Mad Men star Jon Hamm still dons his catcher's gear and plays baseball on Sunday mornings in a celebrity team headed by Casey Affleck. The actor was a top prospect before he turned his back on his favourite sport, but he still plays regularly on a league in the San Fernando Valley, California.
He says, "And I'm good... I'm not (St. Louis Cardinals catcher) Yadier Molina behind the plate, but I can throw a ball to second on a rope (straight)."
Hamm, who plays a baseball scout looking for talent in India in new film Million Dollar Arm, only wishes the games weren't so early on a Sunday: "They're always somewhere way the f**k out in the Valley, and you look around and it's like, all 11 of us (teammates) decided to show up here in the morning, hungover, still drunk, missing kids, pre-church, whatever. But we're all here, and it's pretty cool that we are."
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
This weekend's box office suffered from a slight Identity crisis.
The new thriller opened with a respectable $17 million*, barely beating out the previous two weeks' box office champ Anger Management, which came in at No. 2 with $16 million.
The adventurous Holes at $13 million and outlandish comedy Malibu's Most Wanted at $7.7 million took third and fourth place respectively, while the new con artists on the block in Confidence debuted at No. 5 with $4.7 million.
Other openers to make the Top 10 list included the Douglas clan's It Runs in the Family, which came in ninth place with $3 million, and New Line's reality film The Real Cancun at tenth with $2.3 million.
Box office was considerably less than last weekend, almost a 12 percent drop--but things will surely change in the weekends ahead with the opening of X2: X-Men United next weekend.
"'X2 is probably going to do great business, but it's a tough comparison when you look at the year ago numbers of Spider-Man,'" which debuted with a record $114.8 million, Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Pictures claimed the top two spots this weekend, starting with the R-rated Identity, which debuted on top with an ESTIMATED $17 million at 2,733 theaters ($6,220 per theater).
"We're having a very good weekend," Rory Bruer, president of Sony Pictures Releasing told AP. "We really figured Identity would open fairly strong, but this is far better than anticipated."
The Psycho-esque thriller centers on 10 strangers who are forced to seek refuge in a run-down desert motel one dark and stormy night--and soon realize they've found anything but safe shelter.
Directed by James Mangold, it stars John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Rebecca DeMornay and Alfred Molina.
Sony's box office champ for the last two weeks, PG-13-rated Anger Management, just barely dropped one notch to No. 2. The comedy took in an ESTIMATED $16 million (-36%) at 3,656 theaters (+86 theaters; $4,376 per theater), and its cume is approximately $104.5 million, making it the fourth film to break the $100 million mark so far this year.
Directed by Peter Segal, it stars Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei and John Turturro.
Buena Vista's PG-rated Holes also slipped a spot to third with an ESTIMATED $13 million (-20%) at 2,349 theaters (+18 theaters; $5,534 per theater). The pic, based on Louis Sachar's award-winning children's novel about the adventures of troubled teens forced to dig holes in a dry lakebed, has gathered approximately $36.8 million so far.
Directed by Andrew Davis, it stars Rick Fox, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson and Shia LeBeouf.
Keeping it real at No. 4 was Warners Bros.' PG-13 Malibu's Most Wanted, collecting an ESTIMATED $7.7 million (-39%) at 2,503 theaters ($3,078 per theater). The film, which revolves around a white wannabe rapper named B-Rad who thinks he is the dopest thing Malibu has to offer, has accumulated approximately $24.2 million in two weeks.
Directed by John P. Whitesell, it stars Jamie Kennedy, Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson.
Lions Gate's R-rated Confidence debuted in fifth place with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million at 1,871 theaters ($2,539 per theater).
The film follows a polished grifter and his crew who have to pull off the con of a lifetime in order to save their necks from a ruthless crime boss--and stay one step ahead of the cops.
Directed by James Foley, it stars Edward Burns, Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia and Rachel Weisz.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Dropping two spots from fourth to sixth was MGM's Bulletproof Monk, which took in an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-46%) at 2,955 theaters ($1,574 per theater). The film, about a Tibetan monk charged with protecting a sacred scroll, has made approximately $19.1 million.
Directed by Paul Hunter, it stars Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott.
Warner's 'tween flick PG-rated What A Girl Wants fell a notch to No. 7 with an ESTIMATED $3.3 million (-25%) at 2,450 theaters (-480 theaters; $1,369 per theater). In theaters for its fourth week, its cume is approximately $32.9 million.
Directed by Dennie Gordon, it stars Amanda Bynes, Kelly Preston and Colin Firth.
Slipping three spots to eighth place was 20th Century Fox's PG-13 Phone Booth with an ESTIMATED $3.1 million (-45%) at 2,113 theaters (-335 theaters; $1,467 per theater). Also in its fourth week on the box office chart, its cume is approximately $40.2 million.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.
The PG-13 It Runs in the Family's ninth-place debut was disappointing, considering its stellar cast of Douglases, including patriarch Kirk and his son, Michael . It took in an ESTIMATED $3 million at 1,207 theaters ($2,486 per theater).
The MGM film sees three generations of a dysfunctional family go through bad times, good times and average times.
Directed by Fred Schepisi, it also stars Cameron Douglas (Michael 's son), Rory Culkin and Bernadette Peters.
New Line Cinema's R-rated Spring Break bonanza The Real Cancun opened in tenth place with an ESTIMATED $2.3 million at 2,261 theaters ($1,017 per theater).
From the producers of MTV's The Real World and director Rick De Oliviera, The Real Cancun follows 16 strangers sent to the lush Mexican beach locale to spend eight glorious days for the time-honored tradition of Spring Break--and have all of their actions filmed for better or worse.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $78.6 million, down 11.16 percent from last week's $88.4 million total.
The Top 12, however, were up 8.6 percent from last year when they totaled $72.3 million.
Last year, Universal's PG-13 rated The Scorpion King came in at the top of the box office with $18 million at 3,449 theaters ($5,230 per theater); Paramount's R rated Changing Lanes stayed in second in its third week of release with $9 million at 2,642 theaters ($3,410 per theater); and New Line's R rated Jason X debuted in third with $6.6 million at 1,878 theaters ($3,540 per theater).