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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After braving the rigorous ground-fighting and senseless violence of a Hollywood bidding war, Paramount Studios has won the rights to a new World War II film called Sabotage, and they plan to have Michael Bay helm the project. Naturally.
The film would be based on a proposed non-fiction book called Sabotage: A Genius Scientist, His Band of Young Commandos, and the Mission to Kill Hitler's Super Bomb by author Neal Bascomb. The story will follow a group of Norwegian commandos that are tasked with infiltrating a Nazi-controlled fortress called Vermork where the Nazis are believed to be developing a nuclear program that stands to have catastrophic consequences for the allied forces. The team of commandos carries out an assault on the fortress armed solely with parachutes, tommy guns, skis, and (since Michael Bay is directing), a completely unreasonable amount of explosives.
Bascomb vision for the book and film, which would be developed as a historical action thriller, fits right into Michael Bay’s popcorn filmmaking sensibilities. The last time Bay graced the subject of World War II, he delivered the much maligned Pearl Harbor, which was a big miss with critics... despite grossing nearly $200 million. But hopefully Bay has learned a thing or two in the years since as he prepares to fight the good fight a second time.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
Although politically charged Middle Eastern terrorist themes have generally been box office poison of late Traitor is worth a look as it ratchets up the suspense to levels that make it this year’s successor to The Bourne Ultimatum. Don Cheadle stars as U.S. Special Opps officer Samir Horn a renegade military operative who walks the fine line between good and evil to the point where even HE isn’t sure which side he is working for. FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is hot on his tail in one of those enormously complicated undercover jobs. Horn conveniently stays two steps ahead of authorities who have reason to believe he may be working as a double agent with deep and dangerous connections to key terrorist organizations. A task force links him to various illegal operations in Yemen Nice and London and soon he becomes one of FBI’s Most Wanted--a man of contradictions and covert strategies that are perhaps not in the best interests of the United States. Muddying the waters is his secretive relationship with a veteran CIA contractor Carter (Jeff Daniels) who may have an unofficial agenda at odds with the agency. As Clayton tracks Horn around the world a high stakes game of cat and mouse leads to some surprising twists and turns. With Hotel Rwanda’s Don Cheadle in the lead and a ripped-from-the-headlines plotline you might be inclined to think Traitor is going to be one of those overly serious not-so-fun dramatic pieces. Think again. Cheadle comes off more like Matt Damon in the Bourne movies and nails this heavy action role focusing as much on the chase as on the complicated dialogue he has to deliver (including some very convincing Arabic). Key to the role is keeping the audience on edge and constantly questioning Horn’s motives as he does his high wire act on the gray line between black and white. Cheadle plays him as a man trying to do good but one who isn’t quite sure what that means anymore. Although the actor dominates the landscape Pearce as the agent in pursuit is also very effective in his dogged determination to come to the truth. Their relationship is reminiscent of the one between Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. Also impressive in his few scenes are Jeff Daniels as the morally ambiguous independent CIA contractor and Neal McDonough as Clayton’s partner. In what could have been stereotypical terrorist roles casting real Arabic actors paid off with nicely authentic performances from a group of fine international performers including Aly Khan (A Mighty Heart) and Said Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner). Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff successfully makes the transition from full-time screenwriter (The Day After Tomorrow) to a talent with a clear set of skills behind the camera. For a directing novice Nachmanoff has done his homework and has created a pulse-pounding action thriller that doesn’t miss a beat but still remains a complex drama to its core. Expertly blending some fine cinematography and superb editing the director makes this Middle-Eastern epic work as pure entertainment first and political polemic second. Interestingly it wasn’t Nachmanoff who came up with the intriguing concept but comedian Steve Martin who wrote the initial treatment thinking it would be a nifty premise for a movie. He was absolutely right.
Former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson has filed for divorce from husband Kid Rock after less than four months of marriage.
The couple married in a lavish "celebration ceremony" aboard a yacht moored off St Tropez, France on July 29, but made it official when they returned to the U.S. and wed at the Beverly Hills Courthouse.
Anderson, 39, has hired famed celebrity divorce lawyer Neal Hersh, whose clients include Kim Basinger, Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore and Denise Richards, and cites irreconcilable differences.
Anderson's representative Tracy Nguyen tells People magazine, "Pamela filed for divorce last week. It wasn't a happy Thanksgiving."
Earlier this month, Anderson miscarried what would have been her and Rock's first child together.
She has two children--Dylan, 8, and Brandon, 10--from her marriage to rocker Tommy Lee.
According to entertainment Web site TMZ.com, the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement, but because they were married for such a short time, it probably will have little impact on the divorce proceedings.
Anderson is currently in Vancouver, Canada filming Blonde and Blonder with Denise Richards.
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SwimFan made an unexpectedly big box office splash, opening in first place to $12.4 million.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding continued dancing in second place, holding beautifully with $10.6 million. With its cume now at $96 million, Wedding is heading for an enormously profitable $125 million or more.
City by the Sea washed ashore quietly in third place with $9.1 million.
Signs placed fourth with $8.0 million while its cume entered mega-milestone territory with $205.8 million.
xXx finished fifth with $5.5 million as its cume reached $131 million.
With no new blockbusters driving the fall's first post-Labor Day weekend, key films (those grossing $500,000 or more) were down marginally by about 1 percent -- $68.2 million versus last year's $68.8 million. It was the eighth consecutive weekend in which business was down from last year.
THE TOP TEN
20th Century Fox's PG-13 thriller SwimFan kicked off atop the chart to a surprisingly strong ESTIMATED $12.43 million at 2,855 theaters ($4,354 per theater).
Directed by John Polson, it stars Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen and Shiri Appleby.
Asked why SwimFan hadn't tracked like it would end up being the weekend's number one film, Fox executive vice president, distribution Rick Myerson said Sunday morning, "The tracking is a guide. It's not the Ouija board that gives you exact information. We noticed that the tracking for young females and young males was increasing all week. I think sometimes what people do is look at the overall tracking rather than get into the specifics.
"The audience was young females and young males and that started to come on (stronger) at the end of the week. There hadn't been a movie for young females since Blue Crush and there hadn't been a movie for young males since xXx. So all of a sudden they saw, 'Hey, this is the perfect vehicle for me. Let's go.' I think that had something to do with it."
IFC Films' release of Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding held on to second place in its 21st week with a still outstanding ESTIMATED $10.59 million (-5%) at 1,695 theaters (+76 theaters; $6,249 per theater). Its cume is approximately $96.0 million, well on its way to $125 million or more in domestic theaters.
Wedding's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Going into the weekend, with SwimFan not tracking like it would place first, insiders had speculated that Wedding could move up to the top spot.
"We fell a few meters short of SwimFan, but can't complain about a $10 million (plus) weekend that dropped off only 5 percent from a holiday weekend," IFC distribution head Rob Schwarz said Sunday morning.
Franchise Pictures R rated cop drama City by the Sea, released through Warner Bros., opened in third place with an uneventful ESTIMATED $9.14 million at 2,575 theaters ($3,550 per theater).
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones, it stars Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand and James Franco.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated supernatural thriller blockbuster Signs slid three rungs to fourth place in its sixth week with an OK ESTIMATED $8.0 million (-41%) at 3,232 theaters (-205 theaters; $2,475 per theater). Its cume is approximately $205.8 million, heading for $225 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it stars Mel Gibson.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's PG-13 rated action adventure thriller xXx slipped two notches to fifth place in its fifth week with a still macho ESTIMATED $5.5 million (-47%) at 3,088 theaters (-448 theaters; $1,791 per theater). Its cume is approximately $131.0 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Vin Diesel, Asia Argento and Marton Csokas.
"We keep working our way towards $150 million or very close to it and couldn't be more pleased," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Miramax/Dimension Films' PG rated family comedy sequel Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams dropped two pegs to sixth place in its fifth week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.0 million (-50%) at 2,821 theaters (-429 theaters; $1,063 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.9 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino.
New Line's PG-13 rated comedy sequel Austin Powers in Goldmember slid one post to seventh place in its seventh week with a less lively ESTIMATED $2.76 million (-50%) at 2,102 theaters (-404 theaters; $1,308 per theater). Its cume is approximately $207.1 million.
Directed by Jay Roach, it stars Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles and Michael Caine.
Asked where Goldmember is heading, New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning, "somewhere between $210-215 million probably." The previous sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me did $205.4 million in domestic theaters in 1999.
MDP Worldwide's R rated horror film feardotcom fell three notches to eighth place via Warner Bros. in its second week with a soft ESTIMATED $2.35 million (-50%) at 2,550 theaters (theater count unchanged; $920 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.5 million.
Directed by William Malone, it stars Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone and Stephen Rea.
Columbia took ninth place with what Sony called an "encore release" of its PG-13 rated blockbusters Spider-Man and Men in Black II with an ESTIMATED $2.0 million at 2,078 theaters ($962 per theater). Sony did not release a new cume for each film, but put the double bill's "encore release cume" at $2.0 million.
Directed by Sam Raimi, Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Men In Black II stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
"It's an encore run prior to what looks like spectacular video and DVD releases on each," Sony's Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Spider-Man on Oct. 31, a special Halloween release date. And a Thanksgiving release date on Men In Black II."
Rounding out the Top Ten was Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated romantic surfer girl comedy Blue Crush with a calm ESTIMATED $1.81 million (-59%) at 2,009 theaters (-811 theaters; $900 per theater). Its cume is approximately $37.2 million.
Directed by John Stockwell and produced by Brian Grazer and Karen Kehela, it stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis, Sanoe Lake and Mika Boorem.
This weekend saw the arrival of no other noteworthy releases.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated comedy The Good Girl went wider in its fifth week with a solid ESTIMATED $1.5 million (-48%) at 690 theaters (+23 theaters; $2,210 per theater). Its cume is approximately $9.7 million.
Directed by Miguel Arteta, it stars Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal and John C. Reilly.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated thriller One Hour Photo continued to expand well in its third week with a strong ESTIMATED $1.45 million (-42%) at 173 theaters (+9 theaters; $8,382 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Written and directed by Mark Romanek, it stars Robin Williams.
"Next Friday it expands to 1,200 runs," a Fox Searchlight spokesman said Sunday morning.
Focus Features' romantic drama Possession added a few more theaters in its fourth week with a still hopeful ESTIMATED $0.98 million (-49%) at 616 theaters (+2 theaters; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.9 million.
Directed by Neil LaBute, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart.
Paramount Classics' PG rated German romantic comedy Mostly Martha went wider in its fourth week with an OK ESTIMATED $0.3 million (-31%) at 70 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,720 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, it stars Martina Gedeck.
United Artists' R rated comedy 24 Hour Party People, released through MGM, continued to widen and hold well in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $93,000 at 35 theaters (+3 theaters; $2,649 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it stars Steve Coogan.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $68.18 million for the weekend, down a marginal 0.93 percent from last year when they totaled $68.82 million.
Key films cannot be compared to the previous weekend of this year, which was a four day holiday weekend.
Last year, Universal's opening week of The Musketeer was first with $10.31 million at 2,438 theaters ($4,230 per theater); and Sony's opening week of Two Can Play That Game was second with $7.72 million at 1,297 theaters ($5,953 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $18.0 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $23.0 million.