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 2.20: Sean Fennessey
[clip of Juice plays]
BISHOP I’ll go fuck about myself. Look, I ain’t shit. I ain’t never gonna be shit. And you less of a man than me. So soon as I decide that you ain’t gonna be shit—pow. So be it. You remember that motherfucker.
[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 Slim—that’s me—and Gemma are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films according to their Letterboxd profile. As you listen along, we have links in the episode notes, so there’s no excuse not to add these films to your watchlists. Today, our guest is famous podcaster—
SLIM Sean Fennessey.
SEAN I don’t know about famous but I have been known to podcast, guys.
GEMMA Known podcaster, Sean Fennessey. [Sean laughs]
SEAN Yes, living podcaster. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA As the head of content at The Ringer and the host of The Big Picture podcast and a frequent co-host of The Rewatchables—one of my faves—he’s also a Letterboxd member with 23,000 followers. That’s 22,000 more than you, Slim.
SLIM Disgusting. [Slim laughs]
SEAN Gotta get those numbers up, Slim!
GEMMA And 309 days into 2021, Sean has watched 684 films according to his Letterboxd diary.
SLIM Wow. Wow. Wow.
SEAN Wow. That’s sad. I wish you hadn’t done that. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA Look, you’re the one keeping the diary.
SLIM That’s right. It’s public information.
SEAN I am just delighted to be here. Thank you. I am an avid Letterboxd user, as you guys well know at this point and I love your show. So this is really a treat for me. Thank you.
GEMMA Oh my gosh.
SLIM We’ll put that in the trailer maybe for the podcast—that quote. [Gemma laughs] Now, Gemma mentioned it: 684 films in 309 days and, so you know, sometimes I look back on my list and I’m like, ‘Dang, I watch a lot of movies.’ But then, nearly double. I’m impressed. Astonished. Jealous. But how do you as the head of content at The Ringer, how do you weasel in movie watching? I know movies encapsulate so much of your work and the podcast but how do you find time? Like what’s your secret? Talk to me.
SEAN Well, this year is different from other years. I am movie mad as you guys are, as I’m sure many of the people listening to this show are. But this year, my wife and I had our first child and so having a child—
SEAN Thank you.
GEMMA Oh my gosh.
SEAN By far the greatest thing that has ever happened to me and I am in full-blown ‘like wow, I didn’t realize how much I wanted this’ mode.
GEMMA This is a safe space for parents, just so you know, this podcast is a safe space for parents.
SEAN I mean, this is not a complaint by any means. But as you guys know, you’re up at strange hours and I am frequently watching the child early in the morning and I love to kill time by just holding her and watching movies. So there’s like an added movie watching time that’s been added into my schedule. I used to be a person who’d stay up till three o’clock in the morning watching movies and now I’m a person who goes to bed earlier and wakes up at 5:30 in the morning to watch movies. So it’s kind of evened out. But, you know, I try to go to every screening. I try to watch every link. I’m also playing the game of constantly covering new releases on the podcast while also backfilling my holes and my interests. And as my taste gets wider and wider the older I get, filling out what I didn’t know I needed. So I’m watching a lot, but I’ve always watched a lot. I’ve watched a lot since I was eleven years old. I’ve just been just obsessed and consumed by doing this with my spare time. Honestly.
GEMMA I am excited for the next few years of your life as you move deeper into the world of Ghibli, Pixar and Cartoon Saloon.
SEAN Help me out, like how should I navigate this? Because I want to be curatorial but not overbearing. You know?
GEMMA Just start with My Neighbor Totoro and you can’t go wrong.
SEAN One of my faves.
SLIM What a moment that’s going to be in that house.
GEMMA Oh my gosh, and start with it in Japanese. She, he, they—your child won’t know the difference for the first wee while. They’ll just love the pictures.
SEAN I can’t wait. You know, at the bus stop in the rain is like a very meaningful moment for me in movie history. So the idea of showing her that for the first time is very exciting.
GEMMA Can we just do my favorite thing that we do on this podcast anytime anyone mentions that scene? [Slim laughs] Slim, Slim just pops that audio in.
SLIM Drop in the audio of the rain from that movie in the background.
GEMMA Can we all just stop and take a moment to breathe and think about the wonder of nature?
[clip of My Neighbor Totoro plays]
SEAN You guys should just make it a recurring bit, you know, every week. Why not? [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA The thing about [My Neighbor] Totoro, it’s also just one of those lovely movies that has two girls in the lead role, sisters. And I just did want to say about this week’s viewing—man. It’s a lot of dudes being dudes that you made me—
SEAN I’m sorry.
SLIM It’s dude time.
SEAN I don’t really know what to say about that. Judge me here. I mean, I’m an open book.
GEMMA Well, I do like to sort of see if there are themes that run through somebody’s four favorites. And I’m right, so we got dudes in the sixteenth century, we’ve got dudes in the ’70s, we’ve got dudes in the ’40s, we got dudes in the ’90s. We got my—probably apart from The Candidate—although you could make the argument that it also falls into this. It’s dudes meeting downfalls because they listen to the wrong person. I don’t know.
SEAN I think you nailed it. Yeah, no, I think you nailed it. I think the inability for men in any century to make a good decision with their life, that’s really—especially powerful men. [Gemma laughs] There’s a lot of powerful men in my four faves who are fucking idiots. And I’m compelled by that.
GEMMA Who did not show their firstborns My Neighbor Totoro, and just take time to talk to the forest gods.
SLIM They had no Ghibli moment in their childhood. [My Neighbor] Totoro was not out in 1949 for our first movie, The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed. This is a 4.2 on Letterboxd. The average across all viewers. That’s pretty wild. 1.7 thousand fans—similar to Sean. This takes place in Vienna. Holly Martins, a writer of pulp Westerns, arrives penniless as a guest of his childhood chum Harry Lime, only to learn he has died and he develops a conspiracy theory after learning of a “third man” present at the time of Harry’s death. I have seen this poster over the years, many times. You know, I saw that our boy was in this movie—I can’t remember his name—Orson Welles. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Our boy, Orson Welles.
SLIM Our boy, that I can never remember his name.
SEAN I was hoping you were gonna say, “Our boy, Trevor Howard.” I was like, ‘Is this a Trevor Howard podcast? I can’t wait!’ [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM And halfway through my viewing I was like, ‘Where the hell is Orson Welles?’ But where does this movie sit for you, Sean? What was your first viewing like? And why does it still stick in your faves after all these years?
SEAN Favorite movie of all time, by far. I’ve said that many times in the past. It is elusive to me why it is that way. I saw it for the first time in a viewing booth in a library in my freshman year of college. It was assigned to me. I had been aware of it but had never had the chance to see it. You know, it’s a film that you see on TCM all the time. It was famously very early Criterion Collection Edition. And I was fond—I was becoming interested in Orson Welles. And this is the—we have a phrase called ‘The Heat Check’ at The Ringer where I work, where we often use it about somebody showing up for a bit of time in a movie, and lighting things up—heating things up. And I would contend that the Orson Welles performance as Harry Lime is the all time heat check. Maybe he spends a little bit too much time in the movie to officially be a heat checker, but he is so intoxicating, and evil, and brilliant. I love characters who radiate intelligence. And Lime has one of the best speeches in movie history on the Ferris Wheel. And I don’t know, I just, I fell for the movie obviously as you get older, and you learn a little bit more about how films are made and you know how style makes fights so to speak, you realize that this is like a class of people working at the absolute top of the industry. And you know, Carol Reed and it’s Graham Greene as the writer and Anton Karas on the score and a series of people who are so, so gifted operating in like a really a glory moment I think in European cinema postwar. It’s just a movie that like washes over me every time, you know? It’s become like a blanket for me if I’m ever stressed out. Even though it’s about some bad people doing some bad stuff. Somehow it calms me. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM If you ever want to feel good about someone stealing penicillin from the sick— [Gemma laughs] put on The Third Man.
GEMMA If you ever want to see some of the best cat acting in the history of cinema. I mean, I’m not sure where this sits on the famous Letterboxd list that is called Litterboxd. [Sean laughs] Surely, surely, it’s got to be in the top-ten cats of all time in movies.
SEAN And we know that herding cats is impossible and I can only imagine directing cats just must be absolute hell so credit to Carol Reed for getting such a great performance out of that cat.
SLIM You mentioned the speech that he gives outside of once he leaves that car. I was like watching that scene, y’know he finally reveals himself. He really just goes for it. He’s putting on an acting clinic right there. But then he gives that, like, line about the Renaissance.
[clip of The Third Man plays]
LIME Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
SLIM Do they not like put that in montages of like, you know, in the Oscars or whatever. That needs to be shared more often in mainstream now, I think.
SEAN So it’s funny that you say that because I think one of the only things that I knew about the movie was that AFI and CBS in the ’90s—I want to say ’97, ’98—did 100 Years, 100 Movies in which they created their 100 most essential American films. And, frankly, it was like a little bit of a Letterboxd kind of experience, you know, and creating that like list format, and something that you could return to over and over again. You know, I was using that as a teenager as like, a guide. And I come from like a middle class family on Long Island, no artists in my family, not a lot of cinephiles, you know, people who liked to movies, but not a lot of people who are like, “You have to sit down and watch this, you have to sit down and watch this.” So when that special aired, I believe The Third Man was on it. And I believe the closing moments of that speech were featured. And it felt like exactly what you’re saying, Slim, it felt like someone identifying that this is a—it feels like a historical moment in movie history. And we have to capture it and reshare it and reshare it. So that was the one thing I think I knew when I first sat down to watch the movie. And then when that moment hit, I was like, okay, well, where does the movie go from here? It felt like that should have been the last scene not one of the first encounters with Harry. [Slim laughs] But Harry, also, you know that there’s this great story that Orson Welles would tell about a stage role that he had—I can’t remember the name of the show. But in the first act of the show, all of the characters talk about—I think the character’s name is Mr. Wong. They spend the whole first act talking about Mr. Wong, but we never meet Mr. Wong. And the person who got to play Mr. Wong always had the best job in theater at that time in town, because they spent a whole hour of a show getting everyone amped up to meet this character, building anticipation. And had this is Harry Lime, this was his opportunity to be a Mr. Wong for movies. And you know, it’s a great convention of movies storytelling to withhold, withhold, withhold, and then boom, big speech. You are the fascinating centerpiece of the movie.
SLIM Vintage Welles.
GEMMA The other thing that’s fascinating about it is that I mean, Graham Greene is one of the greatest English novelists of all time. He worked on the screenplay with Carol Reed, but he has said that it was Orson who wrote that line.
SEAN I mean, he’s famous for polishing his dialogue. He was unafraid to polish the dialogue of even Shakespeare. So Orson, you know, not unwilling to—it’s not improvisation, right. It’s like you could tell that he is slaving over the speech on a typewriter in a way. But it’s interesting. I mean, you know, post Mank, there was a revivification of the Orson Welles wars and conversations and debate and discoveries. And this is a movie that for the most part, he wasn’t involved in as a writer, director, producer, any of the things that he’s best known for. This kind of ultimate showman of moviemaking. He was just—it was like a paycheck job. And a damn good one, I think. I don’t know. I mean, is this a movie that you guys are familiar with? That you like?
GEMMA I… [Gemma laughs] I mean, you know, when I was first starting out watching movies, Casablanca and Citizen Kane were like my first two big one-two-punch, you know, cinematic introductions. I thought that they were—and still do—think that they’re enormously important, but The Third Man has just passed me by. So I finally watched it this week, and I can’t say that it landed for me with a great amount of passion. Although, I will watch the sewer scenes over and over and over again.
GEMMA Oh my god. For the light, the shade, just the everything. So beautiful. In fact, that’s another thing that runs through some of your films, your four favorites, is people appearing out of the dark. If you think about it. There’s a real—I feel like Ernest, and we’ll get to this—but I feel like Ernest R. Dickerson would have been watching The Third Man to pick out some tips for Juice almost certainly. But what I find fascinating is that I’d always known the name Harry Lime. I mean, everybody, you know, anyone who’s even on this sort of vague, you know, outskirts of cinema interest has heard the name Harry Lime, but no one’s heard the name Holly Martins. And can we just talk about that for a while? Like who even is Holly Martins? He’s a bit of a wet sop, isn’t he? And there’s one—[Slim laughs]—he sort of, he’s called into Austria by his old mate Harry Lime, and then is suddenly deeply embroiled in this situation. But he just kind of wombles through it. [Gemma laughs] And there’s a Letterboxd review that I completely related to after watching this film, which was by ghostdinosaur: “Every dude with Nice Guy Syndrome should have taken a hint from this goddamn movie made over sixty years ago. Being obsequious doesn’t mean a woman owes you love.” [Slim laughs]
SEAN Among other things. I think that’s probably something that is coursing through almost every movie I’ve picked too, is a kind of haplessness amongst the protagonist, you know, the person at the center of it is not heroic, and they are—it’s kind of circumstantial. You know, I love the films of the Coen Brothers, Coen brothers are famous for this. For placing their hero in a kind of, like bumbling, just lucky-to-be-there kind of setting, you know, constantly being taken advantage over having things whizzed by their face. And I don’t—I mean, I don’t know if that’s self reflection, I don’t know how much we can psychologize what it is that is appealing to me about that. There’s also something kind of fun and meta-textual about Cotton and Welles and their longtime partnership and friendship and the idea of like, you know, people always thought that Welles was kind of the schemer and the, the master manipulator of all artists that he worked with. And then Cotton was kind of like his front man and a lot of ways in the person that he got to do things for him to be at the center of his movies, or to be as right handed in [Citizen] Kane. So this is almost like, it feels like a commentary on their relationship in a way. The other thing that is interesting about Holly Martins is like, the idea that dime-store American novelist is a pretty profound figure. And it’s a figure that like that person has been adapted into the world of movies many times over the years. Those are people who often get hired to write screenplays, because they really understand story. And they really understand like, the propulsion in telling a story. So Holly Martins in this movie that is, I think, a little bit more elegant, a little bit less interested in story and ultimately a little bit more interested in the craft of the film. And this setting of the film and the music and it is like it is kind of like a sum of its parts movie. And it’s funny to put somebody in the middle of the movie who would only really be concerned about, you know, plot, plot, plot, plot, plot, because it seems like that’s the kind of writer Holly Martins is right?
SLIM The one thing that jumped out at me on this viewing—I did enjoy it. The one thing that was so bizarre to me in this movie was the score.
[music from The Third Man plays]
SLIM The score of this movie, I’ve never heard anything like it. And I had to Google it afterwards.
GEMMA I have never seen a credit so devoted to a specific instrument in a movie soundtrack. That opening credit about the zither.
SLIM It was crazy. I turned to my wife afterward, after we watched it. I was like, have you ever heard a movie score like that before?
SEAN Well, Gemma makes a great point. I mean, you literally see the zither being played during the opening credits, and it almost feels like Reed realizes he has something that is so esoteric, you almost need to draw attention to it. Because I find the music like, intoxicating, you know, if you just play that—I got a big sense memory of happiness.
SLIM Get caught.
SEAN Yes, exactly. I get caught up in it. And it’s a very strange instrument. Obviously, the film is set in Vienna and Karas was an Austrian zither player. And so something was kind of localized. And that was part of the reason why they incorporated it into the film. It is—it feels somewhere between Polka and Tchaikovsky, right? You know, it’s like there’s something kind of folkloric and fun and kind of bouncy about it, but there’s also kind of something a bit sad and a bit, you know, restrained and kind of melancholy that, you know, this film ends in such a melancholy way that you almost, you need something that has a little bit of like that mournfulness to it. And by the same token, it can kind of seem like bouncy and like you’d be holding a big beer stein while listening to that music too. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Should the zither have been in Throne of Blood? Let’s be real.
SEAN Two weapons of war. You know? That’s what they are. Two beautiful weapons of war.
SLIM 1957, Akira Kurosawa, 4.2 average on Letterboxd. Another big pick in your faves. This is famously a resetting of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in feudal Japan, and is one of his most acclaimed films. Tell us about your history with this movie.
SEAN I was shown it in high school by a very thoughtful English teacher who was trying to teach us about the power of interpretation while teaching us about Shakespeare. We watched a handful of them and this was the one I think that stole my breath. And I had very little exposure to Japanese cinema. I didn’t really—I knew what Seven Samurai was. That’s probably all I knew about Kurosawa in general. Mifune is probably my favorite actor. We did a whole two hour episode dedicated to him last year on The Big Picture. It was his 100th birthday. And I don’t know if there is a more flexible performer in the twentieth century. I think if you look at the broad swath of films and performances and roles he did, I mean, he could work in any century, he could work in any prototype. He obviously brought a kind of like, masculine, aggressive bearing to a lot of his work—to your point Gemma about a lot of my picks—but I think he also was so brilliant at playing like wounded and failed men. And this is like, I mean, who’s a more wounded and failed man than Macbeth? You know, he really is. He’s the sadboy of his time. [Gemma laughs] And this is like—I think this is also a movie that when you’re—like, I grew up in the ’90s, and it was high time for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keanu Reeves, Sylvester Stallone, you see a movie like this, and you’re like, oh, this is actually action filmmaking. This is something so ludicrously gorgeous, and terrifying and cinematic about the arrow sequence in this movie, it is unforgettable. And everything that you see in action movies, and in Game of Thrones, and all this stuff now feels so directly pulled from what Kurosawa is basically inventing at this time. You know, he’s inspired by some American and English filmmakers, but he’s like, building a style of moviemaking more or less in his own little pocket of Japanese production. So the two things, you know, obviously, the Shakespeare, you can’t really go wrong with that kind of a story and the profundity of it. But the scale and the taste that the man has is so evident on the screen. It’s authentically exciting. And… fun to try to figure out how he pulled it off in that time.
GEMMA Oh, completely. And one of the things about adapting Shakespeare into another language is that you are fundamentally changing the text. You may not be changing the beats of the story, but you’re fundamentally changing the text in a way. And I love that he pulled in ‘Noh’ theater into it. Like it’s so sparse. It’s it’s hard to explain until you see it right? But even that whole, I don’t know, is that five minutes of Mifune he and his mate just riding around on horses in the fog looking for the wizard who disappeared. [Slim & Gemma laugh] They go away, they come back, they go away, they come back. There’s nothing else in the frame. It’s so sparse. It’s so spooky. I love it. Love, love, love. I mean who hasn’t spent half a day looking for a wizard in the fog on horseback? [Sean laughs]
SLIM I just went to see if there’s a 4K available of this. Unfortunately not yet. But yeah, the fog scenes. I mean just the shots of the forest to when he was like looking down when he got that prophecy about the forest—nothing will happen to you until it rises above and all that. Like just those shots—give me a print of that shot so I can put it on my wall for God’s sake. It’s ridiculous.
GEMMA The size of those trays being moved. Peter Jackson could never without a hundred computers. [Sean laughs]
SLIM He wouldn’t dream.
GEMMA He could never!
SLIM You mentioned the arrow scene. Let’s talk about that arrow scene. I think I saw some Letterboxd reviews ahead of time before I watched it. Well, first I want to spotlight one from elliebean: “ah yes my favourite genre… sexy shakespeare adaptations” [Gemma laughs] The arrow scene at the end of this—maybe people have already seen the shots. But I mean, those shots are—1957. You know, and I looked it up and it said that Mifune like hand signaled what direction he was going to be moving in to give the archers a clue to know where to shoot. That is some wild stuff.
SEAN Yeah it’s interesting to kind of put it in the context of where his career was at this time. He’s so prolific in the ’50s. And he’s just made Seven Samurai and he’s kind of— almost feels like he’s resetting by making I Live in Fear and The Lower Depths, which is a remake of another very famous film. And you can see him like trying to figure out how to one up Seven Samurai, like trying to figure out how to take what he did there and go higher. And I guess I would contend that what he does actually after this, The Hidden Fortress, is even bigger, is even more so—Gemma to your point about Peter Jackson—is even more so, you know, The Hidden Fortress has a huge influence on Lucas and Star Wars and R2D2 and C3PO basically are pulled right out of The Hidden Fortress. They’re just two characters that, like, interact in exactly the same way as those characters which is really fun. But you can feel—Throne of Blood is obviously really dramatic, melodramatic, romantic, violent movie, but you can feel him like in the diorama of it all, you know, like literally building structure into the movies. And you know, that’s a little bit unemotional and bland but it also is a testament to by that point in his career. He’s already got to figure out how to do it all in movies. You know, he’s done contemporary, drama. He’s done adaptations of huge historical works. He’s riffing on American filmmaking and on American filmmakers by this point. And so he’s constantly looking for the way to go up one ladder, or one rung on the ladder. And what’s bigger and more dramatic than Macbeth? It’s pretty, pretty cool.
GEMMA Can I just say on that arrow scene, that Sammie’s Letterboxd review absolutely nails it: “Shakespeare must have been QUAKING when this was released. Not even he could’ve written a better ending.” [Gemma laughs]
SEAN It’s pretty amazing.
SLIM I can see that.
SEAN Yeah, I buy it. I mean, it’s much more apparent in The Third Man to me, because what’s going on between Holly and Harry and even the concept of this third unknown, actually not real person, indicates a kind of like love triangle, like a love triangle of their own making. Which is a fascinating idea that almost like you could have picked any number of reasons why Harry was, quote unquote, “killed” or what have you. But in Throne of Blood, I guess that’s a core reading of Macbeth, right? Like there is something in Macbeth and the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the repression going on in their marriage and the complexity of their marriage that I think you could—I can see that too.
GEMMA I judge my Macbeth—which is my favorite Shakespeare by the way—I judge my Macbeth, ultimately, not by the ways in which Macbeth himself is brought down but by the ‘Out damned spot’ scene and I think this is probably my top—I can’t wait to see the new one—but this is probably my top ‘Out damned spot’ scene. I’m interested to see where Frances McDormand will go with it. But just the simplicity of pulling the beautiful screen aside and there she is. Because like, where is she? When is this moment coming? Surely it’s coming soon. And then it’s just—it is a piece of theater. It’s the true moment when Kurosawa goes, ‘Alright, this is theater. You’re the audience. We’re in a black box. It’s no longer filmmaking. This is just the live moment of what have I done.’ So great.
SEAN If you want some unintentional synchronicity, this didn’t really occur to me, but the year before Welles makes The Third Man, he adapts Macbeth in a very good adaptation. And also, the Coen brothers who I’ve mentioned, now Joel is doing [The Tragedy of] Macbeth. And so there’s, you know, this is like, it’s a subject matter. It’s a work that heavy hitters like to tackle, you know? I mean, Polanski took a crack at this. I’m not a huge fan of that adaptation, but it feels like you have to be on a certain level as a filmmaker to bring something new to the story. Because I think you’re right, Gemma, it’s hard to make it feel fresh, because you’re sort of like—it’s on a conveyor belt into your education in middle school or high school for almost everyone. I mean, this and Romeo and Juliet, I feel like are probably one and two, and maybe Hamlet three, in terms of what you’re fed when you’re a teenager.
GEMMA Plus that play within a play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We always have to do that one don’t we?
SEAN Yeah, we all need a comedy too, exactly.
SLIM Joke’s on you both. I can’t read. [Gemma & Sean laugh]
GEMMA On that note, I just want to say my favorite, favorite, favorite Shakespearean pairing in cinema ever, has to be and will always be Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington. Oh my god.
SEAN That’s a great—that’s a really good film. That adaptation is really good.
SLIM I haven’t seen that one. They just can’t do an accent and that one, I hope not.
GEMMA Slim, oh my god. Oh my god.
SLIM Keanu—let’s talk just before we go into The Candidate, I don’t mean to upset all our Keanu fans. But man, have the people not seen the two movies he did an accent in? I mean, those are some horrendous stuff. What’s the Al Pacino one that he’s in? Is that The Devil’s Advocate?
SEAN Let’s not speak ill of The Devil’s Advocate okay? [Slim laughs] It is one of the all-time camp classics.
SLIM Sean, you cannot defend the accent he does in that movie, please.
SEAN In fact, I have and I will. [Gemma laughs] I think there’s a moment in the climax of the film when it’s revealed that Al Pacino is in fact, the devil. And he wants to bring the Florida lawyer played by Keanu Reeves into his fold. [Slim laughs] And Keanu is apoplectic about the idea of being brought into the fold. But he also realizes that he has something in common with Satan—which is that he’s a winner. And Keanu literally says I think something to the effect of, “I am a winner! I win!’’
[clip of The Devil’s Advocate plays]
KEVIN I WIN! I WIN! I’m a lawyer! That’s my job! That’s what I do!
[clip of The Devil’s Advocate ends]
SEAN That’s acting guys. [Gemma laughs] That is channeling Gainesville and acting. I love that movie. It’s very bad but I love it.
GEMMA Look, Keanu’s Canadian accent in Toy Story 4—flawless. Flawless.
SEAN Oh, that’s tremendous. Yes!
GEMMA And anyway, I just dropped Slim a screenshot of Keanu and Denzel in Much Ado About Nothing.
SLIM That’s a sexy-ass outfit that they’re wearing. Holy cow. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Tell me—
SLIM Those swords and those boots!
GEMMA Tell me you’re not bi after looking at that. I mean, oh my god.
SEAN I need Kenneth Branagh to go back to this. I need him to go back to adapting the Shakespearean works. This is really where he was at his best. Those movies are great for the ’90s.
GEMMA I just think if you haven’t experienced Shakespearean prose coming out of Keanu’s mouth, you haven’t lived. [Sean laughs]
SEAN I look forward to Denzel doing it again.
GEMMA I don’t even know how to segue. I know how to segue. I mean, since we’re talking about handsome men, let’s talk about 1972. Michael Ritchie’s political film The Candidate, starring the sideburns himself—Robert Redford. [Sean laughs]
SLIM 3.5 on Letterboxd. Bill McKay is a candidate for the US Senate from California but he has no hope of winning. So he is willing to tweak the establishment. Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, when was the first time he saw The Candidate?
SEAN It’s got to be in my adult life. I don’t know when it was. I probably was doing a Robert Redford completist run. This is not—at the time, it was a well received film but not a hit by any means, at least relative to what Redford was doing at the box office otherwise. Not Michael Ritchie’s biggest hit.
GEMMA It’s got, you know—you are one of twelve people on Letterboxd who have it in their four faves. Like that’s just a small dinner party right there.
SLIM Exclusive list.
SEAN Wow, only twelve people.
GEMMA Yeah, twelve people. And also I just feel like—before we dive into it—I feel like that synopsis is sort of inaccurate in terms of similarly how Bill McKay begins as somewhat of a puppet in somebody else’s—in this case, the Democratic Party’s, you know, henchmen’s plans.
SEAN I’m glad you say that because I like all, I guess, aspirant cinephiles love the cinema of the ’70s, especially US films from the ’70s. And Network was a movie that kind of like, split my head open the first time I saw it. And I couldn’t believe you could say those things in a movie and share those ideas and challenge audiences to consider some of the ideas that were in a movie like that. And I watched Network over and over and over and over again in my early twenties. And I was just consumed by it. And then eventually, like some records, I was just like, I burnt myself out on it. And I think I have taken The Candidate as my new Network, because I think it’s like the soft, kind of lowercase flip side of what network is trying to say—which is about kind of ruthless ambition and the untrustworthiness of machines and politics and the cultural forces that conspire to kind of hold people down and make them think the way that they want them to think. But it’s not a movie with these like bracing, throat-clearing speeches—it’s much more subtle than that. It’s much more observational, and then this lead figure is such a cipher. And that’s no better illustrated than by the time we get to the end of the movie, when he wins, and he has no idea what he wants to do with his win, and doesn’t even really seem to care about his win. And it tells you everything you need to know!
GEMMA His dad is just gleeful. His dad is like, “You’re a politician now.”
SLIM God, has there ever been a more haunting line delivered to someone being told that? My god.
SEAN I mean, now what? You know, it’s the ultimate now what? And I have found in my life and in my career, that the people who are the most ruthlessly ambitious, have the least idea of what they really want. You know, they only want success, and they don’t really understand why. And, you know, it’s a little bit pretentious to say that this is a movie about America, but it’s very much a movie about America. And about the way that Americans are kind of trained to think and train to live. And I am to this day kind of blown away by how graceful and acidic it is. And I don’t think that there are many movies since that have been able to kind of summarize that very distinct national sensation that is still relevant. That is still a part of—I mean, American politics is as bad as it’s ever been.
SLIM Still hugely relevant.
SEAN And fame as a means to leadership, as a means to rule is as relevant a point as it ever has been. And also using Redford, you know, who is a matinee idol and a beloved person in our culture, and putting him in this kind of like, empty suit—almost literally—was such a crafty choice on his part as an actor, on the filmmakers part. It’s just such a cool movie. I wish more people have seen it.
GEMMA Yeah, undoubtedly a crafty move. I mean, this movie was made and came out within the decade that the Kennedys were assassinated. There are a whole lot of things that—well, first of all, I did not like watching this movie. It was way too early for me to be watching American politics. As Parker writes on Letterboxd: “I can’t understand modern satire because the actual news is even weirder and apparently I can’t understand old satire because it seems like it’s just how the world is now.” And I was like, yeah, I actually, you know, I like watching movies for the pleasure and delight they give me, not for the constant triggers. And I found this one, I mean, triggering in a few ways not just because we are still within the year of a presidential change, but also because I have a past life in politics. I’ve been on the circuit for two, possibly three, general elections in this country and there’s just so much of it that rang true. Even, you know, I’ve been part of a crew that has followed a politician and I loved—so for me I connected the most with that movie production crew. The guy with the—what was he doing? He had a like a bag of hard candy.
GEMMA And he keeps hammering it into small pieces so that he can chug sugar while he’s thinking up best to—
SLIM He even had walnuts.
GEMMA My god. What even was that? How best to make Robert Redford look good in sound bites? And the whole Natalie Wood bit where—and these things happen. You have celebrities who come to endorse you who wait backstage for their five minutes with you, for the photo. And then there’s that the other guy who’s just trying to get a few words with Natalie Wood because he’s close to fame. And it’s all so awkward, but so brilliantly rendered in a naturalistic style. That you almost—it’s almost impossible to interpret the change in Robert Redford as the film goes on. Until, for me, that moment in the car when he’s practicing his speech.
[clip of The Candidate plays]
BILL Oh no. Can’t any longer play off Black against old, young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless. Feed its foodless. They’re demanding a government of the people. Peopled by people. Our faith, our compassion, our courage on the gridiron.
[clip of The Candidate ends]
GEMMA Figuring out how to sound better and better and the operatives in the front seat just going, ‘Oh god, he is the monster. We’ve created a monster.’
SEAN It’s also very sharply observed campaign-trail movie, which is something that I think is difficult to pull off. And if you’ve been in that orbit, then you know that it is kind of weird all the time. It reminds me a lot of the Richard Ben Cramer book What It Takes—I don’t know if you guys have read that book, but that was like a kind of a foundational text in journalism school. And, you know, it’s a story about the 1988 presidential race, and Dukakis and Gary Hart and all these complex characters on the American scene at the time, and this movie is sixteen years before that. Totally gets how quickly everyone becomes completely self-obsessed and starts to evacuate their ethics and is only really striving for a win. You know, it’s basically a win-at-all-costs kind of lifestyle, but also goofy as hell and populated by people who are like young and inexperienced, and, you know, the Redford character in particular is so inexperienced and starts out as this total rube and starts to devolve into this cynical figure and he becomes a celebrity and you know, he’s got women asking him to sign their breasts. It’s just such a—but like, it all feels kind of real. You know, it’s very handheld and documentary feel at times. And it’s not—it doesn’t pick a side but it’s pretty clear what side it’s on. Like, you can make the case that Redford is this like agglomeration of Kennedy and Nixon, right? That his politics and his approach feels kind of Nixonian, but also he has that, like, handsome American quality that the Kennedy family had. And so it is—it’s kind of dissing everyone, you know, it’s a movie that kind of hates everyone and I kind of like that about it, honestly.
GEMMA And if more people had seen it, we may have learned more from it.
SEAN Yeah, well, I’m a little dubious about what movies can teach us about how to be alive. That’s a talking point of mine. [Gemma & Slim laugh] But I at least like to know how people think and it does seem like a movie that helps us understand how people think.
SLIM I didn’t know this was the same director as Fletch. Classic.
GEMMA And Bad News Bears.
SEAN Michael Ritchie is the greatest. Yes.
SLIM God, Bad News Bears. A couple of hits under their belt. Yeah, to start off the movie, I just continually forget how attractive and charismatic Robert Redford is. I mean, from the first scene, you’re like, man, I need to watch more Robert Redford movies. What am I doing in my life? But it was fascinating to see a movie for me with Peter Boyle in a leading role when he was younger. You know, I haven’t seen a ton of movies with Peter Boyle where he’s not an older man and that’s kind of like his bit or his shtick, you know, in his acting. I thought he was amazing in this film. So my eyes have been opened to Peter Boyle for sure.
SEAN Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s not—it’s shortly after the film, Joe, the John Avildsen film, and it’s before Young Frankenstein. So it’s in this—and before Taxi Driver and a handful of other movies—and for Redford, it’s an interesting time for him because it’s after he’s become famous in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidand become like a big, big star. But that year, he made three of my favorite movies ever. He made Jeremiah Johnson, he made The Hot Rock, which I think is like, one of the all-time great caper movies and this movie. And that’s kind of mind-blowing, you know? And this is the least successful of the three, but the kind of the range of the roles that he’s playing, the idea of playing a mountain man and like a city-bound bank robber and a politician. The fact that he obviously was one of the most beautiful people on Earth. The fact that he was already—he always had incredible taste. That was kind of his shtick was, I know how to cast myself in parts. And I know how to build my own mythology in real time. He’s so savvy about those things. So the idea of taking on a role like that, in which casting yourself into a part of a politician is like, the icing on the cake of the 1972 for Robert Redford. He’s just, you know, such an interesting figure in the history of movies.
SLIM Also that poster for Jeremiah Johnson is ridiculous, too. I rememb er seeing that at the video store for years and I was like, ‘Man, one day I’ll watch you, Jeremiah Johnson.’
SEAN Yeah, who is that guy? [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM Who are you? And I still haven’t 30 years later. We talked about a resurgence for Peter Boyle and maybe already for Robert Redford. But there’s something brewing on this podcast and it has been for some time—is a resurgence in Ernest R. Dickerson movies. Ernest has popped up several times on this show. And we’re doing it again for your final fave Juice, 1992. 3.5 on Letterboxd. 109 fans. There’s just something in the air. I’m not sure what it is. But my eyes have been opened several times already for this episode. But Ernest—watched a few movies this year. So this one is four Harlem friends—Bishop, Q, Steel and Raheem—dabble in petty crime, but they decide to go big by knocking off a convenience store. Bishop, the leader of the group, has the gun. But Q has different aspirations and everything eventually breaks down after that. And you have said Sean that—and I quote—“probably not overstating things to say that this movie changed my life”. Tell us about Juice.
SEAN It’s certainly a movie that I saw on television and not in a movie theater. And it was in the so-called HBO rotation, which is to say, my parents were divorced. My mom worked two jobs. I was often babysat by the television and would come home and watch TV and movies all day long. We were fortunate enough to have Home Box Office in our house. And they would air Juice at four o’clock in the afternoon.
SEAN Which is pretty crazy because, you know, it’s a very intense, violent—it’s kind of a modern noir in some ways. It’s a street-crime movie. It’s a movie that would have starred Richard Widmark if it were made in the 1940s. And instead it stars Tupac. And at about 1992, 1993 I started becoming obsessed with hip-hop. This is a golden age for hip-hop. I eventually went on to basically spent the first ten years of my career as a hip-hop writer, editor, journalist. That was what I did before I became a person who worked at a sports and pop-culture podcasting company. And Tupac famously not—he identified as a West Coast rapper. He’s born on the East Coast but identified as a West Coast rapper. But this is a very East Coast story. Ernest Dickerson is a very East Coast filmmaker—obviously best known as probably cinematographer for a lot of Spike Lee’s greatest works. But great, great director in his own right. I’m actually curious to know who else wants to talk about his films on your show because he’s kind of more of known as a genre maven than a classy filmmaker. You know, he makes like Demon Knight and Bones.
SEAN Oh, the king of genre.
GEMMA And king of genre and Vinegar Syndrome and all of that. So yeah, we went deep on Bones with Justin. But Juice is his first narrative feature as a director, so he’d filmed a bunch of them for, as you say, for Spike before this, but this is his first outing as director and it’s still his most popular film on Letterboxd. I don’t know if it’s his highest-rated. No, no. But yeah—it is his top-rated as well. So Bones, sorry Bones. But interesting thing that’s been happening and I keep talking about this every episode over the last—because we turned ten, Letterboxd, and so we’ve got ten years of data to look at. And we did a fun piece of data diving which was looking at the films that have over the course of the ten years of Letterboxdhad the most—how do you—the highest rises, really. The most impressive, consistent rise in their rating, no matter what their rating is, over the ten years of Letterboxd, which essentially means that people are giving these films their due. And they sort of fall into five subgenres and one of those subgenres is Black horror and noir. And it is things like Juice and Deep Cover, you know, getting their day, getting the moment in the sun, thanks to a sort of widening Letterboxd membership. And so I feel like, yeah, we’re closing in on a massive Dickerson renaissance, aren’t we?
SEAN I love that. I mean, he obviously deserves all of that. It’s been interesting to watch him kind of take ownership of his role as a genre master, you know, seeing him in the Black Noire Shudder documentary series and talking about what the intentionality of Bones—I think Bones in particular was like completely misunderstood when it was first released and dismissed as most horror movies are. I don’t have a horror movie in my four faves. But I am an avowed and kind of insane horror fan. And I like what he does with horror films. Juice feels like a bridge in some ways, I think, between some of the work that he was doing with Spike and kind of the genre work that he would go on to do because it is, you know, it is a movie about friendship, but it’s also a morality play. It’s a story about harassment from the police. It’s a story about the challenges of gun violence. If you live in the inner city in 1992, like what options do you have? You know, like the Bishop character is this lightning rod for a debate around how to survive. And, you know, Dickerson has his finger on the pulse of something. The music in the film, the kind of like, almost nightmarish final 45 minutes of this movie.
SEAN The way that his character kind of descends into the madness of Bishop and like being stalked the way you’d be stalked by a monster in a horror movie. It’s such a cool fusion, I think, of the things that fascinate him. And it never—it never lowers itself to what I think some people hold against things like horror, you know, it doesn’t—there’s no jump scares in this movie necessarily.
SLIM It does feel like a horror movie in the last 40 minutes or so. It feels like it shifts—like I went in not even reading the synopsis. So I was pretty surprised about how dark and thriller-ish it gets, you know, when Bishop is kind of like on the hunt for Q and vice versa. It is shockingly so. And I think that speaks to Dickerson again.
GEMMA Yeah. And I wrote in my review that Omar Epps—so the character of Q—he feels like a ‘final boy’ to me. You know, he’s just trying to get on with his life and get out of this specific socio-economic, you know, status by winning a DJ competition—emceed by Queen Latifah—and meanwhile, one of his best friends, has become possessed in some way, by the idea of what it takes to get up that social ladder. And then the rest of the film is just, you know, one by one people dying, and Q trying to not have that happen to him and figure it out. There’s a theory—and I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but I’ve seen this in a couple of Letterboxd reviews. There’s a theory that Samuel L Jackson’s character Trip is the key to Bishop’s turning.
SEAN Yeah, I could see that. I like to see the movie as almost like a response to the kind of late-’80s white ‘secret to my success, bright lights, big city’ kind of story too. That whole—that whole run with Q in the first hour, hour and a half, where you’re like, this kid really wants to be a successful DJ, like he is so driven. It’s much more of a bootstraps kind of ‘how do I get out of this situation?’ movie. It feels like that’s what you’re watching for the first hour. And then you’re in the world of Dr. Dre and Ed Lover and Latifah is there like you say. And all the music—I mean ‘Know The Ledge’, the Rakim and Eric B. song that is sort of the theme song of this film is like literally one of the greatest rap songs of all time. Just a propulsive, brilliant, kind of incredibly like literate and fast-moving and exciting song. But kind of laced throughout the movie, there’s great music from great artists of that time. And then, like you were saying Slim, the movie just turns. It just turns on a dime and you’re like, oh wow, Bishop is Dracula. You know, he’s the Wolfman. He is this monster that you have to find a way to escape and obviously, like, he’s representational, I think of something that a lot of people in that community at that time—or really in a lot of ways, it’s a movie about being in high school. And sometimes you get—you know when you’re in high school and you meet a friend and you’re like, this friend’s a lot of fun, but I feel like you might get me into trouble. And you have to decide if you want to keep spending time with that friend. Like I had friends like that in high school. And there’s something very relatable about that on a very small scale.
SLIM I still have friends like that.
SEAN Yeah, exactly!
GEMMA I was that friend in high school. [Slim & Sean laugh]
SEAN I can assure you I was not.
SLIM How about when he wins that round of the competition and he goes over to see his friends? How depressing was their reaction to that? And then they leave. God damn. That was awful to watch.
SEAN Yeah, it’s—Q is—he’s an unusual and again, a kind of a hapless figure. He is a little bit of a ‘final boy’, Gemma, I think that’s a smart observation. But there’s something like—I don’t know—Omar Epps is a leading man who was a little lost in time. In this period, he was a pretty key figure. You know, obviously Love & Basketball, Major League II, he famously replaced Wesley Snipes, you know, he was in a lot of—Higher Learning. He was really at the center of a lot of big movies at that time. And he had the ability to do a little bit of a Jimmy Stewart thing, where he was like, this guy is definitely the most empathetic figure in the middle of the movie. But that doesn’t mean he’s really necessarily like, good at anything. You know? Like Henry Fonda would be a moral man. But Jimmy Stewart was just like a guy that stuff would happen to.
GEMMA Yeah, you’re not like putting Denzel in the middle of it.
SEAN Exactly, exactly. He wasn’t effortlessly charismatic and heroic. But he was very good at that kind of part. And he was very good in those kinds of movies.
SLIM I just forgot until this exact moment, that I looked at his filmography on Letterboxd, one of my favorite movies growing up was in 1999’s The Wood.
SEAN Oh, great movie.
SLIM My god, I need to go rewatch that movie.
GEMMA I’m putting that on my watchlist right now.
SEAN One of the other things that I just realized looking at this very quickly is the two producers in this movie are David Heyman and Neal Moritz, who are now arguably two of the five most powerful producers in all of Hollywood. David Heyman, who produced the Harry Potter movies and just produced Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. And Neal Moritz, who is the owner and operator of the Fast and Furious films, that’s kind of amazing to see that some of their earliest credits are on this small crime drama directed by Ernest Dickerson. That’s a neat little fact about it.
GEMMA With an absolutely banging soundtrack. And that’s—
GEMMA You know, what’s so great about that is that there are so many films as we’ve been discovering on this podcast that have banging soundtracks and because of that, they are unavailable, because music clearances being what they are, and you know, ownership of masters moving from company to company make it quite tricky to clear these things years later, when cinephiles like us come upon them and go, ‘Oh my god, this must be re-released.’ So how brilliant and I think that that’s, you know, maybe that’s a big part of his success. Maybe that’s why it was played at four o’clock in the afternoon, was because of the—
SEAN I think so!
GEMMA —soundtrack right?
SEAN I think so. I mean, I think it was played also because it was like, it would often be in kind of a double feature with Lean On Me for example, I remember those two movies playing all the time.
GEMMA Oh yeah.
SEAN But it’s funny you say that. I’m going to plug something that I worked on, because why not?
SLIM Never. [Gemma laughs]
SEAN In December, there’s a documentary that we helped produce called Mr. Saturday Night that’s going to air on HBO. And it’s all about Robert Stigwood, who is famed music mogul who managed the Bee Gees among many other acts, was behind many rock-opera musicals of the 1970s, and also produced—
GEMMA He made Times Square!
GEMMA He made Times Square.
SEAN He made Times Square.
GEMMA The film with the amazing soundtrack that needs to be released.
SEAN And Saturday Night Fever and Grease and the film was primarily about how he kind of conceptualized Saturday Night Fever, which started out as a magazine article, but because he worked so closely with the Bee Gees, he saw it as the sort of document of disco culture. And that is the film that really kind of synergized music and movies in a big way. And obviously, that went on to be like the biggest soundtrack of all time. But it was fascinating just working on that film, and trying to locate the origins of that thing that you were just talking about, which is if you get a profound document of music, a series of artists that represent a youth culture, you’re tapping into an audience that otherwise might not have been there. And because I was getting so rap crazy at this time in my life, I was eleven, twelve years old, Juice was like a—it was like a siren call to me, it was like have to check this out. There’s, you know, there’s a Cypress Hill song in this movie, there’s a Big Daddy Kane song in this movie, all these artists who I was discovering at that time. But you’re also right that it’s harder now to see some of those movies, on streaming services and elsewhere, because there’s all kinds of weird clearance issues.
GEMMA Also hard to see these days was Steel’s insane fall look, the red lumberjack overalls with the striped shirt underneath and the tartan hat. I feel like hats need to come back. I feel like men in lumberjack overalls needs to come back. I feel like there were some insane sneaker-porn shots in this film, in Juice. You know, like there’s that one sequence where all four of them are tying up their shoelaces and it was just like, you know, that is speaking deeply to the culture. That kind of stuff is meme-able in the extreme, even to this day. I loved it. Love, love, love.
SEAN Yeah, and that’s actually Jermaine Hopkins who plays Steel is like the bridge between Lean On Me in this film. You know, he is famously the kid who, you know, Joe, the principal Joe like acosts on the roof and who he kind of like coaches out of his adolescence, and he’s like, just such a memorable character actor of that period.
SLIM We’ve made it through the faves.
GEMMA We’ve made it through the dudes!
SLIM We’ve made it through—[Slim laughs] Well I have more dudes to talk about, okay Gemma? [Gemma laughs] I have many more dudes on my list. We have another segment on the show that we like to talk about with folks that are Patrons of Letterboxd—get access to a whole suite of stats. And we don’t usually tell the guests when we do this, but there’s a section on the stats page for your profile where we highlight your Rated Higher Than Average movies. So movies that you’ve given higher than the Letterboxd average.
SLIM So I have spotlit a few. I’m looking at the list right now. One that I grew up with that probably shaped who I am today is currently a 3.8 average on Letterboxd. Airplane!. Did you have—did you grow up on that movie? Was that a rewatched movie growing up?
SEAN Yes, 100%. Very similarly in that HBO fashion that I was describing as a kid. It’s funny you bring that up, because, obviously, Airplane! is not a Mel Brooks movie—but my father was in town, saw my father for the first time, basically two years since pandemic hit. And we had a great time. We’re hanging out together over the weekend. And we watched Young Frankenstein together, which I just mentioned earlier, and then we got into a conversation about comedies that we love. And that was just something that he showed me as a kid. And again, my father, not a cinephile, but really loved comedies of that era, mid ’70s, late ’70s. And I don’t know, I don’t know if Airplane! has aged well, necessarily. It’s kind of hard to remember, like, all of the jokes, but I did watch it at one point in the earlier stages, it felt like a late-2020 rewatch. And again, just infiltrated the pleasure centers of my mind. You know, I was like, this is just like a nice warm cup of chamomile tea for me. You know, I can just lay in bed with my wife and just relax and laugh at the idiocy and enjoy, you know, that moment in comedy history.
GEMMA The other interesting fact about you that we can see in your Rated Higher Than Average is that I think—I actually think listeners, that Slim may have found his soulmate. [Slim laughs]
SEAN Wow. This is exciting.
SLIM Finally, after all these years. Sorry wife.
GEMMA Finally, after all these years, Slim and Sean, it’s a beautiful thing. I think you’re gonna go off and start a whole new podcast called Cruise Control. [Slim laughs] Based on your clear and obvious shared mutual love for a certain actor, given that you’ve given five stars to—here we go—The Color of Money, Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men. There’s got to be some other Toms in there.
SLIM There’s gotta be more.
GEMMA All I’m saying is there’s a lot of Tom on this list that you’ve given the full five to. [Sean sighs]
SEAN Well, there are a couple reasons for that.
SLIM He’s amazing. [Gemma laughs]
SEAN One, he’s amazing. He’s the pinnacle of magnetic screen presence in the 1990s. I don’t love all of his films. I have literally no comment about anything in his personal life. But I thought we were going to have the all-time Tom Cruise year in 2020 as I was preparing for the new Mission Impossible movie and Top Gun: Maverick. So, you know, he’s kind of an ongoing obsession of my co-hosts on The Big Picture, Amanda Dobbins, my boss, Bill Simmons, he also was fascinated by Tom. We’ve done many Tom Cruise movies on The Rewatchables podcast over the years. My buddy Chris Ryan who I podcast with all the time loves Tom. We’re kind of fascinated by him as a cultural figure through the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. And the various stages in the way that he conceived of himself kind of goes back to that Robert Redford conversation we were having, you know, someone who is so famous and so aware of their own charisma, that they seem to be almost commenting on it in real time. And even those movies that you just mentioned that I like a lot, those movies are self-conscious riffs on his own fame. He’s made a lot of bad movies over the years too. You know, Cocktail and Jack Reacher and there’s a handful that I’m like, this doesn’t work that well.
SLIM I’m gonna cut that part out. I’m gonna cut that comment out. [Gemma laughs] Edit note for Matt.
GEMMA You chaps keep talking. I am frantically looking for someone who has rated every Nicole Kidman film five stars so I could have them on the show next week just to correct what’s going on here.
SLIM One other comment on Tom, Tom also fascinates me. I mean, he has this magnetic charisma that I just found so intriguing. And my buddies and I used to do a podcast, it’s semi-retired where we go through his filmography one by one and talk about each movie. I would love to just have a conversation with him, whether it be off air or like on a podcast. But you just want—what is he like? You know, like, what does he think of movies? What does he watch? What does he like? You know, that just fascinates me so much. But he’s like, you know, a recluse now.
SEAN I would imagine that he is quite platitudinous, you know? That he is so trained as to not share an opinion that would go too far in any direction, because he has been so astronomically famous for so long. Now in his like, most intimate and private moments, would you have a great conversation with him? I don’t know. It’s interesting when someone gets to that level of fame, though, that you don’t even really feel like you have access to—
SLIM You’re not talking to the person.
SEAN A person’s point of view, really, at all. I think to him, by all accounts, his life is his work. His life is jumping out of planes at the age of 60 years old, so that he can show that he is still the center of moviemaking and action moviemaking. And on the one hand, I think that’s kind of admirable and interesting. On the other hand, I think it’s like kind of sad, a little scary. But he’s fascinating no less. He’s continuously putting himself in danger in an effort to make those movies exciting.
GEMMA I will allow this, on Tom Cruise—
SLIM Thank you.
GEMMA Which also kind of relates to what you were saying, Sean, about Robert Redford and his brilliant choices, and also to Toshiro Mifune, to the wonderful Mifune-san. I guess is that it must be extraordinarily vulnerable and somewhat terrifying and often lonely, for not just your career and livelihood, but for the livelihoods of many thousands of people, and, in fact, huge studios to depend on your physical body for their livelihoods. And that must create an incredibly strange bubble to live in.
SEAN I think that’s well observed. I think that there is a burden that comes along with that, that is very, that is arduous and probably is damaging, honestly, to your psyche, when you feel like the weight of—literally the weight of the world at times is on your shoulders, that 1,000 people are employed because you are you and you can walk.
GEMMA And to make the money back, you have to play the game of the publicity. And that’s the person we see.
GEMMA You know? There’s a thing going around today today about Kristen Stewart just having no time for someone’s question on the latest, you know, on the Spencer PR tour and and it’s like yeah, there’s a human right there. There are humans on both sides. You know, there’s a—anyway, we could—that’s a whole other conversation that we could have.
SLIM Gemma stopped herself before realizing that she was giving Tom props. I think she realized what was happening. [Gemma laughs] As she got in too deep. And was like, I need to bail out.
GEMMA Eject! Eject! [Slim laughs]
SLIM So Sean, if you could think of maybe, you know, we talked about adding movies to watchlists, we’ve already hit many. But is there any movies from the last year that maybe you would want Letterboxd users to add to their watchlists? Maybe they haven’t checked it out yet? Or what are like ones that really jumped to the top of your list?
GEMMA From the 600 and something that you’ve—
SLIM From the 700 that you’ve seen this year?
SEAN Wow. Old movie or new movie?
GEMMA Both! First-time old watch that stunned you and then a few recents that people should absolutely spend their money on.
SEAN Okay, so I’m looking back at the films that I watched. The most perverse experience that I’ve had since my daughter was born is within the first three weeks of her birth, I’ve been watching films with my earbuds in and I watched Lamberto Bava’s Demons. It was at like seven o’clock in the morning but I was like I’ve always wanted to watch Demons. I think it was streaming on Shudder. That was a great experience, if people wanna check that out. On a slightly more serious tip, I saw Cassavetes’ Gloria for the first time. I’d never seen that before. And I thought that that was also a fascinating movie. Kind of maybe a neat double bill with Juice because it’s a very similar kind of like city-bound chase film about a woman who is sort of an adoptive mother to a young boy after the boy’s family is killed by the mafia, which sounds like kind of a crunchy crime thriller but it’s much more, perhaps predictably being from Cassavetes, much more kind of emotional and elusive than that. And Gena Rowlands is of course his longtime partner is the star of the movie—unbelievable performance from her. And it’s a movie that feels like Cassavetes acquiescing to a couple of things in terms of making a film somewhat slightly more palpable to mainstream audiences without necessarily sacrificing his incredible point of view and his willingness to like, push his actors and his characters into increasingly dramatic and unusual and awkward and difficult and disquieting situations. Very, very, very cool movie. Also brilliant performance—I don’t know what the young actor’s name is. The the kid who plays the little boy—is it John—
SLIM Timothée Chalamet. [Sean laughs]
SEAN It is not. I think it’s John Adames. But he gives an incredible performance in this movie. One new movie—this is a movie that is not out yet, but this movie’s been rattling around in my head ever since I saw it. I saw it about a month ago. It’s called Red Rocket. It’s Sean Baker’s new movie. Sean Baker, power user on Letterboxd.
GEMMA Oh yeah.
SEAN Great filmmaker. I love Sean. I love his films. Red Rocket I think is his best movie. I thought it was fascinating. It’s been on my mind ever since I saw it. And speaking of movies that are about something very small but mean something very big, I think Red Rocket is one of those kinds of movies so I’ll give a lot of shout-out too.
SLIM You mentioned to Shudder for Demons. Is Shudder the gift that just keeps on giving of all the streaming services?
SEAN I’m so pro. Yes, I love it. It’s because it’s the new stuff is good but the editorial curation on old stuff and there’s such a—if you talk to Justin LaLiberty for example, you know, like that there are so many unseen, need-to-be-re-examined, horror movies over the last 60 years. And they’re constantly—they’ll just every month, they’ll just be like actually, what about this one? You know, what about Witchfinder General this month? You know, check that out. You might enjoy it. It’s crazy. They do a great job.
SLIM Shudder, call us. We’re here. [Slim & Sean laugh]
GEMMA I just want to read you—to finish on Red Rocket, a Letterboxd review by Sean Baker of a film called Bodied from 2017 and Sean reviewed this in November 2018. And he writes: “Simon Rex has an extremely amusing cameo. Love him. I’d like to see him tackle a dramatic role.”
SLIM Oh my god. Wow.
SEAN Incredible. It started on Letterboxd, guys!
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show and thanks to our guest this episode, Sean Fennessey. Tune into The Big Picture podcast and The Rewatchables and all things Ringer for more Sean and follow him on Letterboxd, of course. You can also follow Slim, Gemma—that’s me—and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes.
SLIM Thanks to our crew, composing dynamos, Moniker for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque. Thanks to Jack for the facts, our booker Linda Moulton for looking after our guests and Sophie Shin for the episode transcript. And to you, for listening. If you have a minute, drop a review over at Apple Podcasts for us. We love feedback. The Letterboxd Show is a TAPEDECK production. And that’s the show, Gemma.
GEMMA Hey Slim. Do you know who’s happy?
GEMMA Clams. Clams are happy. [Slim laughs]
SLIM So pleased with yourself with that one.
[clip of The Candidate plays]
BILL’S FORMER COWORKER I saw something out there tonight. Believe me. This is really effective. I can feel it. You can do it. You can go all the way. Look Ed, you and I both know this is bullshit, but the point is they’re believing it.
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.