At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
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.
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.
Ocean's Eleven made the weekend's biggest box office waves, breaking into first place with a record setting $39.3 million.
Ocean's full-speed ahead launch ended Harry Potter's three week reign, but put Warner Bros. in the enviable position of having nailed down the top two spots on the chart.
Despite Ocean's strength, ticket sales for key films -- those grossing at least $500,000 -- were only about $83 million, down marginally from this time last year despite blockbuster business for Ocean's and Harry. That decline in the marketplace was driven by sizable drops for Behind Enemy Lines, down 54 percent in its second week, and Spy Game, off 58 percent in its third week.
Between Ocean's and Harry, Warners grossed about $54 million, giving it a staggering market share of about 65 percent.
THE TOP TEN
Warner Bros. PG-13 rated casino heist dramatic comedy Ocean's Eleven opened in first place to a winning ESTIMATED $39.26 million at 3,075 theaters ($12,766 per theater).
Ocean's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Ocean's extensive cast includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
"We're thrilled," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It's the largest three day Christmas box office (gross) in motion picture history. It's the largest opening of any Christmas movie. The previous record was $33.6 million for What Women Want, which opened Dec. 15 last year.
"From a record setting point of view, it's also the largest Friday in December in history, which belonged to Scream at $12.7 million. We did $13.25 million Friday. The previous record for Saturday was What Women Want at $13.5 million. We did $15.5 million. And the biggest Sunday in the history of December was Titanic with $9.3 million and we're projecting $10.5 million."
Ocean's also set records for its many of its stars and its director. "It's the largest opening for Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh," Fellman pointed out. "George (Clooney) was in two of our movies that opened up over the Fourth of July weekend--Batman & Robin, which did $42 million (in 1997) and The Perfect Storm, which did $41 million (in 2000)."
Moviegoers responded very well to Ocean's, Fellman added: "The good news is this film's opening exit polls scored extremely well in all (demographic) quadrants -- led by females under 25. But the composite of the audience was just slightly more female than male. The top two boxes (excellent and very good) were 85 percent, which is huge. The definite recommend was 65 percent and the norms are 50-55 percent. Young females had a 74 percent definite recommend."
Looking ahead, Fellman observed, "This is absolutely going to have a great run. We had a terrific weekend."
Warner Bros.' mega-blockbuster Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone slid one slot to second place in its fourth week with a still enviable ESTIMATED $14.81 million (-37%) at 3,672 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,032 per theater). Its cume is approximately $239.7 million, heading for the high $300 millions in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Columbus, Harry stars Daniel Radcliffe in its title role.
"It's nice that it's starting to stabilize itself at the moment," Warners' Fellman said. "That's a pretty good drop off of 37 percent (with other Top Ten films falling in the 40-60 percent range). The box office will continue to build as the holidays approach. I looked at Toy Story 2, which opened (via Buena Vista) on the same weekend we did a year ago. After this weekend, it had $140 million in. We have $240 million in. From this weekend on, they grossed another $105 million. Who knows where we're going? But we're going to go certainly at least in that direction. We've been out there for 24 days and we've averaged $10 million a day. Not a bad way to go!"
Reflecting on the outstanding year that Warners has enjoyed, Fellman noted, "This is the eighth film of the year that we've opened number one and it's the eleventh week that we've had a number one movie. This weekend our combined product in the marketplace represented 40 percent of all screens in North America. If you take the box office of $54 million for the top two pictures out of the Top Ten, which I have at (approximately) $82 million, you can see the domination that we had in the marketplace this weekend."
Even before Ocean's sailed into theaters, Warners ranked as the year's top distributor in terms of market share. "We passed the $1 billion barrier last week," Fellman said, "which is the second time in our company's history that we've done that. After this weekend, we will surpass our company's record of $1.06 billion and we will have an opportunity shortly to challenge the all-time box office record by a single company, which was Sony with $1.26 billion in 1997."
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG-13 rated war drama Behind Enemy Lines got shot down in its second week, falling one peg to third place with a much slower ESTIMATED $8.11 million (-54%) at 2,884 theaters (+74 theaters; $2,852 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.2 million.
Directed by John Moore, it stars Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer animated feature Monsters, Inc. showed good legs in its sixth week, holding on to fourth place with a still colorful ESTIMATED $6.67 million (-27%) at 2,884 theaters (-506 theaters; $2,314 per theater). Its cume is approximately $212.5 million, heading for at least $245-250 million in domestic theaters.
To beat DreamWorks' animated blockbuster Shrek, Monsters will have to crack $268 million at this point.
Directed by Pete Docter, it was co-directed by Lee Unkrich and David Silverman and written by Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson.
Universal and Beacon Pictures' R rated espionage thriller Spy Game slipped two rungs to fifth place in its third week with a quieter ESTIMATED $4.58 million (-58%) at 2,770 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,655 per theater. Its cume is approximately $54.1 million.
Directed by Tony Scott and produced by Douglas Wick and Marc Abraham, it stars Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated urban appeal comedy Black Knight dropped one peg to sixth place in its third week with a calm ESTIMATED $3.25 million (-41%) at 2,233 theaters (-301 theaters; $1,455 per theater). Its cume is approximately $27.2 million, heading for the mid-$30 millions in domestic theaters.
Directed by Gil Junger, it stars Martin Lawrence.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Shallow Hal fell one rung to seventh place in its fifth week with a dull ESTIMATED $2.55 million (-44%) at 2,218 theaters (-210 theaters; $1,150 per theater). Its cume is approximately $64.8 million, heading for $70 million-plus in domestic theaters.
Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, it stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black.
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Spyglass Entertainment's PG-13 snowboarding adventure Out Cold fell one notch to eighth place with a cold-as-ice ESTIMATED $1.4 million (-48%) at 1.651 theaters (-360 theaters; $860 per theater). Its cume is approximately $12.3 million.
Directed by The Malloys, it stars Jason London, Willie Garson and Lee Majors.
Miramax Zoe Films' R rated French comedy Amélie held on to ninth place in its sixth week, holding well with a jolly ESTIMATED $1.1 million (-19%) at 221 theaters (+3 theaters; $4,975 per theater. Its cume is approximately $11.4 million.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it stars Audrey Tautou.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller Domestic Disturbance, down two slots in its sixth week with a calm ESTIMATED $0.95 million (-50%) at 1,471 theaters (-379 theaters; $646 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.8 million, heading for $45 million.
Directed by Harold Becker, it stars John Travolta.
This weekend also saw the platform release of IFC Films' R rated drama The Business Of Strangers to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.077 million at 8 theaters ($9,654 per theater).
Written and directed by Patrick Stettner, it stars Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles.
Miramax's PG rated Iranian drama Baran opened an Oscar qualifying run with an okay ESTIMATED $0.019 million at 2 theaters ($9,500 per theater).
Written and directed by Majid Majidi, the film about "an Afghan woman who defied the odds" won the best picture award at the Montreal Film Festival and the National Board of Review's Freedom of Expression Award.
United Artists' R rated Bosnian war drama No Man's Land, an MGM release, opened to a promising ESTIMATED $0.023 million at 2 theaters in New York ($11,500 per theater).
Written and directed by Danis Tanovic, it won the best screenplay award in Cannes last May and was a hit at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Land is Bosnia's first official Oscar entry.
Land opens Friday (Dec. 14) in Los Angeles, moves into the remaining eight top domestic markets Dec. 21 and will go broader after that.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend saw New Line Cinema go wider in its seventh week with its R rated drama Life As A House with an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.63 million (-43%) at 1,068 theaters (+118 theaters; $585 per theater). Its cume is approximately $14.8 million.
Directed by Irwin Winkler, it stars Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas.
USA Films' R rated black and white drama The Man Who Wasn't There went wider in its sixth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.39 million at 259 theaters (+12 theaters; $1,490 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.0 million.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, it stars Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand.
Paramount Classics' R rated romantic comedy Sidewalks of New York widened in its third week to a poor ESTIMATED $0.3 million at 224 theaters (+17 theaters; $1,340 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.9 million.
Written and directed by Edward Burns, it stars Edward Burns, Rosario Dawson, Dennis Farina and Heather Graham.
Artisan Entertainment's R rated dark comedy Novocaine expanded in its fourth week to a weak ESTIMATED $0.12 million at 164 theaters (+19 theaters; $750 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.5 million.
Directed by David Atkins, it stars Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter and Laura Dern.
Alcon Entertainment's R rated period piece drama The Affair of the Necklace, released through Warner Bros., widened in its second week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $0.095 million at 40 theaters (+22 theaters; $2,375 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.3 million.
Directed by Charles Shyer, it stars Hilary Swank.
Miramax's R rated drama In the Bedroom added a theater in its third week with a still attractive ESTIMATED $0.080 million (-19%) at 6 theaters (+1 theater; $13,300 per theater).Its cume is approximately $0.37 million.
Directed by Todd Field, it stars Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Marisa Tomei.
In the Bedroom expands on Christmas Day to the top 20 markets.
Universal's international division reported that American Pie 2 "had outstanding openings in Australia and Spain this weekend."
In Australia, Pie 2 grossed $2.2 million on 216 screens. It's opening day was the tenth biggest opening day in Australian history and UIP's fourth biggest ever opening day. Universal said that last Thursday and Friday Pie 2 was the market's number one film, ahead of week two of Harry Potter. Saturday saw Harry take over the top spot, but only running about 12 percent ahead of Pie 2, which is now well positioned to enjoy a very successful run Down Under.
In Spain, Pie 2 also got off to a strong start, opening last Wednesday to capitalize on Thursday being a holiday there. Its cume after four days is a strong $2.3 million on 255 playdates, putting it 103 percent ahead of Jurassic Park III and 21 percent ahead of The Mummy Returns.
Universal said that Pie 2's international cume to date is $112 million with nine countries still to open, including Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $83.3 million, down a marginal 0.25 per cent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $83.5 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 2.45 percent from $85.4 million for the previous weekend of this year.
Last year, Universal's fourth week of Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas was first with $18.65 million at 3,182 theaters ($5,860 per theater); and Sony's first week of Vertical Limit was second with $15.51 million at 2,307 theaters ($6,722 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $34.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $54.1 million.