Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?
The vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (Stuart Townsend) wakes from a hundred-year sleep to the rock 'n' roll present day and likes what he sees and hears. Tired of the vampire's solitary life he becomes the frontman for an unknown rock band and transforms it into the latest greatest thing gaining the adulation of millions. He also decides to disregard the unspoken rule that vampires must hide away from the rest of world and writes songs encoded with specifics of the secret life of vampires. As expected Lestat's lyrics draw the attention of both the bloodsuckers who want to destroy him and the human vampire scholars (called the Talamasca) who want to study him. One young Talamascan student Jesse Reeves (Marguerite Moreau) becomes obsessed with Lestat after reading his journal from the 1800s. She learns that Lestat had a brief encounter with Queen Akasha (Aaliyah) the most ancient and dangerous vampire to ever exist and the mother of all who walk the Earth in search of blood. He gets his chance to meet Akasha again when his music awakens her from an ancient slumber. She rises and seeks out Lestat to become her king and join her in ruling the world.
The film truly belongs to Townsend and fans of the Anne Rice's novels will be happy to know he completely embodies the charismatic vampire Lestat. The little-known Irish actor who starred in last year's indie About Adam with Kate Hudson rules the screen whenever he is on it and luckily he's on it quite a lot. He's especially powerful when he is in rock star mode. Although Moreau's Jesse is fairly one dimensional she comes alive in her scenes with Townsend. Let's hope they keep asking him to play Lestat (when and if they make any more films from Rice's vampire novels) and next time give him an actress he can have some real chemistry with. The late R&B singer Aaliyah made her second film appearance in Damned as the queen. Even though she is only in the film a short time she possesses a certain charm as the ancient and evil Queen Akasha and makes a great first impression by destroying a vampire coven. Yet her acting skills are just not up to par with the rest of the cast including the charismatic Vincent Perez as the vampire Marius and Lena Olin as the kind-hearted vampire Maharet.
Damned was set to be released in the fall of last year but word of mouth had the film destined for the video shelf before it even made it to the big screen. Then tragedy struck and as the news of Aaliyah's untimely death echoed throughout the world of entertainment Warner Bros. wisely decided to hold onto it and release it in theaters at a more favorable time knowing there would be an audience who'd want to see the singer's last film. Yet for all the bad press surrounding it Damned actually pleasantly surprises you due largely in part to Townsend's mesmerizing performance. Michael Rymer's direction is not a masterpiece of filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination but it has a certain MTV quality about it which makes it appealing. That same quality however also makes it too slick glossing over the meatier parts of Rice's novel making the dialogue and action trite and sometimes downright silly. Come to think of it the 1994 Interview With the Vampire also suffered from the same thing. Maybe translating Rice's words is harder than it looks.
"Exit Wounds" entered theaters in first place despite industry research suggesting more moviegoers wanted to see "Enemy at the Gates."
"Exit," from Warner Bros. in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment, is a Silver Pictures production teaming up Steven Seagal and DMX. The R-rated action film topped the chart with a record-setting estimated $19.03 million at 2,830 theaters ($6,723 per theater).
Directed by Andrez Bartkowiak, "Exit" was produced by Joel Silver and Dan Cracchiolo. It stars Steven Seagal and DMX and was executive produced by Bruce Berman.
"It's the biggest March opening in Warner history, which is very exciting," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It's the biggest movie Steven Seagal has ever opened and the same with DMX, who was in 'Romeo Must Die.' And it's the sixth Number One movie in a row that Joel Silver has opened for us. That's a record I don't know who has. We're very excited about this. It's certainly a great way to end the first quarter.
"The exits were great. People really liked it. We had 88% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) and a 75% Definite Recommend. So this picture should be around for a while."
Asked where it could wind up, Fellman replied, "I think this picture could be $60-75 million."
DMX's previous film, "Romeo Must Die," opened via Warner Bros. March 24, 2000, in second place to $18.5 million. It went on to gross about $56 million in domestic theaters.
Seagal's last starring role was in "Fire Down Below," which opened Sept. 5, 1997, to $6.1 million and went on to gross $16.1 million in domestic theaters.
Prior to that, Seagal starred in "The Glimmer Man," opening Oct. 4, 1996, to $7.6 million and winding up with $20.4 million domestically. "Executive Decision" opened March 15, 1996, to $12.1 million and got to $56.7 million domestically. "On Deadly Ground" opened Feb. 18, 1994, to $12.7 million and reached $38.6 million. "Hard To Kill" kicked off Feb. 9, 1990, to $9.2 million and ended up with $47.4 million domestically.
Paramount's R-rated World War II drama "Enemy at the Gates" from Mandalay Pictures opened a solid Number Two, although it had been flying higher than "Exit" on Hollywood's advance radar screens.
"Enemy" invaded second place with a friendly estimated $13.6 million at 1,509 theaters ($9,013 per theater).
"Enemy" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
Produced and directed by Jean-Jacques Annuad, "Enemy" stars Joseph Fiennes, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins and Ed Harris.
"It's on the high side of where we thought it was going to get," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I had it (projected at) $10-12 million going into the weekend. Obviously, this is beyond what we were looking for."
Asked about reports that research scores had been showing "Enemy" looking bigger than "Exit," Lewellen replied, "I think it probably was, but we're only (about) 1,500 runs versus their 2,800 or so."
Why didn't Paramount go wider with "Enemy?" "The (marketing) campaign really made the film look like an action movie more so than, in fact, it is," Lewellen explained. "It's really a love story, character development and so forth. It's a really upscale movie for the most part. The problem is, if you go that wide with it, you get out there and before people figure out what it is -- particularly for the older audience -- it can be out of some of these smaller markets before they ever find the film.
"We will expand it to some extent -- maybe 100 or 200 runs -- this week (moving up to) 1,600 or 1,700."
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "The Mexican" added theaters but still fell two slots to third place in its third week with a less spicy estimated $8.1 million (-34%) at 3,162 theaters (+203 theaters; $2,571 per theater). Its cume is approximately $50.9 million.
"Mexican" should wind up being nicely profitable for DreamWorks since it reportedly only cost about $40 million and its two superstars took much lower salaries than usual.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, "Mexican" stars Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
Warner Bros.' G-rated family appeal comedy "See Spot Run" from Village Roadshow Pictures continued to show strong legs, dropping one peg to fourth place in its third week with an estimated $5.21 million (-21%) at 2,656 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,962 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.0 million.
"Spot" reportedly cost only about $15 million to produce and should be very profitable for Warners both in theaters and home video.
Directed by John Whitesel, "Run" stars David Arquette.
"It's great. This picture's headed for $40 million-plus," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning.
New Line's R-rated drama "15 Minutes" plunged three rungs to fifth place in its second week with a slow estimated $4.35 million (-59%) at 2,337 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,861 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.9 million.
Written and directed by John Herzfeld, "Minutes" stars Robert De Niro and Edward Burns.
Sony Pictures Classics' Oscar-contending, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" held on to sixth place in its 15th week, still showing great legs thanks to its Oscar nominations with an estimated $4.12 million (-3%) at 1,860 theaters (+104 theaters; $2,214 per theater). Its cume is approximately $100.3 million.
"Tiger" is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. Director Ang Lee, having won the Directors Guild of America's feature directing award, is the favorite to win the Best Director Oscar.
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"Elated! We're very proud and happy -- and on to the Oscars," Sony Pictures Classics sales vice president Tom Prassis said Sunday morning.
"I don't want to speculate (about where it winds up if it wins or doesn't win). I think the film's already accomplished much more than we'd hoped. Anything from now is going to be gravy."
Paramount's PG-13-rated comedy "Down to Earth" dropped two pegs to seventh place in its fifth week with a less funny estimated $4.0 million (-28%) at 2,425 theaters (-96 theaters; $1,649 per theater). Its cume is approximately $56.8 million.
Directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, "Earth" stars Chris Rock.
MGM and Universal's R-rated thriller 'Hannibal" finished eighth, down four rungs in its sixth week with a calm estimated $3.7 million (-38%) at 2,433 theaters (-514 theaters; $1,535 per theater). Its cume is approximately $157.0 million, heading for $175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore.
Miramax's PG-13-rated, Oscar-contending romantic comedy drama "Chocolat," which was ninth last week, tied for ninth place in its 14th week, still holding very well thanks to its Oscar momentum with an estimated $3.4 million (-12%) at 1,901 theaters (-27 theaters; $1,788 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.8 million.
"Chocolat" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.
"I think we'll be at $60 million through next Sunday, by the Oscar ceremonies," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning. "And, hopefully, we'll get it to $70 million."
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
USA Films' R-rated, Oscar-contending drama "Traffic," which was eighth last week, tied for ninth place in its 12th week, still benefiting from b ing in the Oscar nominations spotlight with an estimated $3.4 million (-12%) at 1,682 theaters (+4 theaters; $2,027 per theater). Its cume is approximately $102.5 million.
"Traffic" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
"We can pretty much estimate that it will come in at $115 million total without winning (Best Picture)," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "This is one that if it wins, it's a story. You know, this whole thing with 'Nightline' doing (a five-part show later this month dealing with drug issues addressed in the movie) is going to be like infomercials. Frankly, it could go to $125 million and (thanks to the TV exposure) despite the competition in the market, it could go further than that. Now can you imagine if it wins? It could go into the stratosphere. That's what film's all about when it takes over popular culture."
OTHER OPENINGS Newmarket's R-rated film noir thriller "Memento" opened to a promising estimated $0.23 million at 11 theaters ($20,971 per theater).
Directed by Christopher Nolan, it stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated comedy "The Dish " opened to an encouraging estimated $0.072 million at 6 theaters ($12,000 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $0.088 million.
Directed by Rob Sitch, "Dish" stars Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton, Genevieve Moody, Tayler Kane.
"We're very pleased with that," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "Friday night we did $17,754. Then Saturday we went up 75% and did $31,184. While it's not record breaking, it's substantial, and every day we've had strong increases. So I think word of mouth is kicking in on this movie."
SNEAK PREVIEWS MGM held a second round of about 1,000 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13-rated comedy "Heartbreakers" from Davis Entertainment. The film opens March 23 at about 2,500 theaters.
"They were 75% full. We were 50% full last week (when 627 sneaks were held), so we went up," MGM marketing executive Amanda Lundberg said Sunday morning. "Our audience was 56% female, 44% male. 25-and-over is 58%. Under-25 is 42%. And in our exit polls we were 94% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good) with a Definite Recommend of 68%."
Directed by David Mirkin and produced by John Davis and Irving Ong, "Heartbreakers" stars Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Jeffrey Jones and Gene Hackman.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw Sony Pictures Classics go wider with its R-rated drama "Pollock" in its sixth week, grossing a solid estimated $0.73 million (-5%) at 218 theaters (+63 theaters; $3,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.8 million.
"Pollock" received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Ed Harris) and Best Supporting Actress (Marcia Gay Harden).
Directed by Ed Harris, "Pollock" stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden.
USA Films' PG-rated drama "In the Mood For Love" added a theater in its seventh week with an okay estimated $0.18 million (-29%) at 74 theaters (+1 theater; $2,477 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, "Love" stars Tony Leung and Maggie Chung.
"I'm delighted about that," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "This is such a small film. If it keeps the momentum going, (it should wind up with) $2.75-3 million."
USA Films' R-rated reality TV satire "Series 7" added theaters in its third week with an okay estimated $0.037 million at 10 theaters (+3 theaters; $3,705 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.11 million.
Written and directed by Daniel Minahan, "Series" stars Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Mary Louise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck and Merrit Wever.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $79.46 million, down about 8.05% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $86.42 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 16.41% from last weekend this year when key films did $68.26 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of "Erin Brockovich" was first with $28.14 million at 2,848 theaters ($9,880 per theater); and Buena Vista's second week of "Mission To Mars" was second with $11.39 million at 3,060 theaters ($3,721 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $39.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $32.6 million.