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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Ramona and Beezus

Child actors, young and all grown up

August 21, 2010 | 12:59 pm

ThomasOn the large billboards plastered all over town promoting this weekend's release of "The Switch," A-listers Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman are touted as the film's main attraction.

But according to many critics, the real star of the romantic comedy is Thomas Robinson, an 8-year-old Valley Village resident who plays Jennifer Aniston's precocious and endearingly neurotic son.

In her review of the film this week, Times critic Betsy Sharkey praised the actor's "excellent job" in the movie, calling him "talented and adorably soulful."

After spending a night observing Thomas during his first big Hollywood movie premiere earlier this week, we can vouch for that. Thomas -- who was only 6 when he filmed "The Switch" -- is about as un-Hollywood as it gets. Too shy to speak to reporters on the red carpet, he timidly posed for pictures and attended the premiere's swanky after-party, where he sat with his family for about an hour before asking his mom if they could go home. (Check out this photo diary of his big night.) What struck us most about him is how much he truly seemed to embody the character he plays in the movie: honest and even a little sad.

Bateman echoed that sentiment: "I don't want to take anything away from his acting talent, but he was similar to that part in his sweetness and kindness and his accessibility," the actor told us in an interview earlier this year.

Of course, Thomas is only one of the young actors who has popped up on the big screen this summer, when it seems there have been a wave of strikingly naturalistic and evocative performances from kids in films like "Ramona and Beezus" and "Flipped."

But just how do casting directors track down the perfect child actor, who is not only cute and talented, but capable of handling the pressure? That's one of the questions we explore in our Sunday Calendar story, in which casting directors, filmmakers and former child stars weigh in on the challenges of working in Hollywood as a youngster. Douglas Aibel, the casting director who found Thomas for "The Switch," said he could sense early on that the young boy was overwhelmed by the audition process.

Continue reading »

With 'Ramona and Beezus,' can Selena Gomez branch out from her Disney Channel roots?

July 22, 2010 |  4:37 pm

Selena Although having your own hit Disney Channel show might get you a record deal, clothing line, or lunchbox with your face on it, it doesn't always help you land A-list film roles.

Selena Gomez, who plays a girl with magical powers on the hit Disney Channel show "Wizards of Waverly Place," is the latest Disney teen star to try to make a go of it on the big screen. In Friday's "Ramona and Beezus," based on Beverly Cleary's beloved children's book series, Gomez will have her big-screen starring debut. In a print interview with the actress, she said she was nervous about making the jump.

The anxiety was ratcheted up when Cleary herself sent Gomez a DVD of herself explaining how she envisioned the part of Beezus, the studious teen who is continually embarrassed by her pest of a younger sister, Ramona.

“She’s like, ‘Hi, Selena, I’m very excited you’re playing the role. I wanted to give you some of the views of how I created Beezus,’ ” Gomez recalled last week, sitting in a trailer on the CBS lot, where she had just filmed a singing appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”

After watching the author’s video, she began to, as she says, “freak out.”

“I was like, ‘Oh, great. What am I getting myself into? This is my first thing.’ I was nervous. It was definitely a big responsibility.”

Even director Elizabeth Allen acknowledged that she'd had some concerns about Gomez and her wholesome television background but was reassured once the young actress got on set.

"I was personally concerned that she would turn in TV beats and moments," said Allen, "and was really delighted to see that she has an ability to match the actors around her, as far as tone."

Gomez, who is very clearly a product of the well-oiled Disney machine, said she chose "Ramona" because of its family-friendly qualities. Allen, for her part, sees this as evidence that she is making smart choices about her career. By the time the movie got a green light, Gomez -- who had auditioned earlier in the development process -- had her pick of feature film roles.

"She chose this, which was not a big payday, and she's a supporting role," the director said. "I think many other kids in her position would have taken the money and the leading role, but she felt there was a pedigree to the property... She wanted to work with a high-caliber cast [including John Corbett, Josh Duhamel and Sandra Oh] and soak up all their abilities."

But being aware about the challenges involved in transitioning from Disney to the multiplex doesn't make navigating them any easier. As my colleague Steve Zeitchik noted back in April when Miley Cyrus starred in the Nicholas Sparks tearjerker "The Last Song": "There’s an issue for Disney Channel stars trying to make the jump to movies, even frilly ones. The network's shows give their actors plenty of exposure, but they don’t exactly showcase their best acting. Even good acting gets lost there."

Indeed, many former Disney stars have struggled to be taken seriously on the big screen, including Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff and Vanessa Hudgens, whose new film "Beastly" recently had its release date pushed to early next year. Still, "The Last Song," the Cyrus film, fared moderately well at the box office, bringing in over $60 million stateside. And Zac Efron's face is currently plastered all over town for the campaign of "Charlie St. Cloud."

Gomez, who next stars in "Monte Carlo" opposite Leighton Meester, says that while she's certainly part of a certain Disney generation, she's looking to some established film actresses as templates. “I love Rachel McAdams. She is incredible,” she said. “I think that her career and project choices are really appropriate and perfect for her, and she kind of stays out of the spotlight; you never really see anything about her. Yeah, that’s how I would like to be.”

-- Amy Kaufman

Twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Selena Gomez. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times.

RECENT AND RELATED

The Performance: Selena Gomez

Preview Review: The Quimbys are back in 'Ramona and Beezus'

Original 'Ramona' Sarah Polley hopes revamped character isn't 'too cute'


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Original 'Ramona' Sarah Polley hopes revamped character isn't 'too cute'

May 25, 2010 | 10:05 am

Ramonaold In the late '80s, almost every young girl saw a bit of themselves in Ramona Quimby -- the precocious redhead at the center of a popular television show whose curiosity always seemed to land her in hot water.

On the PBS program "Ramona," the bright-but-annoying 8-year-old was played by none other than a young Sarah Polley, who brought the character from the bestselling 1950s book series by Beverly Cleary to life, long before she became known as an indie actress/auteur for films such as "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Away from Her."

This summer, Fox is revamping the popular story yet again with "Ramona and Beezus," starring adorable newcomer Joey King and Disney tween queen Selena Gomez. The cuter take on a traditionally more pesty Ramona has already irked some bloggers and critics.

Take this scathing assessment on the female-centric blog Jezebel:

"'I hope you guys like it!' Selena Gomez says of her new 'Ramona and Beezus' trailer. No. We don't. Maybe because BEEZUS IS A SEX KITTEN AND RAMONA IS A PINT-SIZED MANIC-PIXIE DREAM GIRL."


MG3WOLCA48EX38CAH8WD4SCAOKZF9UCAP79Z83CA91GCWZCA716Y40CAOYBKNOCA50NS2UCAP1S683CAFPUVYXCAIOOUT6CA88XT4DCAUJZLDZCAFCMZ34CAD0Z5BXCACXKYA2CAYUYAIVCA278I0Z Last weekend we interviewed Polley -- who was in town promoting her new film "Splice" -- and asked her what she thought about the fresh take on Ramona. Though she said she hasn't seen the film and will "reserve judgment" until she does, she said she hopes the new film won't mess with the essence of Cleary's character.

"The one thing that I think would be a drag is if she's too cute a character and too sweet," Polley said. "That was what was great about Ramona. She wasn't a cute, perky little kid with perfect teeth. She was a little bit of an oddball. And when I read those books when I was 7 or 8 and felt not so pretty and not so popular and a little bit -- you know, feisty -- I felt like that book recognized me and spoke to me and made me feel less isolated. The books will always continue to do that for kids. I hope the movie does the same thing."

-- Amy Kaufman (Twitter.com/AmyKinLA)

Photos: Sarah Polley, above, as a young Ramona and, right, now at 31.

Credit: PBS, Ringo H.W. Chiu / For the Times.

Recent and related:

Preview review: The Quimbys are back in 'Ramona and Beezus'


Preview Review: The Quimbys are back in 'Ramona and Beezus'

March 19, 2010 | 12:04 pm

Selena-gomez-in-ramona-and-beezus Remember Ramona Quimby? That quirky adolescent with a red-haired bob whose curiosity always seemed to land her in hot water? Most of us became familiar with Ramona via the bestselling book series by author Beverly Cleary, which was later turned into a popular PBS television series.

This summer, Fox is taking a fresh, more modern take on Ramona with "Ramona and Beezus," out in July. The newly released trailer shows a film that's reminiscent of such kid classics as "Harriet the Spy," the 1996 film about a spunky young detective that gave Michelle Trachtenberg her start.

Ramona, a quirky elementary school student played by newcomer Joey King, is constantly finding herself in trouble as a result of her high jinks. With her puppy-dog eyes, King looks adorable in the role, though she doesn't seem to fully inhabit the precociousness that Sarah Polley practically trademarked in the TV series. The movie certainly seems to stray from Cleary's books, in which Ramona was far more plotting pest than sympathetic outcast.

Disney Channel star Selena Gomez plays Beezus, Ramona's protective older sister who looks out for her and gives her advice. Unlike some of her other Mouseketeer counterparts, Gomez looks surprisingly competent in the role, and I can already see legions of tweens leaving theaters wishing that the actress were their cool older sister. The film also looks like it's banking on her popularity with the younger generation, as she introduces the trailer.

The movie is rounded out by a cast of other recognizable stars: John Corbett ("Sex & the City's" Aidan) and Bridget Moynahan play the girls' parents, while Josh Duhamel and Ginnifer Goodwin are the cool uncle and aunt.

The film also plays with CGI as Ramona travels to the exotic fairy-tale locales she dreams up in her mind. Fantastical journeys are certainly not something I remember being a part of the book series, but I imagine they'll play well on the big screen. I'm also curious as to how familiar today's younger generation is with Cleary's 1950s series -- though it probably won't make much of a difference. Even if the adaptation strays from the book, the film seems to pull off just the right heartwarming tone that will endear Ramona to new audiences.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Selena Gomez and Joey King star in "Ramona and Beezus." Credit: 20th Century Fox.


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