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
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
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.
The numbers are in, and it looks like people really enjoyed going to the movies in 2001.
For the first time in history, box office earnings topped $8.38 billion, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Grosses were expected to be higher since ticket prices have increased, even with the closing of several smaller distribution houses and less screens across the country. This new record is 9 percent higher than the previous record of $7.66 billion, set in 2000, and shows the longest running expansion in the movie business as revenues increased for the 10th straight year.
The total year take-in can be attributed in large part to one film--Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
The movie, about an 11-year-old wizard, started breaking records on its opening day with a healthy haul of $32.3 million, breaking the previous opening-day record of $28.5 million taken in by Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace. In its first three days of release, Potter had grossed an unprecedented $90.3 million.
Potter has helped Warner Bros. hit the $1 billion mark again and has become the year's highest grossing film with $291.4 million. The studio reached $1 billion in 1999 as well, with hits The Matrix, The Green Mile and Wild, Wild West.
Also for the first time, six releases grossed more than $200 million in 2001, rivaled only in 1999 when four releases exceeded the $200 million mark (The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2 and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me). In addition to Potter, there was DreamWorks' Shrek ($267.8 million), Disney's Monsters, Inc. ($239.5 million), New Line's Rush Hour 2 ($226.1 million), Universal's The Mummy Returns ($202 million) and New Line's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($175.3 million to date), which is expected to pass $200 million soon.
The Motion Picture Association of America will release the final 2001 national box office and admissions numbers at the ShoWest convention in March, along with the year's average ticket price as determined by the National Association of Theatre Owners.