*Whatever happened to genuine Christmas movies? Of course one can’t expect stories such as “A Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Carol” in this age of crude excuses for fine filmmaking. BUT, a bastardized version of the children’s classic, “Gulliver’s Travels,” with Gulliver dropping his pants, pissing on the palace, ogling the tits of one of the Liliputians and commenting on them opening Christmas day is a bit much! [This is definitely not the project to mug the camera and showoff one’s singing and dancing to the detriment of the intended audience.] Take the children to see “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” or just stay home and rent some of the old Christmas classics, or “The Polar Express” and “Elf.”
A must see for adults is “Casino Jack.” When The Film Strip asked Barry Pepper, who plays Michael Scanlon, just how relevant this movie is today when looking at how money runs the political game, he says it’s very pertinent. “I wouldn’t have involved myself in the project if I didn’t think that it didn’t have a certain moral or ultimately a cautionary tale about the fact that this is alive and well in Washington and our democracy is drowning. This is really what’s driving it. Our democracy, sadly, doesn’t seem to exist without this.
“Yes, absolutely. I was going to say campaign contributions, but six of one, a half dozen or the other, but you’re absolutely right. I think material quality and liberty and our democracy is intrinsically connected. You cannot have all the great wealth in the hands of the few and nothing in the hands of the many and still have liberty and freedom. You and I can’t be represented accurately or honestly or fairly if we don’t have fifty million or a hundred million dollars to run a campaign. So how do you actually have liberty and freedom? You saw that in the recent midterm elections. It was record numbers of millions spent on these elected positions and the reason being that they wield so much power.
“They’re such gravy train positions that these people are willing to wager their entire fortunes on the possibility of being elected because not a penny of that is spent for you and I and they’ll recoup every dollar once they get in, either through the same practices, through legislative favors or lavish gifts or loopholes in contracts like no-bid contracts. They’ll extort it from the public somehow, every penny of that fifty million dollar campaign will be paid back to them. So that’s really why you go into a piece like this. As an artist sometimes that’s how you can most effectively have a voice.
“I think that people are just so completely hoodwinked by getting their information from Fox News or wherever, the regular media chains. I think it’s always sad that people don’t explore outside the box, but I don’t know how else to explain it because it’s all there. You don’t even have to dig that deep. The sad thing is that you have pageant contestants like Sarah Palin running for government. She’s supposed to have left politics, but she’s got a reality TV show. She makes a hundred thousand dollars a speaking engagement. I’d gladly pay her a hundred thousand to stop speaking. She’s kind of typical I think of what’s happened. I think it’s become theater and pageantry. Very sad.”
Playing the real life person Jack Abramoff, Kevin Spacey expressed his sentiments also about this film based on authentic people and factual events. “I am revolted by Washington,” he say. “I am frustrated by the fact that there are good people there, and good people in the lobbying industry. Lobbyist can serve a useful purpose. As long as we, in the United States, continue to insist that our politicians have to spend all of their time raising millions and millions and millions of dollars for television ads, and that’s all it is about, that it will be corrupt. And if we leave it up to the politicians to clean up the lobbying industry, and finance reform, nothings going to happen.
“Abramoff told me, that if he had known he was going to go to jail, he would have never taken the 5th in front of the senate. What would that scene be like if he hadn’t taken the 5th? We felt it was such an incredible opportunity to show the hypocrisy at that senate hearing, and what often happens at senate hearings because they are dog and pony shows. There were a number of senators, who had taken money from Abramoff, and McCain had taken lots of money from competing Indian casinos, for exactly the same reason they were there pointing fingers at Abramoff.”
As Greg (Ben Stiller) and Pam (Teri Polo) try to work their way through a rough patch in their marriage-having bought their first home and raising twins-their relationship is put to the test. Naturally, when the cast gathered at the Ritz Carlton to promote their film, I asked them if “The Fockers” films could be seen as a road map for marriages that have bumps along the way? ‘Yes. I would say that’s why people like the films, I hope, and this one, too,” Robert DeNiro tells me. “It’s because of the story, the situations, the family dynamics-one family meeting another, all of that. It’s like going into territory that you have to deal with and part of you is saying, ‘Why am I here?’ But you have to be there because of the family and so on. Anybody can relate to that.”
“Well, I feel like it definitely related to reality and we tried to take all of our experiences and have them be a part of what the story,” Ben Stiller says. “That’s sort of the idea of the movie, how do we tell a new story with these characters and where would they be at ten years down the road, the marriage and the kids and how that affects the marriage. So that was sort of the core idea of the movie. We also just wanted it to be, I think, organic and try to feel like there was a reason to tell the story. So hopefully there are some relatable elements in there in terms of juggling life and all the elements of life.”
When DeNiro and Stiller left the room, Dustin Hoffman and Owen Wilson came in and the whole atmosphere changed because they were like a comedy act. Asked the same question, Wilson responded with, “What you just said reminded me of something. We were riding up on the elevator, and some strangers said that?” Hoffman, challenging his answer, pushed further with, “Yes, and,” which prompted Wilson to continue his thought. “One of them kept looking at a map and his father told him, ‘Put down the map and feel the city.’ ” Quickly reprimanding him, Hoffman retorts, “I’m curious how that relates to the question of marriage?” Looking at me he asks, “Didn’t you say something about a map, a roadmap?” That acknowledged, Wilson made this request: “Put down the roadmap question and just feel these guys sitting here.” That being said, Hoffman proceeded to talk about the family dynamic.
“There is nothing more unnatural than family or marriage,” Hoffman quips. “They really are. That’s why they’re both so difficult, because they’re not natural. We don’t pick our family.” Interrupting, Wilson weighed in on the subject. “I was saying that you don’t choose your family and Dustin took it one step further and he says ‘you don’t even choose your wife.'” Meanwhile, Hoffman, surrendering to his hunger, ordered sandwiches for everyone and offered up his shared his fries.
Jessica Alba, new to the cast lineup, talked about being one of the new kids on the block. “Good, Lord,” she exclaims. “And it’s not like they haven’t had fruitful careers prior to this movie either. It’s certainly a pretty intimidating group of actors, icons, my heroes and an incredible franchise. And they do all know each other and they have all known each other for so long that it’s almost so scary and intimidating that you almost just have to let it go and just have fun. That’s exactly what I did. Then I was like, ‘What do I have to lose? Get fired?’ So I just hoped that I didn’t get fired.”
Kevin Hart (Nurse Louis), is another addition to the core cast of the “Fockers.” Stand up comic Hart continues to build upon his film track record with “Little Fockers.” In addition to his successful DVD “Seriously…Funny,” which also is the name of his Comedy Central special, he has a lead role in “Soul Plane” and appeared in “Death at a Funeral,” “Fool’s Gold,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Epic Movie,” “Scary Movie 4,” and “Meet Dave.”
A former shoe salesman, Hart acted on a dare and the rest is history, he told this scribe. “A friend of mine told me I was funny guy and should try and do stand up. I said ‘seriously?’ We talked about it for a long time and one day he dared me to go on stage. I took his bet and went on stage. I fell in love with it. I haven’t looked back since.”
After stints in film, “Fockers” fame caught up with Hart. Although he says it was timing that this all came about, it helps when you are friends with one of its stars. “Though a lot of people went out for the part,” he boasts, “they liked me. Ben and I have a relationship from past movies that we’ve done so it was kind of a no-brainer for them. I was excited about it and said let me take the opportunity and run with it.”
So what does Hart owe his success to in a very heavily competitive field? “Well, you don’t know how far you can go if you don’t try it. My only advice would be go for a theme with any possible dream. That’s what makes dreams so beautiful as they start to come true. You have to push and push and I’m a living example of it, that dreams can come true. Believe in yourself and go with your gut. If you wanna do it, do it!”
With so many Black actors and actresses in the business and so many ticket buying theatergoers, Blacks still are not getting meaty roles and nominations. Hart attributes that to lack of projects and not prejudice. “Instead of me dwelling on that and crying over things that I can’t change, I’m trying to figure out how to make a difference. So we need more people like myself that are in the entertainment business and have a face that can be recognized and pull some weight to bring our projects to the table. When we do that, we clear our own way.”
Just as important as a plethora of projects is the abundance of human support for the less fortunate. Hart says he is no stranger to doing his part. “I’m from Philadelphia and a friend of mine does a walk for peace there and I’m involved with that, a toy drive and I talk to the kids in the juvenile faculties,” he says. “I try to get them on a straight path. It’s important for them to see us and that we care.”