The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
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.
Swordfish was the weekend's biggest catch in this weekend's choppy box office waters.
In a weekend marked by surprisingly large percentage declines across the board, Swordfish outperformed expectations. The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow film flew much higher on Hollywood's radar screen than insiders had anticipated.
Overall, key films grossed about $94 million, down sharply by over 22% from last week and up only a marginal 1.4% from last year. Insiders attributed the hefty percentage declines this weekend to a number of possible factors, including competition from televised basketball and hockey playoffs, widespread good weather and a concentration of high school proms.
"It was interesting to see the number of graduations and proms that actually fell on this weekend while normally they're spread out a little," one top distributor pointed out. "I think people were tied up with a lot of family events this weekend. The weather back East was fantastic. And you had the NBA game on Friday and again today and you had the final game of the hockey playoffs, Game Seven, on Saturday. It was just a combination of things. Never is there one thing -- unless it's the Super Bowl -- that impacts the business like this. And that's just a one day thing.
"To give you an idea, on Friday of the pictures in the marketplace already, other than the two new pictures (that opened), all the pictures were off 47 percent (on average) on Friday night and off 51 percent (on average) on Saturday. That's way out of line from the norms. Most of the time you don't see one weekend dive so much from, like, the first weekend in June to the second weekend in June."
Nonetheless, the weekend saw Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures' R rated action drama Swordfish made a big first place splash with a tasty ESTIMATED $18.43 million at 2,678 theaters ($6,882 per theater).
Swordfish's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Dominic Sena and produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan Krane, it stars John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle.
Reflecting on how well Swordfish kicked off, Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning, "You have to just take a look at the demographics out there. All these movies were going after different audiences than ours. No question about it, the tracking once again proves that it doesn't always work. We came through. We're very, very happy about it. Now we're focusing on our second week."
Considering the competition from televised sports and a marketplace crowded with other films -- including DreamWorks' blockbuster Shrek, which many observers were predicting would move up from second place to capture top honors this weekend -- Fellman noted, "I think we beat the odds. We won the weekend certainly despite the NBA finals, which certainly hurt the box office on Friday and will again on Sunday."
Audience reaction, he added, "was really terrific. Our exits were great. The audience was 56% male and 44% female and they liked the movie equally, so that's very nice. This is the seventh motion picture in a row produced byJoel Silver that opened Number One in the marketplace.
"The studio's thrilled. It's nice to be in the John Travolta business when he's hot. We had a great cast (besides Travoltawith) Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. These guys did a good job. And Dominic Sena made a good movie. And, of course, we have our production partners Village Roadshow in this movie, who deserve a tip of the hat."
Swordfish, Fellman said, "is John's third largest opening in his career. Face/Off is his biggest opening at $23.3 million. The General's Daughter is his second biggest at $22.3 million. Michael did $17 million, so this comes in (third). If you look at the (marketplace) for those movies in those days, there wasn't the enormous amount of competition the same weeks. They were generally free of competition. So (with Swordfish doing so well with a lot of competition now), it shows some strength for the movie."
As to where Swordfish might be heading, Fellman said it's too early to say at this point: "I think you need to sit back a little and digest the next weekend before we make predictions. We're off and running. It's a great opening for Warner Bros. and our summer. Our next movie is A.I. from Steven Spielberg and then we have also a terrific movie on July Fourth called Cats & Dogs.
"We're looking forward to a huge year and, of course, with Harry Potter (in November) and Oceans 11 (in December) and Majestic at Christmas and Collateral Damage (in October) and Training Day (in September), we're in good shape."
DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek held on to second place in its fourth week, continuing to show great legs with an ESTIMATED $17.1 million (-39%) at 3,715 theaters (+54 theaters; $4,602 per theater). Its cume is approximately $176.6 million on its way to $250-270 million.
With its move up to 3,715 playdates, DreamWorks set a record for the largest number of locations any film has ever played in, beating the record set last year by Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 with 3,669 locations.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
"Two of the top five," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning, noting that the studio was very happy about its good showing with both Shrek and its opening of Evolution. "With that kind of weekend (where everything was down so much), we're actually pretty happy with both these numbers."
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' PG-13 rated three hour epic action romance Pearl Harbor dropped two fathoms to third place in its third weekend with a less lively $14.9 million (-50%) at 3,255 theaters (+41 theaters; $4,565 per theater). Its cume is approximately $144.1 million, heading for $200 million.
Directed by Michael Bay, Pearl was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay and written by Randall Wallace. Its extensive cast is led by Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
"It appears that we're going to play on the same exact formula that Lost World did," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "Lost World was off 46-point-something percent and we're off 49.7 percent. It pretty much says that whatever the tracking of that particular movie was, that's the format we're going to find. Obviously, it takes you into the $200 millions."
Viane noted that there's a lot of competition in the marketplace from other films and that, "Part of it this weekend is that you've got (sports competition from) the Lakers on Friday and Sunday and you had the probably the first good weather in the East. But everybody was in that ballgame, so we're all equal (in terms of how it impacted)."
Viane pointed out that BV was also very pleased with its launch this weekend of Disney's PG rated animated adventure Atlantis in exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles. Atlantis did a staggering ESTIMATED $0.34 million at 2 theaters ($170,794 per theater).
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, its voice talents include Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy.
"What can I say other than, 'What a hell of a start?'" Viane observed.
Asked why BV had taken the exclusive engagements opening route with Atlantis that it had used years ago with its animated feature, Viane explained, "One of the greatest sales tools that a team has is when a movie plays really well. We had a sense that we'd get some really good critical reviews -- like Ebert and Roeper both gave it two thumbs up. We know the audience loves it. Any time you can get the people talking about your movie, then I think you've hit a home run. We knew very early on how much the public enjoys the movie. So we just decided to take a page out of our past and recreate it. It goes wide this Friday. I would imagine we'll approach 3,000 runs."
DreamWorks' and Columbia's PG-13 rated sci-fi comedy Evolution kicked off strongly in fourth place with a happy ESTIMATED $13.2 million at 2,611 theaters ($5,056 per theater).
Directed by Ivan Reitman, it stars David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott and Julianne Moore.
"Better than the tracking," DreamWorks' Jim Tharp said, noting that the film hadn't been expected to open this well. "And in a down weekend. We're pretty happy with the numbers based on the weekend that we're in."
Columbia's release of Revolution Studios PG-13 youth appeal comedy The Animal fell sharply in its second weekend, down two slots to fifth place with a quieter ESTIMATED $9.8 million (-50%) at 2,788 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,515 per theater). The film, which only cost $22 million to make, has a cume of approximately $35.8 million and is heading for $60-70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Luke Greenfield, it stars Rob Schneider.
"I think the drops (this weekend) were universally higher than what everyone would have liked," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"I think we can safely attribute that (to) the lovely weather that almost seems for the first time to be crossing the country this weekend. I think everybody lost a few points due to the weather this weekend."
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated romantic musical drama Moulin Rouge slid two notches in its fourth week (its second in wide release) with an okay ESTIMATED $7.62 million (-44%) at 2,283 theaters (+4 theaters; $3,336 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.5 million.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, it stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
"Everybody (is down a lot this weekend). I'd be killing myself if it was only us," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, pointing to some even steeper declines than Moulin's. "Otherwise, I'd be going 'Geez! 44 percent!' I think it's just the weekend. In order to expand the market for another $35 million to take in Swordfish and Evolution, everybody took a hit."
Is Moulin's 44 percent drop cause for alarm? "I really don't think so," Snyder replied. "What it's saying it's the end of is the weak sister theaters that we've had. They'll be disappearing quickly. But where this picture is working, it's still got some great numbers. The individual numbers are terrific. What you're finding in cities is one run is absolutely gangbusters, kicking butt -- usually in the most sophisticated zone -- and the blue collar zones are (not nearly as good). So we'll end up losing those and keeping the solid ones. We've got a long way to go."
MGM's PG-13 comedy What's The Worst that Could Happen? tumbled two pegs to seventh place in its second weekend with a less funny ESTIMATED $5.4 million (-58%) at 2,675 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,019 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.2 million.
Directed by Sam Weisman, it stars Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito.
Universal's PG-13 rated adventure blockbuster sequel The Mummy Returns fell three pegs to eighth place in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $4.15 million (-46%) at 2,539 theaters (-665 theaters; $1,635 per theater). Its cume is approximately $188.2 million, heading for $200 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, Mummy stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz and features an appearance by wrestling star The Rock.
Columbia's PG-13 rated youth appeal adventure A Knight's Tale slid two notches to ninth place in its fifth week with a calm ESTIMATED $1.7 million (-50%) at 1,850 theaters (-591 theaters; $919 per theater). Tale, which cost only $41 million to produce, has a cume of approximately $52.7 million and is heading for $60 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, Tale stars Heath Ledger.
Rounding out the Top Ten was the R rated romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary from Miramax Films, Universal Pictures, StudioCanal and Working Title, down two rungs in its ninth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $1.2 million (-40%) at 975 theaters (-326 theaters; $1,230 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Having only cost about $25 million to produce, Bridget will be very profitable.
Directed by Sharon Maguire, Bridget stars Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.16 million at 11 theaters ($14,790 per theater).
Written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, its ensemble cast includes Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Alan Cumming, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C. Reilly.
Paramount Classics' romantic drama Bride of the Wind opened to an okay ESTIMATED $0.035 million at 8 theaters ($4,420 per theater).
Directed by Bruce Beresford, it stars Sarah Wynter, Jonathan Pryce and Vincent Perez.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Miramax's R rated French thriller With a Friend Like Harry... continue to widen in its eighth week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.19 million (-3%) at 99 theaters (+28 theaters; $1,865 per theater). Its North American cume is approximately $2.1 million.
Harry is being released under Miramax's French film banner Miramax Zoe.
Directed by Dominik Moll, it stars Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner and Sophie Guillemin.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $94.11 million, up a marginal 1.38% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $92.83 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 22.23% from last weekend this year when key films took in $121.02 million.
Last year, Buena Vista's opening week of Gone In 60 Seconds was first with $25.34 million at 3,006 theaters ($8,428 per theater; and Paramount's third week of Mission: Impossible 2 was second with $17.23 million at 3,669 theaters ($4,696 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $42.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $35.5 million.
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