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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Well it's been a wallop of a day, hazed in the post-election stupor. The country may be nearly divided, but we've got another presidential turn decided, and so it's time to get back into the thick of the television industry's highlights of the day. With news of lawsuits and season pick-ups, we can all agree on one thing: Hollywood is moving forward. It's tidbits time!
Burn Notice is in Seventh Heaven: The popular USA Network series Burn Notice has gotten the go-ahead for a 13-episode, seventh season order. The one thing of note about the upcoming season, is it's size. USA's 13-episode pick-up is three episodes smaller than the 18-episode orders for the last three seasons. [Deadline]
Benjamin Walker to Get Missionary at HBO: Benjamin Walker, he who would be presidents forever (playing Abraham Lincoln in the movies and Andrew Jackson on Broadway), has decided to take on a role in the HBO series The Missionary. The show—from unlikeliest of duos Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Wahlberg and writer Charles Randolph— is set in 60s-era Berlin, following an American missionary who becomes a CIA operative. Spy versus spy perhaps? Can Walker then age 50 years and appear as a consultant CIA operative on Homeland? (You're welcome for the free great idea, Hollywood!) [Vulture]
FOX Loses Lawsuit Against Dish: U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee refused to grant Fox Broadcasting's initial attempt to block Dish Network's ad-skipping DVR services "AutoHop" and "PrimeTime Anytime" in a Los Angeles court today. But advertising-haters shouldn't rejoice just yet, as the ruling may not be a total victory, as the judge may accept certain copyright infringement theories to settle the suit. The court order is currently under seal, which means confidential, basically. [THR]
Modern Family Abuse Allegations: It is unfortunately being reported that Modern Family's Ariel Winters (aka Alex Dunphy) has been removed from her home after an allegation of abuse against her mother was filed. Mother Chrisoula Workman is being accused of physically and emotionally abusing her 14 year-old daughter. The star's sister, Shanelle Gray has been given temporary custody while the mother is ordered to stay away from the young girl until the November 20th guardianship hearing. [E!]
[Photo Credit: USA Network]
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TV Tidbits: 'Battlestar Galactica' Returns and A 'Gilmore Girls' Reunion
TV Tidbits: 'Fringe' Gets a Finale Date, Gloria on 'Modern Family' Gets a Mother
TV Tidbits: 'Fairly Legal' is Legally Cancelled, Brendan Fraser Exits TNT Pilot
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The magical R-rating is both a gift and a curse to Adam Sandler's signature brand of lowbrow humor. In That's My Boy the comedian returns to the dim-witted roots that made him a star in early outings like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore (complete with high-pitched mushmouth accent) but with a ramped up "ew" factor. Unrestrained Sandler piles on as many expletives and gross-out scenarios as a two-hour movie can hold — and it works out quite well. With costar Samberg nailing the disgusted straight man role Sandler's penchant for acting like a fool is enhanced by the sick stylings of director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and only occasionally teetering into truly offensive territory. Laughs aren't guaranteed but the movie provokes (which is a big step up from Jack and Jill).
Back in the '80s Donny had a secret relationship with his teacher Ms. McGarricle that resulted in a son Han Solo (he's a middle schooler what do you expect?). The torrid affair put McGarricle in jail Donny into celebrity tabloid spotlight and Han Solo in the hands of a tween father. Thirty years later everyone's screwed up: Donny (Adam Sandler) is a drunk on the brink of jail time for tax evasion McGarricle's still in jail and Han Solo (Andy Samberg) now "Todd " is a successful number-cruncher with severe social issues. On the weekend of Todd's wedding Donny reenters his life hoping to bring revive their relationship and reunite him with his mother — that is on camera so Donny can make $50 000 from a gossip TV show and stay out of the slammer. Posing as Todd's long-lost best friend Donny stirs up trouble becoming buddies with Todd's friends and family and acting like a imbecile.
The wedding setup is overdone but always prime for comedy: plenty for a numbskull to screw up logical progression (there's a wedding at the end!) and a bachelor party scene to squeeze in the most disgusting bits and have them make sense. That's My Boy makes the most of its conventions — including what we all know and expect from a Sandler comedy — by continually one-upping itself. After a night of heavy drinking at the local strip club/omelette bar that results in do-it-yourself ear piercing and robbing a convenience store with Vanilla Ice Todd returns home to expel the night's worth of drinking all over his fiancee's wedding dress. Then he makes love to the dress. Then his fiancee (Leighton Meester) wakes up to find the dress. Then it goes even further than one would care to imagine. Grossed out yet? Amazingly lower-than-low brow material is handled with clever timing and great delivery. It's just that the foundation is bodily fluids.
That's My Boy falters when it throws in gags that serve zero purpose to the story. Strange racist humor a mentally retarded bar patron played by Nick Swardson (a Sandler mainstay) random allusions to Todd Bridges' drug habits — barrel-scraping one-offs that have nothing to do with the movie. At two hours the movie needs slimming and the fat is apparent. Thankfully the main ensemble goes to great lengths to make the hard R comedy click with Sandler and Samberg playing well off each other (although Samberg doesn't have the making of a leading man after this movie) and SNL alums like Will Forte Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer driving by to bring the funny. Even Vanilla Ice's extended cameo fits the anything-goes tone playing a version of himself that befriended Donny in his celebrity days. Now he works at an ice skating rink.
After a few lame ducks That's My Boy is a return to form for Sandler. It wavers in quality but it has energy and color. A cash-in this is not and for any Sandler fan with a stomach for hardcore bathroom humor it's a must-see.
Forget about fireworks, this Fourth of July weekend saw conniving machines dominate the box office.
Expectedly, the action-packed Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines debuted in the top spot, terminating the competition with a $44 million* haul over the weekend. Since its release July 2, T3's five-day cume is $72.5 million.
The third Terminator installment did much better than its predecessor Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which opened in July 1991 at $31.7 million and set a new record for its star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not had a hit film in years. His previous best opening was Batman & Robin with $42.8 million in 1997, the Associated Press reports.
"The nervousness is gone. Finally the baby's born, and it's in the public's hands," the film's co-producer Andrew Vajna told Reuters. T3 was reportedly budgeted at between $150 million and $175 million.
T3 didn't manage to beat Men in Black II's July 4 record, however, which became the biggest Independence Day opener ever last year with $52.1 million. T3 stands as the fourth biggest Fourth of July opener; the 1997 Men in Black comes in second with $51 million and the 1996 Independence Day takes third with $50.2 million. The 2000 The Perfect Storm rounds out the top five with $41.3 million.
But never underestimate blonde power. The other notable newcomer this weekend was Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, which giggled its way into second place with a total of $22.9 million, and since opening July 2, has seen $39.1 million over a five-day period. The sequel clearly out-pinked the original Legally Blonde, which opened July 2001 at $20.3 million.
The heavenly Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle zoomed in at No. 3 with $14.2 million, while the delightful Finding Nemo kept its head above water in fourth place with $11 million. The mean green The Hulk rounded out the top five with $8.2 million. The other wide release this week, the animated swashbuckler Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas made it to the list at No. 6 with a disappointing $6.8 million.
This Fourth of July weekend's overall take of $126.9 million from its top 12 films couldn't quite surpass last year's record-breaking haul of $139.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
Warner Bros.' R-rated Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines debuted in first place with an ESTIMATED $44 million at 3,504 theaters. Its per theater average of $12,570 was the highest of any film opening wide this week. Since opening last Wednesday, its five-day cume is $72.5 million.
The third installment picks up ten years after John Connor stopped Judgment Day and saved mankind from mass destruction. Now, Skynet is at it again, sending the T-X, the most sophisticated cyborg killing machine, back through time to finish the job. Connor's only hope for survival is to join forces with his former assassin: The Terminator.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.
Give the girl two snaps! MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde opened in the second spot with an ESTIMATED $22.9 million at 3,350 theaters ($6,836 per theater). Since opening July 2, its cume is $39.1 million.
In this sequel, Harvard's fave hot-pink grad goes to Washington to defend animal rights and keep four-legged critters out of the hands of evil cosmetics testers.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge.
Sony Picture's PG-13-rated Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle dropped two places to third in its second week with an ESTIMATED $14.2 million (-62%) at 3,485 theaters (+26 theaters; $4,075 per theater). The sequel, which has the angels using their special talents to keep valuable information from getting into the wrong hands, has made $67.2 million so far.
Directed by McG, it stars Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Bernie Mac.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G-rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell a spot to fourth place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $11 million (-21%) at 2,901 theaters (-431 theaters; $3,790 per theater). Its cume is approximately $274.9 million.
Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 The Hulk fell three notches into fifth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $8.2 million (-56%) at 3,291 theaters (-383 theaters, $2,492 per theater). Its cume is approximately $117 million.
Directed by Ang Lee, it stars Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte.
DreamWorks' animated PG-rated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas debuted in a weak sixth place with an ESTIMATED $6.8 million at 3,086 theaters ($2,492 per theater). Since opening July 2, it's taken in $10 million.
Inspired by the ancient tales of the Arabian Nights, Sinbad, the most daring and notorious rogue ever to sail the Seven Seas, is faced with his greatest challenge of all--forgoing his self-serving ways to save the life of his best friend.
Directed by Patrick Gilmore and Tim Johnson, it features the voices of Brad Pitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Joseph Fiennes.
Fox Searchlight's R-rated sci-fi thriller 28 Days Later dropped a few points in its second week to come in at No. 7 with an ESTIMATED $6 million (-40%) at 1,407 theaters (+147 theaters; $4,314 per theater). With only a $8 million production cost, the contemporary thriller about a fast-spreading virus that causes human rage on the people it infects has more than doubled its investment with a cume of $20.6 million.
Directed by Danny Boyle, it stars Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13-rated actioner The Italian Job moved down a notch to eighth place in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $4.2 million (-22%) at 1,584 theaters (-437 theaters; $2,699 per theater). Its cume is approximately $84 million.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it stars Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Seth Green, Mos Def and Edward Norton.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 Bruce Almighty dropped three rungs to No. 9 in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-35%) at 1,929 theaters (-722 theaters; $2,074 per theater). Its cume is approximately $228.7 million.
Directed by Tom Shadyac, it stars Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston and Morgan Freeman.
Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated car culture sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious showed the least improvement this week, diving five spots down to 10th place in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $2.4 million (-61%) at 1,779 theaters (-1038 theaters; $1,349 per theater). Its cume is approximately $119.3 million.
Directed by John Singleton, it stars Paul Walker, Tyrese, Eva Mendes, Cole Hauser and Devon Aoki.
Focus Features' PG-13 rated mystery Swimming Pool managed to open with a respectable showing of an ESTIMATED $289,964 in 13 theaters, averaging $22,305 per theater. Also opening July 2, its total five-day cume is $375,809.
The story revolves around an uptight British mystery author who takes some time off to stay in the South of France. Her relaxed vacation is interrupted, however, by the arrival a sexually charged young woman, and their growing relationship sets off an increasingly unsettling series of events, including a possible real-life murder.
Directed by Francois Ozon, it stars Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier and Charles Dance.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $126.9 million, up 12 percent from last week's take of $112.5 million but down 8 percent from this weekend last year, when key films grossed $139.1 million.
Last year, Sony's PG-13 rated Men in Black II premiered at the top of the heap with $52.1 million over the three-day weekend, with a five-day total of $87.2 million at 3,557 theaters ($14,661 per theater); Sony's PG-13-rated Mr. Deeds dropped to No. 2 in its second week with $18.4 million at 3,231 theaters ($5,698 per theater), while Buena Vista's PG-rated animated adventure Lilo & Stitch stayed in third in its third week with $12.6 million at 3,222 theaters ($3,922 per theater).