Tag Archives: books made into films

The Woman in Black

Reviewers who’ve been referring to “The Woman in Black” as Daniel Radcliffe’s first chance to prove himself since performing the role of “Harry Potter” need to step outside of a movie theater now and then. He’s given two outstanding performances on Broadway — in a play called “Equus” and a musical called “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying.”

Radcliffe is far past finessing his acting chops, as evidenced by how fast you’ll find yourself forgetting during “The Woman in Black” that you’re watching a man you once associated with wizards and wands — although a brief scene featuring a train winding though the countryside might trigger a short-lived flashback.

The Woman in Black” is a beautiful film. It’s technically proficient in terms of cinematography (Tim Maurice-Jones), editing (Jon Harris) and music (Marco Beltrami) — and the storytelling is grand. It’s well written, acted and directed — and features outdoor images of breathtaking beauty filmed in England. It’s directed by James Watkins, and Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay — which is adapted from the 1983 novel by Susan Hill.

It’s also more frightening than you might imagine given its PG-13 rating. There’s more then one graphic scene involving suicide, and a central plotline involving children dying horrible deaths. Everything you expect in a scary flick is there, in relative moderation but with great effect. Strange noises. Flickering lights. Dolls with eyes that seem to follow you around the room.

The elements figure prominently in “The Woman in Black.” There’s a lot of rain, mist and mud — but also images of lovely greenery mixed with ominous-looking crosses and gravesites. You almost feel at times like you’re part of the dark, dank world occupied by Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) since the death of his wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) during childbirth.

“The Woman in Black” seems at times a nearly non-stop homage to mystery writers of earlier times. Edgar Allen Poe. Alfred Hitchcock. Arthur Conan Doyle. Think Ravens and rocking chairs. And a cap, worn just briefly by a little boy, that mirrors those worn by detective Sherlock Holmes. The dialogue smartly elucidates both sides of the early 20th century spiritualism debate.

Radcliffe delivers a compelling performance as the tenacious yet tender man charged with finding a woman’s final will and testament inside an isolated mansion that folks in the nearest town would prefer he never enter. They’re frightened by just about everything — including the town’s lone automobile.

Its driver, Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), is Kipps’ sole sympathizer. Daily’s son is among the many who’ve died following sightings of “The Woman in Black.” Mrs. Daily (Janet McTeer) seems to have gone mad after the ordeal. Her twins, a pair of puppies, sup at a long dining room table — and get rocked to sleep in a cradle each night. The film also features Liz White as Jennet Humfrye and Shaun Dooley as Fisher — but the Radcliffe, Hinds, McTeer trio is what makes the film so superb.

My only problem with “The Woman in Black” is the ending — which ruins the perfectly idyllic image I’d have preferred to go home with by returning to something far more sinister. Watching someone else get haunted for ninety five minutes is one thing. Feeling like you might be next in line is quite another.

— Lynn

Note: Stephen Malatratt’s stage adaptation of “The Woman in Black” continues its long run in London. Click here to learn more and here to explore related educational materials.

Coming up: Smashed!

Images: CBS Films

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“Winnie the Pooh” meets “Avenue Q”

A scene from Walt Disney Picture's Winnie the Pooh--which is full of playful letters and words

Lizabeth suggested at about 12:45pm Saturday afternoon that we hit a 1pm showing of Disney’s new “Winnie the Pooh” film, which gave us little time to transition from Eeyore to Tigger mode. But we made it, and enjoyed every second of nostalgia nirvana in the short 73 minute film.

“Winnie the Pooh” is a literature lover’s dream — filled with images of books, letters and punctuation marks that come alive (as muses, not monsters), and scenes of Pooh characters bouncing, stumbling and flying through the pages of a “Winnie the Pooh” storybook.

Tigger doesn’t text or tweet. Kanga and Roo get letters the old-fashioned way — in their mailbox. Friends work together to solve problems. They’re creative. They cheer each other on. And they accept one another, foibles and all. Pull out the Pooh books before heading to the theater — you’ll want to extend the movie magic with a few good reads when you get home.

Robert Lopez wrote music and lyrics for both Avenue Q and Winnie the Pooh

“Winnie the Pooh” is a lovely musical jaunt, full of classical music in various tempos and styles. The movie features an original score by Henry Jackman and original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, a married couple with impressive joint and individual credits.

Lizabeth spotted Robert Lopez’s name in the credits — because she’s familiar with his work on “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.” The couple share music and lyric credits for seven songs in the film. Anderson-Lopez voices Kanga and Playbill.com reports that Lopez makes the rumbling sound for Pooh’s tummy. It’s a gift, I suppose.

A careful review of the movie’s credits — which roll as some of the movie’s funniest antics unfold — reveals plenty of familiar names. There’s Zooey Deschanel, who contributes an original song and vocal performance for the film. And Craig Ferguson (the voice of Owl) of late-night fame.

Also actors who’ve voiced characters for Toy Story 3, Phineas & Ferb and SpongeBob SquarePants. Most endearing is the voice of Christopher Robin. It’s that of Jack Boulter, and it’s his first-ever voiceover role. I may have to enjoy the movie a second time just to relish all the voiceover talent — including narration by John Cleese, co-founder of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

A single line in the credits reads “Dan Read-In Memorium” — in honor of a longtime background and visual development artist for Disney Animation films who died in May of 2010 after battling melanoma. I read that donations to local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) chapters were requested in lieu of flowers.

Film credits mention “caffeination by Carlos Benavides” and thank three museums, including Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where film directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall studied original “Winnie the Pooh” illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. The original stuffed animals that inspired Milne’s stories for his son Christopher Robin Milne are housed at the New York Public Library.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh opens with pages from this 1961 book by A.A. Milne

Children and their grown-ups giggled throughout the film as Tigger pounced atop a downtrodden Eeyore, Owl recited his lengthy memoir, Roo braved the forrest in his tea cup helmet, Rabbit found comfort in a checklist and Pooh raced to escape angry bees. There were no angry birds back in author A.A. Milne’s day (1882-1956).

When characters ponder knotting a rope to rescue friends who’ve fallen into a pit, Eeyore suggest that “it’s all for naught.” Later he’s convinced that “we’re all gonna die.” Roo offers a deadpan “Send the pig” (Lizabeth’s favorite line) when scary noises loom, and Tigger spends a lot of time saying “it’s gonna be great.” Pooh dreams of honey, meeting frustrations with a simple “Oh, bother!”

Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” website offers a “100 Acre Wood Personality quiz” for those of you who’ve yet to identify with a particular character, and there are plenty of games, activities and facts for younger “Pooh” fans. As other folks flock to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forrest, I’m perfectly content to linger in the 100 Acre Wood.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth found a cool “10 Questions” interview of Robert Lopez by Belinda Luscombe of TIME Magazine in which he talks about his “personal connection with Pooh.” Click here to watch the video from TIME.com.

Coming up: Pardon my Pygmalion

“Twilight” tales with Justin Chon

Actor Justin Chon

“Bella” has had plenty of boy troubles—but never from the nice young man named “Eric” who was among the first to greet the introvert during day one of her ‘new kid’ status at Forks High in the ‘freaky when in fictional mode’ Washington town.  The role is played by Justin Chon.

Chon was recently in the Valley doing media interviews in advance of this week’s release of “Eclipse,” the third movie in the “Twilight Saga” that’s perhaps matched in popularity only by the ‘also based on books’ films about boy wizard “Harry Potter.” 

Lizabeth and I first met Chon when he came bouncing into the makeshift interview room at a local resort with an enthusiastic entrance that seemed a sort of hip hop/martial arts mix (complete with sound effects). 

A friend sat nearby using his laptop while Chon tackled a deep dish of creamy macaroni and cheese topped with three tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce (the same item Lizabeth likes to order at this particular resort—minus the hot stuff). 

We asked Chon, sporting casual gear including a surfer-style t-shirt, how he landed the “Twilight” gig. He described the “five or six auditions” he went through before securing the role of “Eric Yorkie,” which he’s played in every “Twilight” movie to date. 

The real, and filmed, Forks High School

There was a pre-read, a director’s session, a chemistry read, even improvisation. After doing commercials, appearing in a Nickelodeon show and enjoying other forays into the world of acting, Chon “wanted to do a drama.” 

The appeal of “Twilight” was two-fold at that point—the opportunity to work with director Catherine Hardwicke (who studied architecture before discovering film), and the obvious appeal of still-just-a-teen Kristin Stewart, who plays the human-for-now “Bella” pursued at once by adoring vampire “Edward” and werewolf “Jacob” alike.

We asked Chon about his early experiences with theater, which garnered a hearty laugh and the observation that “my mom made me do all kinds of crap.” There was boys choir at the age of seven, complete with short shorts and sailor shirts with big blue bows for uniforms. 

It's a far cry from a sailor suit

There was visual arts camp, where Chon loved to draw—something he admits to leaving behind after junior high school. “I’d probably suck at it now,” he says. Chon also shares that he grew up watching his father, from South Korea, “do black and white television.” Unlike Chon, his father began acting when he was just 10 years old. 

Chon says he got involved with theater “on a whim,” thanks to a friend involved with a two-year acting program after high school. Never a big fan of going to school, Chon jokes about having sorry math skills despite his Asian heritage. 

Seems the boy from Irvine, California really didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school. But Chon decided to give USC business school a try, citing the entrepreneurial bent he expresses these days through two clothing and shoe stores—Attic I in Buena Park and Attic II in San Diego

I wondered aloud whether Chon might have ditched a class or two along the way, which prompted him to unabashedly confess to skipping classes every other day or so to hit the beach. Time in the classroom was always met with the same self-refrain: “I’d rather be surfing.” 

Chon eagerly rattles off the names of some of his favorite surfing spots, including El Porto Beach (part of Manhattan Beach in Orange County), San Clemente State Beach (midway between San Diego and L.A.) and Newport Beach (between about 36th and 56th streets)–rocking the surfer look with his tussled bleach blond hair.

Chon in film premiere mode

Still, there’s clearly more to Chon than his boyish looks and charm. His conversation is peppered with references to a diverse assortment of books, and his musings on the “craft of acting” reveal the strong work ethic that accompanies his intellect and humor. His apparent humility is equally refreshing in a day and age when so many “Twilight” stars are endlessly fawned upon. 

I’ll share more of Chon’s reflections on acting, plus his practical audition tips for young actors, in a future post. In the meantime, I’ll be seeing the latest “Twilight” movie with Lizabeth and readying a review to share with you later in the week. 

–Lynn

"Eclipse" opens on Wednesday

Note: Special thanks to Lizabeth, a senior theater arts major at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, who has several qualities that make for a compelling writer, including keen powers of observation, strong listening skills, creative storytelling and the ability to strike that delicate balance between small details and the big picture. She’s also my unofficial consultant, serving as translator for actor-speak when theater folks take aim with terms of art.

Coming up: Art basics for babies, More new season announcements