Adapting a beloved, obsessed-over novel is never easy, but it’s infinitely interesting when the person doing the adapting is also the author of that beloved, obsessed-over novel. That was the case for September’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and thanks to a quick trip to Pittsburgh, where Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller were filming the flick, Hollywood.com got a look at what that process looks like.
It was a muggy, overcast Pittsburgh day when myself and a group of journalists piled into a van and made our way to Peters Township High School, where Watson, Lerman, Miller, Mae Whitman, Nina Dobrev, Dylan McDermott, and Kate Walsh were filming their characters’ high school graduation under the watchful eye of writer/director Stephen Chbosky. From the sound of Watson’s surprisingly accurate American accent peeping through our headphones when filming began, to the fake snow puddled around the wheels of a school bus for another scene, the high school was all movie set. But from the crowds of local teens set up as extras, the proliferation of red and white balloons all over the football stadium, and a general air of excitement, Peters Township was all high school. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect — after all, Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs are where Chbosky grew up and where his novel takes place.
In case you were not a teen in 1999, it might be news to you that The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a life-affecting book for many of its stalwart fans. It follows the story of a young, socially-challenged teenager named Charlie (Lerman, in the film) and is told through a series of his letters. After enduring the aftermath of his friend Michael’s suicide, Charlie seeks refuge with two seniors, Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller). The candidly mature book is sure to beget a similarly dark film that fully explores Charlie’s introvert nature, variant issues regarding sexuality, and the very foundations of friendship itself, but what fans are really worried about is how closely Perks will resemble the book they all loved. While my experience of the set was largely joyous, as the scene at hand was filled with all the jubilance that goes with a graduation, the actors and director assured us that the film doesn’t stray far from its darker, contemplative roots.
It was at this school, hand-picked by Chbosky and nestled among rolling green hills, where we learned a few valuable lessons about the film.
1. The movie is not an exact translation of the book, but it is faithful.
For fans who worry that the film won’t match up their expectations, we offer Chbosky’s original intentions for the story: “I’ve wanted to make this movie—I first thought of the title of the movie twenty years ago this fall. The title of the book and movie. And so, I always felt it would probably be both,” he said in the library of Peters Township High. In fact, Chbosky says there are very few changes from the book, aside from the aspect of telling the story through letters only.
”I wrote the book as a series of letters because I wanted the reader to feel very intimately connected to Charlie. So, it was finding a point of view from the film that would lead to the same connection. And luckily, with Logan Lerman, it’s not very difficult to get that sense of connection,” said Chbosky. But it’s not just the element of translating the book for film. Chbosky used a few locations in his hometown of Pittsburgh that meant a great deal to him as a teen, adding a layer of realism. For a scene that takes place during a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the film makes use of the first place Chbosky ever saw the play, as well as a few other spots that are meaningful to the writer/director. “And so, going back there, twenty-five years later, was incredibly meaningful. I loved it. I love filming here at Peters Township. I love filming at Kings, where my parents eat breakfast three times a week. Where else?” he said. It doesn’t get much more authentic than filming a movie about adolescence in the place where the writer grew up. 2. ‘90s fashion a huge part of the film. And it’s awesome. Mae Whitman, who plays Mary Elizabeth in the film, gets to rock the ‘90s punk look, so much that the costume designer admitted he was afraid she’d steal her wardrobe. And she’d have good reason. “[Costumes are] such a fine part of creating a character, but also letting the actor think they’re creating the character as well, and being comfortable with that. And [our designer] really did an amazing job,” she said. But it wasn’t simply a one-way process. Watson told Hollywood.com that many of her wardrobe pieces were her own, but she was intimidated by her character Sam’s need for “great style.” (Right, like Watson could ever want for a stylish air.) “A lot of the clothes are actually my clothes. I’m actually wearing one of my grandmother’s dresses, which I got altered … Sam’s style is very interesting. There’s a couple of looks that have been interesting for me to wear, because they’re very all-American. I’m like, ‘Wow, if my friends could see me now,’” she giggled. 3. Yes, the cast really are best friends. “I can’t put one as like, being my best friend on the shoot. I love all these guys. [We’re] really close friends now,” said Lerman. And it showed. Every second in between shooting, the entire cast, from Watson to Lerman to Dobrev and Miller, were joking with each other and palling around like they’d actually survived the terrifying high school experience together. 4. And they all L-O-V-E Emma Watson. Seriously. Every single actor, crew member, and Chbosky himself couldn’t stop gushing about the former Hermione Granger. “She’s blowing people away with her performance,” said Lerman. And Miller had so many wonderful things to say, we have to off-set it in its entirety:”They should have thrown me someone a little harder to handle so it could have been a bit of a challenge. Emma’s one of the most severely mind-blowing forces of my peer group in acting right now. Based on what’s come before this, people just have no idea what she’s capable of. She has become in these short weeks one of my dearest friends. I think that will be the case forever. And she is the type of artist who is going to make her true self known in time. I personally look forward to watching an entire population of Harry Potter fans get their minds twisted into small pretzel-ish knots over what this girl can do.”5. …And Harry Potter. Like everyone else in the world, the cast of Perks are Harry Potter nerds. Whitman even puts the series on par with her first love: “I guess it would be either that or food. Just food in general. The two things I love the most are Harry Potter and food.” And of course, not to be outdone, Miller professed his love for the series like only he can: “I read Harry Potter like scripture … that book strikes the core of human beings all over this world for a very specific reason, which is that we all feel, innately, that we are capable of very, very, very wonderful, magical things.” Alright, who feels like giving the series another read right about now? 6. Emma Watson is a total rebel. One of the most iconic scenes from the book involves a rather dangerous stunt in a car driving through a tunnel, but it’s something most famous actors probably wouldn’t risk. Watson isn’t most famous actors. “I was not meant to do it at all. I begged Stephen … I ended up doing it like, seven or eight times. The car was going fifty or sixty miles an hour,” she said as we all waited with baited breath. “I had one string. Hands in the air, all the way through the tunnel, coming out the other end. The first time I did it, I was so emotional, I cried. I was really, really special. And seeing the shot, what it’s going to look like—it’s going to blow your mind. I don’t want to build it up too much, but it’s stunning.” 7. Logan Lerman is more perfect for Charlie than you might think… Charlie’s social awkwardness is a reason many young readers identified so greatly with the book, and luckily for them, Lerman did too. “I guess I wasn’t as naïve as him, but I definitely had the morals that he has … A lot of the experiences, or a lot of the situations in the script, have actually happened to me in life, so I just connected with him,” said the actor. 8. Ezra Miller is very proud of his beloved character. Miller’s character Patrick is iconic for many readers in that he is openly gay and struggling with the close-minded world’s reaction to something that’s so inherently a part of his identity. Still, Miller insists that Patrick may identify himself as gay, but it doesn’t define him. “I remember reading Patrick and realizing, ‘Oh no, this character has no basis in being gay,’” he said. “He is a fully-formed being, and that is an aspect of him. As it is an aspect with us all (our sexuality). It’s not a defining quality. It’s just one element,” Miller added. 9. We wish we were in this movie. Watch any preview or scene from Perks and it’s obvious the actors were having a great time working together. But for them, it was more than that. They were taking part in something that Chbosky has been building up to since he was a teenager. And that element really made the film an incredible experience for the young actors, especially Watson. “[Stephen] really cared about all of us having a good time. He said that at the beginning: ‘I want you to have the summer of your lives.’ And I absolutely did,” she said, with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits theaters Sept. 21 in limited release. Will you be seeing it? Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler [Photo Credits: Courtesy of Summit] More: 'Perks of Being a Wallflower': Hermoine, Percy Jackson & Kevin Walk into a Poster 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' Trailer: Emma Watson Ditches 'Harry Potter' for High School Ezra Miller Is Gay — How His Experiences Can Strengthen His 'Perks' Role
If a major motion picture studio gave you $50 million to make the movie of your choice what would it be like? If you’re producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost it’d be a loving lampoon of geek culture and an homage to the films of the Spielberg/Lucas revolution but nostalgia is both an advantage and disadvantage in director Greg Mottola’s Paul.
Pegg and Frost star as a pair of nerds from across the pond who fulfill lifelong dreams when they fly to San Diego for the annual Mecca of nerdom Comic-Con. The doofy duo extend their trip to tour America’s extraterrestrial hot spots including Area 51 where they pick up an unexpected alien hitchhiker on the run from the proverbial men in black. Across the country they go getting into trouble picking up more passengers and building bromantic bonds as the little green man Paul inches closer to his escape from planet Earth and the shadowy government official who has been exploiting his knowledge of the universe since he crash landed in Wyoming over 60 years ago.
Fan-favorite filmmakers since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead Pegg and Frost have been making geek chic for years now and continue to create identifiable roles for themselves while finding humorous ways to write their like-minded friends into their movies. Their collection of wacky characters is charming if incredibly derivative but for better or worse they are the heart and soul of the film. Jason Bateman Kristen Wiig Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio turn in fun performances but I expected a bit more from the Jane Lynch David Koechner and Sigourney Weaver cameos. Still Seth Rogen’s vocal performance as Paul adds significant layers to an already adorable alien and enlivens the adequately rendered CG character.
The comedy is surprisingly sweet and doesn’t bite like Mottola’s Superbad though there are enough religious jabs and signs of anti-establishment fervor to call it mildly subversive. Lack of laughs isn’t the issue here; lack of originality is. Mottola is too dependent on pop-culture references and inside jokes pertaining to E.T. Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind so much so that the film ultimately becomes a parody of itself as its storyline mirrors that of Steven Spielberg’s massive 1982 blockbuster (in this world the movie mogul actually consults the incarcerated alien for inspiration for his beloved family film). While these nods are all amusing they’re not enough to carry the film and Mottola/Frost/Pegg offer little else. At its worst Paul will give you a reason to revisit those classic sci-fi staples and remember the good old days. At best it provides a few mindless chuckles and gives you good reason to give the geek next to you a great big hug.
Animated films may come to dominate the family-film genre but they’ll never entirely edge out their live-action counterparts -- not so long as there exist characters like Nanny McPhee whose charms could never be properly rendered in a computer. After a half-decade away from the big screen Emma Thompson’s magical governess is back to take on a new batch of recalcitrant children in Nanny McPhee Returns. She's gotten better with age.
The second chapter of the Nanny McPhee saga which marks a definitive improvement over the first sends the unsightly taskmaster to the English countryside where Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) the mother of three rambunctious tots (Oscar Steer Asa Butterfield and Lil Woods) has been left alone to raise her unruly brood and manage the family farm while her husband is away at war. (Though it’s never specifically mentioned the film is presumed to take place during World War II.) Harried but capable Isabel’s tenuous grip on her unfortunate situation begins to loosen when a pair of privileged London cousins (Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson) and a shady indebted brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) arrive to wreak fresh havoc in her already chaotic existence. On the verge of losing control of both her farm and her family she opens the door to find Nanny McPhee’s wart-covered visage staring back at her and not a moment too soon.
Though for the most part a breezy and whimsical fable Nanny McPhee Returns is unafraid to scatter a few dramatic bombshells amid its mix of lighthearted fantasy and practical life lessons trusting correctly that its youthful audience can handle a few bleak bumps en route to its happy ending. The biggest revelation of the film aside from director Susanna White and screenwriter/star Thompson’s bawdy comedic sensibilities (one of the film’s less pleasant lessons: kids never tire of scatological humor) is the proficiency of its child actors so often the weak link in even the best family fare. It’s their winning performances along with that of the always excellent Gyllenhaal that help make Nanny McPhee Returns not just an entertaining experience but an endearing one as well.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
Idi Amin was the ruthless dictator of the African nation of Uganda throughout much of the 1970s. He was ultimately blamed for thousands upon thousands of deaths (some estimates place the death toll in the hundreds of thousands) during his tenure. The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized version of Amin’s (Forest Whitaker) reign of terror. Giddy after graduating from med school in Scotland Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) randomly picks Uganda to be his first post-college destination. When he gets there the locals are abuzz after the new leader has been sworn in and vows to right all that is wrong with the country. After a chance encounter with Amin Garrigan bears witness to his dichotomous personalities as the ruler goes from threatening to charming on a whim. Amin is so taken with the young doctor--and vice versa--that he invites Garrigan to become his personal physician. A doctor-patient relationship leads to close friendship and before long Garrigan is the very center of the dictator’s inner circle. And not long thereafter he learns that there is no worse place to be. For over 20 years now we’ve all bore witness to Whitaker’s mastery of acting. His choices have been eclectic and his performances consistently great but it’s always been a case of “And oh Forest Whitaker’s great too.” Until now. Whitaker makes what can only be described as an earthquake of an entrance. It’s clear in the movie when Amin will first appear and yet the actor still manages to catch us off-guard. Amin’s manic personalities are child’s play for Whitaker but he never has fun with it which is where other actors might have gone overboard. He is now leading the race for the Best Actor Oscar too. Not that the supporting players are too shabby though. McAvoy's (The Chronicles of Narnia) Garrigan is actually the heart of the story allowing for more screen time than Whitaker and the Scotsman soaks up every second. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the film but not only because he’s from the opposite side of the earth; it’s because McAvoy the actor makes sure to react differently to everything. In addition former X-File-r Gillian Anderson turns in a solid if short apperance--and you’ll be surprised how amazingly hot she is! Kerry Washington (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as one of Amin’s countless neglected ex-wives is superb as well.
The contrast between Last King's first and second half is as night-and-day as Amin's personalities. In the first half director Kevin MacDonald (Touching the Void) allows the story to simmer to the point of perfection; in the second half he gets sloppy as though in a rush to finish a different movie than the one he started. The ending also a mix of truth and fable (plucked from the highly acclaimed book by Giles Foden) quickly spirals towards its conclusion which is tough to watch for very different reasons. But prior to that--even at some points in the uneven second half--MacDonald paints a beautiful monster out of Amin. Maybe more importantly he paints a beautiful picture of African ambiance an indirect thank you to the Ugandan people that allowed unprecedented access to their country for the sake of Last King. Even with MacDonald's occasional blunders it's hard to deny the power of his film.