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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As we start to fill-up up our Netflix queues with classic horror flicks in preparation for Halloween, we realize the greatest villains of the genre still hold power over our adolescent selves. We still can't say Candyman in the mirror and clowns will always be scary, but what about the average joes who play the leading men in our nightmares? Sometimes it helps to disassociate and think of Freddie Krueger waiting in line at the DMV. Spurred by the recent release of Gunnar Hansen's (a.k.a Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre) memoir titled Chain Saw Confidential, we decided to "pull off the mask" of our favorite villains of horror.
Leatherface — Gunnar Hansen
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We skipped a lot of early morning classes in college, but perhaps we would've be scared straight if Leatherface was our English professor. The actor turned professor quit the biz to teach freshman English at University of Texas. Can you imagine the strapping six-foot three Hansen discussing the thematic resonance of Don Quixote? While Hansen spends most of his days in a small coastal town in Maine, he recently ventured back into acting, playing bit cameos in such classics as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Texas Chainsaw 3D.
Jason Vorhees — Ari Lehman
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Ari Lehman looks like a mix of street magician and the sexy sax man — the stuff nightmares of made of. He also holds the distinct honor of playing the first Jason Vorhees in the original Friday the 13th. As it turns out, creeping out generations of children is not his only talent, as he is accomplished jazz musician and studied classical music and jazz piano at both Berklee School of Music and NYU. His passion for pounding the keys led him to tour with prominent reggae and African music groups and eventually led to him starting his own band — "First Jason," whose sound "hits you over the head with an anvil being swung at 1000 miles an hour by the metal gods."
Michael Myers — Tony Moran
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After slashing his way through a couple of teenagers as Michael Meyers in Halloween, Tony Moran found himself making mincemeat out of high mortgage rates as an actor-turned broker. He shared his passion for acting with his actress sibling, Erin Moran of Happy Days, and did a number of guest appearances in The Waltons and CHIPS and then quit at age 30. Turns out, Michael Myers had such emotional depth it required three actors to play him, including Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace. Since Moran wasn't anxious to wear the Michael mask again, his footage from the first film was used again in the sequel.
Freddy Krueger — Robert Englund
Robert Englund is the Kevin Bacon of horror villains. The man has literally worked with everyone in the business and has an IMDB credit list longer than our tax return. Before he donned the striped crewneck and switchblade gloves, he was briefly considered to play the part of Han Solo in Star Wars and even had Mark Hamill bumming on his couch. After playing bit parts on various shows and a recurring role on V, he took on the role of Freddy for three consecutive films and continues to work steadily today.
Chucky — Brad Dourif
It takes a Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee to truly capture the demonic essence of a possessed doll. Character actor Brad Dourif has worked with some of the directing greats over the course of his career. He got his big break on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, worked with David Lynch in Dune and Blue Velvet, played a slimy villain in the Lord of The Rings trilogy and appeared in several Werner Herzog films. Like Hansen, Dourif also dabbled in teaching, leading acting and directing classes at Columbia University before becoming the voice of Chucky in all of the Child's Play films. Which leads us to wonder if there's a connection between playing psychopathic villains and academia.
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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
More than 600 individuals from 44 states and 13 countries have contributed to the effort to preserve five original costumes that are part of the David O. Selznick film collection at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.
The outfits, all worn by actress Vivien Leigh, include her character Scarlett O'Hara's burgundy ball gown and wedding dress.
The costumes had been exhibited frequently before they arrived in Austin in the 1980s, and, as a result they were in a fragile condition. At the Ransom Center, the outfits have been kept in humidity and temperature-controlled conditions in acid-free tissue paper.
The healthy donation from fans will allow archivists to restore the dresses and purchase protective housing and custom-fitted mannequins to allow for proper exhibition.
The center plans to display the costumes in 2014 as part of an exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind.
Film curator Steve Wilson tells WENN, "These generous donations confirm that the film's legions of fans care."
The Ransom Center also includes the film collections of Robert De Niro, screenwriter Ernest Lehman and actress Gloria Swanson.
An uncertain future awaits The Time Machine.
Originally scheduled for a Dec. 25 release, DreamWorks' $70 million version of the H.G. Wells literary adventure doubtless stands to benefit immensely from its move to March. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, DreamWorks wanted to rework a scene during which large pieces of the moon rain down on New York City.
The Time Machine also ran the risk of stalling in December against The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. As it stands, The Time Machine represents the sole family oriented effects-driven spectacle to hit theaters since The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Guy Pearce, as the inventor whose 800,000-year spin through time takes him to a dark and foreboding world, holds more appeal now than he did at Christmas. His villainous turn in January's The Count of Monte Cristo helped director Kevin Reynolds' remake of the Alexandre Dumas novel earn $48.4 million through Tuesday. Plus, Pearce earned rave reviews for last year's art house smash, Memento.
Accordingly, The Time Machine will zoom past holdovers We Were Soldiers, 40 Days and 40 Night and John Q and land in the No. 1 spot this weekend.
Given its March launch, The Time Machine won't post a dazzling holiday-like opening. Instead, the remake will likely exceed Mission to Mars's $22.8 million debut in March 2000. The Time Machine's fate ultimately rests upon its ability to compete against the upcoming Ice Age, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Clockstoppers, and, to a lesser extent, Resident Evil and Blade 2.
But the tinkering that has been made to this version of The Time Machine could stop it from earning no more than Mission to Mars' eventual $60.8 million. With its dazzling special effects, this Americanized version of The Time Machine might win over fans of director George Pal's somewhat staid and terribly dated 1960 effort to adapt Wells' novel. But The Time Machineis burdened with a laborious and unintentionally funny romantic predicament, lousy dialogue, stiff acting and monster makeup that Pal would have rejected as silly and fake looking.
Rollerball stands as the most recent example of a remake that crashed and burned with just $18.2 million because director John McTiernan failed to improve upon the original 1975 sci-fi classic.
This should not have happened, considering The Time Machine remains a family affair. Director Simon Wells is the author's great-grandson (The Mexican's Gore Verbinski stepped in to finish the film when an exhausted Wells dropped out 18 days before shooting ended). Wells neither preserves his great-grandfather's vision of evolution or inject complementary new ideas.
The future also offered little solace for Ice Cube when he battled Ghosts of Mars. Director John Carpenter's sci-fi misfire opened last summer with a paltry $3.8 million en route to a down-to-earth $8.4 million. The rapper-turned-actor aims for a return to Friday-like popularity with All About the Benjamins, an action yarn executed strictly for laughs. Bounty hunter Ice Cube teams up with loudmouth grifter Mike Epps in a South Florida-set buddy movie as antiquated as the Tim Hardaway Miami Heat T-shirt that Ice Cube wears through much of the gunplay. It's all about the babes, bullets and big bucks.
The little-known Epps is an annoying substitute for Chris Tucker, whose manic presence drove Friday to $27.3 million in 1995. Tucker declined to reunite with Ice Cube for Next Friday, but the sequel still managed to earn $57.1 million in 2000.
All About the Benjamins should hold more appeal to black audiences than Ghosts of Mars, allowing Ice Cube to enjoy a $10 million-plus opening. Ice Cube shouldn't expect the Benjamins--or Hamiltons and Jacksons, for that matter--to roll in for too long. Showtime, an action comedy built around the inspired pairing of Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro, will likely crush All About the Benjamins when it debuts March 15. Consequently, Ice Cube can expect All About the Benjamins to match Friday at the box office but fall far short of Next Friday.
The war will rage on for Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers. The Vietnam-era epic will cede the No. 1 spot to The Time Machine after opening last weekend with an excellent $20.2 million. This strong opening demonstrates that audiences are not growing tired of war films in light of the recent failure of Hart's War.
This week's battle against al-Qaida fighters in eastern Afghanistan, which has claimed the lives of eight American soldiers since March 1, did not deter audiences from watching director Randall Wallace's Saving Private Ryan-styled account of the first major encounter between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces. We Were Soldiers made $26.3 through Thursday.
We Were Soldiers' debut falls between Braveheart's $12.9 and The Patriot's $22.4 million openings. Payback, a bloody but more commercial Gibson vehicle, managed a $21.2 million opening in 1999. Bearing this in mind, We Were Soldiers should emerge with a total somewhere between Braveheart's $75.5 million and Payback's $81.5 million.
The arrival of We Were Soldiers put Bruce Willis' disastrous Hart's War out of its misery. The POW camp-set courtroom drama plunged a staggering 69 percent in its third weekend, from $4.4 million to $1.4 million, despite only being dropped from 2,459 theaters to 1,982 theaters. Hart's War has $15 million through Sunday.
The era of the one-man army is possibly over for now in the wake of We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage fell by 50 percent in its fourth weekend from $3.8 million to $1.9 million. The terrorist-themed thriller has a lackluster $37.6 million through Sunday.
The Oscar-nominated Black Hawk Down sustained minor damage in the wake of We Were Soldiers. Director Ridley Scott's Somalia-set war epic dropped a respectable 36 percent in its seventh week in wide release, from $3.6 million to $2.3 million. Black Hawk Down has $105.2 million through Wednesday.
Denying pleasures of the flesh proved bountiful for Black Hawk Down's Josh Hartnett. His vow of abstinence for 40 Days and 40 Nights enjoyed a $12.2 million opening, not bad considering that the R-rated comedy is the Hartnett's first solo vehicle. 40 Days and 40 Nights also faced little opposition from holdover Super Troopers, which has $15.9 million through Monday.
40 Days and 40 Nights looks set to match the $34 million earned by director Michael Lehman's previous romantic comedy, 1996's The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Its total through Thursday: $15.7 million.
Denzel Washington's anti-HMO screed John Q continues to connect with anyone willing to listen. The hostage drama eased by just 32 percent in its third weekend, from $12.4 million to $8.5 million, and has $53 million through Thursday. John Q lags somewhat behind last year's Training Day, which had $59.8 million during the same period of play. John Q, though, remains on pace to wind up with a healthy $70 million.
An early grave awaits Queen of the Damned. The chillingly feeble sequel to Interview With the Vampire descended by a lethal 60 percent in its second weekend, from $14.7 million to $5.9 million. Fans of both novelist Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and the late pop singer Aaliyah clearly went out their way to see Queen of the Damned during its opening weekend. With $25.5 million through Thursday, Queen of the Damned has one last weekend to claw its way as close to $30 million as possible before making way for Resident Evil on March 15 and Blade 2 on March 22.
Dragonfly fared somewhat better than Queen of the Damned, but not enough to recall Kevin Costner's glory days as a box office phenomenon. The silly supernatural love story dropped 36 percent in its second weekend, from 10.2 million to $6.6 million, for $20.8 million through Thursday. Dragonfly surpassed the pitiful $15.7 million amassed by Costner's 2001 bomb 3000 Miles to Graceland, yet it won't have the stamina to fly past fellow flops Thirteen Days ($34.5 million) or For Love of the Game ($35.1 million).
Return to Never Land can enjoy one last weekend before Peter Pan receives the cold shoulder from kids. The animated Ice Age will likely inflict Disney's Peter Pan sequel a deadly blow. Still, with $37 million through Thursday, Return to Never Land can still make it to $50 million with a little bit of magic.
Big Fat Liar and Snow Dogs continues to pull in pre-teens too old for Return to Never Land and too young for Britney Spears' Crossroads. Big Fat Liar has $39.8 million through Thursday, with $50 million possible after a $4.9 million fourth weekend. Snow Dogs has $75.5 million through Sunday, after a $2.3 in its seventh weekend, as it continues its run toward $80 million.
Spears might sell more records than fellow pop diva Mandy Moore, but she isn't selling quite as many tickets at the box office. The somewhat risqué Crossroads opened stronger than Moore's wholesome A Walk to Remember, but has experienced corrosive second and third weekend declines. With $31.5 million through Tuesday, Crossroads may fall short of A Walk to Remember's Sunday total of $39.3 million.
The prospect of Oscar glory continues to extend the fortunes of a handful of nominees. Best Pictures nominees Gosford Park and In the Bedroom have $31 million and $28.6 million, respectively, through Sunday. Monster's Ball, starring Best Actress nominee Halle Berry, has $13.1 million through Sunday. Iris, featuring Best Actress nominee Judi Dench, Best Supporting Actress nominee Kate Winslet and Best Supporting Actor nominee Jim Broadbent, has $1.6 million. Amélie, nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture, has $27.9 million, a U.S. box office record for a French film.
Nominated for 13 Oscars, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has $288.6 million through Thursday, with $300 million a slight possibility before Oscar night. New Line does have an insurance policy in the event Peter Jackson's epic fails to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and thus ruin its chances of surpassing Harry Potter's $314.9 million take through Sunday. On March 22, New Line will put The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring back into 2,000 theaters complete with a four-minute preview of the second film in the trilogy, The Two Towers.
A Beautiful Mind slowed by just 12 percent in its 11th weekend, going from $5.3 million to $4.6 million. Nominated for eight Oscars, Ron Howard's biography of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. has $140.4 million through Thursday. Seems Russell Crowe's temper tantrum at last month's British Academy for Film and Television Arts has not hurt the film, at least not at the box office.