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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The Matrix Revolutions expectedly took the box office this weekend--but it didn't have the juggernaut effect studio execs were hoping for.
While the third and final installment of the Matrix trilogy scored $24.3 million on its first day of release (Wednesday), it only managed $50.1 million* over the weekend, bringing the grand total to $85.4 million. This figure is way below the $100 million predicted by insiders,Variety reports, and illustrates how the Matrix excitement seems to have died down, especially since Revolutions' much-hyped predecessor The Matrix Reloaded opened in May with a hefty $91.7 million weekend total and went on to gross $737.9 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of 2003.
"I don't know what film could do $90 million and then repeat that with its next sequel just six months later," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations, told The Associated Press.
Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., told AP Revolutions may hold up better in subsequent weeks than Matrix Reloaded, whose grosses fell off considerably in its second weekend. Films tend to have longer shelf life over the holidays than they do in summer blockbuster season, he said.
"The story really isn't over yet," Fellman said. "We might not have had the same impact in the opening weekend, but you need to play this out for the next few weeks and see if we play a little catchup."
Around the globe, however, The Matrix Revolutions broke records, as its five-day grosses totaled $204 million, making it the biggest consecutive five-day opening in motion picture history, Business Wire.com reports. In an unprecedented move, Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures opened Revolutions at the same moment in time in 90 different countries on Nov. 5, as well as releasing on 60 IMAX theaters worldwide.
Although Revolutions was the weekend's clear winner, the Christmas spirit permeated the box office as well. Will Ferrell 's Christmas comedy Elf opened in second with a cheery $32.1 million, while the British holiday romantic comedy Love Actually, which debuted in limited theaters, came in at No. 6 with $6.6 million.
Some returning favorites included the animated Disney tale Brother Bear, now in its second week, which took third at $18.6 million, pushing the reigning champ of the past two weeks, Scary Movie 3, down to No. 4 with $11.1 million. The tearjerker Radio rounded out the top five with $7.4 million.
THE TOP TEN
Warner Bros. R-rated The Matrix Revolutions topped the box office charts with an ESTIMATED $50.1 million in 3,502 theaters. Its $14,322 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this week. Opening Wednesday, its cume is approximately $85.4 million.
In the third installment of the Matrix trilogy, the epic war between man and machine comes to a thundering crescendo as Neo, Trinty and Morpheus do battle against their enemies, including the ultimate evil Agent Smith.
Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, it stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving and Jada Pinkett Smith.
New Line Cinema's delightful PG-rated Elf spread Christmas cheer at No. 2 with an ESTIMATED $32.1 million in 3,337 theaters ($9,619 per theater).
Buddy is a 6 ft. misfit who has been raised by Santa's elves in the North Pole. Obviously different from his elf family, he ultimately finds out about his true heritage and heads to New York City to seek out his roots.
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Buena Vista's G-rated animated film Brother Bear took third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $18.6 million (-4%) in 3,030 theaters (unchanged; $6,139 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.1 million.
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Dimension Films' PG-13-rated spoof Scary Movie 3 got knocked from first to fourth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $11.1 million (-45%) in 3,288 theaters (-217; $3,377 per theater). Its cume is approximately $93.3 million.
Directed by David Zucker, it stars Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Simon Rex, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, George Carlin and Leslie Nielsen.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony Pictures' PG-13-rated drama Radio dropped one notch to fifth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $7.4 million (-23%) in 2,811 theaters (-263, $2,633 per theater). Its cume is approximately $36.3 million.
Directed by Michael Tollin, it stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ed Harris.
Universal Pictures' R-rated romantic opus Love Actually opened in the sixth spot with an ESTIMATED $6.6 million in 576 theaters, managing a worthy $11,458 per theater average.
The film interweaves a collage of stories pertaining to that most cherished of emotions--true love--that culminates on Christmas Eve.
Directed and written by Richard Curtis, it stars Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy.
Warner Bros.' R-rated drama Mystic River drops a spot to No. 7 in its fifth week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-23%) in 1,581 theaters (+30 theaters; $3,052 per theater). Its cume is approximately $40.4 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
New Line Cinema's R-rated horror remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fell considerably from third place to eighth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-56%) in 2,378 theaters (-592 theaters; $2,019 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.2 million.
Directed by Marcus Nispel, it stars Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Erica Leerhsen and Andrew Bryniarski.
Tying this week with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13-rated courtroom thriller Runaway Jury slipped four spots to take ninth in its fourth week with also an ESTIMATED $4.8 million (-26%) in 2,133 theaters (-603; $2,250 per theater). Its cume is approximately $40.1 million.
Directed by Gary Fleder, it stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13-rated comedy School of Rock dropped two positions to tenth place in its ninth week with an ESTIMATED $3.1 million (-30%) in 1,982 theaters (-804 theaters; $1,589 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.5 million.
Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Jack Black, Joan Cusack and Michael White.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $146.8 million, up a whopping 62.84 percent from last weekend's $90.2 million. The Top 12 movies were also up 13.16 percent from this time last year when they took in $129.8 million.
Last year, Universal's R-rated 8 Mile opened in first place with $51.2 million in 2,470 theaters ($20,745 per theater); Buena Vista's G-rated The Santa Clause 2 dropped from the first to second position in its second week with $24.7 million in 3,352 theaters ($7,379 per theater); and DreamWorks' R-rated thriller The Ring slipped a notch in its fourth week with $15.5 million in 2,927 theaters (+119; $5,298 per theater).