February 13, 2013

‘Beautiful Creatures’ explores life’s choices

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships, Spirituality at 11:55 pm by dinaheng

“Beautiful Creatures” may look like a film for teenagers — yes, it’s based on a best-selling series aimed at teenage girls — but the story has so many wonderful things to say about life, your brain would have to be dead not to appreciate it.

The film, which opens in theaters on Valentine’s Day, February 14, is set in fictional Gatlin, S.C., a small conservative Southern town where 17-year-old Ethan Wate (played by Alden Ehrenreich) has recurring dreams about an unseen girl on a Civil War battlefield and the danger that awaits them both. Dinah Eng

When Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the enigmatic niece of powerful recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), shows up at school, Ethan is smitten. What unfolds between them is a tale of past and present, love and fear, and the battle to determine one’s own destiny.

“For me, the teenage years are the bridge between childhood and adulthood,” says Oscar® nominee Richard LaGravenese, who wrote and directed the screenplay adaptation of the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. “It’s a period of transition, hormones, questions, and desires, but you’re not able to realize them yet because you’re confined to high school and family. Our two characters are teenagers who are pushed into adulthood sooner.”

In the film, Ethan has to take care of the house and family because his mother has died, and his father has withdrawn from life. Lena is a supernatural being called a Caster (whom some might call witches), approaching her 16th birthday, when she will be claimed by the forces of the Light or the Dark.

“The more I wrote and was shooting, it became clear that the movie is about the strength of humans,” says LaGravenese, whose writing credits include “The Fisher King,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” and “P.S. I Love You.” “We, who are powerless in the face of chaotic elements, have the power of empathy and compassion. And we get in touch with our strength when there’s a crisis.

“A lot of our modern life is about comfort, and as technology gets more powerful, our brains are activated less and less. If there’s such a thing as superpowers, we have more that we can access than we realize. I’ve experienced what I consider miracles. It’s about perceiving beyond the norm and accessing the part of the brain that sees beyond what we normally see.”

Most of the folks in Gatlin are frightened by what they don’t normally see and understand. Their reaction to Lena and what they perceive as dark powers results in a church meeting to cast out the evil girl within their midst.

“Part of being human is fear of the unknown and the things we can’t control,” the director notes. “The more we can accept what we don’t know, the more we can accept the spiritual experience. The Latin root derivative of ‘religion’ is to ‘bind back.’ We once needed certain rules and laws, but as our consciousness evolved as human beings, people still maintained literal interpretations of the rules, so you get fanaticism and literal interpretations of laws that don’t apply to our current life.

“I have no tolerance for intolerance, and was a devout Catholic growing up. I think the sacrifice in this film is a Christian principle. If anyone takes umbrage at that, it’s intolerance about something they don’t understand. Spirituality is about being able to live within the mystery of what we don’t know.”

The mystery involving mortals and Casters in Gatlin is known by Amma (played by Viola Davis), the town’s librarian and a seer with connection to both worlds.

“Viola is a great actress who plays a loving, wise character who’s been set with a burden she inherits from her ancestors, and does it with acceptance,” LaGravenese explains. “She’s a surrogate mother to Ethan, and is a bridge between the real world and the supernatural.”

Davis, an award-winning actress best known for her performances in “Doubt” and “The Help,” says she chose to do the role because Amma is a complex, layered character.

(L -r) VIOLA DAVIS as Amma, ALICE ENGLERT as Lena Duchannes and ALDEN EHRENREICH as Ethan Wate in Alcon Entertainment's supernatural love story “BEAUTIFUL CREATURES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L -r) VIOLA DAVIS as Amma, ALICE ENGLERT as Lena Duchannes and ALDEN EHRENREICH as Ethan Wate in Alcon Entertainment’s supernatural love story “BEAUTIFUL CREATURES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.  Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

“She’s the keeper of secrets,” Davis says. “She’s a keeper of history and a channeler. At the same time, she promised a woman who’s passed that she’d care for her son Ethan. I hope audiences are entertained, and on a deeper level, I hope they get the message that you claim your future and your path. Your future isn’t decided for you. You choose it.”

Davis says teenagers are often in turmoil because they’re in a period of self-discovery when family members don’t always understand their angst. The dysfunctional family dynamics in Gatlin can be found anywhere, she notes, as well as the prejudice in its townspeople.

“I grew up in a small town named Central Falls in Rhode Island,” Davis recalls, “and I didn’t see anything unique about it. So I loved that the writers imagined this gateway to another world underneath Gatlin, a small, provincial town.

“Central Falls was filled with some of the best memories, and friendships I still have. I moved there in 1965, when I was a baby, and we were the only black family in town, so my family was ostracized. Wanting to fit in and still maintain my own individuality was a physical and a spiritual fight.”

The actress says the biggest fight we all wage is the battle against rigid mindsets and behaviors that have been passed down to us.
“I did a lot of research, in terms of my African-American ancestry and the Civil War, Post-Reconstruction, and who we were before that,” Davis says. “I was born on Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, S.C., and I believe in the supernatural because that was how I was raised.

“You believed in witches who visited you in your sleep. You couldn’t sweep over your father’s feet because it meant he’d go to jail. To this day, it’s inherent in my psyche. I believe in the spiritual realm. I want to believe I have a way to connect with my father and other loved ones who have passed on. I’m also a woman who prays.”

For a supernatural tale filled with allegories and wisdom about our times, go see this film. It will remind you that no matter how much fear we hold inside us, human beings still have the capacity to be beautiful creatures.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

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February 7, 2013

‘Jekyll & Hyde’ star looks at life’s duality

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment at 6:10 pm by dinaheng

The publicity shots for “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” promise a dark, romantic and sexy show. Constantine Maroulis, who plays Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde, promises the show will rock you.

Maroulis, who made audiences swoon on the fourth season of “American Idol,” should know. After all, he played the lead role of Drew in a three-year run of “Rock of Ages” on Broadway, garnering a Best Actor Tony® nomination for his performance.Dinah Eng

The actor is now starring in the national tour of “Jekyll & Hyde,” a revival of the 1990s musical, that opens at The Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles on February 12 and runs through March 3 before heading to Broadway for a limited engagement in April.

The show, based on the novella ,“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, has been revised yet again under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, who’s helmed such hits on Broadway as “Newsies,” “9 to 5,” and the 1994 revival of “Grease.”

“Jeff has put so much work into a fresh version of this show,” Maroulis says. “I never saw the original, but I read the original script and other versions. They’ve developed my character more, and the orchestrations cater to my strength, bringing an edge to the show. It’s Victorian, but modern.”

In the show, Dr. Henry Jekyll tries to find a cure for his father’s mental illness by trying to separate the natures of good and evil, which are found in everyone. Experimenting on himself, he unleashes his evil other side, Edward Hyde, who has eyes for the prostitute Lucy, played by Grammy Award® nominee and multi-platinum selling recording artist Deborah Cox.

Constantine Maroulis stars in "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: The Musical." Photo by Chris Bennion Photo.

Constantine Maroulis stars in “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: The Musical.” Photo by Chris Bennion Photo.

“Everyone can relate to the duality of man, good and evil,” Maroulis says. “We all have that hidden character within us, a layer of darkness. On the whole, we don’t act on those feelings and emotions, but it makes us interesting as a human race.”

Maroulis says Jekyll and Hyde was among the first characters to inspire the creation of more modern superheroes.

“Batman, Superman, the Incredible Hulk are all rooted in Stevenson’s original story,” he says. “I have a beast of a role. Henry’s an earnest and complex individual. Some are jealous of his intellect and forward thinking. I try to relate Henry to my personal experiences with my father and my family.”

He shares that his father, who has grappled with ill health for a long time, instilled a strong work ethic in him as a child.

“I’ve always tried to do great work,” Maroulis says. “People know me as having a bit of rock ‘n’ roll flair with what I do. But in this show, I also apply my classical training as a tenor to the songs. Bringing this title across the country and a new buzz to ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is great fun.”

For more information on “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical,” check out http://www.jekyllandhydemusical.com/.

February 2, 2013

Gifts from the heart

Posted in Between Us column, Books at 8:39 pm by dinaheng

The wonderful thing about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a reminder to share your love.

Reading through “Mia The Sweetest Valentine,” a new paperback book with stickers, by Robin Farley ($4.99, Harper Festival) is sure to take adults down memory lane to school days when Valentine’s Day was all about making your own greeting cards and sharing special treats.Dinah Eng

The book, aimed at ages four to eight, tells the sweet tale of Mia, who exchanges homemade valentines with her friends Anna and Ruby. While in the kitchen, Mia spots an irresistible heart-shaped box of chocolates on the table. She, of course, has to share the goodies with her friends.

When the play date is over, Mia’s friends leave her, and an empty box of chocolates behind. Mia’s dad, who has purchased the chocolates for his wife’s Valentine’s Day present, and Mia must then scramble to figure out what else they can give to Mia’s mom for Heart Day.

Little ones will enjoy using the stickers to make their own love-filled creations.

Whether you’re young or old, Dallas Clayton’s “An Awesome Book of Love” ($16.99, Harper) is a touching tribute to the emotion that defines our humanity. With simple phrases and colorful illustrations, this tome to love will touch anyone’s heart.

As this snippet from the book says…

“I love you in so many ways
Over thousands of years
Over billions of days.”

Who wouldn’t want to be loved that much?

For those who’d rather listen than read, a beautiful new album by world-renowned tenor Placido Domingo would definitely impress. “Songs ” (Sony Classical Catalog No. 88691934932), the tenor’s first pop album in more than 20 years, presents a collection of popular melodies ranging from “Come What May” from the film “Moulin Rouge” to Shania Twain’s hit, “From This Moment On.”

Great duets are sung with notable artists, like “Time After Time” with Harry Connick, Jr. and “Come What May” with Katherine Jenkins. Who could resist the Spanish love song “Cancion para una reina” (“Song For A Queen”)? Even if you don’t understand Spanish, all you have to do is close your eyes and imagine.

Valentine’s Day gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a cupcake from the corner bakery, a handwritten poem, or a foot rub at the end of the day, the form doesn’t really matter. Just take the time to tell someone you care.

Their heart will love it. And so will yours.