Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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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 dirty cop and a pair of nice-guy bank robbers set out to prove this weekend that crime does indeed pay.
The $22.5 million collared last weekend by Training Day represents Denzel Washington's biggest opening weekend to date. The highly charged tale of police corruption--featuring Washington in a rare villainous turn--continued to play well during the week, earning $28.6 million through Wednesday. Accordingly, Washington should have the muscle to stop his Siege co-star Bruce Willis from stealing off with the box office crown.
Directed by Barry Levinson, Bandits casts Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as affable crooks who gain celebrity for their unusually method of robbing banks. They hold hostage the bank manager the night before a heist, eat dinner with manager and his family, spend the night at his home, and then force him to let them into the bank in the morning.
Previously, Willis and Thornton's efforts to save the world resulted in 1998's Armageddon, which earned $201 million in the process.
Breaking into banks also should be a profitable venture for Willis and Thornton, though not much as Armageddon or Willis' The Sixth Sense, which made $293.5 million. Bandits' success will likely mirror that of Willis' recent hit comedies rather than his celebrated forays into science fiction and the supernatural. The Whole Nine Yards, with Willis as a hitman, claimed $13.7 million in 1999 and eventually made $57.2 million. Disney's The Kid opened in July 2000 with $12.6 million, with summer audiences pushing it to a $69.6 million gross.
At least one person needs Bandits to enjoy a long and sustained run, and that's Levinson. The Rain Man Oscar winner last tasted success with Wag the Dog, the Hollywood satire about a war concocted to conceal a presidential scandal. Wag the Dog, of course, had the good fortune to open wide in January 1998 just as Monicagate captured a nation's attention and President Clinton had launched military action against terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. The result: a $43 million hit. Since then, Levinson's directed possibly the worst adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel ever, the waterlogged Sphere, which earned a paltry $37.2 million. Liberty Heights, the fourth of Levinson's semi-autobiographical Baltimore-set comedy-dramas, made $3.7 million in early 2000. Levinson's barely released An Everlasting Piece resulted in a lawsuit by its producer, Jerome O'Connor, who claimed that DreamWorks buried the Irish comedy at the request of the British government because of its thorny politics.
Who is Corky Romano? So read the teaser posters for Chris Kattan's new comedy, posters that also prompt the question: Who cares about Corky Romano? Kattan is the latest Saturday Night Live jokester to try his luck as a movie star. It's taken a while for former SNLers Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade to establish their silver-screen credentials, so Kattan isn't likely to enjoy instant success. Will Ferrell, the only current SNLer to enjoy a somewhat thriving Hollywood career, seems to have done so by virtue of appearing in anything and everything.
Ferrell and Kattan did dance with disaster with the awful SNL skit-inspired A Night at the Roxbury, which made $30.3 million in the fall of 1998. Kattan's track record also includes the ensemble horror yarn House on Haunted Hill, which made $40.8 million in the fall of 1999, and Monkeybone, whose $5.4 million gross qualifies it as this year's biggest flop.
With Corky Romano already earning dire reviews, and stiff competition in the form of Ben Stiller's still-thriving fashion industry satire Zoolander ($30.2 million through Wednesday), Kattan shouldn't hand that letter of resignation just yet to SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels.
The surprise martial arts smash Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon no doubt prompted Miramax to reissue 1993's Iron Monkey, directed by Crouching Tiger action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping. Such releases tend to fare poorly, as witnessed by Miramax's previous attempts to bring to America those annoyingly dubbed versions of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong classics. Last fall's The Legend of Drunken Master, for example, staggered to a pitiful $11.5 million. Iron Monkey does have the advantage of being subtitled--which certainly enhanced Crouching Tiger's statue with the arthouse crowd--but it does lack the presence of a Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Chow Yun-Fat.
Miramax must make do with the popularity of Serendipity, which should enjoy a long and lasting affair with audiences looking for a romantic getaway from the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Through Wednesday, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale have wooed $16.5 million in sales. Beckinsale's Pearl Harbor may have made more on its opening day, but no one went to see the expensive World War II epic for its romantic interludes. Serendipity is outpacing Cusack's bittersweet High Fidelity, which opened in March 2000 with $6.4 million at almost 1,200 theaters and sung its way to $27.2 million. Serendipity does have the advantage of now being in 2,600 theaters.
Don't Say a Word should continue to lose its audience to Training Day and soon to Bandits. Michael Douglas enjoyed his biggest opening weekend gross with Don't Say a Word, but the white-collar thriller won't stand out as one of his most memorable in terms of box office. Having collected $34.3 million through Wednesday, Don't Say a Word looks set to surpass The Game ($48.2 million) but will fail to out do A Perfect Murder ($67.6 million). That's a far cry from Basic Instinct's $117.7 million or Disclosure's $83 million.
Leelee Sobieski certainly learned her lesson about starring in two very disposable and oft-delayed teen-targeted thrillers in a row. The Duel-like Joy Ride, costarring Paul Walker and Steve Zahn, spluttered its way to a $7.3 million opening and has just $9.3 million through Wednesday. That's somewhat better than Sobieski's The Glass House, which opened after last month's terrorist attacks to a very weak $5.7 million and has since collected $16.6 million. Sobieski returns this weekend--and clearly not soon enough--to the arthouse circuit with My First Mister costarring Albert Brooks, a generation-bending variation of The Odd Couple.
Seems the kids failed to take much notice of Max Keeble's Big Move. Keeble has pocketed $6.6 million to date, and will likely end up as filler on the Disney Channel much sooner than later.
Hearts in Atlantis will join The Shawshank Redemption as another underachiever based on one of Stephen King's more mature tales. Shawshank managed to make its unremarkable $28.2 million solely on the strength of its modest Oscar campaign. With its less-than-enthusiastic reviews and $17.6 million gross, the supernatural Anthony Hopkins vehicle will have a tough time climbing to the same lowly height.
Barring a last-minute rally, summer holdovers Rush Hour 2 and The Others could finally drop out of the Top 10 this weekend. Rush Hour 2 ranks as the year's second-highest grossing film, with $221.9 through Wednesday.
The Others remains one of the year's biggest surprises, having enjoyed a lengthy run thanks to its twists and turns. With $91.1 million through Wednesday, the modestly marketed ghost story swept past Nicole Kidman's other summer entry, the lavishly hyped, over-praised and commercially successful Moulin Rouge, with relatively ease. Divorce has obviously been good to Kidman, at least professionally.
MTV is saying that it doesn’t have time for President-elect George W. Bush.
According to the Drudge Report, the cable music channel won’t throw a party to celebrate Bush’s inauguration next week in Washington, D.C., because there simply isn’t enough time to plan before then.
After hosting two consecutive blowouts for the Clinton presidency, can you say snub?
"Because of the extended election outcome, we don't have time to execute and plan the kind of inaugural event we've done in past and what people expect from us," MTV spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas said Tuesday.
'Walker, Texas Ranger' 'WALKER' WALKING AWAY: After eight seasons on the show, Chuck Norris says that he’s walking away from his CBS hit “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
The show, starring Norris as a tough Texas lawman, will officially go off the air in May with a two-hour finale. Norris, 60, says he’s quitting the show to devote more time to film projects and to enjoy more personal time.
"Being the executive producer and the lead doesn't give you much time for a life," Norris said in an interview in Monday's Los Angeles Times.