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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The Interpreter translated into box office dollars this weekend.
Sydney Pollack's political thriller, which stars Nicole Kidman as a U.N. translator at the center of an assassination plot and Sean Penn as the federal agent assigned to protect her, debuted in the top spot with $22.8 million, pushing last week's champ, The Amityville Horror down to second place with $14.2 million.
Other newcomers to the Top 10 list included the infectious romantic comedy A Lot Like Love, starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, which opened in fourth place with $7.7 million and the raucous farce King's Ransom, which opened in tenth place with $2.4 million.
The Interpreter was a rare triumph for older audiences, with the over-35 crowd making up 60 percent of the film's viewers, The Associated Press reports. The under-25 audience that drives most of the box office was divided among several movies, including The Amityville Horror and A Lot Like Love.
"You look at the demographic and go, how can The Interpreter be No. 1? But if you put the right movie in the marketplace, the older audience will go," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AP.
This weekend, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $83.3 million, up 12.55 percent from last weekend's $74 million take but down .22 percent from this time last year's draw of $83.5 million.
The Top Three films at the box office this time last year were: 20th Century Fox's R-rated Man on Fire, which debuted at No. 1 with $22.7 million in 2,979 theaters, averaging $7,637 per theater; Sony Pictures' PG-13 13 Going on 30, which opened in second place with $21 million in 3,438 theaters, averaging $6,124 per theater; and Miramax's R-rated Kill Bill Vol. 2, which dropped to third place in its second week of release with $10.4 million in 3,073 theaters, averaging $3,388 per theater.
(This week's box office Top 10 below...)
BOX OFFICE TOP 10, ESTIMATES:
(Source: Exhibitor Relations, Inc.)
No. 1: The Interpreter (Universal, PG-13)
Gross: $22.8 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $8,267
No. 2: The Amityville Horror (MGM, R)
Gross: $14.2 million (-40%)
Weeks opened: 2
Theaters: 3,323 (unchanged)
Per-theater average: $4,273
Cume to date: $43.8 million
No. 3: Sahara (Paramount, PG-13)
Gross: $9 million (-31%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 3,200 (+42)
Per-theater average: $2,813
Cume to date: $48.9 million
No. 4: A Lot Like Love (Buena Vista, PG-13)
Gross: $7.7 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $3,095
No. 5: Kung Fu Hustle (Sony Pictures Classics, R)
Gross: $7.2 million
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 2,503 (+2,496 in expansion)
Per-theater average: $2,915
Cume to date: $8 million
No. 6: Fever Pitch (20th Century Fox, PG-13)
Gross: $5.4 million (-36%)
Weeks opened: 3
Theaters: 2,875 (-400)
Per-theater average: $1,896
Cume to date: $31.4 million
No. 7: Sin City (Dimension Films, R)
Gross: $3.7 million (-44%)
Weeks opened: 4
Theaters: 2,343 (-659)
Per-theater average: $1,592
Cume to date: $67.2 million
No. 8: Guess Who (Sony Pictures, PG-13)
Gross: $3.5 million (-28%)
Weeks opened: 5
Theaters: 2,484 (-515)
Per-theater average: $1,409
Cume to date: $62.3 million
No. 9: Robots (20th Century Fox, PG)
Gross: $3.3 million (-8%)
Weeks opened: 7
Theaters: 2,072 (-404)
Per-theater average: $1,593
Cume to date: $120.1 million
No. 10: King's Ransom (New Line, PG-13)
Gross: $2.4 million
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $1,608
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia, NR)
Weeks opened: NEW!
Per-theater average: $23,333
Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is a young high-powered Wall Street attorney working for his father-in-law's firm. On Good Friday Banek is on FDR Drive on his way to court for a probate case involving a multimillion-dollar trust when he gets distracted on his cell phone. One lane over is Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson) an insurance company representative and recovering alcoholic. His wife has divorced him and is planning on leaving New York with their two boys for a job in Portland Ore. unless he can convince a family court judge otherwise. He's practicing his speech on his way to court and while switching lanes doesn't notice Banek's silver Mercedes crossing over. The two cars sideswipe each other. Banek is too impatient to trade insurance information and peels off in his car with a cocky "Better luck next time." What he doesn't realize is that he has left a crucial file in the hands of Gibson who is left standing on a median next to his broken car in a downpour. When Banek's attempt to get the file back fails the two men engage in a bitter war of revenge.
Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor) plays lawyer Gavin Banek a man quickly disillusioned not only by his profession but to a certain extent life. Banek is a complex character: Underneath the arrogance he displays at the start of the film is a nice guy who grapples with issues like everyone else. With every devious move is a bout of guilt and Affleck does a great job reflecting that in his character. Samuel L. Jackson (The Caveman's Valentine) is equally impressive as Doyle Gibson a recovered alcoholic trying to win back his family. Jackson plays Gibson's character with such earnestness you may find yourself taking his side. Both Affleck and Jackson handle their characters' duality delicately and convincingly. The supporting cast members also deliver superior performances especially Toni Collette (Shaft) who plays Banek's co-worker mistress--and ironically--his moral compass and Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts) his corrupt father-in-law and boss. Also look for good performances from William Hurt (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence) and Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman).
In his screenwriting debut Chap Taylor delivers a blunt and hauntingly realistic portrait of what happens when two decent guys are suddenly backed into corners. The story's intensity mounts almost inconspicuously as the two men carry on their hostilities swapping offensive and defensive positions as they try to destroy each other. This aspect of the film not only makes the characters more relatable but it also builds suspense. Each time one of them is ready to end the petty quarrel he receives a blow from the other which in turn makes them both more vengeful. Because the film takes place in one day director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) takes advantage of the time element in the film--a crucial component. With each threat for example is an or else: "It will take me half an hour to get to my bank " Gibson tells Banek when the cards are in his favor. "If my credit's not on by the time I get there I'll destroy the file." Changing Lanes effectively portrays characters that are not all bad and not all good--something many recent films have attempted to do unsuccessfully.