November 20, 2017

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Page to Screen: Rowling Returns and “Children” Cut Loose

Eva Green in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Photo: Leah Gallo)

Eva Green in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Photo: Leah Gallo)

Will the YA dystopian film genre go the way of “The Divergent Series”? In July, its distributor Lionsgate announced that the fourth, and final, adaptation of Veronica Roth’s adventures will not make it to the big screen after all but will be produced for television instead, apparently because of petering box office sales. It was clobbered by the critics, too.

If a “sure thing” actually exists, then it might have something to do with J.K. Rowling’s world of wizardry, no matter what form it takes, in print, film, or theater (I’m not referring to pure-bloods, half-blood, or squibs). This summer feels like 2007, when the author’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shattered sales records. (It sold 11 million copies within 24 hours.) Pottermania has taken hold again, what with the two-part play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opening in the West End to strong reviews and sales and two million copies of its script flying out of bookstores in the last weekend of July.

For the first time, Rowling has penned a screenplay, adapting her slim 2001 Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a facsimile of Potter’s Hogwarts textbook of 75 magical creatures, as though written by magizoologist Newt Scamander. The book’s background material reportedly provides the fodder for the plot: Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) searches for these beasts in 1926 New York—expect the American wizards and witches to be brasher than their Brit brethren. The screenplay will be published on November 19 by Scholastic, the day after the film’s release, the first in a planned trilogy. A sequel has already been announced for November 2018, with Rowling set to write.

Ostensibly creepy, another noteworthy release—and potential series kickoff—results from the meeting of two kindred spirits, author Ransom Riggs and macabre mischief-maker Tim Burton. Eva Green heads the cast of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (including Asa Butterfield, Judi Dench, and Samuel L. Jackson) as the titular headmistress for a school of time-traveling orphans with preternatural talents. The role is an addition to Green’s résumé of whacked-out femme fatale–ish characters. (September 30)

However, there are offerings of stand-alone adaptations coming down the pipeline. Fall gets started with the arrival of Queen of Katwe, based on Tim Crothers’s 2012 acclaimed nonfiction title. It’s “A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Chess Master,” as the book’s subtitle describes the biography of Ugandan chess dynamo Phiona Mutesi, who rose from poverty to become the national champion. It stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and newcomer Madina Nalwanga as Mutesi. (September 23)

October brings two down-to-earth and sanguine stories based on realistic fiction. Sophie Nélisse, from the films The Book Thief and the Academy Award–nominated Monsieur Lazhar, plays the troublemaking foster kid of The Great Gilly Hopkins, based on Katherine Paterson’s popular and Newbery Award–winning novel published nearly 40 years ago. The supporting cast ain’t shabby, either, with Glenn Close, Octavia Spencer, Kathy Bates, and Billy Magnussen. (October 7)

With a lack of movies focused on preteen boys and the Wimpy Kid nowhere to be found (more on that later), Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life may have an audience all to itself. James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts’s thought-provoking 2011 title centers on another restless spirit, sixth grader Rafe Khatchadorian, and his best pal Leo, as they conspire to rip their middle school’s Code of Conduct to shreds. [“Taking the best of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ formula, [Patterson] successfully melds it with an emotional and, at times, unexpected journey,” according to the SLJ 11/2011 book review.] It also opens on October 7.

Lewis MacDougall as Conor in A Monster Calls (Jose Haro/Focus Features)

Lewis MacDougall as Conor in A Monster Calls (Jose Haro/Focus Features)

We might be witnessing the start of a Patrick Ness boom at the multiplex. The first film adaptation of his novels, A Monster Calls, is unleashed in time for Halloween, though the emphasis here is on the psychological, not on gore. Fatherless and with a mother who is dying of cancer, 13-year-old Conor O’Malley encounters a giant, truth-telling, treelike monster and spinner of tales of loss. The film has quite an A-list cast: Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, and Felicity Jones. [“A brilliantly executed, powerful tale”: SLJ 9/2011 review of the Candlewick book.] Monster lurks October 21.

Additionally, it was announced last week that Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has been signed by Lionsgate, which brought us “The Hunger Games” and “The Divergent Series,” to star in Chaos Walking, based on the first volume in Ness’s series, “The Knife of Never Letting Go.” Part of its world-building includes a town with no women (they have all died) and where men and animals have the ability to hear one another’s thoughts. It’s scheduled to start production in 2017. Perhaps there is life in bleak dystopias yet.

Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), dancers, and the Alabama State Marching Hornets in TriStar Pictures'  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (TriStar Pictures)

Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), dancers, and the Alabama State Marching Hornets in TriStar Pictures’ Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (TriStar Pictures)

Two-time Academy Award winner Ang Lee wrangles Ben Fountain’s 2012 pungent satire Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. A 19-year-old heroic vet’s wartime flashbacks in Iraq contrast with his return stateside. It undoubtedly has an eclectic cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin. According to the press notes,Lee used new technology, shooting at an ultra-high frame rate for the first time in film history, to create an immersive digital experience helping him dramatize war in a way never seen before.” (November 11)

Looking Ahead

It’s not all doom and gloom for the dystopia genre. There’s life in at least one saga yet. Next year, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure, based on James Dashner’s action-packed, boy-centric trilogy closer, arrives on February 17. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has to again survive and outmaneuver the World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department, aka WICKED, and stave off an infection that turns the bitten into man-eating zombies.

Nearly 14 years after Scarlett Johansson appeared as the Girl with a Pearl Earring, Deborah Moggach’s work of literary fiction—and YA crossover—Tulip Fever (2000) similarly examines life in 17th-century Holland. It stars the ubiquitous Alicia Vikander as Sophia Sandvoort. Though married to an older man, she pursues a reckless romance with the artist hired to paint her portrait. The film is scheduled to be out in theaters on February 24, 2017, after being pushed back suddenly from its July 2016 release date.

Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumonts fairy tale will receive the deluxe treatment in Disney’s live-action remake of its 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast, which will retain the musical score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and include new music by Menken and Tim Rice. Emily Watson is the Belle of the ball, and former Downton Abbey heartthrob Dan Stevens is her Beast; Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts; Ewan McGregor, Lumiere; and Audra McDonald will be Wardrobe. As if you didn’t know the cast already; the movie’s trailer holds the record for the most viewed within the first 24 hours online. (March 17, 2017)

If you can’t wait until then, a French-language, and apparently darker, spin on the tale will be out in theaters this fall, with Léa Seydoux (Spectre) going from Bond to Belle, starring opposite Vincent Cassel’s Beast. It was a box office hit last year in France. However, Variety proclaimed, “[Director] Christophe Gans’s effects-heavy, emotion-light new telling of the classic fairy tale is a garish spectacle with no clear audience in mind.” It opens September 23, 2016, stateside.

There is another possible franchise launcher for next summer when Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants flies onto the screen in his tighty-whities. The animated film seems like a natural fit for director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps), and its voice cast includes Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, and Jordan Peele. The diminutive superhero plants his feet in theaters June 2, 2017.

But don’t count the Wimpy Kid out yet. Jeff Kinney’s ever-popular books will be rebooted, with Jason Ian Drucker now set for the lead in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, given that the film series’s original star, Zachary Gordon, now 18, has aged out of the role of hapless middle schooler Greg Heffley. (The first comedy came out in 2010.)

Stephen Chbosky adroitly adapted his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower into an insightful and moving film. He takes on more sensitive subject matter in adapting R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, where a fifth grade boy born with facial birth defects attends school for the first time after homeschooling. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are his parents, and Jacob Tremblay, the heart and soul of the bleak but bracing Room from last year, will play the core character, Auggie Pullman. (Chbosky also cowrote the screenplay for Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast.)

Author Brian Selznick has adapted his time-jumping (and homage to the silent film era) Wonderstuck, set for 2017. It’s helmed by Carol’s Todd Haynes (maybe not a typical choice for a YA adaptation) and features his frequent collaborator Julianne Moore. Deaf juvenile actress Millicent Simmonds has been cast as Rose, a deaf girl in 1927 New Jersey who runs off to New York City to meet her film idol in one of the two parallel story lines. Half of the movie will be in the style of a silent film. (Consider the award-winning The Artist as a warm-up act.)

And finally, there has been renewed attention to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (the first in the four-book series) after Chelsea Clinton, introducing her mother, presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention, reminisced about reading the classic as a child. First published in 1962, the title immediately popped up in the top 100 of Amazon’s best-selling chart. In the same week as that prestigious plug, Disney announced that Oprah Winfrey was in final negotiations to play Mrs. Which in director Ava DuVernay’s upcoming film, adapted by Jennifer Lee, cowriter and codirector of Frozen.

Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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