January is a time for Top 10 lists of the previous year, for catching up on holiday releases that you somehow never got around to seeing, and for recommending the only flick that's just edgy enough for one of your parents but not too risque for the other (scratch Wolf of Wall Street off that list). In any of these practices, you're bound to consider American Hustle, director David O. Russell's 2013 follow-up to Oscar contenders Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. Surely, even if you've somehow put off seeing the film, you've happened upon some decidedly lavish advertisements. The very first thing you're likely to have noticed upon scanning the Hustle posters or watching the trailer: the hair. But a second glance might awaken quite an interesting realization about the movie's all-star cast... especially for fans of the superhero genre.
Not only have each of the main players taken high, if not top, billing in a major superhero release (or, in the case of Bradley Cooper, one on the way), but a good number of the supporting actors have history in the genre as well.
Superhero: Batman, natch. More synonymous with his DC character than any of the other American Hustle stars are with their respective comic book roles, Bale redesigned Bruce Wayne with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, graduating from the property after trilogy capper The Dark Knight Rises.In American Hustle: Bale plays the schlubby but charismatic Irving Rosenfeld — a working class con artist who manages to work the magic of deceit with a strange air of earnestness.Powers in Common: Deception. Bruce Wayne spends his days cavorting, schmoozing, hobnobbing, elbow-rubbing, and other gerunds exclusive to the very rich. All the while, he's masking his true identity. Irv obscures his hidden intentions all throughout Hustle, living up to a Wayne-like standard of secrecy.
Superhero: Lois Lane, who, though not a superhero in the traditional sense, is the de facto sidekick of the most iconic comic book legend of all time (Superman) and a force to be reckoned with in 2013's DC release Man of Steel. Adams will return as Lane in the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman, opposite Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, respectively.In American Hustle: Adams plays Sydney Prosser, a.k.a. Lady Edith Greensley — a colossally powerful con artist at frequent odds with her own quest to forget who she really is.Powers in Common: Working people over. In Hustle Sydney/Edith is able to permeate the minds and hearts of everyone she meets. In Man of Steel, Lois Lane is the only Earthling (save maybe for a long deceased Jonathan Kent) who can get through to the lonely ol' Kryptonian Kal-El. Adams does have that charm.
Superhero: Rocket Raccoon. Technically Cooper hasn't played him yet, but he's slated to voice the animated live-wire in this summer's Marvel release Guardians of the Galaxy.In American Hustle: Cooper deals in Russell's special brand of emotional volatility with FBI Agent Richie DiMaso, prone to explosive bouts of "passion" (let's call it what it is — lunacy), such as fussing with partner/rival Irv's immaculately prepared toupee or beating the hell out of his own boss at the agency.Powers in Common: Unpredictability. Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics recognize Rocket Raccoon as a bit of a wild card among the interplanetary heroes. You can easily say the same for DiMaso, whose hair-trigger temper gets him in a bit of (though not nearly enough) trouble.
Superhero: Mystique, the pupil-deficient X-Men villain. Lawrence plays Mystique and her alter ego, Raven Darkholme, in 2011's X-Men: First Class and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.In American Hustle: Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irv's hot-tempered, "free spirit" wife who just can't quite seem to stop setting things on fire, and loves the smell of a good rotting nail polish.Powers in Common: Funnily enough, Rosalyn is one of the only people in this movie not employing some metaphorical sort of shape-shifting (Mystique's signature ability). But the character's propensity for interloping the communities of kingpin criminals and persuading them to do her bidding does ring true for the X-Men villain.
Superhero: Hawkeye, the Zeppo Marx of the Avengers Initiative.In American Hustle: Renner plays good-hearted politician (go figure) Carmine Polito, who bends the law in order to afford his New Jersey community the funds it needs to thrive.Powers in Common: They're both straight-shooters!
It's not only the central five who have superheroic roots. Renner's screen wife Elisabeth Röhm was a recurring player on the fourth season of NBC's Heroes. Hustle mafioso Jack Huston had a role in the sci-fi epic Outlander. Cooper's FBI boss Louis C.K. wrote and directed Pootie Tang (it's kind of a superhero movie...). And Michael Peña has gone on record saying he'd like to work with Robert Rodriguez to develop a Mexican superhero flick. As you can see, Russell's movie runs deep with super powered blood... and the costumes are flashier than your standard cape-and-tights get-up to boot.
American Hustle is now open in theaters everywhere.
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
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.
Moviegoers gave Steven Spielberg's A.I. an A-OK $30 million opening this weekend.
Warner Bros. and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy adventure A.I. Artificial Intelligence topped the chart with an enviable ESTIMATED $30.14 million at 3,242 theaters ($9,295 per theater).
A.I. 's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Written and directed by Steven Spielberg, it was produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Spielbergand Bonnie Curtis. Starring are Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor, Brendan Gleeson and William Hurt.
"I'm very happy," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "To open at the same level as Saving Private Ryan, which did $30.5 million, and The Truman Show, which did $31.5 million, (is very gratifying). All of these films were critically acclaimed and played primarily to adult audiences. And they all were released in the summer. So I've been watching these movies (box office numbers) carefully.
"In talking to the Spielberg camp, they're very happy. You know, it's a tribute to Stanley (Kubrick). This $30 million opening is the highest opening of any film in which Stanley had been associated. His biggest opening was his last movie, Eyes Wide Shut, which did $21.7 million (and went on to gross about $56 million in domestic theaters). Full Metal Jacket, which was his next biggest, had a domestic box office total of $46 million."
Who turned out for A.I. 's opening weekend? "The film attracted couples. About 51 percent of the audience were males and 49 percent were females," Fellman said. "It was primarily moviegoers 25 years and older. Major cities played the strongest, of course, across North America. The three biggest grosses came out of New York -- the Lincoln Square in two days was about $82,000, followed by Broadway, which was $75,000 and the Greenwich Village, which was $65,000.
"Over 80 percent of the audience rated the film good to excellent, so I think we'll be around for a while. It's a very provocative movie. People continue to talk about it. I think they're surprised when they walk in. After they see the movie, it may be a little different than what they expected. But it's certainly the kind of film that people talk a lot about."
Asked where it's heading in domestic theaters, Fellman replied, "Well, I'm certainly looking for the $100 million-plus mark. But obviously the rest of it is based on how we hold. The Truman Show ended up at about $125 million. Of course, Private Ryan is in a class of its own (with) over $200 million. We will definitely be watching this carefully and see what happens."
Universal's PG-13 action drama The Fast and the Furious drove down one notch to second place in its second weekend with a still muscular ESTIMATED $20.0 million (-50%) at 2,723 theaters (+95 theaters; $7,345 per theater). Fast, which was made for a modest $38 million, has a cume of approximately $77.8 million and is heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG rated comedy sequel Dr. Dolittle 2 slipped one peg to third place in its second weekend with a still funny ESTIMATED $15.4 million (-38%) at 3,053 theaters (+4 theaters; $5,045 per theater). Its cume is approximately $51.0 million.
Directed by Steve Carr and produced by John Davis, it stars Eddie Murphy.
Paramount and Mutual Film Company's PG-13 rated action adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was still plunging in its third week, down one notch to fourth with a softer ESTIMATED $9.8 million (-50%) at 3,349 theaters (+37 theaters; $2,926 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.2 million, heading for $125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Simon West, Tomb stars Angelina Jolie.
Columbia's R rated African-American appeal drama Baby Boy arrived in fifth place to a solid ESTIMATED $8.6 million at 1,533 theaters ($5,610 per theater). Its cume after 5 days is approximately $11.7 million.
Written, produced and directed by John Singleton, it stars Tyrese Gibson, Snoop Dogg and Ving Rhames.
"It's a good solid opening in a tough market," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Certainly, the weekdays look to be very good next week and it should be a great weekend next weekend, as well.
"It's a $16 million negative (cost) picture that we think should end up right where we hoped it would be in the $30-40 million range (in domestic theaters)."
Baby Boy faced competition this weekend for its core audience of African-American moviegoers from Paramount's Chris Rock comedy Pootie Tang. Pootie, which some media observers criticized for opening when it would fragment the African-American audience, only grossed an ESTIMATED $1.55 million and failed to crack the Top Ten (see OTHER OPENINGS below for details).
"I think initially in our movie world it was a little disconcerting when Pootie Tang landed on our date," Blake observed. "But the more we thought about it, (we realized that) certainly you wouldn't hesitate to counter program an inexpensive comedy aimed at white teenagers against a more ambitious project. So I think a bit too much was made of it in this case. And, obviously, I don't think it ended up being much of a factor."
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire descended two levels in its fourth week to sixth place, making fewer waves with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million (-38%) at 3,030 theaters (-41 theaters; $2,573 per theater). Its cume is approximately $58.0 million.
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, its voice talents include Michael J Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy.
DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek dropped two rungs to seventh place in its seventh week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $7.1 million (-32%) at 2,704 theaters (-303 theaters; $2,605 per theater). Its cume is approximately $227.5 million on its way to $250 million or more.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 teen appeal drama crazy / beautiful arrived in eighth place to a not so beautiful ESTIMATED $4.5 million at 1,601 theaters ($2,815 per theater).
Directed by John Stockwell, it stars Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Jerry Bruckheimer Films' PG-13 rated three-hour epic action romance Pearl Harbor fell two pegs to ninth place in its sixth weekend with a calm $4.4 million (-35%) at 2,305 theaters (-363 theaters; $1,918 per theater). Its cume is approximately $179.4 million, on its way to $200 million by late summer.
Directed by Michael Bay, Pearl was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Starring are Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R rated action thriller Swordfish, down four rungs in its fourth week but still in the box office swim with an ESTIMATED $4.0 million (-48%) at 2,225 theaters (-435 theaters; $1,798 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.5 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Dominic Sena and produced by Joel Silver and Jonathan Krane, it stars John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Don Cheadle.
This weekend also saw Paramount PG-13 rated African-American appeal comedy Pootie Tang arrive to a not so funny ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 712 theaters ($2,020 per theater).
Written and directed by Louis C. K., it stars Chris Rock.
Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet opened as a Miramax Zoe label release in New York and San Francisco to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.080 million at 4 theaters ($20,000 per theater).
Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque.
"This Friday we're adding another five markets, so we'll probably be in about 12 to 15 screens for this weekend," Miramax senior vice president, marketing David Kaminow said Sunday morning.
TriStar's R rated crime thriller The Crimson Rivers, opened to a slow ESTIMATED $0.035 million at 7 theaters ($5,000 per theater). Its theatrical run sets Rivers up for a home video release.
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, it stars Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel.
USA Films' PG-13 drama Pandaemonium opened quietly to an ESTIMATED $2,477 at 1 theater in Los Angeles.
Directed by Julien Temple, it stars John Hannah, Linus Roache, Samantha Morton and Emily Woof.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight's R rated critically acclaimed British crime thriller Sexy Beast continue to widen in its third week with a still hot ESTIMATED $0.72 million (+17%) at 109 theaters (+48 theaters; $6,580 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, it stars Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
"I feel very good (about its performance)," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "In many of the core urban markets -- Manhattan, L.A., Washington, D.C., San Francisco -- the film is holding extremely well. A number of the new regional markets actually did quite well in addition. Portland was quite good. It's good everywhere and some of them are actually outstanding.
"So we feel very, very good that we're going to continue to expand and play through the summer and hold for long runs. We're adding another 20 cities for an additional 25 theaters this week so we'll be in about 135 runs this coming Friday."
Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party went wider in its fourth week with a less lively ESTIMATED $0.42 million (-30%) at 103 theaters (+18 theaters; $4,110 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
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.
Lions Gate Films' PG-13 rated drama Songcatcher expanded in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.13 million at 37 theaters (+24 theaters; $3,390 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.27 million.
Directed by Maggie Greenwald, it stars Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $120.56 million, down about 6.22% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $128.56 million for the Friday-Sunday portion of the five day July Fourth holiday weekend. July Fourth fell on a Tuesday last year, which allowed for a five-day weekend. This year the holiday falls on a Wednesday and is not part of the weekend.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 12.47% from last weekend this year when key films took in $137.74 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of The Perfect Storm was first with $41.33 million (for three days) at 3,407 theaters ($12,129 per theater); and Columbia's opening week of The Patriot was second with $22.41 million at 3,061 theaters ($7,322 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $63.7 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $50.1 million.
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