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The Letterboxd Show 2.06: Jim Cummings
[clip of The ’Burbs plays]
RAY We’re all on the same block, so you could go too.
ART We’re all in the same town too, but you’re right next to him.
RAY If he was gonna borrow anything, he’d come over to your place. Well, he’s busy now.
ART He’s not busy. Now he’s goin’ in—go now because if… I mean, he’s going back in. If you were gonna say hi, you should probably… There, he’s going into the house. You’re gonna lose him. He’s gonna go in… [door shuts] Now you’ve blown it, haven’t you?
RAY No, I didn’t blow it. He went into his house.
ART Chicken. Chicken. Boook-bok-bok-bok-bok.
[clip of The ’Burbs ends]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Hello and welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about movies from Letterboxd: the social network for film lovers. Each episode your hosts Gemma—that’s me—and Slim are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films according to their Letterboxd profile. We have links in the episode notes to the movies, lists and people we talked about so you can follow along and add those movies to your watchlists. Today, we’re moving into Mayfield Place and talking about the neighbors with Jim Cummings, Letterboxd bestie, friend of filmmakers and a filmmaker himself!
SLIM Jim’s new film The Beta Test is on the festival circuit right now and comes into theaters in the fall. His other movies Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow are available On Demand and you should watch them. Jim’s Letterboxd handle is jimmycthatsme and his four favorites are: Inside Out, Krisha, Children of Men and The ’Burbs.
GEMMA Oh my god.
SLIM And now… on with the show.
[theme music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]
SLIM Jim, we watched your four favorites this past week to prep for this exact moment, this conversation right now.
JIM I’m honored.
SLIM And I have one question: is Tom Hanks the greatest comedic actor of all time?
JIM He’s unbelievable. Especially in that film. In The ’Burbs, it is so funny to watch this guy struggle and have to put up with these insane neighbors and social dynamics. He feels like a camp counselor and I don’t think he gets cast in these funny roles anymore but he’s now one of the best. And then it becomes incredibly profound. He goes from being this kind of like goofy, you know, beer drinking neighbor guy to then being this profound, thoughtful person in the ending monologue. And to see that woven, it is like watching Chaplin or something like that. He is so, so good in this film.
GEMMA I am so excited to talk about The ’Burbs and I’m gonna suggest we save it to the end because otherwise we’re in danger of—
JIM I’m so sorry! I jumped the gun.
GEMMA No, no, no! [Gemma laughs] It’s all Slim’s fault, please!
SLIM The one thing I do want to bring up too about Tom Hanks just because I think it’s worth a refresher, that Tom Hanks has this you know history of an amazing comedic actor. My brother is older than I am. And I remember growing up seeing scenes from The Money Pit when I was like way too young to remember when I think like the bathtub falls through—
JIM Falls through the floor!
SLIM And he does that laugh scene. Nobody talks about that anymore!
JIM It’s amazing.
[Tom Hanks scene laughing in The Money Pit plays]
SLIM What’s happening in our society? We need to wake people up, Jim! [Jim & Gemma laugh]
JIM Sheeple! Wake up!
GEMMA I just want to say that every time I’m thinking about my Letterboxd four favorites and, you know, we’ve already talked about mine on the first episode of the series. I think every now and then, I think I should just make it Big and the three best Indiana Jones films because it’s the truth, right?
GEMMA Those are the movies I will come back to again and again. But Tom Hanks in Big is extraordinary. I know it’s a mainstream film but he just… in the legacy in the canon of movies in which an adult is embodying a child or a child is embodying an adult. Tom Hanks is… he’s the GOAT of that.
JIM There’s a good quote from Steve Martin when he was introducing Tom Hanks at the Oscars. He says ’my next guest had the easiest job in Hollywood, if you only make hits, Tom Hanks!’ [Gemma & Slim laugh] It’s like the best joke of like a guy who’s only made great movies.
SLIM Well, let’s go through your favorites on Letterboxd and people can follow Jim’s account in our episode notes. The first one on our list, it has it all. We’re going to get emotional. It’s Inside Out from Pixar. For those that have not seen it, you know, it follows the four characters Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, but then also Sadness, and they are living inside of the lead character’s mind where they help advise her through everyday life and tries to keep things positive. This is a movie in my opinion that kind of gets a little bit to the wayside in the lore of Pixar. But what was your first impression seeing Inside Out when it first been released, Jim? [music from Inside Out fades in]
JIM Oh, just crying my eyes out, unabashedly. It was awful. It was humiliating. I saw a drive in. And so everybody was coming out of their cars, sitting in their cars. This was in, you know, 2017? No, 2015, right when it came out. And there’s the big scene with Bing Bong in it. And I had never seen something like that in an animated film, especially a comedy. And I cried my eyes out for like a week and a half, it was really brutal. And I had to see it a couple more times, just to really feel it. And I’ve seen that movie so many times now, I feel like it’s part of me, where, at that point, in watching Pixar movies and watching movies in general, there was this dichotomy between something that was a really functioning drama that was very poignant. And then a really funny comedy. And it was very difficult to fuse the two of them together. And I saw it when it came out in 2015. And I realized that that was something that you could do, you can make something that is both poignant, and heartbreaking. And also very funny. And it doesn’t make it worse, it makes it better. And I don’t think that I would be where I am now, had I not seen that film. I love every little bit of it. And not just for those characters that are inside of the mind, but also Riley, the girl whose head they’re in. I think it really is one of the most important films ever made. Because it is a lesson in how the brain and emotions work disguised as a kids movie. And what a great lesson to teach children that they are not in charge of their emotions, but they can be if they focus right. It is an unbelievable humanitarian effort that was put in by Pixar. And I love that movie so much.
GEMMA I think especially over the last year and a half, when the emphasis on mental health has only been greater, you know, more important, and in still not enough funding and still not enough resources. And everybody who is privileged enough to have access to a therapist has to talk to them just like this. Just like we are. It’s interesting to see how that can help us in these ways.
JIM It’s so crazy to where I had never really had that intense or like potent of a cinema experience emotionally watching that film. Not just the music and Bing Bong saying ’sing louder’ [Gemma gasps] and it’s just so brutal. God dammit Gemma! [Slim laughs] It’s so—I can’t, I can’t think about it without crying! And it’s so, it’s about love and self sacrifice, and helping people. And then she says, after Bing Bong disappears, she goes ’Goodbye Bing Bong!’ and it’s the dumbest name in history, and then you’re laughing again. [Gemma laughs] And but no, it’s a suicide in a Disney film. And it is shocking and beautiful and horrifying. And so wonderful. And the music is unbelievable. The characters are really great and the world is so well thought out. And it functions in the same way that The Matrix does, where the prerequisite for enjoying the film is having a brain and knowing that deja-vu and all of that stuff. It’s like these great, you know, humanist ideas behind the world building. And Pete Docter was just at the top of his game, and he has a whole team apparently, from everything that I know about, that the best idea wins at Pixar, doesn’t matter where it comes from. And I think that’s, you know, I’ve brought that into my work. And it’s not necessarily about who’s leading the ship. It’s about helping everybody to make the best story. It is unparalleled to me in kids films. I often forget that it’s a kid’s movie when people ask me my favorite kids movies are. It’s unbelievable.
GEMMA Important question for the room. Have any amongst us head an imaginary friend?
JIM I didn’t. I didn’t. My sister did and she would often talk to him when she was, until she’s about three or four, but then that was it. Did you?
SLIM No, I did not. I did not, no.
GEMMA Oh my god!
GEMMA You guys are missing out! Is this just a girl thing?
SLIM I had comic books. So those were my imaginary friends. [Gemma laughs] And my action figures. Those occupied my time.
GEMMA Which action figure was your favorite?
SLIM Boy, you know what, some of my earliest memories of action figures, my brother grew up also a big Chuck Norris fan. Do you remember the old Chuck Norris action figures?
JIM Oh my god! Yes!
SLIM He had like this Corvette car that was legit af, it was amazing. So yeah, needless to say, I was doing some ninja Chuck Norris stuff growing up and I wanted his blue jeans and his cowboy boots and knew it didn’t happen, you know, eventually as I got older, but you know.
JIM For those of you who can’t See slim, he’s got a six-pack abs, [Slim laughs] and now he’s wearing cowboy boots and jeans that he’s kicking around. It’s a bit dangerous next to the microphones. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM And I’m in a Corvette right now, that’s how I’m recording.
JIM He is badass! [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA I love it!
SLIM So I loved going back to watching Inside Out. I agree with you. I rated this five stars. The Bing Bong conversation with Sadness is one of the greatest film moments in animation history, in my opinion. Multi-layered. And I think we have a bunch of stats. This is a 3.9 average on Letterboxd, has 2,000 fans. So there’s 2,000 other people that have this in their four favorites on Letterboxd.
GEMMA Wow. I feel like some of the lists it’s on are perfectly suitable. You’ll be happy to know Jim that you’re not the only person who ugly cries when you watch Inside Out, there’s a whole list of movies called Ugly cry! that Inside Out sits right at the top of. Also on there, Stuart Little.
JIM Stuart Little, sure.
GEMMA A Dog’s Purpose. I mean, why not?
JIM That was beautiful.
JIM Oh, yeah, that’s right!
JIM They punch you in the stomach in the opening. It’s like at least in in Inside Out, they hold it to close to the end.
GEMMA Yeah! [Gemma laughs]
JIM I do have a funny story about Up. I know this is a non sequitur. But I saw it in New Orleans for the first time in 3D. And it was a bunch of adults, buddies of mine just out of college, going to see the movie. And it was just like a quiet matinee screening. And at the end of the sequence, that is so heartbreaking in the opening, there was a girl who’s about two rows ahead of me and she said at this volume, ’is she okay?’ and everybody laughed in the theater. [Gemma & Slim & Jim laugh] And turned back to look at this poor girl. Yeah, it was horrifying.
SLIM Everyone wearing 3d glasses turning around the look at you is probably a sight in and of itself. [Gemma & Jim laugh]
JIM She was mortified.
GEMMA Before we move on to Krisha, I think we need to sort of take a sidestep and talk a little bit about what you do with your characters and Thunder Road and Wolf of Snow Hollow that sort of fits in, I guess to what Inside Out is also doing. Which we can see in I guess the real time within the films, your characters, working out how all these feelings fit together and can coexist with each other. And how it’s sort of okay to show vulnerability. Specifically in Wolf of Snow Hollow in the hospital scene. You know that beautiful camera movement and the refocus to the bed behind you. And oh my god, just… like you’re gonna get me started.
JIM It’s so brutal too. To do that, I mean, that’s like, my favorite kind of cinema, is using the camera to help tell the story. And like that is, I just find to be relatively absent in modern film. And to do it emotionally, I’m lifting all of that from Pixar, of like, you can just move the camera slightly and help tell the story of somebody died in the interim of this person being in the room last time and then coming back. It’s like, oh my god, like, this poor guy. And then the same thing with Thunder Road, the ending shot of Thunder Road of me at the ballet, where it’s like, you see this guy go through hell for 80 minutes. And then you see him be okay. He like helped his daughter. He was a good parent for once. I don’t know, I think there is this ongoing thing that with cinema audiences and cinephiles, that they just want the characters to be okay. And that everything is alright, they just need to be confirmed that everything’s gonna be alright. And to do that for so long, for like 80 minutes of the movie to watch the story of Job as a comedy, and then have it pay off emotionally for the guy. It can be extremely cathartic, especially when it’s a writer, actor and director doing it. Where it’s like, in a Jackie Chan film where everything ends up okay, it’s like oh, finally, Jackie’s okay. You know, he got his ass kicked, but like he’s okay now. And it can be a better, or like a more potent conversation between filmmakers and the audience that I really only discovered through making my movies.
SLIM I read a quote from you. Because I was curious, your thought process where you were putting yourself in these shoes for these characters to go through these journeys. And you said ’the stuff I like to read is about humiliating these characters and putting them through these places and paces. And I don’t know if I want to put other people through that.’
SLIM I think that’s a pretty fascinating answer because it makes sense to me as the viewer, your characters do go through the wringer. They make some really bad calls. [Slim laughs] And they eventually do, you know, come out in the end, you know, for the better.
JIM I think also what comedy is to me, like watching someone just be constantly humiliated on accident for no fault of their own. And then that’s also dramatic as well. Like Roberta Bernini has made a career out of these like kind of pathetic characters that the audience like, agh, I just love this guy! Like just be okay! This guy can’t catch a break! And so you can kind of wield the audience’s emotions and attention throughout the narrative, just by facial expressions, just by like stupid things that the guy does and you know, have him constantly fall on his face—sometimes actually falling on my face. But I love that! I love that I get to pretend to be Jackie Chan and Charlie Chaplin for a month when we’re making a movie and it’s the most fulfilling experience making myself look bad. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA One of the other things, we talked about Wolf of Snow Hollow last year, I didn’t get to say this to you. But one of my other favorite things about it is, well, you cast Riki Lindhome, because she’s, you know—I don’t know if this is why you cast her—but for me, it was wonderful because she’s in one of the best ukulele guitar musical comedy duo of all time, Garfunkel and Oates. And I am a ukulele lover. I just love those two so much. We talked a little bit about the, I guess, the sort of gender dynamics that you explore in Wolf of Snow Hollow in terms of ambition and outcomes for their careers. But it’s more about while you’re putting your character through all of these humiliating sort of leaps of emotion, she’s just the straight woman, right? She’s so straight and that straight to the point where she gets to be weathering and really wonderful moments when they’re in the car, and he’s like—
[clip of Wolf of Snow Hollow plays]
JOHN Do you think women have had to deal with shit like this since like the Middle Ages?
[clip of Wolf of Snow Hollow ends]
GEMMA She just looks—
JIM Like he hadn’t thought of it yet before. It’s the first time he’s thinking it in real time. And then he has to change the subject. He’s like, that was a stupid thing to say. She’s so amazing. And it’s great at the end of the film, like the whole movie;s about this, you know, the the father leaving the patriarchy of the sheriff’s department, Robert Forster’s character, and then you think I’m the heir apparent. And then of course, she becomes the sheriff at the end because I’ve been a lunatic the whole movie!
GEMMA Yeah! [Gemma laughs]
JIM And it’s such a great moment to watch it with women in the crowd, where that happens, and then everybody goes, yep, that makes sense! Just like oh, thank god! You know? [Slim laughs] It’s great!
GEMMA And finally, another thing I noticed about Wolf of Snow Hollow on this rewatch was it’s a Christmas movie! So, you know, if you’re listening and you’ve got a Christmas movie list, add it. But speaking of holidays…
SLIM Uh oh.
GEMMA Let’s move now to your second of your four Letterboxd faves, Krisha, by Trey Edward Shults
JIM An actual masterpiece that is shot in his mom’s house and backyard. In Texas. It is an unbelievable film. I guess I’ll just talk about… synopsis according to me. It’s a film about a 65-year-old woman coming back to celebrate Thanksgiving with a family having been gone for ten years. And there are many reveals about her position in the family. She’s apparently sober. And just the stress of being with the families and undergoing an American Thanksgiving with all the power and social dynamics in a household. She relapses and it becomes this horror film, basically, dramatic horror film. And it’s amazing. It is such a beautiful showcase of her as an actress, the rest of the family as actors. Trey Edward Shults’ mom plays his aunt in the film, his real life mom. So many of his family members are peppered throughout the movie. And they shot it for nothing in this house. And I saw it for the first time at its world premiere at South by Southwest. I ran down Sixth Street in a suit to get to see this movie! And Trey was outside like ’get your ticket, get inside!’ I went inside and watched it and it changed my life forever. It was the first time I had seen a Duplass style film made that showcased craftsmanship that was very funny throughout, that was also very tragic and about an important subject. And within five months, I was doing the Thunder Road short film. It was the inciting incident for my life of this is what the future of American indie film renaissance can be. And it really is that for me. Like I cite that film being made and being released as the beginning of the American indie movement now.
SLIM Sheesh! That’s quite a plug for anyone that hasn’t seen this movie yet. [Jim laughs] If you’re on the edge of making your own films, I think you need to get off your rear end. And check out this movie.
JIM See it! It’s unbelievable.
SLIM I knew I was in for a ride as soon as she was walking around the house with her luggage and she stepped in that mud in her shoe. I was like oh god.
JIM And she goes to the wrong house! [Slim laughs] And it’s one long take, and she goes to the wrong house! But they go through the whole rigmarole of bringing her to another house and then she has to go next door to the actual house. It’s amazing.
SLIM Yeah, like if you visualize me watching the movie, like the bead of sweat started to come down. Before she even got into the house for Thanksgiving. I was like oh lord.
JIM It’s great!
GEMMA What an opening shot. What at set up. I mean that shot. It goes from when she drives up in her pick-up, right, all the way to the next door neighbor’s house. All the way to the right house, in the door, down the hallway and then all of the family members hug her.
GEMMA And then it’s that like whole… wow.
JIM And greet the baby, you get to meet—you find out the architecture of the house and the architecture of the family in one long take. And also she doesn’t even get out of the car before you know about her character because her dress is hanging out to the side of the pick-up truck. [Jim laughs]
GEMMA Yes, yes!
JIM It’s like, this woman’s a bit of a wreck. It’s so funny and so beautiful.
GEMMA There’s an amazing slomo shot in this film that, I don’t know, we should talk about.
JIM The entire sequence with Nina Simone.
JIM Because of all of the stakes building throughout this and like how important tonight is for this family and for Krisha, particularly. When something goes awry, even if it’s something small in retrospect, in real life, it makes it feel like you’re watching a planet explode or something. It’s so tense in watching the sequence. And it’s this beautiful slomo sequence with a Nina Simone song underneath it. And it feels like a music video, it goes into anamorphic widescreen with real anamorphic lenses.
GEMMA Yeah, for once in the movie, those douchebag sons and cousins aren’t fighting each other or armwrestling! Everyone’s quite peaceful and chill. Doyle’s not talking about eating leather and shitting saddles. [Gemma & Jim laugh] It’s like, we’re finally at a beautiful moment, and then, oh my god.
JIM And then it gets ruined, of course, but it’s the climax of the movie. And it’s a such a small climax. But it’s amazing. I actually do have some good behind the scenes discussion of that, because I’m an associate producer of Krisha. After having seen it at South by and then bringing it to the Skywalker Sound to have its final mix.
GEMMA Ahhh. Wait. How did that work? So you got obsessed with this movie, it kicked off your career…
JIM I got obsessed with the movie. And then I said “how can I help this movie?” to Trey and the team. And he was like, well, we still need to like do a final mix. And I was like, I know the people at Skywalker, maybe they’ll give us a friend rate. And they did! And so they had just gotten into Cannes. And I said let’s go up and do it. And so I drove up from Los Angeles to San Francisco and flew the two boys in, Brian McOmber, the composer and Trey and we stayed in the Airbnb outside of Skywalker Sound and mixed the movie for three or four days with Michael Semanick. So that whole time I got to like hear about all of Trey’s directing abilities. And I feel like it was a bit of a bootcamp for me to learn what it’s like to be a bit of a director. And that armwrestling sequence is a fight scene between Chase Joliet and Bryan Casserly, and they play these kind of warring brothers. And before shooting it, Trey went up to Bryan and said, “Look, I really need you to win this arm wrestling championship. Because if it doesn’t, it’s going to ruin your character arc, and it’s going to be a problem for the movie. I need you to win this thing.” And he goes “Okay. Okay. Okay.” And he goes up to Chase. And he goes, “Look, I really need you to win this arm wrestling competition.” [Jim & Gemma & Slim laugh] And so when you’re watching, it’s like, wow, they are really fighting! And it’s ridiculous. Trey is such a champ.
SLIM There’s a theme that is similar in this movie of alcoholism, obviously, in Wolf of Snow Hollow and some folks might not seek those kinds of movies out. So how do you, as a viewer, emotionally prepare yourself for movies that are just so heavy like this?
JIM Yeah, it’s a tough thing. It took me a long time to watch Come and See, even though it was out on the Criterion channel, and I was like, I don’t know if I want to watch something that everybody says is traumatizing. I don’t know. With Krisha, it’s so well woven into the filmmaking that it feels like you’re in good hands of a filmmaker. And so because you’re being chaperoned on this roller coaster, the important, you know, cultural elements of drug abuse and alcoholism seem to be plot points, and then it kind of washes over you. You don’t think that you’re being preached to until you’ve had a week to think about it and cry, like I did. [Slim chuckles]
SLIM And then you find a Bing Bong scene. [Jim laughs] A Bing Bong moment of this movie. [Slim laughs]
JIM Yeah. But I don’t know. That’s a good question. It was a difficult thing, with Thunder Road, I wanted to make something about the opioid epidemic because Springsteen’s music is all about leaving this dead in town. And I was like, what is it that in town nowadays? And like what is America going through right now? And it’s, you know, most people don’t think that’s what the movie’s about. It becomes about that a bit. But if you can make jokes and distract people throughout—it’s a bit of sleight of hand. You get to say something important while doing goofy slapstick.
SLIM I mean, there’s a literal slap in Thunder Road that’ll knock your socks off.
JIM There is.
SLIM Not spoiling anything.
GEMMA That is—and that is controversial.
JIM A big regret.
GEMMA And I know you read Letterboxd reviews, Jim.
JIM I do.
GEMMA Have you thought about that scene since in terms of seeing reactions to it and wondered if you would change anything?
JIM I don’t think that I—so yeah, so at the end of Thunder Road, my character does a lot of stuff but at the end of the road, he slaps a corpse and it is the corpse of his ex wife, recently. And it is pretty graphic. And most people when they see it gasp and then a few messed up people laugh. But I wanted to show something that was really voyeuristic, that you’re in a room with a guy who’s alone, he’s a cop. And I kept it in because I thought, you know, I’ve seen all these A24 movies and they’re relatively unsanitized and Dario Argento is doing all kinds of crazy stuff like that. And like, it is interesting though, to put it into a drama and a comedy, it becomes more shocking. It’s like the bed of nails theory. If you go into a horror movie, you’re far more okay with someone getting their head cut off with chainsaw. But if it’s comedy and someone slaps a corpse, it can be far more shocking. It’s one nail rather than a bed of nails. Harder to stand on. But no, it is it is interesting. There are like reviewers on Letterboxd, I mean even friends like Demi Adejuyigbe, who when he first saw it said, ’I think it’s a perfect movie, except for this one thing that happens in the end.’ And that’s fine. I mean, that’s, you know, I made the movie in 2017. And it’s okay. And yeah, I think I can’t change it now. So it’s there, unfortunately.
GEMMA Or fortunately, depending on how people are rating it. Speaking of ratings…
GEMMA We’ve talked about this before about the fact that you only rate things five stars on Letterboxd and if they’re not a five star for you, then we pretty much know about it, because you don’t rate it. But that is not to say it’s not a four star. But what you also do, is you go through other people’s Letterboxd reviews of your movies and thank them, or give other great feedback. And I just think wow, that’s quite time and labor intensive, but also really lovely.
JIM It’s great. It’s great. It’s part and parcel for me. One of them is you know, the endorphin rush of people—and finally seeing the reaction of people watching the films. You know, I haven’t been able to greet people in a lobby, having screened a movie recently, it’s nice to kind of have an interaction. The first rule of filmmaking, you should know your audience. This is like the perfect way to know the audience and how the films are actually working inside the minds of the viewers. And then also, there are people on Letterboxd that will review the Thunder Road and say, this movie couldn’t have come at a better time for me, I was so lost and I just lost someone. And I always message those people or I’ll find them on Twitter and do the same thing and say, hey, I’m here, if you ever need to talk. And that kind of becomes your job. If you make a really deeply emotional movie, you become this lightning rod for people who are going through hell, in the same way that Springsteen was. It’s an honor, and it’s not taxing on me. It’s nice to be able to help people.
GEMMA And then there are the people who watch Thunder Road and write “Jim Cummings plays a very hot DILF” [Slim laughs]
JIM That is true. I think I responded to that one.
GEMMA You did!
JIM I think I might have “Oh, Christ.”
GEMMA Oh lord.
JIM Oh lord!
GEMMA Oh lord! [Gemma laughs]
JIM It takes all kinds on Letterboxd.
GEMMA I mean, speaking of hot DILFs, shall we talk about Clive Owen?
JIM Oh my god! Perfect transition. Theo Faron played by Clive Owen in Children of Men, one of my favorite movies of all time. He is so wonderful. And so… you can’t take your eyes off of him. And the movie’s basically following him the whole time. But that performance, it was like the first time I really took my hat off to that guy. [music from Children of Men plays] I think the first time first time I saw him was Croupier back in the day, they had it on HBO when I was a kid. And so I had known of him. But then seeing that film, I walked out of the movie theater and bought a ticket and walked right back in.
JIM It was unbelievable. 2007. And I had grown up in high school and in film school, watching Tarkovsky movies and seeing you know, long takes. And Y tu mamá también has has like so many single take coverage of scenes. And so I knew that that could be, you know, something that I’d like to do. And then seeing it done so well in Children of Men, it felt like this beautiful fusion of what Spielberg was doing and then what Tarkovsky was doing, and I was like, oh, you can do them both at the same time! This is so cool for me. And I loved it. Yeah, that movie is one of the most emotional films that I can think of only in retrospect. It’s an action film when you’re watching. It’s just disguised as an action film. But then you realize that he is trying to save this child, as a love letter to his child who died a few years prior. And when you’re watching it, I watch it with my mom—later in life. And in the moment when he runs into the building and everybody’s shooting at each other. It’s a war zone. And it’s like, this guy’s insane. What is he doing? He should just like run away. My mom was like, “No. That’s what you do as a parent, like, that’s what you’re supposed to do.” And it’s so beautiful. It’s it’s such an incredibly poignant, incredibly executed film. And, yeah, it’s an experience.
GEMMA Do we have a second round of tears?
JIM Come on! Every time she calls me out for it!
GEMMA You are earning your money today.
JIM Well you asked me my favorite movies! This is part of me! This is why I got into this stuff. [Gemma laughs] I should have never have agreed to this podcast. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
SLIM I fully support men being in touch with their emotions and expressing their emotions to the fullest. I’m 100% on board.
JIM Live on air. Yeah, great.
SLIM Absolutely. Especially if it’s on a podcast, even better. Especially one that I’m on. [Gemma chuckles] 2006 this came out. I rewatched this this past week. Five stars. Easy.
SLIM The first few minutes of this movie are so bonkers! This movie is so timeless. I forgot about a ton of this movie. You know, Clive Owen, miraculously, there’s a pregnant woman. He’s a former activist. He’s protecting her. There’s so many good long take shots. I mean, the chase scene where the biker pulls up to the car with Julianne Moore.
JIM It’s unprecedented. It’s unbelievable.
SLIM Are you kidding me with that scene? You can’t top this!
JIM And you can’t believe you’re watching it either! It’s like, there’s so many magic tricks that go into that. If you Google for anybody listening, what the behind the scenes is on that film. It’s insane. They had to build the car and then they have, they have tchibo the cinematographer on the roof of the car and lighting setup. And then they accomp in a fake roof, and then move the camera around on the inside and all of the actors had to put their seats back so that the camera can move over them for certain moments. It’s like a ballet circus to get that experience of being in the car. And it it shows itself, it’s like one of the best magic tricks in cinema history. And they had no business. That movie has no business being that good. And it’s unbelievable.
GEMMA I want to talk about quiet moments in this film, because we talk a lot about these big shots and these you know the incredible shootout in the building at the end and then the the soldiers stopping. For me, it’s moments like when Clive Owen and Michael Caine are just sitting on the couches at Michael Caine’s house chatting and there’s ginger cat and there’s the dog and there’s you know, beautifully, beautifully behaved really fluffy pets and they’re just kind of petting them and chatting about old times.
JIM It feels like you’re getting stoned with Michael Caine in his living room, it’s great. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Yeah, right? Yeah. And also, you know, we’ve only got a couple of hours of these people. And any scene like that, that takes, I don’t know, maybe it’s three minutes, but it feels like you’ve been awake in that house. In those three minutes you’ve built up the history. There’s so many ways in which you can do exposition in a movie that can take you out of the moment and change the tone. And in this film, we learn that Michael Caine was a great political cartoonist. We learn that his wife was one of the world’s best, you know, war photographers. We learned it through living with these characters rather than being told. And my favorite such thing is when Michael Caine’s character is telling Kee and Miriam what happened to Theo and Julian’s son. And he’s in the foreground, he’s just in the foreground by the kitchen, listening, pouring himself a wine. Listening. And we’re learning in the background what happened to that son. You know, partly it’s also interesting watching it this week, because they talk about—the film came out in 2006, they talk about losing him in the influenza epidemic of 2008. And I’m like… spooky.
JIM Yeah, I mean, that’s subtlety. Like to focus the camera and the story entirely on him pouring himself something. And then you’re hearing this guy who’s being talked about listen to one of his best friends tell the story that’s tragic in the background. And you’re just seeing them out of focus being told this stuff. It’s like, you’re with this guy. And it just, it immediately connects you to him. Another wonderful thing that they do—two things. All the animals love Theo. They love Clive Owen. They’re always like climbing on his legs. That’s just such a wonderful thing for the filmmakers to be like, this is a likeable guy, you know the animals love him! And then the other one is they’re constantly showing what’s going on his feet. Where like, he’ll step outside in socks, and then it’s just wet! [Gemma laughs] And then he’s like, oh, poor guy. And then he has to go through this sequence with just like wet socks. And then he’s got to put flip flops on in their big battle sequence.
JIM Like the guy’s going through this like rubble in flip flops, like this poor guy. And then like when they cut to those small moments of like a breather in between these big action scenes, it’s like him with his feet in hot water. And it’s like, we’re okay now. [Gemma & Slim laugh] This is sick. It’s great. It’s great.
SLIM Jim, I thought you were gonna say your favorite scene with Michael Caine was when he said that iconic line [Slim in British accent] pull my finga! [Gemma laughs]
JIM It’s actually right before that. And it’s when Michael Caine comes out, and he’s telling them to get in the car. And his whole performance of his character is oh, this is fine. I dealt with this in the war. Like, this is nothing kid. And he waves goodbye like this to a little baby. Or to the girl, she’s leaving. And then they take off and then it cuts to them in the rooftop. And the guy comes out of the house, the bad guy comes out of the house, and goes “there’s a dead woman and a dog inside.” And so he knew, he went in to do this thing knowing that he was going to get killed and he’s just faking it for his friends to make sure they got away safe. Unbelievable!
SLIM Also I’m pretty sure he tells him—or when they encounter him in from the house, when he doesn’t pull his finger. He’s like, fuck you. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
JIM Yeah. Shoots him in the hand as a fuck you.
SLIM That’s so good.
GEMMA The other great exchange when we first meet Michael Caine in the car with Clive Owen, obviously is when they’re talking about Baby Diego, and what a wanker he was! He was a wanker!
[clip of Children of Men plays]
THEO Baby Diego, come on, that guy was a wanker!
JASPER Yeah, but he was the youngest wanker on Earth! Pull my finger! Quick, quick!
THEO Ah, Jasper!
[clip of Children of Men ends]
JIM Which is so great. I feel like that’s how most people talk about stuff that’s in the news. It’s like, this guy you’re supposed to love has no reverence for this kid. He didn’t have a choice. Maybe just the youngest kid. It’s just great. So great.
SLIM Should we get to the main course of the evening? The ’Burbs starring Tom Hanks. 3.5 average. This is your final favorite movie, and your top four on Letterboxd. I have heard of this movie growing up. And I grew up—I put in my Letterboxd review—I grew up with like Scrooged, I watched Scrooged every year and I feel like I don’t love it as much every year I watch it. I pick it apart. But The ’Burbs is a movie I was like comparing the Scrooged. Man, I wish I could watch this every year. It’s not on Hulu. It’s not on Netflix. And I was a man possessed when I watched this movie for the first time last week. Five star. Easy five star again!
SLIM Easy. But Jim, how does this fall into your life? Where did you first see this movie? And what’s its impact on you?
JIM So the trick is you got to get the blu ray from England and you got to order it on eBay and it’ll come in and that’s how you got to watch it. And you have to convert a Blu-ray player in your house to be another region. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Easy enough.
JIM Easy! So this movie came into my life when I was a child. We had it on VHS and my dad for a minute had a van that had a TV mounted in the centerpiece of the van. So like right behind his head and it had a VCR in it so we would watch Indiana Jones and The ’Burbs all the time. And it’s funny, it’s like The ’Burbs because we had it, I assumed everybody had this movie that it was like you know, universally loved. But really it flopped kind of, when it came out. It did not do as well as they thought that it would despite the quality of its filmmaking. But I used to watch it all the time. And I always found it so funny because the character of Art is just so ridiculous. He is this like boomhauer kind of like Mike Judge-style character where everything that you’re laughing at about this character is how his brain works. And I think that’s how… that’s what got me into comedy, I think, was watching this film and understanding the ensemble social dynamics of the cul de sac and how this nutcase Art was a part of it. And there are so many wonderful zingers from this guy. I mean, obviously his last line in the film, where Rumsfeld says, hey—
[clip of The ’Burbs plays]
MRS. RUMSFIELD Your wife’s home!
MR. RUMSFIELD And your house is on fire!
[clip of The ’Burbs ends]
JIM And he turns around and goes ’my wife is home?!’ [Slim & Gemma laughs] It just gets you into the guy’s head and like I didn’t know that you could do that with comedy until I saw this film. Like there is such thing as character comedy where any other character in the film saying that dialogue wouldn’t work, it has to be this guy, it’s so specific. And that movie really educated me of what exciting filmmaking and comedy are fused together and I still think it’s probably the best.
SLIM When I watched Wolf of Snow Hollow after watching The ’Burbs, I was like man, I totally could see Tom Hanks in your role. I was like, you know, almost like swapping them and it would work perfectly. But with The ’Burbs, Joe Dante directed from, you know, the director of Gremlins, follows Tom Hanks’ character his and his buddy, on this cul de sac, there’s something nefarious happening in one house. This is another timeless movie, you could think of you talking with your neighbors about another neighbor. And you’re not really sure during the majority of the film, if there is a horror element to this plot, you know, until you get to the very end. I agree with you. This is a movie that I want to like throw DVDs at people. You need to watch this movie.
JIM It’s unbelievable.
SLIM We need Paramount to wake up a little bit and put this on some kind of app.
JIM It’s great because it is—well it’s a Universal film.
JIM I only know that because the opening. Because it has the dope shot of moving around the Universal coming in.
GEMMA Yes! It’s on one of the lists on Letterboxd, there’s a great list called Subverting the studio logo.
JIM Oh, no way! [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Burbs makes it in.
JIM It’s so cool. It is so cool. And then Zodiac, another one where they have the old the old Paramount logo.
GEMMA Yes! It’s like the 1960s or 70s one to get you in the mood. So yeah, I think really like that kind of filmmaking is just so absent these days. Where like it is something that feels like it is a Twilight Zone episode, done as a comedy that is like a timeless idea about you know, who are these strange people that live next door? It smells like they’re roasting a cat in their basement. [Slim laughs] Like, somebody’s gotta say something. And it’s all done in this like patina of a summer fun movie, and then the horror stuff slips in. And it’s really interesting that it’s like, it’s like they’re doing both at the same time so well, and then—I’m not spoiling anything. But at the end of the film, the climax of the film, there is a wonderful monologue, one of the best by Tom Hanks, it’s kind of all one shot, where he comes to the conclusion that the Klopeks are not bad guys, they’re not evil ghouls, they are normal people and that they’re the bad guys. They are the ones who have been jumping fences and burning the neighbor’s houses down.
GEMMA Yeah! [Gemma laughs]
JIM It’s like we’re the people that live in the suburbs who have lost their minds. And it’s so poignant, and so wonderful. And then the movie becomes something different after that. But it’s really, really poignant. It leaves the audience thinking, oh, that’s the point of this movie. And it’s really good.
GEMMA One of the many, many things that made me giggle. And I’d never seen this before, you know, obviously, some reason it flopped overseas. So I don’t know if it made it into theaters in New Zealand. You know, and I am certain I would have gone because this is exactly the kind of jam me and my brothers were into through the 80s, early 90s. So it was a first time watch for me this week. And it’s a long time, like, you know, there are movies that made me laugh. Wolf of Snow Hollow makes me laugh, but it’s a long time since the movie just made me giggle. Just outright. Like there’s a difference between a giggle and laugh, right? And there were just moments where like—doors slamming open! So many doors hit so many people in this movie.
JIM The brownies?
GEMMA Yeah, the brownies! [Gemma laughs] Corey Feldman holding the plate of brownies! I’m like wow, what a great piece of art department that plate was, because they smashed up so beautifully!
JIM It’s so wonderful. I’m realizing how much I steal from this movie, but the poignance of Art walking through the house and he has this lighter, he’s like lit a cigar, and he has this lighter. They’re in their neighbor’s house has disappeared and he takes the lighter and he goes “eh, it’s all gonna end up in like a junk pile a couple weeks from now” like he’s assuming the guy’s dead and he pockets the lighter and it keeps walking trying to be cool. And then Tom Hanks goes, “are you going to take that lighter out your pocket? Are you not gonna steal that from our neighbor’s house?” [Gemma laughs] And it’s like the movie commenting on itself that you could totally get away with in a normal movie. It’s so incredible.
GEMMA One of the lists that this film is on on Letterboxd is called Films that anticipated the notion of being too online. And it is. It’s a little bit like these guys are kind of stuck in a, you know, in a Facebook group full of disinformation or something. [Slim laughs]
JIM Oh, I would love to do that!
JIM To make a movie about a Facebook group in a neighborhood and then how toxic that can get. [Gemma laughs] Also, they act like children throughout. They’re like boys throughout and they’re supposed to be grown men. One of my favorite moments is when he’s in the doghouse with Carol, Carrie Fisher. And then he’s out on the porch and he sees his friends walking up the driveway. He goes “no, don’t come up here!” And then she comes up and goes “what are you guys doing here?” He goes “we’re wondering if Ray can come out and play?” and she goes, “he’s not able to come out until he resembles the man I married” and then Art goes—
[clip of The ’Burbs plays]
ART Well, we don’t have that kind of time.
[clip of The ’Burbs ends]
GEMMA It’s just genius! Meanwhile, you’ve got Corey Feldman who he’s little bit like Statler and Waldorf. Right? He’s the guy on veranda—
JIM The oracle.
GEMMA Yeah, kind of commenting on the whole thing. And then there’s this beautiful moment when his girlfriend says—he’s set up on the on the veranda to watch what’s going down tonight because they’re going into the neighbor’s house. And she’s like, “can we just go watch a movie?” He’s like “A movie? That’s not real. It’s the same as television! This is real! This is my neighborhood!” [Gemma laughs]
JIM He’s so good in that movie. And he becomes this like chaperone for the audience where it’s like, the audience is laughing at these characters. And then when he’s describing them, it’s like, “This is Ray. He’s the guy who really knows what’s going on. And this Art, he’s a dumb idiot. Then like they smoke cigars together they think their wives don’t know about.” It’s like really funny contextualizing kind of leading the audience’s excitement through the movie. It’s brilliant. I got to talk to Joe Dante a few weeks ago.
GEMMA Shut up!
JIM Yeah. So yeah, I told you this on the pre-show. But I live about four blocks from the cul de sac of The ’Burbs and live right next to Universal Studios now, which is really cool.
JIM I get to like walk up the road and just be like, oh, that’s where they shot it. It’s unbelievable. And then I’m watching the movie now, I’m like, that’s a hill! I know that hill in the background. And he said that they shot the whole film chronologically. So they shot it scene one, scene two, scene three, for the most part because of people’s schedules. And because they had to blow up the house at the end. And he said it was really ridiculous. Because so often with these comic actors, they were getting better improv than what they were getting in the script. So, so much of it was improv because it was working on the day. And I was like, how do you do that?! Like, all of my films are so forensic, they have to be! And he’s like, Universal was paying for it! [Slim laughs] Universal is paying for a Tom Hanks movie.
GEMMA Speaking of making movies, The Beta Test. It’s on the circuit now. I just want to know why all the secrecy? Why can’t we have a screener? What’s the story? Why is it so special?
JIM Yeah. So for a long time, we had anonymous sources named in the credits. Sorry, the film is about the WGA packaging fight with the agency world. So it is a real, or was a real time thing when we were making it and finishing the film. So we didn’t want anybody to see it. We have testimony and documents that went into the film, that makeup, some of the dialogue and some of the background and we 11 assistances, agents, ex agents and ex assistants give us testimony of what it’s like to work in an agency during this fight. And it’s brutal. Laughing about it now, but it is really a toxic and awful workplace specifically for women. And it’s crazy. So we didn’t want anybody to see it. And instead we had screenings in my backyard for anybody that wanted to come and see it. And now it’s finally going to come out into the world in the first week in November, and then it’ll be in theaters in October in the UK, maybe Australia and friends.
GEMMA So we don’t have to feel left out for too much longer.
JIM No, I think very soon.
SLIM We have a section on this show where we go through your movies on Letterboxd that you rated higher than the average.
SLIM According to Letterboxd. So we pulled up a few titles, you know, maybe we can get a few quick takes. But Leonardo DiCaprio’s film appeared on this list that you gave five stars.
JIM The Beach, I assume.
SLIM Yeah, The Beach.
JIM The Beach is a wonderful movie that makes me feel nostalgic for life I never had. The music is fantastic. It’s about Thailand in the late 90s, early 2000s. And it’s just entire mise-en-scene is so wonderful and fun and sexy. And then the Alex Garland story of it being this wonderful, glorified, youthful, sexy adventure and pot smoking then becomes extremely real and humanistic, and about how man is the most dangerous animal and it’s very poignant. So that’s why I really love that film.
GEMMA Wow, there’s another one on there. This turns up again! This is like, we’re into episode six now, and this is the second time that Tintin has made an appearance as a five banger for one of our guests.
JIM It is so unreal. And it’s weird that like it hasn’t really been talked about as one of the adventure classics that many of his other films or their other films have been. But it’s so fun to watch. And it’s so exciting and adventurous. And it’s so well paced. It’s incredible to look at! Like I don’t know how—it must have been the most expensive movie of all time. But the performances are fantastic. And you’re constantly with the characters. A bunch of long takes. Really exciting, fun, thrill ride for the whole family. And it’s Tintin. It’s like my favorite comics growing up, so I’m double spoiled. I think that that is such a masterpiece of filmmaking.
GEMMA Last time we spoke you had just come from an audition for one of the greatest directors in the world.
JIM I did.
GEMMA I don’t know if you got a role and that movie.
JIM I did not. [Slim laughs] But if you want to rub it in… I’m here all day. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Vintage Gemma.
GEMMA But I guess, you know, when are we going to see Jim Cummings in something not written and directed by Jim Cummings?
JIM So the director she’s talking about Martin Scorsese, who saw Wolf of Snow Hollow, I think on iTunes when it came out, because I assume he saw it on iTunes and said The Wolf of something else?! What? They stole my title! [Gemma laughs] And clicked it and watched it and really enjoyed it. And he brought in, I think three or four actors from the cast from that film to audition for the new movie. And I think at least one of them has a part in the film, but it’s not me. But it was fine! I get to meet his casting director Ellen Lewis, who casts everything. She’s unbelievable. And treated me like a real actor, which is insane. But I never get asked, really. Nobody asks me to act in movies. I’ll be in a big one that’s coming out later this year. No spoilers.
GEMMA Bond. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Oh my god.
GEMMA Surely. [Gemma laugh]
JIM Yeah, I’m in it for a second and I get a shot and fall down a flight of stairs. No, no. I’m in one that’s coming out in the fall that’s bigger that I didn’t direct, that I’m stoked.
GEMMA Is that a secret?
JIM I don’t think it’s a secret, I just haven’t told anybody yet.
SLIM I think that’s technically a secret.
JIM I’m in Halloween Kills.
SLIM Is that real? Oh my god! Really?
GEMMA Are you serious?
SLIM Man, you must’ve been sitting on that for a while right?
JIM Nah, it’s about two years ago. Wilmington in October of 2018, 2019?
SLIM Oh my god.
GEMMA Holy shit, Jim!
JIM Yeah. It’s really cool. A real hero of mine, David Gordon Green. I saw All the Real Girls when that movie came out and that was another one for me that you can be a southern boy and make movies.
SLIM Probably just retire after that. It’s no getting better than that, entering into the Halloween lore.
JIM In the Michael universe, yeah.
JIM Yeah, yeah, I would love to act in more movies. It’s just, the only time I ever get cast in stuff is when I say I want to make a movie and then I just direct myself.
SLIM Martin probably watched Inside Out and didn’t like it.
JIM He had some criticism about my top four Letterboxd movies. [Slim laughs]
SLIM He’s listening to this and he just slammed his fist on the table. He’s like, “I can’t stand his top four!” [Gemma laughs]
JIM “The ’Burbs?! Nah, not gonna happen! Get this kid off my set!”
GEMMA Is there anything else you want to say to the people of Letterboxd before you go?
JIM Keep sharing movies with me. Like I really have raised the ceiling of my happiness and fulfillment over the last year which is people saying “Hey, you should check out this one. This one’s really good.” And I wouldn’t have seen Corpus Christi had it not been for Letterboxd and people saying this is worthwhile. Yeah, keep sharing stuff with me, it means the world.
[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 for our guest this episode, Jim Cummings sharing his love of his favorite movies. The Beta Test, the next one from him, is coming to US cinemas, digital and On Demand via IFC later this fall if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, or later this spring for me, and it’s opening earlier in some other lucky territories.
SLIM You can follow Gemma, Slim—that’s me—and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. Thanks composing dynamos, Moniker for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque. And if you’re enjoying the show and have guest ideas, be sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Quick shout out to Natalia for her review and guests recommendation.
GEMMA And thanks very much to Linda Moulton, our Booker. And that’s the show! I’m gonna go change into my vacation togs.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker plays alone, fades out
[clip of Inside Out plays]
SADNESS I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone. Forever.
JOY Sadness! Don’t make him feel worse.
BING BONG It’s all he had left of Riley.
SADNESS I bet you and Riley had great adventures.
BING BONG Oh, they were wonderful. Once we flew back in time, we had breakfast twice that day.
SADNESS Sounds amazing. I bet Riley liked it.
BING BONG Oh, she did. [Bing Bong cries] We were best friends.
SADNESS Yeah, it’s sad. [Bing Bong continues to cry]
BING BONG I’m okay now. C’mon. The train station is this way.
[clip of Inside Out ends]
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.