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Arthouse Audit: The Weekend is ‘Bernie”s, ‘Sound of My Voice’ is Weak, ‘Elles’ Gets Boost from NC-17

Arthouse Audit: The Weekend is 'Bernie''s, 'Sound of My Voice' is Weak, 'Elles' Gets Boost from NC-17

An incredible 20 films premiered in limited runs in NY or LA this weekend (including three on Wednesday). While most were branded by festival play, few boasted much pre-opening coverage. Only "Bernie," starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, wielded much box-office muscle –while "Headhunters" also showed early signs of strength. 

They can't come soon enough for struggling specialized theaters, who are holding their breath for a string of potentially more popular releases this May: "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," Cannes-opener "Moonlight Kingdom," French worldwide smash "Intouchables" (bigger than "Hunger Games" outside the US) and Toronto Peoples' Choice winner "Where Do We Go Now."

Both holdovers and expansions are struggling overall. Of this month's releases, only "Monsieur Lazhar" shows any endurance.


"Bernie" (Millenium) – Metacritic score: 74; Festivals include: Los Angeles 11, South by Southwest 12

$90,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $30,000

Waiting almost a year to open after its premiere, Richard Linklater's offbeat Texas murder tale starring Jack Black soared this weekend amid mainly mediocre or worse specialized grosses. Even more impressive, Austin, not usually a strong-grossing city for limited releases, was included along with the two initial runs in NY and LA, so the PSA was a real standout.

What it means:   It's too early to proclaim this a potential crossover hit, but expect exhibitors both in specialized and more general wider locations to clamor to book this.

"Headhunters" (Magnolia) – Metacritic score: 72; Festivals include: Locarno 11, Toronto 11, Phoenix 11, Newport Beach 11

$45,000 In 4 theaters; PSA: $11,250

Riding the current wave of the popularity of Scandanavian mystery writers, this Norwegian film received a wide range of reviews, reflecting its energy and inventiveness as well as envelope-pushing elements often seen in the genre. Unlike last week's "Marley," this opened theatrically before VOD/streaming (often the usual Magnolia game plan). The positive results give this a base on which to expand in coming weeks.

What it means:   Magnolia is on a roll – three consecutive decent or better openings (with "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and "Marley"), none of them conventional specialized successes.

"The Sound of My Voice" (Fox Searchlight) – Metacritic score: 66; Festivals include: Sundance 11, South by Southwest 11, Palm Springs 12

$40,069 in 5 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $8,014

After premiering in the Next section at Sundance 2011, Fox Searchlight acquired this Brit Marling low-budget indie after SxSW as a follow-up to Marling's "Another Earth," and have already filmed Marling and director Zal Batmanglij's next, "The East," with Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page. Searchlight released it a year later with solid if odd theater placement (two prime in LA, only one in Manhattan, then two in the DC area), this scored mediocre grosses. For the three core NY/LA runs, the PSA was somewhat better (sources indicate over $11,000), placing it ahead of last week's not-so-good opening of "Darling Companion," which is now struggling.

What it means: Even if this turns out to be a minor grosser, this film has already taken its filmmaker and writer-producer-star to the next level. That it is getting a significant platform release is just gravy.

"Elles" (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic score: 49; Festivals include: Toronto 11, Berlin 12

$26,000 in 6 theaters; PSA: $4,333

A rare NC-17 release, this French drama with Juliette Binoche as a journalist going undercover with two prostitutes opened in six cities, including one-week calendar dates in Atlanta, St. Louis and Washington along with its NY/LA dates. With weak reviews and its launch in lesser-grossing cities, the PSA is strong enough to sustain a modest interest in the specialized market.

What it means:   Kino Lorber often doesn't pursue the MPAA for a rating. That they did for this indicates that the NC-17 in this case is an asset, since they never expected to attract major chain theaters. This likely will be a better than average subtitled DVD release later on.

"Citizen Gangster" (IFC) – Metacritic score: 53; Festivals include: Toronto 11; also available on VOD

$800 in 1 theater; PSA: $800

Known as "Edwin Boyd" when it premiered as a Special Presentation at last year's Toronto Fest, this Canadian-bank robbery story booked a token NY opening in order to score review attention.

What it means:   This will have little future theatrical play.

"The Whore's Glory" (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic score: 71; Festivals include: Venice 11, Toronto 11

$4,800 in 2 theaters; PSA: $3,400

Building on decent or better critical response and with a NY run that includes the prime Lincoln Plaza, this documentary failed to find a significant audience.

What it means:   Likely limited future bookings for this going forward.

"Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale" (Well Go) – Metacritic score: 62; Festival include: Venice 11, Toronto 11

A surprise semifinalist in the most recent Oscar Foreign Language race in its original 4 1/2 hour long version, this 150-minute cut opened in several cities, mostly in areas with a Chinese-American audience. It's epic story of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan before and during WWII.

"Restless City" (AFFRM) – Metacritic score: 56; Festivals include: Sundance 11, London

In 3 theaters

Like "Sound of My Voice," this premiered in the Next section of Sundance last year. It follows the adventures of an aspiring Sengalese-emigre singer navigating his way in Harlem.

"Inventing Our Life – The Kibbutz Story" (First Run) – Metacritic score: 67

In 1 theater

This Israeli documentary about the early foundations of kibbutz life in Palestine decades before the founding of the Israeli state opened in New York.

"Payback" (Zeitgeist) – Metacritic score: 55; Festivals include: Sundance 12

In 1 theater

Going fairly quickly from its premiere in the World Doc section of this year's Sundance to NY's Film Forum, this adaptation of novelist Margaret Atwood's examination of mutliple forms of debt received mainly mixed reviews.


"Darling Companion" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 2

$71,614 in 17 theaters (+13); PSA:$4,212 ; Cumulative: $126,515

Expanding into a few new cities with equally weak reviews as last week, this dog-search comedy for adults is not finding traction, indicating that audiences might ignore it despite the lack of other new films for that age-group. (Last week's initial reported weekend estimate proved to be considerably high, leading to its outlook being a bit better.)

What it means:  With several strong titles coming up soon, it's hard to see how this film's best days are ahead.

"Monsieur Lazhar" (Music Box) – Week 3

$252,021 on 66 screens (+33); PSA: $3,819; Cumulative: $613,335

As they often do, Music Box continues to expand this subtitled film far more rapidly than most other distributors, and the results are encouraging. The PSA for this number of screens places it above many similar releases with equal or better reviews.

What it means: These grosses indicate solid word of mouth, which should mean this could reach at least the $2 million mark. At the very least, it will be no worse than the third-best-grossing of the Oscar Foreign Language nominees (behind "A Separation" and most likely "Footnote" as well).

"Goodbye First Love" (IFC-Sundance Selects) – Week 2; also available on VOD

$13,500 in 5 theaters (+1); PSA: $2,700 ; Cumulative: estimated $42,000

With only one new theater, the PSA fell about in half, indicating a mixed response after a mediocre opening.

What it means:   VOD came on board during the week, making home viewing the future for this French romantic drama.

"Bully" (Weinstein) – Week 5

$330,000 in 263 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,255; Cumulative: $2,126,479

Keeping the same number of theaters, the PSA fell about a third from its already modest level.

What it means:   The special nature of this film will keep this in play for weeks to come, but at this point any much wider release (beyond shifting prints to other markets) doesn't appear likely.

"Damsels in Distress" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 3

$92,952 in 57 theaters (+11); PSA: $1,630; Cumulative: $448,166

Another disappointing expansion, with a PSA getting into a precarious zone for both holdovers and sustaining any lengthy further run. It already lost its two prime LA theaters after only two weeks, which doesn't bode well for its future.

What it means:   Neither young nor older audiences seem to be accepting this quirky comedy of college life from a veteran director/writer.

"Salmon Fishing in Yemen" (CBS Films) – Week 8

$440,000 in 335 theaters (-110); PSA: $1,313; Cumulative: $7,790,328

Two months into its run (most of the weeks beyond limited platforms), this still is accumulating gross as it approaches the $8 million mark, surpassing "Friends With Kids" and far outgrossing "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," two other more general audience Toronto acquistions.

What it means:   The remaining question is whether it can hit $10 million. Chances are it falls a bit short, but still, for the modest marketing allocation on top of the $5 million plus sales price, the theatrical part of its playoff has been quite successful.

"The Kid With the Bike" (IFC – Sundance Selects) – Week 7

$127,500 in 85 theaters (-1); PSA: $1,500; Cumulative: $1,127,500

Steady as she goes at a modest level (the PSA was only down slightly at least).

What it means:  These days, any subtitled film that passes $1 million in gross, even with the acclaim "Kid" has gotten, is no small achievement. The awareness will only enhance its VOD interest when it arrives down the line.

"The Raid: Redemption" (Sony Picture Classics/Alliance Atlantic in Canada) – Week 6

$142,357 in 126 theaters (-422); PSA: $1,129; Cumulative: $3,901,565

After an elevated break that at its widest hit almost 900 theaters, this now is quickly running out of steam.

What it means:  Expect this to have a long afterlife on other venues now that its awareness has been greatly enhanced.

"We Have a Pope" (IFC – Sundance Selects) – Week 4; also available on VOD

$64,800 in 27 theaters (+8); PSA: $2,400 ; Cumulative: $248,800

Concurrent to its VOD availability, while still in a limited theatrical release, this is another modest grosser, although a bit more impressive with the reviews being weaker than normal to attract an audience to a subtitled film.

What it means: This will struggle to hit $1 million, but the depth of the release here should enhance the home viewing interest.

"The Deep Blue Sea" (Music Box) – Week 6

$75,261 in 51 theaters (-4); PSA: $1,521; Cumulative: $875,621

Still opening new cities, this Rachel Weisz-starring British drama is performing with mixed results.

What it means:  Despite the acclaim for her performance, this has not been the kind of early-year success that can keep someone in mind later in the year for awards unless Weisz lands some major wins.

"Footnote" (Sony Pictures Classics) – Week 9

$163,551 in 101 theaters (+8); PSA: $1,619; Cumulative: $1,564,717

The carefully paced expansion of this film (now entering its third month in release) continues, although with about a 20% fall in PSA, which indicates diminishing (though not unexpected) results.

What it means:   Still, this will easily pass $2 million, but it no longer looks like it will match the top-grossing Israeli films in US release.

"Marley" (Magnolia) – Week 2; also available on VOD

This grossed just under $400,000 for its full first week in 42 theaters while simultaneously showing on VOD.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (Magnolia) – Week 8

Through last Thursday, this surprise documentary hit already was at $1,665,000.

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