#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.

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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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#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)

#150 Paths of Glory

Watched: December 14 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 28min

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During World War I, Colonel Dax’ (Douglas) regiment is given a suicide mission to stroke the ego of General Mireau (Macready); they are tasked with taking over the German position “the Ant Hill.”

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“Sure, we may lose a few men, or about half the regiment, but it’ll be one hell of a feather in the cap of the General if we manage to advance the ten metres! And feathers are cool.”

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After the doomed attack naturally fails, and B company doesn’t even manage to leave the trenches due to heavy casualties, the General’s pride is a casualty in itself and he decides someone must pay. More specifically, 100 soldiers must give their lives.

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“You know what this army’s problem is? Too many goddamn soldiers! With this many men the outcome of the war won’t be exciting at all, so let’s even the odds by killing our own men.”

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A few negotiations later, the number of soldiers to be executed for cowardice has been cut down to three. Dax requests to represent them during the court marshal, but he soon learns that the whole trial is a ridiculous sham. The defendants, Paris (Meeker), Arnaud (Turkel), and Ferol (Carey), have no chance of a fair hearing, and the commanding officers have zero sympathy or understanding for the men in the trenches.

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“And then they claimed shell shock! Shell shock!! The cowards. I tell you, back in my day we were delighted to die for our megalomaniac General. Young men nowadays…”

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We cannot believe we haven’t seen Paths of Glory before! We have, of course, been aware of it, but never watched it despite our undying love for Kubrick’s other anti-war masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964). We now have a new favourite.

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Not only because Kirk Douglas is super-heroic through most of it. But it doesn’t hurt.

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The absurdity of warfare in Paths of Glory is similar to what we see in Dr. Strangelove, but even more frustrating and sad; there’s humour here too, but not as much as in the later film. Also, this film is based on a true event, which adds frustration and sadness rather than humour and levity…

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Speaking of real events, there are more than a few parallels to the witch trials during the Inquisition

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Corruption, pride, fear, ambition, power, and absolutely no justice – Paths of Glory is our new favourite World War I film, for sure. We loved the big scale battle scenes and the small scale human drama; the performances and the social commentary. Love, love, love.

What we learned: The military is a silly and dangerous place.

Next time: Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space (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)

#74 A Matter of Life and Death

Watched: January 15 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring

Year: 1946

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Also known by its alternate title

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As Peter Carter (Niven) is plunging towards certain death in a shot up plane May 1945, his final moments are shared with radio operator June (Hunter) and the two, as people are wont to do in these intense situations, fall in love. He ejects from the burning aircraft without a parachute and is surprised to find himself alive on shore some moments later. Surely, the fall should have killed him?

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How much imagery of nudity, flutes and goats do you need to convince yourself you’ve reached hell?

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Turns out, it should have. Up on the celestial plane, the clerics are confused about the lateness of his arrival until they find that his Conductor, a very camp Frenchman (Goring), lost the pilot in the fog and thus neglected to collect his soul.

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“Bonjour! Je suis le campest Frenchman you’ll ever meet. Bon bon, mon petit fromage!”

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Unfortunately for the clerics of the afterlife, in the few hours of “extra” life Peter got, he met and fell in love with June which greatly complicates things. As he is not at fault here, is it fair to take him away just as he has found the love of his life? Since it was their mix up that caused this to happen, the celestial beings grant Peter a trial with his life at stake.

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Celestial trials have the most impressive courtrooms

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Meanwhile, in our own world, June has enlisted the help of a doctor friend of hers, Dr Reeves (Livesey, of Colonel Blimp-fame), as her new love is suffering headaches and possible hallucinations after jumping from a plane without a parachute… Naturally, the medical professional diagnoses Peter with head trauma and recommends surgery, to coincide with the patient’s heavenly trial.

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Which leads to some beautiful shots!

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This was a beautiful and engaging film which we completely loved. The relationship between Peter and June is lovely, although a bit hasty. She’s either very wonderful or very naïve to stick by him when he starts talking crazy after they’ve known each other for all of a day. The trial becomes very political, and much of the criticism against England from the USA could have been modern criticism against the US, which is very interesting to observe (especially given the newly instated president..). It’s like both countries have a history of proclaiming themselves above others and trying to impose their rules on other nations…

The sets are beautiful and impressive, especially on the other plane.

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Such as the stairway, or escalator, to heaven, for instance

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In a way, this film is like an opposite Wizard of Oz, as our world is in glorious technicolor while the other world is in drab black and white. Then again, our world is supposed to be the desirable one so it makes sense. A Matter of Life and Death has humour, excitement, adventure, romance, political undertones, history lessons, camp Frenchmen and gorgeous shoes! What’s not to love?

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A film so good it has its own stamp!

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What we learned: make sure you have a law degree before cheating death. Also, we have found the winners of the mannequin challenge of 1946!

Next time: La Belle et la Bête/Beauty and the Beast (1946)

PS: confused about the numbering on this? Check out this disclaimer!

#60 Road to Morocco

Watched: November 27 2016

Director: David Butler

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Dona Drake, Anthony Quinn

Year: 1942

Runtime: 1h 22min

Note: see note for Cat People. Yup, she was still gone.

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After their ship blows up, two stowaways find themselves on a raft discussing who will eat who first. Luckily, before it comes down to that, they find land and a very friendly camel to take them to Morocco. Yay camels!

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You haven’t lived until you’ve sung a song on the back of a camel. Fact!

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They arrive in a very Arabian Nights-inspired Morocco, complete with princess in distress and violent locals, where they get  up to all sorts of zany antics including, but not limited to, selling each other into slavery. Ah – men, am I right?

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At least, this particular form of slavery consisted of courting a beautiful princess. As far as human trafficking is concerned, it could be a lot worse.

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Once Jeffrey (Crosby) finds out the exact nature of the work he sold Orville’s (Hope) into, he inserts himself into the lives of the newly engaged couple to try to win princess Shalmar (Lamour) for himself. And he succeeds. Which is just as well, as Orville seems more interested in her handmaiden Mihirmah (Drake) anyway.

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Can’t imagine why

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Now, this is when things get really complicated for the two old friends. It turns out the princess is only interested in marrying Orville because a prophecy has foretold that her first husband will die after only a week of marriage, and she is really engaged to a local sheikh, Kasim (Quinn). However, the sheikh cannot compete with the natural charm and musical talents of Bing Crosby, and the princess decides to go with the penniless American instead. The sheikh does not take kindly…

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He doesn’t take kindly at all!

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He kidnaps the princess and her entourage, and leaves Jeff and Orville to die in the desert. It’s up to them to rescue their loves and save the day!

Road to Morocco is very silly, quite raunchy at times, and it breaks the fourth wall masterfully. There’s dancing, action, romance, and cool costumes as well as sometimes sweet, sometimes fun, musical numbers. A great hangover film for early Sunday afternoon. Or Tuesday morning. Whatever rubs your Buddha.

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We all know what he will be rubbing. Ooo – naughty!

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What we learned: make sure your telescope is clean before making life or death prophecies.

Next time: To Be or Not To Be (1942)

#28 Duck Soup

Watched: August 27 2016

Director: Leo McCarey

Starring: The Marx Brothers

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 8min

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There’s very little we can say about this comedy classic that hasn’t already been said. The Marx Brothers are back with more zany antics, political intrigue and comedy gold, and we loved it.

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“Zeppo, show some skin, or you won’t be in this one!”

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The country of Freedonia is in dire financial trouble and its main backer, Mrs. Teasdale, will only help if the government appoints Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) their new leader. The ambassador of neighbouring Sylvania is trying to take over Freedonia, and sends in spies Chicolini and Pinky (Chico and Harpo, respectively) to get information on Firefly.

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“Sir, we couldn’t find a lot of dirt on him on account of our incompetence, but his dancing is surely criminal. Can you work with that?”

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After a series of insults between Firefly and ambassador Trentino, the two countries declare war and Freedonia gears up with a musical number.

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You can’t have a good war unless it kicks off with a musical number

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The film is hilarious throughout, but worthy of special mention are a few scenes. Most notable is the mirror bit where Harpo, dressed as Groucho, has to mirror his movements after shattering the actual mirror. It’s wonderfully funny and very impressive. Other great scenes include the rallying of the troops during the battle, where stock footage is used to show fire engines and elephants, among others, coming to their aid, and the doghouse tattoo including a live, barking dog.

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“Damn! I’m even more handsome than I thought!”

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What we learned: Incorporate more musical numbers into our daily lives.

Next time: Footlight Parade (1933)