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Archive for October, 2015

Richard Roeper Talks “Room”

Friday, October 30th, 2015
After their escape, Ma (Brie Larson) introduces  Jack (Jacob Tremblay) to the outside world in "Room." | A24After their escape, Ma (Brie Larson) introduces Jack (Jacob Tremblay) to the outside world in “Room.” | A24

NOTE: This is a spoiler-filled revisit of “Room.” If you are planning to see “Room,” do not read this!

In my four-star review of the stunningly original “Room,” I went into some plot detail about the first half of the movie, during which Brie Larson’s Ma and Jacob Tremblay’s Jack are held prisoner in a garden shed that is the only world Jack has ever known.

Even though many reviews and some of the ads for the movie strongly suggest or state outright Ma and Jack eventually escape, I opted not to directly say as much, in the hopes at least some viewers (who hadn’t read the book) would experience “Room” with the same fantastically claustrophobic I felt when seeing it the first time. They’d wonder: Is this WHOLE MOVIE going to take place in this little room?

Now “Room” is out in the world, with a 96 percent overall “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Oscar buzz for Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. I’ve seen a number of prestige films in the last few weeks, but if I were putting together my Best of the Year list today, “Room” would at the top.

So let’s talk about “Room” after we leave Room.

On the morning after Ma tricks Old Nick (Sean Bridges) into believing Jack is dead, and Jack heroically escapes the clutches of Old Nick and leads the police to the shed, Ma and Jack wake up in another room.

A hospital room.

It’s an oversized room with floor-to-ceiling windows. White is the dominant color. Everything looks sterile — clean — and of course there are few safer and more healing rooms in the world than a hospital room.

In other words, this room is the polar opposite of the dark, dank, unsanitary and oppressive Room that until several hours ago was Jack’s entire world.

Director Lenny Abrahamson and the set design team bring a similar attention to detail with the house where Ma grew up, a home occupied these days by Ma’s mother Nancy (Joan Allen) and Nancy’s boyfriend Leo (Tom McCamus). The home where Ma and Jack come to live.

It’s a comfortable, upper-middle-class split-level appointed in warm, inviting colors — the kind of home where you can imagine a family sitting around the kitchen table at night, long after dinner is over, catching up on their day. The kind of home with one of those centerpiece “great rooms” where everyone gathers to watch football or host the extended family for Thanksgiving.

But Nancy’s home becomes something of a larger, albeit loving, version of Room. With the media camped outside the door 24/7, Ma and Jack can’t leave the house. Thrown by the news of her parents’ divorce and her mother’s romance with an old family friend, overwhelmed by returning to the house she last saw when she was 17, Ma falls into a deep depression and holes up in her bedroom, which is exactly as she left it seven years earlier. As she did in Room, she yearns for sleep so she can be dead to the reality of her life for at least a few hours.

Ma’s father (William H. Macy) can’t even look Jack in the eye without thinking about Jack’s father, Ma’s rapist. Jack meets Grandpa — and Grandpa is unable to show the poor child a flicker of emotion.

Tough stuff.

Not that the second half of “Room” is all gloom and doom. (Forgive me for sounding a little bit like Jack there, who narrates the story like a very dark Dr. Seuss tale.)

Some of the warmest and most touching moments spring from the relationship between Leo and Jack. Leo wisely takes a casual approach with the boy — offering him some cereal for breakfast, chatting him up about this and that, eventually inquiring as to whether Jack would like to meet Leo’s dog.

Oh, that dog scene. Remember, for the first five years of Jack’s life, he was led to believe dogs were creatures of fanciful fiction, no more real than dragons or unicorns. (When Jack escapes from Old Nick, a passerby with a rather fierce-looking dog comes to his aid, but Jack is so traumatized, we’re not even sure he was aware of the dog.)

But when Jack meets Leo’s dog, it’s a moment so beautiful and wonderful, if you don’t tear up, well, my guess is you NEVER cry at the movies.

It’s almost as if Jack is saying to himself: I’m a real boy. I’m a real boy.

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Richard Roeper Interviews Aaron Sorkin

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Talking to Aaron Sorkin is like talking to Aaron Sorkin.


Sorkin is among the most famous, successful and quotable screenwriters in the world, with credits ranging from the television series “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and “Newsroom” to film such as “A Few Good Men,” “The American President,” “Moneyball” and “The Social Network,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Adapated Screenplay.

Sorkin’s latest script is the Danny Boyle-directed “Steve Jobs,” a highly stylized and impressionistic take on the Apple impresario divided into three distinctive acts, each taking place in “real time,” i.e., we spend 40 minutes backstage with Jobs and the key figures in his life in 1984, 1988 and 1998.

On Wednesday, Sorkin visited Chicago to promote “Steve Jobs.” After an interview with WGN-AM’s Roe Conn and Anna Davlantes and yours truly, Sorkin and I continued the conversation one on one.

I asked Sorkin about the resistance to the film well before it hit theaters. According to the Wall Street Journal, Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, led a movement to kill the movie, saying it would play down Jobs’ achievements and portray him as cruel. Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized the film without seeing it (though Sorkin says Cook has now seen the movie and but has yet to comment since screening it).

“They’re protecting someone they loved and that’s understandable,” said Sorkin, who notes Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman have seen it and have said kind things about it.

An almost unrecognizable Kate Winslet plays Hoffman.

“Kate is in a dark wig, she’s got a soft Polish accent, she’s playing Joanna Hoffman, who was the head of marketing for the Mac team, but also a close confidante of Steve’s and really one of the few people who could stand up to Steve,” said Sorkin.

“The way Kate got the part…she was in Australia shooting a movie, she Googled Joanna Hoffman to see what she looked like, she got herself a dark wig, had the makeup artist on the film [she was working on help out], sent a picture to our producer Scott Rudin, who sent the picture to me.

“I just thought Scott had found an old picture of a young Joanna Hoffman, so I wrote back, ‘Cool.’ And Scott wrote back, ‘Do you know who that is?’ and I wrote back, ‘That’s Joanna Hoffman,’ and he wrote back, ‘No that’s Kate,’ and I wrote back, ‘That’s Cate Blanchett?’ and the phone rang and he said, ‘Winslet you idiot!’

“Kate’s what you call ‘That’s that’ casting in that if you find out Kate Winslet wants to do it, that’s that, she gets the part.”

Sorkin has always considered himself a playwright masquerading as a TV and film writer. The mechanics of getting characters in and out of a room, or having them move about while exchanging lines—that’s mostly left up to the director. Thanks to Boyle’s direction and the brilliant editing of Elliot Graham, “Steve Jobs” has an energetic tone—but it’s essentially a three-act play, and it was filmed in chronological order, with the actors given the luxury of ample rehearsal time.

“We rehearsed just the first act for two weeks, shot the first act, stopped production, rehearsed the second act for two weeks, stopped production, rehearsed the third act for two weeks and shot the third act,” said Sorkin.

“That gave the actors time to concentrate on the 70 pages of script for each act.”

Michael Fassbender is on the short list for Best Actor for his turn as Jobs—even though Sorkin initially resisted casting Fassbender because by his own admission, “I was the last person in the world who didn’t know his work in ‘Shame’ and ’12 Years a Slave.’ ” But Fassbender is a known dramatic commodity, unlike Seth Rogen, who shows a whole new dimension as an actor with his portrayal of Steve Wozniak.

“I don’t recall us considering anyone but Seth,” said Sorkin. “When you’re doing the comedy Seth is known for doing, you have to be a really good actor and you have to be really smart, both of which Seth is.”

It remains to be seen, as they say, if one or two lines from “Steve Jobs” will jump from the movie and land on the popular culture landscape, as has been the case with past Sorkin-isms. When Sorkin is writing a screenplay, does he ever look at a particular line and just know it’s going to pop?

“Something like ‘You can’t handle the truth!’, I had no idea that was going to be something that would be memorable. With ‘The Social Network,’ it’s, ‘A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool, a billion dollars,’ but you never know what’s going to stick.

“I have been saying, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat,’ since 1975.”

Sorkin’s screenplays for “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs” are all based on true-life events. He’s in talks to write a film about the relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz during the making of “I Love Lucy,” and he recently completed an adaptation of Molly’s Game, the memoir of Molly Bloom, who ran an elite and quite illegal underground high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles that featured a number of recognizable Hollywood figures.

“Every time I do non-fiction, I say, ‘This is the last non-fiction I’m going to do, I’m getting out of the non-fiction business and go back to fiction’—and then some great non-fiction story catches my eye, and I have to do that. It hasn’t really been a shift in what I want to do, it’s just been string of stories I want to do that happen to be non-fiction.

“I love the story of Molly’s Game. A very unusual, very unlikely movie heroine in Molly Bloom, she was ranked third in North America in woman’s moguls, she’d just gotten her degree in political science, she was headed to law school. A freak accident kept her from making the Olympic team, so she decided to go to Los Angeles for a year and just be young in warm weather for a while.

“And through a series of unusual incidents, she ended up running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game. Billionaires, athletes, movie stars…She moved the game from Hollywood to New York, and her forte was recruiting players and vetting them…but she missed that three of the players that joined the game were members of the Russian mob and a fourth was an FBI informant…

“I really like this character, this real-life person.”

And whoever gets cast as Molly Bloom will probably see more lines of dialogue in that role than in the previous three movies she’s done.


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