Writer’s Desk: Work Backward

Screenwriter and playwright Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Steve Jobs, The Trial of the Chicago 7) has a trick for getting past a writing block which many of us use, or at least know that we are supposed to use: Get outside and take a walk.

But he does this not just to clear his head but to see what he picks up along the way:

Frequently if I’m really stuck I’ll go out into a public place – a diner, a bus stop, any place you might overhear a conversation. I hope that I can land in the middle of a conversation that will get me thinking, ‘What in the world was the beginning of this conversation?’ I’ll try to write that…

Think of it as a challenge or puzzle. Take this line Sorkin overheard:

I was in Jackson, Mississippi, and passed by a park bench, and two men were sitting there, and one of them said, ‘Who thought they were going to get the jump on Jesus?’ Again, I thought, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’ He wrote the best line in the scene, now let me write the rest of it…

Give it a shot.

Screening Room: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’

Getting a limited theatrical opening (whatever that means in pandemic times) before coming to Netflix in October, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 dramatizes the story of the biggest, oddest political show trial of modern American history. Also: Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman.

My review is at Slant:

Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 pulses with relevancy in a time when high-stakes debates over authoritarianism, protests, and the necessity of radicalism are convulsing America. Sorkin uses an ensemble approach to tell the story of the anti-war activists charged with conspiracy and incitement to riot after the street fighting that ripped through Chicago in August 1968 during the Democratic National Convention. While necessary, given the number of key characters involved, the approach also allows Sorkin to establish different factions among the defendants who are debating the merits of their wildly varying methods to the same cause even as they’re fighting to stay out of federal prison…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Molly’s Game’

West Wing and The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is a smart and fast-paced fact-based drama about an ex-Olympic skier who ends up running high-stakes poker games only to get taken down by the FBI.

Molly’s Game stars the incomparable pair of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba (above) and opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly’s Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it’s almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it’s based on a true story…

Screening Room: ‘Steve Jobs’

Michael Fassbender as 'Steve Jobs' (Universal)
Michael Fassbender as ‘Steve Jobs’ (Universal)

jobs-book coverA few years back, Aaron Sorkin wrote a wildly one-sided account of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to riches and infamy as the founder of Facebook, The Social Network. Now he’s (theoretically, at least) adapted Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs for another tale of a socially malformed but market-prescient innovator. It’s more even-handed about its subject, to a degree, but somehow far less interesting.

Steve Jobs is already playing in limited release and opens wider this week. My review is at PopMatters:

What Steve Jobs leaves us with isn’t a genius or even a particularly innovative business manager. One after the other, aggrieved former colleagues or family come for some kind of reconciliation or passive-aggressive score-settling, only to be hit with the paranoid, megalomaniacal verbal assaults [former Apple CEO John] Sculley calls the “Steve Jobs revenge machine”. On the surface this looks like an attempt to puncture the bubble of Jobs’s self-created genius mystique and show his seedy underbelly. But the film’s heart isn’t in it. Each time, Jobs gets the upper hand…

My 2011 review of Isaacson’s book is here.

Here’s the trailer: