#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

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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)

#156 Throne of Blood

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Chieko Naniwa, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 50min

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General Washizu (Mifune) and General Miki (Chiaki) are on their way to Spider’s Web Castle to have their excellent work recognized by Lord Tsuzuki (Tachikawa) when they get lost in Spider’s Web forest. They run into a magical old lady spinning her own web while singing depressing songs (Naniwa). She tells them that Washizu will be named Lord of the Northern garrison and Miki will take over his old post. She also predicts that eventually Washizu will become Lord of the Castle, succeeded by Miki’s son.

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As systems of government go, it’s a step up from women lying in ponds distributing swords, but it’s still far removed from general elections.

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While Washizu is content enough in his new, improved position, his wife Asaji (Yamada) becomes obsessed with the last part of the prophecy and keeps spurring him on to make it a reality. Asaji’s ambition combined with her husband’s skills as a warrior mean that soon the two start clearing the path for their social climbing, killing and manipulating their way to the top.

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“I admit it. I only want to be Lord because samurai armour is very cumbersome when you’re getting up off floors, and I ain’t getting any younger. Now I get a chair!”

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However, as the bodies start piling up, both Washizus descend into madness, and keeping their new status proves decidedly harder than getting it in the first place.

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Poster girl for sanity

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Throne of Blood is Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and despite it being set in a very different culture and time, it is a very true adaptation. Mifune is amazing as feudal Japanese Macbeth, and Yamada is deliciously insane and creepy as his ambitious and ruthless wife.

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Just doing some hovering in the background in the blood stained room. Nothing sinister going on here.

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We love us some samurai, some murder and some madness, so naturally we loved this. It is grotesque and creepy as well as engaging and exciting. As all Kurosawa, it is also beautifully shot and gorgeous to look at. It’s a Shakespeare tragedy, so from the very beginning you have some idea of where this is going, but watching it all unfold is still a fantastic ride.

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It’s like this shot in the beginning is some sort of foreshadowing or something.

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Love, love, love this!

What we learned: Don’t take advice from paranoid, ambitious, crazy people.

Next time: What’s Opera, Doc? (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)

#149 Kanal

Watched: December 6 2017

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Teresa Izewska, Tadeusz Janczar, Wienczyslaw Glinski, Tadeusz Gwiazdowski, Stanislaw Mikulski, Emil Karewicz, Teresa Berezowska, Vladek Sheybal

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 31min

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September 1944. The last days of the Warsaw Uprising. A small company of men (and women) are barricaded in an isolated part of town but it’s not long before they are attacked by Germans.

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Even in a war zone (or perhaps especially in one?) there’s time for flirting and light hanky panky.

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Surrounded, and with injured men, Lieutenant Zadra (Glinski) has no choice but to lead his company through the sewers to freedom, a tactic he’s not too keen on.

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And really, who can blame them for being less than thrilled? Pennywise might be down there!

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Stokrotka, or Daisy, (Izewska) who is familiar with the sewer system, offers to take care of the injured Korab (Janczar) who she is secretly in love with. She claims that the others will find their way easily as the exits are marked, but she overestimates the night vision of the soldiers.

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It may have gone very differently if they had at least opened their eyes

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As the company lose each other in the underground labyrinth, they each must brave the dangers that lurk: polluted air and water, gas, madness, and German grenades.

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Lesson: slippery sewer rocks and hand grenades are not a good combo

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Kanal is dark, suspenseful, and claustrophobic, and we loved it. We’re not sure whether the Warsaw sewer system is purgatory or one (or several) of Dante’s circles of Hell, but we know there’s no way we’re ever exploring it. Even if bad-ass Stokrotka is our guide.

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You can smell the stench through the screen

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Depressing though it is, this is also one of the best World War II films we’ve ever seen. We’re (very hesitantly) looking forward to Ashes and Diamonds (1958), hoping it may be a little bit more optimistic. But not really believing that.

 

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Just gonna add this here for extra effect

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What we learned: War is hell. But sewers are purgatory.

Next time: Paths of Glory (1957)

#148 Funny Face

Watched: November 26 2017

Director: Stanley Donen

Starring: Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson, Michel Auclair

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Dick Avery (Astaire), fashion photographer, bursts into the life of intellectual book seller Jo Stockton (Hepburn) with an impromptu photo shoot in her shop. Fashion editor (and personal hero) Maggie Prescott (Thompson) shuts her out of her shop for being a nuisance, but Dick manages to convince the brilliant lady to make Jo her new “Quality girl” and model.

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Thus starts the arduous task of making a glamorous model out of this hideous beast

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Dick talks the reluctant Jo into the job by promising her a trip to Paris – her biggest dream is to travel to the French capital to hear her personal hero professor Emile Flostre (Auclair) talk. He is the inventor of empathicalism, a philosophy Jo follows and Dick ridicules.

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“You silly girl! Stop trying to think and put on a pretty dress!”

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They go to Paris, Jo blossoms into a great model, Dick and Jo fall in love (for some reason), Jo gets to meet her hero (which the adage tells us never to do, and we learn why), and Maggie and Dick get to go undercover as Floridian singers to great success. Also, there are complications and conflicts, as there should be.

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Even Parisian rain can be endured with Givenchy dresses and colourful balloons

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We’re slightly conflicted over Funny Face. There is so much about it we love: the colours, the musical numbers, the sets, the costumes, the choreography, Maggie Prescott, Audrey Hepburn’s slightly clumsy elegance, the fact that she got to sing her own songs, and generally the overall feel of the entire film.

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How can you NOT love this?

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What we don’t quite get is the romance at the centre. It’s not so much the age difference, although 30 years is a lot (and we’re not strangers to the concept). It’s mainly Dick’s constant treatment of Jo as if she’s just a silly little girl incapable of thought and of seeing the real intentions of her hero. He berates and controls her, and he tries to change her priorities to make her more like the fashionistas he works with.

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Then again, who wouldn’t be persuaded to become a model if it meant wearing dresses like this?

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It feels a bit as if he might be better off finding someone else if he wants to change her that much. And that she would be happier with someone who at least supported her intellectual pursuits. We sort of thought Maggie and Dick would have been a better couple. But perhaps that’s just us.

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They do have amazing chemistry!

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Overall, we like the film, but the romance feels very dated unless it’s supposed to be a bit uncomfortable. The musical numbers and the gorgeous cinematography sort of makes up for it though. Sort of.

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It made us want to dance in sordid, French night clubs with men in striped shirts for sure

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What we learned: Think pink! Also, men in the fashion industry are presumably a lot less superficial than academics and philosophers.

Next time: Kanal (1957)

#146 A Face in the Crowd

Watched: November 27 2017

Director: Elia Kazan

Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Marcia Jeffries (Neal) is a small town radio reporter who makes a show called “A Face in the Crowd.” As she has the brilliant idea of recording an episode in the local jail, she discovers charismatic drifter Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, and his music and personality make him an overnight sensation.

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You know it’s going to be a good day when the only unhappy person in jail is the sheriff

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Marcia and her uncle, who owns the radio station, give Lonesome more airtime and soon his popularity spreads across the nation and, via Memphis, he ends up as a TV personality and big time influencer in New York.

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“Look! A tiny, magical me inside a box!”

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On TV, Lonesome Rhodes is a down-to-earth country boy with a heart of gold and grass root wisdom to spew. However, in real life Larry is a selfish scoundrel of a con man who grows increasingly madder with his newfound power and political influence. Marcia, who has fallen in love with her discovery despite being a very smart woman, gradually realises that she has created a monster…

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The face of a completely sane and not at all crazy man, thankyouverymuch!

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In many ways, A Face in the Crowd is more relevant now than it was in 1957. The popular media’s influence on politics, the TV personality’s power over people’s thoughts and opinions, and the yes-men surrounding the star enabling his delusions are all more prominent now than ever.

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Just look at who became president of the USA in the latest election…

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While funny at times, and dramatic at others, it still plays more like a horror movie in many ways than a drama, particularly since it really nails a lot of nasty truths about society and politics.

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We like these guys, though. Especially Walter “I Hate Extroverts” Matthau.

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Weirdly prescient and very unsettling, A Face in the Crowd should be watched by all.

What we learned: Fame is a fickle friend.

Next time: Curse/Night of the Demon (1957)

#145 12 Angry Men

Watched: November 12 2017

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, John Fielder, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

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12 jury members are in a locked room deliberating a murder case. That’s it. That’s the plot. Sound boring? Not at all! It’s tense, dramatic and very well acted, and it will keep you engaged throughout the entire 96 minutes.

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“Raise your hand if you think this film makes the most of its premise!”

 

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There’s really not much to say about this film which hasn’t been said before, and better than we could ever do, so we’ll keep it short and sweet.

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“Really? You’ll spare us your ramblings?”

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Human nature, society, male pride, racism and prejudice all play a part in the “neutrality” of the justice system, and it’s important to question what people tell you is the truth. Also, Juror #8 should have been the defense lawyer. And that’s all we’ll say, apart from watch this film. It’s fantastic.

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Enjoy an out-of-context knife

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What we learned: The system is flawed. Also, there’s always room for doubt.

Next time: A Face in the Crowd (1957)

#144 Written on the Wind

Watched: 19 November 2017

Director: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 39min

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After a very brief encounter, aspiring ad-lady Lucy Moore (Bacall) marries philandering alcoholic millionaire oil-heir Kyle Hadley (Stack) when he promises to change for her… This despite her initial attraction to his best (but not as rich) friend Mitch Wayne (Hudson).

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“You are so charming! I hope you have a less handsome friend I can marry!”

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To both their credit, Kyle does change his game during their first year of marriage, and the two are quite happy together. However, when they fail to conceive a child and Kyle learns that the fault lies with him, he falls back into his old ways of drink and aggression.

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“My sperm doesn’t work. I am not a man. I must drink and by no means talk to the people who love me about my insecurities.”

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Meanwhile, Mitch is caught up in a love triangle (square..?); he loves Lucy, Lucy loves Kyle, Kyle’s psychopath sister Marylee (Malone) loves Mitch, and Kyle pretty much loves, but distrusts, all of them.

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Marylee masks her love for Mitch with a string of unsuitable lovers

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Like Sirk’s previous entries, Written on the Wind is a melodrama with lots of twists and turns, and you’re never sure whether or not it will have a happy ending. It’s visually beautiful and “soft,” and the costumes are gorgeous (and very symbolic). Despite Mitch and Lucy being the characters everything (and everyone) revolves around, the Hadley siblings are by far the most intriguing.

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Poor little rich kids

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Their insecurities are understandable and explained, although they both go way overboard in their efforts to compensate for them – Kyle by spending money and drinking, and Marylee by being promiscuous and sabotaging Mitch and Lucy’s lives.

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She is even sexual enough to kill her father. Quite an achievement.

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We loved the costumes, the calendar at the beginning, all the twists and turns, and the crazy Marylee (who we sort of felt sorry for…at first, at least). Also, the scene in the beginning with Lucy and Kyle in the taxi is oddly poignant in these times of sexual harassment allegations. It’s clear that Lucy is on her guard, and that this is not a situation she’s unfamiliar with… Which says a lot, we think.

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Must have been one hell of a conversation in the plane to go from this to marriage…

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What we learned: If you have a problem which affects your marriage, maybe talk to your spouse about it..?

Next time: 12 Angry Men (1957)