As Hunger Games: Catching Fire lights up the box office this weekend, recall 2007's The Golden Compass. This was the movie version of the first installment of His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman's phenomenally successful series of books that put the literature in children's lit. But what happened to the sequel? Why did this atheist parable of a small girl and her talking polar bear not ignite a movie franchise? Hard to blame the kid, but the burden on 11-year-old Dakota Blue Richards was too much. Embodying the impish, brave, complex and devastatingly smart heroine Lyra Belacqua would have taxed even, well, Jennifer Lawrence. In the end all that goodwill, CGI and countless former Hogwarts staffers counting on a new meal ticket could not compensate for an unlucky casting decision. The franchise fell from the sky like a dead witch.
Some five years later a similar burden fell to Lawrence when she was given the part of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. But here was a tested commodity. As Ree Dolly in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, she had already surpassed heights most actors never reach. And as the keystone by which the Hunger Games franchise would stand or fall, hers was a performance of such natural strength she made everything about the whole idiotic premise seem reasonable. Even Woody Harrelson's hair. It was as if Daniel Day Lewis had been cast in The Running Man. Hardly surprising that the sequel is about to collect healthy box office and that an army of Hunger Games employees must now have Lawrence votive shrines in their homes. If the first movie took its cues from Battle Royale, the new trailer suggests more of the same but with an overt nod to Norman Jewison's brilliant and innovative 1975 social satire Rollerball. Still, as has been established, Lawrence could play the lead in My Little Pony Versus the Nazis and we'd believe in her.
Vince Vaughn may be the most agreeable and lovable man in Hollywood, since there can be no other explanation for the number of people prepared to cast him as the exact same character in film after film after film, a half-dozen times a year it sometimes seems. This time, the big, goofy, lovable schlub finds out that the sperm he donated some years ago resulted in 533 kids who want to meet their daddy. The movie is called Delivery Man and Vince plays a deliveryman. Yep. Apparently it's a remake by director Ken Scott of his 2011 flick Starbuck, which you can watch on Netflix right now, but without Vaughn. Your call.
Detroit Unleaded sounds as though it will be this week's compulsory documentary about post-recession Motor City but instead looks to be a genuine and funny rom-com for the times. A couple of guys struggle to make their gas station work in yet another impoverished corner of Detroit. One of them falls for what seems to be the wrong girl and the whole thing with the family and the parents spins out as it always does between second- and first-generation members of tight-knit immigrant communities. Like one of those early Stephen Frears movies or Gurinder Chadha's Bhaji on the Beach, and it's a pleasure to see an Arab-American experience expressed via something other than terrorism.
The movie that brought Judi Dench's M back from the dead in order to persuade the MPAA to reduce its rating to an acceptable PG-13, Philomena is a staunch British tearjerker, based on a true story. Some 50 years ago, the eponymous Irishwoman, played by Dench, had a son out of wedlock. Years later she traces his story with the help of an ex-journalist and spin doctor played by comedian Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the script.
Not forced to give up your kids by nuns? That's your bad luck, because there's a face full of 3-D Disney 'toon snowmen and princesses also comin' at ya this weekend in Frozen.