In early 19th-century London Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) orphaned at a young age resolves to conquer English society by any means possible. Becky befriends Amelia (Romola Garai) the daughter of a rich merchant and takes a job as a governess for a cantankerous lord Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins). At the Crawley manor she soon meets allies who help her in her quest including Crawley's eccentric rich sister Aunt Matilda (Eileen Atkins) and her beloved and dashing nephew Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy) with whom Becky falls in love. But when Rawdon and Becky secretly marry Aunt Matilda's snobbishness shines through and she cuts the newlyweds out of her will. To top it off Napoleon invades Europe sending Rawdon off to war. But wait there's more. The war ends and the reunited Becky and Rawdon now in London with their young son barely scrape by to make ends meet. Never forgetting her ultimate goal of gaining acceptance into London high society and living well Becky finds a patron in the powerful Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) and through his whims and connections Becky is able to finally realize her dreams. But is the ultimate cost to social climbing too high? Of course it is.
Gwyneth Paltrow she ain't. Although Witherspoon certainly embodies Becky Sharp's spunky personality the whole British period piece milieu just isn't her forte. She's a little Southern gal for heaven's sakes and wanders around like a lost lamb among the British cast trying desperately not to break out into her signature twang. It may have been a better idea to make a modern adaptation of Vanity Fair one in which Becky Sharp is indeed a good little Southern gal trying to make it on her own without all the dark Dickens-esque under tones and deep thoughts. It is curious that only a handful of American actresses Paltrow included can pull off the high-falutin' English act while British actresses play Americans all the time. Hmmm. As for the gifted British cast standouts include Hoskins as the ill-tempered but kind-hearted Pitt; Purefoy (Resident Evil) as the romantic yet ultimately tortured Rawdon; Atkins as the persnickety Aunt Matilda; Byrne as the mysterious slightly malevolent benefactor Steyne and Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) as an army captain who harbors an unrequited love for Amelia. But that's their job. They're English--these are their people.
"Ah! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? Or having it is satisfied?" Oh boy. Can you just feel the excitement pouring off the page in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair? It must have been a daunting task indeed for screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) to condense the 800-page novel into this particular big-screen adaptation (it has been made into a feature film twice before as well as a TV mini series) as well as for Indian director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) in bringing the story to life; unfortunately the inherent difficulties show. The plot and subplots--including the love triangle surrounding Amelia her foolish love for a caddish soldier (played by Bend It Like Beckham's Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and the stalwart Capt. Dobbins--just seem to go on and on and as does her female lead Nair just seems out of place with the material even though Thackeray uses many references to India in the novel. Yes the costumes are grand (and adequately hide Witherspoon's real-life pregnancy) and the scenery equally dark and lush; there's just simply isn't any Merchant/Ivory flair or Emma Thompson wit. It seems those days of A Room With a View Howards End and Sense and Sensibility are over. Either that or we've exhausted all the really good novels by the likes of E.M. Forster and Jane Austen.
Hollywood is ready for a relatively blah box-office weekend that could see New Line's R-rated urban-appeal comedy sequel "Next Friday" hold on to the top spot.
"Nothing looks real exciting," said one studio executive at mid-week. "'Down To You' (opening at about 1,900 theaters via Miramax) actually dropped a little in the tracking. It's down to a 5% first choice -- although you would think that kind of movie with teen-age appeal would be strong on Friday.
"I don't know what it does for the (full) weekend. But right now, it's not looking to me like any of these films get into double digits."
Written and directed by Kris Isacsson, the PG-13-rated teen-appeal romantic comedy "Down" stars Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles.
"'Down To You' has a real opportunity here because it's the only (new) thing for teens," an insider said. "I'm sure they'd like to duplicate the success of 'She's All That,' which opened next weekend last year to about $16 million. And that's even with 'Varsity Blues' having been in its third weekend at the time and taking $6 million from that young audience.
"But the tracking for 'Down To You' doesn't show that kind of number right now. But I think 'She's All That' took people by surprise." Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated boxing-theme comedy-drama "Play it to the Bone" opens at 1,556 theaters and has some insiders speculating that it could muscle in on the top of the chart action while others say it might not even make the Top Five.
"Bone" was a 5% first choice at mid-week, according to one of the more optimistic observers. By the weekend, he said: "It could jump up in the tracking and get to $8-9 million. Remember, its audience is male and, probably, more young male. They're more likely to act on their choices."
On the other hand, another insider commented: "I think if they did $5 million, they'd be ecstatic. The research is not showing any sort of want-to-go among anything other than males -- a little older than teen-agers, more like college age -- because of the characters and the boxing (story line). But anything can change. There's not much else new (this weekend)."
The insider sees "Friday" as the weekend's top grossing film and adds that "Bone" "may not make the Top Five."
Projecting grosses for the weekend, a studio executive said, "'Next Friday' is probably around $7-8 million. Of all the holdovers, I think 'Next Friday' will be No. 1. So the question is, 'Can any of these new movies get above $7-8 million? I think the only one with a chance is 'Play it to the Bone.'"
Directed by Steve Carr, "Next Friday" was written and produced by and stars Ice Cube. "Play it to the Bone" was written and directed by Ron Shelton and stars Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas.
With a first-choice tracking of 8%, the distribution pro said Paramount's R-rated drama "Angela's Ashes" is looking good as it widens after its late December platform release.
"It took a nice bump. Yesterday, it was 6%," the exec said. On the other hand, "Ashes" is only playing at about 600 theaters, so that's not likely to translate into big grosses. "And the limited runs in New York and L.A. have not been all that great.
"'Angela's Ashes' is tracking very well among older females, but they don't necessarily run out the first weekend." Directed by Alan Parker, "Ashes" stars Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle.
Also widening this weekend to 686 runs is Columbia's R-rated drama "The End of the Affair." "It's at 1% first choice," an insider said, suggesting that it is unlikely to perform significantly at the box office. Directed by Neil Jordan, "Affair" stars Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea. "Affair" is a Golden Globe nominee for best picture, actress (Moore) and original score (Michael Nyman).
What ticket sales are likely? "'Angela's Ashes' is probably in the $3-4 million range, maybe $5 million at best," he said. "'End of the Affair' is probably $2-3 million. 'Play It To The Bone' is really the only one of the new openings with a chance to come in first. If 'Next Friday's' down 45%, it's $8 million. Given its audience (of young urban males), it could be down as much as 50%."
Normally, with an 8% first-choice tracking, "Ashes" would be heading for a gross of about $8 million. "However, in this case, it's a much more limited movie," a distribution executive said. "It's primarily older female (in its appeal), and they don't necessarily act on their choices opening weekend the way the young male or even the young female audience will.
"When you see these engagements in New York and L.A. that have been disappointing, it generally means that your appeal goes down rather than up as you fan out across America."
If Columbia's PG-rated blockbuster family comedy "Stuart Little," last weekend's No. 2 film, drops 35%, it will do about $6 million. "It won't have as big a hit as 'Next Friday,'" the exec said. "It's business is more matinee business, so it didn't get as big a boost from last Sunday night (the eve of the Monday holiday) as some of the adult-oriented films did. So I don't think its drop will be as big." Directed by Rob Minkoff, "Stuart" stars Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki.
Universal's critically acclaimed R-rated drama "The Hurricane" went wide last weekend with respectable but unspectacular results.
"I think 'Hurricane' is between $5-6 million," he said. "And 'Green Mile,' just by virtue of it holding up well, if it's down only 35%, it does $5.5 million." Directed by Norman Jewison, "Hurricane" stars Denzel Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxing champion Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. "Hurricane" received three Golden Globe nominations, including best picture, actor/drama (Washington) and director (Jewison).
A senior marketing executive at Universal said the studio is encouraged by "how much audiences are loving this film. The exit polls have been fantastic (with a) CinemaScore overall grade of A. Yahoo! Movies rated it 4.7 out of 5 stars, the highest rating of any film currently playing.
"The closest comparison for a film like this with a similar release pattern would be 'Good Will Hunting,' which did the same kind of business, had the same kind of enthusiastic response and word of mouth and, obviously, had legs and attracted major Academy attention."
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated prison death-row drama "The Green Mile," written and directed by Frank Darabont, stars Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan. Duncan is a Golden Globe supporting actor nominee for his performance.
Also likely to come in between $5-6 million, he said, is Columbia's R-rated drama "Girl, Interrupted." Directed by James Mangold, "Girl" stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.
The Globes telecast Sunday night will come too late in the weekend to be of much help to the films that win. It might, actually, cut into movie-going Sunday night for adult-appeal films since the Globes and its new pre-show are likely to do very well in terms of ratings.
"It's not an exciting weekend," a studio source said. "Of course, what that means is that you'll see better holds percentage-wise from the holdovers than you did last weekend. Without strong openers, it means the holdovers will hang in there better.
"I think you'll see the business spread more evenly than you've seen recently because you're going to have a lot of movies in that mid-single digit range of $4-6 million."
Filling out lower rungs on this weekend's chart will be Paramount's R-rated drama "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and MGM's R-rated sci-fi horror thriller "Supernova." Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, "Ripley" stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett. "Ripley" received five Golden Globe nominations, including est picture/drama, actor/drama (Damon), supporting actor (Law), director (Minghella) and score (Gabriel Yared).
"Supernova," which opened to mediocre business last weekend, stands to fall sharply in its second weekend. Directed by "Thomas Lee," it stars James Spader, Angela Bassett, Lou Diamond Phillips and Robert Forster.
On this weekend's exclusive front in New York, USA Films will reissue its PG-rated suspense/cop drama "Rear Window," the Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Robert Harris and James Katz have restored the 1954 film.