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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What do you do when a group of 17 actors, choreographers, screenwriters, and circus performers want to take a turn at directing? Let them all do it at once, of course!
The Turning, an adaption of Australian author Tim Tinton's eponymous novel, is an interconnected collection of 17 short storie,s starring Australian actors Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne, and Miranda Otto. Many of the storylines are interweaved to create a central plot-line relationship surrounding a young woman and her abusive husband living in a trailer park, although the trailer seems to hint at much more than that.
Keeping with the Down Under theme, mate, Australian actresses Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska make their directiorial debuts with the film, joining a team of 15 other Australian directors: David Wenham, Benedict Andrews, Jonathan auf der Heide, Tony Ayres, Shaun Gladwell, Rhys Graham, Justin Kurzel, Ian Meadows, Yaron Lifschitz, Claire McCarthy, Ashlee Page and Stephen Page.
In an interview with SBS Film, producer Robert Connolly revealed that some of the directors will tell their story in a traditional way, while others will take an experimental approach. He also disclosed that a few of the directors wrote their own scripts. Huh... why does this remind me so much of a school project?
Wrapping up production on The Turning, which will premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in late July, Blanchett and Wasikowska will work together again as lovers in the upcoming drama Carol. Take a look at the powerful teaser trailer and see if you can make sense of the plot (because we can't).
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Changing Lanes swerved into first place, opening to a fast $17.6 million.
Panic Room locked up second place with $11.3 million. The Sweetest Thing kicked off third with a tasty $10 million.
Ice Age was barely thawing in fourth place with $8.7 million. The Rookie was a hard running fifth with $8.1 million. Frailty, the weekend's other wide opening, tied for eighth with a frail $4.2 million.
With little excitement in the marketplace, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--tumbled from their recent summer-like levels. This weekend's $92 million total was down about 13 percent from the previous weekend's $105.5 million. Business was up nearly 8 percent from last year's $85.3 million for what was Easter Weekend 2001.
THE TOP TEN
Paramount's R rated road rage drama Changing Lanes found first place parking, pushing the April box office speed limit with an ESTIMATED $17.55 million at 2,613 theaters ($6,716 per theater).
Changing Lanes' average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Directed by Roger Michell, it stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson.
"We're very happy," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "It's on the high end of what we thought it would be. We were looking at $15-18 million."
Lewellen pointed out that Changing Lanes' opening is one of the best ever for an April arrival. "In the month of April, the largest opening ever was Life, which opened in '99 (the weekend of Apr. 16-18) to $20.4 million," he said. "Then you had Lost In Space at $20.1 million, Entrapment at $20.1 million, U-571 at $19.6 million, Indecent Proposal at $18.3 million and then this one at $17.6 million. So April is not a booming month (for openings)."
Looking at Changing Lanes' opening, Lewellen noted, "It's actually performed the way the research said (it would). It played across pretty much all demos equally. That is, it showed relatively the same interest and first choice across the board--a little stronger in older female (over 25). And that's pretty what we got. It had a very strong African-American attendance."
Columbia's R rated thriller Panic Room was still putting up strong resistance in its third week, down one peg to second place with an ESTIMATED $11.3 million (-38%) at 3,119 theaters (+66 theaters; $3,623 per theater). Its cume is approximately $74.1 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"A less than 40 percent drop two weeks in a row for this wide a run and at this nice high level is certainly a sign of continued strength that we hope will get us to $100 million," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Sony also launched its first international openings for Panic Room this weekend to impressive results. "It was sensational," Blake noted. "We were number one in eight out of eight openings."
Panic Room took hold in Australia, Spain, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Holland and in Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark and Finland).
"It opened this weekend to really tremendous results. We obviously beat all comers in all markets. The markets will continue to roll out with Japan opening this week and the U.K. opening the first week in May."
Focusing on the impact internationally of a strong domestic opening such as Panic Room had when it kicked off to $30.1 million in late March, Blake observed, "I happened to be traveling (abroad) for the last two weeks and every market I went to was aware of the great results out of the U.S. It certainly seeps into both the public consciousness and the exhibitor consciousness all over the world."
Columbia's R rated romantic comedy The Sweetest Thing opened in third place to a semi-sweet ESTIMATED $10.0 million at 2,670 theaters ($3,745 per theater).
Directed by Roger Kumble, it stars Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair.
"Young girls in their high teens and 20s were the strongest audience," Sony's Jeff Blake said. "The nice surprise was that young males liked it as well as the young females. We hope that as really one of the few comedies in the market we can hang in there."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age slipped one peg to fourth place in its fifth week, still frozen solid with an ESTIMATED $8.7 million (-36%) at 3,011 theaters (-189 theaters; $2,889 per theater). Its cume is approximately $151.8 million, heading for $175 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
"It's holding wonderfully," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, "especially (considering that) The Rookie is still in the market doing business to families and so is Clockstoppers."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie fell one base to fifth place in its third week, still showing great legs with an ESTIMATED $8.1 million (-30%) at 2,520 theaters (-4 theaters; $3,234 per theater). Its cume is approximately $45.4 million.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' PG-13 rated thriller High Crimes fell four rungs to sixth place in its second week with a slower ESTIMATED $8.01 million (-43%) at 2,747 theaters (+30 theaters; $2,914 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.5 million, heading for $40 million or more.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers held on to seventh place in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $4.77 million (-35%) at 2,512 theaters (-51 theaters; $1,897 per theater). Its cume is approximately $28.2 million, heading for $40 million-plus in domestic theaters.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
"We're still $12 million or so away from the (projected) $40 million, but these kind of films have sort of an extended life in matinee business," Paramount's Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "We find that to be true with all of the family (product). They hang on."
Artisan Entertainment's R rated youth comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder, which was sixth last week, tied for eighth place in its second week with a less funny ESTIMATED $4.2 million (-43%) at 2,104 theaters (+82 theaters; $1,996 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.8 million, heading for $20 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
"We're figuring it's going to top out at $20 million, which for us will be successful because we made the film for between $5-6 million," Artisan domestic theatrical distribution president Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning.
"These R rated comedies always do extraordinarily well in video. Kids who are 13, 14 or 15 go to a movie theater and cannot get into (R rated films if) they're not accompanied (by an adult). Yet they can go to the local (video store) three months later when it's out and rent it with no questions asked. These films typically over perform versus box office when they go to video. So we're very optimistic about it doing very, very well on the video side."
Lions Gate Films' R rated horror genre film Frailty kicked off quietly in a tie for eighth place with an ESTIMATED $4.2 million at 1,497 theaters ($2,806 per theater).
Directed by Bill Paxton, it stars Paxton and Matthew McConaughey.
Rounding out the Top Ten was New Line Cinema's R rated vampire thriller Blade 2, which was fifth a week earlier, in its fourth week with a dull ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-45%) at 2,174 theaters (-387 theaters; $1,886 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.7 million, heading for $80 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Wesley Snipes.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fine Line Features' R rated comedy Human Nature with an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.31 million at 224 theaters ($1,385 per theater).
Directed by Michael Gondry, it stars Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto.
Lions Gate Films PG-13 rated comedy thriller The Cat's Meow opened to an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.11 million at 11 theaters in New York and Los Angeles ($10,000 per theater).
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, it stars Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Tilly.
"We'll be expanding Cat's into the Top Ten markets on Apr. 26 and then nationwide on May 3, so we're very optimistic about that," Lions Gate Films president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday.
TriStar's R rated drama New Best Friend arrived to an unfriendly ESTIMATED $27,000 at 100 theaters ($270 per theater).
Directed by Zoe Clarke-Williams, it stars Mia Kirshner, Meredith Monroe, Dominique Swain and Taye Diggs.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' unrated erotic drama Y Tu Mama Tambien went wider in its fifth week with a less arousing ESTIMATED $1.0 million (-14%) at 194 theaters (+14 theaters; $5,225 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.5 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its eighth week with a still spicy ESTIMATED $0.64 million (-10%) at 162 theaters (+12 theaters; $3,945 per theater). Its cume is approximately $6.2 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
United Artists' reissue of The Last Waltz went wider in its second week via MGM with an ESTIMATED $34,000 at 6 theaters (+5 theaters; $5,725 per theater). Its cume is approximately $69,000.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Waltz is a musical documentary about the final concert of The Band.
Universal's international division reported Sunday morning that in Argentina A Beautiful Mind was number one with $45,000 (-10%) on 50 playdates. E.T. moved up three pegs to sixth place with $17,000 (+13%) on 50 playdates.
Panic Room opened in first place in Australia with $1.1 million on 200 playdates. Time Machine opened number two with $0.65 million on 183 playdates. A Beautiful Mind is fourth in its 6th week with $0.36 million on 230 playdates. The Scorpion King opens next Thursday.
In Brazil, A Beautiful Mind is third with $0.2 million (-20%) on 156 playdates. K-Pax, which Universal is releasing in Brazil, opened fourth with $60,000 on 55 playdates. E.T ranked tenth with $35,000 (-14%) on 159 playdates.
A Beautiful Mind was fourth in Germany with $0.63 million (-26%) on 355 playdates. Spy Game finished eleventh with $0.2 million (-49%) on 230 playdates. E.T was 14th with $0.14 million (-30%) on 538 playdates.
In Spain, E.T had a two day gross of $0.14 million (-35%) on 250 playdates. A Beautiful Mind was fifth with $0.26 million (-30%) on 190 playdates.
Ali G Inda House, Universal's latest film from Working Title, continued to perform solidly in the U.K. where it has grossed $12.8 million in 23 days on 394 playdates. Scorpion King opens Friday (Apr. 19) in the U.K.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $91.98 million, up about 7.84 percent from last year when they totaled $85.3 million. Key films this weekend were down about 12.78 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $105.46 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' third week of Spy Kids was first with $12.5 million at 3,172 theaters ($3,941 per theater); and Paramount's second week of Along Came A Spider was second with $11.53 million at 2,530 theaters ($4,556 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $24.0 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $28.9 million.