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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After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
It means that what little plot there is will be formulaic and predictable. It means a dashing hero will spout pithy one-liners while his sidekicks will try to be funny and fail. But there will also be a cool helicopter crash and a lot of firepower and maybe even some blood and guts. Cool! On that basis S.W.A.T. does not disappoint. It doesn't much matter that the villain of the story a drug trafficker/murderer/arms dealer called Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) only really comes on the scene in the last 45 minutes or so or that until then the villain is any criminal anywhere in the city that comes in contact with the newly formed yet much-maligned five-person S.W.A.T. team that's the center of the story. Led by Sgt. "Hondo" Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) the team is composed mostly of the force's unreliable renegades and unwanted rejects: Jim Street (Colin Farrell) T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles) Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez) Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt) and Deke Kaye (LL Cool J). After an intense training period and a few impressive successes the underdog team is called in to save the day when Montel makes a televised offer of $100 million to anyone who can break him out of jail--and L.A.'s criminal element comes out in force to do so.
The lack of a plot during the first hour and a half of this movie is probably why the studio is euphemistically billing it as "character-driven." It's kind of like saying that tiny efficiency apartment you're renting is "cozy." Don't let them get one over on you though; these characters are every bit as shallow as you expect gun-toting action heroes to be. If you want to know what drives somebody to tackle a profession that requires them to shoot people in cold blood on an almost daily basis you won't find out watching S.W.A.T.. Farrell at least seems to want to get at the underbelly of the S.W.A.T. psychology but his stereotypically heroic character lacks the complexity that would allow him to do it. So Farrell rolls those limpid brown eyes wildly in their sockets as if he's trying to let out his inner serial killer and mumbles his way through the lines. Jackson on the other hand doesn't even try to give us more. He simply phones this one in ("$20 million? Summer blockbuster? Sure I'll do it. What's it about again?"). Fortunately Rodriguez is more bearable as the tough Sanchez--she lights up the screen and has great timing--and Martinez makes a very sexy bad guy.
The amount of gun violence in S.W.A.T. is particularly startling even for a big blockbuster because the aforementioned shallow characters never really reflect on what they do. The film justifies its violence in one line of dialogue--"S.W.A.T. is a life saving organization not a life taking one"--yet we only meet one person whose life was saved and even she took a bullet in the process. But we do see an awful lot of nameless faceless criminals get blown to bits. Don't get me wrong; I'm no Joe Lieberman. I loved Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and I think Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are among the best movies ever made. It's not that there's even anything wrong with a good ol' fashioned shoot-'em-up movie--although how S.W.A.T. ever got a PG-13 rating is beyond me. Just don't patronize the audience with some false justification for blowing away half the cast and most of the extras. We're really much smarter than that.
Warner Bros. "The Whole Nine Yards" easily held on to first place despite tracking studies that had projected Dimension Films' opening of "Reindeer Games" would be the weekend's big winner.
"Reindeer Games " Although the tracking data had pointed to an opening of $10 million to $12 million for "Reindeer," no film managed to crack double digits last weekend. "Reindeer" wound up an embarrassed No. 3 for the weekend with a red face and nose. The weekend's only other wide opening, Paramount's "Wonder Boys," lived up to tracking expectations, finishing out of the Top Five, in seventh place, with a grim estimated $5.85 million.
The best-performing film of the bunch continued to be "Yards," Morgan Creek and Franchise Pictures' R-rated comedy. "Yards" continued laughing atop the chart in its second weekend with an estimated $9.61 million (-30%) at 2,910 theaters (theater count unchanged, $3,301 per theater). Its total is approximately $28.5 million.
(All of today's estimates are for the three-day weekend. Percentage comparisons are against the Friday through Sunday portion of the previous four-day Presidents Day weekend.)
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, "Yards" stars Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry.
"Well, there's no contest this weekend," Warner Bros. Distribution President Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It's probably one of the best-holding films of all time after Presidents Weekend. I've been tracking these dates, and usually they drop 37-43%. But we have a movie on which the word of mouth is just terrific."
"The Whole Nine Yards" Fellman applauds director Lynn and Franchise Pictures' head Elie Samaha, who executive produced the film with Andrew Stevens, for delivering a movie that audiences are clearly enjoying.
"The screenings we had -- from our sneak previews all the way through opening weekend -- continued to get stronger (in terms of exit poll scores)," Fellman said. "We seem to be getting younger (moviegoers), so the movie's moving into a broader audience, which is wonderful."
Where is it heading? "You're talking north of $50 million," said Fellman. "Each week now depends on how well we hold. After this week is over, we'll end up with $31-32 million. If we take a 35% drop next week, that will still give us another $8 million and bring us to $40 million. Whether it's $50 million or $60 million (remains to be seen), but it's north of $50 million."
Focusing on Franchise Pictures, Fellman said, "Coming out with your first movie at No. 1, and the second week having it No. 1 again, (is a fabulous way to start out)."
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG-rated comedy "Snow Day" rose one peg to second place in its third weekend with a still-hot estimated $8.50 million (-26%) at 2,709 theaters (+7 theaters, $3,138 per theater). Its total is approximately $43.3 million.
Directed by Chris Koch, it stars Chevy Chase.
"I think it will make $60 million-plus," Paramount Distribution President Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I did a high-low projection earlier in the week, and we had it at $50 million on the low side and $63 million on the high side. Certainly, this is a better hold than we expected. I think it'll be in the low $60 millions."
Why is it performing so well?
"You can't really say, 'There's nothing else out there for the kids,' because there is 'The Tigger Movie,'" said Lewellen. "But I think that's so much younger (in its appeal). Certainly, ('Snow') is satisfying the (family) audience it's intended for.
"I think Chevy Chase brought more to the table here than they realized. Parents are going because they think there may be something there for them, too (with Chase starring). He's funny and he's been funny in the past, so they think, 'Well, I'll go to that one (with my kids because I'll probably enjoy it myself).'"
"Snow's" production cost reportedly was only about $15 million, which should make it nicely profitable.
Dimension Films' launch of its R-rated thriller "Reindeer Games" finished third, looking far less lively than industry tracking studies had suggested it would. Hollywood insiders had said "Reindeer" was the only film likely to do double-digit business this weekend.
"Reindeer" wound up with a calm estimated $8 million at 2,204 theaters ($3,629 per theater).
Directed by John Frankenheimer, it stars Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise, and Charlize Theron.
"Kind of a downbeat weekend," was how one competing distribution executive summed things up Sunday morning. "Right now, 'The Whole Nine Yards' is overperforming the tracking, clearly, and there's no question 'Reindeer Games' underperformed."
Distributors make a point of saying about tracking, as one did in our projection report for the weekend, "If you're looking for science, there isn't any. That's why nobody can make (accurate) predictions." While tracking data is often reliable, there are times when moviegoers simply do something different from what they said they were going to do.
Columbia's PG-13-rated comedy "Hanging Up" saw moviegoers start to disconnect with it in its second weekend, sliding two rungs to fourth place with a less talkative estimated $7.50 million (-45%) at 2,618 theaters (theater count unchanged, $2,865 per theater). Its total is approximately $26.1 million.
Directed by Diane Keaton, it stars Meg Ryan, Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, and Walter Matthau.
"I think it'll pretty predictably make in the mid-$40s to $50 million range and end up making us a profit," said Sony Pictures Releasing President Jeff Blake Sunday morning.
USA Films' R-rated sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black" dropped one orbit to fifth place in its second weekend with an OK estimated $7.05 million (-39%) at 1,930 theaters (+98 theaters, $3,654 per theater). Its total is approximately $22.8 million.
Directed by David Twohy, it stars Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Keith David.
Disney's G-rated "The Tigger Movie" took a one-peg skid to sixth place in its third weekend, still holding well with an estimated $6.30 million (-21%) at 2,818 theaters (+63 theaters, $2,236 per theater). Its total is approximately $30.6 million.
The film is the animated adventures of the eponymous "Winnie the Pooh" character and his cast of animal friends.
Paramount's R-rated comedy drama "Wonder Boys" lived up to its mediocre tracking scores, opening in seventh place to a less than wonderful estimated $5.85 million at 1,253 theatres ($4,669 per theater).
However, its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release over the weekend.
Directed by Curtis Hanson, "Boys" stars Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Rip Torn and Robert Downey Jr.
"A lot of critics have mentioned that his (Douglas') performance is very good and, in fact, I think it is," said Paramount's Lewellen on Sunday morning. "We opened (Wednesday) in New York, L.A. and Chicago. Obviously, with a film like this, you have to depend on good reviews. We got that, for the most part, with the exception of The New York Times. Virtually everywhere else in the country, (we got) good to rave reviews.
"This is one of those (films) that can hang around a while if word of mouth is good on the picture."
With that in mind, Lewellen said, Paramount is committed to going wider with "Wonder Boys" next weekend.
"We're bringing in another 250 runs next week in smaller markets," he said. "Hopefully, it will give an opportunity for the reviews and good word of mouth to get out there and into the smaller markets."
"Boys" five-day total is $5.9 million.
Dimension Films' R-rated thriller "Scream 3" continued slipping in its fourth weekend, down two pegs to eighth place with a less scary estimated $5 million at 3,099 theaters (-269 theaters, $1,613 per theater). Its total is approximately $78.1 million.
Directed by Wes Craven, "Scream 3" stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Parker Posey.
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "American Beauty," a major Oscar contender with eight nominations, including Best Picture, held on to ninth place in its 24th week with a still promising estimated $4.73 million (-15%) at 1,323 theatres (+36 theaters, $3,578 per theater). Its total is approximately $87.7 million.
Directed by Sam Mendes, it stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening.
"It's down 15%, (which is) fantastic," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning.
What effect has the film's awards success had?
"Well, it's had to be extremely positive," said Tharp. "Probably, the Golden Globes awards as well as the (Oscar) nominations contributed to that (Academy run) opening last week, which was $5.6 million for the three days. I think right now the movie's playing like it did when it was first-run.
"It continues to hold very, very well. It's a combination of people that have never seen the movie and, then, people seeing it again."
Rounding out the Top 10 was Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules," also a top contender for Oscars with seven nominations, including Best Picture. "Cider" expanded in its 12th week, pulling in an OK estimated $4.10 million at 1,346 theaters (+489 theaters, $3,046 per theater). Its total is approximately $32 million.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, it stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Erykah Badu, Paul Rudd and Michael Caine.
Last weekend saw the arrival of Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13-rated dramatic comedy "The Closer You Get," placing 30th with a quiet estimated $0.045 million at 10 theaters ($4,500 per theater).
Directed by Aileen Ritchie, it stars Ian Hart, Sean McGinley, Niamh Cusack and Ruth McCabe.
Last weekend saw Columbia hold 800 sneak previews of its comedy "What Planet Are You From?".
Directed by Mike Nichols, it stars Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino and John Goodman.
"They were generally well-attended, particularly in big cities," Sony Pictures' Blake said Sunday morning. "They were less well-attended in the smaller cities in the South and the Midwest. Overall, the reaction was very good. Clearly, it's a picture I think people are going to find out about and tell their friends. It opens Friday (March 3) in about 2,200 runs."
On the expansion front, last weekend saw Buena Vista/Touchstone expand its R-rated drama "The Insider," a top contender for Oscars with seven nominations, including Best Picture, in its 17th week, placing 21st with a dull estimated $0.49 million at 651 theaters (+519 theaters, $753 per theater). Its total is approximately $27.5 million.
Directed by Michael Mann, it stars Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer.
USA Films' reissue of the PG-rated suspense drama "Rear Window" widened in its sixth week, placing 26th with an OK estimated $0.13 million at 22 theaters (+4 theaters, $5,955 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.9 million.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Robert Harris and James Katz restored the 1954 film classic.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend - took in approximately $83.21 million, up about 13.50% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $73.31 million.
This weekend's key film gross cannot be compared with this year's previous weekend, the four-day Presidents Day holiday weekend.
Last year, Sony's opening week of "8MM" was first with $14.25 million at 2,370 theaters ($6,014 per theater) and Paramount's fourth week of "Payback" was second with $6.79 million at 2,852 theaters ($2,380 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $21.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $18.1 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films, last weekend's top six distributors were the following: Miramax (Miramax, Dimension) was first with three films ("Reindeer Games," "Scream 3" and "The Cider House Rules") grossing an estimated $17.10 million or 20.6% of the market.
Paramount was second with two films ("Snow Day" and "Wonder Boys") grossing an estimated $14.35 million or 17.2% of the market.
Warner Bros. was third with two films ("The Green Mile" and "The Whole Nine Yards") grossing an estimated $11.64 million or 14% of the market.
Buena Vista (Touchstone and Disney) was fourth with four films ("The Tigger Movie," "Toy Story 2," "The Sixth Sense" and "Fantasia 2000") grossing an estimated $10 million or 12% of the market.
Sony Pictures Entertainment (Columbia, TriStar) was fifth with two films ("Hanging Up" and "Stuart Little") grossing an estimated $8.55 million or 10.3% of the market.
USA Films was sixth with one film ("Pitch Black") grossing an estimated $7.05 million or 8.5% of the market.
(11) "The Beach"/Fox Theaters: 2,517 (-70) Gross: $3.50 million (-51%) Average per theater: $1,391 Total: $33.9 million
(12) "Boiler Room"/New Line Theaters: 1,335 (0) Gross: $3.10 million (-46%) Average per theater: $2,322 Total: $11.1 million
(13) "The Green Mile"/Castle Rock/Warner Bros. Theaters: 1,746 (-356) Gross: $2.03 million (-29%) Average per theater: $1,167 Total: $131.2 million
(14) "The Sixth Sense"/BV/Touchstone Theaters: 992 (+98) Gross: $1.60 million (-19%) (tie) Average per theater: $1,568 Total: $284 million
(14) "Fantasia 2000"/BV/Disney Theaters: 54 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $1.60 million (worldwide) (-32%) (tie) Average per theater: $29,153 Total: $34.5 million (worldwide)
(16) "The Hurricane"/Universal Theaters: 1,346 (-365) Gross: $1.31 million (-45%) Average per theater: $970 Total: $48.2 million
(17) "Next Friday"/New Line Theaters: 1,038 (-171) Gross: $1.13 million (-38%) Average per theater: $1,084 Total: $54.1 million
(18) "Stuart Little"/Columbia Theaters: 1,300 (-414) Gross: $1.05 million (-33%) Average per theater: $808 Total: $136.2 million
(19) "Galaxy Quest"/DreamWorks Theaters: 817 (-369) Gross: $0.75 million (-39%) Average per theater: $920 Total: $69.0 million
(20) "Toy Story 2"/BV/Disney Theaters: 581 (-183) Gross: $0.50 million (-48%) Average per theater: $863 Total: $240.6 million
(21) "The Insider"/BV/Touchstone (see EXPANSIONS above)
(22) "The Talented Mr. Ripley"/Paramount/Miramax Theaters: 626 (-519) Gross: $0.37 million (-56%) Average per theater: $694 Total: $80 million
(23) "Angela's Ashes"/Paramount Theaters: 584 (-30) Gross: $0.36 million (-42%) Average per theater: $616 Total: $11.9 million
(24) "Being John Malkovich"/USA Films Theaters: 134 (-31) Gross: $0.13 million (-34%) Average per theater: $995 Total: $22 million
(25) "Snow Falling on Cedars"/Universal Theaters: 299 (+11) Gross: $0.13 million (-17%) Average per theater: $440 Total: $14.1 million
(26) "Rear Window"/USA (see EXPANSIONS above)
(27) "End of Days"/Universal Theaters: 197 (-43) Gross: $0.10 million (-36%) Average per theater: $460 Total: $66.7 million (28) "The Bone Collector"/Universal: Theaters: 217
(-28) Gross: $0.10 million (-36%) Average per theater: $415 Total: $66.4 million
(29) "My Dog Skip"/Warner Bros. Theaters: 21 (-4) Gross: $0.056 million (-15%) Average per theater: $2,660 Total: $0.7 million
(30) "The Closer You Get"/Fox Searchlight: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)