Sorkin’s Reality

Aaron Sorkin has come under fire in his career for what his detractors claim is a myopic view of American politics. Ever since the intelligent, likeable, sympathetic Andrew Shepherd in The American President faced off against a darkened room of cigar-puffing Republicans – one of whom, upon finding a photograph that could bring down the Presidency, actually begins to sing ‘It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas’ – it was pretty clear where his political affiliations lay. Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom have also not dissuaded us of his liberal sensibilities, and yet each of those shows have all at least featured intelligent, likeable, sympathetic Republicans espousing Republican views in a convincing manner.

Sad to say, his latest project has lost all objectivity.

In the United States of America’s 2012 election, Aaron Sorkin has thrown his remaining modicum of bipartisanship out the window. His Democratic characters (Barack Obama, Joe Biden, The Clintons) are eloquent and virtuous, while his Republican characters (Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Boehner) no longer hold bear any resemblance to reality.

Warning bells should have gone off when he introduced the Republican nomination plotline. His list of improbable candidates included the Bible-bashing Rick Santorum, the arch-conservative Michelle Bachman, the drawling gasbag Newt Gringrich, the poorly-disguised George W Bush callback Rick Perry, and, in an effort to appear even-handed, the Democrat-in-Republican-clothing Jon Huntsman.

It was a lazy field of candidates, made even lazier when Sorkin eventually went with the most predictable candidate of the lot: square-jawed millionaire Mitt Romney. In order to make Romney comply with Sorkin’s one-dimensional concept of modern Republicans, Romney was ret-conned from a progressive moderate into a mealy-mouthed, pro-life, anti-healthcare spokescliché. Sorkin had altered characters in the past to suit current storylines, but he’d never made any changes approaching this level of absurdity.

At the same time, he was clearly struggling with his portrayal of Obama. Clearly attempting to handicap him in some believable manner, Sorkin – rather than having him make a campaign-halting gaff, or reveal some sort of personal demon – simply took a reasonable statement and worded it in such a manner so that an out-of-context sentence could be cherry-picked as an example of his inferred socialism. It was a pretty long bow to draw, and Sorkin’s Republican stereotypes lapped it up, wilfully misinterpreting it so it would become what to them was the defining moment of the campaign. The mere idea that Sorkin would consider something so benign and easily-explainable as a satisfactory portrayal Obama’s biggest stumble reflects an extremely low opinion of the conservative electorate.

In fairness, his portrayal of the American media holds more focus. Rather than deifying Obama’s achievements – or even recollecting them – the media frequently criticises him for taking too much credit for the death of Osama Bin Laden; he is lambasted for a fairly straightforward healthcare plan that would bring America up to global first world standards; every diplomatic interaction is painted as ‘apologising for America’. Even if none of Sorkin’s politicians are believable, the media and citizens sure are.

Look, I’m a long-time fan of Sorkin. I was a stringent defender of the election, and when critics pointed to recurring characters like Sarah Palin as proof that he couldn’t write intelligent female characters, even after established that they’d risen to great political heights, I’d go to pains to point out the similar flaws in endless male characters. I was on the front line, standing up for Sorkin’s writing, and confidently telling anyone who’d listen that he surely had something big up his sleeve.

But then we came to the conventions.

The Republican National Convention was a complete joke, and any Republican watching would surely have taken umbrage at its depiction. There was the parroting of the warped ‘You didn’t build that’ line. There was Romney’s policy-devoid speech. There was the shameful Clint Eastwood parody, in which the filmmaking legend was portrayed as a bumbling old man speaking to an empty chair for fifteen minutes. (In Sorkin’s defence, this came after Clint Eastwood had directed 2010’s Hereafter, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to buy this sudden turn for the senile.)

Even if you could forgive any of that rubbish, the following week he showed us the Democratic National Convention, and in typical Sorkin style, returning character Bill Clinton gave one of those standard electrifying speeches. As with all characters in Sorkin Fantasy Land, the crowd and the country were all roused by an eloquent statesman spouting a barrage of facts and figures. Keep dreaming, Aaron.

Normally I can let this stuff go, as Sorkin’s sparkling dialogue heals all wounds, but this week he has stepped way over the line. And I’m not even talking about Rick Santorum’s claim that the Republican party will never win over ‘smart people’, allowing liberal subtext to spill into actual text. No, it was his depiction of Mitt Romney that truly slipped into liberal absurdism. In a leaked video, Romney is caught telling his supporters that he’s essentially written off 47% of the country; not just their vote, but their basic value as human beings. He makes no bones about considering them to be entitled, dependent victims. I mean, how do you write a character who accuses the poor of not paying taxes as he himself keeps funds in off-shore accounts and refuses to release more than a single year’s tax returns? How do you that and look at yourself in the mirror? To Sorkin’s credit, he stopped just short of having Romney twirl a moustache as he tied Sandra Fluke to a railway track.

It shouldn’t be hard to write a believable, sympathetic Republican character. In the past, Sorkin has had conservatives such as Ainsley Hayes, Joe Quincy and Cliff Calley (The West Wing), Harriet Hayes (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Will McAvoy (The Newsroom) making complex, multi-faceted arguments on topics such as the economy, healthcare, the role of government, abortion, defence, international relations, states rights, welfare, you name it. These characters sounded intelligent, and you could actually believe that they’d risen to some level of prominence within politics or the media.

His latest crop holds none of this believability. If Mitt Romney is going to continue to be a caricatured, out-of-touch implausible character, then I guarantee the audience is going get fed up with him pretty damn soon.

Your Birthday Film

Movie geeks love trivia games. This is just short of being a genetically-provable fact.

The most popular is surely Six Degrees, in which you have to link two actors in six moves or fewer. If you’ve never played, you take two actors separated by time or countries of origin or both. Or neither, if you want to start easy. (For example, Charlie Chaplin and French actor Denis Lavant could go: Chaplin to Marlon Brando in A Countess From Hong Kong, Brando to Al Pacino in The Godfather, Pacino to Robert De Niro in Heat, De Niro to Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Foster to Denis Lavant in A Very Long Engagement. Five moves. Bam. If you can do better, feel free to show me up in the comments below.)

There’s a great game that began on the Motion Captured Podcast called Movie God, in which you, as Movie God, are presented with two films or filmmakers or actors, and have to wipe one from history, taking into account all the historical eddies that your choice will cause. (For instance, do you destroy Star Wars or Alien? They’re both hugely influential films, and removing either one will cause massive and very different ripple effects.) The aim on the part of the person suggesting the two choices is to inspire absolute pain in the part of the Movie God. If they choose one instantly and without hesitation, you’ve failed. If they writhe in pain for hours, you’ve succeeded. (I’m proud to have inspired such agony when I phoned in to the MCP and presented hosts Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan with two impossible choices. Check out the October 6, 2011 edition to hear what I confounded them with. I come in at 1:33:16.)

There’s another good one we played a lot during production on Bazura in which you try to figure out which filmmakers have made five great films in a row. It’s harder than it sounds, and you’ll be amazed at which filmmakers qualify and even more at which don’t. (Although, there are few objectively definitive right or wrong answers. The fun in that game comes largely from arguing your case with others.)

Now, my friend and colleague Sean Lynch, the Melbourne-based comedian/TV host/film reviewer, has come up with a new game. And it’s a cracker.

Here’s what you do: take three actors, one director and a musician who were all born on your birthday, and create a movie upon which they’d all conceivably collaborate.

This is a great game, and a challenging one if, like me, your birthday falls on a day upon which very few actors or directors were born. On my part, May 3 is a decent time of the year to celebrate your birthday, but it’s not a common one. After all, it’s not like Bing Crosby (born: May 3, 1903) and Rob Brydon (born: May 3, 1965) are ever likely to do a Road To Cardiff-style movie together. But if they did, it would probably be written and directed by Maybe Baby‘s Ben Elton (born: May 3, 1959).

So, here’s what I’ve come up with…

I’m going to start with the musician. James Brown, the godfather of soul, was born on May 3, 1933. Now, he died in 2006, so he’s not likely to be providing a score to any movie, but if the film you’re making is a biopic of James Brown, that’s a pretty good excuse to use his music throughout the film.

So, who will direct Sex Machine: The James Brown Story? We don’t have an awful lot of choices, but I think we can agree that after the science fiction double-hit of TRON: Legacy and the upcoming Oblivion, director Joseph Kosinski (born: May 3, 1974) may well want to want to  legit and do something a bit Oscar-baity.

Director Joseph Kosinski, seen here thinking about directing something Oscar-baity

James Brown will be played by Dulé Hill (born: May 3, 1975), best known for his roles in The West Wing and Psych. This will be Hill’s big breakout role, and he’ll play Brown as a teenager (in unconvincing makeup) and as an old man (also in unconvincing makeup).

Dulé Hill (left) and James Brown (right)

The film will be told from the perspective of an ageing Brown in his final years, as his marriage to singer Tomi Rae Hynie is found to be invalid due to Hynie’s previous marriage. Flashbacks to Brown’s life story are juxtaposed against this measurably less-interesting modern-day legal tangle. Hynie will be played by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks (born: May 3, 1975).

Christina Hendricks (left) and Tomi Rae Hynie (right)

Character actor Bobby Cannavale (born: May 3, 1970) plays Javed Ahmed, the man that Tomi Rae Hynie married for a green card, and whose marriage threatens to destroy that of Hynie and Brown.

Bobby Cannavale (left) and an artist’s approximation of Javed Ahmed (right)

After a quick find-and-replace on all the names in the Ray script, they’ll be ready and raring to go! The result will be a mawkish, inaccurate, and Academy Award-winning film that will grace the discount bins within weeks of its home video release.

So, what’s your birthday movie? (Find out by typing the month and date of your birthday into Wikipedia, or by going to this IMDb page and placing the month in the first two ## and the day in the last two.)

Once you’ve created it, pitch it to us in the comments below!

Special thanks to Sean Lynch for creating the game, and to David Blumenstein for his brilliant design of the Sex Machine poster. Check out David’s prolific works at his website

The Gate Is In Your Mind

The other day, I was at an airport (one that may possibly not allow photography, so I won’t name it) preparing to catch a flight. The following events happened in the space of a few seconds: Standing in the food court, I look down at my ticket. My ticket says I need to go to Gate 41. I look up and immediately see this…

As if airports weren’t nightmares of dystopian existentialism already.