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It’s an interesting movie and well worth watching. Apart from his treatment of the women in his life (this goes for girlfriends as well as his mother and grandmother), Billy is relatable in a lot of ways. Frustrated with his mundane working class existence, he retreats into his fantasy world where he can actually achieve and experience things. We can understand that. But like the demolition work going on all around him, he has a destructive streak, and it’s a dark one…

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Why can’t it be both..?

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What we learned: There’s a fine line between having an active imagination and being a compulsive liar.

Next time: Black Sabbath (1963)

#221 8 1⁄2/Otto e mezzo

Watched: February 28 2019

Director: Federico Fellini

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele

Year: 1963

Runtime: 2h 18min

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Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) is a famous film director in the middle of an existential crisis and artistic drought. His new project is going nowhere and neither is his love life.

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His flying lessons are going swimmingly however, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice

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Between balancing his mistress (Milo), wife (Aimée), producers, set designers, and potential starring actors, the director is buckling and cannot get himself to make any decisions about his next movie.

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“I need hands! Lots of hands! And frozen faces! And a certain Bergman quality to it all. Or, on second thought, I need a space ship and a bunch of aliens.”

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When confronted by the reality of his life (and his affair), he dreams himself away to a fantasy land where every woman he’s ever met worships the ground he walks on, get along with each other, and (more or less) voluntarily remove themselves from his view when they reach an undesirable age.

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And if they fail to comply, there’s always the whip

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Can religion help? The cardinal in the sauna? The dream woman he’s seen as the star of his movie? His (patient) wife, Luisa? Barbara Steele? The memory of his first sexually charged encounter as a child? In short, will Guido get his groove back?

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“Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy”

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8 12 is gorgeous to look at, and very deservedly won an Oscar for best costume design. The architecture is also outstanding, and there are loads of shots of small people in huge structures throughout the film.

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Huge crumbling structures littered with tiny insignificant people. Or something.

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We’re still in love with Barbara Steele and her face, and we were intrigued by the opening (which reminded us of Bergman – our doggo would have loved it!), especially the arms on the bus and the frozen people. We loved the voice-over, the dream/memory-sequences, the sauna, and the dance in the end, which also brought us back to Bergman.

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“Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga, I know you can’t control yourself any longer” – Ingmar Bergman, 1957

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What we learned: Sometimes, a clown orchestra is what you need.

Next time: Billy Liar (1963)