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: Kate Hudson Expecting First Child
Actress Kate Hudson and her rock star husband, Chris Robinson, are expecting their first child early next year, Reuters reports. A spokesman for Hudson, whose moment to shine came in her breakout role as Penny Lane in the 2000 Oscar winning movie Almost Famous, declined to give a more exact due date for the baby. Hudson, 24, and Robinson, 36, were married in December 2000. Robinson, the former frontman for the Black Crowes, is expected to begin touring again soon with his new band, New Earth Mud. Hudson is currently starring in the romantic comedy Alex and Emma, which opens this weekend. This will make a grandmother of Hudson's Oscar-winning mom, Goldie Hawn, the star of the 1960s TV show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
Spears, Berry and Costner Get Hollywood Stars
Britney Spears, Halle Berry and Kevin Costner are getting stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, Johnny Grant, chairman of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, announced Thursday. Anthony Hopkins, John Singleton, Ted Turner, Glenn Close, Journey and 17-year-old twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will also get the celebrated sidewalk honor next year.
Stewart Trial Set for January 12
A federal judge ruled Thursday that Martha Stewart's trial for securities fraud will start on Jan. 12, Reuters reports. U.S. Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum set the trial date after defense lawyers said they needed more time to review the government's evidence against Stewart and Peter Bacanovic, her former stockbroker at Merrill Lynch & Co. Stewart, 61, was indicted June 4 and pleaded not guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements. If convicted, she could face up to 30 years in prison and $2 million in fines.
Actor's Union Shuts Down Voight Project
About 30 union actors and crew members, including Tess Harper and James Cromwell, have managed to shut down the non-union film Deadly Course, a project they believed was being produced by Screen Actors' Guild member Jon Voight. A representative of the Intl. Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) who asked not to be identified told Reuters, "The working conditions were horrendous. The pay was terrible. Some people were getting $6-$7 an hour. Some were working 20-hour days." Voight confirmed to Reuters the project had been completely shut down but insisted he was not working on the film.
Exorcist Author, Director Sue Warner Bros.
William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, and William Friedkin, the director of the 1973 movie, have filed suit against Warner Bros., claiming the studio breached its fiduciary duty by self-dealing the rights for a newer version of the film. They also claim the studio would sell the rights to its sister cable TV networks TNT and TBS for little to no profit. Warner Bros., however, asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, claiming it has no financial responsibility to Blatty and Friedkin. Superior Court Judge Laurie Zelon denied Thursday Blatty and Friedkin's claim of breach of fiduciary duty, but set a July 14 trial for the two's claims of breach of contract and misrepresented accounting, the AP reports.
No Spike TV for Viacom
The five appellate judges of the New York State Supreme Court upheld an injunction Thursday preventing media conglomerate Viacom Inc. from renaming its TNN cable network "Spike TV," Reuters reports. Filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and 25th Hour, had won a temporary injunction last week stopping the name change, claiming he feared he would be erroneously associated with the network. Viacom, which plans to feature racy animated series such as Pamela Anderson's Stripperella and The Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, wanted to change the name of its cable network to coincide with a programming shift.
Russell Simmons Pushes To Reform Drug Law
Impresario Russell Simmons went to Albany, N.Y., to push politicians to reform drug laws, but instead got blamed for taking up too much of the legislature's time. According to Reuters, Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said the Wednesday night seven-hour marathon meeting with Simmons "took too much time." The two sides made progress, however, reaching a last minute agreement on how to reduce sentences for people now serving time mandated by the Rockefeller-era drug laws, which often result in jail time for first offenses and give judges almost no discretion.
Celebrities Entertain U.S. Troops in Gulf
Kid Rock and Wayne Newton will perform for U.S. troops in the Gulf this week as part of the first large-scale entertainment tour of the region. Dubbed Project Salute 2003, the performers will visits American military personnel in Baghdad, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the Ali al-Salem air base in Kuwait, said Donna St. John, Reuters reports. Other celebs on the entertainment roster include actresses Alyssa Milano, Brittany Murphy, country singer Lee Ann Womack, actor Gary Sinise, comedian Paul Rodriguez and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
Role Call: Zellweger To Play Joplin in Feature Biopic
A rich "Parents" opening turned the box office green after two months of lackluster grosses.
Universal's PG-13-rated comedy "Meet the Parents" met with greater success than insiders had anticipated. Rather than the $18-22 million range that many Hollywood handicappers were expecting, "Parents" opened to a sizzling ESTIMATED $29.11 million at 2,614 theaters ($11,135 per theater).
"Parents'" international release is through DreamWorks Pictures, which co-financed the film and will share equally in its success. "Parents" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing in wide release last weekend.
The film set records as the biggest October opening ever and the biggest openings ever for its stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, according to a Universal spokesman. It is Universal's fourth consecutive film to open in first place, following "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Bring It On" and "The Watcher."
"We're very excited," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "It's just what the marketplace needed to reinvigorate it. I knew it would be great. I just can't believe how great it is. I knew it would be big. I knew that the record breaker was not an exceedingly tremendous number (DreamWorks' animated feature 'Antz' with $17.2 million the weekend of Oct. 2-4, 1998), but I never thought it could get to this level, because it just hasn't been done in October."
Directed by Jay Roach (director of both "Austin Powers" hits), "Parents" stars Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG-rated football drama "Remember the Titans" from producer Jerry Bruckheimer lost one yard on the chart, placing second as it expanded in its second weekend with a still-memorable ESTIMATED $19.6 million (-6%) at 2,701 theaters (+836 theaters; $7,244 per theater). Its cume is approximately $46.2 million.
"It was our distribution strategy that we wanted to wait for the second weekend and the (Columbus Day) holiday for the smaller markets," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "It has obviously paid off quite well. On a comparison of the same theaters (from last weekend), we'll probably be off in the high teens, maybe 20% would be the highest drop. I'm thinking more like 17%. And then to be only off 6% including the new runs, that means we did the right thing.
"Now, who knows, maybe that magic ($100 million domestic theatrical) number's in our future - because we're at (over) $46 million already. You can't imagine how pleased we are about what went on, especially in a market where now you have two really, really good, crowd-pleasing movies. They love 'Meet the Parents.' They love 'Titans.' The top two hits - everybody's talking about how much they like them. When was the last time that happened? This is where two films are just doing great together. What a wonderful combination.
"It's finally looking like (the box office is) turning the corner. I'm glad to be part of it. I'm glad Universal and us have both of these pictures back to back. You know, this business needed a shot in the arm."
Directed by Boaz Yakin and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Chad Oman, "Titans" stars Denzel Washington.
Driven by "Parents" and "Titans," the marketplace managed to expand to nearly $81 million this weekend. Nonetheless, it was still down from last year - although by not quite 3%. That was a far better showing than the previous weekend, when key films plunged about 28% from their levels one year earlier. This weekend's key films total was up nearly 41% over the prior weekend.
Warner Bros. and Franchise Pictures' R-rated Sylvester Stallone action adventure "Get Carter" opened in third place to a less-exciting-than-hoped-for ESTIMATED $6.73 million (2,315 theaters; $2,905 per theater).
Directed by Stephen Kay, "Carter" stars Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke and Michael Caine.
Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning that Franchise would come out okay given that Stallone did the film for far less than his usual starring paycheck.
Fellman was particularly happy Sunday morning about the expansion of Warners' comedy "Best In Show," which went wider in its second weekend (see EXPANSIONS below), averaging $14,340 per theater at 53 runs.
"This is a big hit," Fellman said. "We open at about another 250 theaters next Friday. This movie's going to work. We have a good rollout plan. It's going to happen. We were up 69% from Friday to Saturday. It's obviously a word-of-mouth movie."
There also was more good news on the sneak preview front this weekend for Warners. "The big news for us was that last night (Saturday), we had spectacular sneak screenings on 'Pay It Forward," Fellman said, referring to the studio's drama from director Mimi Leder, starringKevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.
"We screened it at about 350 locations. We had over 80% of the theaters at 75% to 100% capacity. Actually, 60% were at 100% capacity. We had 81% in the Top Two Boxes (excellent and very good). It opens Oct. 20. We're going to go somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800 theaters. We have another sneak next weekend at about 750 theaters."
Warner Bros.' reissue of its R-rated 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist" slid two pegs to fourth place in its third week with a still-scary $4.61 million (-36%) at 1,150 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,009 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.1 million, heading for $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by William Friedkin, "Exorcist" stars Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair and Max von Sydow.
20th Century Fox's launch of its PG-rated Japanese animated feature "Digimon: The Movie" at 1,850 theaters exceeded expectations, finishing fifth with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million at 1,822 theaters ($2,250 per theater).
"If it holds in, we'll be fine," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, acknowledging that the picture was not an expensive pick up for Fox. "I couldn't make heads or tails from the research at all. This could have been anywhere between $2-20 million!"
DreamWorks' R-rated dramatic comedy "Almost Famous" went wider again in its fourth week, falling three rungs to sixth place with a less-exciting ESTIMATED $3.8 million (-32%) at 2,085 theaters (+450 theaters; $1,816 per theater. Its cume is approximately $23.3 million, heading for $45-50 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), "Almost" stars Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Noah Taylor and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
"Famous" is being released internationally by Sony's Columbia Pictures, which co-financed the production and will share equally with DreamWorks in its success.
Columbia's R-rated horror sequel "Urban Legends: Final Cut" from Phoenix Pictures fell three pegs to seventh place in its third week with a calm ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-41%) at 2,539 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,024 per theater). Its cume is approximately $18.2 million. Directed by John Ottman, "Urban" stars Jennifer Morrison.
Universal and Beacon Pictures' PG-13-rated comedy "Bring It On" fell three slots to eighth place in its seventh week with a less lively ESTIMATED $2.2 million (-27%) at 2,382 theaters (-84 theaters; $925 per theater). Its cume is approximately $62.4 million.
Having an investment of only about $10 million in "Bring," Universal is well into profit on the picture. Directed by Peyton Reed, "Bring" stars Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dusku, Jesse Bradford and Gabrielle Union.
DreamWorks PG-13-rated supernatural thriller "What Lies Beneath" held on to ninth place in its 12th week with an okay ESTIMATED $1.2 million (-29%) at 1,375 t eaters (-299 theaters; $851 per theater). Its cume is approximately $152.2 million.
"Beneath" is a co-production of DreamWorks, which is releasing it domestically, and 20th Century Fox, which is distributing it internationally. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Beneath" stars Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Rounding out the Top Ten was USA Films' R-rated dark comedy "Nurse Betty," down three pegs in its fifth week with a slower ESTIMATED $1.1 million (-48%) at 1,473 theaters (-16 theaters; $749 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.7 million.
"Betty" actually is owned by Universal, which acquired it as part of its takeover of PolyGram and then brought in USA to handle its domestic release. Directed by Neil La Bute, "Betty" stars Morgan Freeman, Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock and Greg Kinnear.
This weekend also saw the arrival of New Line's R-rated Spike Lee satire "Bamboozled," placing 23rd with an okay ESTIMATED $0.18 million at 17 theaters ($10,294 per theater).
"We're going to expand it on Oct. 20 in the 15 top markets," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "We knew this picture was going to be a word of mouth picture, so that's what we're doing."
Written and directed by Spike Lee, "Bamboozled" stars Damon Wayans, Savion Glover and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Artisan Entertainment's controversial unrated drama "Requiem For A Dream" opened exclusively in New York, placing 25th with a sexy ESTIMATED $0.083 million at 2 theaters ($41,485 per theater). Directed by Darren Arnonofsky, "Requiem" stars Jared Leto and Ellen Burstyn.
Lions Gate's R-rated drama "Two Family House" opened in New York and L.A., placing 26th with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.032 million at 9 theaters ($3,571 per theater). Directed by Raymond De Felitta, it stars Michael Rispoli and Kelly MacDonald.
20th Century Fox and New Regency's R-rated drama "Tigerland" opened in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, placing 27th with a calm ESTIMATED $0.021 million at 5 theaters ($5,818 per theater). Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Colin Farrell and Matthew Davis.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' 50th anniversary re-release of 20th Century Fox's classic "All About Eve" opened in New York, placing 30th with a solid ESTIMATED $12,340 at one theater. It opens in L.A. this Friday (Oct. 13).
"It's its 50th anniversary," Fox Searchlight distribution head Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "It actually opened 50 years ago this Friday in New York City at the Roxy Theater. It is a restored print."
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, "Eve" stars Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sander, Celeste Holme, Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter and, in one of her earliest roles, Marilyn Monroe.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R-rated drama "Bootmen" opened in New York and L.A., placing 31st with a soft ESTIMATED $12,214 at 11 theaters ($1,110 per theater). Directed by Dein Perry, it stars Adam Garcia, Sophie Lee and Sam Worthington.
Warner Bros. held sneak previews this weekend at 350 theaters of its PG-13 rated drama "Pay It Forward."
For details, see Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman's comments in the Top Ten films report above.
Directed by Mimi Leder, "Pay" stars Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment.
On the expansion front, Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated comedy "Best in Show" went wider in its second week, placing 13th with an impressive ESTIMATED $0.76 million at 53 theatres (+40 theaters; $14,340 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.4 million.
For additional details, see Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman's comments in the Top Ten films report above.
Directed by Christopher Guest, it stars Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Guest and John Michael Higgins.
Fine Line's R-rated drama "Dancer in the Dark" went wider in its third week, placing 16th with a calm ESTIMATED $0.54 million at 111 theaters (+108 theaters; $4,865 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.9 million.
Written and directed by Lars Von Trier, "Dancer" stars Bjork and Catherine Deneuve.
Sony's Screen Gems' R-rated drama "Girlfight" expanded in it second week, placing 18th place with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.53 million at 253 theaters (+225 theaters; $2,075 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.8 million.
Directed by Karyn Kusama, "Girlfight" stars Michelle Rodriguez.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend -- took in approximately $80.70 million, down about 2.73% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $82.97 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 40.83% from this year's previous weekend when key films grossed $57.30 million.
Last year, Paramount's third week of "Double Jeopardy" was first with $13.54 million at 2,913 theaters ($4,649 per theater); and Sony's opening week of "Random Hearts" was second with $12.01 million at 2,697 theaters ($4,825 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $26.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $48.7 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 ("Meet the Parents," "The Watcher" and "Bring It On"), grossing an ESTIMATED $32.42 million or 40.2% of the market.
Buena Vista (Disney and Touchstone) was second with one film ("Remember the Titans"), grossing an ESTIMATED $19.6 million or 24.3% of the market.
Warner Bros. was third with five films ("Get Carter," "The Exorcist," "Bait," "Space Cowboys" and "Best in Show"), grossing an ESTIMATED $13.67 million or 16.9% of the market.
DreamWorks was fourth with two films ("Almost Famous" and "What Lies Beneath"), grossing an ESTIMATED $5.0 million or 6.2% of the market.
20th Century Fox was fifth with one film ("Digimon: The Movie"), grossing an ESTIMATED $4.1 million or 5.1% of the market.
Sony Pictures Releasing (Columbia and TriStar) was sixth with one film ("Urban Legends: Final Cut"), grossing an ESTIMATED $2.6 million or 3.2% of the market.
(11)The Watcher/Universal: Theaters: 1,749 (-887) Gross: $1.11 million (-51%) Average per theater: $635 Cume: $27.8 million
(12)Space Cowboys/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,503 (-503) Gross: $0.9 million (-36%) Average per theater: $599 Cume: $88.3 million
(13)Best in Show/Warner Bros.: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(14)Bait/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 1,026 (-984) Gross: $0.68 million (-61%) Average per theater: $658 Cume: $14.5 million
(15)Beautiful/Destination: Theaters: 646 (0) Gross: $0.61 million (-56%) Average per theater: $950 Cume: $2.5 million
(16)Dancer in the Dark/Fine Line: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(17) The Cell/New Line: Theaters: 774 (-649) Gross: $0.53 million (-49%) Average per theater: $680 Cume: $60.0 million
(18)Girlfight/Screen Gems/Sony: (see EXPANSIONS above)
(19)The Original Kings of Comedy/Paramount: Theaters: 912 (-137) Gross: $0.49 million (-36%) Average per theater: $540 Cume: $37.3 million
(20)Nutty Professor II: The Klumps/Universal: Theaters: 792 (-293) Gross: $0.43 million (-37%) Average per theater: $540 Cume: $121.4 million
(21)Scary Movie/Dimension Films: Theaters: 761 (-492) Gross: $0.42 million (-49%) Average per theater: $545 Cume: $155.7 million
(22)Woman On Top/Fox Searchlight: Theaters: 590 (-496) Gross: $0.33 million (-70%) Average per theater: $553 Cume: $4.5 million
(23)BAMBOOZLED/New Line: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(24)Gladiator/DreamWorks: Theaters: 249 (-158) Gross: $0.17 million (-37%) Average per theater: $895 Cume: $186.4 million
(25)REQUIEM FOR A DREAM/Artisan: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(26) TWO FAMILY HOUSE/Lions Gate: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(27)TIGERLAND/Fox: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(28)Into the Arms of Strangers/Warner Bros.: Theaters: 6 (+1) Gross: $0.020 million (+18%) Average per theater: $3,367 Cume: $0.13 million
(29)Under Suspicion/Lions Gate: Theaters: 15 (-4) Gross: $0.019 million (-60%) Average per theater: $1,290 Cume: $0.2 million
(30)ALL ABOUT EVE/Fox Searchlight (reissue): (see OTHER OPENINGS above)
(31)BOOTMEN/Fox Searchlight: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)