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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There was lots of slicing and dicing at the box office this weekend as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface took on Kill Bill's Bride, proving that samurai sword is no match for a grungy power tool.
New Line Cinema proved with its remake of Tobe Hooper's low-budget 1974 cult horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre that there is strength in a name. The thriller, rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content, took in an insatiable $29.1 million* over the weekend, which is not surprising considering the film scored very well in its preview screenings, especially with under-25 horror aficionados.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's bloody take was also enough to make it the second best October opener of all time, bumping the comedy 2000 comedy Meet the Parents to third place. TCM follows the likes of October champ Red Dragon, which debuted in 2002 with $36.5 million; the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, with $28.6 million; the 2002 comedy Jackass: The Movie, with $22.7 million; and the 2001 drama Training Day with $22.5 million.
Last week's box office champ, Quentin Tarantino's equally brutal R rated thriller Kill Bill Vol. 1, wasn't able to fend off Leatherface's onslaught. The film came in second with a tame $12.5 million.
This week's only other new wide release, the courtroom thriller Runaway Jury, debuted in third place with an expected $12.1 million, while the Jack Black comedy School of Rock rolled into fourth place with a rockin' $11.3 million. Clint Eastwood's Oscar buzz pic Mystic River, which took in an impressive $45,491 per-screen average when it debuted in 13 theaters last week, rounded out the Top Five in its first week of wide release with $10.3 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's R rated horror The Texas Chainsaw Massacre debuted with an ESTIMATED $29.1 million in 3,016 theaters with a tangible $9,649 per theater average-the highest of any film playing wide this week.
In the film, a free-spirited road trip across Texas runs headlong into madness for five friends when they encounter a bizarre family and a chainsaw-wielding man known as Leatherface.
Directed by Marcus Nispel, it stars Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Erica Leerhsen and Andrew Bryniarski.
Miramax Films' R rated Kill Bill Vol. 1, last week's box office champ, came in second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $12.5 million (-43%) in 3,102 theaters (unchanged, $4,030 per theater). It's cume is approximately $43.3
Directed by Tarantino, it stars Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and David Carradine.
Twentieth Century Fox's R rated courtroom thriller Runaway Jury opened in third place with an ESTIMATED $12.1 million in 2,815 theaters with a $4,298 per theater average.
In the film, the latest Grisham adaptation, a young widow brings a civil suit against a powerful gun manufacturing corporation she holds responsible for the death of her husband.
Directed by Gary Fleder, it stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated comedy School of Rock, dropped two positions to No. 4 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $11.3 million (-27%) in 2,951 theaters (+22 theaters; $3,829 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.1 million.
Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Black, Joan Cusack and Michael White.
Warner Bros.' R rated drama Mystic River expanded in its second week to round out the Top Five with an ESTIMATED $10.3 million in 1,467 theaters (+1,454 theaters; $7,059 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.4 million.
The film centers on three childhood friends who share a tragic event from the past and cross paths again 25 years later when one of the men's daughters is found brutally murdered.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
MGM's PG rated canine comedy Good Boy! fell three spots to come in sixth in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9 million (-31%) in 3,225 theaters (unchanged; $2,791 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.7 million.
Directed by John Hoffman, it stars Liam Aiken and the vocal talents of Matthew Broderick, Brittany Murphy, Carl Reiner and Vanessa Redgrave as the dog Hubble and his four-legged friends.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Universal Pictures' PG 13 rated romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty dropped three rungs to place seventh in its second week with an ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-45%) in 2,570 theaters (+6 theaters, $2,680 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23 million.
Produced by Ethan Coen and directed by Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
MGM Pictures' R rated police thriller Out of Time fell three notches to eighth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-52%) at 2,344 theaters (-732; $1,749 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.3 million.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain.
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Under the Tuscan Sun fell five notches to No. 9 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.4 million (-31%) in 1,663 theaters (-38 theaters; $2,044 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.7 million.
Directed by Audrey Wells, it stars Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Vincent Riotta and Raoul Bova.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated jungle actioner The Rundown fell three rungs in its fourth place week to round out the Top Ten with an ESTIMATED $2.8 million (-45%) in 2,099 theaters (-724 theaters; $1,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.5 million.
Directed by Peter Berg, it stars The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken.
Buena Vista' PG rated biopic Veronica Guerin debuted in 472 theaters with $603,000 with a soft $1,278 per theater average.
In the film, set in the mid-1990s, journalist Veronica Guerin covers the powerful drug lords battling for control of the street of Dublin, Ireland.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorely and Ciaran Hinds.
Focus Features' R rated biopic Sylvia debuted in three theaters with an ESTIMATED $52,000 with an impressive $17,333 per theater average.
The film is a biopic of American poet Sylvia Plath and her turbulent marriage to a future poet laureate of England, Ted Hughes.
Directed by Christine Jeffs, the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.
United Artists' PG-13 teen drama Pieces of April opened in six theaters with $48,000 with a strong $8,000 per theater average.
In the film, 21-year-old April Burns invites her estranged, straight-laced family for Thanksgiving dinner for a disastrous evening.
Directed by Peter Hedges, it stars Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt and Derek Luke.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $105.2 million, up 7.5 percent from last weekend's $73.5 million. The Top 12 movies were also up 43 percent from this time last year when they took in $97.9 million.
Last year, Dreamworks' R rated thriller The Ring debuted at No. 1 with $15 million in 1,981 theaters ($7,580 per theater); Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Sweet Home Alabama also stayed in second place in its fourth week with $9.5 million in 3,282 theaters ($2,913 per theater); and Universal's R rated thriller Red Dragon followed in third place in its third week with $8.7 million in 3,307 theaters ($2,650 per theater).