Arthouse Audit: ‘The Iceman’ and ‘What Maisie Knew’ from Millennium Open Strong

Arthouse Audit: 'The Iceman' and 'What Maisie Knew' from Millennium Open Strong

In a weekend dominated by the domestic opening of “Iron Man 3,” two films from Millennium Films, both of which showed at Toronto last year to modest attention score surprisingly solid openings in limited play. “The Iceman” and “What Maisie Knew” both starred respected actors (hardly a guarantee for specialized success), enjoyed significant advertising support, and enhanced their prospects with key upbeat reviews.

The timing is good for Millennium, as these numbers should enhance the attractiveness of the distribution  division which is up for sale. (Millennium and major owner Avi Lerner also run a production unit.) As a producer, Millennium often partners with other companies or sells their films outright (“The Expendables,” “The Big Wedding,” “Olympus Has Fallen” among many others). Their other recent self-released films include “Bernie,” “The King of California” and “The Paperboy.” But two strong openings on the same weekend would be rare for any distributor.

The rest of the unusually large number of significant new films were lackluster or less, with expansions of earlier week films struggling for the most part to gain traction. With two arthouse films that went wide early in their runs — “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Mud” — both still competing for the limited adult audience, the core arthouse stuggle continues to find long-term sustained successes. Whether the two Millennium films as they expand show ongoing strength remains to be seen.

Several notable new releases — “Greeting from Tim Buckley” (Tribeca), another Toronto 2012 premiere also on VOD), Magnolia’s “Kiss of the Damned” (VOD),  Phase 4’s “Generation Um…” and Janus’ repertory reissue of Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy” — did not announce grosses.

Opening

“The Iceman” (Millennium) – Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 62; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Telluride 2012, Toronto 2012

$93,100 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $23,275

Director Ariel Vroman made a big leap forward from previous low-budget DVD genre fare (“Danika,” “Rx”) to film this true-life crime story about a serial killer/hit man who hid his life from his family. Starring the very busy Michael Shannon (in his first lead role since “Take Shelter”) along with Chris Evans and Winona Ryder, Millennium got great New York/Los Angeles theater placement (not a guarantee of success in itself) to score one of the best initial specialized PSAs in recent months, even though not all the reviews were positive.

Millennium didn’t stint in its advertising, which clearly helped, but these numbers should encourage them to push ahead with an already planned major market expansion next week. This story seems to fall along the lines of hit cable crime series like “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter,” a genre that hasn’t seen a lot of theatrical play recently, so the interest could extend to a wider market.

What comes next: Next week will be more indicative of what’s ahead, but this looks like it could be an important specialized theater film over the next few weeks, with much wider play possible if similar numbers continue.

“What Maisie Knew” (Millennium) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 66; Festivals include: Toronto 12, San Francisco 13

$23,200 in 1 theater; PSA: $23,200

Limited to just the Angelika Theater in New York, and benefiting from an all-out rave from A.O. Scott in the New York Times, this divorce drama from a little girl’s point of view starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgaard and Steve Coogan and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel  (“The Deep End,” “The Bee Season”), opened with a solid number suggesting future potential.

This is the best opening for the directing duo since “The Deep End” debuted in 2001 with the same PSA (though lower ticket prices) in six theaters on its way to an $8 million+ gross for Fox Searchlight. They have struggled since — their most recent film “Uncertainly” was barely released by IFC. For Moore, this is her first significant limited opening since “The Kids Are All Right” (dwarfed by her wide release hit “Crazy, Stupid, Love”). This is the kind of familiar drama that usually needs an extra hook to gain traction, so the exclusive opening, bolstered by the Times review, makes sense in order to test word of mouth and to gauge how much of an audience there is. These initial results are promising.

What comes next: A slow roll out, with Los Angeles not opening until May 17, and other cities the following week.

“Love Is All You Need” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 58; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012

$39,000 in 4 theaters; PSA: $9,750

Danish director Susanne Bier’s first film since her Foreign Language Oscar winning “In a Better World” (also an SPC release), shot mainly in Italy with a multilingual script and an international cast led by Pierce Brosnan, opened with a great four theater placement in New York/Los Angeles to mediocre results, although better than the spotty reviews suggested and more than double Sony’s disastrous “At Any Price” last weekend.

This opened started last fall in Europe, where it has already earned over $8 million. Like most of Bier’s films, it centers around a family crisis (in this case, parents of a couple about to be married on the Italian Riviera confronting deep-seated issues), although with a much more romantic/comedic accessibility than her past work (which also includes “Things We Lost in the Fire” “Brothers” and “After the Wedding.”) The gross is better than grimmer drama “In a Better World”‘s opening in 2011, even after it won the Oscar, on its way to a $1 million gross.

What comes next: The usual well-supported SPC rollout, although this doesn’t look at this point like a film with much potential to widen out much beyond core theaters.

“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” (EOne) – Criticwire grade: C-; Metacritic score: 59; Festivals include: Toronto 2012

$38,300 in 4 theaters; PSA: $9,575

An unheralded documentary about the upscale retailer found strong New York/Los Angeles support and critical marketing within the fashion world to come up with a better than expected, if not great, initial gross. Following a recent trend of audiences seeking out theatrical equivalents to reality TV shows about the rich and the famous (“Queen of Versailles” leading the way), the response isn’t that surprising, even if it didn’t have the necessary review heft to help it.

For arthouses, this could be a worthy find, since its appeal should remain limited to specialized theaters without a quick jump to mainstream at a time when most films that show any pulse quickly expand. It will though need to stabilize these grosses at close to this level to sustain itself, which in term will depend on word of mouth, yet to be determined.

What comes next: EOne plans to get this open in up to 40 markets over the next few weeks.

“Something in the Air” (IFC) – Criticwire grade: B+; Metacritic score: 83; Festivals include: Venice 2012, Toronto 2012, New York 2012

$15,000 in 3 theaters; PSA: $5,000

This is a very disappointing result for what is close to the best reviewed 2013 release (per Metacritic’s rankings) from Olivier Assayas, a director whose last film “Carlos” was widely seen on cable and earlier saw “Summer Hours” (also through IFC, aided by Catherine Deneuve’s presence) grossed $1.6 million in 2009. “Something” is set during the spring 1968 student uprising in France, not necessarily the easiest subject to engage contemporary American audiences. Still, this was one film that IFC decided to initially go theatrically only initially, unlike its frequent parallel video on demand pattern, and played at three top theaters in New York/Los Angeles, with this limited result.

What comes next: 10 more cities open next Friday.

“Post Tenebras Lux” (Strand) – Criticwire grade: B; Metacritic score: 67; Festivals include: Cannes 2012, Portland 13 

$5,525 in 1 theater; PSA: $5,525

A very strong Manohla Dargis/New York Times review led to a mediocre gross at best for the latest narratively ambitious film from Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas (who won Best Director for this at Cannes last year).

What comes next: This will find more support from more risk-taking venues (museums and similars) than the more prominent specialized theaters ahead.

Ongoing/expanding films

Among the second week expansions, the only film to show at least a modest degree a strength was Weinstein’s “Kon Tiki.” grossing $78,300 in 14 theaters for a $5,600 PSA. This places it a bit below their recent “The Sapphires” at similar theaters, which has gone on (with considerable marketing support and rapid expansion) to gross about $1.6 million so far. This is a good enough showing to expect more expansion, but it doesn’t suggest the kind of success Weinstein has gotten from out-of-awards-season releases like “Intouchables” and “Quartet.”

Two Indian subcontinent-set releases added theaters in their second week to minor impact. IFC’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (which in now on VOD) grossed $87,500 in 35 theaters (PSA $2,500) and Paladin/108’s “Midnight’s Children” added $22,800 in 10 (PSA $2,280). Sony Picture Classics “At Any Price” did only $32,300 in 18 theaters ($1,794).

The third weekend of two indie releases aimed beyond arthouse both passed the $2.5 million gross mark – “Filly Brown” (Lionsgate) and “Home Run” (Goldwyn), though both with sub-$1,000 PSAs, suggesting their days are limited.

Two ongoing French films still expanding are showing passable or better results. Cohen’s “In the House” in its third weekend grossed $49,400 in 22 ($2,245), while Goldwyn’s “Renoir” did $152,000 in 74 ($2,054) to pass the $1 million mark, very impressive these days. LD’s “Disconnect” also passed $1 million, grossing $211,000 its fourth weekend in a much wider 161 theaters ($1,311).

Magnolia again is holding back its grosses for “To the Wonder” (also on VOD) until Monday, but the total for three weeks was $427,000 (60 theaters last week). At this point it looks unlikely to reach $1 million, a major falloff for Terrence Malick after “The Tree of Life.”

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