Skip to main content

The smartest operative on the hill just got played by Grampa Simpson.

Miss Sloane
(2016)

(SPOILERS) John Madden’s name as director might be a clue that this exploration of the world of political lobbying isn’t going to be altogether successful; one might give a pass to his inoffensive pensioner pictures (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel) but otherwise he hasn’t delivered a truly satisfying feature since the Oscar glory that (rightly) greeted Shakespeare in Love. As usual, he’s only as serviceable as his screenplay, and this one is all sorts of uneven.

Jessica Chastain’s title character is a too-familiar cliché, the workaholic career woman with no time for relationships (she hires male escorts to satisfy any carnal cravings) and less time for small talk. Everything is a calculated move, as the introductory scene tells us, predicting your opponent’s move before they predict yours (“It’s about making sure you surprise them and they don’t surprise you”), and she applies this maxim to all aspects of her life. There’s a rather crafty resulting twist, rather proving her point, but it only succeeds in being a crafty twist because the picture is so wayward and uncollected that you’ve long since forgotten her “ethos” by the time she reaches the point of proving it.

And the worst thing about Madden’s movie, by Jonathan Perera, is that it insists on giving Sloane a good heart, despite being part of a ruthless, inherently corrupt industry (she’s “the poster child for the most morally bankrupt profession since faith healing”) and willing to manipulate and betray colleagues in order to shoot for the bigger prize. We’re supposed to give her a big huzzah at the end, but I wish first-time screenwriter (or first time with a produced screenplay anyway) Jonathan Perera had stuck to the guns of his premise. Much of the dialogue in the round-table discussions with her juniors reeks of artifice calculated to give Sloane over-scripted put-downs and a superior seen-it-all, done-it-all voice; the only positive side of this is that in scenes where there is actualartifice (her assistant Alison Pill electing not to go with her when she moves to a rival firm), the fakery doesn’t stand out as any differently written. I’m not sure that should be a compliment, though.

There’s also something crushingly banal about the subject matter, as if the makers couldn’t have seized upon a more liberal-friendly area and thus one lacking in teeth; even Sloane is opposed to the gun lobby on principle, and not even – as others keep insinuating – because she lost someone close to her. Everyone on the pro-gun side is morally indefensible, and everyone besides Sloane opposed to it is whiter-than-white. The only note of dissonance is cast by her lawyer (David Wilson Barnes) who, once the bill requiring universal background checks on gun purchases has gone through, taking down corrupt senator John Lithgow with it, observes “Congratulations, criminals must now endure the hassle of procuring their guns on the black market”.

Being spoon-fed by movies, particularly ones purporting to have a brain in their head, is never satisfying, and this one singularly fails to be inventive with the big issues, with the rival lobbying firms resorting to fairly unremarkable tactics. At one point, Perera, desperate for something to pep up the plot, has Gugu Mbatha-Raw (survivor of the “Bloomington High School Massacre of 1998”) menaced by a gunman who is then shot dead by a member of the public. In the aftermath, having been singled out because she was outed by Sloane as a survivor of the massacre, she comments “It even crossed my mind that this was all you. You just didn’t count on an armed civilian behind me”; now, if the picture had resorted to that kind of extreme behaviour, it might have had something, but as it is, the sequence comes across as a desperately contrived attempt at dramatic incident.

There’s support from the likes of Mark Strong, Sam Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg, none of whom get to be more than one-dimensional. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since neither does the lead character. Who, despite the amount of time to devoted her, fails to come alive or become interesting, either to root for or against. Still, I learnt that it’s possible to remotely control cockroaches for surveillance purposes.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Basically, you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation?

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
(SPOILERS) There can be a cumulative effect from revisiting a movie where one glaring element does not fit, however well-judged or integrated everything else is; the error is only magnified, and seems even more of a miscalculation. With Groundhog Day, there’s a workaround to the romance not working, which is that the central conceit of reliving your day works like a charm and the love story is ultimately inessential to the picture’s success. In the case of Four Weddings and a Funeral, if the romance doesn’t work… Well, you’ve still got three other weddings, and you’ve got a funeral. But our hero’s entire purpose is to find that perfect match, and what he winds up with is Andie McDowell. One can’t help thinking he’d have been better off with Duck Face (Anna Chancellor).

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.