No Games, Still Hungry

mockingjya-part-1-gale-katnissThe odds being ever in its favor, The Hunger  Games: Mockingjay Part One opened big this weekend, grossing $123 million to easily outpace everything else at the megaplex.

No, it isn’t even close to the series high of $158 million set by last year’s Catching Fire, but it’s still the biggest opening of the year — and it can’t possibly hurt the prospects for that other, less box-officey Jennifer Lawrence picture opening next week.

Big Hero 6 came in a distant second with $20.1 million, and Interstellar placed third with $15.1 million.

Last week’s top draw, Dumb & Dumber To, dropped to fourth with a pretty feeble $13.8 million, while Gone Girl earned $2.8 million to hold onto fifth place.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Only if “Stay out of Katniss Everdeen’s way” wasn’t something you already knew.

All Is Katniss, Katniss Is All

the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1-jennifer-lawrence-liam-hemsworthOh we can talk about this documentary or that indie, but this weekend is all about The Hunger Games : Mockingjay Part I. And rightly so, because Jennifer Lawrence is pretty goddamn fantastic in it, to the point where I actually started to care about this series for the first time ever.

Honestly, I’ve spent seven hours in this world and I still don’t give a damn about it … but Lawrence is a force of nature, and finally gets to do more than just look noble or angry. Susan liked the movie around her, too.

Also opening this week: An indie and a documentary. And some other stuff.

Hermitage Revealed: Is this a documentary about the venerated art museum, or a glorifed promotional video? Glenn suggests it is the latter, and not a very good one.

The Homesman: Tommy Lee Jones directs himself and Hilary Swank (and a few other notable talents) in a messy but compelling frontier drama that feels of a piece with Meek’s Cutoff, oddly enough.

Low Down: Having bounced around the release schedule for a few weeks, Jeff Preiss’ modest character piece — starring John Hawkes and Elle Fanning as a co-dependent father and daughter in 1970s Los Angleles — finally opens. So that’s nice.

Point and Shoot: Marshall Curry’s latest documentary is a penetrating psychological study of a man who doesn’t know he’s being studied. Which is kind of amazing.

Also, Mike Nichols died yesterday and I wrote some words about him for NOW. He’ll be missed.


The Most Happy Fellow

Tommy-Lee-Jones-in-The-Homesman-570x294In this week’s NOW, I fulfill the lifelong dream of every entertainment journalist and interview Tommy Lee Jones.

I am only slightly being sarcastic. Jones is a famously difficult interview, cranky and dismissive, and most journalists have at least one story of the man being a total dick to them.  Some of those stories are pretty funny, too.

But spend enough time around press junkets and you become very sympathetic to the actors who have no patience for vapid questions about whether they’re planning to make another Fugitive sequel or why they only appear in Men in Black 3 for ten minutes or whatever.

Anyway, I was willing to give Jones the benefit of the doubt; I try really hard not to ask stupid questions, and this interview was centered on a movie he’d co-written and directed as well as acted in, so clearly it was important to him. Maybe we’d manage to have a decent conversation.

And I would say we kind of did. Check it out, and listen to the audio clip at the bottom, and you tell me.

Oh, and I also wrote some words about the Regent Park Film Festival. That was a lot less tense.

Dumber. Always Dumber.

dumb-dumber-to-trailerPeople don’t learn. That’s the only explanation I can offer for the triumph of Dumb & Dumber To over the weekend — or, in a maybe-more-palatable configuration, a lot of children have grown up with Harry and Lloyd on cable, and now they’re ready to check them out on the big screen.

But yeah, the Farrelly brothers’ return to glory topped the weekend box office, grossing $38 million despite largely negative reviews … though it’s heartening that last week’s champion, Big Hero 6, was right on its heels with $36 million. Interstellar took third with a respectable $29.1 million; Beyond the Lights placed a distant fourth with $6.5 million.

Is there a lesson here? Probably not, other than “Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are somehow still box-office gold”. Although in that case, I’ve finally figured out how to get people to watch a Sleuth remake.

Dogs over Wolves

goodbye-to-languageIt’s a busy week, release-wise, but the only thing anyone expects to make money is Dumb & Dumber To; everything else is being served up as counterprogramming. Hey, it’s still a more interesting spread than next week’s lineup, which is basically the new Hunger Games movie and nothing else.

The Better Angels: In which A.J. Edwards answers a hypothetical question no one was asking: What if Terrence Malick made a movie about the early life of Abraham Lincoln? (Answer: It would almost certainly be better than this.)

Beyond the Lights: Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker make the goo-goo eyes at one another while the world (and writer-director Gina Pryce-Bythewood) contrive to keep them apart in this charming — but limited — showbiz romance.

Dumb & Dumber To: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and the Farrelly brothers are back at it. I was unable to attend.

Emptying the Skies: Glenn really liked Douglas and Robert Kass’ documentary on endangered bird species being poached for food in Europe when it played Planet in Focus last year; now that it’s getting a commercial run, you might want to check it out too.

Goodbye to Language 3D: As a storyteller and polemicist, Jean-Luc Godard may be full of shit — and so is at least one of his characters — but his revolutionary approach to stereo cinematography makes this absolutely essential viewing for anyone who cares about film as art. Dammit.

Keep On Keepin’ On: Jose generally approves of Alan Hicks’ documentary about the legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry and his protege, blind pianist Justin Kauflin, though he finds it a little more conventional than its subjects.

Rosewater: Jon Stewart makes a very impressive filmmaking debut with the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist (and Daily Show interviewee) who spent four months in prison in 2009. And no, you haven’t seen this movie before. Not exactly.

Wolves: David Hayter’s directorial debut is soooo bad. So very, very bad. And it’s not even bad in the fun way, where you can enjoy it. It’s just wretched. Leave it be.

So, to sum up, have a fun weekend. Please don’t see Wolves.

Bearing Witness

cdn.indiewireIn this week’s NOW, I talk to Gael Garcia Bernal about his work as a journalist turned political prisoner in Jon Stewart’s Rosewater; the movie also gives us this week’s Top 5, which rounds up five other political docudramas. (There’s really no excuse for me leaving out Battle of Algiers. I don’t know how I could have forgotten it.)

I also wrote a thing about the 2014 edition of the European Union Film Festival, which starts on Saturday. Oh, and if you’re looking for something to do tonight, consider coming to the Lightbox for Rendezvous with Madness’ short films program at 9:30pm; I’ll be moderating a Q&A with some of the filmmakers afterwards, which ought to be interesting.

The Universe is Full of Wonders

d8ed22ee860790f58ad96cf0266b861457b9c7ed… and one of the biggest wonders of all is that Big Hero 6 overtook Interstellar at the box-office this weekend, $56.2 million to $50 million. (Fold in the returns from Interstellar‘s exclusive IMAX run last Wednesday and Thursday, and it’s still only $52.15 million.)

Y’know, maybe it’s not that big a surprise. Disney’s animated superhero charmer is almost half the length of Christopher Nolan’s cosmic odyssey, and the 3D price tag on most Big Hero 6 tickets must have helped as well. (Interstellar is playing some large-format and digital IMAX engagements, but most of its run is in good ol’ 2D.)

Somewhat amazingly, even though it’s been playing for six weeks, Gone Girl crept back into third place with $6.1 million — a modest take, with the top two splitting more than $100 million, but enough to pull ahead of Ouija‘s $6 million and St. Vincent‘s $5.7 million. David Fincher must be very happy.

On the Launching Pad

interstellar-01Well, it’s November and here come the big studio releases built to fight for box-office prominence through the Thanksgiving long weekend. And some really good documentaries, too.

Big Hero 6: It’s based on a Marvel property, but there’s a heavy strain of Astro Boy running through Disney’s latest CG adventure. This is a very good thing.

Citizenfour: Laura Poitras’ document of that time she put Glenn Greenwald with Edward Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room is, quite simply, one of the most important documentaries you’ll see this year. Also, your laptop is probably spying on you as you read this.

Dear White People: Justin Siemen’s campus satire takes stock of the state of racial tensions in America, finds there are still a few hot buttons left to press. Plus, Better Off Ted‘s Malcolm Barrett is now a dead ringer for Dave Chappelle.

Don’t Get Killed in Alaska: Despite some conceptual limitations, Rad thinks Bill Taylor’s no-budget Canadian family drama is worth a watch.

Interstellar: Okay, so the large format release started on Wednesday, but as of today Christopher Nolan’s gargantuan space odyssey is playing megaplexes everywhere. It is awfully hokey, but awfully beautiful too.

Kung Fu Elliot: Andy has been championing Matthew Bauckman and Jarrett Belliveau’s documentary about delusional filmmakers and their would-be action star since Hot Docs. I still haven’t caught up with the damn thing, and now I feel bad.

Life’s a Breeze: Rad is underwhelmed by this Irish caper comedy, which is apparently very much like Waking Ned Devine only with money in a mattress.

The Overnighters: Jesse Moss brings his camera to Williston, North Dakota, where a pastor unwittingly offends his flock by helping the less fortunate in his community. You know, like that Jesus guy said.

Richard Linklater: 21 Years: Linklater is a genuine American artist, and I hope this movie does justice to his amazing career — especially in the same year that saw Boyhood arrive. But no one repped it in Toronto, so it’s opening cold.

The Secret Trial 5: I agree with Susan on the solemn urgency of Amar Wala’s look at the Canadian government’s use of security certificates to incarcerate five immigrants to the country without explanation or justification. Just wish it was arriving in a week when Citizenfour wasn’t competing for the same audience.

Slums: Cities of Tomorrow: Rad takes a look at Jean-Nicolas Orhon’s urban-studies doc — about impoverished neighborhoods in cities around the world — and  finds it disappointingly superficial.

The Theory of Everything: Stephen Hawking is the latest historical figure to be put through the Weinstein Oscar Process in this shameless awards-bait weeper, directed at maximum twinkle by James Marsh. But Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are pretty damn great, just the same.

… and that’s it. Oh, except for the 70mm reissue of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Lightbox. Which, come to think of it, is really the best possible use of your time.

No Theories, Just Everything

3_OVERNIGHTERS_CongregationHalf a dozen film festivals of varying sizes get underway this week, as well as twelve new theatrical openings. I’m feeling a little overworked, I don’t mind telling you. But I cover as much as I can in this week’s NOW, because I’m just that committed.

Also everyone else was on vacation.

So: Here’s an interview with Scott Adsit, who is absolutely perfect as Baymax the robot in Disney’s new animated Marvel adaptation Big Hero 6 — and who’s another notch on my long list of Thrilling Adventure Hour guests.

Also, here is my Hot Docs-era interview with Jesse Moss and Jay Reinke, director and subject of the excellent new documentary The Overnighters, and here’s my TIFF chat with James Marsh, director of the so-so Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

I also take quick looks at the Reel Asian and Rendezvous with Madness film festivals, stuffing as many movies as I can into the space alloted. And I’ll catch up to the Diaspora and Ekran fests in tomorrow’s web column. Somehow.

My other other gig.