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December 2016

Movie: "Miss Sloane"'s reviews

MissSloane(Photo credit: IMDB) I went to see "Miss Sloane" and absolutely loved it. Jessica Chastain in the title role of a DC lobbyist facing Congressional hearings is spellbinding. She delivers dialogue with conviction but also uses the expressions on her face more effectively than any other actress I've seen in a movie in a long time. Any aspiring actress should watch "Miss Sloane" and learn from the great. But this post is about more than simply telling readers to go and see the movie, which Chastain bears single-handedly on her shoulders and which therefore won't be to the taste of moviegoers less than enthralled by strong female leads (a segment of the U.S. population that has possibly grown over the past few weeks). Instead, this post is about my surprise at the lukewarm or downright negative reviews of "Miss Sloane", when the movie is so breathtaking from beginning to end, never letting the viewer guess what will happen next, providing plot twist after plot twist, bringing entertainment to a level rarely seen in Hollywood movies these days.

This excellent movie currently has a rating of 5.9/10 on IMDB, 68% on Rotten Tomatoes and 25% among Google users. Given the stellar performance of the cast and the spellbinding plot that keeps you on the edge of your seats, those ratings don't make sense, until you realize that Miss Sloane takes on the gun lobby by fighting for a bill that would introduce mandatory background checks and, after a long, take-no-prisoners battle full of twists and coups de theatre with her former employer, who represents her opponent, (SPOILER ALERT) actually wins. So I had to wonder, after I saw the movie, whether some of those reviews - pointing out that the writer is a first-timer "and it shows", complaining about the writer's view of lobbyists, taking issue with the ending (which I loved, although the epilogue after the ending was unnecessary - it would have been fine to cut at the end of the hearings scene where Miss Sloane looks at Esme, and not tell the viewer whether the bill passed or not) - were not possibly trying to undermine the impact of Miss Sloane's views by belittling the movie.

For instance, some people shouted "yes!" in the theater when Miss Sloane made arguments for universal background checks such as [this would delay approval by two weeks and, I paraphrase:] "anyone who is so desperate to get his hands on a gun should be kept very far away from having one." (Basically the goal of the movie's fictitious amendment, as I understood it, was to close the private sale loophole.) This kind of Hollywood-driven PR can't possibly please the gun lobby. Now, the engineer in me wanted to see data: how many deaths would be avoided by universal background checks? what makes it possible for such hatred to develop for other human beings that someone decides to kill innocent bystanders? won't people who really want to commit heinous crimes with guns simply wait two weeks [the waiting period people in the movie say they would have to put up with] and then do the deed? how many would-be gun owners are really turned away after a background check? would universal background checks be effective or would they only be a cosmetic measure? would making sure that assault rifles remain out of the hands of bad people be a more effective technique to prevent mass shootings (one of the characters survived a mass school shooting, which becomes a key subplot)? 

So perhaps the pro-gun-lobby side of the equation wasn't argued with full force in the movie, where opponents of the bill stick to 2nd Amendment rights, but the movie remains excellent thanks to Chastain's gripping performance and the many plot twists. It is a great character study of some of the people who work in D.C.: the idealistic young kids, Miss Sloane's blase former employer played by Sam Waterston, the always-idealistic CEO of the rival boutique lobbying firm, and Miss Sloane, who will stop to nothing to achieve her goal. This is what makes the movie worthwhile - not what you think of universal background checks. The movie gives you a glimpse of the frame of mind of people who want to win at all costs, and what they do to make sure they succeed. Not a bad lesson to keep in mind.


Review of Play "Icebergs"

Icebergs(Photo credit: Geffen Playhouse) I recently saw "Icebergs" at the Geffen Playhouse, and not only will this play transfer to Broadway if I know anything about the theater business, but it will win a Tony if the judges have any sense. It is light-years better than Pulitzer-Prize winner Clybourne Park, far better than The Humans (winner of the 2016 Tony for Best New Play, among other things), and on par with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, winner of the Tony Award for Best Play in 2013. The audience connects with the characters in a far more effective way than in the plays mentioned above - we root for the aspirations of the L.A. couple in their mid-thirties, the husband a filmmaker and the wife a struggling actress, who attempt to pursue their dreams of career success while struggling to have a baby and also (for the wife) struggling with the consequences of having a baby in today's world, with the threat of global warming, but we also root for the African-American scientist friend, married with one child and another on the way, who stays with them while he's in town for a conference and who ultimately gives the most moving speech about being black in America today that I've heard in a long time. The other supporting roles (the wife's friend and the husband's agent) also feel real rather than cardboard characters. We're truly treated to a slice of life for people we care a lot about from the start, and it is refreshing that the play is rooted in L.A. I loved everything about it.

I had two minor comments about specific dialogue points that made me cringe: (1) after the powerful speech by the African-American actor, the "well said" of the other cast members seemed superfluous, and (2) when the wife's friend decides to give her cat to the husband's agent - don't ask - it felt cheesy for the agent to ditch the date he had lined up and say "let's go and meet the love of my life" when he talks about meeting the cat. And that's it. The rest of the play is flawless. Everyone who has hung on to the pursuit of his/her dreams long after it was looked upon with benevolence by relatives will relate to the play - not just aspiring actors in NYC or LA. The play manages to tackle big issues, such as bringing a child in a world threatened by global warming and the continuing dangers faced by African-American today. Of course it was helped by the brilliant delivery of the fantastic cast, in particular Nate Corddry as the husband filmmaker and Keith Powell as his friend the African-American scientist. The play got a lot of laughs the day I attended - it is not really a comedy but its insights into human nature and the life of the struggling actor are spot-on.

This was a great play, the deserving recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. It'd be a big loss for the East Coast if it doesn't make it to New York City and the Great White Way.