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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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Columbus may have discovered America, but Hollywood made its own big discovery at the Columbus Day weekend box office, which is that it doesn't pay to open too many films at once.
Only two of the weekend's half-dozen wide openings managed to crack the Top Five. Despite all the new competition, it was Red Dragon that again took the biggest bite out of moviegoers' wallets with $17.6 million.
Sweet Home Alabama remained a sexy second with $14.1 million.
Brown Sugar, the sweetest of the new wide arrivals, finished third with $11.1 million.
The Transporter rolled into fourth place with $9.2 million.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a jolly fifth with $7.9 million, off only 4 percent. With over $158 million on hand, it's heading for $175 million.
The weekend's biggest box office punch came from Revolution Studios and Columbia's limited launch of Punch-Drunk Love with $380,000 at five theaters -- a mind boggling $76,000 per theater for the critically acclaimed Paul Thomas Anderson romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler. (For details, see OTHER OPENINGS below.)
Despite the lack of any Top Five blockbuster openings, key films jumped 25.5 percent over last year -- $100.3 million versus $79.87 million.
THE TOP TEN
Universal and Dino De Laurentiis's R rated thriller Red Dragon, presented in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, topped the chart again in its second weekend with an ESTIMATED $17.61 million (-52%) at 3,363 theaters (+6 theaters; $5,235 per theater). Its cume is approximately $63.2 million.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"We're very thankful that we're number one in a weekend where there's been seven new openings (at 200 or more theaters)," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.
"The business (this weekend) is tremendous and might be $100 million when all is said and done. And having the number one film two weeks in a row with so many openings is something to be really grateful for."
Dragon's 52 percent slide, she noted, is "not unusual for sequel or prequel films. It's not unusual for a film to take a drop like that. But with not much opening wide but one film next week, I think we're going to play out. We're at $62.2 million at the end of this weekend and this certainly will break $100 million. That puts it in the blockbuster category and it's something to celebrate."
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama fell one peg to second place in its second week, showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $14.1 million (-34%) at 3,313 theaters (+10 theaters; $4,256 per theater). Its cume is approximately $85.0 million, heading for $125 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Reese Witherspoon.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13 rated urban appeal romantic comedy Brown Sugar opened in third place to a very promising ESTIMATED $11.05 million at 1,372 theaters ($8,054 per theater).
Brown Sugar's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, it stars Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan.
"We're thrilled and ecstatic," Fox Searchlight Pictures distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "It's just an excellent result. It's a delightful PG-13 romantic comedy with a great ensemble cast and it has great music. We've gotten an excellent response.
"We did a few exit surveys and we have an 85 percent definite recommend, which is superb. We also see signs of the film crossing over and spreading out from the core African-American audience so everything is very, very positive about this. It's a really strong movie that plays very well."
Will Searchlight go wider with Brown Sugar? "We might," Gilula replied. "We will see this week, depending upon what the demand is as we examine more closely how well it did around the country. It is a very, very crowded marketplace, but we are seeing some evidence of cross over following in the footsteps of what Barbershop was able to do."
Searchlight chose to take the film out this weekend, Gilula explained, because, "We knew there was a very strong core audience of African-American moviegoers who are very loyal when you have a good movie. And with our cast and (the fact that the film) tested very well and there was no other film (like it) coming in the market and it was already the fifth week of Barbershop, we were not too worried about the core constituency for this film.
"We knew what we have and felt the other films would be competing with each other, not with us. We knew that we would not be competing for number one, given the strength of Red Dragon and Sweet Home Alabama. But based on our screen average and our number of screens, it's a terrific result."
As for adding theaters, he said, "We will be talking about that tomorrow morning. I think there is a possibility of that. We just want to digest what's happened and see how far to go."
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated action drama The Transporter kicked off in fourth place to an energetic ESTIMATED $9.15 million at 2,572 theaters ($3,558 per theater).
Directed by Cory Yuen, it stars Jason Statham and Shu Qi.
"A good start for a crowded weekend," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning.
Who was on hand? "It was largely male, of course," Snyder replied. "63 percent male. And evenly divided by age, under-25 and over-25, which I found somewhat surprising. So it played even a little older than one might expect."
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding slid one slot to fifth place in its 26th week, still holding unbelievably well with an ESTIMATED $7.87 million (-4%) at 2,016 theaters (+45 theaters; $3,902 per theater). Its cume is approximately $158.4 million, heading for $175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
DreamWorks' PG-13 action comedy The Tuxedo dropped three pegs to sixth in its third week, holding decently with an ESTIMATED $7.0 million (-30%) at 2,985 theaters
(-37 theaters; $2,358 per theater). Its cume is approximately $37.0 million.
Directed by Kevin Donovan, it stars Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated drama White Oleander arrived in seventh place to a calm ESTIMATED $5.66 million at 1,510 theaters ($3,745 per theater).
Directed by Peter Kosminsky, it stars Alison Lohman, Robin Wright-Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer and Renee Zellweger.
"The exits were very strong," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "The audience was about 65 percent female, but 50 percent were under the age of 25. A little bit younger than we had hoped for. The exits were all very positive. So we'll see what happens during the week. Ya-Ya (last summer's Warner Bros. hit "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) in some respects had a similar pattern in terms of audience mixture. (It had) a good reaction in that women came out strong during the week."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated fantasy family film Tuck
Everlasting opened in eighth place to a quiet ESTIMATED $5.5 million at 1,185 theaters ($4,658 per theater).
Directed by Jay Russell, it stars Alexis Bledel, Ben Kingsley, Sissy Spacek, Jonathan Jackson and William Hurt.
New Line Cinema's R rated drama Knockaround Guys opened ninth, knocked for a loop with an ESTIMATED $5.04 million at 1,806 theaters ($2,791 per theater).
Written and directed by Brian Koppelman & David Levien, it stars Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Seth Green, Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich.
Rounding out the Top Ten was MGM's PG-13 rated urban appeal comedy Barbershop, down five rungs in its fifth week with a shorter ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-39%) at 1,911 theaters (-265 theaters; $2,093 per theater). Its cume is approximately $65.4 million, heading for $75-80 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Tim Story, it stars Ice Cube, Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve and Cedric The Entertainer.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Lions Gate Films' R rated drama The Rules of Attraction to a soft ESTIMATED $2.4 million at 1,430 theaters ($1,678 per theater).
Written and directed by Roger Avary, it stars James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Ian Somerhalder, Kip Pardue and Kate Bosworth.
Miramax's G rated animated sequel Pokemon 4Ever opened to a weak ESTIMATED $0.68 million at 249 theaters ($2,710 per theater).
Revolution Studios and Columbia's R rated romantic comedy drama Punch-Drunk Love kicked off to an outstanding ESTIMATED $0.38 million at 5 theaters ($76,000 per theater).
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, it stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson.
"We've got a spectacular start for Punch-Drunk Love," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"It's really eye-popping. Just as a point of comparison (consider) two recent limited (releases). Royal Tenenbaums also was in five runs and did $277,000 for a $55,396 average. American Beauty, which took 16 runs, did $861,000 for a $53,846 average. Those are kind of the state-of-the-art limiteds with really what has to be considered terrific per screen averages in the mid-$50,000s. So to be in the mid-$70,000s is pretty exciting."
Is this the biggest average ever for a limited release? "I've got two asterisks for you," Blake explained. "The first asterisk is that for over two runs, it certainly is the biggest -- with one exception. And that's (Disney's) Pocahontas, which had a stage show in both New York and L.A. (and averaged $448,286 per theater with six runs the weekend of June 16-18, 1995). But other than that, you can find a couple of (films with) two runs (that averaged more). For instance, (Fox's) Moulin Rouge had two runs at $83,000 average. But for over two runs and noting the one exception on Pocahontas, this is the biggest."
Punch-Drunk Love is playing this weekend, he said, "in New York with two runs, L.A. with two runs and Toronto (at one theater). We'll be expanding (this Friday) to introduce it to several more cities and then going wider on Oct. 25 and wider still on Nov. 1. But this week, probably in the neighborhood of 85 runs in 11 cities."
"We're playing just about the same number of seats in all five of these complexes," Revolution partner Tom Sherak said Sunday morning. "They're all somewhere between 750 and 800 seats. They're all about the same (in terms of grosses). In the Union Square (in New York), Friday was $26,100. Saturday was $30,800. The Paramount (in Toronto) was $26,600 (Friday) and Saturday was $27,700. Lincoln Square (in New York) was $20,800 (Friday) and then $27,600.
"The Grove (in L.A.) was $25,300 (Friday) and then $26,500. And the Criterion (in Santa Monica) was $19,500 (Friday) and then $25,000. They're the same numbers in the same seats. That's what to me is amazing. It means that the capacity is all there at night and they're playing to the same amount of people wherever it is. Toronto sometimes can fall behind New York, but not (in this case)."
Wherever Punch-Drunk Love has played to date, Sherak added, the critics have loved it: "It was in the Toronto Film Festival. It was the centerpiece in the New York Film Festival. I don't know a picture this year that's gotten the kind of overall reviews this picture's gotten. Time and Newsweek, Rolling Stone, L.A. Times, New York Times -- they're all great reviews. You're going to see that more and more. It's critically acclaimed. It's just incredible."
Screen Gems' opening of its R rated romantic drama Swept Away made no box office waves, drowning with an ESTIMATED $0.375 million at 196 theaters ($1,913 per theater).
Directed by Guy Ritchie, it stars Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Bruce Greenwood.
"Nobody gets hurt in this one," Sony's Jeff Blake said. "This was an $11 million negative, which we took a very cautious releasing strategy on. Really, there's no major exposure to anybody in this."
United Artists' R rated satiric documentary Bowling For Columbine opened via MGM to a high scoring ESTIMATED $0.21 million at 8 theaters in New York and L.A. ($25,750 per theater).
Written, produced and directed by Michael Moore, it won the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Miramax's Dimension Films opened its R rate horror film Below to a below par ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 168 theaters ($1,190 per theater).
Directed by David Twohy, it stars Matt Davis and Bruce Greenwood.
Miramax's R rated comedy Comedian opened to a very funny ESTIMATED $61,000 at 4 theaters ($15,250 per theater).
Directed by Christian Charles, it stars Jerry Seinfeld.
This weekend saw DreamWorks hold 400 sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13 rated horror thriller The Ring.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, it stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.
"From a capacity standpoint, the average was about 70 percent overall with about 10 percent of them selling out," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning.
"It was 58 percent male and 42 percent female, fairly evenly split under and over 25. In the definite recommend area, it was above average for everyone and substantially above average for the under-25 group."
Ring opens wide this Friday (Oct. 18) at 1,800 to 2,000 theaters.
On the expansion front this weekend Buena Vista/ Disney's PG rated animated feature Spirited Away went wider in its fourth week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.6 million (+2%) at 138 theaters (+41 theaters; $4,517 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.7 million.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it was the Golden Bear best picture winner at the Berlin International Film Festival. Spirited is the all-time top grossing film at the Japanese box office.
Lions Gate Films' R rated kinky romance Secretary expanded in its fourth week with an appealing ESTIMATED $0.45 million (+13%) at 149 theaters (+43 theaters; $3,020 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.8 million.
Directed by Steven Shainberg, it stars James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
United Artists' R rated dark comedy Igby Goes Down widened in its fourth week, holding well with an ESTIMATED $0.45 million (-8%) at 155 theaters (+8 theaters; $2,889 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.3 million.
Written and directed by Burr Steers, it stars Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Amanda Peet, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon.
Focus Features' R rated French comedic whodunit 8 Women expanded in its fourth week, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $0.3 million (-15%) at 85 theaters (+3 theaters; $3,505 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.7 million.
Directed by Francois Ozon, it stars Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $100.25 million for the weekend, up about 25.52 percent from last year when they totaled $79.87 million.
Key films were down about 4.1 percent from the previous weekend this year when they totaled $104.54 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' second week of Training Day was first with $13.39 million at 2,712 theaters ($4,936 per theater); and MGM's opening week of Bandits was second with $13.05 million at 3,207 theaters ($4,069 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $26.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $31.7 million.