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 2.01: Gemma and Slim
[clip of Strictly Ballroom plays]
DOUG I find it difficult to get to film’s now. It’s all video, video, video.
[clip of Strictly Ballroom ends]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Hello and welcome to The Letterboxd Show a podcast about movies from Letterboxd: the social network for film lovers. Each episode host Gemma and Slim—that’s me—will be joined by Letterboxd friends for discussion about their top four on Letterboxd, the four movies you choose as your favorite films on your Letterboxd profile. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the community and add new movies to your watchlist. We’ll have links in the episode notes to the movies, lists and profiles we talk about so you can follow along too.
GEMMA And we’ll be having a revolving cast of friends on the show. Filmmakers, podcasters comedians and normal people just like me and you, Slim, who love to sit down and watch a movie and log it on letterboxd. This episode, to ease us in and introduce you to your new hosting duo, we are talking with each other! And in future episodes, you’ll be hearing from us a lot. So we wanted to share how we connect with movies.
GEMMA Slim’s top four includes: Robocop from 1987. His review says, “turn this movie into a white powder so I can snort it.” I love that. [Slim laughs] It’s perfect. Now—on with the show.
SLIM We’re here. Gemma, hello.
GEMMA Hello Slim!
SLIM The new season of The Letterboxd Show and the first thing that jumped into my mind was since we’re gonna be talking about our top fours, were you feeling excitement or extreme dread knowing that you might have to watch Vanilla Sky ahead of this recording since it’s in my top four?
GEMMA I am going to be deeply honest with you. I have an aversion to Tom Cruise at the best of times.
SLIM Can’t believe this is the first and last episode of the new season. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA That’s all folks, thank you very much! [Slim laughs] And I think this is something that we’ve only just realized about each other and maybe this was a terrible idea. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Literally the first conversation we have on the show about our diametrically opposed views on the actor known as Tom Cruise.
GEMMA Let me just say I am team Nicole.
SLIM Okay. [Slim & Gemma laugh] I mean, that also just paints a view of this podcast for the listeners and maybe that’s a positive.
GEMMA Maybe in the end. We’ve got team Nicole, we’ve got team Tom. This is gonna affect all guests we invite on for the future.
SLIM I was thinking before we dig in to kind of the actual content of the show, our top fours. Maybe we talk about how we got to this point together. You know, I’ve often said that Letterboxd is personally my favorite social media site. And it inspired a podcast about movies I do called 70mm. Also, like many people, I just like to veg out and watch movies whether that be in a movie theater, or on my phone. God forbid, I’ll watch a movie on my phone. I don’t care.
GEMMA The way Scorsese intended. [Slim laughs]
SLIM That’s right. And it’ll be whatever movie that pops across my feed. It could be a bad horror movie, it could be a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie on Tubi, that I’ll sit down and watch if it autoplays. But everyone has, you know, this ability to list their top four on Letterboxd and it’s kind of a cool, unique insight into that person and how they connect with movies. But what’s your vibe with the top four itself on Letterboxd? I think everyone has kind of their own opinion on it.
GEMMA Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about this from the perspective of, for example, the Letterboxd couple, the Mank couple. And you know, if you’re looking for love and you think that Letterboxd might be one of the ways in which you could do that, I imagine that top four information could come more in handy then “good sense of humor, likes walks in the park” which feels very generic. Whereas, you know, saying “these are my four favorite movies” is a bit more information about a person and a bit more insight into their personality, potentially their generation. But also, I don’t know, it’s the most prominent part of your Letterboxd profile right? So whether it’s that you just a pure, unadulterated cinema lover, or a next level cinephile who likes to show off. When you’re setting up your profile, it’s kind of the first thing we ask members to do when they’re joining Letterboxd for the first time. Some people use it to show off their most recent favorite fours. And others list only one film in all four spots, which I kind of love. And I’m definitely on the hunt for one of those for an episode of this. And then there are the people who never changed theirs, which I’m totally guilty of.
SLIM You were saying how you might not have even changed yours since 2011.
GEMMA I have changed one film in my top four, I think, since I joined Letterboxd ten years ago.
GEMMA There is no going back. And Paul King has cotton socks—or whatever fiber—in his socks. [Slim laughs] He has done the movie world and families everywhere and darkest bear from darkest Peru fans everywhere, the most magnificent favor by bringing Paddington to the screen.
SLIM God bless.
GEMMA Yeah, and I think—can we talk about Paddington yet? [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM We can get into Paddington. So we have ahead of this episode, you know, I think we both went back and we looked at each other’s top four. That’s kind of the idea of this show. We want to talk with people in the community, filmmakers, podcast hosts, comedians, about their top four. Learn more about what made them choose that. What kind of memories they have watching those films. The kind of feelings that you get when thinking about your top four. I think we kind of saw that a little bit or heard it a little bit when you were talking about yours. I think evokes a strong feeling when someone asks you “What’s your top four?” You kind of like throw your head back, like “Oh my god. Yeah! Can’t wait to think about this.” So we went and kind of watched each other’s top fours. And we talked a little bit about Tom. Tom Cruise, the Tom Cruise.
GEMMA We talked enough about Tom. [Slim laughs] We have talked enough.
SLIM We’ve already passed the Vanilla Sky segment already in my top four. But your top four, I hadn’t seen three of the four before.
GEMMA Well, if that’s true, that is that is a genius crossover right there, for fashion and film.
SLIM it is. It is. Probably the best part about that movie. But that’s neither here nor there.
GEMMA Also a nice New Zealand connection with our own Karl Urban taking on the role again more recently.
SLIM Oh, that’s right. Yeah, I forgot about the new one.
GEMMA Yeah, so I guess should we tell our lovely listeners our top fours so they know what’s coming in the conversation?
SLIM Let’s hear it.
GEMMA Okay. So, Slim, your top four.
SLIM My top four—I need everyone to just get ready for this top four. This is as explanatory as you can get about me. My number one—which we don’t have to get into anymore. Tom Cruise, Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky. There’s a story behind that. Maybe for another day, we can get into that.
GEMMA Okay, I’m gonna let you tell that story. Just maybe in about 20 minutes. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA I’m so curious about why that Scorsese and I cannot wait to ask you.
SLIM A lot of fond memories. And my final one, which is a recent addition, this movie actually pushed out North by Northwest. Alfred Hitchcock got pushed out for Ninja III: The Domination. Sam Furstenberg, I think is the director of that movie. So maybe in a little bit, we’ll get into that. But what’s your top four?
GEMMA Well, I just wanted to say before we move on from North by Northwest. [Slim & Gemma laughs] That you’ve been on Letterboxd since 2015 according to your account.
SLIM Oh really? Rumors?
GEMMA According to rumours. According to data available to me at this time. And my favorite review of yours is from March 2015. And it is of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and it says “Carrie’s pants height inspires me to this day.” [Slim laughs] And as a fan of the high waisted pant—which will be discussed when we get to Strictly Ballroom, one of my top four. I just want to say, thank you.
SLIM He’s a vision in that movie, everything he does in that movie, he’s like a fashion icon in my opinion.
GEMMA It’s extraordinary. I mean, you know, he’s a mad man. He’s a madman. [Slim laughs] He should be—he should be cutting a sharp figure in that cornfield. Okay, my top four. And I want—does this say a lot about me? I guess it sort of does. Yes? Yeah. Okay, we’ve got A Room With a View, the great Merchant Ivory 1980s period classic. From a novel by E.M. Forster. We have Strictly Ballroom, the very first feature film by Baz Luhrmann and his regular collaborators. Craig Pierce, his co-writer. Katherine Martin, the amazing CM, production designer. And the first of what they call the red curtain trilogy, which includes Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.
SLIM Oh! Didn’t even know that.
GEMMA Strictly Ballroom, yes, deeply Australian. And then we have the great, the mighty Paddington. Paddington 1, I might add. I didn’t even think about whether it was going to be Paddington 2, which is more highly rated, but we’ll get to that. And then finally, Jane Campion’s awesome, erotic thriller set in New York starring Meg Ryan—America’s sweetheart—in a super sexy role [Slim laughs] as Frannie, and that is In the Cut.
SLIM Yeah, I didn’t even know that movie existed until I heard you talking about on a previous Letterboxd Show episode in the past. Totally new to me.
GEMMA Yeah, see?
SLIM Let’s see. So where should we start first?
GEMMA Let’s start with A Room with a View. And I’ll explain the reason that it’s number one in the pack, it’s because it’s got a beautiful backdrop. So when I started at Letterboxd, and that, I was gonna say, the reason you’re here is because you host the great 70mm pod but also Letterboxd is your favorite social network and you’re a podcasting genius. And that’s awesome. The reason I’m here is because I’m paid to be, it’s my job. [Slim laughs] But more than that, I have known the lovely chaps who invented Letterboxd for quite a long time, and was one of the beta users back when they first launched and sent a message ad to the closest nearest and dearest and said “please join our thing we made and let us know how to improve it.” And so the tight knit filmmaking community of New Zealand jumped on board to help them out. And when they started introducing the beautiful feature of having a backdrop on your profile for Patron and Pro level members—wait is that Pro level? Patron?
SLIM It’s Patron.
GEMMA God, I don’t even know our own roles! [Slim laughs]
SLIM Just Patron.
GEMMA Patron members get a beautiful backdrop of the movie that is first in their queue. And I just wanted on my profile the backdrop of one of the best, most romantic kisses in big screen cinema history, which has between Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson Jr. in that field, up that hill, in A Room with a View. Yeah, in fairness, it is definitely in my top five most viewed movies of all time. I watched it again this week in preparation for this. And probably hadn’t actually watched it for a good ten years. But before that, it was definitely a film that I would rent very, very often from the video store. Whenever it would land on TV, I just dropped everything and watch it.
SLIM Did you read the book first?
GEMMA No, I never read the book first. I did eventually read the book in the nineties at some point and adored her closely at Hughes. Look, I’m just gonna explain what happens. For anyone who hasn’t seen A Room with a View. Lucy Honeychurch—now this is the thing, this is a cast to absolutely die for.
SLIM Huge cast.
GEMMA Lucy Honeychurch who is played by the great Helena Bonham Carter and she’s young in this. She’s just a wee young and cute thing. She goes with her mother’s cousin Charlotte Bartlett or ‘poor, poor Charlotte’ as she comes to be known in the film, who is played by the great—now Dame—Maggie Smith to Florence where they stay for weeks at a Pensione with a view of the Arno. Except Lucy and Poor Charlotte do not have a view of the Arno.
[clip of A Room with a View plays]
CHARLOTTE This is not at all what we were led to expect.
LUCY I thought we were going to see the Arno.
CHARLOTTE The senior distinctly route. South rooms with a few close together instead of which is given us North rooms without a view a long way apart!
[clip of A Room with a View ends]
GEMMA Until George Emerson Sr.—the wonderful Denholm Elliott—and George Emerson Jr.—the incredibly handsome in 1985 Julian Sands—offer to swap rooms so Lucy and Charlotte can have a view. It’s a trip to the countryside. George Emerson Jr. shouts “beauty!” from a tree. There’s one of the dreamiest, most sudden kisses ever in the history of cinema. Everyone has sworn to secrecy—especially cousin shallots gossipy new friend, trashy novelist, Eleanor Lavish—who is played by Dame Judi Dench, who many movie viewers these days would know as the sort of the brilliant kindly Judi Dench, she’s just this—yeah, she’s popping off as a gossipy novelist. She’s brilliant. And then we’re back in England, where Lucy Honeychurch is suddenly engaged to Daniel Day Lewis! Duh. Duh. Duh.
SLIM When he appeared on screen, I didn’t even know he was in this movie.
GEMMA I want to know what your reaction was.
SLIM I loved him in this. I mean, first of all, Helena Bonham Carter, I think this is the youngest I’ve ever seen her in a movie. I didn’t realize how vast her catalog was. But man, Daniel Day Lewis.
GEMMA I know.
SLIM In another world in this role and more people should talk about this.
GEMMA It is wild. He plays Cecil Vyse, who is quite buttoned-up or buttoned-down—buttoned-up. [Slim laughs] And it’s also got not one but two manic-pixie-dream boys! Not just Julian Sands but also the wonderful Freddy, Lucy Honeychurch’s little brother.
SLIM Oh yeah.
GEMMA You know, it’s Dames Judi and Maggie absolutely going at it and they’re just chewing it up. And then two brilliant, very different portraits of religious men, the very uptight vicar in Florence and in the wonderful Simon Callow who gets his kit off in a scene that surely by now I must have made it to your Man Ass list.
SLIM I did. I instantly once the skinny-dipping scene hit I was like oh my god, this is a whole lot of man ass that I need to add. It’s not just man ass, it’s man front as well. It’s a long scene, I was thinking, this is a long scene. And then it went kind of like joke aspect of like, this is a great scene. And then I was like, holy crap. This is a long scene. And then it just like kept going. I was like, oh this is a great scene. [Slim laughs] It went long enough to the point where it circled back. It was a lot of fun. There’s the three of them having fun in that, you know, that little spot of water and then them walking out and catching them. I thought it was hilarious.
GEMMA So brilliant. I feel like that Pride & Prejudice scene where Colin Firth rises out of the water and his white shirt that’s, you know, sticking to his pecks gets a lot of airtime and the skinny dipping in the lake scene in A Room with a View does not end and ought to get more airtime. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Yeah, it’s funny, I posted a photo on my Instagram of Daniel Day Lewis. And I got a bunch of people were like A Room with a View? You watching A Room with a View right now? And I had never seen this movie before. But it just like brought out so many of my friends that were like, “Oh my god, I can’t wait to rewatch this. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it myself.” So really opened up something this viewing.
GEMMA I’m delighted to have brought it to you. And I would say that in the great Merchant Ivory productions. It’s the one—it’s the most fun one. I mean, Maurice is a classic in terms of portrayal of queer love in extremely repressed English times. Howards End is just dreary. It’s just dreary. I’m not I’m not a fan. It doesn’t matter that it’s the absolute bomb cast of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I don’t care. I watched it once. I’ll never see it again. But A Room with a View it’s just got all the things in it. It’s got this killer cast that only gets better. You know, the more the more we know about what they’ve gone on to do. But it’s ridiculous and delightful and endlessly quotable. And also—dare I say it—horny.
SLIM I’m glad I watched it and it was a lot of fun.
GEMMA I’m glad you watched it too.
SLIM Which one of mine should we talk about? My top four, are we ready for this? This is a big shift here. We’re going from A Room with a View to—well, you just got finished Casino. Maybe we should jump into Casino. It’s fresh in your mind.
GEMMA Yeah. And I feel like it exists in a similarly heightened world? [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Very heightened, very heightened. More drugs and I think money flowing around. Casino, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro. I was trying to think back, I actually used to work in a video store growing up, I used to work in a West Coast Video chain. And it was the greatest job of all time. Working in a video store. there’s literally nothing better, except for the pay. The pay was terrible. But you get to pretty much watch movies all day, you get to talk movies all day. It’s the dream.
GEMMA I have a question.
GEMMA I never worked in a video store. I did however, spend a lot of time in video stores as a teenager with my friends. And when a group of friends will come in on a Friday, could you just tell that they were gonna walk around around around for half an hour and then just pick the same movie again as they did the last Friday and the last Friday and the last Friday? [Slim laughs]
SLIM What was worse is that we could probably predict when someone had a late fee. Late fees are like a totally foreign concept now where people didn’t bring a movie back. And they had maybe like $70 in late fees on their account. Like just the idea of not returning a movie and being charged almost $100 because it was late is just such a crazy idea to sell out now.
GEMMA Now it is, yeah.
SLIM But that was a fun experience. And Casino was one of the movies that I think I took home one night, and I watched for the first time and it might have been probably my earliest introduction to Scorsese at that time. So this was maybe before GoodFellas. So a lot of people—a lot of people like me, a lot of dudes like me—hold GoodFellas up into really crazy high esteem, but Casino is the one that I really love.
[clip of Casino plays]
ACE When you love someone, you’ve got to trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? For a while, I believed that’s the kind of love I had.
[clip of Casino plays]
SLIM I loved De Niro’s character in this movie. I loved how Scorsese shot the casino itself. I love the kind of lighting that they pulled off in this movie. And the camera movements he has in this film, you know, around De Niro and the cast of characters are just so—I think in my Letterboxd review, I just, I said that he was just straight flexing on us for two hours plus. So I love that kind of camera work and the flexing that Marty did in this movie. Just the cast of characters with Joe Pesci as well. You know, there’s so many people in this movie that I would probably just want to just watch for hours of. just to see what is going on in their crazy effed up life. Because everyone in this movie is just effed up, from drugs or love, or money. There’s just so many people that are so screwed up and it’s so entertaining to watch. Don Rickles is probably the less screwed up person in the entire movie. And he’s amazing. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Don Rickles, Don Rickles!
SLIM Yeah, very quiet, sustained role in this movie. But this movie just always stands out to me as one of the most rewatchable movies that I love no matter what. It gives me the most enjoyment. And when I talk about like five star movies on Letterboxd, these are movies that I just have the best time watching. Maybe I’ll give five stars to movies that are really not well made or not, you know, anywhere near someone’s top ten or top 100. But if I have a really fun time watching it, I’ll give that a five bagger immediately.
GEMMA Well, I was gonna say Ninja III: The Domination? [Slim laughs] Clearly not in your top four because it’s in the Letterboxd top 250 of all time.
SLIM No, that movie is maybe in the bottom 250 of all time on Letterboxd, I’m not sure. But I had so much fun watching Ninja III: The Domination. [Slim & Gemma laugh] Which is a crazy sentence probably for most people to hear out loud.
GEMMA It is. I mean, yeah, let’s pivot slightly to that. And we’ll come back to Casino because I want to I want to declare that it’s the one film of your top four that I didn’t watch because I couldn’t find a legal version of it. [Slim laughs] And in my other life, I make movies and so I’m a little bit of a nerd about that stuff.
SLIM Yeah, that is one of the things too. It’s funny, I was having a conversation with I think Matthew, co-founder of Letterboxd, I was recommending a movie at some point in the past and me forgetting that US streaming capabilities is just very different outside of the US. So I think this was on Tubi, which is you know, like a free movie streaming service in the States. I’m not sure if it’s international availability, but there’s just so many movies like that, like American Ninja is a franchise that’s on Tubi. Most of Chuck Norris’ movies are on Tubi, and Steven Seagal. So that paints a picture. So a friend of mine, Chuck Foresman, the cartoonist behind the end of The End of the F***ing World, and I’m Not Okay With This. He has a podcast called BAT & SPIDER where they watch kind of like low rent movies just like. This kind of like low rent horror trash—trash in a good way. It’s trash you like watching. And he mentioned Ninja III. And this had always been on my watchlist. It was this woman holding a samurai sword. And it was the third movie in a Ninja saga. And I was like, this poster is amazing. I have to see this. What is this? And it’s essentially American Ninja combined with The Exorcist. And it’s just one of the craziest combinations you can think of. She finds this samurai sword, this ninja sword, and it’s like possessed and when she holds it, the spirit of this dead ninja that died with the sword takes over her body and she tries to kill the people that killed the ninja who died, which are like all cops. So it’s just this fitness instructor from the eighties going on a ninja killing rampage against just the worst men in society.
GEMMA That actually sounds like totally my jam and I will commit to finding a copy to watch. [Slim laughs]
SLIM I will mail you a Blu-ray of Ninja III if I have to. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA I would love that. We do have two remaining videos doors in this country that are pretty good. [Slim laughs] I just love the slag. “He’s the ultimate killer. She’s the perfect weapon.”
SLIM You can’t go wrong, is what we’re saying people. You got to check out Ninja III if you can. And honestly, I think I probably only found the availability this movie just because of Letterboxd. I use that feature to find out where movies are streaming, like every day. I mean I have the ability to kind of like put on a movie during the day. While I’m answering emails, I’ll have it in the background. So I see what’s available.
GEMMA The way Scorsese intended. [Slim laughs]
SLIM If Scorsese knew how I watched most movies, he would flip out. But that was a roundabout way of saying Casino and Ninja III could not be more different, but I love them all the same. So those are those are two of my top four.
GEMMA I did just want to say about Casino that—I’m big Scorsese fan, massive, how can you not be? But I just got to be honest and say GoodFellas and Casino, haven’t watched them. And it’s mainly for a really stupid dumb reason, which is I am sick of dudes talking about GoodFellas and Casino and how I have to watch them! [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA Yeah, maybe but yeah, congratulations, Slim. You are the dude who made me watch Casino. [Slim laughs] There was something in Casino that linked directly to Strictly Ballroom, Slim. And I don’t know if you’ve figured out what it is.
SLIM No, I—
GEMMA I have the screenshot receipts.
SLIM Geeze. There’s no cocaine in Strictly Ballroom that I’m aware of. So that’s out the window. What was it?
GEMMA There is a sparkly gold dress that Sharon Stone wears.
GEMMA In a really beautiful scene where he’s getting his award. He’s getting his membership of the country club. And in Strictly Ballroom, there is a glittering sequined gold pantsuit that Scott Hastings wears when he does his own dance steps his way, which loses him his dance partner at the beginning of the film. And I just feel those two outfits together, I feel are like—
SLIM Serendipitous. It was meant to be these two movies together in the same episode. Do you remember the first time you ever saw Strictly Ballroom?
GEMMA I wish I did. It would have been in a cinema. And it would have been with a particular group of friends when I was actually a student studying, studying film and television production. And we would have gone back to see it again that same weekend. So I don’t remember the first time, because it blurs into a week where I went back probably three times to see it in the cinema.
SLIM Wow. What makes Strictly Ballroom fit into your top four?
GEMMA Well, look Slim, first of all, have you eaten? [Slim laughs] Because if you haven’t, there’s some chops in the fridge. How’s the bago hago? I think what I love about it, apart from the fact that it’s the most quotable and best underdog sports film of all time involving ballroom dancing. It really was the first film by this group of empresarios who have gone on to make such an impact on cinema since. Written by Craig Pierce and Baz Luhrmann who were schoolmates—not schoolmates, but like studied at NIDA together, which is the National Institute for Dramatic Arts in Australia. Production designed by Katherine Martin, who has designed all of Baz Luhrmann’s films and also has babies with him. Edited by Jill Bilcock, who has the absolute goat editor of Australia’s film history. So much so that she’s one of the few editors to have a documentary made about her, which is really cool.
GEMMA They went on to make Romeo + Juliet, they went on to make Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, and they’re currently in post production on Elvis. And so Strictly Ballroom grew out of student play that they put together in 1984. And they staged it in a few places throughout the eighties on stage, and then they found a film producer who was willing to take it to the screen. And what I love about that is as someone who has been sort of involved in all parts of the arts is the idea that, you know, on the one hand, anyone listening to this who wants to make a movie, you often keep getting told “Just pick up a camera and do it! You can do it, just pick up a camera and do it!” On the other hand, there are ideas that takes such a long time to bring to the screen. But when they brought to the screen it said exactly the right time. So if they tried to do Strictly Ballroom as a film in the eighties—which was a time when, especially in the Antipodes, in New Zealand and Australia were producing some quite sort of hardcore films. You know, like some dark, toxic masculinity takes on, you know, men alone type stuff. But the early nineties, this is a 1992 release, was sort of exactly when you had, you know, gay pride taking off in Sydney. When the soundtrack for this film became a moment and nightclubs across Australia. [Love is in the Air by John Paul Young fades in] The beautiful Love is in the Air—which is the final song for the final big ballroom sequence—was played pretty much in every queer nightclub across New Zealand and Australia as soon as this film came out. There’s something about the timing that I love it about it. And it’s sort of strange to look at it now and think it was hard for those people to find the money that they needed that they put together a $5 million budget and it got whittled down to 3.3. They eventually managed to make it on that pittance. And it’s made $80 million worldwide. I just love that. Anyway.
SLIM Yeah, I’d never seen this before. I don’t even know if I heard the title before. This is another one of those movies that I’ve never seen, but in the Discord that we have for 70mm, we call it the VHS Village. It’s just a community where we talks about movies. I posted my review in there and a bunch of people were like, “Oh my god, you watch Strictly Ballroom? You know, I can’t believe it. Are we having a watch party for Strictly Ballroom this week in Discord?” It was like ignited that everyone had this like as one of their favorite movies. And what struck me about this movie, it’s hilarious. It felt like a Waiting for Guffman esque subtle comedy about these quirky characters, just like you said. Which I was not expecting. You know, I had just rewatched Romeo + Juliet, I think this past year. So that was the kind of Baz Luhrmann in my mind. So when the funny moments in this movie were coming out, I was like oh, what’s going on here? I was not expecting this. But it was a total delight. I think I gave this five stars on Letterboxd. I had an amazing time.
GEMMA Amazing time! It’s so good to hear. Because it is funny. It’s so funny. And it’s funny because it’s true. You know, the best comedy sort of comes from truth. And so, you know, one of my favorite quotes that I picked up this time around was when Scott Hastings’ mother, Shirley Hastings, the great Pat Thompson, who tragically died a month before this film premiered at Cannes.
SLIM Oh geeze.
GEMMA So not only a huge loss for their family at Strictly Ballroom, but you know, this was a career making role. And then she’s gone. But there’s a moment where she cries into the arms of Liz, who’s, you know, another judge and the ballroom dancing scene. [Gemma cries] “He’s my only son!” And it’s hard to describe why that is such an emotional and extremely comical piece of dialogue. But you know, the idea that she doesn’t have another son who she can train up from the age of six to win the Pan Pacifics. [Slim & Gemma laugh] And if Scott doesn’t pull them together, this is the end of her career. This is the end of her dance studio. Yeah, just love that. “He’s my only son!” It’s so Australian.
SLIM Is there any way better to segue into Robocop then from Strictly Ballroom, into the ultimate action adventure from the eighties? [Slim laughs] Robocop is in my top four. I think this was probably, you know, on local television in Philadelphia at the time. You know, PHL-17 was a station that would play, you know, edited action movies. Robocop, obviously eighties dystopian future where the large corporations of our day have taken over the police department, just about everything. So we’re not too far away from that today, depending on who you ask. But Peter Weller is the titular Robocop, and he kind of has to battle to find himself. [music from Robocop fades in] And this is just one of those movies I think I saw when I was younger, way too young, way too violent. Where, when I saw it as a kid, I thought it was just this really fun action movie—violence. I saw a robot cop, you know, just like shooting bad guys, driving a car. I was like, oh my god, this is really cool. And then as an adult, you watch it again. And I’m starting to kind of like, peel back layers of the kind of absurdity of the film. About how insane it is, about how this corporation owns these places. And we’re kind of rooting for this police officer cyborg. And then you watch it a few more times, and I just feel like this is a movie that had no right to be a success whatsoever. This could have easily been maybe the end of Verhoeven’s career at this point. You know, you’re gambling in 1987, turning this guy into a cyborg and fighting crime. And it ends up being this really subversive classic that is so fun—at least for me—to rewatch and enjoy time after time. And he went on to do it a few more times. He did Total Recall, he had Starship Troopers. And he’s got this amazing catalog after that.
GEMMA And he’s got a film at Cannes this year.
SLIM And that movie looks amazing too!
GEMMA It look incredible, he’s still going.
SLIM I also just watched Basic Instinct for the second time in a very long time this past year, which I thought was amazing.
GEMMA I have not seen it since my first time.
SLIM Showgirls was the reason why I created the Man Ass list in the first place on Letterboxd. Kyle McLachlan is in Showgirls, and what I presume is a stunt double—like a stunt ass—steps across the screen, and it is probably one of the most supple assets I have ever seen in a movie! [Slim laughs] I was like, stunned. I was like, Holy God, that is an ass! And I had to make a Letterboxd list right away. I was like, I need a list of the best man asses in movies. But it’s literally, it’s Showgirls and everything else in my opinion. Do you remember that ass? Do you remember the scene I’m talking about?
GEMMA I do, yes, we’ve talked about this before. [Slim laughs] I mean, who can not remember that ass? Who can not remember that ass? Since we’re talking about ass in Verhoeven films, can we talk about boobs in Verhoeven films?
SLIM Let do it. Let’s get into it.
GEMMA Because I had a really interesting reaction to Robocop—and this was my first, as I said, I honestly thought that it was, you know, in the Judge Dredd universe and it turns out how wrong I was. How wrong. And of course, I have seen many memes and gifs involving the Robocops themselves. But had never watched the film from front to end. And aside from all of the reasons you love it—all of which I agree with—I had a really interesting reaction to Officer Lewis and the portrayal of women in this movie. Because I realized as I was watching that my sort of Hollywood expectations as a movie viewer—I was expecting certain things to happen that didn’t. I was expecting—and don’t get me wrong, Lewis and Murphy have great chemistry, which is part and parcel of buddy cops, you know, cop partners. You have to have good chemistry as your work husband and your work wife, right? But because of the ways in which Hollywood has written these films for decades, I was expecting them to get together. I was expecting in an Verhoeven movie to see a lot of unnecessary breasts. Like even in that beautiful memory of his wife coming toward them in the bedroom and saying, “I’ve got to tell you something!” When we finally get to see that memory play out in full, I was expecting you to just open her gown and there are the boobs. Something about Verhoeven, something about the eighties, something about cop movies. I was just fully expecting unnecessary, gratuitous, random boobage. Instead, we get that incredible scene near the beginning of the film, where the cops are in a multi-gender, locker room. So they’re all in there, we see some man ass in the showers, all getting dressed. And we see officer Lewis and other officers just getting their clothes off and suiting up, putting on their bulletproof vests. And it is not sexual. And it is super straightforward. And it is completely functional and part of the cop work. And it is also very much of the Verhoeven universe, right?
SLIM Yeah, yeah.
GEMMA It’s like in the havens world, all cops regardless of gender, in the same changing room, putting on their bulletproof vests. And I loved it! I just deeply had a moment of deep appreciation for the Verhoeven’s very European vibe around the body and its functionality in this scenario.
SLIM It’s funny you say that. I have like a giant making of hardcover for Robocop and it goes into detail. I think this is probably I’d like my first introduction to that—like you said, the European sensibility. I think for a Verhoeven is Dutch and is very, you know, comfortable in nudity. And this is probably, growing up, this is my first introduction to that. Like seeing kind of unisex locker rooms. You know, as a kid, you’re like, whoa, what is going on here? This doesn’t make any sense! And it happens again in Starship Troopers. And it’s just normal. It’s like, the human body is normal. And, you know, it’s a part of life. And it’s kind of like an American thing, where we’ve kind of vilified the nipple, or you know, any nudity of the sort. And this is 1987. And he kind of kept that up in some of his other science fiction films and it’s just one of those things.
GEMMA Yeah, I love it. It’s just one of those things. It’s just so great to see the breast non sexualized.
SLIM Also, Nancy Allen in this movie is incredible!
GEMMA Ah, I love her!
SLIM Her character is unbelievable. Unfortunately, it kind of—she doesn’t get to be the amazing Lewis that she is in this movie. And I think it kind of goes off of a little bit of a cliff slowly until Three. But man, the potential was there for her to just to continue to be kind of the ultimate cop in this franchise. So I really do appreciate her in this and what we did get in Robocop One.
GEMMA Oh, yeah. I love it. It’s time to just talk for a few minutes about Paddington, I think.
GEMMA Because this is—ah, I mean, one of my great loves, when it comes to movies is when animation and real life meet and marry into a perfect union. It’s a long time since I’ve seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but I remember loving it as a kid when I first saw it. Didn’t bother what the new Tom and Jerry. And love, big fan of Mary Poppins, and I would put Paddington and the same camp. Even though he’s rendered as a realistic bear. He’s still, you know, some kind of animation in there. And it’s just so you know, I would approach a movie like Paddington first and foremost, with the wonder of the production of the other visual effects geniuses and the excellent cast who managed to pull off this thing happening where Paddington’s not there! He’s not there! But in the movie, he’s there, and he’s perfect. And we love him. And he’s amazing. Anyway, that just sounds super nerdy. But that’s my, you know, the first way I come to it is through just deep appreciation for the craftspeople behind bringing something so delightful and so joyous to life.
[clip of Paddington plays]
SAMUEL How did you get here?
PADDINGTON I stowed away in a lifeboat and ate marmalade. Did you know bears like marmalade?
SAMUEL I didn’t even know bears could talk.
PADDINGTON Oh, well, I’m a very rare bear. There aren’t many of us left.
MARY What are you going to do now?
PADDINGTON Well, I would probably just sleep over there in that bin.
HENRY That’s the spirit. Anyway.
MARY Why don’t we find you some help?
PADDINGTON Oh, yes, please. If you’re sure it’s no trouble.
MARY Of course it isn’t! Is it darling?
HENRY Not at all.
[clip of Paddington ends]
SLIM You mentioned it earlier with Paddington and the kind of like heart of this movie. I feel like Paddington really shocked a lot of people when this movie came out. You know, you’re making a live action esque Paddington movie. You know, that could just be kind of like an all ages, family movie. But man, these movies have connected with so many adults, myself included. That, oh my god, it’s just so fun to go back and watch these movies. They’re just so pure!
GEMMA I had a really fun time on Letterboxd actually as Paddington rolled out across the world because what happened was, it came out in the UK in 2014, so late 2014 it came out. I had heard the rumors that it was good. I started noticing our UK based members just going off about Paddington. And to put it in context, Paddington as a as a character in stories created by Michael Bond who was still alive in his nineties at the time that they were making the first film and he’s since passed on. But there’s a beautiful photo of Michael Bond visiting Paul King on the set of the first Paddington film. And if you had grown up with Paddington, the original animation at all—so after after the books, there was the TV series made which has stop motion animation but of paper cutout characters of Paddington and the brown family. And it’s so simple. It’s so pure, and so delightful, and it’s gorgeous theme music. And making something that’s incredibly slick and, you kno, incredibly well CGI. Paul King and his team have kicked the hat of not only the character the in the books from Michael Bond, but the heart of that original TV series in there. You know, including bringing in some of that paper cutout animation for certain parts of the story in both films. So it starts off being authentic. You know? It starts off from a place of authentic love for all of the Paddington properties that have come before. And that is, I think, what has made it so successful from the start. And then as you said, it’s become this thing that the adults love. And I recognize that there’s a couple of tricks to that. And one is, it’s dark enough for adults. Like shit gets pretty dark. When Nicole Kidman’s character starts ruffing Paddington and laying him out for the dissection so that she can display him in a glass case in her museum so that she can get back into the society that her father was so roundly rejected from, because he refused to collect these beers who were wonderful and could talk and darkest Peru. I think that’s the heart of the story, right? Like that stuff is dark. She’s got the taxi driver hanging up by his feet under a bridge so she can get information out of him. She is—she is a good baddie. I will say that.
SLIM I mean, you said you were team Nicole Kidman earlier to start the show. She’s one of the worst villains in the history of cinema. [Gemma laughs] I feel sick.
GEMMA Yeah, because that’s the thing, like it is Nicole Kidman! I just think she’s perfect! [Slim laughs] I think she’s perfect. I think she’s perfect because as a baddie. I think she’s perfect as a goodie. And by the way, my Nicole Kidman love, you know, wasn’t always there, but it’s grown. It’s grown.
SLIM What kicked off the Nicole resurgence for you?
GEMMA Hmm. I think the divorce.
SLIM Mmm. Her freedom.
GEMMA Yeah, her freedom. And that photo, that iconic photo.
SLIM Oh, that’s right. Yeah.
GEMMA Oh her just fists, arms in the air, divorced from La Cruise. [Slim laughs] It’s exciting.
SLIM Should we segue into Vanilla Sky as shortly as we possibly can? That’s my final top four. We already made our feelings known on the star of this movie. But at the time, I think that this came out, I saw this in theaters. A lot of these movies, I can kind of trace back to my days at West Coast Video. It was around the time where the store had just started converting to DVD. So they had like two different sections of VHS and DVD and they eventually combined them. So I think my first week might have been when this movie had come out. And so it was in early 2000, 2001. And I saw it in theaters and I was a T Cruise fan. Tom C—we don’t have to say his full name. And I saw us in theaters at probably after Jerry Maguire. And I just remember sitting in a theater thinking that it was such a gamble of a movie, a strange movie, for the height of his kind of career at that time. To just make this kind of weird psychological drama, where for half the movie his face was just like mutilated. [Slim laughs] So like at the end of the movie, I just thought it was so risky and—to use the word brave—on Cameron Crowe’s part to take this Spanish film and make an English version of it, starring Tom Cruise. It kind of blew me away when I first saw it. And it’s just always remained in my mind as one of the most enjoyable movies that I can watch. Due in part because it’s just such a strange departure in that timeframe for that actor at that time.
GEMMA And for the director, I guess too.
SLIM I don’t love Cameron Crowe now. I don’t think he ever really captured what he had done before this. You know, Almost Famous, Say Anything..., Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky and then stuff after that. I think he did like Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom. So the stuff he did after that never really—at least in my mind or in the mainstream—really caught up. I know he did a Pearl Jam documentary. But yeah, I love Jerry Maguire. I would love to sit down and just watch Jerry Maguire for no reason. Those are just the movies that—I’ll give high ratings to movies that just make me feel sad or happy and just know that it’s just pulling strings on purpose to make those emotions come out. I’ll rewatch those movies any day of the week. Jerry Maguire is one of those. Did you watch it?
GEMMA I did watch Vanilla Sky. I now no longer need to watch it again. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM When you logged it on Letterboxd, Proto and Danny—the co-hosts of 70mm, the movie podcast I do—we have a Discord DM. And I screenshotted your Recently From Friends—I think it just had the “watched”. It had no rating, had no like. I just posted it to them in our DM and I was like “It’s over.” [Slim & Gemma laugh] But I appreciate you making the college try. I’m fully aware that I’m in the minority. I think for people that love movies—I don’t consider myself like a cinephile. I, you know, I’m just like a film lover. I love to watch and sit and watch them. I’m fully aware that a lot of people do not appreciate him in the way that I do. So it’s no insult to me. But I’m just so glad that you made the college try.
GEMMA I want to say a few things. I want to say from a plot perspective, I’m not the biggest fan of puzzle movies. Just not a big fan of puzzle movies. And when I realized this was one of them, I was like, ugh, now it’s even worse. [Slim laughs] I give many points to all of the players who are going hard in this in this puzzle world of Tom Cruise’s character. Kurt Russell.
[clip of Vanilla Sky plays]
DR. CURTIS MCCABE I’m real. I’m... I’m... mortality as home entertainment? THIS CANNOT BE THE FUTURE. Can it? CAN IT?
[clip of Vanilla Sky plays]
GEMMA Great hair. Interesting, amazing performance. Jason Lee, I feel like has sort of doofiness was kind of the key to the whole thing. And I saw one commentary on this film that suggested that the whole thing was just a really average novel written by Jason Lee. I love all that. I do love kind of reading into the theories that come out about puzzle movies. And I know that the marketing and of course, the brief romance between Penelope Cruz and Tom Cruise was what kind of put this on the screen. And I guess that’s partly why I didn’t watch it the first time around. But I hadn’t realized that Cameron Diaz gave quite so much in this film.
SLIM She did.
GEMMA And I really, really appreciated that. So that’s what I have to say about Vanilla Sky. And also an observation about your top four. It’s that Vanilla Sky and Robocop kind of exist as unusual mirrors of each other. And that you have one man whose body has been taken in disfigured by a giant corporation to do their bidding. And you have another man who has chosen to take his disfigured body to a corporation for his own ince. And I appreciated the mirrored double feature-ness of that experience this week. [Slim laughs]
SLIM I appreciate you making that connection. And bringing that to the positive side of the table. I’ve never seen the kind of work that went into putting that together. There’s one more movie that we haven’t talked about yet. It’s your final movie in your top four. In the Cut.
GEMMA Yeah, speaking of New York. Speaking of weird, erotic dramas in New York.
SLIM You what’s funny? There’s another section of Letterboxd that we were going to dig into. Rated higher than average, there’s a section for your stats page, where you can see for yourself or for others, what movies you’ve rated higher than the average Letterboxd user.
GEMMA And you can also see what movies you’ve rated lower than the Letterboxd average, I think.
SLIM Yes, yes!
GEMMA This is a new feature we brought in only a couple of months ago, because it’s so much fun. And also, like, there’s a sense that there’s the average and you know, you look at the average, and a lot of people make sort of pop quiz decisions on whether they’re going to watch something based on “oh, if it’s only a three, I think I’m not going to waste my time on things that are less than a five.” Whereas the way I use Letterboxd quite often is I hear about a film that I know I’d personally be interested in. I look at the average rating and think, well, hmm, that can’t be right. So then I go to the people I follow whose opinions I have learned to appreciate over time, including yours about—everything except Vanilla Sky. [Slim laughs] And then I look at what they’re rating it and that gives me my answer. But yes, you’re right. So we’ve got this section called rated higher than average, where you can find out what you rate higher than the average. And In the Cut is most definitely is one of mine. But this leads me to my favorite story about In the Cut that I love telling as it relates to Letterboxd. Which is, In the Cut’s average rating generally on Letterboxd is higher than any other movie aggregation site because Letterboxd users have taste. [Slim laughs]
SLIM I mean, there’s probably people that are listening that are like me that have no idea what this movie is. But this is a Meg Ryan feature with Mark Ruffalo, erotic, thriller. I’d never heard of it before.
GEMMA I know. It’s a Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo erotic thriller. Jane Campion, obviously great New Zealand director, the only woman to win a Palm d’Or on her own, so far. Which has been insane. She made the brilliant series Top of the Lake. She’s worked with the wonderful Nicole Kidman several times. And a woman is murdered in Meg Ryan’s neighborhood. And so the cops come interviewing the neighbors to see if they heard anything or saw anything. And this brings a detective played by an extremely young and handsome Mark Ruffalo into Frannie’s life. And then more things happen, more women are murdered and dismembered. And meanwhile, Meg—Frannie—is wondering whether Mark Ruffalo might have had something to do with those murders, but at the same time as becoming increasingly attracted to him, and he is offering himself to her in whatever way she would like to take him. And that beautiful steamy scene in the bar where he just says to her, “I can be whatever you want.”
[clip of In the Cut plays]
MALLIE I could be whatever you want me to be. You want me to romance you, take you to a classy restaurant, no problem. You want me to be your best friend and fuck you—
[clip of In the Cut ends]
GEMMA I was obsessed with Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle. If I’d had Letterboxd in 1993, I probably would have loved that film once a week. I may have even once written some erotic fanfiction about it, long before fanfiction was a thing. I loved that film! I love the corniness of it! I love the impossible Empire State Building meeting-ness of it I love the whole Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks thing through the nineties. But by 2003 I guess I’d had a decade of being a third wave feminist watching movies that just trash on women’s bodies and use women’s bodies as the means towards other people having a plot. And what, you know, we had Single White Female, we had, you know, just murder mysteries that were just dead women’s bodies everywhere. And what I loved about In the Cut—let’s be honest, apart from the extremely steamy sessions between Ruffalo and Ryan—is that there’s a thing about being a woman watching movies that involve women’s bodies being murdered and dismembered and cruel psychopathic killers on the loose is, is that there’s sort of no respect from that. And In the Cut—and Jane Campion generally does this amazing and sort of indescribable thing where she allows a sexual life and an interior life for a female character to exist in that world. That world is not going away from movies. It’s, you know, it’s endlessly an interesting world to explore for directors. But to then bring in the reality that even while there are murders going on in your neighborhood, you might also still want to have sex. [Slim laughs] It was just like a miracle! It was—yeah, it’s hard to explain how it felt at the time, it felt miraculous. It felt like ah, another movie about this stuff and also, it’s okay to have sex!
SLIM Yeah, as I was watching it, I thought, the miraculous aspect of it, that I felt like it happened in such a window where it couldn’t have happened ten years before and might not have been able to happen ten years after.
GEMMA And it didn’t even really happen at the time, because at the time, the reviewers bombed it. It got a Metacritic F score. And basically, nobody could accept Meg Ryan in a role like this.
SLIM Hmm. Do you know anyone else with this in their top four?
GEMMA Oh, question. Personally, no. So if you want to know who else has a film and the top four, you go to the Films page on Letterboxd, you go to their little ratings histogram, and then it will say how many fans it has. And In the Cut has [Gemma sighs] a very modest and frankly, you know, distressing 42 fans.
GEMMA Which means 42 people on Letterboxd have this film in their top four.
SLIM You know how many people have Vanilla Sky in their top four? 524—
GEMMA Too many. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM But I think this conversation and the discussion of how we use our top fours and how what movies we place in there, that’s what I’m excited about to have with other people. Because, you know, this movie I never probably would have watched if I didn’t hear about it from you and your reasoning behind it in your top four. So like I said earlier, I’m grateful that we’ve got to talk about it, because otherwise I never would have experienced a movie like this, let alone know it exists.
GEMMA Yeah, and I definitely, definitely would not have watched Vanilla Sky if it wasn’t for this.
GEMMA Yeah, Robocop is a big win. And finally ticking Casino off the off the Scorsese list. I’m grateful for that. I feel like in terms of lush costumes on screen this week between Strictly Ballroom and Casino, my eyes have had a really good time. And I’m really looking forward to how this proceeds in the in the coming weeks and months in terms of other people’s top fours. Because I just know—you know, we’ve built a kind of master list of four we want to hit up. And we’re going to be swerving from anime, to pre-code classics, to sixties, you know, detective Noir. It’s gonna go all over the place. And I’m really excited because one of the things I struggle with is the Editor in Chief of Letterboxd is my viewing is generally focused on new releases. On things that are coming out, that are coming up, that I need to be across in order to know how to approach editorially. And so then when I dive into some of the collections that you see Letterboxd members completing—like our top 250, or Edgar Wright’s, you know, 100 of his favorite comedies or whatever. I just don’t know where to start. I feel like I’m never going to be able to be completest in terms of filmographies or collections like that, because there’s too much else on my plate as part of the day job at Letterboxd. And so what’s so exciting about this top four concept is it’s just going to take us everywhere, and I couldn’t be more delighted to be doing it with you.
SLIM Oh man, and just think the excitement we’ll have together after you watch Ninja III: The Domination. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA I can’t wait!
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker plays alone, fades out]
GEMMA Thanks so much for listening to this first episode and the brand new season of The Letterboxd Show. You can follow me, Gemma and Slim and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. And also why not follow 70mm pod while you’re there? No, Slim didn’t pay me to say that. Thanks to composing dynamos, Moniker, for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque. I don’t know if you know this Slim, but that particular track is an outtake from the film What We Do in the Shadows.
SLIM I didn’t know that. It’s amazing. If you’re enjoying the show and have guests ideas or want to pitch us on your own top four, be sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.
GEMMA You can also hit us up on our Twitter and Instagram accounts which are both @letterboxd. That’s it for this week. In the immortal, perfect words of Paddington: “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” And in the even deeper words of Ginger from Casino. “You can’t make me stop caring about people.”
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.