Exclusive Interview with Ron Shelton about ‘Just Getting Started’

Just Getting Started Shelton with Jones and Freeman

When I first looked at the poster for “Just Getting Started,” I was very happy to see the following phrase on it: written and direct by Ron Shelton. Shelton is responsible for creating some of the best sports movies such as “Bull Durham,” Tin Cup” and “White Men Can’t Jump,” and he has a true gift for creating fantastic dialogue and getting wonderful performances out of his actors. Somewhere along the line, he stopped making movies to where I wondered where he was and what he was up to. Now we know.

“Just Getting Started” takes place at a luxury resort in Palm Springs, California called the Villa Capri. This resort is managed by Duke Diver (Morgan Freeman), a man with a mysterious past who is determined to make sure his residents will never ever stop partying or having fun. But while Duke is the life of the party, his ego becomes threatened by the arrival of Leo (Tommy Lee Jones), an ex-military man who wastes no time in battling Duke for the top spot of Alpha male at the Villa Capri. Things get even more complicated when a new resident, the beautiful Suzie (Rene Russo), arrives at the resort, and the two become determined to gain her affections in an effort to prove who is the better man. But once Duke’s past comes back to haunt him, he and Leo are forced to work together in an effort to stay alive.

It was a real pleasure talking with Shelton, and he spoke about what brought him back to the director’s chair for the first time in over a decade, how he goes about directing a comedy, and of what it was like to have Freeman and Jones go against type and play characters who are not so serious and eager to have fun. Shelton also talked about Glenne Headly who passed away recently, as this was the last movie she appeared in before her death.

Just Getting Started movie poster

Ben Kenber: I was very excited to learn you were directing another movie. This is your first feature film since “Hollywood Homicide.” What was it about this story which inspired you to get back in the director’s chair?

Ron Shelton: Well I had three or four movies which fell through at the last second, so it’s not like I suddenly decided to get off the couch and direct. I have been writing steadily and developing TV things and trying to finance features. In the independent world, there are so many moving parts to the financing that if one piece falls out, the whole thing falls apart. So it hasn’t been for lack of effort, and now I have a couple more I think that are gonna go. It won’t be such a dearth of time between them, and I got some other projects I’m working on. This one came together financially, that’s why this one got made.

BK: What inspired you to write this particular screenplay?

RS: Southern California where I grew up, and maybe you grew up, in the winters and Christmas, to me, I’m used to it. You go to the beach and play golf. But people from cold climates come out here and they are just like appalled; this doesn’t count as Christmas. And I started saying to half the world, this is Christmas, this kind of weather. What’s wrong with it? When the Nativity happened, it was probably more like Palm Springs (laughs). Then I remembered driving to Palm Springs at Christmas and there were dust storms and Christmas trees were blowing off lots down the street and Johnny Mathis was being piped in, and I thought, yeah, this was a good backdrop for a movie, so that’s where the backdrop came from. And then basically, the Duke Diver character is based on a hustler a producer and I knew who was a good hustler. He wasn’t a criminal hustler, but he was a guy everybody loved, and nobody ever knew what he did for a living or how he survived. So, I kind of turned that into this character, and the whole thing fell together.

BK: The characters played by Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo, they are not all they appear to be at the start.

RS: Right, exactly.

BK: Your movies take place in the real world which we all understand and complain about more often than not, and they also contain fantastical elements which you can only find in the realm of fiction. How much of a challenge is it for you to balance those two elements out?

RS: It’s what I prefer to do. What I couldn’t imagine is a movie set in outer space or in the future or time travel or Death Stars blowing up or toys that turn into monsters or Transformers. That doesn’t interest me. I’m interested in human behavior whether it’s tragic or comic, and all of my movies, however disparate they are, are about how people behave. I just think that’s the most exciting thing to observe, and I tend to like movies about human behavior and not special effects. That’s just me. I’m in the minority obviously when you look at the box office results out there. I like to take the audience into a world they never would go into except for a movie whether it’s playground basketball (“White Men Can’t Jump”), minor league baseball (“Bull Durham”), or the political world of Louisiana politics in the 1950’s (“Blaze”). That’s just what interests me. It’s as simple as that.

BK: I fear many people will consider “Just Getting Started” as a movie about old people, but it really isn’t. It’s more about how no one ever really acts their age and how we roll with the punches.

RS: Well you don’t go to a retirement home to die. You go there to party. Everybody onscreen is not looking back and reliving their loses which everyone has, looking at their high school yearbooks, or thinking about what might have been. Everybody there probably is divorced or widowed, and all they are doing is looking for what’s next in their life. I’m 70. When you get to 70, that’s all you’re doing. I don’t think of myself as old. I can’t hit a golf ball as far, but I’m a better golfer. Morgan’s 80 and Tommy’s my age. We’re all about moving forward, working more, discovering things about ourselves, and that’s really what I think interests me. Most people I know who are my age, whether they are in the movie business or not, are not looking back. They are looking forward and looking forward to tomorrow. That’s all it’s about.

BK: I love how you cast Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in these roles. Both are known for playing dramatic roles with a lot of gravitas, so seeing them let loose here is a joy because we don’t see them often in comedic roles. When it comes to directing actors to be funny, do you let them play the joke or play the scene?

RS: Play the scene always. Never play the joke. I’m not a very good joke writer anyway. I try to write behavior and interchange and exchange that’s humorous or that’s real and based on behavior, and I just say play it. You’re the actors, play it. Don’t ever look for a laugh. Don’t ever worry about where the punchline is because there’s probably not a punchline, and that’s the way we do it.

BK: That’s great because a lot of movies today, filmmakers just like to play the joke and that doesn’t work.

RS: Right.

BK: I think the trick with comedy, especially with your movies, is to play the scene and never play it like you are in on the joke.

RS:  Exactly. A lot of times an actor, not these two because they are so good, but in another movie I’d be directing, they would say this line is so funny on the page and I don’t think I’m getting the laugh out of it. I said you shouldn’t be trying to get the laugh, just play it real. Play every line real, and the laughs come or they don’t come. Sometimes you think there’s going to be a laugh in the script, and it’s a smile. Sometimes a laugh comes when you least expect it, but it’s not going to come on the punchline because there aren’t any, or they rarely are.

BK: You worked with Rene Russo in “Tin Cup,” and she looks and is fabulous in this role. It looks like a serious role for her at first, but then she pulls out the stops.

RS: Rene plays the strong woman who’s really a mess better than anybody I know (laughs).

BK: How did you direct the actors? Did you just let them loose?

RS: When a director says “action,” his work is done. It’s like you’re a basketball coach; at the first tip, you’re done. Plus, with these people, you don’t have to direct them as much as you give them a note and then get out of the way. Just help stage it and shoot it. Tommy’s note was look you’re not competing with Duke, he’s competing with you. You’re not threatened by Duke, he’s terribly threatened by you. So that’s where some of the chemistry comes from. Tommy’s toying with Duke, and Duke is fighting for his existence with Tommy. So that just needs a slightly different motivation.

BK: When you write a screenplay, you usually have a vision of it in your head of how the dialogue should sound like. What is it like when actors speak the dialogue you have written?

RS: Well then, it’s the third thing: You write one movie, you shoot another movie, and then you edit a third movie as the old saying goes. Once they have it, it takes on a new life of its own. That’s the truth. Once you’ve hired the actor and I hand them the script, I always say look, until this moment, I know more about this character than you because I have been living with this character and writing him and figuring him out. Now, it’s yours. Now you’re going to discover things about this character I didn’t even think about. So in a certain way, I’m handing this character to you.

BK: I also liked the three ladies (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley and the late Glenne Headly) whom Duke flirts with, and I loved their dialogue because you expect them to not know what’s going on, but they know more than they let on. What was it like writing those characters?

RS: They were great. I wish I had more time. It was a fast shoot. We had 28 days if you can believe that. If we had more time, we could have done more with those wonderful actresses. And yes indeed, it was a shocking loss when Glenne passed. Nobody anticipated it at all, and it happened suddenly too. It wasn’t like a disease. But they were all great to work with. They were so happy to be working in a nourishing environment where everybody was having fun, and there was mutual trust and we could play. But everybody was very respectful of the script. There was virtually no improvising in the whole movie, and they were just pros. I love working with pros.

BK: I really thought the dedication you gave Glenne at the conclusion of the end credits was really lovely.

RS: Thank you.

BK: In regards to the shooting schedule you had for this movie, how did shooting it in less than 30 days affect you as a director?

RS: It’s not a shooting schedule when a movie is shot in three different cities with 80 and 70-year-old actors with about 80 locations. It’s a schedule when you’ve got sets, and we didn’t have any sets, and you’re moving the company all the time. When you’re moving the company all the time, that’s what takes time. The second unit I shot in Palm Springs because we also shot in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I picked up a day in Valencia. So that’s a lot of movie for 28 days.

BK: Another actor I was happy to see in this movie was Jane Seymour, and she is almost completely unrecognizable here. Was this by design or was it her idea to look completely different from any role she has played previously?

RS: When she said she would love to do this, she was a late add. She said, what’s my hair look like? I said I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about that. And she said, I have two different wigs. And I said, why don’t you wear them both? We’ll just alternate them in scenes. She thought that was a great idea, and she said one is blonde and one is brunette. I said perfect, every time we cut to you, you’ll look different.

BK: How did this movie evolve for you while you were in the editing room?

RS: Well you keep finding the movie. The big question in editing was, how much should the audience know that you keep a secret? You don’t want to make it too much, and you also don’t want to say he doesn’t have a secret because when the golf cart blows up, it can’t be like, what the hell’s happening? It has to be oh, now we’re going to get to the bottom of the secret. So we were always playing with how much to share with the audience and how much not to share. That’s just a difficult kind of problem you address in post-production.

I really want to thank Ron Shelton for taking the time to talk with me. It was a real pleasure. “Just Getting Started” will open on December 8, 2017. Be sure to check it out!

Poster, photo and trailer courtesy of Broad Green Pictures.

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Ti West and Gene Jones on Preparing for ‘The Sacrament’

The Sacrament movie poster

You may not know who Gene Jones is, but odds are you have seen him in at least one movie he has co-starred in. Many know him best for his role as the gas station owner who is subjected to one of Anton Chigurh’s terrifying coin tosses in “No Country for Old Men,” and he also appeared as Wild West Barker in “Oz the Great and Powerful” and co-starred in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” But after watching him in Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” it will be impossible to forget who Jones is as he gives us a character who seems sweet on the surface but is really a vicious devil in disguise.

“The Sacrament” follows a couple of reporters as they travel out to a commune located out in the middle of nowhere to find one of a long lost relative. Upon their arrival, they discover the commune is a technology-free zone called Eden Parish, and they meet Father (played by Jones) who is the leader and treats his loyal followers with tremendous warmth and care. But when these outsiders arrive, he quickly sees them as a threat and eventually convinces his followers to take a sinister course of action which leads to an unspeakable tragedy.

The press day for “The Sacrament” was held at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, and many who worked on this movie, be it in front of or behind the camera, participated in an informative press conference. Among those there was West who told us he wanted to audition Jones after seeing him play a pharmacist on “Louie.”

Ti West: There’s a scene where there is a woman waiting in line and asking all these inane questions to the pharmacist who’s not paying attention, and Louie (C.K.’s) waiting behind her and he’s getting bored. And then Gene eventually turns to her and is like, “Have you had a bowel movement today and was it soft?” And then she gets uncomfortable and then that’s the scene, and I was like, “That’s the guy.” So, what we did was that we tracked him down and then I asked him to do a quick audition. Most of the reason I asked him to do the audition wasn’t so much to see if it would be any good. I just wanted to see if he would not be into the material. So I knew that if he did the second audition that he wasn’t going to be uncomfortable with the subject matter like that because you never know if you don’t know people. Gene likes to say that the first audition wasn’t very good and that’s why I asked him to do a second one which is not true. But there was enough from those, just seeing him do it, to know what I had thought was going to happen was going to happen.

The plot of “The Sacrament” was largely inspired by the 1978 Jonestown Massacre when Jim Jones made the followers of the Peoples Temple commit mass suicide. When Jones first appears onscreen as Father, you can’t help but be reminded of Jim, especially with those sunglasses he’s wearing. But in describing his preparation to play Father, Jones shot down our assumptions of what he did to prepare for this role.

Gene Jones: It’s less than one day in Father’s life, and not a typical day. So, I didn’t do any Jim Jones research about what he read and how he interacted with people on a daily basis. What I tried to do was be a guy who was so nice, you would leave your family and you would leave your country and go with this guy. I never met Ti until I stepped onto the set. I did audition for it, but it was a video audition. Actually it was two auditions and Ti commented on those, and those comments gave me the freedom to go where I wanted to go which was in the direction of being so damn trustworthy and so avuncular and nice. A phrase that popped into my head a few weeks ago when I was doing one of these (press conferences) was I wanted to show you somebody who was evil but not mean. Somebody who believed absolutely poisonous things but was the nicest fellow you ever met.

West said when he first met Jones in the flesh was when he arrived at the movie’s set located in Savannah, Georgia. Jones’ first big scene was when he does the interview with the two reporters, and it involved a lot of work and memorization on his part. West was more than prepared for things to go wrong as he described this scene as a “massive undertaking,” but we all felt his astonishment at how things actually turned out.

Ti West: It’s the kind of production day that you dread because it’s a night shoot, there’s 200 extras, it’s 12 pages which is like six times more than anyone wants to shoot in a day and there’s just so many moving parts, and it was cued up to be a disaster. I remember on the very first take I hadn’t told the extras what to do yet, and you’ve got to keep in mind that the extras are just there for one night to be in a movie. They don’t know what the movie is about and they haven’t read the script. They are just like, “Yeah we’re in a movie!” They’re all seated and you figure that some of them aren’t going to be good and will have to move them around, but before we do any of that let’s just wing it. Let’s just try one where Gene comes in and we’ll tell them to cheer. He can come in and then start talking to A.J. (Bowen), and its 12 pages so if the lines get screwed up we’ll stop and then we’ll do it in chunks, and this is how we are going to get through this night. Well on the very first take, Gene came in everybody went crazy. He sat down, did a 17-minute unbroken take without dropping a line, got up, everybody cheered and he walked out, and all of the reactions from the extras were their genuine reactions. They weren’t me feeding them things to do because I just wanted to assess the situation, but the assessment of the situation was we don’t need to do anything because Gene nailed that so effortlessly, and then all the extras chimed in perfectly. Gene had figured out how he was going to do it, and all I had to do was just capture it.

Jones’ comment on how the extras fueled his performance was great because he made it sound like he was doing a play more than making a movie.

Gene Jones: I loved, loved the congregation, and there’s little variations each time you shoot. They were tuned to that and I didn’t have to say, “Give me an amen somebody.” They would give me an amen. They would just give it to me and they would nod, and it was just alive. It was like talking to a group of friends. They all chimed in and they were great.

In a business which can be so ridiculously youth-oriented, it is nice to see an actor like Gene Jones defy the odds. If this were a studio movie, executives would have probably forced Ti West to cast a young adult who was more demographically desirable. But in the end, there are certain parts only actors of a certain age can pull off, and this is one of them. Jones succeeds in giving us a villain for the ages as Father draws people in with ease and then destroys their lives for the most selfish of reasons.

“The Sacrament” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Click on the video below to check out the interviews I did with Ti West, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Seimetz about “The Sacrament” for We Got This Covered.

Exclusive Interview with Joe Berlinger about ‘Intent to Destroy’

Many of us grew up believing the Holocaust was the first instance of genocide in modern history, but this was not the case. The first came with the Armenian Genocide which began back in 1915 when the Ottoman Empire rounded up and executed over a million Armenians, but this horrific event ended up being swept under the rug by the Turkish government, and even today they deny such an atrocity took place. But awareness of the Armenian Genocide continues to rise all around the world with marches and motion pictures which, once upon a time, were very easy to shut down before a single frame was shot.

Among those eager to make everyone aware of this horrific part of history is filmmaker Joe Berlinger, and he does so with his documentary “Intent to Destroy.” With it, Berlinger looks deep into the facts of this horrific event to where no one can ever say it didn’t happen, and he also gives us a behind the scenes look at Terry George’s “The Promise” which was the one movie no one could stop from being made about this subject matter. Starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon, the movie was a box office bomb, but the fact it got made and released at all is in itself a huge miracle.

I got to speak with Berlinger about “Intent to Destroy” and this piece of history which I was never taught about in school. Berlinger is, of course, best known for directing some of the best documentaries including the “Paradise Lost” trilogy, “Brother’s Keeper” and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” all of which show him digging deep into subject matter in a way others are unable to. With this documentary, he forces us to recognize a part of history which can no longer be suppressed.

Berlinger discussed how he first became aware of the Armenian Genocide, and of how it was a result of him having an interest in the Holocaust. He also talked about “The Promise” and of how the movie was released by Hollywood but not exactly produced by it. In addition, Berlinger also showed me how the events of this documentary relate to the events of today as we are living in a time of fake news and alternative facts which serve to keep us away from the truth those in power want to desperately suppress. Indeed, this documentary’s tagline says it best:

“Whoever controls the narrative, controls the history.”

“Intent to Destroy” opens on November 10, 2017 at the following theaters:

The Laemmle Playhouse in Los Angeles

Pacific Theatres in Glendale

Village East Cinemas in New York

Check out the interview above and enjoy!

Intent to Destroy poster

 

Savage Steve Holland Revisits ‘Better Off Dead’ and ‘One Crazy Summer’ at the Aero Theatre

Better Off Dead poster

The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica was sold out yet again when director Savage Steve Holland was there to talk about his two 1980’s comedies “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer” back in June 2008. But the big attraction of the evening was “Better Off Dead” as it still has a huge cult following 30 years after its release. Like many movies from our youth, it was a box office flop and got eviscerated by critics. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down, and Peter Travers tore it apart limb from limb, but it eventually found its audience on video, cable, DVD and Blu-ray. These days, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t watched “Better Off Dead,” and everyone who has seen it loves it.

“Better Off Dead” follows Lane Meyer (John Cusack), a teenager with an obsession for skiing and an even bigger obsession for his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss). But soon after the movie begins, Beth dumps Lane for the captain of the ski team, and this leaves him utterly devastated to where he tries to kill himself in order to get her attention. Throughout, he is forced to deal with a crazed paperboy who wants his two dollars, his mother’s bizarre ways of cooking food, his dad’s insistence on doing something about his Camaro which remains immobile on the front lawn, his kid brother who reads books on how to pick up “trashy woman,” and a lovely foreign exchange student who has the misfortune of staying with the dork heads, ahem, the Smiths next door.

After “Better Off Dead” ended, Holland came to the stage and was greeted with thunderous applause. Dressed in jeans, a white buttoned-down shirt and wearing a green baseball cap, he was so happy to see all these people who came out to see this movie which he made long ago. Along with Holland was Diane Franklin who played the French exchange student Monique, and Curtis Armstrong who plays Lane’s best friend Charles de Mar.

Holland said “Better Off Dead” was inspired by his own life experiences, particularly the one where a girlfriend dumped him for somebody else. One scene has Lane tying an extension cord around his neck in the garage, and Holland said he did the same thing and had attached the cord to a pole while standing on a plastic garbage can. Holland said he became terrified and couldn’t go through with it, and then the lid of the garbage can suddenly broke and he fell right into it. Then the pipe above him broke, water came out and he almost drowned as a result. His mother came into the garage to see what was going on, and she ended up yelling at him for breaking the pipe.

“Better Off Dead” did so well in test screenings to where Warner Brothers gave Holland even more money to make “One Crazy Summer.” The studio executives were so convinced they had a big hit on their hands, and they wanted to work with him again on his next movie. Unfortunately, “Better Off Dead” failed at the box office and, while he did get the opportunity to make “One Crazy Summer,” Holland said he was quickly consigned to what he called “movie hell.” This is the place you go to when your movie doesn’t have a big opening weekend, and all those friends you thought you had in Hollywood stop calling you as a result.

one_crazy_summer_xlg

One fan asked Holland what the difference was between making “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer.” With “Better Off Dead,” Holland said he had total creative freedom to where no one was looking over his shoulder, and this made it the best filmmaking experience he has ever had. With “One Crazy Summer,” it was very different because there was more money involved, and studio executives were on set watching his every move. A lot of this was due to their initial response following the first “Better Off Dead” screening as they came out of it horrified, thinking it was a sequel to John Water’s “Pink Flamingos.”

Franklin, as it turns out, is not French. She said her father is in fact German, so this may account for her looking like she is from another country. As for her French accent, Franklin said she took French classes in high school and became very good at speaking the language, and the accent came to her easily as a result. When she came in to read for “Better Off Dead,” Franklin was actually up for the roles of Beth and Monique. Franklin said making this movie remains the best experience she has had as an actress, and she remarked how Holland created a fun and comfortable atmosphere for everyone to work in. She also confirmed it was indeed a woman who did her skiing sequences in the movie and not a man as many assumed. Holland did say, however, that her stunt double looked almost exactly like her, and the only thing separating them was the stunt double’s tan.

Also up for the role of Monique was Elizabeth Daily who sang the movie’s title track at the school dance. But in the end, it was determined Daily was just “too hot” for the role.

Armstrong came up with some of the most memorable aspects of Charles de Mar. The scene where the ski captain asks Beth what her name is and Charles replies, mistakenly thinking he the one being talked to, was Armstrong’s idea. He also came up with the top hat Charles wears throughout the movie, saying it was inspired by his love for The Beatles and, in particular, George Harrison. It was also his idea to bring along the jar with the dead pig in it to school. However, Armstrong said he could not take credit for this famous piece of dialogue: “I have been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy.”

Armstrong also brought up a brief conversation he had with Kim Darby who played Lane’s mom. At one point during a break from filming, Darby came up to Armstrong, took him by the shoulders and said, “Watch out! They’re trying to destroy you!” After that, she never spoke to him again.

Holland also discussed some of the movie’s deleted scenes, and among them was one which showed how Lane’s mother belonged to the cult of Gumby and was collecting money for it at the airport. Other deleted scenes included Lane’s father (played by David Ogden Stiers) coming home to find his wife vacuuming the lawn, Lane trying to practice the theme song to “Flipper” on his saxophone, and there is a seal there which ends up applauding another person who ends up performing it better than him. Also, the scene of the paperboy falling off the cliff actually lasted a lot longer as Holland had about three minutes of it on film, but test audiences had a very sickened reaction to it, and it got shortened as a result.

If there was one thing which dampened the mood for “Better Off Dead” fans, it is the fact Cusack hates the movie. Holland said he got along great with Cusack while making “Better off Dead,” and he really wanted Cusack to like it as much as he did. Before they began shooting “One Crazy Summer,” Holland got the cast members to hang out with each other in Cape Cod so they could become comfortable with one another. While there, someone was presenting a screening of “Better Off Dead” which they all went to. Twenty or so minutes into it, Cusack walked out. Holland figured Cusack had to take a call or something, but the actor never returned. Holland later caught up with Cusack who told him he thought the movie was horrible and that he no longer trusted him as a director. Suffice to say, this really brought the audience at the Aero Theatre down.

Someone else asked how Rupert Hine came to score “Better Off Dead.” One of the companies involved in the movie’s making was A&M Records which had worked on soundtracks for other films like “The Breakfast Club.” Hine was a featured performer on that soundtrack but had never actually done a film score before. “Better Off Dead” was his first effort as a film composer, and the resulting soundtrack release for the movie is indeed awesome.

This evening was a lot of fun for everyone involved, and it says a lot about “Better Off Dead” that it remains so popular decades after its release. One fan proudly proclaimed it as being “bar none, the greatest movie ever made.” Such a fan this guy was, he got Holland to sign an authentic air filter for a 1967 Camaro, just like the one featured in the movie. Along with that, he also had the original vinyl release of the soundtrack as well as the movie’s original script.

“Better Off Dead” is truly one of the most entertaining comedies to come out of the 1980’s, and it is a movie Cusack really should be proud of. What else can you say about a movie in which Steven Williams utters one of the most famous lines in cinema history?

“Now that’s a real shame when folks be throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that.”

The article’s over… You can go home now.

 

Peter Weller and Company Revisit ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ at New Beverly Cinema

Buckaroo Banzai poster

Looking back at some of the articles I have written about screenings at New Beverly Cinema, I kept saying or implying that you could never expect any screenings showing there to sell out. But now it looks like that’s becoming less and less the case. Ever since Quentin Tarantino bought the building where the theater is located and saved it from becoming another Supercuts, more and more movie geeks have descended on this establishment, the last standing movie reparatory theater in Los Angeles. Jason Reitman did a movie program there which featured “Election,” “Boogie Nights” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and it brought out huge crowds of people. Torgan and company ended up having to do something they almost never do; turn people away!

Well, the line around New Beverly once again snaked around the corner as actor Peter Weller was scheduled to introduce a screening of the 1984 cult classic, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” on March 29, 2010. Every single was taken, and the screening got delayed because the line at concessions threatened to snake around the theater as well. Weller brought along two other players from Buckaroo’s crew: Billy Vera who played the bass guitarist for Banzai’s rock band the Blue Blaze Irregulars, and Gerald Peterson who played Rug Sucker. The Q&A was moderated by Jeremy Smith, Mr. Beaks from Ain’t It Cool News, and he proclaimed this to be “the nerdiest movie ever made.” Upon saying this, he got a huge applause from the audience.

Weller did look a little ragged, and he later explained it was because he didn’t go to bed until about 2 a.m. the night before as he just got through 86 hours of PhD exams at UCLA. Furthermore, he said he has been wearing the same clothes for several days straight which reek of cigar smoke as he was smoking 10 of them in a day.

“Buckaroo Banzai” turned out to be a lot of fun, and this is despite the fact I have no idea of how to explain what it’s exactly about. However, it turns out the most ardent fans of this movie and the actors who starred in it can’t really explain what the plot is about either.

“I didn’t understand it (the script) actually, and I think no actor in it does understand it. I don’t think Billy or Gerald understood it, but it was fun,” Weller said.

“If you say you understood it, you’re a liar,” Vera said.

Weller went on to say 20th Century Fox didn’t know how to market “Buckaroo Banzai” at all. The studio executives came to the set around the time they were finishing principal photography and asked him, “Is it an action movie?” Later on, the editor of the movie, Oscar nominee Richard Marks, said, “That film is a comedy! It’s a comedy and they should have known that from the jump!”

But perhaps the best way to describe “Buckaroo Banzai” is its half comedy and half drama. Vera added many television shows later took on the half comedy and half drama formula, but he couldn’t think of any which came before this movie. To this, Weller added, “Or after.”

Weller was actually not sure if he was going to do this film because he had his eye on a romance movie around the same time. But this same romantic movie was getting bounced around from studio to studio, and his agent convinced him to take “Buckaroo Banzai” since it looked more and more like the other flick was not going to happen. With a cast which included Christopher Lloyd, Ellen Barkin and John Lithgow, this could not have been easy to turn down.

“The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” marked the directorial debut of screenwriter W. D. Richter who was best known for writing Phillip Kaufman’s version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and also “Brubaker.” Richter was also responsible for co-writing another movie 20th Century Fox had trouble promoting, John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China.” Weller described Richter as a beautiful and really laid-back guy, and that he was also an intellectual from the east coast. Richter didn’t have the get up and go Hollywood thing going on, and Weller said this made him perfect for the actors to work with. Also, Richter was a musician as was Weller and several of the cast members, and Weller said his heroes have always been musicians.

Vera said he got cast after Richter and Weller saw him perform at the Viper Room in Hollywood. After he was done, Vera said Richter got a hold of him and asked, “You know, I like the way you improvise on stage. Do you think you could do that in a movie?” “Yeah, I do it every night,” Vera said. ”Do me a favor,” Richter said, “kind of tell me where you’re gonna stand so that I can have a camera ready for you.” Weller, Vera and Peterson all agreed that this was the way Richter directed the whole movie.

Mr. Beaks then started taking questions from the audience, the first one coming from a guy who read somewhere that the producers of “Buckaroo Banzai” were not at all happy with the film. He asked if this dislike of theirs bled onto the set to which Weller replied, “Uh, yeah.“ It must really suck to make a movie while knowing those who got the ball rolling and spent so much money on it don’t believe in it after viewing the dallies. And like many cult movies, this one was a box office flop, but it eventually found a cult following on video, cable, and DVD. You have to wonder how this movie among others could inspire such fans to watch it at least 57 times. Weller summed it all up perfectly:

“The longevity of it is that it’s unique. There’s a uniqueness to it,” Weller said. “They (the producers) wanted it to fit into a mold. They thought that it would be more slapstick, overt action and humor. The humor, although I have to say I don’t understand a lot of it, was fantastic. The humor was so… Just under the radar man.”

“And that’s why they cut a half hour of it,” Vera added. “The movie was a half hour longer which gave the jokes more room to breathe, but the studio said they wanted to cut it short so that they can show it more times per day.”

Particularly fascinating was Weller’s take on Christopher Lloyd whom we all know best as Doctor Emmet Brown from “Back to the Future.” Weller talked about when Lloyd’s house in Montecito burned down during the devastating Malibu fires. Lloyd had gone on television to talk about what happened, and Weller described how he and his wife were so devastated over what happened to him. But during a conversation with one of Weller’s professors at UC Santa Barbara, who brought up how sorry he was for Lloyd losing his house, Weller quoted exactly what he said:

“You’re gonna be the first to know the truth… I was already selling the house and there was nothing in it at all. I was living in an apartment in Montecito!”

Stunned at hearing this, Weller looked right at Lloyd and said, “Chris! The world, not just LA, but the whole world! We even saw this news in Italy! You looked so sad…” Lloyd’s response to this really did turn the whole thing into a comedy:

“I know! Because when the fire was going and I walked up and they put three cameras in my face, and I didn’t know what to do except LIE!”

Weller also said he met Jeff Goldblum on the same night he lost his virginity, and then he brought up an almost insane story about Goldblum which took place when he was getting married. Weller had already been married at that point and was telling Goldblum how excited he was to see him settling down. What Goldblum told him after that made us see him in different light:

“We’re on the other side now Peter!”

Other tidbits about “Buckaroo Banzai” included how the montage of Buckaroo and his comrades coming together during the end credits was actually an addition made by Richter later on. While filming this, Weller admitted he and the actors were actually walking to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”

Before those end credits began, there was also the promise of a sequel laid out for the audience entitled “Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.” One audience member asked why this sequel never got made, and it turns out there was more to it than the movie dying at the box office:

“Well the one guy (producer) went to prison for bank fraud, and the other guy blew his brains out in Century City Plaza,” Weller said. “Both of those guys were really good guys and I stayed in touch with the one who went to the joint, and he’s out now.”

 Just before they finally started showing the movie, Weller thanked the crowd for coming out and said that this turnout and excitement was what he had expected when he walked in to meet his professors at UCLA today. Instead, they just gave him more stuff to work on, and that was after the 86 hours of work he had already done. Suffice to say, this crowd was far more welcoming.

It was great to finally see “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension” after all these years, and it was even more fun watching it with a large audience. To see it on television is one thing, but there is nothing like experiencing it on the silver screen in a packed theater. Weller took a very unrealistic character who was a renaissance man, a top neurosurgeon, particle physicist, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero, and he made you buy into him without questioning the logic of how he found the time to take on all these disciplines.

Another memorable evening at the New Beverly Cinema!

Chris Marquette Talks About Working with Vincent D’Onofrio in ‘Broken Horses’

Broken Horses Chris Marquette

Broken Horses” stars Anton Yelchin and Chris Marquette as brothers who are as close as siblings can be, and it’s very poetic how this movie arrived in theaters on National Siblings Day. Yelchin plays Jacob Heckum, a very talented violinist who reunites with his brother Buddy (Chris Marquette) in their hometown after being separated for a number of years. Their paths have gone in different directions, and Buddy has long since fallen under the spell of Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio), a gangster who has since gained complete control over Buddy to where he has denied him any chance of a scholastic education. But while Julius may have succeeded in turning Buddy into one of his most efficient mercenaries, Buddy is now looking for a way out of this mess he innocently fell into.

I got to talk with Marquette during at the Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills, California where he was doing promotion for “Broken Horses.” Marquette began his career as a model at the age of 4, and he later made his acting debut as the son of Mira Sorvino’s character in “Sweet Nothing.” I was very interested in hearing from him what it was like working with D’Onofrio who is one of cinema’s most accomplished actors. D’Onofrio left a memorable impression on us all in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” and he has given us unforgettable performances in “Mystic Pizza,” “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Strange Days.” In addition, many will never forget his work as Detective Robert Goren on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” or on the “Subway” episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Broken Horses movie poster

Marquette described what it was like acting opposite D’Onofrio, and his answer provided information about him which many of us didn’t know before.

Chris Marquette: He’s got a foot and a half on both of us which really helps. But D’Onofrio is a charmer and a great storyteller, and he’s really charismatic and that always carries weight and power. He’s got a million stories about the filmmakers and the sets he’s been on, so it was easy for me to start sliding into being whisked away by Vincent and Hench, his character. We were messing around one day and Vincent was just telling me stuff. I was asking him about his life and before he got into acting, and he was an amateur magician. With magicians you’ve got a way of doing tricks, and if you modify it slightly then you’ve technically invented a new technique. And so he invented some new technique on something really simple, and he’s telling me this and he starts doing the magic and it was… He’s telling me this whole story and I was so enthralled by it, and he was showing me this magic trick and I remember the next day Vinod and Abhijat (Joshi, the movie’s co-writer) called me and they said we think we’re writing in this… There’s a part where we are playing pool in the movie and he said, ‘You guys aren’t playing pool, I think he’s going to be showing you a magic trick.’ He was entertaining me like he would a kid, showing me this thing and I was like, ‘It’s amazing! Do it again!’

Not many actors get the opportunity of working with an actor like D’Onofrio, and Marquette is one of the lucky few who did. His thoughts on the “Full Metal Jacket” actor were truly fascinating, and I thank him for his time.

“Broken Horses” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Tom McLoughlin Revisits ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ at New Beverly Cinema

Tom Mcloughlin Jason Voorhees tombstone

On Friday June 5, 2009, Phil Blankenship presented a triple feature for horror fans at New Beverly Cinema with “Friday the 13th Parts IV, V, & VI.” The fourth film was called “The Final Chapter,” and seeing its title on the screen induced uncontrollable laughter in every member of the audience for obvious reasons. The fifth film, “A New Beginning” remains the most despised of the sequels as it tried to continue to the series without Jason, and it proved to be an embarrassing failure. “Jason Lives,” on the other hand, is one of the best in the series thanks in large part to the great sense of humor the filmmakers brought to it. All the sequels which came after this one turned out to be completely stupid and unintentionally hilarious with a few exceptions. In retrospect, these three movies marked the franchise’s peak as well as the start of its downward spiral.

As time went on, these three “Friday the 13th” sequels became known as the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. We first meet Tommy Jarvis in “The Final Chapter” where he is played by a very young Corey Feldman and spends his time playing on his computer or indulging in his hobby of making masks. Tommy ends up killing Jason with his machete, and then he can’t get himself to stop bashing him with it. In “A New Beginning,” we see an older Tommy, now played by John Shepherd, still dealing with the intense psychological damage his encounter with Jason thrust upon him. And then in “Jason Lives,” Tommy (this time played by Thom Matthews) is convinced Jason is not dead despite having been buried for years. But of course, he ends up accidentally resurrecting Jason and has to take him down yet again.

Blankenship gave the crowd a special treat by bringing out the writer/director of “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” Tom McLoughlin, to talk with the audience about its making. McLoughlin started off by saying how glad he was to be at New Beverly Cinema as he got all of his film education here, that shooting this sequel remains the most fun he has had as a filmmaker, and he confessed he has not seen a print of it since 1986.

Friday the 13th Part VI Jason Lives poster

When first hired to direct “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin admitted the only “Friday the 13th” movie he had seen previously was the first one. As a result, the executives at Paramount Pictures forced him to watch the other four. With “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin was intent on ignoring the events of “A New Beginning” because he said it really pissed him off. The audience at the New Beverly was in complete agreement with this, and they applauded him loudly.

McLoughlin also said he had originally planned to introduce Jason’s father, Elias Voorhees, into this sequel in order to give the iconic slasher more of a back story. We all know about his crazy mother, but not much has ever been said about Jason’s poppa. But Paramount Pictures was not crazy about this plot element because they weren’t sure which direction it would take the franchise in, so they put the kibosh on it. However, the DVD reissue of “Jason Lives” does have the film’s original ending with Jason’s father in the form of storyboards, and it is a must see for fans.

One fan asked McLoughlin how he got Alice Cooper to contribute songs to “Jason Lives.” It turns out Cooper is a big fan of the “Friday the 13th” series and was more than happy to participate, even allowing McLoughlin to use any of his songs in the movie. Cooper gave “Jason Lives” its end title song of “The Man behind the Mask,” but McLoughlin said the original version was much faster.

Blankenship asked McLoughlin the inevitable question about how he dealt with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and of what it took to get “Jason Lives” an R rating. Surprisingly, the MPAA didn’t want McLoughlin to cut scenes, but frames instead. McLoughlin said the frames didn’t have blood or gore in them, but the MPAA found them to be too intense. In the end, he made no secret he wanted this movie to be a “huge bloodbath.”

Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy Jarvis in “Jason Lives” as McLoughlin wanted someone who seemed more heroic. Plus, John Shepherd, who played Tommy in “A New Beginning,” didn’t want to return because, as McLoughlin put it, “he got all religious.” Shepherd had since become a born again Christian and his church didn’t feel like doing a slasher movie was in his best interest.

With this particular “Friday the 13th” sequel, McLoughlin admitted he tried to give it a strong sense of humor. This is apparent right from the start when you see how the opening title shot is a clever homage to the gun barrel sequences in the James Bond movies. Indeed, you come out of this sequel feeling like McLoughlin actually took the time to work on the script instead of just throwing something together at the last minute. Plus, the interplay with the kids, and this is one of few movies in this franchise which actually had kids in it, was great like when they hide under the beds and one boy asks another, “So, what were you going to be when you grew up?”

Ron Palillo, who plays Allen Hawes, is best known for playing Arnold Horshack on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” This got McLoughlin talking about how everyone in the city kept calling Palillo “Horshack” wherever he went. Looking back, he said this made him realize how hard it is for actors to get past a character they played which was so popular.

Another fan asked McLoughlin if he had any favorite on-set stories he could share. This got him to talk about a stunt man who came on the set dressed like Evel Knievel and said, “I’m here to crash something. So what do you want me to do?” The stunt he performed was an especially dangerous one as it required him to drive a big RV (is there any other kind?) over a ramp at 90 miles an hour. McLoughlin said this was the scariest time he ever had on a film set as he worried this guy would get killed. Fortunately, the stunt came out perfectly with the RV crashing on its side the way it was supposed to, and the stuntman pulled himself out of the wreckage and said, “Did I do alright?”

It turns out there were different endings thought up for “Jason Lives,” but McLoughlin made it clear he always intended for Jason to end up back in Crystal Lake. One of those endings did include Jason’s father bringing him back to life with voodoo magic. In the end, McLoughlin decided to keep it simple and used the image of Jason’s good eye suddenly opening up wide to show the audience that, surprise, he’s not done killing camp counselors yet.

As for the man behind the mask, two actors were hired to play Jason. The first was Dan Bradley who has since become known as the premier stunt coordinator for Hollywood movies like the Jason Bourne franchise. The powers that be at Paramount Pictures, however, after watching some dailies, decided he should be replaced because they felt he didn’t have the character’s build. Enter C.J. Graham who had just finished a stint as a United States Marine and had no previous acting experience. McLoughlin said Graham came onto the set answering all of his questions with “yes sir.” Today, Graham is a casino manager in Las Vegas.

In regards to his favorite death in “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin replied it was when Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) gets folded in half. This came about because he wanted Jason to kill in ways he thought would seem “superhuman.” The fact Jason starts off being struck by lightning makes it seem all the more logical he would kill people this way. It certainly made for many memorably gruesome moments!

The last question for McLoughlin was if Paramount asked him to direct another installment, and why this didn’t happen. He said he was actually approached by Frank Mancuso to do the next sequel, and Mancuso asked him, “How about Jason vs. Freddy?” To this, McLoughlin replied, “How about Cheech & Chong vs. Jason?”

Later on, McLoughlin did get the offer to direct “Freddy vs. Jason,” but he said he didn’t like the script given to him. New Line Cinema, which ended up buying the rights to “Friday the 13th” from Paramount, invited him for a meeting to talk about it. However, the meeting lasted only ten minutes after which he walked out, and he has not been involved with the movie franchise since.

Since making “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” McLoughlin has gone on to make movies like “Date with An Angel” which featured Emmanuelle Béart at her most beautiful, and he also directed episodes of the “Friday the 13th” television series. His other credits include the Stephen King TV movie “Sometimes They Come Back.” Outside of his contribution to the “Friday the 13th” franchise, he has made a good and comfortable career as a director. Having him speak to the fans at New Beverly Cinema was a real treat, and he really enjoyed the time he spent with them. Special thanks go out to Phil Blankenship for putting this screening together. This particular sequel still remains one of the best of this series, and McLoughlin’s appearance made sitting through “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” somewhat bearable.

Exclusive Interview with Simon Curtis about ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’

Goodbye Christopher Robin Simon Curtis

Filmmaker Simon Curtis gave us one of the best adaptations of the Charles Dickens’ novel “David Copperfield” back in 1999, he brought Marilyn Monroe back to life along with the help of Michelle Williams with “My Week with Marilyn,” and he directed Helen Mirren to one of her many great performances in “Woman in Gold.” Now he gives us his latest directorial effort, “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” which looks at the creation of Winnie-the-Pooh and the other characters who inhabit the 100 Acre Wood. But while it looks to be a simple biopic focusing on the creation of classic literature, it also proves to be an examination of the scars war leaves behind, the importance of having a regular childhood, and of the damages fame can cause before others can realize it.

I got to speak with Curtis while he was in Los Angeles recently, so please feel free to check out the interview below.

Goodbye Christopher Robin poster

Ben Kenber: From a distance, this movie looked like it would be a simple story of how A.A. Milne came up with Winnie-the-Pooh, but what I really liked though was how the story developed from the effects of fame to a childhood being stolen. Was this inherent in the screenplay (written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan) when you first read it?

Simon Curtis: That’s a good comment. Yes is the answer. I loved the script from the get-go because you think it’s going to be exactly that, but it is about so many other things: family and creation and the impact of war. And yes, Christopher Robin was almost like the prototype child celebrity. And to be fair to the Milne family, it was such an unknown territory. They couldn’t have predicted that the stories would become so popular and the attention it would bring to the boy.

Ben Kenber: There’s no way they could have been prepared for it, and this is what makes A.A. Milne and his wife, Daphne, so incredibly complex. On one hand, you want to get mad at them for robbing Christopher of his childhood, but at the same time, they both come to realize the damage being done. But by the time they stop it, it is too late.

Simon Curtis: Yes, that’s right.

Ben Kenber: I found it very fascinating, and I liked how the movie deals with the PTSD flashbacks. If you’re in a theater with really good sound, you feel the impact of each bang and balloon pop.

Simon Curtis: Yeah, you do. I was trying to make the point that war doesn’t only impact on the men and the women who fight in the war, but their families and their descendants as well. So, the boy is a victim of World War I even though he wasn’t born until it ended.

Ben Kenber: When it comes to introducing the stuffed animals, I loved how Margot Robbie and Domhnall Gleeson introduced them. She had the voices, and he came up with Eeyore’s name. Was there anything about the stuffed animals which you wanted to include in the movie but were unable to?

Simon Curtis: I don’t think so. I love how it’s this almost accidental thing that they buy bear at Harrods or wherever it was, and suddenly it becomes this iconic thing. One of my favorite moments, in terms of when she first gives him the tiger and she says “happy” and then she hands it to him. Then the father says, “Well what should we call it?” “Tigger.” “Why?” “Because it’s more tiggerish” (laughs). It’s just lovely writing.

Ben Kenber: It is. The names all come by accident. It is not some pre-destined thing.

Simon Curtis: Absolutely. They were just little puppets, and that’s the great thing about art. There’s a surprising element to it.

Ben Kenber: A.A. Milne is very eager to say something about war and reality. The interesting thing is, in terms of the way the Pooh stories were written, he found a way of dealing with reality of writing readers with an escape from it.

Simon Curtis: Yes, good.

Ben Kenber: The young actor who plays Christopher Robin Milne, Alex Lawther, was excellent, and he is a very tough role to play here as you see him revel in seeing this stuff animals come to life, and yet he is thrust into a spotlight you couldn’t be less prepared to deal with. Was it hard casting this role?

Simon Curtis: It was lengthy. But I cast a nine-year-old boy would never acted before, do you know that was? Daniel Radcliffe (Curtis cast him in “David Copperfield”), and he had never acted before, so that gave me some confidence. But this boy Alex was a joy and a gift. He was fantastic.

Ben Kenber: Domhnall Gleeson brings a lot of depth to this role.

Simon Curtis: He does.

Ben Kenber: He has scenes where he says one thing, but his eyes have to say something else. How do direct an actor in scenes like those?

Simon Curtis: I don’t know is the answer. You just try to make every scene as good as possible and help the actor to do their best work, and Domhnall is one of those actors who thinks a great deal about it in advance. It brings a lot to the dad, and he was a real partner. The film improved because of his work in the scenes and elsewhere.

Ben Kenber: Margot Robbie has a very tricky part to play here because in some cases the audience may find her to be not for a likable, but she does come across as a very loving mother. It’s a British thing that they hold back. Some of my friends said Daphne is not very likable.

Simon Curtis: But that’s missing the point because that’s the way people were. Not everyone has to be likable in the world, and that’s the way people were mothers in those days. They had the baby, handed it over to a nanny, and waited for the wedding.

Ben Kenber: I always tell people it is not a question of whether a character is likable or not in a movie. It’s whether or not they are interesting.

Simon Curtis: Exactly.

Ben Kenber: Robbie’s performance is really good because she delves into the unlikable parts of her character, but you never doubt the love Daphne has for her son.

Simon Curtis: Yes, and she doesn’t shy away from it. She has such natural warmth herself as a woman, and that kind of balances it out on another level.

Ben Kenber: For many years, there has been a long battle between the Milne family and Walt Disney over the rights to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Was this something you considered including in this film?

Simon Curtis: No because that’s in the future, that story.

Ben Kenber: The movie’s ending could have been too sentimental with two characters hugging, but they don’t hug and I like that they didn’t because it would’ve seemed too manipulative.

Simon Curtis: Yeah, that’s England. Someone said astutely I thought how in England we are the world storytellers from Shakespeare to JK Rowling, but we can’t say I love you to our kids (laughs).

Ben Kenber: I loved the scene where A.A. Milne tells Christopher you will not write another word about Winnie-the-Pooh. The way the same was played was brilliant because it’s straight to the point.

Simon Curtis: I agree. That was Domhnall’s idea for him to be seated and looking up at Christopher who is standing. It was a really good idea. As a director I look like a genius, but it was totally the actor’s idea.

Ben Kenber: Do you give a lot of freedom to your actors?

Simon Curtis: Yeah. Plus, to be perfectly honest, there are so many little things, you can’t have them all solved in your head.

Ben Kenber: The stuffed animals we see in this movie are replicas of the original ones which are now part of a museum exhibit in New York. Did you have any issues with Disney over the rights to show these stuffed animals here?

Simon Curtis: I don’t think so in this case because they all predate Disney. They are not Disney. Winnie-the-Pooh doesn’t have his little red vest. We just wanted him to be this Victorian toy.

Ben Kenber: Were there any dramatic liberties you took with the factual material?

Simon Curtis: Well I think the fame comes much more quickly than a probably would’ve done, so it was that sort of thing.

Ben Kenber: The movie takes a real left turn when the books become incredibly popular, and the sun becomes an unwitting celebrity to where A.A. Milne begins to question the effect fame is having on Christopher.

Simon Curtis: I love that scene where he thinks he is speaking to his dad on the phone, and it is revealed to be a radio interview.

Ben Kenber: It is such a painful moment because you see in the dad’s eyes that he really shouldn’t be doing this.

Simon Curtis: That’s exactly right.

Ben Kenber: Kelly Macdonald’s character of the nanny, Olive, is wonderful as she serves as the Mary Poppins of this story.

Simon Curtis: She is certainly the emotional heart of it.

Ben Kenber: How did you come to cast Macdonald in this part?

Simon Curtis: Well she did a play with my wife about 10 years ago so I’ve always loved her work, and she just struck me as the perfect person at the perfect time.

Ben Kenber: I like how you portrayed England as still recovering from World War I.

Simon Curtis: Very much so, and I think it chimes in now because it feels like were living in wounded times now.

Ben Kenber: Was that something you planned?

Simon Curtis: It just happened in a way.

Ben Kenber: There are a number of things about A.A. Milne I didn’t know before watching this movie such as the fact he was a soldier and a playwright.

Simon Curtis: Yeah, I didn’t know he was a successful playwright.

Ben Kenber: At the beginning of the movie, A.A. Milne does not look the least bit prepared to be a parent. It’s almost like the movie “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Simon Curtis: Yes, it is. We talked about that actually. There’s the first breakfast and then there’s the expert breakfast in “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

Ben Kenber: The arc of this movie goes from father and son being strangers to them coming together and then later becoming estranged from one another.

Simon Curtis: The thing that bonded them became the thing that tore them apart.

Ben Kenber: The segment where Chris for a sent off to school was handled very quickly. Was this a segment you ever wanted to expand on?

Simon Curtis: Not really because the last thing you want at that point in the film is to be slow.

Ben Kenber: “Goodbye Christopher Robin” has a running time of 107 minutes. I usually expect biopics like this one to go one for over two hours as filmmakers seem desperate to get every little about their subject’s life onto the silver screen. Did you ever feel this pressure when making this movie?

Simon Curtis: I don’t know really how to answer that. I was just doing the script.

Ben Kenber: This movie is dedicated to Steve Christian. Can you tell me more about him?

Simon Curtis: He was one of the producers who supported this script through years of development and who unfortunately passed away after he saw the first cut.

Ben Kenber: Well, it’s nice to know he did see a cut of the film.

Simon Curtis: Yes, it is nice.

Ben Kenber: The way I see this movie, I feel it is about the long journey to happiness. When father and son come together again, they realize to get to a point of happiness, they have to experience a lot of sadness and pain in order to better appreciate joy.

Simon Curtis: To me, the theme is pay attention to your loved ones while they are around because they won’t be around forever. And also, we punish ourselves over getting this or getting that done, and actually just being with your loved ones is the greatest gift of all. Somehow, that’s embedded in the film. I’m so glad when my kids were young because it was before these (cell)phones because I would’ve been totally on them the whole time.

Ben Kenber: In the movie’s postscript, it is revealed A.A. Milne did get to write his anti-war piece. Was this something you wanted to include in the movie as well?

Simon Curtis: Yeah. He didn’t intend to be known only as the writer of Winnie-the-Pooh. There’s a quote (by A.A. Milne) in the “Goodbye Christopher Robin” book introduction by Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Just read that.

Ben Kenber: “…little thinking

                     All my years of pen-and-inking

                    Would be almost lost among

                    Those four trifles for the young.”

Simon Curtis: Yeah. In fact, it’s not almost, it’s now completely. So that’s good, isn’t it?

I want to thank Simon Curtis for taking the time to talk with me. “Goodbye Christopher Robin” will arrive in movie theaters on October 13, 2017. Click here to check out my review of the film.

Exclusive Video Interview with Matthew Heineman on ‘City of Ghosts’

City of Ghosts poster

Of the documentaries released in 2017, “City of Ghosts” is one of the most important to witness. It follows the journey of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” (RBSS), a group of anonymous activists who came together after their peaceful hometown was taken over and decimated by ISIS in 2014. What results is a film which is as astonishing as it is harrowing to sit through. We watch as Raqqa goes from being a town whose inhabitants celebrate weddings for a whole week to one laid in ruins as the radical terrorist group ISIS uses every weapon available to suppress the population and silence those who would speak out against them. Despite being threatened by one of the greatest evils in the world today, this group of citizen journalists continue to stand up against the atrocities ISIS has committed, and the images they have captured show just how far they will go which includes executing the father of one of the journalists.

“City of Ghosts” was directed by Matthew Heineman who previously gave us “Cartel Land,” a documentary which examined the ongoing drug war at the U.S./Mexican border and of the vigilante groups fighting the Mexican drug cartels. Heineman was inspired to make a documentary about RBSS after reading an article about them in the New Yorker, and he managed to gain their trust very quickly to where it didn’t take long for filming to begin. We watch as these journalists and activists flee their homeland and struggle to keep their spirits up as the threat of death continues to hang over them no matter how far they manage to get away. Also, we view the horrifying footage they have captured of the horrific acts ISIS has committed in Raqqa which includes executing and crucifying its citizens in public view. What is shown cannot be easily erased from our minds, but these crimes of humanity need to be seen as this threat needs to be stopped, and the actions of RBSS need to be commended in a time when journalism is being attacked by those who do not want to hear the truth.

It was an honor to speak with Heineman while he was in Los Angeles to talk about “City of Ghosts,” and he spoke of how he became inspired to create this documentary as well as the current state of the war in Syria which will hopefully end sooner rather than later. Check out the interview below as well as the documentary’s trailer. “City of Ghosts” will make its streaming debut on Amazon starting October 13, 2017.

Exclusive Interview with Nicole Holofcener about ‘Enough Said’

Enough Said movie poster

With movies like “Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends with Money” and “Please Give,” Nicole Holofcener has firmly established herself as a filmmaker with a unique voice. In a time where romance and relationship movies are being critically and commercially crucified, her films are wonderfully refreshing as they feature characters who feel real, are remarkably down to earth and have flaws we can all understand and relate to. Even if you think her films deal with familiar subjects and situations, the attention Holofcener gives to her characters and the actors who play them make you feel like you are experiencing a story you have never watched before.

Her film “Enough Said” is no exception to this, and it stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a professional masseuse and single mother who is slowly getting back into the dating game. While at a party, she meets Albert (James Gandolfini, in one of his last performances), and the two find themselves forming a deep connection very quickly. Things, however, get complicated when (SPOILER ALERT) Eva discovers that one of her patients, Marianne (Catherine Keener), is actually Albert’s ex-wife. Throughout their sessions together, Marianne has been giving Eva many different examples about what a lousy husband Albert was, and this makes Eva wonder if her first impressions of Albert were the right ones to have.

I talked with Holofcener while she was doing press for the “Enough Said” digital release, and the movie itself has since received various nominations from the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. During our interview, I got to find out how she comes up with such wonderfully unique characters, what it was like for her to work with the late James Gandolfini, and we also talked about Catherine Keener who has appeared in most of her films and how their creative relationship has evolved from their first film together.

Ben Kenber: “Enough Said” is fantastic and one of the best films of 2013. With this and “Please Give,” I really love how your movies deal with characters that are down to earth and have flaws like everybody else. Most romantic movies usually don’t have that, but your films are among the exceptions.

Nicole Holofcener: That’s very nice. Thank you. That’s what I’m going for.

Ben Kenber: With “Enough Said” and the other movies you have made so far, how do you come up with such unique characters?

Nicole Holofcener: I have no idea (laughs). I mean they’re kind of an amalgamation of people I know and people in my imagination. I guess, by going very specific, sometimes I’ll focus on a character’s habit or a quirk or a mannerism or something irritating or something specific. I started with the Sarah character (played by Toni Collette) in this movie with the fact that she has made problems that started with a friend of mine who said she left bracelets on the kitchen counter, and she finds them in the kitchen and how much that annoys her and why she won’t simply ask her housekeeper not to do that. Then I have Sarah, and it’s like everything kind of falls into place after that, not easily. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it informs who that person is and what her issues might be. And then all of a sudden, she had this whole story with her housekeeper and it ended up being a good scene, but it started with the bracelet on the kitchen counter. So very specific, I guess. By going very specific and individual. When I read a script, I hate it when they say things like, “Sarah, 35, driven, type A, but inside falling apart.” It’s like, well then, you don’t even have to read what happens because you’ve already been told who she is.

Ben Kenber: This looks like a movie which sticks very closely to the script you wrote, but was there any improvisation used by the actors?

Nicole Holofcener: Yeah, absolutely. The story is very much the script as written, but they (the actors) ad-libbed all over the place, and I got rid of some and I kept some. But they had the freedom to do that especially because they were so funny and smart. They changed things but not the story.

Ben Kenber: The characters are so down to earth, and everybody seemed so relaxed onscreen. How did you manage to get such naturalistic performances from your cast?

Nicole Holofcener: They were sedated. I just gave everyone a Xanax every day. If only it could be like that (laughs). Some days were more relaxed than others but, as they say, the director sets the tone. I’m pretty relaxed, and while I take directing seriously, we’re not in a war zone. I try to have a good time and help people feel safe and relaxed so that they can give vulnerable performances and trust me. I try to earn their trust, and then I try to help them feel comfortable.

Ben Kenber: Well it definitely looks like he succeeded in doing so.

Nicole Holofcener: Well that’s good.

Ben Kenber: I do have to ask you about the late James Gandolfini because this is a great role to see him in. It shows audiences there was more to him than Tony Soprano. People should’ve known this before “Enough Said” came out, but the movie makes it clear to those who couldn’t get “The Sopranos” out of their heads. What was it like to work with him?

Nicole Holofcener: It was great to work with him. It was often challenging. He asked a lot of questions. I think we were sometimes mutual pains in the asses, but in a very affectionate way. He’d look at me like, “C’mon!” I’d look at him like, “C’mon!” He was playful and very hard-working, very self-effacing and sweet, shy. The crew loved him. He was very friendly and warm toward the crew which was very nice and so was Julia (Louis-Dreyfuss). So, I had a very relaxed family kind of feeling.

Ben Kenber: Yeah, you definitely get that from watching the movie. Catherine Keener also stars in this movie as Marianne, and you’ve worked with her several times in the past. How has your working relationship with her evolved from the first time you worked with her to this one?

Nicole Holofcener: Well, the first time I worked with her I was kind of scared. She had more experience than me. It (“Walking and Talking”) was my first feature, and I was pretty intimidated by her. But she was very giving and warm, and that’s why we continue to work together. We’ve gotten to know each other so well, and discovering how wonderful she is, every part, just made me want to work with her again and again. And now that it has been so many years, it’s a short hand. Even though she’s still great, I’m not intimidated by her anymore (laughs). She can still be a little scary.

Ben Kenber: Keener is a terrific actress, and the rapport between you and her really shows with each movie you work together on.

Nicole Holofcener: Good, yeah. It’s a pretty special relationship, definitely.

Ben Kenber: Well, I really, really liked this movie a lot. I really gravitate towards movies with very down-to-earth characters. I usually avoid romantic movies like the plague, but with movies like yours where you can really relate to the characters and the problems they experience in life, they really stand out in a wonderful way. “Enough Said” is one of those movies.

Nicole Holofcener: I’m so glad. I hope that people who avoid romantic movies will watch this one for the same reason (laughs). Thanks, that’s good.

I want to thank Nicole Holofcener for taking the time to talk with me. “Enough Said” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.