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The Letterboxd Show 2.04: Brian Formo
[clip of Eyes Wide Shut plays]
BILL It’s just—relax Alice. This pot is making you aggressive.
ALICE No! It’s not the pot! It’s you! Why can’t you ever give me a straight fucking answer?!
[clip of Eyes Wide Shut ends]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about movies, from Letterboxd, the social network for film lovers. Each episode, host Slim—that’s me—and Gemma are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their top four on Letterboxd. That’s 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. Today we’re getting high on cactus and turning up the Yo-Yo Ma with film critic Brian Formo.
GEMMA Brian is Letterboxd’s correspondent from the 74th Festival de Cannes. We are crossing live to Brian on the Riviera where he’s been attending his very first Cannes Film Festival. It was touch and go for a while there. Immense pain, abdominal surgery, a five-week recovery period, vaccinations, COVID tests, he made it to France with just a week to spare. Which brings us to Brian’s four favorites. Some people never change their top four. But Brian is a movie lover who changes up his favorites every month. And for the past month, for obvious reasons, Formo’s four have had a medical focus. They are: Eyes Wide Shut. Master and Commander, Darkman and The Skin I Live In. Which begs me to ask: why are you people always making me watch movies about men in masks, disfigurement, and all the rest? Brian writes in his review of Eyes Wide Shut that it is ’a glorious cinematic prank’. On with the show!
[theme music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]
SLIM Now, Brian, I love movies. I watch them all the time. But Cannes is out of my wheelhouse big time. So I’m assuming that there’s probably a lot of people that love Letterboxd just like me that are still kind of unaware of what happens at Cannes, what it is, and maybe all they know about it is that there are really long, potentially awkward standing ovations. So what is Cannes to maybe people that haven’t been a part of it or know about it before?
BRIAN For people who aren’t familiar, I would say it’s probably the, the snootiest Film Fest to a lot of people because, you know, you might hear about like, oh, you can’t—women can’t wear heels—or sorry, they have to wear heels on the red carpet. Their tuxedos are required for premieres, etc, etc. And a lot of the films that play here, a lot of American films skip it pretty largely. So it’s not, while there are celebrities here, it’s very, very, very international. And so if you’re not keyed into and love international film, which as Bong Joon-ho who, you know, people love Parasite, but it started here at Cannes and it won Palme d’Or here. And you know, if you can get over the subtitle barrier, Cannes is a launching pad for so many international films. And also a number of those films, because it is so international, like, what you see here—now something like Annette comes out a couple weeks later, but a lot of these movies that you see here, it is kind of like the launch pad and they might not come out for a year or two in other markets. So, so much of it depends on kind of how people and critics and buyers view the films here. And there’s also a side component, that’s actually really large, that even if you’re maybe not into “film snobbery” [Slim chuckles] is that a lot of movies are packaged here. So whenever you’re watching a number of indie films or international films, at the beginning of the credits for each movie, you’ll see numerous production companies dropping logos and lots of countries saying like “thanks to the Belgium Film Fund” etc. at the very start of a film and a lot of those various components from, and funding from different nations come from when all the buyers get together at Cannes to put up various different types of money for the titles.
GEMMA 74 years of the Cannes Film Festival. I don’t know how many years you’ve been in the film appreciation business, but this is your first one. Why is it held so much charm and mystique for you? And why did you battle surgery and a pandemic to get there?
BRIAN Well, I think—and going back to the international focus of it all—is once you start diving into international film, whether it’s through Criterion or other collections, and you like look up information afterward, you’ll see oftentimes that a lot of these films premiered at Cannes. And so that is kind of like the first, maybe, seed of awareness is when you’re a burgeoning cinephile, you just kind of see that over and over and over. More than any other film festivals, maybe outside of Sundance, but Sundance is largely very American. And I think that, yeah, Cannes, once you start exploring films from Italy, films from South Korea, films from Australia, films from everywhere, you oftentimes will see Cannes as premiere whether it’s in competition, or just in certain regard, or they have all these different avenues of being shown.
GEMMA But here’s the thing, like, having never been I’m so fascinated by, by the, I guess the— heh—audience interactions, the likes of which we, the rest of the world really only sees at midnight screenings of Rocky Horror or whatever. So what’s, what’s it actually like being in the room with one of those ridiculously long ovations or indeed watching people walk out of a screening?
BRIAN The applause is very real and quantifiable. The boos, kind of confirmed what I thought before I came, which is that is very overblown, like you hear if one person boos you will hear like, “Oh, this movie got booed at Cannes” but it could literally just be one person. But to have like a fourteen-minute standing ovation, you know, there’s got to be a lot of people willing to do that. I guess there could be one guy doing that for—or lady—doing that for fifteen minutes. But that has not been anything that I have seen. But the boo, like, yeah, it’s like one or two. And it could be you know, that’ll get tweets, it’ll get written up, because you know, people kind of want to eat that up. Because again, a lot of these films that show here, don’t actually get released for quite some time thereafter. So if you, yeah, but I do think that it is extremely over reported. Now, the amount of walkouts that I’ve seen in Cannes actually did surprise me because I have been at a number of film festivals. And including in Europe, I’ve been to Venice, and I didn’t see as many walkouts at Venice, as I have in Cannes. And sometimes, I’m very—I don’t know what people are thinking when they’re leaving. But there’s been a couple movies that are quite long and slow. And we’re at the two hour point and we all know there’s fifteen minutes left and people are leaving. It’s like, if you put two hours in, why are you leaving right now? But as for the long, long ovations, I don’t have time for that. [Slim laughs] I’ll, I’ll, I’ll clap for a little bit, but like I’m going, I’m not staying there for the duration of the ovation.
SLIM Fourteen minutes is like—I’ll fall on the sword here—fourteen minutes is a long time to do anything, let alone a standing ovation. I’m not even sure if I’ve given a standing ovation to anything in my life! Let alone a movie for fifteen minutes.
GEMMA Fourteen minutes as a whole other short film you could be watching! [Slim laughs]
BRIAN I don’t love, I don’t love the act of clapping either and I feel like, I don’t know. Maybe, I feel like the Nicole Kidman look of like the way she’s clapping—
BRIAN At the Oscars has made me self conscious about how, what do I look like when I clap? [Slim laughs] And I am sure if I did it for ten, twelve, fourteen minutes that I would look ridiculous.
SLIM When you’re clapping for that long your hands don’t remember how to clap. Your hands just start doing strange things, your body probably starts convulsing. But we have, we’ll come back to Cannes in a bit because the main topic of the show, obviously, is your four favorites on Letterboxd. Your top four, we mentioned it at the top of the show, your number one for this month anyway, since you change them every month, is—it stars two actors that are very hotly debated on this show.
GEMMA I can’t believe we’re already here again.
SLIM Tom Cruise. Nicole Kidman. And also Stanley Kubrick. Eyes Wide Shut. 3.9 average on Letterboxd. It has 4,000 fans! [music from Eyes Wide Shut fades in] So 4,000 other people have this in their top four are favorites on Letterboxd. And Tom, our dear sweet Tom, plays a doctor in this movie.
GEMMA As he tells literally everybody else in the movie, every five minutes. [Slim laughs]
BRIAN Which is one of my favorite moments. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM I’ve never heard of a doctor showing a kind of doctor badge before I saw this movie and Tom made it happen almost every other scene.
GEMMA And like does it even work? Does it even—
SLIM I don’t know.
GEMMA Does it even work to flash your doctor card? ’I’m a doctor.’ [Slim laughs]
SLIM So Eyes Wide Shut is Stanley Kubrick’s last film and you know the marketing ahead of this movie was very vague, a lot of people, if you haven’t seen it, you might not even know what it’s about. But mainly it follows a long night in Tom Cruise’s marriage as he searches for you know, love, otherwise and gets mixed up into a host of other things that maybe he really regrets.
GEMMA Or, I would, I would simply say as he fails to just have a conversation with his wife. [Slim laughs] And does literally everything else he can to avoid just having one conversation with his wife, who is by the way a luminous, mostly naked, Nicole Kidman. Brian, have you ever rolled a blunt right when Nicole Kidman rolls her blunt at the 25-minute mark and watched the rest of the film in that state?
BRIAN Uh, no I have not. But the day that we are recording this, at least for Slim and I, it’s different for Gemma, is actually the day that Eyes Wide Shut was released in theaters, so.
SLIM Holy cow!
BRIAN It’s very appropriate that we’re talking about it right now. I was there actually opening night for Eyes Wide Shut. I would, I was seventeen years old and so I had just barely become old enough to even go watch it.
SLIM Geeze. How did you feel experiencing it? How did you feel walking out of the theater?
BRIAN To be honest, that viewing was quite dramatic because I actually took a date.
SLIM Oh god.
SLIM And it was someone that I had a huge crush on for years and that was our first date. I was like, you know, I wrote movie reviews for our high school paper. And I was like, you know, it’s the last Stanley Kubrick movie, I really want to see this. She was very, very, very uncomfortable and I was having to check in on her on her all the time and I was like nervous the basically the entire screening. I was A, nervous just like going out but like B, that I was nervous, you know when you’re sitting next to someone you can tell they despise it? [Slim laughs] It’s one of my most hated feelings in the world. [Gemma laughs]
BRIAN Which is why I like watching movies alone and a lot of the time and then when I love it I never want to go watch it with someone else. And maybe that’s why, maybe Eyes Wide Shut was the movie that implanted that in my brain of like, I should test things out before inviting another individual to go with me. [Brian laughs]
GEMMA Just had an idea for a whole new podcast series which is like “bad movie dates”. Because I’m remembering going on a first and only date to see Jeremy Irons have wax poured on his tummy by Madonna or something. Does this make sense? Is that a movie called Damage?
SLIM That sounds like a dream. That sounds like a fever dream. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Oh, that was a first and last date for sure.
BRIAN I mean, I’ve been broken up with on the way to the movie theater and then we still watched the movie. [Brian & Gemma laugh]
SLIM Oh my god!
BRIAN That was a long time ago.
SLIM What was the movie? What was the movie?
BRIAN That was Where the Wild Things Are, which I was like, you know, this might lift our spirits. But that movie was all about therapy. It was James Gandolfini being upset that he was being broken up with. [Gemma laughs] It was literally the argument that we just had, that we then saw acted out by CGI and—well practical costumed beasts. But so back to with Eyes Wide Shut that first viewing was, so like, I was so out of my element and kind of like out of my body, out of my mind, that I didn’t really grow to appreciate it until I had seen it the second time which would have been in college a few years later. And since then, I’ve probably seen it four—four times. I love rewatching movies, but I don’t rewatch movies as much as a number of people I love on Letterboxd do. Just like, dang, you watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire twelves times in the last like two months! I definitely spaced them out over a couple years and they age with them, I guess.
SLIM That’s an interesting way to put it. I have a few favorites that I love that I don’t want to watch. Because I’ve watched a few favorites and then you watch them too soon too close together I start to pick them apart. You know, the flaws become ever more obvious on like seventh viewing and then I start to question, is this not a good movie? [Slim laughs] Is this a bad movie that I shouldn’t love anymore? So I totally appreciate that.
BRIAN Well, that’s something I think that is a big part of festival movies as well where you kind of like have a festival high. And if you watch it like a couple months later, you’re like, actually it wasn’t as good as I thought. It is definitely a very real thing. But the intro to this movie, I do like that you brought up how often he brings out his doctor card. Because I think that that’s like such a great entry point into his character. Like the whole reason why he is, well, part of the argument with Nicole Kidman starts she says that she’s like fantasized about this sailor before they got married. She asks him, she, like interrogates him about whether he’s like, had thoughts about other women or like when he is examining them, etc. And he says no, and part of the reason he says is “because of you”. And she gets very upset because she’s like that, I don’t have anything to do with this like, you’re you’re using me as the excuse not to do something. And I feel like the doctor card is an entry point into like, he’s so concerned with how other people think about him, that he knows that by saying he’s a doctor, you’re instantly kind of given a certain amount of goodwill of like, oh, this is someone I can trust. This is someone maybe heroic or like, this is a good person. I think that that is like essentially what the reason why he pulls out that card—which again, I don’t even know if this exists. [Brian laughs] These types of cards exist, but or maybe he just made one himself and like, he’s the only card carrying doctor of like, “Look, I’m a doctor look at this card that I have.” [Gemma laughs] But that’s something that I think is like a great little touch in the movie, the fact that he does it so much. And it’s always kind of like to grant entry to something where he’s basically testing if he can actually do something on his own or if he’s just like, guided by this fear of being judged by other people.
GEMMA All I said in my review of Eyes Wide Shut—and thank you for the excuse to watch it. I didn’t, I didn’t completely hate it. But I’ll tell you what I hated. That piano score. Oh my god, if I never, ever, have to hear that particular note of G played on a piano like that again. [sound of piano note of G plays over and over]
SLIM You know for sure I’m gonna edit that into the segment right here playing behind your complaint. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA I was gonna, I was gonna bring my electric piano and play it just for you and Brian and make that the rest of the episode and see how you like it. So thanks for that!
BRIAN I do specifically remember watching that in the theater on my terrible date and everyone laughing so hard every time that key was hit. I was not, mostly I was still just like, so nervous about everything going on. [Brian & Gemma laugh] But I specifically remember—I mean, so I grew up in Boise, Idaho, which we have a independent film theater, it’s called The Flicks. Shout out to The Flicks. I’m glad they still exist. They showed a lot of great movies, but by and large, this was a you know, an off the beaten trail type of movie for the Cineplex in Boise, so I think that repeated keynote made everyone just be like, okay, I felt weird about this all along. Now I can like giggle because like, this is too much. I actually like it.
GEMMA There was way too much for me and I like the piano, don’t get me wrong. [music from Master and Commander fades in] But speaking of soundtracks, I think that we should move to your second film, which I had never seen that I’d seen a lot of chat about because it became over the last year of lockdown one of those, I guess, comfort rewatches for a lot of Letterboxd members for one reason or another and I now understand. Peter Weir’s fourth-highest-rated movie on Letterboxd, which is Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe. What put this into your four favorites?
BRIAN Well, so yeah, the theme, the theme was that I chose for this was doctors ’cause I had just had surgery after a couple months of intense pain. And so it was kind of my, I don’t know about ode, but maybe an ode to my surgeon. Because my favorite character in this movie is Paul Bettany’s character who—well, there’s great rapport between him and Russell Crowe, for sure. And I think the dynamic between basically like a war hawk and a very curious like, he’s a surgeon, but he’s also very curious about Darwinism and science in general. And it’s kind of like, the way that they work together is kind of how government should work where you have like this very strong person who will get things done, but you also have someone who’s very curious in the way that they kind of battle with each other a little bit because they respect each other and they hear each other out. And I think that, that that interplay is for me is what makes the movie really special because otherwise I feel like it would just be like cannonballs and versus France. And it’d be rather rapid and exciting but it’s the surgeon character that I think grounds it into something that is a little. a little more interesting.
SLIM This took place three years after Gladiator. This has always been a movie that I had not seen of Russell Crowe. Say what you will about him today, but man, he had quite an era around this timeframe. And it finally was on Prime Video for those of us in the state. So I was finally able to sit down and watch this ad of this week. And I loved it. I love Master and Commander I was kind of blown away. I have some friends that speak its praises quite often. And I was like yeah, whatever. Russell Crowe at sea, I’m not watching that. [Slim laughs] And boy was I wrong! His hair in this movie is so luscious. My god! He looks amazing!
GEMMA Like is it his hair? Is it a wig? I don’t care. It is a thing of beauty. It was, I also caught on Disney+, weirdly enough, in New Zealand. So that was exciting. And again, same thing, a film that so many people had spoken of that I never caught. I don’t know why. And I know there’s been a lot of talk this week especially around Cannes and access to screeners versus screenings in cinemas. And you know, if a movie is good, it’ll work on any screen. But this is one film I wish, wish, wish I had seen on the big screen when it came out. Where were you when you saw it, Brian?
BRIAN I was on my couch. [Gemma & Brian & Slim laugh] I also had skipped this back. I was—so, when this came out is when I was at the height of my film snobbery like at university and only watching French New Wave and the Czech, the Czech New Wave and like all of that stuff. So yeah, Russell Crowe was in, actually—I could be wrong. But I think they were back to back, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind Best Pictures. And at that point I just kind of like okay, like I am losing interest a little bit in Russell Crowe but I am actually very annoyed that I had maybe thought that back then. Because there’s something very early on, his weevil joke, which he tells perfectly!
[clip of Master and Commander plays]
CAPTAIN JACK AUBREY Do you see those two weevils doctor?
DR. STEPHEN MATURIN I do.
CAPTAIN JACK AUBREY Which would you choose?
DR. STEPHEN MATURIN Neither, there’s not a scrap of difference between them. They’re the same species of curculio.
CAPTAIN JACK AUBREY If you had to choose, if you were forced to make a choice, if there was no other response.
DR. STEPHEN MATURIN Well, then, if you’re going to push me—I would choose the right hand weevil, it has significant advantage in both length and breadth.
CAPTAIN JACK AUBREY There! I have you! You’re completely dished. Do you not know know that in the service, one must always choose the lesser of two weevils. [laughter]
[clip of Master and Commander ends]
BRIAN It’s such like an entry point of like, yes, of course like he’d be great in something like The Nice Guys and like he needs to do a little bit more comedy. Because he had—it’s just like one line joke but just everything about the way that he tells it and his smirk afterward is just perfect, perfect timing.
GEMMA We have a weird relationship with Russell Crowe, us New Zealanders, because he is a New Zealander who rejected us for Australia, which is—I don’t know how much you know about New Zealand/Australian relations.
SLIM Educate us.
GEMMA Well, while we are upset that he’s left us, we will constantly remind everybody including Slim and Brian that Russell is in fact New Zealander. [Slim laughs] And yet, I watched Master and Commander and all, all of that, like everything was forgiven. Russell Crowe in a blousey white shirt. [Slim laughs] With that head of hair. I like that shot of him standing, just holding, holding the whatever the front masters called.
SLIM What people don’t realize is that we had a Slack DM this week and Gemma was sharing, you know, 1980s Russell band videos, music videos. So the deep cut that she mentioned is quite real and it hasn’t healed yet. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA There are movies you finish and you go, well, that was good. And then there are movies you finished and you want to dive immediately back into that world. So I can see why everybody’s craving a sequel.
SLIM Shall we venture back to Cannes. There’s a lot of anticipated movies that Brian, you saw already, that us in the States will probably still have to wait a little bit for. One of those that jumps out at me at least is The French Dispatch. And maybe that’s probably one of the more mainstream movies that for those unfamiliar with Cannes are also waiting for. That’s the next Wes Anderson film. It’s got probably one of the biggest casts of all time, maybe since Ocean’s Eleven. But what’s your vibe on The French Dispatch? Brian, you’ve seen it?
BRIAN I think The French Dispatch is a lot of fun. What I liked about it the most is how Wes Anderson was starting to use different visual language. Like it’s still very, very design oriented. But because he’s making an anthology film while—if people don’t know that know that term, like there are multiple stories, they’re not necessarily connected as like one plot dragging you all the way through, the plot is just hit this magazine exist. Basically, it’s the New Yorker, except it’s in France in a made up town kind of like how he made up a country for Grand Budapest Hotel, so that he can kind of just make everything look like he wants. But he uses black and white, he uses a lot of negative space, which is something that I love in movies, but you don’t really get as much from Wes Anderson because he just fills every area of the screen all the time. But this one, he does lean in a little bit more to the French New Wave aesthetic for a couple of the stories which includes a little more patience in the shots and and a lot more negative space. But you still get the like kind of birthday cake look in many other areas. Because it is an anthology film, I think it is, and it’s stuffed with so many details, like it’s something that I would actually like to watch in a slower rate. Like I know how some people like that you can watch it faster on Netflix. I would kind of like the watch a little slower because there’s so much packed in and the dialogue is so quick. Sometimes like you’ll be watching it and I’d be like wait, I don’t even—who is this person? Because it’s like so quick because the stories themselves are very quick. But having said all that, I actually think, I guess it’s technically the second one because Owen Wilson gets kind of like a little bit of an epilogue. But the one that Benicio del Toro is the main character in with Adrian Brody, Tilda Swinton and Léa Seydoux, that one is so strong that a part of me wishes that maybe he had just made an entire movie from that, that section. Because it is the strongest story and it is the most fleshed out. And the other ones are kind of like, they’re really fun but they’re really, they’re really quick and they’re not as fleshed out as the one with Benicio del Toro. And part of that, I think, is just Benicio del Toro, if you’re familiar with his work, he is a slower actor just like with how his rate of speech, his use of his body, I think there’s just something, his physicality of being in scenes for Wes Anderson just kind of makes everything register more.
SLIM The other topic that is curious to me, and is also been some of the discourse, maybe every time this Festival comes around, which is seeing a movie—and I think this came up with Demi. Seeing a movie before everyone else can, you know, months before, you’re able to have your own newly formed opinion on a movie before there is any kind of, you know, mindshare about a film. That seems so weird to me. Does that go into your mind when you’re seeing a movie ahead of 99% of the audience that will eventually see it?
BRIAN Um, not so much. The only time that that is actually entered my mind was actually when I covered the Venice Film Festival in 2017 for Collider, and I really did not like Three Billboards, and everyone else did.
BRIAN But I was the only negative review on Rotten Tomatoes for that for three months.
SLIM Oh my god.
BRIAN I kept getting like weird emails from people who like follow Oscars about like, “You ruined it’s 100% blah, blah, blah.” [Slim laughs] That’s just like—and then when the movie like actually comes out it gets like a ton of negative reviews. But it was, that was a very bizarre experience and kind of like weird entry point into how like, you know, some people you know, love the Oscars so much that they kind of just want to know what is big before they even see anything. And that’s like something that I’m not so sure about, but that’s something that at Cannes, I know, sort of like the last—2019 Cannes had some Oscar winners. Obviously Parasite won best picture but also Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. But that is very rare for Cannes to kind of have like that Oscar pull through later, many months later. Mostly because a lot of the ones that the US studios are going to push really hard they save for the fall. But because of that, I think that there is a little bit more, I guess purity to your response as opposed to like, okay, ultimately how is this gonna land for everyone? But I will say this. And I think this is very real about every festival, is that if you watch a couple movies in a row that you don’t like or kind of—let’s say you watch some stinkers. And every festival has some stinkers. And so you’re kind of just waiting for a movie to wow you. And sometimes there might be an overreaction, particularly if it’s early in the festival where—I mean, this is also the first time I’ve been in a movie theater since First Cow in March 2020. So that alone, just like how that changes my viewing experience was quite remarkable. And then I also was going multiple times a day. And I think just like the desire to be wowed in a theater at this festival itself might be, might have, you might see some like, okay, like everyone kind of overreacted to this, that I think has more to do with just like the excitement of being here. And also not maybe seeing something pretty crummy earlier in the day. Or just wanting to be wowed by something. Because I know the internet’s have come back. But a lot of the films that have been released in theaters, there hasn’t been anything that grabbed me until I came to the festival. And I think that some reactions might seem like a little overdone. And even though the film might be very good, and I think that that’s a part of the reason why.
GEMMA Before we move on to your final two four favorites, if that makes any sense. Actually, even before what I’m about to ask you I’ve got some very, very fresh news to drop from Letterboxd HQ, which is two years on from the power of Parasite at Cannes 2019, it has just become the first film to have half a million five-stars logged on Letterboxd.
GEMMA It just doesn’t stop! It’s an absolute steamroller.
SLIM I don’t want to be left out of the breaking news. So I can now reveal that Julia Ducournau’s Titane has just won the Palme d’Or! And Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero has won the Grand Prix. So Brian, where did these films sit with you?
BRIAN I keep like jockeying back and forth about which one I think is the best film at the festival. But they couldn’t be any more different. There’s so like completely opposite. A Hero, Asghar Farhadi made A Separation. And it’s, it’s a story about a man who is coming out, he’s on leave from his prison sentence, which is something I guess that you can do in Iran. ’Cause he’s in a debtors prison. And so he gets out on leave, and he attempts to like gather some money together so that he can absolve his credit. And it’s basically, he uses the press in a type of way. But it’s navigating how like small lies becomes something that, well, basically withholding a truth becomes a lie, even though it’s not maybe an actual lie. But it becomes perceived as one as kind, it’s kind of like a ball rolling down the hill of all these things kind of going wrong within his story, even though his story is rather factual. And the other one that I was blown away by was Titane. Definitely something that I feel like you should go in knowing very, very little because there are some moments in this movie that surprised me more than any movie has in a long time. But I should warn it also is very, very intense. There’s a lot of body horror stuff, also some body comedy. The reason why it’s exciting is because they all kind of like build to something that is kind of cathartic. And it becomes kind of sweet in the end, which is totally unexpected. So there there are payoffs and she’s very smart throughout about what, she’s not just doing something to shock people on and that’s it. Everything that she’s doing has a very specific purpose toward the theme that you kind of attach yourself to later in the movie. But those are the two that wowed me here. [music from Darkman fades in]
SLIM Yeah, those two are definitely now at the top of my watchlist. But is it time to go back to your Letterboxd favorites with Darkman. 3.3 average on Letterboxd, 24 fans. Last week, Josh Ruben had this in his top four as well. And this has entered your top four also. Liam Neeson horribly disfigured, so it is carrying the curse of movies for Gemma of disfigured men that must wear a mask. The streak continues. But what is it about Darkman that you also find endearing? And where does this rate on the scale of superhero movies for you?
BRIAN Well, what I find endearing about it is it’s kind of the most Sam Raimi in the ways that I really like and enjoy. Like, his, I don’t know, there’s probably a term for this, but I don’t I’m not sure what it is, but it’s like Dutch-angle push in, he just is doing all the time in this. I like how there are some, I mean, there’s one actor in particular that I’m not familiar with at all, Larry Drake, who just gets to chew scenery. He’s the main villain in this. I love when a movie like this kind of grants a lesser known actor to have all the naughty stuff you’ve given to them. He chops off fingers with his cigar cutter, that’s what I’m alluding to.
SLIM So good.
BRIAN But as for, the pink-elephant scene is really just kind of what pushes us over into like, I kinda love how bizarre and silly this movie is, which is just Liam Neeson freaking out at the carnival, trying to win something for Frances McDormand. And it just shows Sam Raimi’s creativity of there’s, there’s like panels falling out behind him as is like, basically his mind is exploding and he wants to like beat up this carnival man over this stupid pink elephant. That is, when I first watched the movie, that was when like, because beforehand I was like, okay, this is kind of fun, but I was like, alright, this is a little bit like next level ridiculous in a way that is very, very fun. And again, very Sam Raimi. But it is a movie that I really like, and I have not seen in anyone’s top four. So I saw that you guys have discussed that last week. And I was like, wow, what are the odds? [Brian & Gemma laugh]
SLIM I know! I was thinking the same thing.
GEMMA All I’ll say, which I didn’t get to say in the previous episode, is that I really struggled with Larry Drake in this movie, because for me, he will always be the sweet and wonderful Benny from L.A. Law and nobody else and it’s very, very hard to watch Benny chop fingers off a person.
SLIM L.A. Law. Wow. [music from The Skin I Live In fades in]
GEMMA Yeah, speaking of disfiguring other people’s bodies, we move to the second most popular film from Spain on the whole of Letterboxd and the second most popular film of Spanish filmmaking hero, Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In. Highly rated, highly controversial. Coming up to its tenth anniversary very soon. Sits on a ton of Letterboxd horror lists, including Evan’s Horror Movies by Gay Directors. Sits in a list called High Art Genre Movies. On a dysphorroria list—that’s quite hard to say. Movies That Are Better When You Don’t Know Anything About Them. Actually plenty of overlap on lists that also include Eyes Wide Shut for many obvious reasons. It’s also on Letterboxd power member Sally Jane Black’s trans list but she hated it and for very good reason. It is in your top four Brian, explain yourself.
BRIAN I think that it is, I mean it’s highly entertaining and keeps you guessing but I think part of the reason why I react positively to this and this is—I’m pausing because I’m trying to make sure that I say this in a way that is digestible. There are a lot of, I’ve seen a number of rape-revenge movies. And I think what makes The Skin I Live In ultimately extremely interesting is how it basically puts that in a box twice. Because the, I mean, I guess like to describe that even further would be giving away some plot points but I think that while it’s kind of remarkable that ultimately whose side you become on by the end of the movie, and even though that might not sit well with a lot of people and I definitely understand that. I also, like I am vocal even on this like Letterboxd and everywhere else else in life, like I was abused when I was younger as well. So I definitely understand the reservation to getting, to where the movie goes. But for, for me, the way that like, who you feel sympathy for in the end is kind of a remarkable feat to pull off. I think.
SLIM I think your read the Wiki for this movie, maybe last year, or the year before. I think because it was on a Letterboxd list of like, You won’t be the same after you see this movie or something, one of those lists. And even knowing the plot twist, you know, the reveal of something that happens in this movie. I feel like I still wasn’t quite prepared for this film. I can’t think of any other movie that I’ve seen. Like this. I don’t know Gemma, how do you feel about The Skin I Live In?
GEMMA Almodóvar is so much fun. I enjoy a lot of his romps and I adore Pain and Glory, adore it. But I had avoided The Skin I Live In, partly the poster, and pretty much mostly other people’s warnings that it will make you quite uncomfortable. And I tend to gravitate towards things that delight and surprise and make me laugh. I guess I prepared myself in advance by—and thanks for sharing Brian, by diving into a few Letterboxd, non-spoilery reviews by members I admire and feel in some way connected to. To just get a sense of where they sit with it before I watched, which I don’t often do with films, usually I just want to go in blind and then work out my thoughts afterwards and then find people who have other things to say and you know, build a picture from there. But in this case, I guess, it’s to do with and Ella Kemp wrote a beautiful essay for us about content consideration and what people might want to know going in rather than coming out. And so it was, it was sort of a work of content consideration for me to prepare myself in some way but even having said that, there is no way, unless you have the plot spoiled for you, that you can truly be prepared for how The Skin I Live In plays out. And yeah, I really, I then went back and revisited Sally Jane Black’s review and a few other reviews to sort of understand the elements of misogyny and transphobia. But Brian, what you have just said has really, really helped me land in a place of peace with this film and it’s weird place within Almodóvar’s filmography.
BRIAN I will say so there’s something that doesn’t sit well with me each time that I’ve watched it and I’m not even sure that it really needs to be in there. I remember in the theater being kind of put off by this but like the whole—I don’t know if it’s just because like Almodóvar needs a character like this but everything with Tiger I feel like doesn’t work.
BRIAN And I think that it makes the viewing experience which is already going to get a little rough, maybe a little too rough.
BRIAN I think like that’s that’s the only part of the movie that definitely makes me quite uncomfortable. Other areas make me uncomfortable but in interesting ways and ways their own kind of like working through my feelings or what does this mean? Or like what you know, various things about consent, etc. The whole, the whole everything with Tiger is just, it’s just too much.
GEMMA I would just love to jump in because Josh Ruben, talking about him and in Darkman and everything else last week. We talked a lot with him about why in his promo for his film Werewolves Within. He’s been supporting, encouraging people to support Trans Lifeline and since we’re talking about Sally Jane Black, and since she has been a patron of Letterboxd for a long time. A couple of days ago, she posted up a post on Letterboxd just simply entitled Surgery, and just basically as fundraising and asking the Letterboxd community to support fundraising for surgery that she has finally arrived at. And she’s written more words, as she writes, than she can count on being trans, trans representation dysphoria, and surgery. “Some trans folks don’t need surgery. Some do. I do more than anything you can imagine.” So the link for that fundraiser will be in the notes for this episode. And I just want to shout out Sally Jane Black and say I’m so grateful that her incredibly deep writings on films like this exist on Letterboxd because that’s usually the first place I go, when, when I have unsettled questions out of a movie viewing, such as The Skin I Live In.
BRIAN I would definitely second that. Sally Jane was one of the very first members that I found on Letterboxd that was, I mean, A) who had seen so many movies that I’d never heard of that is just like adding to my watchlist after watchlist after watchlists, but also provided like such, I mean, well thought out thoughts and interesting viewpoints that maybe I had not considered and that definitely through Sally Jane’s posts, was able to, you know, find a much larger trans community on Letterboxd, which is one of my favorite aspects of Letterboxd, because that’s so under represented within the print world that I’ve been in for such a long time. And it’s, it’s very vibrant. It’s very profound on Letterboxd and I love that aspect of that. And it does, a number of those reviews do make me kind of go back and think. And that is something that I did with The Skin I Live In as well, as well after. And I think they’re all, all the criticisms are, are definitely valid and onpoint as well. It deserves its divisiveness.
SLIM We have one movie that we want to close out with and it’s from the section on Letterbox that’s rated higher than average. [music from Babe fades in] And I think this is popped up also on a few other episodes. Babe: Pig in the City. [Brian chuckles] You have rated—I don’t know what you were expecting me to say. But I guess Babe wasn’t it. Four and a half stars. And that is rated higher against the average on Letterboxd, which I think is at a 2.95?
GEMMA Yeah, I mean it’s incorrect, let’s be honest, yeah.
SLIM Let me run the numbers here. [Gemma & Slim laugh] Last movie to talk about, what’s your fond memories of Babe? And and why does that rate so highly compared to the average for you?
BRIAN Well, I mean, it rates more highly. Just because George Miller is a genius. And I liked Babe, the first one. But I think it’s a little more modeling and Babe: Pig in the City has a little bit more punk edge. I mean, he has like pink poodles and dog collars. And I don’t know, there’s something about the fear of a rural person going to the city. And it kind of like plays that out in ways that—I grew up in Idaho, and like my, every one of my family is still afraid of cities. And like, like my mom went to like pick her up at the airport in LA, she’s just like, so tense, because like, we’re in LA driving. And it’s like, no, like, I do this all the time. It’s not that hard. But like there is this, like, fear of cities, from rural areas that plays out and kind of like mad cap kind of ridiculous ways. And ultimately, they learn things from the city and the city learns a little bit from them as well. [Gemma laughs] And they’re, you know, there’s balloons dropping, which is something that George Miller loves to do. That’s a great visual. I just think it’s a lot of fun. And I’ve never understood the dislike for that. Because like, what I love about sequels is when they do something very different from the first and that’s something I guess that’s why a lot of people underrate it. But like why do we want to watch the second thing be the exact same as the first? Like, it’s always more fun and exciting if it’s, it’s a little bit different. And also, basically because George Miller kind of ghost directed a lot of Babe and had some arguments with the, with the director—
SLIM With the pig? [Slim & Brian laugh]
BRIAN About it as well. And so ultimately, like Babe: Pig in the City is I feel like it’s kind of like what he set out, wanted to make with Babe. And now he gets to make it and he gets to put it to rest. But also, I mean, I’ll have to commend you guys for choosing that because, I mean, I’m gonna look like a Babe, like the biggest Babe lover on earth because it’s the header of my Twitter is Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet with Babe. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA I mean, why wouldn’t it be? From your rated higher than average, we could have chosen Marie Antoinette but you wrote about that in one of your Cannes diaries. I recommend everyone read it. We could have chose a Magic Mike XXL. We could have chosen Crash. We could have chosen another Russell Crowe starrer, Noah. But no, we need to talk about Babe: Pig in the City. And that just gives me an opportunity to shout out another pig related rural person goes into the city, in this case Portland, Oregon movie that’s just out this week and I don’t know if either of you have caught it yet, but it’s Michael Sarnoski’s Pig starring Nicolas Cage.
SLIM It’s on my watchlist, you better believe it.
GEMMA Unexpected. Everyone will say this. That was not what I expected. It’s definitely one of those ones, I guess, it’s better to go in, as everyone always says, knowing nothing about. But I would like to qualify that by saying, that it’s not an action movie. Just know that. It’s not an action genre movie. And I’m saying that, I’m spoiling the genre, because I spent the entire time watching it on edge. It was a completely different film. And then I didn’t sleep for four hours afterwards. Not because of any horror, but because my, my psyche was unsettled by an expectation of a genre that never came. It was a tonal—and this is, I guess this is the thing with Nic Cage, right, is you never know what you’re going to get, so you should not expect anything but.
SLIM Some people are calling this the spiritual sequel to Babe: Pig in the City. [Brian & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA Some people—being you! [Gemma & Slim laugh]
BRIAN That is probably where a third Babe would go, it’d be a lot of intense reflection on life. [Brian laughs] Many decades late. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA I love that you’ve finally made it to Cannes in real life, Brian. after years of wanting to go there. And then of course, last year, your plans were dashed. And I guess if we’re going to be supremely progressively liberal in this moment, and inclusive and intersectional, it would be to acknowledge the privilege of being able to be at Cannes in person where so many others can’t be. But I think it’s also important for the listeners to know that these were plans you had last year that were dashed, and that you almost didn’t make it this year because of your medical emergency. And so just congratulations on making it. Congratulations on showing up. I’m sorry your tuxedo has never come out of the, of the closet this time round.
BRIAN Oh, I’m fine with that. I’m not even sure if it fits anymore. [Gemma & Brian laugh] To be honest.
GEMMA We are so grateful for having had you on the ground reporting in on the daily and I highly recommend everyone read your diary entries on our Festiville HQ because they’re not just reviews, you paint the picture for us of what it’s like to be in Cannes—I was gonna say post-pandemic, but we’re still in the thick of it. So thank you, thank you for your sacrifice slash privilege.
BRIAN Yeah, thank you for having me. I actually, so I got my last, I’m vaccinated, fully vaccinated. But I got my last Covid test yesterday which I was actually nervous about, because that’s the one that like reentering the states. So I was like, well, hopefully didn’t run into anything here. But I’m in the clear. And yeah, to the access of festivals, I think there’s a lot to learn from how like New York Film Fest, etc did last year, which opened up to a lot of people. But also like with Cannes as well, just like how the ticketing aspect of it made it so that there was less of a hierarchy than other years before. And I think that that’s an area, I did open this by saying, you know, Cannes is the snootiest film festival like they, the movie I’m looking forward to the most of this year is Power of the Dog and they offered that but like it won’t play just because it’s a Netflix movie. And it would have to be out of competition. So in the same way that like Cannes is kind of launching this attack on that, there’s ways to be more modern that Cannes is not doing and I think like opening up to having more people to view from not being present is one of those areas. And hopefully they can do that, because I think you know film festivals should be much more accessible from here on.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show and thanks to our guest this episode, Brian Formo for sharing his love of his favorite movies. You can read Brian’s daily diaries from Cannes on our Festival HQ page, which you should be following because that’s where the Letterboxd buzz is during every festival season. Next episode we have another special guest direct from Cannes to talk about sensuous cinema. You might want to watch Lingua Franca before then, Slim.
SLIM I’ll add it to my watchlist right now. After I do that, just a reminder, you can follow Gemma, Slim, that’s me and our HQ page on Letterboxd, using the links in the episode notes. Thanks to composing dynamos Moniker for their theme music ‘Vampiros Dancoteque’. And if you are enjoying the show and maybe have guest ideas, be sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Quick shout out to a few friends that did, slingermanjones, Danny, McKenzie, Ben, and searchingforsoul as they left a review letting us know that they’re digging the new format. The Letterboxd show is a TAPEDECK production.
GEMMA And that’s it. Although, I have one final question for you, Slim.
SLIM Uh oh.
GEMMA Which weevil would you choose? [Slim laughs]
SLIM I would choose that luscious blonde hair, for God’s sake.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker plays alone, fades out]
[clip of Spike Lee accidentally revealing that Titane had won the Palme D’or plays]
TORIA DILLIER Mr. Président, est-ce que vous pouvez nous dire, quelle cera le Premier Prix? Can you tell me which prize is the First Prize?
SPIKE LEE Yes, I can. [laughter]
TORIA DILLIER Cool. [applause]
SPIKE LEE The film that won the Palme D’or is Titane.
TORIA DILLIER Wait, wait, wait, no! [confusion ensues with laughter and applause]
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.