Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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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.
Was there a better way for Adam Sandler to put behind him the hellish disaster that was Little Nicky than to give Frank Capra's Oscar-winning comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town a 21st-century makeover?
Critics will tear Sandler to shreds for bastardizing such a beloved classic, but audiences won't care. The majority of the former SNLers devotees doubtless know anything about Capra or his legendary body of work. All they want to see is Sandler slide down banisters, belittle shallow corporate bigwigs and rough up anyone who mortally offends him. To this end, Sandler doesn't disappoint, so expect Mr. Deeds to more than double the disappointing $39.4 million that Little Nicky could only muster.
Mr. Deeds finds Sandler's eponymous small-town nice guy whisked off to New York City after he inherits a media empire worth a measly $40 billion. While financial officers plot to wrestle control of the company, Sandler loses his heart--but none of his valuables--to Winona Ryder, an undercover TV tabloid reporter out to get the dirt on the Big Apple's newest mover and shaker.
Audiences just want Sandler to be Sandler. Little Nicky was Sandler's Cable Guy mostly on the strength of the infantile voice and creepy look that he adopted as the son of Satan.
Thus Longfellow Deeds is a classic Sandler man-child underdog. He's as much a goofball as Billy Madison, only with a better work ethic. He's just tender as The Waterboy, but he's lousy when it comes to wooing women, a la The Wedding Singer. He throws a punch harder than Happy Gilmore.
This should find Sandler in good graces with audiences who turned out in droves to see Big Daddy ($164.3 million) and The Waterboy ($161.4 million) but stayed away from Little Nicky.
Sandler's cooled off since achieving those back-to-back hits in 1998 and 1999, so Mr. Deeds won't open on the scale of Big Daddy's $41.5 million or The Waterboy's $39.4 million. Instead, Mr. Deeds should top the The Wedding Singer's $21.9 million's opening by about $5 million.
Mr. Deeds, however, will do no better than The Wedding Singer's $80.2 million for the simple reason that everyone, with the notable exception of Ryder, is funnier than the somewhat subdued Sandler. Co-stars John Turturro and Steve Buscemi steal the show. Rob Schneider's obligatory cameo also earns more snickers than Sandler provides in 90 minutes.
Also, sparks fail to fly between Sandler and Ryder, who reveals amazingly little comic aptitude in Mr. Deeds. Ryder's ongoing legal woes will lure curiosity seekers to Mr. Deeds, but her presence will disappoint those who enjoyed Sandler's efforts to romance Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer.
To matters worse, Mr. Deeds distributor Sony Picture will release Men in Black II next week. That long-awaited sequel will doubtless siphon away the same audience of young adults that it shares with Mr. Deeds.
Mr. Deeds should add some shine to Sandler's tarnished star appeal, but he may have to wait until he spars with Jack Nicholson in next year's Anger Management before enjoying another runaway smash.
Corporate America receives more bashing this weekend, this time courtesy of Nickelodeon Pictures. Hey Arnold! The Movie, based on the popular animated TV show, pits the young boy and his buddies against a ruthless developer out to ruin their quaint inner-city neighborhood.
Slowly, but surely, Nickelodeon Pictures is turning itself into a force to be reckoned with when it comes to animation.
The cable TV channel's movie arm has already transformed The Rugrats into a viable film franchise. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which served as the basis of an upcoming new show, earned an Oscar nomination this year for Best Animated Picture. The Wild Thornberrys, another TV spin-off, will storm theaters Dec. 20.
A Nickelodeon staple, Hey Arnold! The Movie arrives with a built-in audience of tiny tots. But parents face too many choices this weekend when it comes to entertaining their young ones, what with Lilo & Stitch and Scooby-Doo making their presence felt. This stiff competition should result in a better opening for Hey Arnold! The Movie than Jimmy Neutron's $13.8 million but less than Rugrats in Paris' $22.7 million.
Hey Arnold! The Movie might not enjoy a splashy opening, but it should amuse children throughout the summer. Arnold's community-minded ways should yield a total close to Jimmy Neutron's $80.9 million and Rugrats in Paris' $76.5 million.
Disney's Lilo & Stitch, which should hold up admirably against Hey Arnold! The Movie, barely lost its surprising bid for box office supremacy last weekend against Minority Report. The spunky Elvis Presley fan and her naughty little friend from outer space, however, should have the last laugh.
The Tom Cruise-Steven Spielberg sci-fi epic opened at No. 1, as expected, with $35.7 million. Lilo & Stitch sold more tickets, but many at reduced child rates, to debut with a hip-shaking $35.3 million.
The fight continued into the week, with Lilo & Stitch earning more in its first full week than Minority Report. Lilo & Stitch has $55.5 million through Thursday vs. Minority Report's $51.8 million. Lilo & Stitch will likely best Minority Report this weekend now that die-hard Phillip K. Dick fans have seen Spielberg's version of his short story.
Lilo & Stitch also proves that 2-D animation can still thrill audiences now accustomed to such CGI-executed adventures as Shrek and Ice Age. Lilo & Stitch's opening isn't on a par with Disney's CGI Monsters, Inc. ($62.5 million) or Toy Story 2 ($57.3 million), but it is the best for a Disney 2-D animated offering since Tarzan ($34.2 million).
Lilo & Stitch is ahead of Tarzan, which had $53.5 million in its first seven days in wide release. With competition from Scooby-Doo and Hey Arnold! The Movie, Lilo & Stitch might not equal Tarzan's second weekend haul of $24 million or $171 million total, but it will break Disney's recent drought when it comes to 2-D animated smashes.
Come the end of the July Fourth holiday weekend, Lilo & Stitch should surpass the disappointing grosses of both The Emperor's New Groove ($89.2 million) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire ($84 million). Expect a second weekend of about $22 million and a $140 million total.
Lilo & Stitch also stole off with their share of Scooby Snacks. The live-action version of Scooby-Doo fell by a worrying 54.8 percent in its second weekend, from $54.1 million to $24.5 million. With $111.5 million through Thursday, Scooby-Doo should easily scamper past The Flintstones' $130.5 million total. But the Great Dane will likely take a long nap--until 2004's sequel--at around $150 million and $160 million.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron went lame as Lilo & Stitch galloped off with its audience. Spirit dropped a disheartening 62 percent in its fifth weekend, from $5.3 million to $1.9 million. DreamWorks' animated adventure, which has $68.3 million, had displayed some signs of staying power prior to facing Lilo & Stitch.
Despite being upstaged by Lilo & Stitch, Minority Report registered a stronger debut than the most recent offerings from either Cruise or Spielberg.
Cruise's much-maligned Vanilla Sky, an ill-conceived remake of Open Your Eyes, opened with $25 million. Its $100.6 million total stands a remarkable testament to Cruise's audience-friendly smile.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, conceived by Stanley Kubrick and executed by Spielberg, clocked up $29.3 million in its first weekend. Hindered by a directionless marketing campaign, A.I. faded quickly, earning just $78.6 million to become Spielberg's first summer release not to break $100 million.
Minority Report, which also represents Spielberg's best debut since 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($72.1 million), should tumble to about $20 million in its second weekend. That should allow Minority Report to surpass A.I.'s total by the start of the July Fourth holiday weekend. Minority Report will doubtless take a hard hit when Men in Black II arrives July 4, leaving Cruise and Spielberg looking at a possible $130 million total.
The prospect of Spielberg directing Cruise stopped many from sampling aging hits Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones for a second or third time.
Attack of the Clones dropped 45 percent in its sixth weekend, from $9.4 million to $5.2 million. With $282.5 million through Thursday, Attack of the Clones won't even manage to creep past Return of the Jedi's $309.2 million.
Spider-Man eroded 39 percent from $7.5 to $4.5 million. Still, Spider-Man's $392.7 million total through Thursday indicates that the web slinger will swing past $400 million at the end of the July Fourth holiday weekend.
Two CIA operatives--one rogue, the other making career strides--successfully continued to thrill audiences.
The Bourne Identity, with Matt Damon as amnesiac CIA gunman Jason Bourne, dropped an acceptable 44 percent in its second weekend, from $27.1 million to $15 million.
With $61.7 million through Thursday, The Bourne Identity reestablishes Damon's drawing power after the dismal showings of The Legend of Bagger Vance ($30.6 million) and All the Pretty Horses ($15.5 million). The Bourne Identity should top The Talented Mr. Ripley's $81.2 million total and pave the way for The Bourne Supremacy, the second in Robert Ludlum's literary trilogy, assuming all involved resolve their differences resulting from The Bourne Identity's troubled production.
The Sum of All Fears, with Ben Affleck replacing Harrison Ford as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, has $100.5 million through Thursday, making it the fifth 2002 release to break $100 million. That would make it the third of the quartet of Ryan yarns do so. The Sum of All Fears eased by 42 percent in its fourth weekend, from $13.4 million to $7.7 million. Still, Affleck's younger and more vital Ryan needs more stamina if The Sum of All Fears can come close to challenging Clear and Present Danger ($122 million) as the top-grossing film in the franchise.
It wasn't fun and spy games for Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock, as Bad Company plummeted out of the Top 10 in just its third week in release after earning just $2.1 million. The CIA comedy-thriller has $26.4 million through Sunday, continuing the pattern of mediocrity for those films delayed as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Eddie Griffin's Undercover Brother also fell out of the Top 10 after four weeks, after earning $2.1 million, but the low-budget blaxploitation spoof has a respectable $35.4 million total through Sunday.
Griffin lost much of his urban audience to Juwanna Man, a pro-basketball take on Tootsie. The cross-dressing comedy, with banned hoops star Miguel A. Nunez Jr. forced to play basketball in drag, shot an OK $5.4 million opening in just 1,325 theaters. Seems the NBA Draft proved a more exciting prospect than the long-delayed Juwanna Man, which was originally scheduled to debut at the start of the NBA's 2001-02 season.
Juwanna Man's $7.5 million through Thursday probably owes more to the limited drawing power of co-star Vivica A. Fox. Her last two comedies, Two Can Play that Game ($7.7 million opening; $22.2 million) and Kingdom Come ($7.5 million opening; $23.2 million), fared better, but at least Fox should give Juwanna Man enough of a push to hit $15 million.
Suppose gave a war and no one came?
That's the problem facing MGM's Windtalkers, starring Nicolas Cage as a U.S. marine ordered to protect Navajo-American code talker Adam Beach.
John Woo's expensive World War Two epic collapsed in its second weekend, freefalling a disheartening 55 percent from $14.5 to $6.5 percent.
Windtalkers has a mere $29.6 million through Thursday. That's better than the $25.5 million earned by Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Cage's last tour of duty. A $40 million total would position Windtalkers as one of the biggest bombs of the year.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood exploited its position as the only wide release catering to female audiences by gabbing up $6 million in its third weekend. That was just a 32 percent drop from its second weekend of $8.8 million. Ya-Ya Sisterhood has $51.3 million through Thursday, with $60 million to $70 million a certainty.
Still, with a cast that includes Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, Ya-Ya Sisterhood is fading faster than expected after its $16.1 million debut. Either these Southern belles' secrets aren't that thrilling, or women can't resist their invitation to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
The romantic comedy continues to do great business in just 444 theaters, earning $1.7 million in its 10th weekend. Its $16.3 million total through Sunday makes it the top-grossing limited new release of 2002. Does that mean we can expect a big fat Greek divorce?