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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“A real movie.” That’s the phrase that one of my industry sources used to describe Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount), which debuts this Friday at 3,500 or so locations and on more than 4,500 screens. The movie reunites Hollywood’s hottest young star, Shia LaBeouf, with his director from the surprise hit Disturbia, DJ Caruso, and industry tracking is pointing toward a spectacular opening.
It is very hard to bet against LaBeouf, whose last 2 movies, Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, have grossed a combined $635M domestic and $1.5B worldwide. Prior to those sure-fire blockbusters came Disturbia, a nifty little Hitchcockian genre pic released last spring demonstrating the 22-year-old actor’s real appeal. He’s the classic everyman and, while some compared his performance to Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, I agree with New York Daily News critic Elizabeth Weitzman, who wrote he is, “More John Cusack than Jimmy Stewart.”
Eagle Eye turns the Disturbia premise on its ear. In this yarn, LaBeouf isn’t “the watcher,” he’s “the watched.” According to tracking data, Under 25’s are buying into the surveillance paranoia suggested in trailers and TV ads. It feels very contemporary. Your BlackBerry can kill you--or at least tell “them” where you are at every moment. Technology is ubiquitous, and there is no escape. In reality, Caruso is really mining the great Alfred Hitchcock again. Think of a modern-day North by Northwest riff with LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan instead of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.
Director Caruso’s first mainstream box office success was Taking Lives, starring Angelina Jolie ($11.4M opening--$32.2M cume), but then he took a step back with the critical and commercial failure Two For the Money ($8.7M opening--$23M cume), starring Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino. He struck paydirt with Disturbia, which opened with $22.2M then showed real playability to the tune of $80.2M domestic, and now he has LaBeouf in tow again. Eagle Eye will almost certainly be the director’s all-time biggest opening with something in the $28M range.
Females 25 Plus are showing great interest in the Warner Bros. romantic tear-jerker Nights in Rodanthe at over 2,500 locations on Friday. This is the 3rd film together for Oscar nominees Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Their first pairing was 24 years ago in Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled The Cotton Club ($2.9M opening--$25.9M cume). 18 years later, they teamed up with much better results in Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful, which represented a breakout performance for Lane.
Not only did the actress, married in real life to actor Josh Brolin from the forthcoming W., earn her first Oscar nomination for Unfaithful (who can forget the remarkable sequence on the subway ride after her first dalliance with Olivier Martinez?), she also became the benchmark for graceful aging in Hollywood. Lane remains among the most beautiful actresses in the business and, contrary to Meg Ryan currently starring in The Women, she “appears” to have avoided the “cosmetic enhancement trap.”
Unfaithful scored $14M on opening weekend and generated a nifty $52.7M in its US theatrical run. Countless more have seen it on DVD and cable, and it is fair to say that older women are excited about seeing Lane and Gere together again. Add the fact that Nights in Rodanthe is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, like the 2004 surprise hit The Notebook, and you have the makings of a good solid box office performance. The $10M-$13M range seems about right for Rodanthe, and I am calling for the high end of that range.
Last week’s winner Lakeview Terrace (Sony) will likely be #3 this weekend, down about 55% to $6.75M, while Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna (Disney) will battle the Coen brothers’ strong-holding Burn After Reading for 4th. St. Anna is the 3rd new wide release this week, but it will open at a decidedly limited 1,100 or so locations. Lee has never been a movie hit-maker, but he had been more “commercially tone deaf” than usual for well over a decade until 2006’s Inside Man ($28.9M opening--$88.5M cume).
Spike has never been “Mr. Warmth,” but he has made some critical press blunders in advance of the release of Miracle at St. Anna. Picking a fight with industry icon Clint Eastwood is not smart. Complaining that he is a victim of “West coast bias” in Oscar voting is a mistake. Hollywood is talking about his new James McBride-penned WWII saga for all the wrong reasons. It remains to be seen just how strong the critical reaction to Miracle at St. Anna will be, but early reviews are on the negative side (33% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday morning). Tracking is so-so and moviegoers have shown very little interest in war-themed films in the last couple of years, but the picture should be able to deliver $5,000-$5,500 per location for approximately $5.8M.
There are 3 more limited releases of note this week led by actor-turned-director Clark Gregg’s Choke (Fox Searchlight), based on Chuck Palahniuk’s bestselling novel. On about 400 screens, the edgy pic, starring Sam Rockwell and Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston, could grab $4,500-$5,000 per location for an opening weekend approaching $2M.
Meanwhile, The Lucky Ones (Lionsgate), a new movie from director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) opening on 400 or so screens, will play a bit softer than Choke. Iraq War veterans, played by Oscar winner Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) and Michael Pena (Crash), on a cross-country road trip dealing with a nation divided by a controversial war is a premise badly in need of excellent reviews to succeed, and the movie is running at only 36% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday morning. Still, a PTA of $2,000-$2,500 is possible for a weekend gross of something shy of $1M.
Finally, Crane Movie Company is attempting to roll out a new vehicle featuring Sean Faris, the star of Never Back Down. There isn't much traction for the almost-as-generically-titled rugby movie Forever Strong, and it seems that an estimated $350,000 is in the cards.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 26
1. NEW – Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $28M
2. NEW – Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros) - $12.9M
3. Lakeview Terrace (Sony) - $6.75M
4. NEW – Miracle at St. Anna (Disney) - $5.8M
5. Burn After Reading (Focus) - $5.7M
6. Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) - $3.8M
7. Righteous Kill (Overture) - $3.7M
8. My Best Friend's Girl (Lionsgate) - $3.5M
9. Igor (MGM) - $3.1M
10. The Women (Picturehouse) - $3M
*NEW - Choke (Fox Searchlight) - $2M
*NEW - The Lucky Ones (Lionsgate) - $900,000
*NEW – Forever Strong (Crane Movie Company) - $350,000
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.
Three major movie studio films opened nationwide Friday, including Jackass: The Movie, Ghost Ship and The Truth About Charlie--and it was the dumbest one that cleaned up at the box office.
Jackass: The Movie, the big-screen adaptation of the MTV series featuring a bunch of guys doing really stupid stunts, took in a rather tasteful $22.7 million, while The Ring chimed in second with a close $18.8 million. Ghost Ship finished third with a frighteningly real $11.7 million.
Sweet Home Alabama came in fourth with $6.4 million, while My Big Fat Greek Wedding placed close behind, taking in $6.3 million in its 28th week. Red Dragon lost steam in its fourth week, coming in sixth with $4.7 million.
Universal's The Truth About Charlie took in a tepid $2.3 million and averaged a low-slung $3,105 per theater at 752 runs.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount Picture's Jackass: The Movie opened with a strong ESTIMATED $22.7 million at 2,509 theaters ($9,047 per theater).
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, it stars Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, Steve-O, Dave England, Ryan Dunn, and Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna.
Jackass' average per theater was also the highest for any film playing in wide release this week. The film is rated R for dangerous and sometimes extremely crude stunts, language and nudity, perfect for its target audience of youngish males up to about 30 in age.
In Jackass, Knoxville and his crew take the concept of the MTV reality series Jackass to the extreme.
"I've basically given money to a bunch of idiots saddled with enough dimwitted ignorance to try one bad idea after another," MTV Films President Van Toffer told Reuters Friday. It looks like the gamble paid off.
The film is the third best October opener of all time (if estimates hold) behind Universal's Red Dragon, which took in $36.5 million when it debuted three weeks ago, and Meet the Parents, which grossed $28.6 million when it opened on Oct. 6, 2000.
Jackass' take also bucks Paramount's series of under-performing openings, including Abandon, The Four Feathers and K-19: The Widowmaker.
DreamWorks' PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring came in second, although its ESTIMATED $18.8 million (+25%) take at 2634 theaters (+653 theaters; $7,137 per theater) is better than its opening weekend gross of $15.0 million. Its cume is approximately $39.7 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
Warner Bros.' R-rated horror thriller Ghost Ship sailed third with an ESTIMATED $11.7 million at 2787 theaters ($4,203 per theater).
In Ghost Ship, a salvage crew comes across the remains of a vessel thought to be lost for more than 40 years floating adrift in a remote region of the Bering Sea.
Directed by Steve Beck, it stars Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard and Desmond Harrington.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama dropped to fourth place in its fourth week, with an ESTIMATED $6.4 million (-33%) at 3,182 theaters (-100 theaters; $2,011 per theater). Its cume is approximately $107.2 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters and is the 16th film released in '02 to cross the $100 million mark.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon.
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG-rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding went down a notch to fifth place in its 2th week, with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-12%) at 1967 theaters (-47 theaters; $3,211 per theater). Its cume is approximately $177.8 million, heading for $185 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Universal's R rated thriller Red Dragon, presented in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, fell three rungs to sixth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (-46%) at 2886 theaters (-421 theaters; $21,635 per theater). Its cume is approximately $84.9 million, heading for $100 million.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's R rated romantic comedy drama Punch-Drunk Love expanded in its third week to a solid ESTIMATED $3.6 million at 481 theaters (+403 theaters; $7,277 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.0 million.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, it stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson.
The G rated animated feature Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie from Artisan's FHE Pictures and Big Idea Productions, came in eighth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.9million (-26%) at 1,625 theaters (+44 theaters; $1,785 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.7 million.
Directed by Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, it was produced by Ameake Owens.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated action drama The Transporter slipped to ninth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $2.8 million (-44%) at 1880 theaters (-730 theaters; $1,513 per theater). Its cume is approximately $21.5 million.
Directed by Cory Yuen, it stars Jason Statham and Shu Qi.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Brown Sugar, which dropped five slots with an ESTIMATED $2.7 million (-47%) at 1,149 theaters (-229 theaters; $2,415 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.3 million.
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, it stars Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan.
This weekend also saw the arrival of six new releases, including The Truth About Charlie, Paid in Full and Frida.
Universal's PG-13 crime caper The Truth About Charlie opened with an all too modest ESTIMATED $2.3 million at 752 theaters ($3,105 per theater).
The film is a remake of 1963's Charade, which starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Directed by Jonathan Demme, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton and Tim Robbins.
Miramax Fims' R-rated urban crime drama Paid in Full opened with an ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 268 theaters ($5,224 per theater).
The film, set in Harlem, New York, in 1986, is about a young man who is lured into the seductive world of drug dealing.
Dirceted by Charles Stone, it stars Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris, Kevin Carroll, Esai Morales and Chi McBride.
Miramax Films' R-rated biopic Frida opened to a solid $0.2 million at 5 theaters (a whopping $40,000 per theater average).
The film is based on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo--from her complex and enduring relationship with her mentor and husband, Diego Rivera, to her life as a political, artistic, and sexual revolutionary.
Directed by Julie Taymor, the film stars Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd and Antonio Banderas.
The top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $87.9 million, up about 19.53 percent from last weekend when they totaled $73. million, making this the seventh "up" weekend in a row.
The top 12 were also up 11.21 percent from last year when they totaled $72.47 million.
Last year, Universal's opening week of K-Pax was first with $17.2 million at 2,541 theaters ($6,775 per theater); and Warner Bros.' opening week of Thirteen Ghosts was second with $15.1 million at 2,781 theaters ($5,453 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $32.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $41.5 million.