Letterboxd is an independent service created by a small team, and we rely mostly on the support of our members to maintain our site and apps. Please consider upgrading to a Pro account—for less than a couple bucks a month, you’ll get cool additional features like all-time and annual stats pages (example), the ability to select (and filter by) your favorite streaming services, and no ads!
The Letterboxd Show 2.15: Matthew and Karl
[clip of Short Circuit plays]
NUMBER 5 [singing More Than a Woman]
STEPHANIE [laughing] Oh Number 5!
[clip of Short Circuit fades out]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Hello! And welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about the movies people love watching, from Letterboxd: the social network for people who love watching movies. Each episode, your hosts Gemma and Slim—that’s me—are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films. That is the four films you choose as your favorites on your Letterboxd profile. We’ll have links in the episodes as you listen along, so there is no excuse not to add these films to your watchlist. As good as our guests have been these past few weeks—and they’ve been amazing, if I’m being honest—we realized we needed to go to the source. So today, we have none other than the two men responsible for all of this in the first place, Letterboxd founders Matthew and Karl.
GEMMA Matthew’s Letterboxd handle is matthew. Karl’s Letterboxd handle is karl, because you can do that when you build the whole thing yourselves, which Matthew and Karl did exactly ten years ago this month. So we’ve convinced the shiest men in tech to join us for this special birthday episode. In between each of their four favorites, we have zeroed in on the following: Commando, Shaun of the Dead, Short Circuit and Badlands. Matthew and Karl, welcome! Which one of you was the first member of Letterboxd? Did you have to toss a coin?
MATTHEW I think I’ve got the privilege. No, you are!
KARL I’m 51 or 53 or something like that. There were a lot of test users at first.
MATTHEW I think Grant, who implemented the user part of the system is number three. He was quite proud that he only wasted—he only burnt two IDs before actually being successful in making himself an account.
GEMMA Now I want to know what the four favorites of the bots were.
KARL On the development site, it’s pretty much Commando all the way. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
KARL It doesn’t get as much of a lock in as it should.
MATTHEW In fact, another of John Badham’s films, WarGames, which was a couple of years before Short Circuit is represented in our error screens. If you try and get access to a screen that you shouldn’t have access to, you’ll see Matthew Broderick.
SLIM Yeah, that’s a good point to bring up. So before we get into the four favorites that we have split between the two of you. There are several fun Easter eggs on the Letterboxd site which maybe some people have seen during error pages or maybe certain movie listings. But Karl, what was the kind of background for some of the Easter eggs on Letterboxd? Maybe some people haven’t even found them yet.
KARL Oh my goodness. I think Matt, you might actually be more equipped to answer this Easter eggs question. Yeah, we have fun in the office and try and throw some things in.
MATTHEW Generally the creation of Easter eggs is when we’re working on some hard problem. And we have—something occurs to us. Like I basically put down everything to build The Net Easter egg.
KARL We keep on testing these when we do major rollouts to make sure that they’re still working. I tested it the other day.
MATTHEW Gemma one afternoon just from the other side of the room said “We need to do something for Portrait of a Lady on Fire. How easy would it be to change the rating stars into little balls of flame?” And literally two hours later that was live on the site, in support of the Portrait Nation, which is possibly our finest hour.
GEMMA It was a beautiful moment. I’ve never been prouder to think up a feature is someone with zero background in tech, who has found myself at a tech company. It was like, the highlight of my career, of my short tech career.
KARL It was very cool seeing everyone getting excited about adding that onto the site. I have never seen anyone work so diligently.
GEMMA Well, let’s talk about movies because that’s why you made this whole thing in the first place, because at the very least one of you as a rabid movie lover and the other one is his workmate bestie.
KARL But which is which?
GEMMA But which is which? You decide by the end of this episode. Maybe take us back one step. Do you remember the day that one of you said to the other “Hey, let’s build a thing to log movies and find other movie lovers.” What was that conversation?
MATTHEW That conversation that happened over probably a period of months. But I can remember talking about it in the studio a few times and going away and spending some time trying to, you know, put together some visuals that might indicate what we were—what I was thinking.
KARL We had been, we’ve been talking about the idea for—I think maybe it might even be years—more than months. And it had been through a few different kind of iterations. And I think I remember you, Matt, saying, “I think we are ready to build this.” And bringing in these designs and looking at these screens and saying, “I think we’re ready to start.” And that’s what I remember.
GEMMA Can you say that in like more of an Arnie voice? [Slim laughs] Like it just sounded a bit boring.
KARL Matt walks in, for some reason he’s covered in oil. [Slim laughs] And he just says, [Karl does a Schwarzenegger impression] “Karl. We are ready to start.” [Gemma laughs] It didn’t work.
MATTHEW The first few versions of what I came up with, I didn’t even bring into the studio. Because I was still struggling to to know myself what this needed to look like and feel like and and how it would work. And I can share those privately.
GEMMA That might be that might be a fun blog for the membership.
SLIM Well, I was actually gonna bring up too, because I think in maybe the Letterboxd Slack or somewhere else, there was an article posted that had like the OG design, during launch, of Inception. And I love—one of the reasons why I love Letterboxd is the design of it is gorgeous, obviously. But it hasn’t changed that much over the years, and in my opinion doesn’t have to change. And I’m sure there’s feedback from users that like have suggestions on features and design changes. But how do you grapple with feature requests from the community on changing things? How do you stick with what you what you’ve got for so long without kind of making big changes, Matt?
MATTHEW I think we’re really big believers in incremental change. And if you look at those two screens that we posted a few months ago, if you look at them carefully, you’ll note that every single part of those two screens has changed in some way. But it’s been very incremental in terms of little bits of change, you know, as we’ve gone along. Every part of that interface has said some upgrade or change to its functionality. You know, we’re about to roll out cast images, which will be probably the biggest change to that page in ten years. [Karl laughs]
KARL We didn’t wanna rush it.
MATTHEW It is time. [Matthew laughs] It’s time.
SLIM I’m curious to see the feedback.
MATTHEW Yeah, lots of feedback saying, “I find it hard to figure out who the cast is without being able to see their images, so can we see those?” And we’ve added that now in apps and now it’s time to bring it to the web. But I think in general terms, we still remain a small team. We have to prioritize the work that we put in very carefully and there’s a balance of listening to the community. And there are great suggestions that come all the time from members about changes but we still need to guide those changes and so that they fit into the platform the way that you know we believe it needs to. You’ll often be introduced to new ideas or new directions but, you know, and then take those and and build them in a way that suits the existing model, isn’t going to alienate users, put them off.
GEMMA So if you are a member of the Portrait Nation and you are listening, you will understand that it is a small miracle that you got your feature in the space of two hours on a Friday afternoon. [Slim laughs] As opposed to other things that have taken ten years to implement. But actually one of our favorite features on this podcast is something that was a user suggestion from Slim to Matt, which is the Rated Higher Than, Rated Lower Than. I believe?
MATTHEW I want to give proper credit, that was Proto from 70mm—
GEMMA Ohhh, I’m in trouble. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
MATTHEW —who suggested that feature. But it’s a great example.
SLIM We use that every week on the show. It’s such a fun feature.
GEMMA And we’re definitely going to be using it—
SLIM I saw some Karl stats. [Gemma laughs] I saw some Karl ratings on movies and I think if—let me pull up my episodes note. I think I said “these ratings are violent.”
KARL I didn’t realize this was an intervention. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Speaking of violence, should we get into Commando?
GEMMA Ohhh, nice transition!
[music from Commando plays]
SLIM 1985. Mark L. Lester. This is—I believe this is Karl’s pick for one of the faves to discuss. John Matrix. This is an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. You’ve probably seen the clips. Gemma, do you want to read your synopsis that you wrote for this movie? Because it’s pretty intense.
GEMMA Yeah, I went—honestly, I looked at the Letterboxd synopsis and I went no, that’s not good enough. That’s not actually what the movie is about. So here we go. Karl, you rate the synopsis out of five stars. ‘John Matrix, a nice dad who just wants to carry large tree trunks and read his Cream magazine in peace and discuss the subversiveness of rock and roll in East Germany with his young daughter in their idyllic mountain retreat, is rudely interrupted by a violent bunch of killers who kidnapped said daughter, Alyssa Milano, where upon this former leader of a special Commando Strikeforce, must team up with feisty air stewardess Rae Dawn Chong, to equip himself with every gun and rocket launcher in LA and fight his way to his daughter, before she is killed by an Australian in an ill fitting chainmail vest.’ How many stars out of five?
KARL If I’m being honest, it just feels like a 2.5. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
MATTHEW I mean, you forgot to say that it’s Arnie’s third best ’80s film.
KARL Third best?!
GEMMA What about that synopsis fails to capture?
KARL I just think it doesn’t—I feel like I’ve seen—I feel like I don’t need to see the film after that. There’s so much more to it. I think with that film, the way that I describe it, is that for years afterwards, you will be using lines from that film in your everyday life. My children, whom I watched it with the other night in preparation for this, on their way to bed afterwards. I overheard my son say, “That was amazing.” [Gemma laughs] When I recommend something to them, they never think it’s good. This was the first time. So I thank you, Commando.
GEMMA So a proud dad moment showing Commando to your children?
KARL Huge, proud dad. I’ve achieved—I recommend it to all parents. Although it is a bit violent.
SLIM A bit violent? Speaking of proud dads myself, I showed my son James—not Terminator—Predator before this. So I told him—he’s like, does he have other movies? This guy? This Arnold guy? So I showed him Commando. And I was like, just try and think of this as Predator 2. [Karl laughs] And that kind of works. Right? Like he’s secluded, he’s away, he needs to be kind of sectioned off from the military. This could be a sequel to Predator just like, you know, very quietly. Karl, do you remember the first time you saw this movie? How old you were?
KARL Absolutely not. No, I’ve always seen this film. I’ve got no idea. It would have been on TV. Do know what? There’s some clues in my most recent rewatching. It would have been on TV. It would have been on TV 2 back in the day when there was TV 1 and TV 2. And probably 8:30 on a Sunday or something like that. And it would have been censored. Because when I rewatch it, and I hear things, I think, oh! I don’t remember Arnie saying “fuck,” you know? And it leaps out at me now. And I think, ah. Because when it was on TV, there would have been changed to something else. So I think it would have been in the ’80s? Could it have been on TV here in the ’80s?
SLIM Probably, yeah, a couple years at release maybe. After it hits VHS. Matthew, what are your thoughts on Bennett’s chainmail ensemble in this movie?
MATTHEW I was stunned recently when I discovered through social media that Bennett is actually wearing a mesh top made of like wool or cotton. [Gemma & Slim laugh] Like this film was a staple in our household for years. I remember my brother at the age of probably, I guess eleven or twelve trying to sneak into the room and watch it when I and some buddies had it on. We would have cycled down to the local video store and probably rented it on VHS. So maybe a year or two before it aired on TV. And yeah, I dobbed him in. Shut the door on him. [Gemma & Slim laugh] He’s still bitter to this day. But Vernon Wells makes this film. You know, I’ve seen some interviews with him and everyone says that this was all knowingly played for comedy but he says that they all were treating the lines like Shakespeare and that every line on set was delivered in all and utter seriousness. And I’m just not sure if I can believe that.
GEMMA If I know one thing about filmmaking, is that that is the absolute truth. You cannot pull off movies like this without 100% committing to the intention of the character and that is what makes it work. Like you don’t go, “Oh my god, we’re in a cheesy action flick with Arnie.” You go, “We are the henchmen for someone who wants to become the despite leader of his South American nation.” And you believe it. That’s the only way you can pull this kind of crap off, which I love. I love that about actors.
SLIM I also love how Bennett in this movie is, in the storyline, one of the best soldiers you can get. You know, he’s like a SEAL Team Six. When you see Bennett, I don’t think soldier. He’s not gonna win a fistfight with a broomstick I don’t think at any point in this movie, but it’s amazing to see on film.
MATTHEW I’m just gonna say when Arnold first met Vernon Wells on set, he was kind of nonplussed and said like, “This guy isn’t scary. Yeah, this is not gonna work.” And then they did their first scene together. And Vernon put everything he had into it. And after that, Arnold said, “Keep this guy away from me.” [Gemma & Matthew & Slim laugh] “I don’t want him anywhere near me. Unless we’re shooting scenes.” He really sold it.
GEMMA I mean, we should talk about Arnie for a while, shouldn’t we? Because there’s a really interesting Letterboxd review by Cormac who writes: “Arnie could do Lincoln but Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t do Commando”. Daniel Day Lewis could literally do anything but could he do Commando? I mean, what is it about this guy with a foreign accent who somehow became America’s greatest action hero? There’s something really interesting about that.
KARL I think somehow he manages to be quite loveable. The opening scenes in the mountain, I think this is what you missed from your synopsis as well, Gemma. But those opening scenes, we see Arnold petting a deer, we see him jumping a stream, like we see him getting ice cream on his face and laughing about it. Like he’s the number one dad. And watching that film with my kids, I think a little bit of that rubbed off on me. It’s incredible. You compare it to Taken and, you know, Liam Neeson, he’s an okay dad. But where is he? He’s not there. [Gemma laugh] And yeah, sure, he goes goes to some extreme lengths at the end to get his daughter back. But, you know, Arnie’s on the spot and he didn’t want to go back. He didn’t want to go back to the army. He’s like [Karl in Schwarzenegger impression] “No.”
SLIM That wasn’t a clip from the movie, that was Karl. Just to let everyone know. [Gemma & Karl laugh]
KARL Thank you. Accents is one of my special skills. He’s the ultimate dad and I think he actually carries it off, he pulls it off. But you’re looking at it in the beginning, you think, yes this is a guy, he was clearly from the Special Forces like you can see it. But he’s also clearly a really great dad.
SLIM Well said.
GEMMA I had a really interesting reaction this viewing to Rae Dong Chong’s character,Cindy.
GEMMA Watching her whole storyline through, there’s a point where you go, ‘Why? Why are you there? Why are you still there? You could go. You can leave now.’ Like after the whole shopping mall shambles. When she runs down and he’s trying to chase the other guy and he pulls over in, let’s say back in the car and she gets back in the car! And one thing I love about these amazing ’80s action movies—I mean, I just feel like I just want to pack an entire tirade about America and guns in movies and that whole relationship. We’ll just park that over there, because it’s a thing. But the other thing I love is how economical the script is. So there is never a point where Cindy is ever, ever—or Cindy or Annie—ever have to discuss why she’s there and why she’s staying. And when you get to the very end, it’s evident. You know, this is a chosen family, a found family situation. It’s brilliant, but like you just go why are you there? Why are you saying? This is insane!
MATTHEW She sees the good in him.
GEMMA Yeah, somehow.
KARL It is one of the beautiful things about these films from the ’80s. And, you know, my kids did really enjoy the film, but I also heard them remark that they enjoyed how short it was. And the film doesn’t spend—yeah, it doesn’t need to spend any time doing those things. It’s 100% focused on the story. Or no—it’s 100% focused on getting to the end of the story, and they’re not worried about things like that. We just know, or you could just sort that out. They can explain that. But yeah, she just gets in the car. He slows down in the middle of that chase. He lets her in the car. He rips out the seat of that car! Like, I mean I know he’s big. But did he need to? [Gemma & Karl laugh]
SLIM In my first viewing as an adult last year, I was blown away by her in this movie. She fires a rocket launcher, she flies a plane. She starts as kind of like a damsel, but she’s just along for the ride. She’s on the same level as Arnold, in my opinion, towards the end of this movie. She was bad ass.
GEMMA And by the way, she does it all in heels, that entire film. Those shoes do not get kicked off until the very last shot. It’s a thing of beauty.
KARL And she stands up to Arnold in the car as well. She’s really not so much a damsel in distress. And she stands up to Sully as well. But yeah, she’s got it going on.
GEMMA She utters the line—no, no—and she utters the best line in the entire film, which is also, I like to believe—and I wrote this on my Letterboxd review—the script writers. There’s always a line in these movies where you know it’s the script writers talking to the audience. And she utters that line and it’s—
[clip of Commando plays]
CINDY I can’t believe this macho bullshit.
[clip of Commando ends]
GEMMA I can’t believe this macho bullshit. [Karl & Slim laugh] Gold! It is gold. And I was like, okay, you are me. You are us in this movie. It’s great.
[music from Shaun of the Dead plays]
SLIM Shall we shift to Shaun of the Dead? 2004. Directed by Edgar Wright. This is an average 4.0 on Letterboxd right now. Holy moly. 4,000 fans, just like Matthew have this. Shaun lives a supremely uneventful life which revolves around his girlfriend, his mother and above all, his local pub. This gentle routine is threatened when the dead return to life, make strenuous attempts to snack on ordinary Londoners. Shaun of the Dead. Edgar Wright. Matthew, what’s the impact of this film in your movie memory?
MATTHEW So I want to start by saying that I slept on this film completely when it screened in 2004 at our local Film Festival.
KARL That’s not what I thought you meant. [Matthew & Gemma laugh]
MATTHEW Touché. I just adore this film start to end. You know, looking at the reviews and there’s so much love for it on Letterboxd. And you can see exactly where all of his influences come from. He’s got Romero in there, Carpenter. And yet he makes it absolutely his own. You can see that Edgar sort of had that time in TV crafting his visual style. And there’s a nice little piece of trivia from Edgar, where he said that the smash-cuts that he does in between or in the middle of scenes, were directly inspired—and here’s your throwback to Commando—directly inspired by those suit-up, jock-up kind of scenes and all of the ’80s action films. He wanted to take that sort of quick editing and use more mundane, everyday— and you can see him developing that visual style and it sort of comes out fully formed with Shaun of the Dead after pioneering it on Spaced.
GEMMA And so much of it rests on his relationship with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as well, who are also both in Spaced and on their development of the characters, the best friends and their willingness to play with all of that with him. Right?
MATTHEW Yeah, there’s just chemistry that is, you know, undeniable and I think you watch it and you just feel that those people are mates who are, you know, Shaun’s a bit useless and a bit unreliable and borderline irredeemable. And the relationship he has with Nick Frost’s character is—it’s touching, because they do—there is a wink and a nod there to the sort of the bromance between the two of them that gets touched on a couple of times.
[clip of Shaun of the Dead plays]
SHAUN There is a back door, David. I tried to tell him you before you went and smashed the window.
DAVID Well I wasn’t the one who was blowing our cover by having a tiff with my boyfriend.
SHAUN He’s not my boyfriend!
ED It might be a bit warm, the cooler’s off.
SHAUN Thanks babe.
[clip of Shaun of the Dead fades out]
MATTHEW First in my heart. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA I remember feeling like Shaun of the Dead was a miracle at the time, to me, as I want to be New Zealand filmmaker, because one of the things about being in a small country with public funding for movies, and not a lot of, you know, major investors around. Is that you have to make a case to your public funding bodies for the kinds of movies you want to make, and they always say “It needs to reflect New Zealand identity but it also needs to make a lot of money at the box office.” And you go, ‘how the fuck do we do both of those things?’ And it can be quite hard. And then something like Shaun of the Dead comes along, which for the film industry itself did some beautiful cross genre runs on com situation which changed things I think, you know, for for script writers and directors who are thinking about how to do things differently. That changed a lot. I remember a lot of filmmaking masterclasses that followed soon after Shaun of the Dead suddenly were all about cross genre script writing and Edgar really kicked that off, whether he knew it or not at the time. But the other thing was, it is a mainstream, brilliant, mainstream, successful film that is so very local in its outlook. It is about a guy in the pub that he loves, and his best friend, and the woman he loves. But mainly it’s about a guy in the local pub that he loves. And I remember seeing it and going this—this is it. You take Shaun of the Dead to the New Zealand Film Commission and go, “These are the things we should be making, because they’ll make money, but they also reflect our culture.”
MATTHEW And that small scope, that sort of intimate scale just come through in spades. And, you know, I think in a lot of films in the genre, the scope tends to widen out and you get World War Z with millions of zombies hanging off helicopters and that sort of thing. Whereas this just stays intimate. And I’m sure that there were, you know, budget constraints. But even within those budget constraints, you’ve got these amazing shots set up where something will happen in the foreground—
GEMMA Oh my god.
MATTHEW And it’ll be completely, completely timed with just something that you should see in the background. And you should notice, but you could spend—you can almost spend the film watching the background of scenes.
GEMMA We need to talk about the best shot in the film, which is they—the group of five, the group of six—have finally gotten to a back garden, just across the road from the Winchester, the pub that they’re trying to get to. And they are trying to figure out how to get from this back garden, which has a swing set and a slide and it’s just a very, you know, a very domestic cute little back garden to the pub—which we know is over the fence, but we haven’t seen yet. And then that camera just goes up and over the fence and we see the street and it’s just filled with zombies. And there’s the pub right there. It is the most epic shard but again, it fits perfectly within this extremely London suburban world of the film and the story and the characters. And it’s like, it is literally a miracle.
MATTHEW And you’ve got Simon Pegg, with his brilliant physical comedy, climbing out the little kids’ slide looking over the fence.
GEMMA Yes! Yes! And the camera doesn’t go with him! The camera doesn’t go with him does it? It still saves the big shot for last. Oh my god!
MATTHEW Exactly. The camera stays on his legs and he comes back down and says “Hm, there’s a lot.” [Matthew & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA So then they practice looking like zombies which is also genius.
KARL I think I’m enjoying the film more in your retelling than I did in rewatching it.
MATTHEW You don’t like scary films.
KARL That’s true. That’s true. I don’t like to be scared. But I was a Spaced fan, and so Shaun of the Dead almost felt a little bit like Spaced lite to me, and I didn’t I didn’t enjoy it I think as much because of how much I enjoyed Spaced. But I think one of things about Spaced that opened my eyes was the track where you could turn on all of the references on the DVD and you can get the subtitles coming up that would then start to tell you about what’s behind all of these scenes. And that track it’s impossible to watch with, because it’s so frantic. Every scene, every moment has got a whole lot going on. And I think that was really eye opening for me. I don’t feel like Commando’s got that happening, right, like there’s not a whole lot of intrigue behind each line but Shaun of the Dead has got that as well as the creators have really sweated everything and put together a puzzle and a masterpiece.
GEMMA Like the fact when the two tribes pass in the alleyway and you’ve got the central couple from The Office, which was such a massive cultural moment in UK television at the time. And in the fact that the cast is populated by some absolutely brilliant stand up comedians like Dylan Moran, and folks like that. Yeah. And Bill Nighy as the step dad.
MATTHEW Oh Bill.
GEMMA Perfect casting!
MATTHEW God he’s so good.
SLIM That scene in the back was amazing with them.
KARL Yeah, that’s right.
MATTHEW The back of the car.
SLIM One of my last notes for Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, famously—at least, for me as a Letterboxd user. You know, he talks about movies—we have a bunch of lists of some of his favorite movies. So we’re ready now for you guys to reveal, does Edgar have a secret Letterboxd account? This will be the exclusive. What is his account? Can we follow him? We’re ready for the news right now.
GEMMA Did we sign an NDA? [Gemma laughs]
MATTHEW We’re sworn to secrecy about Edgar. He’s on there. But he likes to keep a low profile.
SLIM In the shadows.
GEMMA That’s one thing I love about Letterboxd is it’s so not doing what other social media is doing in terms of narrowing—leading you algorithmically towards an echo chamber of your own interests. I really love that and appreciate that about it. And is it something that you were consciously looking to do? Or is it something that you’ve become more interested in over time, as we’ve seen how other social media platforms have changed the world irreversibly.
KARL There’s a number of things that we’ve that we’ve done in the design of the platform to try and support that. And I think that’s particularly about making the content always come first. You know, when when you’re talking about something it’s always in the context of a film when it’s a review or it’s in the context of a group of films, when it’s a list. I think our Members page does have a tendency to bring people towards a core set of members. But really quickly, you’re reading content from a huge range of people and following people and following links from film to film to actor. And I think very broadly, when you look back at your watchlist, you go wow, what a hugely eclectic range of films I’ve added to my watchlist and with each one then to go back and find the review that you say well, I would never watch this film but I read a review about this film which just seemed like it was going to be amazing from someone who I don’t know at all. I feel like that kind of diversity of discovery is kind of what protects us from drawing everyone into what’s the latest hot thing.
GEMMA Well this is the thing, I add things to my watchlist and then kind of forget that I’ve done that and just carry on. Bit of a distracted Gemini. I’ll watch what I what I need to do for work or what I feel like in the moment. But I’ve noticed Karl, in your reviews, that you are very, very diligent—if somewhat slow—in attending to your watchlist. But to the point where you will say, finally I’ve ticked one off that was on my watchlist for too long. Here are my thoughts about it. But I love that. I wanted to ask you what your relationship with your watchlist is.
KARL I don’t like having—I think I feel like my life is full of lists of things to do. And I do like adding things to my watchlist. But I don’t like to add something to my watchlist knowing—I don’t add it knowing that I’m never gonna watch it. And so, when the time comes, I love receiving the email that says “This thing on your watchlist is now available to be viewed on your favorite services.” And that to me is an opportunity to get cracking. Because, if the opportunity is there, and I’m not going to watch it, then why is it on my watchlist?
SLIM I just saw a movie on your watchlist—not to interrupt—but Stuber with Dave Bautista.
KARL That probably doesn’t need to be on my watchlist. [Slim & Gemma laugh] But so what will happen, is that I will then—I’ll look at my watchlist. I’ll be like ‘Hmm’. And then I’ll look at that film. And then I’ll look at the reviews that I’ve liked of that film, and I’ll discover that someone said something about that film that made me tap the Add to Watchlist button, knowing that that means at some point in the future, I’m going to have to spend some dollars and some time to actually watch it. But I tell you, the satisfaction that I get when I tap—when I log a film and I get the little toast notification that says it’s been added to your diary and removed from your watchlist. I’m like boom!
GEMMA Does it feel like a line of Tetris that’s just, you know—
KARL Yes. 100%. Maybe we need an animation there. Maybe we need a sound. Do you know what? Maybe we need none of that because it is successful in and of itself. That is sometimes depending upon the film, it might even be better than the film itself. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
MATTHEW It’s a life goal that I haven’t been able to attain, to—in our end-of-year stats we show the number of films that you watched from your watchlist in comparison to how many you added. And not one year has gone past where I’ve watched more than I’ve added. So always, always behind the eight ball.
KARL Yeah. When do we plan to catch up?
SLIM There’s not enough hours in the day.
GEMMA I don’t know. But all I can say about Letterboxd—and I want to thank you both for this. But I guess I’m speaking specifically to Karl based on your watch history and the films you like. You know, you can go to film school and you can go through life, feeling a bit inadequate, about not enjoying films that are supposedly, you know, universally five star. And favorite films that are generally always going to be around the three—
KARL I’m pretty confused about this. I’m not really sure where you’re going. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA It’s a very, very bad segue to Short Circuit which has a 3.1 average on Letterboxd and only 33 fans, of which you are one.
KARL Seems fair. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA It’s a 1986 film from John Badham. And it fits very, very, very comfortably in my favorite pocket of movies, which is just a really enjoyable stupid escapade that would never rate higher than about a 3.1. Where does it fit for you this film about Number 5?
KARL I think my favorites, they’re not all necessarily great films. But they are my favorites. And I love them and I think Short Circuit epitomizes that. I do remember when I first saw Short Circuit and this is definitely in the ’80s, we had a VHS player. We never went to the video store. My only memory of going to the video store is seeing the cover of Cherry 2000 and thinking, ‘Mmm, one day when I can come to the video store by myself, I’m gonna rent that.’ [Gemma laughs] I subsequently saw it and it’s not on my favorites list. But Short Circuit, we were lent it. We didn’t request it, we were lent it by our next-door neighbors on VHS. I don’t think it was taped off TV. I think it must have been duplicated. I think they must have had two VHS players.
KARL The ultimate technology back in the day. And so we put in this film—my younger brother and I—and just those opening titles on Short Circuit are almost, they’re better than the film deserves. I was just spellbound when rewatched it this week just going absolutely incredible. And then that scene with the flowers. It’s like, oh what’s happening now? And then a tank comes through. Watching it again, even though I know exactly what’s going to happen. I’m really, really excited to be rewatching this film. And I love robots. And Gemma, before we had a conversation about this film earlier this week, I would say, “I think I love everything about this film!” [Gemma laughs] Now I think I love nearly everything about this film.
GEMMA Yeah we should probably take that off the list pretty quickly. There are films that don’t age as well and Short Circuit has aged well in every way, especially given drone technology and army tech and the way it continues to this day. It’s aged well in every way except Fisher Stevens casting as an as an Indian computer genius. Which interestingly, Aziz Ansari followed followed up with him years later and wrote this amazing piece where he interviewed Fisher Stevens about having done that, and was like what’s the deal, bro? And sort of concludes that Fischer went into it wholeheartedly. He traveled to India, he really did his research about how to be Indian. But he never once as a young actor at the time questioned, should I be playing this character?
MATTHEW He actually was cast as himself in a white-guy role. And then the writers decided to rewrite the script for Bronson Pinchot, who was hot off of Beverly Hills Cop.
SLIM Oh my god.
MATTHEW And that’s where all the ethnic jokes came in. And then when that fell through, they went back to Fisher Stevens and said, “Hey, do you think you would be able to play this?” And I think he wanted the job. He loved the script, he wanted the job and he said, “Okay, well I’ll throw myself into doing this” without giving that consideration. And I think he says today that it would not have gone down that way if it was a decision being made today, a casting decision.
KARL There are a number of things that came up for me after watching Aziz Ansari talking about it. And remarking that sort of years after seeing it he was thinking ‘Hey, whatever happened to that Indian actor?’ What that suggested to me was that even though his portrayal was stereotyped and a bit over-the-top, that he did it reasonably well and he also seemed to do it with a kind of treatment that led it not to stand out like a sore thumb, I think, in the film. And so while it’s a bit weird and now watching it, you can’t sort of help but look at it and feel just a bit uncomfortable about it. It seems like he did a reasonably good job.
SLIM I was about to say I watched Lawrence of Arabia this year for the first time—drink. The Slim drinking game, watching a movie for the first time.
KARL I haven’t seen it. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM And Alec Guinness in that movie—
KARL Two stars. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Is in a very similar position. And I asked my dad, I was like, what was the deal when this movie came out? Like did anyone ask why Alec Guinness was playing a Middle Eastern character? And he’s like, it was just part of the deal back then. You know, you’re playing a character and it was just a whole different world. So when I watched Short Circuit, I kind of like thought back to Alec Guinness. Odd comparison actors-wise, but I had a fun time watching this. The intro to this. The computer stuff is so cool. There are also some funny—there’s obviously some lines that are not so great now. But there were some funny lines where the one military guy was like—
[clip of Short Circuit plays]
SKROEDER This little fart of a robot is beginning to give me the red ass!
[clip of Short Circuit ends]
SLIM I’ve never heard that before in my entire life. [Slim laughs] I didn’t even want to Google that, it’s such a phrase that—
MATTHEW Now you know what’s been happening. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Also the older couple that was getting pulled over. He motions to the wife, “I hope you took the grass out of the glove box.” [Karl & Gemma laugh] I thought that was a hilarious line. It’s just such a weird little add-on, this older couple that’s only in it for two seconds. I thought that was hilarious. A lot of funny kind of like one off lines also compared to that not so funny one off lines.
MATTHEW The ‘nun soup’ line tickled me.
GEMMA Oh my god. It’s the nun soup followed immediately by Steve Guttenberg slapping his hand over Fisher Stevens’ mouth. It is a beautiful piece of verbal and physical comedy that’s like momentary and amazing. But the other thing I love about Short Circuit as a girl, is that it starts off as this kind of fully—again—this macho military environment, these dude programmers, and this supposedly I guess, boy robot because this voice kind of sounds boyish—although I imagined Number 5 is quite non-binary—and then within minutes, we meet animal lover, Stephanie, who is the kind of the heart and the center of the rest of the entire movie, who ends up doing Saturday Night Live [sic] dancing with Number 5, this robot and her crazy house that’s full of animals that she’s collected from everywhere.
MATTHEW Is that house the Goonie house?
GEMMA Oh my god. Is it?
MATTHEW It’s the same town. It feels like if it’s not the same house, it’s just down the road, right?
SLIM The view is insane.
GEMMA I just I love those moments where a director is able to somehow reference a previous movie they’ve made and in this case, John Badham made Saturday Night Live [sic], in a completely unrelated movie and unrelated genre. And so you get this gorgeous John Travolta moment with this computer in the middle of this kooky house full of animals.
SLIM How about when she first thought that when she met the robot—it’s so futuristic, this robot when this movie came out—that she thinks it’s an alien life form. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA And she’s disappointed when it’s not! She’s like “I’m ready! Take me!”
SLIM Oh boy.
GEMMA I love her! I love it so much.
SLIM What about Steve Guttenberg? Should we talk about The Gut? Steve Guttenberg? What an amazing career, Karl, for Steve Guttenberg? Is this the top of your list for Steve Guttenberg?
KARL I think it’s definitely the top of my list with Steve Guttenberg. I didn’t even think about him in Police Academy, I think this is where he should have stayed. Even if it was the same character.
MATTHEW He was alright in Cocoon.
KARL He was fantastic in Cocoon. I have also rewatched Cocoon recently. [Slim laughs] When we got this VHS from our neighbors, they actually gave us two VHS. And the second film, I could never—I’ve been thinking about it a little bit over the many years. And I thought well, I better try and find out what it is. The only thing I could remember about it was that there was a big dam. There was a tribe of Indigenous peoples that are living in the bush. Calling it bush seems very New Zealand centric. What would they call it? A jungle? The forest? Maybe. Maybe they’re living in the forest. And at one part in it, they are climbing across power lines and touching both power lines and getting electrocuted, which is why I would never do that now. I learned from that film, you go across one power line. So I’m googling for this film and I discover and it’s a film called The Emerald Forest. Which I rewatched the trailer, I’m like yeah, this is definitely the film. I don’t recommend it. It’s not that great. But we borrowed it on VHS at the same time as Short Circuit and watched it. But didn’t watch it quite as much. I think I probably only watched it three or four times—as you did back then when you got a VHS. Hut then I discovered the director John Boorman was also the director of a film which could have been, and might very well have replaced Spy Game, and after my recent rewatch, in my favorites, Zardoz.
SLIM Oh my god.
KARL How small is this world? [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA This world is so small that we’re about to move to the final of the four favorites in this episode, which is yet another film in these four favorites in which a man carries a large tree trunk whilst looking sweaty and attractive. [music from Badlands plays] And this is from Matthew’s four favorites. And I’m interested to know, Matthew, how long has Badlands, Terrence Malik’s 1973 debut, been in you four favorites, over ten years of Letterboxd?
MATTHEW Probably about a third of that time. I guess I do like to change my favorites quite frequently. So it’s in there now. It’s been in there for the past year. I first came to Badlands—and Gemma, you may have been in the room, potentially—in 2005. I attended a fundraiser for New Zealand director Brad McGann.
MATTHEW He had cancer. And the fundraiser was to raise funds for his treatment. And Badlands was his favorite film. I know that In My Father’s Den was a favorite of yours, Gemma, the one and only film he made.
GEMMA Yeah, the one and only feature film Brad McGann made was in my four favorites for a nine of the ten years I’ve been on Letterboxd.
MATTHEW And I remember sitting in that theater and sort of, you know, contemplating obviously with it being Brad’s fundraiser, the impermanence of life and it just really, really struck me. It’s a beautifully made film. It’s one of those films that you can’t actually imagine how it got made. Terrence Malick wrote it, struggled to put the funds together to to shoot it. I think Tak Fujimoto is credited as the cinematographer. But two cinematographers were fired off it before it was completed, including Tak, I think himself. He went on to be the guy behind the lens for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Silence of the Lambs. But this was his first film as well. You know, it’s unfathomable how assured this film is for a directorial debut. Martin Sheen had never led a cast either, in his career. He’d done sort of smaller parts in a couple of dozen features before getting this role. And I think he still thinks to this day that this is the role of his career.
GEMMA I said earlier I would park a conversation about America and guns and men. And this is where I parked in. Karl, you talked about not liking scary movies and for me horror is just pantomime for me. These kinds of films are the real horror for me. I felt as much as Badlands is in one Letterboxd list, Disillusionment in Sun-drenched 1970s American New Wave Cinema. Sure. And it spends a lot of the movie being that. But I was incredibly tense all the way through. And also that the ending, try not to spoil it, but I this was a first time watch for me and I was fully expecting from a history of watching films involving guns and people on the run, for it to end with a, you know, Thelma & Louise style car off a cliff or something else. The way it ended differently was so startling to me and also feeds into that relationship between America and heroes and anti heroes and guns and violence.
KARL Let me interrupt you there, Gemma. I haven’t seen Badlands. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
KARL Or Thelma & Louise. And so now what am I supposed to do?
GEMMA Put them on your watchlist!
GEMMA I would like to go on record as Letterboxd editor-in-chief and say it’s okay to not watch movies people tell you you should watch.
SLIM I’ve lived my whole life that way.
KARL Slim, you mentioned in one of the previous episodes that when a film has been really hyped up that you back off from it and move away from it. I really suffered from that as well. Not that Badlands has been hugely hyped up. But like, [Karl whispers] I still haven’t seen Parasite. And I’m really intending to. But it got so hyped up! So I really related to that. Like, Avatar. That happened to me with Avatar. Everyone was talking about it. “Oh my goodness, you have to go see it at IMAX. It’s just incredible.” About five years later when I watch it, and like, this film is really great. I wish I could have seen it on an IMAX. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
SLIM It’s a safe space for you to admit that. So I welcome the honesty about the influence of the hype around film.
KARL Thank you. That’s why I accepted the invitation to do this based on that, based on our connection.
GEMMA Also, Akira is what? 35 years old or something? And I saw it on IMAX last year for the first time. So just wait long enough. It’ll come back to IMAX. It’s okay.
SLIM The time will be right. I was about to say, back to Gemma’s comment about the guns. The scene where the dad has to punish the daughter because of her lying and he takes her dog out into the field and shoots it, as a way for her to like understand that she did something wrong. That’s one of the most disgusting moments in the history of film.
GEMMA Very upsetting. As you know, we are a dog-loving podcast. It is very upsetting when dogs get killed.
MATTHEW I shed a tear.
GEMMA I know Allison would have a lot of thoughts about that for her vegan content warnings.
SLIM He’s walking around with this gun and waving it around. I would want to be nowhere near this guy. At a blink of an eye he could shoot you. And he does! Remember he locks up those people.? And they’re just like, blindly shoots in—
[clip of Badlands plays]
SLIM And he’s like “I think I got him.”
MATTHEW And he shoots his friend.
SLIM Yeah, his poor friend!
GEMMA Oh my god. He just shoots—he pretty much shoots—yeah. People were lucky to get away. Well, not the rich people, interestingly. Oh, spoilers.
KARL Yeah, I mean, I’m right here. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
SLIM He has a great relationship with the character towards the end. And you’re kind of wondering, is he going to shoot this character also? But it does come full circle just like he said about how the Americana of the fugitive and the relationship with guns and even the cops’ relationship to him at the end. You know, they’re almost like in spectacle of his celebrity. And as a viewer, you’re kind of like, do I like this movie? Because it’s hard to say. Because you don’t like the character so much. Maybe Sissy’s character you enjoy.
MATTHEW Yeah, I’m sort of firmly of the— I enjoy all the way through, just being in that world with those characters and don’t really want to pass judgment at the end. I think it is, it’s an interesting question about they almost do treat him like a celebrity and they’re asking him to sign stuff once he’s been captured. And it is, it’s the right ending for the story. But yeah, I like the journey.
SLIM We teased it earlier. We’re rapidly running out of tape. And we mentioned one of my favorite features of being a patron, you can see your Rated Higher Than Average movies. So there’s a section on the stats page of Letterboxd for that profile, you can see what this person has rated higher than the average on Letterboxd or lower than the average on Letterboxd.
GEMMA And we tend not to talk about the lower than the average on the podcast because we like to keep things positive and and optimistic. But in this case—
MATTHEW Which one of us is in trouble? [Slim laughs]
KARL I actually thought Striptease surprised me because I thought it was gonna be really, real junk and I think it was better than what I thought it was gonna be.
GEMMA Oh my god. I think we need to bring back Demi Moore to movies.
KARL Yeah, she’s fantastic!
KARL Yeah, that’s a bit, that’s too low.
GEMMA Yeah, it’s too low. We’ve already been there.
MATTHEW We play beach volleyball as a team whenever we get the chance in honor of Top Gun. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA I’ve talked about this before but the VHS of Top Gun that was available at our local video store was always a bit wonky at that scene.
SLIM From overuse… [Slim laughs]
KARL Wow. I’ve really rated quite a few films a lot higher than—
KARL Do you know what? I think when I rate a film on Letterboxd—like when I say I watched it, it means I watched it. When I rate it, I rate it based on how much I enjoyed watching it. Sometimes I also rate it on—so I think sometimes it’s clear that you rate a film based on how good the film is. And sometimes—as is the case with American Reunion—you rate it based on how much you enjoyed watching it. And how much of a good time—Matt, did we see American Reunion together in a cinema?
KARL Yeah. Sorry, Matt, I don’t mean to throw you under this bus.
GEMMA Matt, what is your rating for American Reunion? We need to know!
MATTHEW I even reviewed it, I believe. It was probably the perfect three-and-a-half star revisitation of those characters.
KARL Right. Which makes it five stars.
MATTHEW Yeah, well, maybe.
KARL I think that what I remember from this film is that we went with a with a group of friends to a cinema and watched this film. It’s one of those ones where you’re in a cinema, but it feels like you’re just in someone’s lounge. And you’re just having the time of your life. I think we’ve done that with Top Gun as well. And I must say that watching Top Gun again, even though I rate it very highly, I was pretty bored because I knew exactly what was gonna happen, but it’s still a five-star film.
GEMMA So then if we’re looking at your Rated Lower Than Average, I need to know. Is the one-and-a-half star rating for Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion based on that’s your opinion of the quality of the film, or that’s your opinion of the quality of the pandemic that we’re currently going through?
KARL I watched this nearly nine years ago—I don’t remember. [Slim & Gemma laugh] I think it’s probably about the quality of the film. No, no. It would be about how I felt from watching it. I have to rewatch it. There must have been something about it that annoyed me. And one and a half stars—that’s a dramatic low rating.
GEMMA It’s not as low as some of your other ratings. Slim, would you like to talk Karl through?
SLIM I mean, there’s a few. Let’s just rattle off, just rapid fire. Maybe a quick comment from Karl on this rating. One and a half stars for a movie called The Shining. Your thoughts on that rating? [Gemma laughs]
KARL Too scary. Next.
MATTHEW Get out. Get out.
KARL It’s too scary! It’s too scary.
MATTHEW I told you he doesn’t like scary movies.
SLIM There’s nothing scary about The Shining. I watched that last year and I felt like it was a little snoozer.
MATTHEW It’s terrifying.
KARL It’s terrifying. Thank you, Matt.
GEMMA Okay, next, next.
SLIM Escape from New York, one and a half stars. Snake Plissken. Karl, your thoughts?
KARL Yeah, I really didn’t like Escape from New York. [Karl laughs] Yeah, it felt to me like a film that people liked because it was a cult film. Not because it was actually really good. It was ridiculous.
SLIM The fog of cult films.
KARL I feel like Total Recall did it better.
GEMMA Alright, well here we go. This is a this is a big one. One star, Taxi Driver.
SLIM Matthew’s just shaking his head right now on screen. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
KARL Do you know what? I don’t think I’ve seen Taxi Driver. [Gemma & Slim laugh] I think this must be an accidental test rating.
SLIM How about the Rated Higher Than Average for Matthew? One callout that jumps out to me, which I had an amazing experience watching was Nicolas Cage’s Mandy, you have that five stars and the average is 3.62.
MATTHEW I think this comes down to, again, the environment that you see the film in this was a packed Avondale Hollywood Cinema, 400 people, absolutely up for it. And that film is just, with the right crowd is just an incredible experience. And there’s chainsaw fights and all sorts of craziness. It’s a revenge movie. And you feel that the revenge is justified in every sense of the word given the early events in the film. So, beautiful to look at. And, yeah, I just had a ball. So easy five.
SLIM Easy five-banger.
GEMMA I miss cinemas that are packed with people watching fantastic three-star fare that is a five-star viewing experience. I really miss that. I’m really grateful that we have had Letterboxd in a way to form some kind of community through this pandemic. But ten years in, are you ready to retire? What’s next?
MATTHEW Not ready to retire at all. We love doing this. And people will know that Letterboxd grew out of a studio that does work for other clients. My role has transitioned almost fully to being in charge of Letterboxd, in charge of the product side, the shy CEO role I guess. And we couldn’t think of anything else that we would rather be doing than working on this. The team that we have built around it, the community that is so passionate about it. That’s why we do this and we’re just so proud to have built something that has resonated with such a huge audience and continues to do so every day.
SLIM And Karl the next time you’ll be on, you’ll be ready to talk about Taxi Driver.
KARL I, honestly it seems like Stuber remade it and so I might just watch that instead.
[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 guests this episode, Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow for our jobs. You can follow Slim, Gemma—that’s me—and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. And thanks to our crew. Composing dynamos Moniker for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque.
SLIM Thanks to Jack for the facts. Our booker, Linda Moulton for looking after our guests and Sophie Shin for the episode transcripts. And to you, for listening. The Letterboxd Show is a TAPEDECK production.
GEMMA And that’s it for this episode. Hey Slim, do you know what I like best about this podcast?
SLIM What’s that Gemma?
GEMMA The price. [Slim laughs]
[clip of Commando plays]
CINDY You wanna tell me what this is all about?
JOHN MATRIX Yeah, a guy I trusted for years wants me dead.
CINDY It’s understandable. I’ve only known you for five minutes and I want you dead too.
[clip of Commando ends]
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.