Podcasting Them Softly is extremely excited to present a chat with independent filmmaker Lynn Shelton, as she discusses her fantastic and eclectic body of work and singular filmmaking style. Over the last 10 years, she’s made six films, all of which have taken on a deep desire to explore people and emotions and the complexities of the human heart and mind. We Go Way Back, My Effortless Brilliance, Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, Touchy Feely and Laggies have all demonstrated a fantastic ear for the way people speak with an observational shooting style that allows for the expansion of the visual language of cinema. She’s worked with big name actors and little known talents, and no matter the project, her unique voice has been heard loud and clear. We’re honored to have had the chance to talk with Lynn and we hope you enjoy the Lynn Shelton POWERCAST!
“You lost today kid, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” – Fedora (Richard Young)
Every time I’ve watched INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, even as a little kid, I was always drawn to the character dubbed Fedora (Richard Young) in the credits. He’s never called directly by name in the film, but during the opening when Young Indy (River Phoenix) is watching the gang in the cave digging for treasure, the name Garth is mentioned.
Indiana Jones had met a wide array of characters in the films, but I don’t think anyone had as big of an influence on his life as Fedora did. Fedora has limited screen time, and few lines of dialogue, but during the opening sequence of the film – he’s the most important character. After Indy gets the cross from the gang and Indy gets chased to a circus train – he finds himself in a life or death situation when he falls into a train car that contains a roaring lion.
Indy tries to tame the lion with his whip, but Fedora and his men are on top of the train car looking down, and Fedora commands that Indy toss-up his whip so they can pull him up. After Fedora rescues Indy, they chase beings again, as Indy escapes from the caboose Fedora watches Indy run down the train tracks, away from the hauling train. As Fedora watches him run away, he gets a smirk on his face.
When Indy returns home to tell his father what he had just done, his father essentially brushes him off because he’s working on his obsession of the Holy Grail. Fedora’s gang shows up with the town’s sheriff and the sheriff asks Indy for the cross back. Fedora’s gang is pompous and smug because they just won. But as everyone leaves, Fedora is left standing in the doorway. He removes his fedora and as he sets it on Young Indy’s head he says one of the greatest lines in film history: “You lost today kid, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” The film then resumes in real-time where we see Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones – he’s on a ship, being held by men with blood coming from his busted lip. He’s smiling remembering Fedora’s words of wisdom.
It’s not that Fedora is sympathetic to Indy, even though he’s the only one who shows respect to him; Fedora sees himself in Indy, and for that he gives him his fedora as if he’s passing the torch to him, telling him, “here you go kid, the job is now yours.” In the films when Indy is out in the field, he always has his hat, and risks his life on a couple of occasions to ensure that he has possession of his hat that Fedora gave him when he was a teenager. While it may not always be the same exact hat, the hat does symbolize Fedora, the man who made Indiana Jones.
When Spielberg shot the scene in the cave, where the men find this rare artifact, Fedora is hunched over, and he’s holding it – watching it. He’s mystified by the discovery and it’s then you realize he’s not after the money, he’s after the hunt. The tight close-ups, and the way the camera revolves around Fedora is much like the way Spielberg shoots Indy when he’s found the idol in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
When we see Ford as Indiana Jones, he’s dressed exactly like Fedora was in the third film. His hat, his rough leather jacket – and even Fedora’s rough look and demeanor and right down to that signature smart ass smirk transcended to Indy. As the third film displays, Indy didn’t have a good relationship with his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) was obsessed with his work, too obsessed to provide the emotional commitment of being a father. Fedora accepted that role – though their interactions only lasted for a couple of hours when Indy was in his teens. Fedora shaped the man who stopped being “Junior” and became Indiana Jones.
In the original script the character of Fedora was originally Abner Ravenwood, who was the father of Marion (Karen Allen) and dubbed as Indy’s “mentor”. To be honest with you, I completely ignore the fourth installment of the franchise. Lucas, Ford and Spielberg should have known better.
The fact that in the original script that Fedora was Abner almost solidifies the fact that Fedora is actually Indy’s mentor. Next to Indiana Jones, I think Fedora is the second most important character in the franchise even though he had maybe ten minutes of screen time and ten lines of dialogue. In that short time, we see Fedora in Indiana Jones, and in turn when we see Ford as Indy – I see Fedora.
After the films premier, Robert Young reprised his role as Fedora/Garth for a live performance of the opening show of the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. This event was produced by Steven Spielberg.
I would have liked to have seen more of Fedora, even an adventure of his since he is the precursor of Indiana Jones – but that’s what makes him so effective – is the fact that we know absolutely nothing about him – yet his story is told through the adventures of Indiana Jones.
Minority Report is the most underrated movie ever to have a 90% Rottentomatoes score with a $350 million worldwide box office haul. For some reason, not enough people give this movie credit and I’m not sure why. It’s a visual marvel from top to bottom, the blending of the core sci-fi and detective elements were perfectly calibrated by screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Coen, you got a terrific Tom “Movie Star” Cruise performance before he truly went off the Xenu deep-end, the supporting cast were all outstanding, Janusz Kaminski’s glassy-smeary-amazing cinematography looks beyond sharp and high-contrasty in the luscious blu-ray format, and the score from John Williams was one of his most unsung and propulsive. The vision of the future that this film painted felt tangible and realistic and it’s funny how some of the technology that the source material and film would go on to predict is eerily prescient. Like the best neo-noir science fiction hybrids (Dark City also comes to mind), Minority Report knows exactly when to riff on genre while simultaneously inventing its own set of rules and aesthetic guidelines that helped to turn it into one of Steven Spielberg’s most thoughtful blockbusters, a film with as many ideas as it does breathtaking action scenes. The production design in the film is truly extraordinary, and the mostly seamless visual effects compliment and heighten the narrative rather than overpower it with needless bombast. The jet pack chase and fight with Cruise battling it out with the various agents and crashing through the apartment complex is pure BEARD POWER, with visual humor to punctuate the seriousness of the situation, while always exhibiting a childlike sense of wonder and mentality that anything is possible. And even if the ending still needed some extra tweaking (I think another 20 minutes was warranted), this is one of those consistently smashing entertainments that pushed the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, telling an adult story that asked you to use your brain in order to figure out all of the exciting pieces.
Back in the summer of 1994, there were three big action films to hit the marketplace: Speed, True Lies, and sandwiched in between, was the underrated Blown Away, which suffered the worst box office fate of the bunch but still delivered more than enough thrills and excitement to qualify as an action-packed blast of unpretentious entertainment. This movie is so much fun in an old-school, traditional manner (it just FEELS, in a great way, like an MGM movie), shot with lots of style by director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2, The Ghost and the Darkness) and acted with intense ferocity by Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones, as a Boston bomb squad officer and a mad Irish bomber respectively. Jones is running wild on the streets of Boston, blowing up anything and everything he can find, all in an effort to exact revenge on his old friend Bridges, who both went through IRA/terrorist issues which are dealt with in black and white flashback. Bridges is the noble cop who always seems to know which wire to cut – the blue one or the red one. While the plotting is mostly predictable, the film knows exactly what it’s doing with its numerous action scenes, and it must be pointed out, that the film features the SINGLE GREATEST DONE-FOR-REAL EXPLOSION ever captured on film. There’s no debating this. I fucking LOVE movie explosions. I’ve made it a point to STUDY them throughout my life. This one is top-dog. When Jones’ old shipyard boat goes kablooey at the climax, you literally can’t believe what you’re watching and that the two fearless stuntmen weren’t killed or burned to death. The image has REAL camera shake, glass windows in downtown buildings were blown out, and total radio silence in and around Boston Harbor was kept for 10 miles so no interference could occur with the destruction of the balsa wood ship. Peter Levy’s cinematography is terrific all throughout, and the brisk editing keeps the pace moving fast. Kino has just released an excellent special edition Blu-ray of this extremely fun, throw-back type action thriller that was more old-fashioned than audiences may have been expecting. Hopkins provides a great, info-filled commentary, and the picture transfer is very crisp and clean, retaining that awesome, slick-and-gritty 90’s film stock look, with that final explosion looking all sorts of epic and awesome in full 2.35:1 widescreen (previous DVD releases were non-anamorphic). Alan Silvestri’s score is appropriately bombastic and thoroughly exciting. Forest Whitaker, Suzy Amis, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Finn, and Lloyd Bridges all offer memorable support. Cuba Gooding Jr. has literally 30 seconds of screen time in one scene. Jay Roach (Meet the Parents) got original story credit!
I love how writer/director Jody Hill thinks. He’s a cinematic devil. And I mean that lovingly. He finds stuff funny that most normal people don’t find funny, and for whatever reason, I continually respond to it. Check out his extremely dark yet incredibly funny debut The Foot Fist Way – there’s stuff in that movie that is painfully hilarious. People have told me how I’m weird and just a tad bizarre with some of my likes and dislikes in the comedy genre. I think this is why I found Hill’s most recent cinematic excursion into comedy’s heart of darkness, 2009’s Observe and Report, to not only be one of the funniest films of the last 15 years, but some sort of strange, transgressive, unhinged masterwork that despite its crude surface exterior, has something perversely subversive to say about the fringes of society in America. And that’s what Hill’s specialty is – the fringe elements – whether it be Danny McBride’s delusional karate instructor in The Foot Fist Way or McBride’s gleefully unaware baseball player in the epic comedy TV series Eastbound and Down. The trailers were misleading for Observe and Report; the studio tried selling a dirty Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Well, the fact that there were two comedies that centered on mall-cops in development at the same time was just a natural-for-Hollywood coincidence, because Observe and Report couldn’t be any more different than Paul Blart. Observe and Report is like some sort of wild mixture of Falling Down, The King of Comedy, Taxi Driver, and Hill’s The Foot Fist Way.
Seth Rogen did a complete about-face in this film, squashing the lovable stoner character we’ve all come to love, and ripping into the role of the morally bankrupt, bi-polar Ronnie Barnhardt, a sociopathic mall security officer who fashions himself as judge, jury, and executioner. Literally. The plot involves a serial-pervert who has taken to flashing the female mall shoppers in the parking lot, opening up his trench coat and wildly exposing himself. Lovely! Ronnie goes head-to-head with a slimy detective played with evil glee by Ray Liotta who is investigating the case and can’t be bothered with Ronnie’s idiocy. Danny McBride pops up in a priceless cameo as a crack dealer. But the best part of Observe and Report may just be the utterly brilliant Anna Faris, playing the object of Ronnie’s affections, the slutty cosmetic-counter girl Brandi, who ends up getting flashed, and mentally scarred for life. Faris, in a performance that is nothing less than a small tour de force, gets some of the film’s best material; her date-night with Ronnie is one of the more questionable things ever to be featured in a film that is asking its audience to laugh. Ronnie uses her fears as a potential way into her heart (oops, I mean pants), all the while trying to put a stop to the flasher’s reign of terror, while also finding time to abuse a multitude of drugs and beat the crap out of skateboarding punks who love to loiter in the parking lot.
Hill is obsessed with the socially awkward and having you look directly into the face of humiliation, the face of dead-beat America, the ethically bankrupt souls of individuals who are completely delusional and who cannot be helped, and then having you laugh at them AND with them, while the characters slip deeper and deeper into their own self-destruction. The finale of Observe and Report stands as one of the craziest endings I’ve seen, bracing in its casual violence, with the power to literally take your breath away; even coming close to spoiling it would be a crime. I almost hesitate to call this film a “comedy” as it’s certainly no feel-good Apatow production. There’s no overt sentimentality, the characters aren’t classically “likable,” and the way that the humor is derived from scenes depicting violence, racism, homophobia, and sexual deviance will test the limits of many viewers. I found it to be the most daring, the most original, and the ballsiest studio comedy since Team America: World Police. We need more movies from Hill as I can think of few other risk takers and envelope pushers quite like him. The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter can’t get here soon enough!
The 2009 comedy Humpday is Lynn Shelton’s masterpiece as a filmmaker and storyteller, a movie so attuned to its dynamic characters and point of view that it almost hurts to watch it. Ever since I saw this movie roughly five years ago, I’ve constantly been reminded of how brilliant and funny it is, and after revisiting it recently, I was blown away to find that the surprises still surprise – this is one of those under the radar gems (Shelton specializes in those) that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s the sort of film that shatters the notion of male sexuality in ways that few pieces of art dare to ever explore, and because the lead performances from Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard are so precise and heartfelt, I find it impossible to believe that this film couldn’t leave a lasting impression on any viewer. Shelton’s films always explore society and the people living on the fringes of our landscapes, and as usual, her innate sense of emotional complexity is in full stride here, as her improvised story goes to some seriously awesome and complicated places. It’s the sort of film that will tell you a lot about yourself as a person while you watch it, because while the scenario that gets played out will seem far-fetched to many (including myself upon first knowledge of the project), you buy into it because of everyone’s conviction in the material and how naturalistic and honest everything feels.
The premise is very simple in idea but beyond layered in execution and intent. Two heterosexual male friends, Ben (Duplass) and Andrew (Leonard), reconnect after 10 years of not hanging out. Old friends, guys who go way back, these are two men who know each other very well, but have allowed their lives to take them on different paths in recent years. But when they see each other, it’s like it was yesterday that they were chilling out, and it’s a natural fit for the two of them to be in each other’s orbits. One night while at a party with lots of old pals and after some solid drinking and puffing, Ben and Andrew end up in one of the most interesting “I Dare You” situations that they’ve ever encountered: Would they be able to have one night of sexual relations with each other, which would of course be filmed, as a way of creating an “art project” that they could then submit to a local film festival for consideration. Ben, naturally, has to discuss this idea with his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore), but he doesn’t really tell her the truth, which leads to its own set of interesting developments. But most importantly, this rather groundbreaking slice of sex comedy dares challenge our preconceived notions of what male friendship is all about, what its limitations are, and how two straight buddies might be able to convince themselves that one night of homosexual relations would do nothing at all to their long lasting friendship. That the film consists of numerous scenes of Ben and Andrew discussing their “date” in great detail should be of no major shock; but rather, it’s HOW they discuss their idea that makes this film as sharp as it is.
There isn’t one false step in this movie, not one bad scene, not one moment where you feel that this isn’t exactly what all of the creative parties had intended to do. In countless modern sex comedies, the idea of two women casually having a sexual tryst has been repeatedly shown in movie after movie, so it’s no surprise that the “hook” of Humpday is likely to provoke and potentially shock casual viewers, if not, however sadly, offend. This is a progressive film that looks at sex and friendship in a unique and soul-stirring way, and while it’d be a crime to reveal how the movie ends, I’ll allow that it’s note perfect, taking things to their logical conclusion if these two particular men just so happened to be involved in this highly delicate and potentially life changing experiment. Duplass and Leonard were totally unafraid with their performances, registering a sense of friendship that feels deep and well observed at all times. And as usual, Shelton brought her terrific eye for small details of humanistic comedy at almost every possible moment, and even has a terrific extended cameo as one of the party goers on that fateful night of dares. If you haven’t see Humpday, or were wishy-washy on it for whatever reason, I highly recommend this marvelous, incredibly funny film to anyone who is unfamiliar.
If you’ve ever gone through a long distance relationship, chances are you’ll be able to relate to the central themes in the 2011 film Like Crazy from up and coming filmmaker Drake Doremus. This is one of my favorite movie romances in a very long time, and it’s the sensitivity and the honesty that Doremus brought to this tale that really resonated with me. I’m a softie at heart, so when I see a film that feels as open and emotionally naked as this one, I pay close attention an…d can’t help but get swept up in the complexities of the story and the decisions that the characters make. Starring the fantastic trip of Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, the film tells the story of Jacob (Yelchin) who meets Anna (Jones), but there’s a problem – she’s a British foreign exchange student who is deported after her visa lapses. Then, after their budding romance is put to the test via the long distance, Jacob meets Samantha (Lawrence), a beautiful co-worker, while Jones develops a relationship of her own back on her home turf. What will become of the central relationship and how will the characters navigate the tricky waters of young love? Doremus, for me, never missed a beat with this sensitive, loving, subtly gorgeous movie that stresses off the cuff cinematography along with a naturalistic screenplay (co-written by Doremus and Ben York Jones) that was heavily improvised by the actors based off a 50-page outline (per Wikipedia…) And I wouldn’t be surprised because there’s an unforced quality to the acting, and the dialogue often times stings with truth that might never have been able to be scripted. Jones is extraordinary in her part, registering every single emotion you could think of, while Yelchin has never been better on screen, conveying confusion and intense feeling all throughout. And it goes without saying, Lawrence brings her sunny, sexy, vibrant personality to the sole of Samantha, creating a woman you want Jacob to fall in love with and treat well. Everyone in this film has terrific chemistry with one another, which only makes all of the entanglements harder to judge and compare; as with life, the heart does strange things at all times. And then there’s the fantastic soundtrack that frequently comes into play, with Paul Simon POWER all over the place for extra coolness and sense of wise elegance. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 where it won the Grand Jury Prize, the film found a small theatrical release and has hopefully continued to keep audiences engrossed over the last few years via Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming. This is one of those small but tremendously affecting movies that will hit many people very hard, very fast, and will stick around in the memory long after the film has concluded.