A note: This is the eighth in the Cinépathétic series, an interview-style back and forth between me and the interesting people in my life, jabbering about movies and why we love them so damned much. This week, I’m interviewing Samantha Adolfo, dear friend of mine and host to the weekly Shitty Movie Monday, where a group of us like-minded cinephiles congregate to celebrate the absolute worst film has to offer. We discuss the tragic fall of Tim Burton, indulging in nihilism, and the utter urgency of having Love Me Tender in our lives. As usual, be wary for spoilers throughout, and please, enjoy.
Sam: Absolutely! Thanks for bringin’ me on.
DR: I trust you have your list ready to go?
Sam: As difficult and painful as it was, yes.
DR: What film starts us off?
Dam: We’re starting with what may potentially be my favorite movie in the universe, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
DR: Tim Burton getting studio backing to let his freak flag fly. I understand you’re somewhat passionate about this film.
Sam: I am, absolutely! It’s been one of my favorite films since childhood, and my mom would probably partially blame this one on how I’ve turned out as a human. My love for this one has only grown as I’ve aged.
DR: What keeps you coming back to this film?
Sam: Well, it has a little bit of everything. An amazing soundtrack – Danny Elfman’s first! – a touching story of loss and triumph, an odd and wonderful cast, comedy of all types… It’s a total masterpiece in my brain.
DR: Co-written by Phil Hartman, no?
Sam: It was! He also has a cameo in the film, as does Tim Burton. Both are pretty rad.
DR: This was Tim Burton’s first full-length film, if I’m not mistaken. There must have been some sort of spiritual mind-meld between him and Paul Reubens, because the film is a perfect example of both men’s talents. Also, it’s funny as fuck.
Sam: (laughs) Agreed. It’s sort of a magical film. The first full length for Tim Burton, and the first soundtrack for Danny Elfman. Both have clearly gone on to do amazing things that we may not have without Pee-Wee. The three coming together like this… It was the perfect storm. Hysterically weird and totally surreal, but it has this undeniable sweetness to it.
DR: Oh, fer sure. There was a definite exuberance in Burton’s direction, as if the man was finally untethered by Disney, which he was. Much of his work after this can be viewed as a slow decline and before you know it – Mars Attacks! It’s such a shame.
Sam: Yeah! Big Adventure was sort of unhinged free-for-all on the weird. My favorite. The innocence of Pee-Wee as a character along with Burton’s darkness makes such an amazing film. There are moments, like the infamous Large Marge scene or the evil clown hospital scene, where the strength of that dark vs. light partnership really shines. Shit gets real weird.
DR: (nods) Completely surreal. But I remember Reuben’s TV show being completely off the rails peculiar. In all the right ways. Simone and Pee Wee reunited in Burton’s Batman Returns, as I remember. That was a surreal moment.
Sam: Yes! A couple of weeks ago, a few of us stayed up late after Shitty Movie Monday and watched some Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, since I own the DVDs. The episodes are so silly, but much less dark than Big Adventure. We always knew he and Simone would reunite, right? Friends forever, talkin’ about life’s big “but.”
DR: I remember my mom freaking out about it in the theater when it happened. I was too little to recognize actors, I think, but I certainly appreciate that little cameo now. Back when Burton still had a heart, right?
Sam: (laughs) He had to! He put Christopher Walken in that one, and there was no sight of Helena Bonham Carter. They were simpler times.
DR: It all seems so quaint, now. What’s next?
DR: Now, I have to admit, I’ve never seen this film. But it was directed by Tarsem Singh. I guessing this is quite a visually impressive film.
Sam: I was afraid you hadn’t, which is a shame. This is easily the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. It was shot in 28 countries over 4 years time, and Tarsem claims there were no computer generated visual effects, which is insane to imagine while watching it. Aside from the immense beauty, the storyline is intense, to say the least.
DR: Tell me about it. This film stars Lee Pace, who is quickly becoming my favorite thing to look at, pretty much all the time.
Sam: Jesus Christ, you are not kidding. He is immensely beautiful… That’s it. We should just end this now to look at photos of his face.
DR: I’m looking at him in my heart. What is it about The Fall that you find so endearing?
Sam: The Fall is about Lee Pace’s character Roy, who is a stunt actor. He falls during a particular tough shot, and loses the use of his legs. While in a hospital, he meets a young Romanian girl named Alexandria, who is in the hospital with a broken arm. They end up becoming friends, as he tells her stories. The stories themselves, are beautiful. While Roy gives the verbal output, they are entirely visualized as Alexandria sees them. Everything is vivid, surreal, and the characters are made up of the people she knows and love. Together, Roy and Alexandria build this epic story – and world – to escape their own realities. In the end, when their combined realities begin to crumble, those lines of reality and fantasy begin to blur. It’s a doozy.
DR: I am consistently wary of Tarsem, as a director. I found The Cell to be a confounding mess, but I couldn’t look away. I won’t touch Immortals. And Mirror, Mirror… Well. But that, I must begrudgingly admit, sounds pretty tantalizing. This is a Film That Makes You Cry, am I right?
Sam: It is incredibly high on that list for me. It lures you in with the intense visuals and before you know it, the story has evolved and your feelings are all wrapped up in their story, and their emotions. It’s mostly a tale of love, wonder, fantasy, and the complications of our own emotions and the world around us. We’ve all found solace in an unexpected stranger, no matter how serious or innocuous the situation. Every once in a while, someone comes along and changes your life. It’s that sort of story, but with a more interesting cast. Charles Darwin and his pet monkey Wallace, an Indian, an African Slave, an explosion-obsessed Italian man, and the Black Bandit… All planning to murder their common sworn enemy.
DR: Darwin… Monkey… Black Band… What?
Sam: (laughs) Yes! Not to confuse you; it’s also a really funny film, and incredibly touching. There’s a lot going on. One of the main characters is Charles Darwin, who in real life had a partner by the last name of Wallace. Together, they came up with the theory of Natural Selection, but Darwin took sole credit. The movie pokes fun at that a bit.
DR: It seems that there are more than a few themes that occur at once during this film. If you had to categorize it, what genre would The Fall, um… Fall into? Oh god. I’m so sorry.
Sam: Oh, stop. Wordplay is one easy way to sweep me off of my feet. GET IT. SWEEP. FALL. WOW.
Sam: In the beginning of the film Roy says that if Alexandria returns to his bedside, he’ll tell her an Epic. That’s the only real category I could place it in: it’s an epic. We should gather some friends for a viewing soon and cry together!
DR: Sam, I’m completely down. What’s next?
DR: Fucking… I fucking love this movie. I don’t love David O. Russell, but I love this movie. Why is this on the list for you?
Sam: Oh man, me too. My mom bought this on a whim and I ignored it for so long, thinking it looked too silly. When I finally popped it into my DVD player, it remained there for far too long. I watched it almost obsessively. Having gone to art school, it’s fairly safe to say that I’ve had a number of existential crises throughout my life. How amazing would it be if you could hire someone to figure yourself out for you? Not to mention, one of the most important questions in life: somethingness or nothingness?
DR: “Have you ever transcended space and time?” “Yes. Time, not space. No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Albert is everyone of us.
Sam: “You can’t handle my infinite nature, can you?” “That is so not true… Wait, what does that even mean?” Brad Stand is also all of us. We are all all of us!
DR: I think anyone who survived their early twenties went through some sort of self-imposed existential crisis. This movie came out right around the time I was well up my own ass with my Nietzsche and my tears and my bullshit. I felt this film bore a hole into my very soul.
Sam: Oh, absolutely! On a personal level, I know that you and I both experienced difficulties growing up, which may have pushed those thoughts to the forefront of our brains. I definitely questioned humanity early on, and the Jaffe & Jaffe vs. Caterine Vauban battle has basically been an internal struggle for a good portion of my life. I think – hope! – that most people have encountered the question at some point: is everything and everyone connected, or does nothing matter at all? I settled on a similar conclusion to Albert and Tommy in the end, and I find that I identify with this film more and more with each viewing. I’ve also always had a pretty major interest in interconnectedness and coincidences. I spend a lot of time thinking about them. Probably more than I should. (laughs)
DR: There are days when I’m in a Caterine sort of mood. It certainly helps that the nihilism was being delivered by Isabelle Huppert, who I love so very, very much. But the Jaffes make wandering the ethereal realm seem so comforting and sweet. I want to live under that blanket sometimes.
Sam: Absolutely. Huppert finds a way of making nihilism sexy. I think a little of both is necessary at times, which Tommy points out by reiterating that interconnectedness is also “nothing special!” Can we also mention the soundtrack? Jon Brion is amazing.
DR: When it comes to the aching nothingness that is my daily existence, I have to remind myself to have a goddamned sense of humor sometimes. This movie definitely helps. It takes everything I hate about living in contemporary society and makes it okay to hate it. The WASPy family that takes in a Sudanese refugee. The consumerist culture of Huckabees. The vapid existence of Brad and Dawn.
Sam: Absolutely, to all of this. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I try to have a sense of humor in all aspects of my life. This movie is a reminder to continue doing so. It takes all of our serious feelings and makes them hilarious, as they are.
DR: David O. Russell really aced this picture. I love most everything the man has made, plus or minus a film or two. How he could be so tonally spot-on with existential plight and fail so fucking miserably with bi-polar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook mystifies me.
Sam: I have yet to see Silver Linings Playbook, so I’ll keep that in mind once I do see it.
DR: I didn’t want to dislike it. But I can’t fault Russell for being Russell. If you enjoy the energy of Huckabees, you’ll find things in Playbook to enjoy. It was just too fucking cute for my liking. Huckabees is just so delightfully hateful. I can’t get past it.
Sam: There is a lot of sadness and anger in Huckabees, it’s surprising that there wouldn’t be more of that in Silver Linings, when taking the subject matter into consideration. Maybe Mr. Russell is gettin’ soft!
DR: I would definitely say so. American Hustle is definitely more Scorsese-Lite than a potent entry in his filmography. Such a bummer. What’s next?
DR: Wes Anderson’s follow-up to The Royal Tenenbaums. Is this your favorite Wes Anderson film?
Sam: I think it may be. I’ve watched The Royal Tenenbaums as obsessively as I Heart Huckabees, but I feel like I relate more to The Life Aquatic. I also grew up absolutely enamored by Jacques Cousteau, and the ocean itself. I love the ocean, but I also fear it intensely. The first time I watched this one, it felt like Wes was making it for me.
DR: I know so many people who swear by this film. I always believe there are two camps of people: People who love Tenenbaums and people who use the term Team Zissou without a shred of irony. I’m a Rushmore kid myself. I won’t deny that the level of ambition for Anderson was elevated dramatically for this film – it’s a technical beauty. But I feel it sacrifices the heart found in Tenenbaums for the sake of kitsch. When Zissou takes his team on an undersea adventure in a literal yellow submarine, I actually threw my hands up in the movie theater in exasperation. Maybe a little disgust.
Sam: It is a completely different film than Tenenbaums was, despite the clear Anderson similarities in familial tension and terrible fathers, per usual. My love of the sea may create some bias, but I love the fact that this is the first of his films to take place on such foreign ground, like the ocean. What’s more foreign than that? Space. And holy hell, will I be waiting in line when Anderson releases a space film.
DR: Wes Anderson goes to space. Let me digest that one.
Sam: I didn’t know I needed it until I said it.
Sam: There are moments throughout that have lot of heart, I just think they’re much more subtle than they were in The Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore. For example, the entirety of the “let me tell you about my boat” sequence stirs up something really sweet inside of me. It may be the voyeuristic aspect, the me that wants to understand how these things work, literally seeing what it may have looked like to live out a dream with the Cousteau crew. Everything about the music and inner-workings of this ship seem emotional, even down to the naming of the yellow submarine after a lost love. The Belafonte itself was modeled after Cousteau’s Calypso, and the tiny yellow submarine Jacques used in real life was also yellow! Zissou’s was named Jacqueline. I’m sure that is totally coincidental.
DR: I didn’t know that about Cousteau’s submarine. My own ignorance embarrasses me sometimes. That’s really cool. I totally appreciate why you’re so into this movie. It’s hard not to get into a film that employs the minutiae of thing you personally enjoy. It lets your geek out. And that always rules.
Sam: Absolutely! My love of both space and the sea are founded on this idea of being equally enamored and terrified of them. The idea that these incredible losses take place while aboard the ship – and during the filming of a show based off of one that I loved so much – is definitely something that tugs at those heart strings. And The Life Aquatic is sort of all about that fear of the unknown. It begins with the loss of his best friend to the sea, and ends with the loss of his son to it. His initial reason for tracking down the Jaguar Shark is to exact revenge, but when he finds it, they only exist with it. It’s one of the most tender moments in the entire film, when Zissou finally lets himself grieve for a moment. He self-describes as a showboat-y prick, but he really allows himself to be vulnerable to the rest of the crew. That moment files this under the Films That Make Me Cry category, as well.
DR: Bill Murray is excellent in this film, I won’t deny it.
Sam: But I think the other characters are as well. Anjelica Huston, Goldblum, Dafoe… This one has some of my favorites. Also, Waris Ahluwalia (who plays Vikram) is another relentless crush.
DR: I’m always pumped to see Jeff Goldblum.
Sam: And another amazing soundtrack!
DR: Those were all Bowie songs, correct?
Sam: Seu Jorge performs a few really lovely Bowie songs in Portuguese, but Mark Mothersbaugh does the soundtrack, as he did for The Royal Tenenbaums. And to bring it full circle: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
DR: Mind blown. You’re marvelous.
Sam: I like what I like, Jarrod. Can’t help it!
DR: And number five is…
DR: I won’t lie to you: I’m really excited to talk about this film. It’s not my favorite Lynch film, but I still love it so intensely.
Sam: Yes! This one marked me the deepest.
DR: Now tell me why.
Sam: I’m not one for traditional rom-coms, but non-traditional love stories like Lula and Sailor’s really get to me. There’s something about the idea of literally having a partner in crime, and finding true love in such a violent world against all odds. All in all, Lula and Sailor are good kids in love, with all of the odds stacked against them, but their love prevails. True Romance is also beloved for the same reason. I just really want to see Alabama and Clarence make it out together. Wild at Heart has all of that beautiful Lynchian weirdness, so I’ve got that much more love for it.
DR: Completely agree. Sailor worships Lula so completely. A love like that should be unhealthy, and that’s the point. The world will burn before they are separated. I can’t get enough of that. I completely relate to Sailor, as insane as that may sound. “I’ll only sing Love Me Tender to the woman I’m gonna marry,” he promises throughout the entire film. Then, over the end credits, Sailor sings it for Lula. It kills me. Every. Time.
Sam: I literally just got choked up watching the clip on YouTube, so yes. If I don’t walk down the aisle some day – in the far, far future… Don’t worry, Mom – to Love Me Tender, something is very wrong with the man I intend to marry.
DR: Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are both so, so amazing in this film. It’s truly remarkable; they spend so much time fucking each other like crazy that they literally have to plan their next steps mid-coitus. I want to be in that kind of love.
Sam: Don’t turn away from love, Jarrod! Don’t turn away from love!
Sam: It really is a bit of an unhealthy co-dependent kind of love, but it is so sweet. Especially with the evil surrounding them. Lynch really does not make their path an easy one.
DR: And that is what makes Wild At Heart such an incredible movie. None of it should work. It should be such a chaotic mess. Sailor and Lula could have died at the end, and maybe it would have made more sense for the film if they had. But it is so relentless in its message of “love conquers all”, or “love will shoot all in the fucking face if all doesn’t walk away right now”. I own it on VHS and DVD. I have the soundtrack on cassette. Whenever I hear Wicked Game, I think of this movie. I say “this jacket represents my individuality” without a shred of remorse or shame to complete strangers, in hopes that they know what I’m talking about. This movie is my fucking life. Ugh.
Sam: Our belief in personal freedom is very important. To each of us. Absolutely. This is another film that is oddly tender. I really love when they’re driving and Lula becomes overwhelmed by how disgusting the news is, so she pulls over and orders Sailor to play some music. They both dance/mosh on the side of the road until she gets it out. They literally dance out her feelings. KILLS ME EVERY TIME.
DR: Love that scene. Love how crazy Willem Dafoe is. Bobby Peru.
Sam: Oh god, Bobby Peru! Such a different Dafoe than we saw in The Life Aquatic. I love that man, but… Bobby is the stuff of nightmares. Also frighteningly beautiful, Isabella Rossellini. Oh, lord.
DR: Bobby Peru is yet another in Lynch’s stable of quotable psychopaths. Frank Booth is more frightening, but Bobby Peru is just balls-out nuts. And Isabella Rossellini. Get the fuck out of here. I mean, forget it.
Sam: Between her and Laura Dern, even Cage – who is a babe in this movie, I don’t care, JUDGE ME – there are a lot of feelings in this one. Also another wonderful lunatic cameo? Crispin Glover. Just wonderful.
DR: No. I have complete lust for Nicolas Cage in this film. No lie.
Sam: Are we not human? Do we not bleed? How could we not?
DR: (laughs) Sam, thank you again for taking time for me. This was great.
Sam: It was an absolute pleasure. Let’s talk shop more often!
Born and raised in Detroit, Sam graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a degree in Fine Art. Since then, she has: tried to outrun an existential crisis by moving to Korea, swam with elephants in Thailand, and became a published author in the book Ahoy Booty! with a series of butt-focused haikus. She currently resides in Chicago with her two cats, making art, selling booze-filled peanut butter cups under the name Dandy Sweets, and predictably plays the ukulele. She thinks about pizza more than any one woman should. Sam also hosts a pretty rad weekly movie night called Shitty Movie Monday. We only watch (hilariously) terrible movies with wonderful friends. Please join us!