Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Top Story: Britney Spears Bitter About Men
Pop princess Britney Spears says she became bitter with men after her very public breakup with ex Justin Timberlake. In an interview with Newsweek magazine in its Nov. 3 issue, Spears says she swore off dating for a while after the experience. "There was a time when I was like, 'OK, I'm over men. They're mean,'" she says. "For like six months, not a single thing happened. Not like they weren't drawn to me, but there wasn't a single real attraction. I'm like, 'What's happening? I know I'm not a lesbian.'" Spears says she is still not involved with anyone and denies reports that she hooked up with 21-year-old Columbus Short, a married backup dancer. Spears also talks about her suggestive layouts for Rolling Stone, British Elle and Esquire magazines. "I did feel kind of weird after those photos," Spears says. "I was in a moment. I had, like, eight Red Bulls and said, 'OK, let's do it.' I learned my lesson and you won't see me like that for a while. I'm kinda over it myself. Not that it's dirty or tacky, but it is really revealing and I wouldn't want my kid, at 21, to be dressing like that."
Price Is Right Announcer Dies
Veteran television announcer Rod Roddy died Monday at Century City Hospital of colon and breast cancer at age 66, The Associated Press reports. For 17 years, Roddy's voice was familiar to fans of the television game show The Price Is Right for the legendary phrase: "Come on down!" Host Bob Barker said Monday that Roddy, who taped his last show two months ago, stayed with the CBS show as long as his health permitted. "The courage he showed during those difficult times was an inspiration to us all," Barker said. "He was quite a character. He was important to the success of the show." A private funeral service will be held in Texas, with a memorial service planned sometime later in Los Angeles.
California Fires Destroy Part of Aviator Set
The Southern California wildfires, which have destroyed at least 1,134 homes, killed 15 people, forced thousands to evacuate and disrupted auto and air traffic, also partially destroyed a set for Warner Bros.' Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator in the Simi Valley area over the weekend. According to Variety, the blaze at Big Sky Ranch forced the production to switch to interior shooting in Long Beach, Calif. Mike Dilorenzo of Santa Clarita Studios said his facility is operating at full capacity with CSI and Carnivale shooting, but added that the studio was on full alert with fires hoses hooked up and ready to go.
David Bowie and Iman To Appear in Hilfiger Ads
Rock icon David Bowie and his wife, supermodel Iman, will appear in their first ad campaign together. According to Billboard.com, the couple will be the new faces for designer Tommy Hilfiger's new H Hilfiger line, to be launched in spring 2004. The collection, described as "sophisticated, sexy and refined," will be part of Hilfiger's high-end line. The ad campaign, shot this month in Amsterdam by renowned photographer Ellen Von Unwerth, will debut in American magazines in April 2004.
Rosie O'Donnell, G+J Court Date Delayed
The court battle between Rosie O'Donnell and her ex-publishing partner, Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing, was put on temporary hold on yesterday as a scheduling conflict caused the judge to delay Tuesday's start date. G+J charges that everything unraveled at the now defunct Rosie magazine when O'Donnell shut down her daytime TV show in 2002 and went from being known as "fun-loving" to becoming a self-proclaimed "uber-bitch." O'Donnell, however, claims the publisher seized control of the magazine, fired editors who were loyal to her and tried to smear her reputation. Manhattan Supreme Court officials told Reuters the breach-of-contract case over the messy demise of the entertainer's namesake magazine will likely open later this week.
Fox Pulls Plug on Luis
After only four airings, Fox has decided to pull the plug on its freshman series Luis. The show starred feature character actor Luis Guzman as a doughnut shop owner in Spanish Harlem, but it opened to poor reviews and ratings, averaging 3.6 million viewers in its four airings. According to The Hollywood Reporter, production on the series, which aired Friday at 8:30 p.m., was shut down Monday. Ten episodes of the comedy were produced overall. For the next two Fridays, Fox will air original episodes of Wanda at Large at 8 and 8:30 p.m. The network had previously scheduled movies to run on the last two Fridays of the November sweep.
ABC News: Oswald Acted Alone
ABC said Monday that an in-depth investigation of the Kennedy assassination conducted by ABC News indisputably confirms that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The network said ABC News worked with an expert who created a computer-generated reconstruction of the shooting based on maps, blueprints, physical measurements, more than 500 photographs, films and autopsy reports. Through interviews and other documentation, ABC News also concludes that Jack Ruby, who later killed Oswald, acted simply out of his love for Kennedy, the AP reports. The two-hour special on the event is scheduled to air Nov. 20, two days before the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Tim Robbins To Host Cash Tribute
Actor Tim Robbins will host the Nov. 10 musical tribute to country legend Johnny Cash, who died Sept. 12 at age 71 of complications from diabetes. According to the AP, The Bull Durham star did an audio interview with Cash for promotion of the singer's 2000 album, American III: Solitary Man. Cash also wrote and performed "In Your Mind" for the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking, a 1995 film Robbins directed. Tickets for the tribute concert, which will take place at the Ryman Auditorium, were free and distributed by lottery. John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Hank Williams Jr., Jack Clement, Steve Earle, Larry Gatlin and Cash's daughter, Rosanne, are scheduled to perform.
There was a close race for first place between Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar's animated blockbuster "Toy Story 2" and Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's opening of the drama "The Green Mile."
Based on Sunday's estimates, the G-rated "Toy 2" held on to the top spot on the chart, but only by a nose. When the box office dust settles Monday, it is possible that because the two films were so close in the estimates, they could wind up reversing positions.
Working against "Mile" was the fact that its adult audience is busy with holiday shopping and office parties. An additional negative for "Mile" is that its three-hour running time gives it fewer performances per day than "Toy 2" has with its running time of about 90 minutes. To some extent, however, "Mile's" broad release at 2,875 theaters gives it the potential to take in big grosses even with fewer showings per day.
"Toy 2" was bolstered by strong sneak previews Saturday night for Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Bicentennial Man," starring Robin Williams (for details, see SNEAK PREVIEWS below). Also adding to "Toy 2's" strength vs. "Mile" is that it is playing even wider, with 3,257 theaters.
In its fourth weekend, "Toy 2" did a still punchy estimated $18.70 million (-32%) at 3,257 theaters (+19 theaters, $5,747 per theater). Its total is approximately $140.8 million, heading for a domestic theatrical total of $250 million to $275 million. Directed by John Lasseter, it features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey. Its score and two new songs were composed by Grammy Award winner Randy Newman.
"I'm putting it at roughly $200 million on New Year's weekend," Buena Vista Distribution President Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "The original did $42 million after New Year's. So it will be very interesting to see if we can outdo that and get into the $260-270 millions."
Noting that "Toy 2" was only off 32% this weekend, Viane said, "It's right in line (with where the first 'Toy Story' was at the same point in its run). The original was off 31% and considering we're wider, I'm really happy with this. I know the gross was bumped (up) a little by the sneaks (of "Bicentennial Man" on Saturday at 260 theaters playing 'Toy 2'), but that's OK."
Focusing on BV's critically acclaimed but underperforming drama "The Insider," Viane said its strong showing in the L.A. Critics' vote Saturday -- winning Best Picture, Actor (Russell Crowe) and Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer) -- should help it at the box office. "That's going to help us in the long run. There's no question about it," Viane said.
Warner and Castle Rock's R-rated "Mile" kicked off to a very close second with a solid but unelectrifying estimated $18.57 million at 2,875 theaters ($6,459 per theater). "Mile's" per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release last weekend. "Mile's" opening was in line with Warner's launch of "You've Got Mail" to $18.43 million the weekend of Dec. 18-20 last year. Written and directed by Frank Darabont, "Mile" stars Tom Hanks.
"It was the best exit interviews we've ever had," Warner Bros. Distribution President Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "They were sensational. Audiences just loved this movie. We had a definite recommend of over 80%. The top two boxes (excellent and very good) were in the 90%s. Response was phenomenal. CinemaScore had the people who rated the movie A or B at 97%. Overall grade was an A."
Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated youth-appeal comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" opened in the money, placing third with a muscular estimated $13 million at 2,151 theaters ($6,058 per theater). Directed by Mike Mitchell, it stars Rob Schneider.
"We had projected the picture to be flat (from Friday to Saturday)," BV's Viane said. "We thought Friday-Saturday would be the same as (what is) typical of teen-age movies. But it went from $4.4 million to $5.1 million last night (Saturday), up 14%. So we're very pleased with that. It plays great. Last night the ethnic theaters came alive, so I have a feeling today's (Sunday) going to be really good."
MGM's PG-13-rated "The World Is Not Enough," the 19th in its James Bond series, fell two rungs to fourth place in its fourth weekend with a less worldly estimated $6.20 million (-42%) at 3,063 theaters (-100 theaters, $2,024 per theater). Its total is approximately $99.5 million, heading for $130 million to $135 million in domestic theaters. Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Pierce Brosnan in his third performance as 007.
"We'll get to $130-135 million," said Larry Gleason, MGM worldwide theatrical distribution president, on Sunday morning. "The holidays will push it back up."
Universal and Beacon Pictures' R-rated action-fantasy adventure "End of Days" dropped two notches to fifth place in its third weekend with a slower estimated $4.72 million (-51%) at 2,652 theaters (+54 theaters, $1,780 per theater). Its total is approximately $53.2 million, heading for about $70 million in domestic theaters. Directed by Peter Hyams, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Paramount's R-rated period action adventure "Sleepy Hollow" slipped two notches to sixth place in its fourth weekend with a quieter estimated $4.60 million (-48%) at 3,065 theaters (-4 theaters, $1,501 per theatre). Its total is approximately $81.3 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters. Directed by Tim Burton, it stars Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci and is based on Washington Irving's classic "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
Universal's R-rated suspense thriller "The Bone Collector" dipped two pegs to seventh place in its sixth weekend with an OK estimated $1.70 million (-47%) at 2,031 theaters (-490 theaters, $835 per theater). Its total is approximately $60.8 million. Directed by Phillip Noyce, it stars Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Sony's Columbia Pictures unit is partnered 50-50 with Universal on "Bone's" worldwide film rentals. Sony is releasing the picture internationally.
Lions Gate's release of "Dogma," the controversial R-rated irreverent comedy it took over from Miramax, fell one slot to eighth place in its fourth weekend with an unexciting estimated $1.20 million (-43%) at 1,159 theaters (-133 theaters, $1,035 per theater). Its total is approximately $26.4 million. Directed by Kevin Smith, it stars Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman and Chris Rock.
Warner Bros.' G-rated Japanese animated feature "Pokemon: The First Movie" slipped three rungs to ninth place in its fifth weekend with a dull estimated $1.11 million (-53%) at 2,426 theaters (-617 theaters, $458 per theater). Its total is approximately $82.3 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross of about $90 million.
Rounding out the Top 10 was USA Films' R-rated comedy "Being John Malkovich," down one rung in its seventh weekend with a decent estimated $0.96 million (-30%) at 630 theaters (+6 theaters, $1,517 per theater). Its total is approximately $15.3 million. Directed by Spike Jonze, it stars John Malkovich, playing himself, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener.
"The top markets were really pretty strong (for 'Malkovich'). They were relatively unaffected by the new business," USA Films distribution head Jack Foley said Sunday morning. "I think we'll be able to cruise through, particularly now that the (critics year-end) lists are coming out. The main markets --(like) Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle -- are holding in. That's where we'll be able to drive the picture up into the $20 million range, which I think we'll get to, even without a lot of big awards. I think if we get nominations, we're going to go p into the $25 million range with it."
USA opens the drama "Topsy Turvy," written and directed by Mike Leigh and starring Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner as Gilbert & Sullivan, at two theaters this week.
"We'll be in the Paris in New York and AMC Century City for a week only in Century City," Foley said. "We'll open the picture in the Paris and run it. Los Angeles has been a little bit bumpy lately when you look at how art films have opened recently. It's been inclement in that market. So we'll qualify the film (for Oscars). We'll open it this Wednesday (Dec. 15). It will be off screen the following Tuesday.
"The Paris will run through. I think in New York, the levels of risk are diminished greatly because of the culture. And with that theater, particularly, it enhances its opportunity. If there's a theater in the country that's going to make that picture snap to life, it's the Paris."
Weekend 50 also saw the arrival of Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules" in New York and Los Angeles, placing 19th with a promising estimated $0.115 million at 9 theaters ($14,375 per theater). Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, it stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine.
"It goes to the top 20 (markets) this Friday," Miramax senior vice president, marketing, said Sunday morning.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated drama "Cradle Will Rock" arrived in 20th place to an encouraging estimated $0.094 million at 9 theaters ($11,780 per theater). Its total after five days is approximately $0.125 million. Written and directed by Tim Robbins, it stars Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades and Joan Cusack.
"We're going to add some cities, like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, D.C., Dec. 25," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "Then on Jan. 14 we're going to broaden it out."
Miramax's PG-13-rated comedy-drama "Diamonds" opened in New York and for a one-week Oscar qualifying run in L.A., placing 24th with a not very sparkling estimated $7,500 at 2 theaters ($3,750 per theater). Directed by John Asher, it stars Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lauren Bacall.
MGM's R-rated drama "Miss Julie" began exclusive runs in New York and L.A., placing 25th with a slow estimated $6,219 at 3 theaters ($2,073 per theater). Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Weekend 50 saw Buena Vista/Touchstone hold sneak previews of its PG-rated comedy-drama "Bicentennial Man." "Bicentennial," financed jointly by Touchstone and Columbia Pictures, is directed by Chris Columbus and stars Robin Williams.
"We snuck on the second and third screens of 'Toy Story' last night and everything sold out," Viane said Sunday morning.
Viane said there were 260 sneaks and that the studio's exit polls showed that "94% rated it excellent or very good. The cume score was 91%, which means it snuck just as well as 'Phenomenon' for us, which is really good. In terms of male/female -- 52% female. In terms of audience -- couples and families represented 87%, and teens represented 13%. In terms of ticket sales -- approximately 80% of the seats were sold."
"Bicentennial" opens Friday (Dec. 17) at about 2,200 theaters.
Twentieth Century Fox held a second round of sneak previews Saturday night at 1,200 theaters of its PG-13-rated drama "Anna and the King." Directed by Andy Tennant, it stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.
"They did really well," Tom Sherak, 20th Domestic Film Group chairman and senior executive vice president of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said Sunday morning. "Sixty-three percent of the theaters were between 50-100% full. The picture played extremely well -- 80% in the top two boxes (excellent and very good)."
"Anna" opens Friday (Dec. 17) at about 2,000 theaters.
On the expansion front, Weekend 50 saw Warner Bros.' R-rated comedy-drama "Liberty Heights" place 17th with an OK estimated $0.29 million at 42 theaters (+36 theaters, $6,904 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.725 million. Warner will hold sneak previews of the critically acclaimed "Heights" next weekend and will expand its run again Dec. 22. Written and directed by Barry Levinson, it stars Adrien Brody, Ben Foster, Orlando Jones, Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Mantegna.
Fine Line's PG-13-rated drama "Tumbleweeds" went wider, placing 22nd with a quiet estimated $0.081 million at 31 theaters (+26 theaters, $2,610 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.80 million. Directed by Gavin O'Connor, it stars Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $73.25 million, up approximately 5% from $69.77 million for the same weekend last year.
Weekend 50's key film gross was down approximately 2.08% from the $74.78 million that key films took in during Weekend 49 of this year.
Last year, Paramount's opening weekend of "Star Trek: Insurrection" was first with $22.05 million at 2,620 theaters ($8,417 per theater), and Buena Vista/Disney's third weekend of "A Bug's Life" was second with $11.19 million at 2,748 theaters, $4,073 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $33.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $37.3 million.
For the first 50 weekends of 1999, ticket sales were approximately $4.738 billion, up about 4.83% from 1998's gross of $4.52 billion. Of this year's 50 weekends, 29 were up (one marginally and one because of a four-day vs. a three-day holiday weekend comparison) and 21 were down (three only marginally and one because of a holiday vs. a nonholiday comparison) vs. last year.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films, the top six distributors in Weekend 50 were the following:
Buena Vista (Touchstone and Disney) was first with four films ("Toy Story 2," "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," "The Insider" and "The Sixth Sense") grossing an estimated $32.90 million or 44.9% of the market.
Warner Bros. was second with two films ("The Green Mile" and "Pokemon: The First Movie") grossing an estimated $19.68 million or 26.8% of the market.
Universal was third with two films ("End Of Days" and "The Bone Collector") grossing an estimated $6.42 million or 8.8% of the market.
MGM was fourth with one film ("The World Is Not Enough") grossing an estimated $6.20 million or 8.5% of the market.
Paramount was fifth with one film ("Sleepy Hollow") grossing an estimated $4.60 million or 6.3% of the market.
Lions Gate was sixth with one film ("Dogma") grossing an estimated $1.20 million or 1.6% of the market.
(11) "Anywhere But Here"/Fox: Theaters: 1,128 (-498) Gross: $0.71 million (-46%) Average per theater: $630 Total: $17.5 million
(12) "The Sixth Sense"/BV: Theaters: 856 (-178) Gross: $0.63 million (-35%) Average per theater: $733 Total: $274.4 million
(13) "American Beauty"/DreamWorks: Theaters: 595(-99) Gross: $0.59 million (-25%) Average per theater: $985 Total: $68.5 million
(14) "The Insider"/BV/Touchstone: Theaters: 823 (-660) Gross: $0.57 million (-55%) Average per theater: $697 Total: $24.9 million
(15) "The Best Man"/Universal: Theaters: 457 (-46) Gross: $0.38 million (-34%) Average per theater: $840 Total: $32.7 million
(16) "Flawless"/MGM Theaters: 483 (+5) Gross: $0.35 million (-23%) Average per theater: $720 Total: $4 million
(17) "Liberty Heights"/Warner Bros.: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(18) "Mansfield Park"/Miramax: Theaters: 33 (+1) Gross: $0.17 million (-25%) Average per theater: $5,151 Total: $1.1 million
(19) "The Cider House Rules"/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(20) "Cradle Will Rock"/BV/Touchst one: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(21) "The End of the Affair"/Columbia: Theaters: 7 (0) Gross: $0.12 million (-41%) Average per theater: $16,726 Total: $0.4 million
(22) "Tumbleweeds"/Fine Line: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(23) "Ride With the Devil"/USA Films: Theaters: 12 (-3) Gross: $0.022 million (-58%) Average per theater: $1,797 Total: $0.2 million
(24) "Diamonds"/Miramax: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(25) "Miss Julie"/MGM: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)