A gilded Cage

There are few people more gifted at the art of phony moral preening than your average Hollywood movie star. Most of them know next to nothing about anything, but a remarkable number of them are quick to weigh in on political issues and say whatever they think will make them look like pillars of virtue.

And yet one after another of these stars, who are already extremely well paid, are also quick to sell their services, for the right price, to any brutal dictator who comes down the pike.

Will Smith

We’ve seen, for example, that Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, have gone all-out to promote Dubai, which, of course, is one of the United Arab Emirates, where gays are executed and where straight tourists who engage in even the tamest public displays of affection are subject to long prison terms. We’ve discovered how Sting took a million or two dollars to perform for the daughter of murderous Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and how Nicki Minaj cashed a $2 million check from the Angolan dictator José Eduardo dos Santos for a similar gig.

Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified girl

We’ve listed the names of several celebrities – among them Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, Mickey Rourke, and Sharon Stone – who’ve taken money from Vladimir Putin to turn up at official events in Russia, and other luminaries – including Seal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Hilary Swank – who’ve accepted payments to entertain Putin’s puppet leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Now it’s time to add another Tinseltown name to this roster of shame: Nicolas Cage. Born Nicolas Coppola, a nephew of filmland’s master of nepotism, Francis Ford Coppola, Cage, now 53, has been one of the luckiest men in the business, reaping great rewards in exchange for a very modest talent. He gets millions of dollars per picture and is reportedly worth about $25 million.

Nicolas Cage in Kazakhstan with an official of the Eurasia Film Festival

In short, he is not a man in drastic financial need. Nonetheless, in exchange for an unknown but presumably hefty sum, he recently attended the Eurasia Film Festival in Kazakhstan, a country that has been ruled for over a quarter of a century by the tyrannical Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Some people will do anything for a buck. Cage, who invariably comes off on talk shows as something of a self-important jerk and all-around dimbulb, was willing to don a native Kazakh outfit that earned him widespread mockery online. “I would be pleased to participate in some film project on the territory of Kazakhstan,” Cage told local journalists during his lucrative visit. “I enjoyed the architecture of your capital. What I saw reminded me of an old black-and-white film that depicted the future.” These stars often make such dopey, ingratiating statements in these situations. It’s hard not to believe they are reading from a script. In any event, one thing is clear: Nicolas Cage didn’t go to Kazakhstan for his health.

Castro, ; Garcia, no

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Inés Sastre and Andy Garcia in The Lost City

Yesterday we brought up The Lost City, a 2005 Andy Garcia film about Havana before and after Castro. Mainstream critics in the U.S., traumatized by the movie’s nostalgic depiction of pre-revolutionary Cuba and its categorical disapproval of the revolution’s consequences, couldn’t forgive it for what they called its historical inaccuracy – a charge that exiled Cuban writer Humberto Fontova powerfully and definitively refuted.

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Havana then

Among other things, the reviewers chided Garcia for failing to depict pre-revolutionary Cuba (in accordance with the Castro regime’s propaganda) as a cesspit of poverty. Citing UNESCO statistics from the late 1950s, Fontova set the record straight on this score: in fact, Batista’s Cuba had a “large middle class”; union-membership rates were higher than in the U.S.; the average Cuban wage in 1957 was higher than in Belgium, Denmark, France, or Germany; Cuban laborers earned 66.6% of gross national income, compared to 70% in the U.S. and 64% in Switzerland; 44% of Cubans were “covered by social legislation,” a higher share than in the U.S.; Cuba had a higher per-capita income in 1958 than Spain, Austria, and Japan, and “Cuban industrial workers had the eighth-highest wages in the world”; stevedores made higher hourly wages in Cuba than in New Orleans or San Francisco; Cuban workers enjoyed an eight-hour day and (30 years before it came to Europe) a month-long vacation. “Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S.,” wrote Fontova. “And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S.”

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Havana now

Noting that critics had compared the supposed historical accuracy of The Lost City unfavorably to such films as Havana (1990) and Godfather II (1974), Fontova pointed out that Havana director Sydney Pollack had cast a blue-eyed blond to play Batista (who was black) and that Godfather II director Francis Ford Coppola had shown the streets of Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958, the night of the revolution, as being packed with people (in reality, Fontova recalls, “Havana streets were deathly quiet that night”). All in all, charged Fontova, the negative reviews of The Lost City reflected “the Mainstream Media’s thundering and apparently incurable ignorance on all matters Cuban.”

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Batista’s resignation, as portrayed in Godfather II

Unlike the mainstream-media reviewers, Cuban exiles who saw the film gave it rapturous notices:  

“This film will offend a lot of people that have bought into the idea of Fidel Castro as a benevolent dictator and Che Guevara as a righteous revolutionary….Some have criticized this film for not showing ‘the grinding poverty’ of the masses in pre-Castro Cuba. There’s a reason for that. There wasn’t that much of it back then. The Cuban revolution was one led and funded by the middle and upper classes and supported by intellectuals throughout the island. They wanted democracy not a totalitarian dictatorship.”

“I’m a 65 year-old Cuban woman who lived through that historic time….I’m very grateful to Andy Garcia for the gift of this movie.”

“For many of us who have lived through our own ‘Lost City,’ watching this film was a bittersweet experience….Amazing that this film made it to the screen given its honest portrayal of the brutal architects of the Cuban revolution, particularly Hollywood’s darlings, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.”

Splendid tributes. But let’s give Fontova the last word: “Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958…Cubans expected political change not a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe. But I fully realize such distinctions are too ‘complex’ for a film critic to grasp. They prefer clichés and fantasies of revolution.” Alas, they’ve all heard too much Castro disinformation – and seen too many movies about Cuba that reflect that disinformation instead of telling the truth. 

Mickey Rourke’s price tag – and other Putin purchases

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Sophia Loren and Putin at a 2012 event

Yesterday we discussed a December 2010 benefit at which stars like Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke gleefully rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Putin.

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Paul Anka obviously enjoying himself

That was bad enough. But it gets worse. Guess what? The benefit, it turned out, hadn’t really been a benefit at all: not a single hospital or clinic or other such organization ended up receiving so much as a ruble as a result of it. Yet that didn’t keep Putin’s pals from organizing a similar event the following year – and, astonishingly, it didn’t prevent another gaggle of famous folk from turning up.

Among them: Chris Noth of Sex and the City, Sophia Loren, Steven Seagal, Andrea Bocelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Costner, Woody Allen, Jeremy Irons – and Isabella Rosellini, who, according to the New Yorker, had been informed that morning that she was involved in a scambut was unfazed by it.”

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Mickey Rourke in Putin t-shirt

Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, writing about these shenanigans recently in Buzzfeed, provided information about Seagal’s trips to Russia – which they described as “frequent” – that was new to us. In 2007 he visited Kalmykia, a majority-Buddhist province, and promised its leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, to produce and star in a movie about Genghis Khan; when that project failed to get green-lighted, Seagal blamed “the Jews”: “There are no Buddhists among the people who finance movies,” he explained. Another tidbit from Buzzfeed: last August, while Russian troops were pouring into Ukraine, Mickey Rourke, in exchange for a $50,000 Kremlin payment, allowed himself to be photographed wearing a Putin t-shirt. (Rourke had previously said that he purchased the t-shirt of his own accord and solely for reasons of private sentiment: “I have a Russian girlfriend.”) 

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Woody Allen shaking the hand of Roman Abramovich, whom Putin has described as a “son”

Finally, as recently as this June – while Poland and the Baltic republics were begging NATO to beef up their defenses in case of a possible Russian invasion – Woody Allen was spotted in Russia again, this time attending the opening of a new art museum owned by billionaire – and Putin intimate – Roman Abramovich and his wife, Daria Zhukova. Other guests at the opening included George Lucas, Harvey Weinstein, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Salma Hayek. Was Allen, we wonder, paid to be there – or was he, perhaps, fishing for Russian financing for a future project? As for Putin, is he courting these people, who’ve already provided him with positive press in the West, in hopes of developing some larger-scale, longer-term connection with some of the Tinseltown powers-that-be? Who’s better at propaganda, after all, than Hollywood?