#218 The Manchurian Candidate

Watched: January 22 2019

Director: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 06min

Manchurian

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Korea, 1952. A patrol is ambushed and taken prisoner. When they return to the US, generally despised Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Harvey), who’s cursed with a busybody mother (Lansbury) and a fanatic senator stepfather (Gregory), is awarded Medal of Honor. The medal is given to him based on the testimony of his fellow soldiers, who cannot say enough good things about him, although they are unsure why.

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“We just really respect the way he used to break up our parties with local prostitutes”

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Meanwhile, a few members of the same patrol, including Major Bennett Marco (Sinatra), are troubled by nightmares in which the celebrated Sergeant kills two fellow soldiers on the command of a bunch of ladies talking about agriculture and occasionally morphing into communist leaders.

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“Welcome to my talk on how to make blossoming gardens and sleeper agents. I’m very happy to see so many morphing faces here today.”

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Marco’s fears are dismissed by the military, and he is eventually placed on sick leave. He meets Eugenie (Leigh) on a train, and she becomes his support system as he tries to make sense of what actually happened in Korea.

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She is witty and fantastic, but also insanely reckless. Who talks to an unknown man who’s clearly having some sort of breakdown, and after three minutes decides to give him all her personal details?

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Marco’s suspicion is that Shaw, and the rest of the patrol, are all brainwashed and returned to the USA to carry out some sort of plot. But what exactly is Shaw’s mission? Who is his local handler? And will they have any chance of stopping whatever it is in time?

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And will Shaw ever get out from under the thumb of his controlling mother?

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The Manchurian Candidate is a tense and compelling thriller which keeps going off in unexpected directions. We loved the horticulture talk the soldiers imagined, and the cross cutting between their perception of it and the reality.

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Pictured: The Annual Women’s Society Lecture on Communist Leaders

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We also loved how the different soldiers saw this scene differently – the black soldier seeing a room filled with black women, etc. Now, the plot is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but in the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the aftermath of McCarthyism, we’re sure it hit all the right buttons.

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Right down to the fear-mongering senator

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We found Frank Sinatra to be a surprisingly good actor, and we loved Angela Lansbury: her character could have snatched the “World’s Greatest Mother” trophy right from the cold, dead hands of Mrs Bates

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Surprisingly good actor or not, Frank Sinatra’s card playing skills were clearly below par

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We’ll never play solitaire again! Or go to gardening meetings.

What we learned: Beware the red queen! Also, what’s with all these guys meeting cool, interesting, witty women on trains?

Next time: Vivre sa Vie (1962)

#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

ashes

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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)