Miss Sloane misses mark – review

sloane-poster

I am a sucker for politics and intrigue, shows like The West Wing and House of Cards (British & American versions) forming a regular staple of my creative diet. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I lined up to see Miss Sloane (trailer), an inside look at the cut-throat world of DC lobbyists, whom many consider the parasitic infection that Washington just cannot (and will not) shake.

Sadly, Jonathan Perera (writer of Miss Sloane) is no Aaron Sorkin or Beau Willimon. In his defence, however, it is likely that neither were Sorkin and Willimon on their first produced screenplays.

The movie follows the string-pulling machinations of Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), an ice-water-in-her-veins win-at-all-costs lobbyist who works for one of the most powerful firms in Washington. This woman has no scruples and is willing to get behind anything that earns a paycheque and raises her status inside the Beltway. Anything, it seems, except for the gun lobby.

And when she is presented with an opportunity to make guns more appealing to women in the hopes of killing gun control legislation coming to the floor, she instead jumps ship to a boutique firm (read “poor”), run by Rudolpho Schmidt (Mark Strong), and takes up the opposing cause.

sloane-pairing

More could have been made of Strong’s moral angst over hiring nuclear weapon Chastain

Once the ball starts rolling down hill, it steamrolls over everyone in its path, and the story becomes a ballet between Sloane’s new firm and her old one, led by a very angry George Dupont (Sam Waterston) and his lead hitman Pat Conners (Michael Stuhlbarg). Until recently, Conners was Sloane’s partner in larceny. The rest of the movie is simply watching puppeteers pull strings.

Thus, this movie is a character study of people without character; a morality play completely lacking in morals.

As such, it is incredibly dark and even with its climax and moment of supposed triumph, you leave the theatre positively suicidal at the prospect that this story even starts to approximate reality.

In one way, it is fascinating to watch completely manipulative characters toss around human lives and feelings as though pieces in a game of Risk or Stratego. I think it strikes at our voyeur nature, tying in with the modern fascination in so-called reality television and amounting to little more than emotion porn. This movie could easily have been titled 50 Shades of Sloane.

sloane-puppetry

The strings may be invisible, but the puppet dances

At the same time, with no shred of humanity in these characters, it is difficult if not impossible to invest in the main combatants. At best, we mourn the cannon fodder that litters the field of combat. It is like watching a movie about the invasion of Normandy and really only being able to appreciate the kid who is killed as he steps off the landing craft.

And this is precisely where Perera’s developing skills let him down and his contrast with the current political masters is at its most notable.

Despite the sheer malevolence of Francis and Claire Underwood in House of Cards, there is a vulnerability that helps us understand their razor-clad shells. Go further back to the true master of political intrigue—William Shakespeare—and you see the frailties of the otherwise horrific Macbeth and his Lady. Or perhaps my favourite: Iago from Othello.

frailty-in-venom

Underwood, Macbeth and Iago: Human frailty lies behind the face of a monster

Despite the play’s title, Iago is the true hero of Othello. It is his story that unfolds as he manipulates all those around him, working their weaknesses and frailties against them, truly uncaring of the destructive impact his actions are likely to have on even his own future. And yet, for all the venom and disturbing glee with which Shakespeare imbues his malevolent beast, the Bard is also sure to insert short references to why Iago is so morally misshapen.

To his credit, Perera refused to go in the opposite direction and give us some long-winded sob story of a slight or wound from Sloane’s past to explain her motivations, and in fact, makes it a point, several times, to complain about just such an approach.

But in the absence of any contextualization for the character, even the climax itself comes across as academic exposition rather than revelation. At best, the climax has audacity rather than soul.

There is no moment to cheer the outcome of the story because the outcome is as soul-less as the morass that preceded it.

sloane-perils

That which cannot be controlled must be destroyed

As though sensing this, the final scenes of the movie felt like a bit of a negation of what came before, attempting to soften the edge of Sloane and the story itself. I really wish the movie had ended with the climax.

Given these character challenges, the stellar cast performed well despite being largely wasted.

Chastain does ice well, her face and mannerisms giving away little. Mark Strong was mostly missing in action, through no fault of the actor. His character simply had little to offer. And Stuhlbarg is quickly making a name for himself as malevolent toady, and for that very reason, really needs to find another role to utilize other aspects of his obvious talent.

Miss Sloane was a great idea that suffered in the execution, and I am perhaps being a bit unfair to put the onus on Perera. Director John Madden—best known for Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—would have had some influence on how this story played out, and given the pre-diabetic sweetness of his other movies, this story was a surprising choice.

As an academic exercise, I would love to see what Sorkin or Willimon would do with this concept. Each would create very different movies, I think.

In the meantime, I will be interested in seeing where Perera goes next.

See also:

Chastain enlivens political thriller ‘Miss Sloane’ (Lindsay Bahr, Metronews)

Jessica Chastain dominates as a Washington power player (Nigel Smith, The Guardian)

Richard Crouse (video, CTV News)

Shakespeare suggests Trump is a Dick

rdr

In the New York Times Sunday Review this weekend, Harvard’s Stephen Greenblatt wrote an opinion piece entitled Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election in which he draws parallels between the events surrounding the rise of Richard III and Donald J. Trump. Quite fascinating.

For me, the crux of his analogy is summed in one paragraph:

Shakespeare brilliantly shows all of these types of enablers working together in the climactic scene of this ascent. The scene — anomalously enough in a society that was a hereditary monarchy but oddly timely for ourselves — is an election. Unlike Macbeth (which introduced into the English language the word “assassination”), Richard III does not depict a violent seizure of power. Instead there is the soliciting of popular votes, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.

I can definitely see the point Greenblatt is making and there are strong parallels in the story, but I think he missed the mark on the personalities of the leaders in question.

Rather than Richard III as a model for Trump, I would have gone with Richard II.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The great fall and ultimate execution of Richard II was very much the result of his debilitating belief in his own divinity and his completely disconnection from the lives and needs of real people, including those closest to him. In short, he didn’t understand politics and simply felt everyone should get in line because he was the voice and arm of God.

For every man that Bolingbroke hath press’d
To lift shrewd steel against our golden crown,
God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay
A glorious angel: then, if angels fight,
Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right.

Richard II; Act III, sc. ii.

He was also surrounded by sycophantic parasites who fed Richard’s ego and grew bloated on everyone’s desire to serve the King. They were ultimately destroyed by this bloat and the belief that they too had divine protection, as though the crown served as an umbrella.

It was Richard II’s blinkered existence and unbridled self-aggrandizement that kept him from seeing the dangers that lie ahead, and the simple solutions that would have averted disaster. If he merely acknowledged the just requests of the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke (eventually, SPOILER ALERT, Henry IV) for his family titles, Richard would have retained the man’s fealty and love, and thus would have kept his throne.

For me, Richard III was too aware of his limitations and was therefore much more manipulative than I believe either Richard II or Donald Trump feel they need to be.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other

Richard III; Act I, sc. i.

For Donald, as for the second Richard, what is the need for manipulation when you speak with God’s voice and rule with His hand?

See also:

Richard II (play)

Richard III (play)

Lost in Austin

Although I was in Austin to attend the amazing screenwriters’ conference attached to the Austin Film Festival, I did manage to make my way around town with my camera (and cell phone).

Sadly, it was not until the day I left that I discovered the amazing trail around Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake). Next year, I will be back with a vengeance to record the trail and its astounding diversity of flora and fauna.

See also:

Ron Scubadiver‘s Town Lake photos

Pierce Wanderings Town Lake Kayak photos

Living Outside the Box Town Lake photos

Kelly Phillips‘ Town Lake in January photos

To vote, or not to vote…that is your decision

I used to think that not voting was a valid form of political protest, but I now understand that it is only the first step.

man-putting-ballot-in-a-box-during-elections-in-canada

If you choose not to vote, I respect that. But I challenge you that it accomplishes nothing.

If you choose not to vote as a protest, I presume that you want to change the system in some way. And yet, you have offered no alternative.

The election will go on whether you vote or not. The raccoon that raids my recycling bins won’t vote either.

When people protest through marches, sit-ins or hunger strikes, they make themselves visible. When you don’t vote, you remain largely invisible. So if you’re not going to vote—a right I voted to defend, in some ways—then do something.

Hold a “we didn’t vote” rally. Gather other non-voters and raise your voices in protest. Offer your own platform; suggest an alternative to the current electoral system.

If your idea is viable, you might gain support from voters. You might actually create the change you seek.

But if you simply do not vote, then you are not only invisible to the rest of us, but you remain complicit in the system you despise.

Parliament Hill

From tampons to toilet paper

Taxi pads

As of July 1st – Canada Day – women in Canada will no longer be required to pay sales tax when purchasing feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads. The change comes after many months of Canadians decrying the tax as gender discriminatory, as solely a tax on women (see House of Commons debate).

Having wracked my brain, I was unable to determine an equivalent male-exclusive product and so broadened my thinking to identify products that might be absolute necessities. There are no taxes on groceries, for example – family-size purchases, that is; “junk food” and “individual” purchases are taxed.

And then it struck me: toilet paper.

So yesterday, I launched a faux campaign to remove the taxes from toilet paper, and welcome you all to join what I am calling the #BowelMovement.

Tweet

Feel free to * ahem * pass this along.

TP tax

MacKay away in Canada, eh

Parliamentarian MacKay can carry a tune

Parliamentarian MacKay can carry a tune

In honour of the announced departure of Canadian Parliamentarian Peter MacKay from political office, I would like to call back to a musical number I wrote almost 10 years ago for a Second City Training Centre sketch comedy show in Toronto entitled Da Tory Code.

The parody is sung to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Modern Major General  from HMS Pinafore and features current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with his right-hand man MacKay.

MacKay blows kisses as PM Harper stares on lovingly

MacKay blows kisses as PM Harper stares on lovingly

Enjoy.

Harper

I am the very model of a primo ministerial;

Appointing every office, even got myself a Liberal.

I run a mighty fearsome ship,

I won’t allow a tongue to slip,

The press thinks that I give a shit,

Your primo ministerial.

MacKay

He runs a mighty fearsome ship,

He won’t allow a tongue to slip,

The press thinks that he gives a shit,

Our primo ministerial.

Harper

I am the very model of a sovereign most invincible;

Why wouldn’t I, my party is the only one with principles.

My gang and I will legislate

Who gays and lesbians can mate;

I’ll make Quebec a po-lice state

Your sovereign most invincible.

MacKay

Our gang and he will legislate

Who gays and lesbians can mate;

He’ll make Quebec a po-lice state

Our sovereign most invincible.

Harper

I am the very model of a ruler quite imperial;

Destroy all opposition like a killer almost serial.

I rule with all supremacy,

From sea to sea to fucking sea,

So screw your old democracy.

Your ruler quite imperial.

THE MUSIC CHANGES TO DARTH VADER THEME

MacKay

All hail the Harper!

EXIT

Da Tory Code poster