Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
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.
Top Story: Affleck & Lopez Playing the Media?
Hollywood couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez could be pulling the wool over the media's eyes. According to reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Associated Press, the celebrity duo was spotted Monday at the Liberty County Courthouse in a southeast Georgia town, and "looked totally together, smiling and happy," a deputy registrar at the courthouse told the Journal-Constitution, just weeks after canceling their impending nuptials in California. Although a Liberty County sheriff told AP Affleck stopped to ask about a gun permit, the reason the two were at the courthouse is still up for speculation. The couple recently purchased a home together on Georgia's Hampton Island.
Leno Welcomes Calif. Candidates
Ninety of the 135 candidates running for governor of California in the recall election made an appearance Monday on NBC's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. "Welcome to California, now under the division of Ringling Bros., ladies and gentlemen," Leno said as he ushered in the eclectic group to his 300-seat NBC studio for the taping of the program, The Associated Press reports. During the taping, Leno gave each candidate 10 seconds to say what he or she would do to improve California--only they had to all answer at the same time. The talk show host also poked fun at candidate Kurt Rightmyer, who identifies himself as a "middleweight sumo wrestler," who said his platform was to cut out the fat from the budget so he can eat it. The show also featured actor Robert Downey Jr., who labeled the recall election as "a sick, pathetic circus"--then announced he was running. Leno gently let Downey know that could be a problem because of "two words: convicted felon."
Schwarzenegger Begins Campaign Commercials
More on the election: Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger began running separate television commercials Tuesday criticizing Gov. Gray Davis' current term as well as the problem of illegal immigrants obtaining drivers' licenses and the influence Indian tribes have over California politics, City News reports. The commercial criticizes the casinos for being allowed not to pay taxes and the heavy campaign contributions they offer. The Davis campaign issued a statement saying that every governor since 1959 has had at least one term with spending growth greater than Davis' and employment is rising, City News reports.
Beckhams Say Marriage Is Just Fine
Contrary to rumors that the fairy-tale marriage between soccer superstar David Beckham and former Spice Girl Victoria is on the rocks, a statement released by the couple Sunday affirmed their "marriage is not in crisis," AP reports. British tabloid News of the World speculated tensions were brewing between the two since Beckham moved to Spain to play for the Real Madrid soccer team and Victoria is reported to have been reluctant to relocate to Madrid full time. "Since we first met, our careers have always meant we have spent time apart. This is not a reflection on the strength of our marriage and we are very much enjoying our new life in Spain," the couple's statement said. "We are extremely happy together as a family. Our only difficulty has been finding a house in Madrid that meets our needs."
Hepburn's N.Y. Home Up for Sale
The New York City townhouse owned by the late Katharine Hepburn went up for sale Monday with a hefty $4.95 million prize tag attached, Reuters reports. Hepburn bought the four-story townhouse in the Turtle Bay Gardens section of Manhattan in 1937 after renting it for six years, Halstead Property, the broker handling the sale, told Reuters. The 96-year-old Hepburn died in June in her family home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
TV Profanity on the Rise
A new study put out by the watchdog group the Parents Television Council says swearing on television has increased on all the major networks, AP reports. The council said it studied all primetime entertainment series from a two-week period in 1998, 2000 and 2002 and found a jump in profanity on "virtually every network" and in every time slot. They are asking the TV industry to "get serious about reducing the flood of vulgarity. ... Barring that, the [Federal Communications Commission] needs to get serious about enforcing broadcast decency laws," AP reports.
Role Call: ER Gets New Blood, Gibson Rides With Motorcycle Gang, John Waters' Shame
Actors Nicholas D'Agosto and Rossif Sutherland, Donald Sutherland's son, are joining the cast of NBC's ER, as recurring characters. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the show is trying to rejuvenate the ratings as it goes into its 10th season…Meanwhile, Mel Gibson, having completed his controversial religious film The Passion, is looking to star in a project about an infamous motorcycle gang. Variety reports Gibson is in negotiations to star in Under and Alone, an action drama based on the true story of ATF undercover agent Billy Queen, who infiltrated the notorious and violent Mongols Motorcycle Club…Eclectic director John Waters' new film A Dirty Shame was bought by Fine Line Features and begins shooting Sept. 24. According to the studio's press release, the film will star Tracey Ullman as a blue-collar convenience store owner who suffers a concussion and experiences carnal lust she cannot control. The comedy also stars Chris Isaak, Johnny Knoxville and Selma Blair.
After a record-setting Thanksgiving feast, Hollywood got only box office crumbs this weekend as ticket sales plunged 50% from their holiday levels.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-rated blockbuster comedy adventure "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" continued to top the chart in its third weekend with a still festive estimated $27.11 million (-48%) at 3,138 theaters (+4 theaters; $8,640 per theater). Its cume is approximately $172.0 million, heading for $250 million.
(NOTE: All percentage comparisons today are calculated against the three-day weekend portion of the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period.)
"Grinch" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
"'Grinch is great!" Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's satisfying all audiences. In its third weekend 'Grinch' has proved it's the megahit we hoped it would be, having the confidence in the producer (Brian Grazer), the director (Ron Howard) and the star (Jim Carrey). I think it's now proven it's going to be one of the biggest grossing films of all time."
With its cume now at about $172 million, where is "Grinch" going domestically? "Over $250 million," Rocco replied. "We're reasonably certain now that 'Grinch' has proved it will be right up there in $250 million stardom."
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated supernatural thriller "Unbreakable" kept a grip on second place in its second week, holding better than expected with an estimated $15.0 million (-51%) at 2,708 theaters (theater count unchanged; $5,481 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.7 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, "Unbreakable" stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
Buena Vista/Disney's live-action, G-rated puppies sequel "102 Dalmatians" remained in the third spot in its second week with a less lively estimated $8.2 million (-59%) at 2,704 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,032 per theater). Its cume is approximately $36.5 million.
Directed by Kevin Lima, "Dalmatians" stars Glenn Close and Gerard Depardieu.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' G-rated animated sequel "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie" came in fourth again in its third week with a less happy estimated $6.5 million (-63%) at 2,937 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,213 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.5 million.
"What we're tracking, obviously, is how the first one played," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "The first one for this weekend was off 64%. So it's playing amazingly like the first one. Although it's a little lower level, the percentage drops are basically the same as the first one."
Where is it heading? "This puts it at $80-85 million," Lewellen replied. "You can pretty much predict that because of what the first one did. It did about $105 million." The "Rugrats" sequel has been running about 20% below the original since it opened.
Directed by Stig Bergqvist and Paul Demeyer, it was produced by Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo.
Columbia's PG-13 action adventure comedy "Charlie's Angels" held on to fifth place in its fifth weekend with a less sexy estimated $5.2 million (-49%) at 2,751 theaters (-87 theaters; $1,890 per theater). Its cume is approximately $115.6 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.
"'Charlie' continues its assault on the world with number one openings in Spain and Germany this week," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "We're just about sweeping the board. So far we're up to about 35 number one openings (internationally). We're about half way to $100 million now. 'Charlie' would be our fifth $100 million title internationally this year. We're probably at about $960 million for the year right now, closing in on that $1 billion (international total), as well."
Directed by McG, "Angels" stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Bill Murray.
Miramax's PG-13-rated romantic drama "
Written and directed by
Don Roos, "Bounce" stars Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow.
20th Century Fox's R-rated Navy divers drama "Men of Honor" rose one peg to seventh place in its fourth week with a calm estimated $4.19 million (-39%) at 2,190 theaters (+64 theaters; $1,912 per theater). Its cume is approximately $41.2 million.
Directed by George Tillman, Jr., "Honor" stars Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Phoenix Pictures and Columbia's PG-13-rated sci-fi action adventure "The 6th Day" fell one slot to eighth place in its third week with a slow estimated $4.0 million (-47%) at 2,516 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.6 million.
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, "Day" stars Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Universal's PG-13-rated blockbuster comedy "Meet the Parents" held on to ninth place in its ninth week with a still fine estimated $3.78 million (-42%) at 2,317 theaters (+158 theaters; $1,630 per theater). Its cume is approximately $153.2 million, heading for a domestic theatrical gross of $160 million or more.
"Parents'" international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success.
Directed by Jay Roach (director of both "Austin Powers" hits), "Parents" stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
Rounding out the Top Ten once again was New Line's PG-13-rated Adam Sandler comedy "Little Nicky" in its fourth week with a dull estimated $2.35 million (-50%) at 2,470 theaters (-306 theaters; $950 per theater). Its cume is approximately $36.9 million.
Directed by Steven Brill, "Nicky" stars Adam Sandler, Patricia Arquette and Harvey Keitel.
OTHER OPENINGS This weekend also saw the arrival of Miramax's G-rated reissue of The Beatles' classic "A Hard Day's Night" in New York and L.A., placing 20th with a solid estimated $0.054 million at 2 theaters ($26,985 per theater).
Directed by Richard Lester, it stars The Beatles.
SNEAK PREVIEWS Warner Bros. held sneak previews Saturday night of its R-rated thriller "Proof of Life" at theaters showing "Red Planet."
"There were 503 sneaks and they were 85% capacity, which is sensational," Warner Bros. Distribution's Jeff Goldstein said Sunday morning. "We don't have the formal reactions back from our research company (yet), but just from talking with a dozen or so exhibitors, the reactions were excellent. They just really liked it.
"We went out last night with a new trailer of 'A.I.,' Steven Spielberg's summer film, so I checked a bunch of theaters. Number one, they loved the teaser trailer and, number two, the audience really enjoyed the movie ('Proof of Life'), which is great.
"Last night, we actually showed two trailers with our sneaks of 'Proof of Life.' The first one was the 'A.I.' teaser that had never been shown before, which we got a very positive response to. And the second one, which they just went wild over, was the 'Miss Congeniality' trailer. We open up in two weeks, so it's nice to get that kind of feedback. That will open at about 2,500 locations. We have a sneak going on Saturday, Dec. 16. We'll have about 700 sneaks on that date."
Directed by Taylor Hackford, "Life" stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.
Directed by Donald Petrie, "Congeniality" stars Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson and John DiResta.
EXPANSIONS There was no significant activity on the expansion front this weekend.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500, 00 for the weekend -- took in approximately $85.59 million, up about 14.46 from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $74.78 million.
This weekend's key film gross was down about 50.32% from last weekend when key films took in $172.3 million for three days.
Last year, Buena Vista's third week of "Toy Story 2" was first with $27.76 million at 3,238 theaters ($8,573 per theater); and MGM's third week of "The World Is Not Enough" was second with $10.65 million at 3,163 theaters ($3,367 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $38.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $42.1 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES Based on business by key films (those grossing $500,000 or more), last weekend's top six distributors were:
Universal was first with three films ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Meet the Parents" and "Billy Elliot"), grossing an estimated $32.28 million or 37.7% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was second with three films ("Unbreakable," "102 Dalmatians" and "Remember the Titans"), grossing an estimated $24.2 million or 28.3% of the market.
Sony Pictures Entertainment was third with two films ("Charlie's Angels" and "The 6th Day"), grossing an estimated $9.2 million or 10.7% of the market.
Paramount (Paramount and Paramount Classics) was fourth with one film ("Rugrats in Paris: The Movie"), grossing an estimated $6.5 million or 7.6% of the market.
Miramax was fifth with one film ("Bounce"), grossing an estimated $4.4 million or 5.1% of the market.
20th Century Fox was sixth with one film ("Men Of Honor"), grossing an estimated $4.19 million or 4.9% of the market.
ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES (11)Billy Elliot/Universal Focus: Theaters: 510 (+16) Gross: $1.39 million (-31%) Average per theater: $2,725 Cume: $13.3 million
(12)The Legend of Bagger Vance/DreamWorks Theaters: 1,535 (-342) Gross: $1.0 million (-47%) (tie) Average per theater: $665 Cume: $29.7 million
(12)Remember the Titans/BV: Theaters: 1,191 (+17) Gross: $1.0 million (-50%)(tie) Average per theater: $840 Cume: $111.6 million
(14)Red Planet/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,453 (-601) Gross: $0.93 million (-19%) Average per theater: $640 Cume: $16.9 million
(15)Best in Show/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 350 (0) Gross: $0.53 million (-38%) Average per theater: $1,580 Cume: $15.8 million
(16)You Can Count On Me/Paramount Classics: Theaters: 53 (0) Gross: $0.4 million (-20%) Average per theater: $7,770 Cume: $1.7 million
(17)QUILLS/Fox Searchlight: Theaters: 9 (0) Gross: $0.21 million (-16%) Average per theater: $23,281 Cume: $0.6 million
(18)Bring It On/Universal: Theaters: 250 (-25) Gross: $0.13 million (-35%) Average per theater: $500 Cume: $67.9 million
(19)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 129 (-13) Gross: $0.055 million (-38%) Average per theater: $425 Cume: $123.2 million
(20)A HARD DAY'S NIGHT/Miramax (see OTHER OPENINGS above)