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The Letterboxd Show 2.03: Josh Ruben
[clip of Planes, Trains and Automobiles plays]
NEAL You can start by wiping that fucking dumbass smile off your rosey fucking cheeks!
[clip of Planes, Trains and Automobiles ends]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Hello and welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about movies from Letterboxd: the social network for film lovers. Each episode, hosts Slim—that’s me—and Gemma are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their top four on Letterboxd. That is the four movies you choose as your favorite films on your Letterboxd profile. We have links in the episode notes to the movies, lists and people we talk about, so you can follow along adding those movies to your watchlists.
GEMMA Today we are escaping the snowy woods and going back onto the beach with filmmaker Josh Ruben. He is an actor, writer, director, College Humor legend, Kevin Bacon enthusiast annnd Letterboxd member! Josh’s new film comedy horror Werewolves Within starring Sam Richardson as a park ranger with a werewolf problem is out now in US theaters and On Demand platforms. In his own five star Letterboxd review of Werewolves Within he writes, ‘I’m biased, but.’ [Slim laughs] So Josh is with us to talk Werewolves and scary laughs or laughy-scares. But also, and just as importantly, Josh is here to defend his four Letterboxd favorites, which are Darkman, Jaws, Little Children and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Josh writes in his review of Darkman that it is “still imaginative and fun as hell.” On with the show. On with the show. On… with the show. [Slim laughs]
SLIM I’m gonna include all three of those. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA My first question, Josh, is about your number one movie, which we’ll get into in detail. But is Darkman the greatest comic book movie ever made that’s not based on a comic book? Be honest with us.
JOSH Oh, I mean, yeah! You don’t just come up with something like Darkman, and not be disappointed that you didn’t get to make Batman, which I think is what Sam Raimi’s situation was. I revisited it recently because I thought I remembered that I wore the VHS tape into the ground as a kid and forgot about it. And it’s holds up so beautifully well! It’s so original. I figured, you know, if we’re in the world of Deadpool, like the Marvel superhero who can like you know, drop F-bombs, and we can see all that the fun violence of it all. I think it’s I think it’s time for like a dark horror, comedy hero, you know? Or comedic, dark horror hero. Any combination of those words, it’s just it’s been a while. It’s such a good movie. It still holds up!
SLIM I feel like it came out maybe 30 years ahead of its time.
SLIM You know, I rewatch it this week. And it’s a 3.3 average on Letterboxd. It has 24 fans, which means 24 people have it in their favorites right now.
SLIM In digging in around the movie, you had mentioned it, but what I didn’t realize is that Sam Raimi—just like you said—he couldn’t get the rights to Batman, or The Shadow and he’s like, eff this, I’m just gonna make my own movie. And that’s essentially what happened. That’s bonkers.
JOSH Exactly. And that’s what I would do. I’d come up with a brilliant idea, basically the Phantom of the Opera, but superhero. That’s basically what the idea is. And I think it’s pretty ripe for a remake and I’m gonna just gonna keep saying it on Twitter, and reminding people that the movie exists until someone gives me the opportunity. Like, hello Universal! You know?
GEMMA You could keep saying it, or you could do what Sam Raimi and Ted Raimi and Rob Tapert have done and create a universe of your own that includes Evil Dead and Xena and Hercules and the list goes on. You know?
JOSH Yeah, I’m gonna have to figure out my clever, like, noun. You know, like, Tubman. But make it you know, like, excuse that it’s—Ghoulman! There you go. Ghoulman is probably thing. Clive Barker probably copy wrote it 25 years ago, there’s probably a Ghoul Man, just like there’s an Ectokid. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Letterboxd officially owns the rights to that now. Sorry. We should have told you that.
GEMMA Yeah, we could come invest. It’s gonna be good. So if you were pitching people on Sam Raimi’s Darkman, who are blissfully like me until a week ago, unaware of it. And you know, I just, I went in blind based on the fact that we were talking to you today. How would you pitch it? What’s the pitch?
JOSH I mean, Liam Neeson playing a superhero but also doing a full rage breakdown about a stuffed pink elephant. [Slim laughs] Like isn’t that everything you need to know? On top of the fact that Frances McDormand is the damsel in distress, which she hated. I mean, what not to love?
[clip of Darkman plays]
ATTENDANT Sorry buddy. It don’t count unless you’re behind that line.
PEYTON I was behind the line.
ATTENDANT Not hardly.
PEYTON I was standing right here with my girlfriend. Now… the pink elephant… if you please.
ATTENDANT No way.
[clip of Darkman ends]
SLIM In watching it last week, you get that kind of like Raimi, you know, zany shock moment with that elephant scene. And they you know, when he cracks that guy’s arm, and the camera just like zooms on their action. That’s probably one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. It’s so good.
JOSH Yeah, you know, I would love to—when, I’ll just say when, not if—when I do my Darkman. [Slim chuckles]
JOSH I won’t even call it a remake. Let’s call it direct sequel. With no Arnold Vosloo. Sorry, Arnold.
SLIM Get outta here.
JOSH We’ll still do snap zooms. You know, we’ll still have to do a few snap zooms and fast whip pans right and left to get screaming reactions. It’s like, how do you top the style? That would be like, you know, how do you take it a step further without being too earnest? That’ll be the real challenge.
GEMMA One answer would be to have not just one, not just two, but more than two exploding helicopters, I think. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
JOSH Oh yeah, exactly.
GEMMA The great thing about Darkman is that it makes its way onto a list that has been growing over the years, not only in a number of films on it, but a number of fans who follow it. And it’s by a Letterboxd member called chopperfireball. And he’s been keeping a list of, you know, a mega list of exploding helicopters. And, you know, Darkman obviously on it for not just one but two reasons. Do you watch those shots closely and go, okay, how?
JOSH Oh, yeah, all the time. And once I started directing, then comes the onset of anxiety, regardless of how much assistant you have in your production, how much assistance you have to blow stuff up or otherwise. It’s terrifying. I mean, I get terrified thinking about how to like cover a group shot, let alone, you know, a CGI element or an exploding anything. Even though I have done it before. I’ve done some projects that have never seen the light of day weirdly enough that are you know, high budget. I have a good amount experience. But it’s still like, you know, what a seemingly insurmountable thing. So yes, I study everything I can to try and come to the table with some kind of knowledge. But you know what’s funny? No one knows anything. Like on the flip side, no one really knows anything. Like there’s a lot, you know, you think you have to look to someone. I mean, yes, you need the technically proficient engineers of it all. But ultimately, like I don’t know, stuff’s constantly being up ended and reinvented. So that’s what I like to think anyways. Somebody who got a 950 on their SATs. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA I have to say as, you know, sometime producer, one of my favorite things is when you’re trying to put a budget together for a thing you haven’t made yet right? It’s all ephemeral at this point before you go and produce. And you have to call someone up like a stuntie or—sorry, in New Zealand, we shorten everything. So ‘stuntman’ becomes ‘stuntie’, ‘soundman’ because ‘soundie’. But you know, you call a special-effects friend and goes “so how much would it cost to blow up a thing and then do this and then do that…” and they go, “huh… never done it! Excited to think about it!”
JOSH Yeah. Yeah.
GEMMA And so you’re asking people to imagine something that’s never been done before and then put a price on it. [Gemma laughs]
JOSH Right, right.
GEMMA It’s so much fun. It’s like this kind of fantasy world before you even get to make the thing.
JOSH It’s like you got to rope in a vendor and then it’s like, you know, maybe you want to do miniatures, you know, you call the miniature makers and blow that up. That’s gonna be different costs than getting like the shell of some, you know, pre-built cockpit and putting it in front of a blue screen or whatever. I mean, it’s a wild world, and I know nothing. [Gemma laughs[ And I think that we collectively know nothing. We’re all in it together.
GEMMA Of the things that you do know, when you rank Liam Neeson films by Letterboxd rating, you really have to scroll quite a long way before you get Darkman. Which came out three years before Schindler’s List. So that’s sort of just to put Neeson’s career in context when Darkman came alone.
JOSH It goes Darkman, Rob Roy, Ice Road, Schindler’s List and Taken 3. [Slim laughs] That’s I think my—I haven’t seen at least 90% of those, but I’m sure—and I’m sorry to cut you off, but I just had to weigh in.
GEMMA No, no, no. You knew where I was going with that. That’s perfect. You’ve been thinking about it a long time. I love it. I love it.
JOSH All day.
GEMMA Speaking of explosions, you do manage to pull one off in Werewolves Within—spoilers. But kind of cleverly budget wise. I don’t know. Maybe we need to cut that out. I shouldn’t go there. That’s right near the end.
JOSH No, you certainly can! And it’s, I think, I can’t remember if—my parents recently reminded me. You can tell I’m a Cancer. So I’m going to keep bringing up the fact that I work close to home when I can. My parents were like, you know, I remember you being upset that you couldn’t do your big explosion because there was supposed to be this like big violent explosion, but turns out to be almost like a visual joke. And once that was kind of—once we, I guess, realized budgetarily it wouldn’t make sense to blow up the town of Phoenicia safely. The alternative was what we have and that was a fun kind of—I wouldn’t call it an uphill battle, but just to kind of explain, I’m telling you, for those of you don’t understand, this little poof is going to work and it’s going to hit really hard. And it will make sense and I think we’ve seen it in cartoons, I’m sure Animaniacs beat me to the punch like forever ago, you know?
GEMMA Speaking of blowing things up, the next movie on your Letterboxd four favorites, is the Steven Spielberg 1970s absolute GOAT of all shark movies, Jaws. [Jaws theme song fades in]
JOSH Just a little modest, independent film. A little mumblecore fish movie. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Spielberg, the king of mumblecore. [Gemma laughs]
JOSH Yeah, kind of mumblecore! Mark Duplass, Steven Spielberg, Joseph Weinberg and—
GEMMA Folk songs, folk songs on a boat. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM This is I think, third highest most obsessively rewatched film on Letterboxd. It’s number 23 in the official Top Horror list. And when I watched this for the first time, in a long time, I think last year, what shocked me on this watch was that it was like family adventure movie, but also horror. And somehow that genre mix worked in a really fun way. What do you feel when you first saw Jaws for the first time?
JOSH Well, I was probably five or six. So I was focused on like the ‘ketchup’, quote, unquote, as my parents called it. That’s not blood, it’s ketchup. I can’t remember what it was about the early watches because it’s been, it’s like spiritually a part of me, I’ve watched it, I mean, since I was a child. And because, you know, when you start watching movies of that age, you actually you pick up on something new, quite literally every time you watch it every year, and it was on television every year in my house. But I don’t know, I think the way I digested it was at first, aesthetically, you know, the blue colors, the sandy beaches, the little odd things that you might pick up on as a kid. You know, the bulging eyed head, you know, the severed hand. Even the video game, the arcade game at the beach, you know, with the machine gun, a shark shooting game. And then like, throughout the years just seeing like, you know, the innuendo or the, you know, the sort of misogyny and quince sort of end. And the easing, or rather effortless relationship of Lorraine Gary and Roy Scheider, that relationship, that marriage was so easy. The performances were just easy and so real. And you appreciate that as you get older. And now of course I watch it and rewatch and think, you know, there’s not a lot of bells and whistles, it’s performance, and pacing and character. You know, that seems to make the thing so buoyant.
GEMMA Buoyant! [Gemma laughs]
JOSH On top of those wonderful anamorphic—yeah, there’s just something quite buoyant about it. I mean, we’re hot off the heels of Fourth of July and everybody’s rewatching it, you forget it’s a fourth of July movie. Say what you will about the holiday. But, you know, that’s where people go “Well watch it again! Holy shit, it’s one hell of a masterpiece still!” for newcomers and beyond.
GEMMA What I have been loving on rewatches of Jaws now that I’ve become a total Jaws freak, is you know, not necessarily all the political details which are what stood out to me obviously this time last year. When we’re seeing the mayor refuse to close the beaches as a shark slash pandemic is raging. But it’s just simply—and Spielberg’s a young man at this point still—just simply that the blocking and the camera moves. And there’s just one scene I want to point out, which feels insignificant, you know, in the bigger movie. But when you just kind of break it down. And it’s the “Summer’s over. You’re the Mayor of Shark city, you need to sign the order so I can bring in the contractor” scene in the hospital, right?
GEMMA Which starts off with a kind of deep shot of the ward and there’s all these people moving back and forth as Brody in the mirror walks forward and he pulls the curtain. And then they have the conversation quietly behind the curtain. And you’re going “all those people are still behind the curtain somewhere” you know? But it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter because it’s Spielberg. That entire conversation could have been set up behind a curtain without all the extras, without the tricking shot, without the camera moving. But that’s not how he works. He creates full and deep worlds and in every single shot.
JOSH That’s right. I mean, it’s wild! It’s a shot that could simply be someone walking into the room and relaying a piece of information turns into this deep emotional and highly, highly thought out work of art. I mean, a reflection on a clock to button some scene in otherwise innocuous scene “you can count on me”. Even in Jurassic Park: The Lost World [sic], there’s a wonderful, like, blocking of a three shot that rotates! I wish I could—I think it’s like in the beginning when Goldblum’s character is talking to some, you know, aristocratic character, a bureaucratic somebody in some hall. And the blocking is just, it’s like, unfathomably good! And you watch the documentary about him. I mean obviously he’s watched every single movie twice. But he’s also clearly someone who plays jazz. Like walks in the room—and he can spend the time of course, when you’re at that level to, you know, figure out the best way, choreograph with your DP how to tell the story. But also just to like, make it interesting. I mean, what a wonderful thing. That’s also something that like we have to do, it’s not just like, get the information across and make sure the performances are dece. But you also have to like, you know, make it interesting. Get a foreground element, a split diopter, and you know, the whole thing. And then that’s before all the music and the you know, the pacing, editing and the like. So yeah, it’s admirable, frustratingly so. And it’s just like a master just constantly—you know, just a barrage of reminders that like maybe someday you’ll have original ideas like this. But I also think that’s probably the advantage of growing up on, you know, radio and some film and like not being on an iPod or iPad or iPhone for, you know, your entire formative experience.
SLIM Why not go from one talented director to another equally talented director? You. For Werewolves Within.
JOSH Aww, girl! [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM So this is available as we said at the top of the show, you can see it in theaters, obviously go see in theaters, or video on demand in the States. But this is a follow up to your first comedy horror Scare Me. And I was listening to a podcast that you were on talking about this movie. And you called out one movie that you like kind of kept in the back of your mind while you were creating this. And Arachnophobia, you talk about a movie that scares and scars people in youth. That movie, oh my god, what a horrifying, funny movie to me as a kid.
JOSH Oh yeah!
SLIM Related to Werewolves Within, the lead of a kind of like, comedic good person that you don’t expect in, you know, this kind of like horror comedy and you get that with Sam Richardson in this movie.
JOSH Well, that is the touchstone horror comedy. I think that is like the prime example of a horror comedy working. I mean, you have so many examples. I even considered Ghostbusters to be one of them. Certainly Gremlins. But here’s one that’s even more grounded. The scene I keep bringing up, the example that I think is just the textbook example of horror comedy is Jeff Daniels not getting caught trying to be funny, playing the scene for real, in the basement, in the end arguing with himself which pinot noir to throw at a giant spider. [clip of Arachnophobia plays] And he’s really doing it. And it was something that I was trying to do with Werewolves and what I want to do with all my work and what I think like the key to directing horror comedy and really like genre twisting stuff is, which is the world I want to be in. Which is like, really try not hard to get caught doing anything. Don’t get caught trying to be funny, play the terror for real. And within the confines of that, you can let your actors be as big as they want. And then you kind of play second base coach, just sort of mold people to be a bit more grounded. Give me a little more, give me a little less. And Arachnophobia, you have characters as big but believable as Delbert and John Goodman’s character. But you also have someone playing the terror for real. That performance, Jeff Daniels is bringing his like Mockingbird-level effortlessness talent to role of this small-town doctor, like a city-transplant doctor with the affect and his sort of ease with his kids and you know, how he moves the wine. He doesn’t want his kid to touch the wine. He’s bringing everything but you also have Julian Sands as an evil scientist, you know, theoretically nefarious. And you also have the great sort of, you know, animatronic effects and the like. I think it’s just a prime, prime example. And so, gave it to Frank Martial probably the last minute. I’m sure there’s a story, you know, handed it to Frank or Steven got sore throat or whatever it is. [Slim laughs] And Sam Richardson, if we’re, you know, to wrap it up or bring it full circle to the Werewolves of it all, he has a Jeff Daniels, Tom Hanks, endearing genuine quality to him. And that’s everything. And so you want him to live, you know? [John laughs] You want Jeff Daniels to live. You want Sam to live. You know these characters, they’re brought so effortlessly to life. You think, please creatures don’t destroy these wonderful human being.
GEMMA Sam is so great as Ranger Finn. Milana Vayntrub is fantastic. Sarah Burns is fantastic. Harvey from What We Do in the Shadows. Cheyenne. They are all so cool. And I just wanted to know as a director working with your casting agents, when you are deciding who you’re going to play with—which is what it is really—how do you do that? What are those conversations?
JOSH Well, in this case, it was you know, we knew we were going to the middle of the woods in Fleischmanns, New York. You know, not summer camp quiet, but winter camp. And my casting director was Gayle Keller. My first conversation was, you know, I don’t want any assholes. I want good people. You know what I mean? And her first sort of swing was Harvey Guillen. And she said, what about Harvey for Joaquim? And I was like, well, I love his look. I haven’t seen the show. I think he’s great. I asked a mutual friend about him. He asked a mutual friend about me, the same mutual friend. And then two, asking actors, you know, to put skin in the game. Who would you want to play your husband, Harvey? You know, he suggested Cheyenne. It was his idea. Or asking George Basil, who do you want to play Gwen? Who do you want to play your spouse? So not only do the actors feel like they have ownership over their part and over the project, but they also have a buddy at the end of the day to go out to the middle of, you know, Fleischmanns, New York in the winter. They will have a buddy the way that I want a buddy in Milana, who have known for years, who plays Cecily, or in George Basil, who I’ve known for years, you know, George who plays Marcus. I thought, well, if all goes to shit, I’ll at least be able to get a hug and a margarita, you know, with my buddies. [Slim & Gemma laugh] And then, you know, you’re writing a list of people you want to work with. Michael Chernus and Glenn Fleshler, and the like.
GEMMA You say that, and I saw on one of the actors’ Instagrams, some behind-the-scenes footage of everyone eating cake while somebody is screaming on the other side of the door. I just love that.
JOSH So good! I mean, that’s the other wonderful thing is you want everybody—and this plays into, you know, first going with I know I want friends. I know I want people who are disarming and are good leaders, A. But B, people who have, you know, live theater experience, have good reputations who can bring it who don’t have major egos. We all have egos, and it’s okay to bring that to the table. It’s just about being good people. The fact that they all got along the way they did, made each other laugh the way they did, wanted to read lines off camera and on camera. Upside-down camera, below camera. That was incredible. That was such a such an incredible privilege. And it shows! You watch the movie and it shows. Like okay, yeah, these people had a great time.
GEMMA In your promotion of your own movie. You have been saying you can rent it or you could support Trans Lifeline.
GEMMA I’d love to hear you talk a bit about that. I mean, that’s a choice.
JOSH Oh, definitely! I mean, what’s the most elegant way to put it? The trans community is suffering more death, harassment and beyond than certainly a 37-year-old white-privilege director could or would or has ever. Let alone the LGBTQ+ beyond community. So if I can do my best to raise voices or signal any charity, be it for the Asian community, mental health, be it for gay rights, be it for Black Lives Matter, I’m certainly going to do it. I think that that’s sort of the—that has to be the trade off. You can’t just be a ‘me’, a filmmaker, a director, you know, an actor, a public personality of any kind and make stuff and not use your platform for good. Like you can’t just go off and make cameos for $50 and not support your fellow man, woman, they. Because they are supporting me. Like I’d be nowhere without the community at College Humor, which is a gigantic demographic, not just of white dudes who love boobs and beer and video games. I’ve got wonderful fans across, you know the entire spectrum of humanity and you have to give back. And it also is just like karma. You know what I mean? I’m from Woodstock. It’s like, if you just, you know, litter and shit, something bad’s gonna happen. Like, don’t go in the water, you know what I mean? [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Well, that is gorgeous. And speaking of using your platform for good, we noticed that on Letterboxd… When it comes to ratings… [Gemma laughs]
JOSH Oh yeah! Here we go. I like all the baddies!
GEMMA You like all the baddies! And it’s interesting. We have a mechanism by which we can see what you have rated higher than the Letterboxd average. Let’s start with Werewolves Within. Five stars from Josh Ruben! [Gemma laughs]
JOSH Yeah. People are like “you rated your own film?!” and I’m like well, I did spend two years making it, so you bet your little ass! You bet your little ass I think it’s good.
GEMMA Before we dive into your final two of your four favorites just another couple that you have rated, that you’ve given five stars to in fact, that sit far above the Letterboxd average… Ghost!
JOSH Ugh, so good! Oh, cry my eyes out. Cry my eyes out.
GEMMA That pottery classic!
JOSH Girl, girl! I mean, come now. It’s heartbreaking. Demi Moore’s haircut alone. Tony Goldwyn is a villain. Whoopi Goldberg’s Academy Award winning performance. I mean, holy crap! That is a fucking horror-comedy-drama if I’ve ever seen it! That is horror and comedy and drama. I think that’s actually an integral part of me, much like all the ones that everybody who’s you know, gonna tout the Spielberg of it all, has deeply, deeply affected me. Because here you watch something and you cry the way the you would at the end of, you know, I don’t know, Goonies when they see the ship or whatever if you’re a kid. And it has the same horror as you know, Gremlins or something. With the things that come out of the ground. But it also has this incredible love story. Like I remember sobbing in my room watching Heartland Express [sic] when I was a little kid too for some reason, cuz I love these characters. I don’t know if you can believe that. Talk about beautiful compositions by the way. But it literally has everything. The humor and the horror and the heart, we don’t see enough of, you know, the sorts of films that can achieve all three. So I think that’s five all around, like talk about genre bending!
GEMMA Love it.
SLIM There’s another one on there, Labyrinth, that jumped out at me.
SLIM Labyrinth is one of your rated higher than average. I feel like a lot of people in, you know, that era grew up with that and that is a movie that just became a staple for decades.
GEMMA It’s a five-star sexual awakening for me.
JOSH Oh yeah, absolutely. For many of us! I mean, you know, when I didn’t know which way I was gonna go, you know, as we never quite never do. Some of us could take a while.
GEMMA I mean, I think we’d all go Bowie, though. Let’s be honest.
JOSH We’d all go Bowie! [Gemma & Slim laugh] I mean, even Bowie went Bowie, you know what I mean? That one’s integral. And it hits all sides of the palate, right? You have the fuzzy, cuddly, you know, Henson characters, then you got terrifying Henson characters. And then you’ve got Bowie who’s ambiguous in every sense of the word. You don’t know if he’s good, you don’t know if he’s bad. You don’t know which way, you know, his heart swings, let’s say. And you know, you’ve got a kid at the heart of it in that kind of Amblin-esque way. You’ve got, you know, Jennifer Connelly looking for her brother who she resents in the beginning. And there’s this cosmic dread to the storm and the crying baby and the power going out. Everything that terrified me when I was a kid just about what happened and when thunderstorms were about and the like. It just, it hits all sides of the palate. And that’s before the musical shit! I mean, the musical stuff! Like ‘Dance, magic, dance’. I wanted to have the, you know, the the ability to sponge the lyrics, you know, and pick them up the way that my older sister did when I was a kid so badly. Much like the way that I do like Little Shop of Horrors or something. I think it’s a genius. It hits all sides of the palate. [Magic Dance by David Bowie plays]
GEMMA I mean, we haven’t talked about what it’s like to watch Jaws with an audience which I’ve never experienced, you know, or any of these films really. But I mean, let’s be honest, it’s always more fun with other people. And to that end, when Celebrate Brooklyn showed Labyrinth a few years ago in Prospect Park, when my now five year old was one, I went out and I found a stripy pajama set and I took that kid to Labyrinth and I sat near the front. And when it came time, I threw him up in the air, and the crowd went wild!
JOSH Oh my god! That’s so cool.
GEMMA I was just so like, I’m I’m all about the performance.
JOSH Best mom ever! [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA We’ll always have that. [Slim laughs] He won’t remember it, but we’ll always have it.
JOSH I’m gonna dress my kid up. Yeah, like him and like the little kid from Ghostbusters II. You’re gonna get kidnapped and you’re gonna get kidnapped and we’re gonna go to the movie screenings, you know, figuratively not literally.
SLIM You said it yourself. Speaking of children, the next movie on your favorites on Letterboxd is Little Children.
SLIM Currently sitting at an average of 3.6 on Letterboxd. It has 51 fans that also have it in their favorites list. And me personally, I had not actually heard of this movie before, but I love In the Bedroom from Todd Field. This is a movie that has narration. This is kind of following that similar novel ask storyline of a two people in a seemingly loveless marriage. Patrick Wilson.
JOSH But it’s an art film.
SLIM It is! Very much so. Patrick Wilson, Kate Winslet. You know, what grabs you from for this film?
JOSH Ohhh, there’s so much. I don’t know what it is about this film that keeps me coming back to it. Because you know, on the surface, it looks like it could be a play. Not to say that a play wouldn’t draw me in but there’s something about the way that Todd Field lures me in as a fan with this world between the music and the you know, the comedic, bumbling brokenness of a local pederast and a local ex cop. Everyone in the movie is broken to some degree. But to add the National Geographic narrator to be the through line narrator gives it this sort of like, otherworldly—I don’t know, it gives it this kind of grandiosity that’s so alien and elegant and, like, weird and fun. For a movie that on the surface looks like it could be, you know, We Don’t Live Here Anymore or like a small kind of John Irving piece. It’s got this really nice rate of change that reminds me of like an Election or something. You know, like Alexander Payne films. You think, well who would watch a movie about people just talking in high school? But it’s more than that. There’s something about the vision and the world and that pacing in the music and the style that just keeps me coming back. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, you know, you don’t need the crazy Edgar Wright editing. You don’t need a lot of the, you know, whippans or odd sort of moves. It reminds me of like Janicza Bravo’s sort of filmography. She’s got a very like Mike Nichols-esque, Todd Field-esque sort of style. And that’s, you know, the beauty of you know, their work is with tempered, smart compositions, you can actually imbue quite a bit of feeling. Be it terror, be it humor, anything else. You don’t need tons of bells and whistles and lens flare, you know? Like, I do, you know? [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA Yeah, tension.
GEMMA I also saw it in theaters when it came out and did not see it again until this week. And my lasting memory of Little Children is Kate Winslet in the red swimsuit. And I think it’s incredibly elegant, Josh, that you’ve managed to go this long without mentioning the horniness of Little Children.
JOSH I mean… I’m a prude. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA I mean let’s talk about—[Gemma laughs] There’s a couple of fantastic Letterboxd lists that this film turns up in. One is movies where the sex is necessary. And I mean, it’s you know, a good list because there are so many unnecessary sex scenes and you know, the Film Twitter lights up every couple of weeks on this topic. But also my favorite list, which is help I got too horny. [Slim laughs] And yeah, in a movie that features a local pederast. It is uncomfortably horny this film. I think it’s also just made another list of Slim’s. Surely it’s made that list, Slim.
JOSH Oh it did?
SLIM Yeah, I have a list. I have a list called Man Ass. And, you know, an hour into this movie. I was like, well, gotta add this to my Man Ass list right now. Patrick Wilson is like a god in this movie. I couldn’t get over, I need to find out whatever his regime, his diet. He looked amazing.
JOSH He actually texted me this morning. I’ve worked with him once before.
SLIM Stop it.
JOSH Forever ago and we keep up with each other. He texted me this morning about how much he loved Werewolves, which is very, very sweet. And his young boys did. And I’ve definitely interviewed him on my podcast I had forever ago asking him about—I think that was probably what we nerded out about the most before. Or maybe it was like the day he was nominated for an award, it might have been an Emmy nomination for—or a Golden Globe maybe for Fargo season two.
GEMMA So you can now text Patrick Wilson back and tell him that he’s on Slim’s Man Ass list.
JOSH You’re on a man ass list. Yeah, I will. [Slim laughs] Absolutely.
SLIM You made the list.
JOSH He knows it too. He probably feels like Mark Wahlberg where at some point, he’s like, “Okay, I don’t take my shirt off. No, don’t make me take my pants off anymore. I sing too!” [Slim laughs] I don’t know why I have him a Southern voice. [Slim & Gemma laugh] Like “I don’t want to take my pants off! Please! I’m Patrick Wilson!”
SLIM Like he’s always holding a guitar with that accent.
JOSH Yeah. [Josh laughs] “One… Two… Three…” [Slim laughs] [Josh sings] “The grass is as high as a man ass list.” You know what I mean? It’s gonna be an Oklahoma song, but not… [Gemma laughs] This is how I disarm my actors by the way. I’m very funny. And I can disarm anyone.
GEMMA I just gave Werewolves Within five stars! It’s a magic trick! How’d you do that? [Slim laughs]
SLIM Everyone listening just bought it on video on demand and rated five stars just from that mere moment. That’s very strange.
JOSH Believe me, I’ve got the two Rotten Tomatoes accounts. I don’t know what I do for Letterboxd. But what I do on Letterboxd, which you probably notice, is anyone who gives the half star or one star really scathing review of Scare Me, I’ll just like it because they should know that the director appreciates that they’re weighing in. [Slim laughs] But my most fascinating thing is—I really do think it’s more fascinating than anything. I don’t obsess, but I do have to look because Scare Me—I mean, even Knives Out has like half stars. I have to look at, like on the vertical interface of my phone, which will hold, I don’t know, five or six reviews. It goes five, four, one, one, five, three and a heart. And I’m just like, this is great! This is polarized. Polarizing should be good. And we’re right in that like 3.1 sweet spot. Sweet spot. So yeah, I had to get myself on and have to show people that I appreciate their thoughts.
SLIM Yeah, I respect it.
GEMMA Yeah, I respect it. It’s so nice to hear that. I often say that I’m a three-star girl in a five-star world, so, you know. [Slim laughs]
JOSH Give yourself more credit. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Oh no, I’m not rating myself, Josh. Oh my god! [Gemma laughs]
JOSH Okay, good.
GEMMA I’m a six! I mean, c’mon!
JOSH Okay, good. You’re a six in a three star world. And we should all be so lucky. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA So here’s the thing. I know that you’ve worked with Kevin Bacon on a podcast.
JOSH Oh yeah!
GEMMA Which is so silly and fun. I love it. And I know that we often talk about, you know, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. But one of the reasons why Kevin Bacon gets the six-degrees treatment is because Kevin Bacon is the cameo king! My favorite cameo that I always forget about is when he turns up as the stalker in Jane Campion’s In the Cut.
JOSH So he turns out to be the villain?
GEMMA No, no, no. He’s the stalker.
JOSH Separate. Okay.
GEMMA Yeah, separate. Frannie has like all these—she’s got the student, she’s got the stalker, she’s got the cop. And every time I watch it, I go, ah, that’s right! It’s Kevin Bacon!
JOSH That’s so cool!
GEMMA But Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
JOSH Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s a Thanksgiving rewatch. So it’s like the way to ease into Thanksgiving week or watch Thanksgiving Day. John Candy, if he were alive, to this day, would have at least gotten either nominated for an Academy Award for his Lost in Translation or would have won for his Lost in Translation Bill Murray moment. Him and Bill Murray would be competing. And he really—he’s the heart of that movie.
[clip of Planes, Trains and Automobiles plays]
DEL You want to hurt me? Go right ahead. If it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right. I talked too much. I also listened too much. I could be a cold hearted cynic like you I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me? I’m not changing. I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me, cuz I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.
[clip of Planes, Trains and Automobiles ends]
JOSH And that is a big part about why I rewatch it. That and the scene where Steve Martin faces off against Edie McClurg. And, you know, goes off on the fuck tirade. Four fucking wheels in the seat. I mean, and you know, Edie McClurg’s “you’re fucked!” [Slim & Gemma laugh] Sooo good. So good. But also the Book of Love, you know, I can’t pronounce the name of the band. But they have, the music in that movie is just out of control. It’s just like the beautiful synth, you know. Sam Richardson and I bonded about that soundtrack. It’s just like *chef’s kiss*.
SLIM Yeah, they’re there. I’ve seen this when I was younger. And this is similar to Jaws where I probably had a different experience watching it as a kid. And then as an adult, it just opens your eyes to a whole new interpretation of this movie. And Steve Martin, too. I think when I was a kid, Steve Martin was like, you know, the Conan O’Brien to my parents.
SLIM You know, he could do no wrong. He was like, you know, when they always get introduced in like, interview shows funny man, Steve Martin! But, like, it’s just crazy to look back on his career. He was like, untouchable for so long and just created so many hits. And this is prime example.
JOSH This is a prime example. And you’re reminding me of a wonderful swath when he did a few dramatic roles, like one after the other. And it was such a treat to see him pop up with like, opposite like Scott Campbell and Laurel Canyon. And then like Novocaine with Laura Dern and Shopgirl later on. Like, holy shit. Like he’s actually a really proficient, effective, dramatic actor, and it’s so fun to watch him. I mean, I think that’s such a big piece of what I’d like to do in my career is rope in comedic actors or actors that you wouldn’t see doing X genre and bring them into, you know, what, what folks might consider to be a gutter genre in horror otherwise. You know, I think one of my proudest accomplishments with Werewolves is the fact that I got to, quote unquote, like rope in like Michael Chernus. And Rebecca Henderson, and Michaela Watkins into this genre, into this world. Whereas like, you know, folks like Sam and Harvey and Glenn Fleshler had sort of, you know, played in it. I mean, even Cathy Curtin too, going back to the Jeff Daniels of it all. Here’s, again, actors that emote for real that actually pour their heart into it as if it were a Chekhov play. Or if it were, you know, a Hammer vampire film, they’re still going to bring the tears. And I think there’s just something wonderful about, you know, given the opportunity to comedic actors to come and bring the genre. Because Guillermo Del Toro actually was quoted as saying, they’re operating at the top of their game, they’re operating at 100%, they’re already at 100% comedic, sort of capacity. Ready to kind of play jazz comedically, but they’re also doing the work to play vulnerability for real and ideally the good ones not get caught trying to emote or you know, be funny emoting. So any opportunity to cross pollinate, as I call it, you know, actors into genres you might not otherwise see them in, going to keep doing that if I can!
GEMMA That’s beautiful. So Planes, Trains and Automobiles I’ve understood to be, you know, a massive American Thanksgiving moment rewatch year after year. I’d never seen it until this week. I have seen—I know—I’ve seen many Steve Martin films. I’m a secret silent fan. I love his banjo playing. I love his novels. I love that he’s an art collector. I love everything about Steve Martin on and off the screen. But I had not seen this film. And I think—this is this is a total, you know, swinging sideways—but a lot of movies don’t age well because of the homophobia.
JOSH Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. “Those aren’t pillows!”
GEMMA Yeah, yeah. “Those aren’t two pillows!” But weirdly, this one while I was expecting a certain, you know, level of homophobia, it’s the way that John Candy and Steve Martin play those moments gives it a kind of, you know, it’s not so much homophobic. It’s not so much anti-gay as, as it is “oh blah blah blah blah.”
SLIM Yeah, “I’m a big tough guy.”
GEMMA It’s hard to explain.
JOSH It’s not derogatory.
GEMMA Yeah, as opposed to Volunteers, when there’s that terrible moment where I think everyone involved in Volunteers wishes, they could just erase. Which is, you know, when they say the F word after they hug. It’s different. It’s not that. It’s more like, well, I’m not into that, but it’s okay that other people are.
JOSH You know, I’m sure that they had—regardless of where it netted out—but I wouldn’t be surprised if, you know, folks like Candy and Martin, we’re coming up with, you know, a lot of gay actors and comedians in their circle, especially in the New York City world and the SCTV world. And I’m sure they had an inherent sensitivity to it the way that, you know, Chevy Chase wouldn’t necessarily because he’s, you know, sociopathic. [Slim laughs] But I’m sure that’s a piece of it. They’re actually, you know, they have probably kept friends that are. And also, I mean, Steve Martin’s the first one to be like, a comedian I remember like, let’s all get away with not delivering a punch line with an F word. Yeah. And it’s got this kind of respectable quality to it. So I imagine those guys, you know, kept that sensitivity to the forefront. And truly it plays like, you know, no different than kind of harmless like dad archetype.
GEMMA I wrote in my review that at this point in the pandemic, where it’s, you know, it’s still sort of impossible to travel anywhere for most people. That Planes, Trains and Automobiles is almost a trip I’d be glad to take right now. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
JOSH But it really is such a great like comfort blanket rewatch. When they make it home, and he, you know, he welcomes John Candy’s character into his home and that warm kind of Chicago setting, you know, McMansion. It’s just like ugh, god! They made it and you’re so happy for it.
GEMMA It’s so beautiful to be able to see in your top for your influences as a director. Because it feels like you sit somewhere between Sam Raimi and John Hughes in the worlds that you create on screen.
JOSH Yeah! Maybe we’ll go more in the Hughes-like direction someday. There’s a project hovering right now that would be a wonderful opportunity to keep the horror train kind of rolling, the horror comedy of it all. But also to imbue like some real emotion and romanticism. And like deep connected relationships. I’m excited to see how I can relay the spectrum without getting caught, as I say.
SLIM We already know it’s Darkman. You already told us.
JOSH Yeah, it’s Darkman. It’s just Darkman and his wife. That’s what the title is. Darkman and his Wife. [Slim laughs] Darkman and apostrophe his wife.
SLIM The other piece of data that we crunched the numbers at Letterboxd, and your most popular review on Letterboxd is amazingly An American Werewolf in London. I love this review. It was cracking me up because I just watched Werewolves Within and then I saw this. And the first sentence is literally ‘Criminally I’ve not watched this until last night.’ And man, talk about your experience watching this movie. Because you mentioned the finale. But man, what a trip this movie is, huh?
JOSH My jaw was on the floor. It was so ahead of its time comedically. Like the moment when Frank Oz, just his voice as the—I can’t remember what he was, if he was the doctor or some specialists. But the timing of the editing and the “ah!” timbre of his like Frank Oz’s voice. [Slim laughs] After the violence of it all, like after the kind of werewolf violence, it was like the most brilliant sort of trifecta that it’s something that I strive for today, presently. And it has its problematic stuff. You know, Landis is definitely like, you know, a hound. The performances are great and I couldn’t get over how just kind of juicy Griffin Dunn and the makeup and the framing and the mythology of the ghoul and the werewolf was—like that mythology alone is so tasty. What a wonderful example of like true sidesplitting humor and character but also great genre scare You know, still the transformation scene. You know, now having watched it in context.
SLIM All time.
JOSH Holds up! Big time! My jaw was on the floor.
GEMMA Speaking of finales and wrapping things up. I want to pick up on that and say, my favorite, favorite part of Werewolves Within was—no spoilers—the last ten minutes. In the last few minutes for me, like something realized on screen that I have been wanting to see for a very long time and I’m a big fan of Werewolf movies. And I can’t get enough of the ones that have been coming out over the last year. Wolf of Snow Hollow, Wolfwalkers, so many great werewolf movies. Werewolves Within, yet another addition to their the canon. But it does something—no spoilers—that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. And, frankly, that last ten minutes is the first ten minutes of another movie I want to watch.
JOSH Oh, yeah, there’s a wonderful—I mean, I say it’s wonderful because I’m biased—but there is a prequel idea or concept that I’m dying to at least pour open about how they got there, you know? About how it came to be and about the storyline leading up into but who the hell knows? On the flip side, maybe they’ll let us make a show, you know, not unlike Twin Peaks, but it’s Beaverfield. And it’s just more of the, you know—
SLIM Oh man.
JOSH The townies.
GEMMA Oh, that would amazing. But also, you know, What We Do In The Shadows spun out of a movie in which there are not only vampires, but also werewolves, not swearwolves. [Josh laughs] You know, those guys have been asked about doing the werewolves spin off for a long time and they’re just not getting there. So the field is wide open, Josh.
JOSH I know! Ware Wolves. What a perfect name for a fucking movie. Ware Wolves! It’s so brilliant. Like guys, come on! And they did the paranormal spin off. Anyway, I want to be a part of any of it. And please include me. Holy mackerel.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker plays alone, fades out]
GEMMA Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show and thanks to our guest this episode Josh Ruben for sharing his love of his favorite movies. Werewolves Within is out now in select theaters and on video on demand in the United States via IFC. You can also donate to Trans Lifeline using the links in our episode notes.
SLIM You can follow Gemma, Slim—that’s me—and our Letterboxd HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. Thanks to composing dynamos, Moniker, for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque. And if you’re enjoying the show, have guest ideas, be sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. The Letterboxd Show is a TAPEDECK production.
GEMMA I hope you can join us for the next episode when we are going to… Cannes! [Slim laughs] Oh that’s bad.
SLIM I almost want to use that as the outro. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker plays alone, fades out]
[clip of Werewolves Within plays]
FINN All I’m asking is that we remember our common… our common humanity. And we just hold off on being enemies till we’ve all had a little sleep.
CECILY Fuck that noise!
[clip of Werewolves Within ends]
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.