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.

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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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Exclusive Interview with Carlos Marques-Marcet on ‘10,000 Km’

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The thought of a long-distance relationship is frightening as it thoroughly tests the bond between a loving couple to where it looks like they are destined for disaster. One relationship is put to this test in “10,000 Km,” a romantic drama co-written and directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet.

Alexandra (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) are a loving couple living in Barcelona, Spain, but they also struggle to balance out their careers while trying to start a family. Then Alexandra accepts a one-year residency in Los Angeles which could really jump start her photography career, and Sergi has no choice but to stay in Barcelona where he works as a teacher. Luckily, they have modern technology which allows them to keep in touch on a daily basis, but what is helping to keep them together may also tear them apart.

“10,000 Km” proved to be a powerful meditation on the struggle of a long-distance relationship, and it starts off with a scene which lasts several minutes and captures the characters in their most intimate state. I got to talk with Marcet while he was in Los Angeles, and he talked about how that scene came about and how long it took to shoot. In addition, he also clarified how much of the movie was shot in Spain and Los Angeles, how he came to cast Tena and Verdaguer, and of how he kept the actors separated during shooting.

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Ben Kenber: It’s interesting to see how this relationship evolves once the two lovers are separated by continents and use technology to keep in touch with one another. Was it hard to balance out the benefits of technology with the human element in this movie?

Carlos Marques-Marcet: No. We knew from the beginning that the driving point was to portray the relationship which derives from the human element. The technology was the tool and the human part was the means somehow, so it wasn’t so much about finding a balance but trying to see how to use these tools to convey the means.

BK: The opening sequence of “10,000 Km” is amazing as it lasts several minutes and features the two lovers being intimate with one another, and then one of them receives an unexpected job opportunity. How did you go about setting the scene up?

CMM: It was a long process to arrive there. It was originally not such a long scene, but then we looked at the script and it suddenly made sense to have this very long scene where you see them together. It’s a two shot of them and you are with them, then afterwards the rest of the movie we shot over shot because they have no other possibilities. There’s a symbolic element to it, this raw thing of being with two people together that weren’t there together. The making of it involved a lot of preparation. The location was the producer’s house, so I knew where I was going to shoot. It was a combination of working with all the departments, the actors and rehearsing. It was like a dance.

BK: This scene must have taken a very long time to shoot.

CMM: 17 takes and three days of shooting. We planned it and we wanted to do it with the dollies. There was no handheld camera. We wanted it to be grounded to the ground. I think it was an interesting way of how to go about it.

BK: Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer are both terrific in this movie. What was the casting process like?

CMM: So basically, we found David about a year before shooting. I had just graduated from UCLA and I didn’t want to shoot another short. I just took a couple of scenes from the movie and shot them just as an experiment with another actress. I watched a lot of You Tube videos and interviews. I like to see how actors move and how they talk, and I was looking for another actor, not David, and then I saw him in this video he made with a cell phone of two friends. Then I saw that he was an actor and I proposed to my producers that we bring him in for casting, but then it turned out that he’s actually known as a comedian. I had no idea. He’s like a “Saturday Night Live” comedian. Actually, he’s done a lot of theater, very serious theater, but people love him for his comedic aspect. But then he came into the casting process, and it was a very long casting process with two people for hours. I like to work with the actors instead of just having them come in to read. I like to meet people. It was David for sure, no doubt. And then with Natalia, it was a last-minute thing. We were actually going to shoot with another actress and she had to cancel, and when we finally found Natalia it was like a miracle. It was very clear that they had chemistry, and they became very close friends instantaneously.

BK: When it came to shooting the scenes when she’s in Los Angeles and he’s back in Spain and they are using Skype to keep in touch with one another, did you purposely separate the actors?

CMM: Yeah. Originally I wanted to shoot it in Los Angeles and in Barcelona at the same time, but Natalia had some scheduling conflicts. It wasn’t that cheap to do it. I wanted to shoot it in my own house in Los Angeles, but schedule wise it was not possible. So we put them in two different apartments in Barcelona and I actually after shooting the first scene said that it would be nice if they didn’t see each other, but that lasted like two or three days (laughs). After three days I was like it’s fine if they hang out with each other. I wanted to create the feeling of missing somebody, and three days was totally enough. In the end, they were hanging out together every night playing cards, going over the lines and drinking wine, and in the morning they had to be separated. So, for them being in touch every day and then during the day not being able to be together was very frustrating, and I think that shows up somehow in the movie.

BK: When “10,000 Km” begins we see this couple at their most intimate, and they still have that intimacy throughout the movie to a certain extent. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I loved how you ended the movie on an ambiguous note. It’s not the kind of movie that begs for a solid or more definitive conclusion.

CMM: Yeah, that came about during the editing. Actually, the script was much more clear, but while we were editing there was a bunch of dialogue that we decided to take out because I felt that already through the images we could tell what was going on. Then we took it out and then for some people it became more ambiguous than it was in the script. I like it. It was not in the plan of how I shot it. I have my own vision of it, but I also like to let people imagine whatever they want.

BK: “10,000 Km” is not designed to give anyone a definitive answer to whether long-distance relationships can work or not, but I came out of it hoping these two would find a way to make things work out.

CMM: That’s a very optimistic view (laughs). We leave it so that the very optimistic people can think that (laughs).

BK: Despite the scheduling conflicts, were you able to shoot any of the movie in Los Angeles, or was it mostly shot in Barcelona?

CMM: Mostly in Barcelona, and then I shot some of the stuff in LA. There are some shots where you see my home in Echo Park with the webcam and everything, but mostly we shot it in Barcelona. We faked the LA interior in Barcelona. It was not possible to do it the other way around. In Los Angeles, you won’t find interior like you would in Barcelona. I didn’t want to shoot in a studio. I wanted to shoot in a real location so they have the feeling that they are in a house or a real apartment.

I want to thank Carlos Marques for taking the time to talk with me. “10,000 Km” is now available to own and rent on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

Bad Santa 2

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Bad Santa 2” is the kind of sequel I thought it would be; one which repeats the story of the original. Granted, many sequels are like this, and some get away with it like “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “The Hangover Part II” and John Carpenter’s “Escape from L.A.” Clearly, this is a movie made for fans of 2003 original which has long since become a holiday and cult classic, and this sequel does contain a number of gut-busting laughs as the world’s worst mall Santa Claus ever, Willie Soke, gets himself involved in another heist. But in its second half, “Bad Santa 2” loses much of the energy it built up and begins to run on fumes as scenes quickly remind us of the original and how great it was.

It’s been 13 years since “Bad Santa” was unleashed in theaters everywhere, and the holdup was the result of Miramax being sold among other things. Billy Bob Thornton was eager to get a sequel off the ground, but because of various rights issues, it seemed impossible to start production on one for years. While it is a relief to see this sequel finally arrive at your local cinema, it’s being released at a time where a major Presidential candidate bragged on audio about grabbing women by “the pussy.” As a result, it’s hard to watch “Bad Santa 2” without thinking about that, so the bad timing of its release is unfortunate.

So, what has Willie been up to for 13 years? Well, he’s still the same old cynical lout whose heart is smaller than the Grinch’s, and he still drinks himself silly at any given opportunity. Sue (Lauren Graham from the original) has long since left him as Willie is incapable of hanging onto any nurturing relationships, but he still gets regular visits from Thurman “the kid” Merman (Brett Kelly) who still acts like an 8-year-old even at the age of 21. Willie is prepared to put himself out of his misery, but he is much better at cracking safes than at attempting suicide. One thing’s for sure, he’s got one hell of a liver.

Despite having tried to kill Willie previously, Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) still manages to convince him to pull off another heist which will be their biggest yet. Marcus wants to rip off a Chicago charity which is said to have $2 million dollars, but Willie is against robbing a charity because, you know, they never have that much money. But Willie’s in for a big surprise as he discovers Marcus has brought on another partner for this caper, his mother Sunny (Kathy Bates). The fact Willie is quick to punch her right in the face as soon as he recognizes her should give you a good idea of just how dysfunctional the mother/son relationship is between these two.

Thornton hasn’t lost a step since first playing Willie back in 2003, and he still knows how to give a deplorable character like this one a complexity other actors couldn’t. The actor can still land a joke like the best can, and just when you think Willie can’t reach an even deeper bottom than he already has, he does. But as irredeemable as Willie seems, Thornton still gives us a reason to root for him even as he is about to sin again.

“Bad Santa 2,” however, scores a real casting coup with the addition of Kathy Bates who shows no fear in making Sunny every bit as cynical as Willie. She relishes playing an unrepentant biker chick who throws caution to the wind just as one would flick away a cigarette to the ground, and she’s the kind of actress who’s game for just about anything and everything.

It’s also great to see Tony Cox back as Marcus, and that’s even though the logistics of Marcus working again with Willie are beyond belief. Then again, you don’t bring logic into a sequel like this. While Lauren Graham is missed, it’s crazy fun to watch “Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks let it loose as a reformed alcoholic who still feels the need to be bad when the opportunity presents itself. As for Brett Kelly, he still gives this sequel the heart it needs as man-child Thurman Merman. You would think Thurman would have long since outgrown his attachment to Santa, but again, this is not the kind of sequel you bring logic to.

But as “Bad Santa 2” heads into its second act, the laughs begin to die down as our familiarity with original sinks in to where what was once fresh now feels sadly stale. We are introduced to Regent Hastings (Ryan Hansen) who heads the charity and is Christina’s husband who cheats on her and indulges in a foot fetish which is best left to the imagination, and there’s also the security officer who is on the verge of uncovering Willie’s true identity. They eventually bring to mind the characters John Ritter and Bernie Mac played in “Bad Santa,” but these characters are nothing more than mere caricatures supplied for the audience to despise right from the start. The characters Ritter and Mac portrayed were not clichéd ones, and each actor inhabited them with a comic brilliance not easily duplicated. The both of them are very much missed this time around.

Directing “Bad Santa 2” is Mark Waters who gave us “The House of Yes,” the “Freaky Friday” remake and the infinitely enjoyable “Mean Girls” which made a star out of Lindsay Lohan and gave Tina Fey a life outside of SNL. With this sequel, he feels obligated to stay within the original’s formula as straying from it wouldn’t have worked. Waters succeeds in keeping the comic pace of the movie up, and he generates some big laughs which left me in hysterics. However, he can’t keep it from losing steam as we become more aware of where things are heading as this sequel heads to its inevitable climax which is not as inspired as it wants to be.

For me, “Bad Santa 2” is a near miss. Some sequels are mere replications of the original, and this drives most critics up the wall. I can be a bit forgiving as I’m willing to accept this to a certain extent if the sequel proves to be entertaining, but even I have my limits. “Bad Santa 2” succeeds in its first half, but its second half shows its filmmakers running out of steam long before they crossed the finish line. It’s a shame because the original is one of my favorite movies to watch during the holidays, but this one comes up short. It definitely has its devilishly inspired moments, but it could have used more of them.

* * ½ out of * * * *

 

Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates Team Up for ‘Bad Santa 2’

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Billy Bob Thornton is back in the Santa suit as Willie Soke in “Bad Santa 2” which once again involves Willie teaming up with his partner-turned-nemesis Marcus (Tony Cox) to rob a charity in Chicago on Christmas Eve. But this time they have an additional partner in crime, and one Willie didn’t expect to deal with, his mother Sunny (played by Kathy Bates). It’s no surprise to see Willie and Sunny don’t have the best mother and son relationship, and both seem intent on outdoing each other when it comes to insults and political incorrectness. But can these two get past their differences to pull off a heist and maybe try some love and tenderness in the process? Well, you’ll have to see the movie for yourself to figure this out.

It’s great to see Thornton back in one of his most famous roles. “Bad Santa” has long since become a cult hit, and the fans were eager to see Willie back in action even as we wondered if his liver could take much more damage. Thornton was joined by Bates at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California for the “Bad Santa 2” press day, and I was eager to find out how they prepared to play their loathsome and yet strangely appealing characters. The two of them are Oscar winners, Thornton for “Sling Blade” and Bates for “Misery,” and they have since been nominated several more times. Their attention to developing a character is impeccable, and I was fascinated to learn how they worked on the ones they played in this sequel.

Their answers to my question led to a hilarious story involving Thornton and his mother, and Bates reflected on one of the first movies she ever appeared in.

Ben Kenber: First, I just want to say Willie has one hell of a liver. Also, Billy and Kathy, I read the two of you worked on your characters’ backstories a lot for this movie. What specifically did you come up with that you really agreed on and which really helped to inform your performances?

Kathy Bates: I remember one day we were talking that maybe they were carnies together and con artists and had lived in that atmosphere. Nothing against carnies, but we figured that that’s probably where they were from. What else Billy?

Billy Bob Thornton: Yeah and the idea that I was sort of like the artful dodger and she was faking. That sort of idea that I grew up, and it even says in there, where she used to sell me out to do stuff for her all the time, and so we’re sort of grifters in a way. So, it’s not like Willie doesn’t have an understanding of what she does and why she’s that way and why I’m the way I am. We grew up rough in a weird business, so that was mainly it. And also, you can see the mother-son relationship because you know how if you’re watching a movie with your parents… My mom’s 83, and if I’m watching a movie and somebody starts making out, I get so embarrassed. I’ll never forget when my mom called me once and she said she had been to see my movie, and I was like, what movie? I never even thought she would know this existed, and she just gone to see “Monster’s Ball” with her best friend and I was like, why did you do that? How could you do that to me? But I’m still that way. I have never said the F-word around my mother to this day, and she’s 83. So, there is the scene where Kathy has the dildo, and you can see the kid and the mother in that scene and it’s kind of like, golly! Don’t do that! So, I think we had that part too. You can see a mother and son in there. I think we felt it. We did talk about it to a degree, but a lot of it just came naturally.

Kathy Bates: Can I just say one last thing? I remember doing a movie years and years ago with Dustin Hoffman, and it was my first talking part in a movie. Gary Busey was in it and his son, Jake Busey, was in it too, and he was five. Jake got the part, but Gary said, “Do you want to take the night to think about it?” So, Jake came back the next day and he said, “Well, yeah, I’ll do the movie because I think acting is pretending and making believe like you’re not pretending.” And I thought, okay, that’s it. Lee Strasberg, you can go home, and that says it all.

I want to thank Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates for taking the time to answer my question. “Bad Santa 2” opens in theaters on November 23, 2016.

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’99 Homes’ Director Ramin Bahrani Talks about Surviving Without a Home

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The late Roger Ebert proclaimed Ramin Bahrani director of the decade on the basis of his movies “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo,” both of which came out in the 2000’s. His films have received tremendous critical acclaim and numerous awards from one film festival to the next, and this streak does not look to stop with his latest movie. “99 Homes” stars Andrew Garfield as an unemployed contractor who is unjustly evicted from his home and Michael Shannon as the real estate magnate who kicked him out of it and who eventually becomes his mentor in the art of home foreclosures. It’s a thriller which is unsettling as it is heartbreaking as it calls attention to the housing crisis which swept the nation and those cold-hearted and greedy men who profited greatly from it.

Bahrani gives us a story which hits close to home as it contains agonizing scenes of Garfield and his family being given only a few minutes to pack up all their belongings and leave their house. He makes you feel the searing discord between the haves and have-nots as it’s open season on homeowners who have no chance of defending what is rightfully theirs. But when Garfield comes on board with Shannon, he finds a way to dig himself out of his financial black hole so he can get back his house. But as Garfield gets deeper and deeper into Shannon’s world, he starts losing his ethical and moral bearings as he starts to others what was done to him.

Bahrani was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California to do a press conference on “99 Homes.” I was one of the reporters there and told him the movie seemed to be as much about survival in an economically shaky world as it is about greed and home foreclosures. When I asked him what he felt “99 Homes” had to say about surviving in this crazy world the characters inhabit, he said the following:

Ramin Bahrani: “One of the scenes I really like, for me it was like something from Dostoyevsky in my mind, was when the two men sit at the dock at night. And I remember Michael (Shannon) came up to me and said, ‘Ramin, is this the important line in the scene?” I told him, ‘Michael, this is the important line in the whole movie.’ And that’s after Michael tells Andrew (Garfield) that he carries a gun even at two o’clock in the morning because he was almost run off the road one time when he goes to dinner with his family and all this stuff, and Andrew says, ‘Is it worth it?’ And Michael looks at him and says, ‘As opposed to what?’”

It’s a haunting question which left the reporters at the press conference speechless, and it’s one of the many reasons why you must see “99 Homes” which is now available to rent and own on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.