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Interviews
UserpicStraight from the “Hart”
Posted by Kam Williams
13.01.2015

Kevin Hart
“The Wedding Ringer” Interview
with Kam Williams

Kevin Hart might be the hardest working man in Hollywood. Just last year, he starred in a trio of feature films: Ride Along, About Last Night and Think like a Man Too, and enjoyed supporting roles in Top Five and School Dance, too.

Meanwhile, he has his hit TV show, Real Husbands of Hollywood, for which he won the NAACP Image Award in the Best Actor in a Comedy Series Award. In 2014, the NAACP also named Kevin the Entertainer of the Year.

The irrepressible comedian shows no sign of letting up, between presently releasing The Wedding Ringer, and following that up with Get Hard in March. And he’s already wrapped work on Ride Along 2, and has The Secret Life of Pets, Central Intelligence and Captain Underpants in production.

However, Kevin did make time in his hectic to get engaged to his fiancée, model Eniko Parrish. Here, he talks about his new movie, The Wedding Ringer, a comedy co-starring Josh Gad and Kelly Cuoco-Sweeting.    

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Kevin, thanks for the interview. How’re you doing?

Kevin Hart: I’m great, Kam.

 

KW: What interested you in The Wedding Ringer?

KH: It was the great script. I got it about five or six months before we started shooting. And it had been sitting around for quite some time. You’re talking eight to ten years.

 

KW: Wow! What gave you the confidence to pull the trigger?

KH: I thought it would be a good vehicle for me, and would show me in a different light. It’s a film where I could display some versatility. That’s why I said I wanted to do it. It was different from any movie I’d ever done before.

 

KW: Did you worry that the premise was so farfetched that it might be hard to pull off?

KH: No, because it was grounded. Reading the script, as crazy and unbelievable as the premise was, the characters were actually grounded. The road to friendship between Jimmy [played by Kevin] and Doug [played by Josh Gad] was what I thought was really unique about the picture. It made it so much more than just a movie about a wedding. It’s really about a guy who told a lie, and his lie spirals out of control to the point that he hires somebody to kind of make that lie a reality. And along those lines, the two of them actually end up liking each and realizing that their bond was necessary, because it’s something that people need. These are two people who avoided friendship for so long because they thought they didn’t need it. But then they realize, “Damn! This is a void that needs to be filled.” And following through with that is what this movie is ultimately about.

 

KW: How would you summarize the message you want people to take away from The Wedding Ringer?

KH: That friendship is important, regardless of who you are, how tough you are, or how much of a loner you might be. The thought of not having companionship is not a good thing. It’s something that we, as humans, need. And I feel that once you get a dose of it, and it’s genuine, it’s something you want for a long time.

 

KW: Did you ever assume a fake personality or crash a wedding in real life?

KH: [Chuckles] Fortunately, no. The good thing about me is I haven’t had to fake an identity. Have I lied and done some stuff that I’m not proud of? Of course. But I’ve never had to be someone else, which is a good thing. When that day comes, I’ll know I’m doing something wrong.

 

KW: Did being surrounded by a lot of seasoned comedians like Josh, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jenifer Lewis, Affion Crockett and Cloris Leachman take any pressure of your having to carry the load in terms of making people laugh.

KH: Oh, yes. Of course! We had an amazing cast. The actors and actresses in the film brought so much to the table that it wasn’t about me being funny all the time. There were moments when I could sit back and let other people drive, which was refreshing. In the past, I’ve often been responsible for the humor, and had to generate those funny moments by myself. But, in this case, we could have pretty much handed that ball to anybody.

 

KW: Between making five movies last year and doing Real Husbands of Hollywood, you’re the busiest brother in showbiz. And you have Get Hard with Will Ferrell coming out a couple months after The Wedding Ringer. How do you keep up the pace?

KH: I’m focused. I have goals I’m trying to accomplish, and the best way to accomplish those goals is to work hard, really, really keep my eyes on the prize, and understand what’s at stake. And now that I see what the possibilities are, it just makes me grind and work harder.

 

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

KH: Yeah, was I hand model? [Chuckles] The answer is “no,” but I wish someone would ask me that.

 

KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?

KH: Yeah, my mom was very religious, heavily into church, and she kept me into church as a child. I’m not overly religious, but I am a person who believes in God. I understand that there’s a higher being watching over me, and that I’m blessed. So, I make sure to count my blessings and to say “thank you” as often as I can. 

 

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

KH: My earliest childhood memory? That’s a great question. Probably trying to dress up like Michael Jackson when I was about three years-old. 

 

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

KH: I see a good person, an all-around good individual who was raised well, who understands life, and who is trying to maximize the possibilities of what he can get out of it. I also see a good father and a good husband-to be. I could go on and on since I see a lot of good things in myself. [Chuckles] 

 

KW: Congratulations on the engagement, Kevin!

KH: Thanks, Kam.

 

KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

KH: You learn from it. It makes you a better person. It makes you stronger, even though it wasn’t a positive experience. You understand and you go, “Okay, this is something I should or shouldn’t do.” At the end of the day, that’s the beauty of life. A negative can be a positive, depending on the type of person you are, and how you look at things.

 

KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?

KH: With me, there is no difference. What you see is what you get. The only difference is that I cut out all Hollywood at home. I’m about my kids, and about spending time with them when I’m home. Nothing comes in between. It’s solely about them and for them, 110%.  

 

KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?

KH: Oh my goodness! To be in three places at once.

 

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: Do you believe there’s one key quality all successful people share? 

KH: No. I think successful people have a variety of personality traits. But one trait they might share is that they got to where they are by working hard. That’s something I know for sure that I do. With that being said, I don’t take a good work ethic for granted, and I don’t overlook it, and I’m quite sure otherse in my position don’t either.

 

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

KH: That hard work and dedication pays off. It’s very easy to say you want to get somewhere, and to speak those words. But it’s not so easy to appreciate the effort it takes to get where you want to go. Hard work pays off. 

 

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

KH: As a great father, as a guy who was dedicated to his craft, and as a great example and role model to young kids, to show them that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to.

 

KW: What’s in your wallet?

KH: Three credit cards, a driver’s license, and my office key.

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Kevin, and best of luck with the film.

KH: Thank you, Kam, I appreciate it.

 

To see a trailer for The Wedding Ringer, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3TeI9jPPuA

    


American Sniper
Film Review by Kam Williams

Navy Seal Chris Kyle served four tours as a sniper in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. Over the course of dangerous deployments to Ramadi, Sadr City, Fallujah and other hot spots, he racked up enough kills to become the most lethal sniper in the history of the U.S. military. Directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, American Sniper is a reverential biopic chronicling the eagle-eyed sharpshooter’s enviable exploits.

The film is based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, and stars Bradley Cooper in the title role. Besides highlighting battlefield heroics, the movie mixes in plenty of poignant flashbacks from the protagonist’s formative years.

For instance, in those early childhood scenes, we see Kyle learning to shoot from his father (Ben Reed), nobly protecting his little brother Jeff (Luke Sunshine) from a playground bully (Brandon Salgado Telis), and piously pocketing his dog-eared copy of the Bible while attending Church services. These telling tableaus are obviously designed to provide hints at how such an exemplary combination of character and skills might have been forged.

Another focus of the picture is Kyle’s relationship with his terminally-worried wife, Taya (Sienna Miller). She’s raising their kids back in the States, but often finds her long-distance phone chats with her hubby rudely interrupted by everything from IED explosions to enemy fire. However, Kyle always attempts to qualm his frazzled spouse’s fears with calm reassurances that he’ll survive the ordeal.

This deliberate humanizing of the soldier at the center of the story into a tenderhearted family man is what sets American Sniper apart from other recent war flicks like Lone Survivor and The Hurt Locker. Consequently, we really care whether this patriot will ultimately return home safe and sound.

Kudos to Clint Eastwood for fashioning such a moving and well-deserved salute to a true American hero!

Excellent (4 stars) StarStarStarStar

Rated R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity

Running time: 132 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for American Sniper, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bP1f_1o-zo

    


Inherent Vice
Film Review by Kam Williams

Dateline: Los Angeles, 1970, which is where we find Private Eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) living in a beach house with a view in a fictional, seacoast enclave called Gordita Beach. He’s totally wasted, but that doesn’t stop Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) from approaching her ex-boyfriend for help with a personal problem.

Seems that the fetching femme fatale is currently the mistress of real estate magnate Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and she has reason to believe that the philandering billionaire is about to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution by his vindictive wife, Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas), and her lover, Riggs Warbling (Andrew Simpson).

Against his better judgment, Doc takes the case, and soon finds himself swept into a seamy underworld filled with colorful characters ranging from a recently-paroled black radical (Michael Kenneth Williams) to an avowed white supremacist (Christopher Allen Nelson) to the proverbial prostitute with the heart of gold (Hong Chau). After being conked on the head, Doc comes around in a police station where he learns that he’s the prime suspect not only in the disappearance of both Mickey and Shasta Fay, but in a murder to boot.

So unfolds Inherent Vice, a surreal whodunit far more concerned with recreating the feel of the post-Sixties’ daze of free-flowing drugs than with crafting a compelling crime thriller. Unfortunately, the absence of a credible plotline means the premise soon dissolves into a rudderless, meandering mess, reducing the viewing experience to enjoying the retro décor, fashions and slang of the period.

The picture was directed by five-time Oscar-nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Magnolia), who also adapted the script from the Thomas Pynchon best-seller of the same name.

The film does feature a few standout performances, most notably, Joaquin Phoenix in the starring role, and Josh Brolin as a hard-nosed LAPD officer. Otherwise the production makes precious little use of the services of its cluttered, A-list cast which includes Academy Award-winners Reese Witherspoon (for Walk the Line) and Benicio del Toro (for Traffic), and Oscar-nominees Eric Roberts (for Runaway Train) and Owen Wilson (for The Royal Tenenbaums).

An unstructured, atmospheric affair ostensibly designed to appeal to folks nostalgic for the hedonistic hippie era.

Good (2 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence, sexuality and graphic nudity

In English and Japanese with subtitles

Running time: 148 minutes

Distributor: Warner Brothers

To see a trailer for Inherent Vice, visit:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZfs22E7JmI

    


Two-Bit Waltz

Two-Bit Waltz
Film Review by Kam Williams

Maude (Clara Mamet) is a rudderless rebel without a clue, much to the chagrin of her concerned parents, Carl (William H. Macy) and Anita (Rebecca Pidgeon). Not only does the out of control 17 year-old start her day by smoking and drinking first thing in the morning, but she ends up in trouble in English class by insinuating that Anne Frank had fabricated all the entries in “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

After being sent to detention for such a tasteless remark, Maude only makes matters worse by uttering an anti-Semitic slur over the PA system. In fast order, the headstrong smart aleck soon finds herself suspended from school and abandoned by both her best friend and the boy who recently took her virginity.

Fortunately, a shot at redemption arrives after her grandmother (Willow Hale) dies unexpectedly, when Maude learns that she’s been left millions on the condition that she turn her life around and attend college. But at the reading of the will, the inveterate iconoclast informs the estate attorney (David Paymer) that she has no interest in the inheritance, since her hobby is suicide.

That shocking revelation lands the young lady on a therapist’s (John Pirruccello) couch, where she proceeds to double down on a desire to die. Will morose Maude come out of the self-destructive, death spiral before it’s too late? That is the question at the heart of Two-Bit Waltz, an adventure marked by a quirkiness reminiscent of Wes Anderson as well as by an irreverence reminiscent of Sarah Silverman.

Rising star Clara Mamet makes a memorable writing and directorial debut, here, with this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale where she also plays the protagonist, a troubled teen struggling to find her place in the world. Despite being the daughter of writer/director David Mamet and actress Rebecca Pidgeon, Clara has, to her credit, managed to craft a fine first film free of obvious parental influences.

A delightfully-droll, dysfunctional family dramedy!

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity and a sexual reference

Running time: 81 minutes

Distributor: Monterey Media

To see a trailer for Two-Bit Waltz, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuG5N7JBJb0  

    


Interviews
UserpicJeff Chang (INTERVIEW)
Posted by Kam Williams
05.01.2015

Jeff Chang

The “Who We Be” Interview

with Kam Williams

 

Visionary Author Talks about His NAACP Image Award-Nomination

Jeff Chang is a new sage thinker with his finger on the pulse of American culture. His first book, the critically-acclaimed “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation,” collected a cornucopia of honors, including the American Book Award and the Asian-American Literary Award. 

 

Next, he edited “Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop,” an anthology of essays and interviews. Here, he talks about his latest opus, “Who We Be: The Colorization of America,” which has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction category.   

 

Don’t let yourself be dissuaded by the grammatically-incorrect title, or it’s Ebonics chapter headings like “I Am I Be” and “What You Got to Say?” for the actual text isn’t written in inscrutable slang as implied, but rather makes a most articulate analysis of the evolution of American society from the March on Washington to the present.

 

 

Kam Williams: Hi Jeff. Thanks for the time and congratulations on the NAACP Image Award nomination for “Who We Be.” You used to just write about hip-hop. What inspired you to expand your focus for this book?

Jeff Chang: When I finished “Can't Stop Won't Stop,” I realized that the big hole was in talking about all those who had influenced me during my intellectual awakening during the mid-1980s and into 1990s. These were people from the generation that fell between the gap of the Civil Rights Generation and the Hip-Hop Generation--teachers and thinkers like Gary Delgado and Ron Takaki and Gloria Anzaldua, writers like Ishmael Reed, Ntozake Shange, and Jessica Hagedorn. They helped to theorize multiculturalism and their ideas carried us through the culture wars. 

 

KW: Why did you decide to examine the evolution of American culture over the last half-century?

JC: I guess every project has been a little autobiographical--this is the era that I have lived through. And now that I teach and mentor, I am always surprised and a little sad at how little my students know about what people their age did during the 1980s and 1990s. We weren't silent. They hear endlessly about the proud brave youth of the 1960s and even the 1970s, but not much history has been done on those who came afterward. In part, this is a function of demographics--we are the shadow generation between the so-called Boomers and Millennials. In part, ours is not a history of glory and victory. When it comes to racial justice, it's been quite the opposite. It's not a story with a happy ending.

 

KW: Where do you envision America to be a half-century from now?

JC: I'm less successful at predicting than I am at reading history. I do write from a sense of urgency, though. I worry that if we don't move toward a consensus for racial justice, that we'll instead continue the current trends of re-segregation and end up with a more rigid, insurmountable racial caste system in 2042. That would be a horrible outcome for everyone, including whites.

 

KW: Do you think you have a unique perspective as a Chinese/Hawaiian- American?

JC: I've been blessed to come from a background in which my family has intermarried with every race and culture imaginable. My family looks a lot like President Obama's, but much bigger. I suppose I look at the society I'm living in the way I look at my family. Because we are family does not mean there aren't problems, but we owe it to each other to keep on talking, to try to work them out. This may make me a bit Pollyanna-ish, but you gotta believe in something, and every belief comes from somewhere, and that's mine. 

 

KW: “Who We Be” reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium Is the Massage” [not his famous essay “The Medium Is the Message”] which was a dizzying mix of essays, asides, aphorisms, photos and drawings. Are you familiar with that book?

JC: I am! Dizzying was exactly the right word. From the beginning I wanted the book to be visual--in the writing and in its content and presentation. McLuhan pointed out in the mid-60s, that we were now living in a mixed up culture where visuality was much more important. The word "colorization" comes from TV, and this is also happening right at the time McLuhan and Fiore are making their book. So, in a lot of ways, I was trying to recognize that history, while merging that with the history of the representation of people of color in the post-civil rights era. Such a great question! Thank you.

 

KW: You’re welcome, Jeff. How would you describe your approach to cobbling together the content you included in your book?

JC: The organizing metaphor was seeing--how we see race. I knew I had to move in this direction after “Can't Stop Won't Stop,” and I had some elements--Morrie Turner's cartoons and his amazing life story, on the one hand, and the street art of the Obama presidential campaign, on the other. Greg Tate, Lydia Yee, Roberta Uno, Vijay Prashad and others hit me with other key pieces that helped to shape the narrative. And as I was finishing the book, Vijay Iyer hit me sideways with his insight about listening versus seeing race. He made me understand that jazz and soul and blues are of an earlier period in which listening was central. Hip-hop comes up in an era of seeing--and so it gets complicated. 

 

 

KW: What message do you hope people will take away from the book?

JC: That we need to have a real conversation about race that does not try to ignore the legacies of discrimination, debasement and inequity. And we need to transform the culture of violence that continues to lead us in each generation to have to explosively protest the way that bodies of color, often specifically black bodies, are targeted and contained. I think the best way for us to approach this is to recognize and name re-segregation as we see it, and, through cultural interventions, push toward a new consensus for racial justice.

 

KW: What do you make of the nationwide demonstrations in response to the failure of the grand juries to indict the police officers in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases?

JC: They are among the most sustained and widespread protests against state violence against African-Americans in history. And they are being organized and moved in a decentralized way by thousands of ordinary Americans--mostly youths, mostly women. There are no central leaders, despite the media's focus on some older charismatic men, and that makes them impossible to stop. They give me clarity about my work and they give me hope that we might be in a transformative moment. 

 

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

JC: Not really. Every question is a blessing.

 

KW: What was your first job?

JC: I went to a private school on "scholarship" which meant that, at age 10, I was serving lunch to my peers and wiping up the tables after them.

 

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

JC: If it's pleasurable, I ain't guilty! [LOL]

 

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

JC: So many! Two of the most recent have been especially amazing: Claudia Rankine's “Citizen,” and my man Marlon James's “A Brief History of Seven Killings.”

 

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to? 

JC: Again, so many. This is what's on right now: Sade's "Love You More" [JRocc Mix] https://soundcloud.com/jrocc/love-you-more-rocc-mix

  

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

JC: Hawaiian-style Pipi, beef stew.

 

KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

JC: Art: music, visual art, literature, etcetera that connects big ideas and calls us to do something.

 

KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?

JC: Yes. My grandparents were Buddhist and my parents converted to Catholicism. I'd say my spiritual beliefs are some odd, contradictory hybrid of both. 

 

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

JC: Someone who is trying. 

 

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

JC: Right now it would be for my brother-in-law Arnel to be alive again. He passed away suddenly in July.

 

KW: My condolences. The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

JC: Oh, man, I can't remember!

 

KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

JC: It made me understand how important recognizing your transgressions is toward reaching reconciliation.

 

KW: Can you give me a generic Jeff Chang question I can ask other people I interview?

JC: What are the three values that guide everything you do?

 

KW: Thanks! What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

JC: Don't follow me, follow your own trail, and if it crosses mine for a while, welcome.

 

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

JC: By my actions and my children.

  

KW: And lastly, what’s in your wallet?

JC: The bare minimum I need!

 

KW: Thanks again for the time, Jeff, and good luck with the book.

JC: Kam,  thanks for this amazing interview and for all your generosity. With lots of respect and gratitude.

To become a member of the NAACP and to vote for the Image Awards, visit: http://www.naacpimageawards.net/become-a-member-to-vote/