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Arthouse Audit: ‘Cesar Chavez,’ ‘The Raid 2,’ ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ & ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ Find Initial Success

Arthouse Audit: 'Cesar Chavez,' 'The Raid 2,' 'Finding Vivian Maier' & 'Mistaken for Strangers' Find Initial Success

Four new specialized/independent releases from diverse backgrounds showed initial strength this weekend. Two of these — “Cesar Chavez” (Pantelion/Lionsgate) and “The Raid 2” (Sony Pictures Classics) — are intended for wider release (the former opened at 664 theaters mainly targeted to Mexican-American audiences). Two others — “Finding Vivian Maier” (IFC) and “Mistaken for Strangers” (Abramorama) — are documentaries focusing, as have so many hits in the medium, on aspects of the creative process, and seem headed to decent or better art-house success, though theatrically limited by both being available now on Video on Demand.

Three films of note — the initial weekend of Drake Doremus’ “Breathe In” (Cohen Media) and the second stanzas of Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” (Magnolia, also on Video on Demand, as is Vol. 2 already, which heads to theaters next Friday) and “Anita” (Samuel Goldwyn) — opted not to reveal their grosses. Among sub-Top 10 expansions (with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” becoming the new standard for early year specialized success as it continues to thrive), “Bad Words” (Focus) continued its just OK performance so far.

Opening

“Cesar Chavez” (Pantelion/Lionsgate) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Berlin 2014, South by Southwest 2014

$3,000,000 in 664 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $4,518

This latest effort from Pantelion (a partnership formed by Lionsgate and Mexico-based Grupo Television to nurture Latino-oriented films in the U.S.), “Cesar Chavez” marks their first to try to straddle both core and wider audiences and cater to critics as well as the public. The results so far fall short of their 2013 breakout “Instructions Not Included.” That sleeper success grossed nearly $8 million in only 348 theaters its opening weekend, building on the popularity of Mexican comic Eugenio Derbez to reach $44 million in the U.S, and was followed by “Pulling Strings” with Jaime Camil, which opened on 387 screens to just under $2.5 million. 

Both were in Spanish, while this Participant Media-backed biopic of the late United Farmer Workers organizer/Civil Rights activist Cesar Chavez (who was himself American-born) is primarily in English. Directed by Canana’s producer-star Diego Luna (“Abel”) and starring a number of leading Latino actors (Michael Pena, America Ferrara and Rosario Dawson), this initial gross came in somewhat below expectations but still managed in limited release to place #12 for the week. The U.S. Latino population has been harder to attract to more “serious” subjects (compared to the African-American population, who along with crossover audiences have made films like “Precious,” “The Butler” and “12 Years a Slave” successful), in part because of the diversity of the population and its multi-cultural roots. The film’s mixed reviews didn’t help.

What comes next: It won’t expand much further, making its future dependent on possible good word of mouth — its Cinemascore was “A”. Still, as a low-budget film with targeted (thus less expensive) marketing and some international potential and long-term library value, this should turn out as a decent investment for the partnership.

“The Raid 2” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, South by Southwest 2014

$177,000 in 7 theaters; PSA: $25,286

Welsh-born director Gareth Evans’ higher-budgeted (and at 148 minutes longer) followup to his Indonesian-made “The Raid: Redemption” (which grossed $4.1 million in the U.S., over $15 million worldwide) somewhat surprisingly for a sequel opened in fewer theaters than its predecessor. Whatever the reason, the result is impressive — the per screen average is $10,000 above the take for 14 theaters last time (all in New York and Los Angeles, high-end ones with strong wider audience appeal). Though the film is primarily subtitled, action and martial-arts scenes dominate, with its fans younger and less art-house oriented than most SPC releases (the company of course had its biggest success with “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”). The first film, despite the language barrier, found further success on DVD and cable, which should increase the sequel’s potential in the weeks ahead.

What comes next: This opens a handful of new cities this Friday, with a 1,200 theater break planned for April 11.

“Finding Vivian Maier” (Sundance Selects/IFC) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, DocNYC 2013, Berlin 2014; available on Video on Demand on 3/31

$63,600 in 3 theaters; PSA: $21,200

Some of the most successful documentaries in recent years have focused on obscure artists involved with the creative process. “Finding Vivian Maier” certainly qualifies. It chronicles the work — and the discovery of the work — of an unheralded photographer, unknown in her lifetime, whose accumulated amateur work was discovered among the belongings left with the family she worked for as a nanny. Since then curated and shown at exhibition, this film both presents her art but also strives (a la “Searching for Sugar Man,” albeit with the central figure no longer alive) to recreate her life. IFC opened this at 3 prime New York/Los Angeles theaters to significant interest. This is the best limited opening for a documentary since last summer in fact (when “20 Feet from Stardom,” “Blackfish” and “Act of Killing” all opened strong).

What comes next: IFC is expanding this quickly to all top markets in the next two weeks to parallel its home viewing availability. This might end up being a year-end awards contender as well.

“Mistaken for Strangers” (Abramorama) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Tribeca 2013, Seattle 2013, London 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$81,800 in 9 theaters; PSA: $9,089

No genre of documentary has been as successful over nearly 50 years than those about rock concerts and bands, from “Woodstock” to those directed by masters like Jean-Luc Godard, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme and many more. But this one found its own take — the somewhat alienated filmmaker brother of the lead singer of the band “The National” goes along on their European tour and records his own impressionistic take on the goings on, not always enthusiastically received by the group or his fellow roadies. Opening in a range of theaters, apart from New York’s IFC Center primarily in non-chain independents, this shows a respectable result (more so with the limited, mostly social-media marketing keeping the expense to a minimum). And it came alongside Video on Demand showings, which these initial dates will enhance.

What comes next: The VOD looks like its main future venue, although this has multiple dates (some less than full-week) across the country throughout April.

Ongoing/expanding

The biggest move among already opened films that have yet to reach the Top 10 came from “Bad Words” (Focus). Jason Bateman’s comedy jumped to 842 screens (+755) to place #13 with $2,645,000 (PSA $3,141, total $3,564,000). This could be the high water mark for the film, which has expanded fairly quickly, backed by significant advertising. This is falling short of the early returns for similar more general audience appeal comedies from studio specialized units. For example, Fox Searchlight’s “The Way, Way Back” in its 4th week (after already banking $5 million) grossed $3,445,000 on 886 theaters on its way to a $21 million total. As the first two weekends’ results for “Words” suggested, this looks headed to a much lower total, likely shy of the $10 million mark, subpar for the initial investment of $7 million for worldwide rights.

Among second-week films, the two of note whose distributors reported returns are “Jodorowsky’s Dream” (SPC) and “Rob the Mob” (Millennium). “Dream” took in a modest $36,700 in 7 theaters (+4), PSA $5,243, suggesting this will have a mostly niche future ahead. Raymond De Fellita’s “Mob,” which had a decent initial weekend at New York’s Angelika Theater to open, added 4 theaters to gross $25,600 (PSA $5,120), indicating that this won’t match the breakout success of his previous “City Island.”

Other than end-of-run Oscar related films, only a handful of other releases grossed above $50,000 this weekend. The best was “The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Classics) in its fifth week, adding $313,000 in 73 theaters (+37) for a $911,000 total  Also doing well is “Le Week-End” (Music Box), finding some of the older audiences that recently have embraced “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet” among others. It grossed $225,000 in 50 theaters (+25) in its third weekend, total $483,000 so far.

Also expanding in their third weeks were “Enemy” (A24), with only $132,000 in 120 theaters (+ 24total $778,000) despite the same director/actor pairing (Denis Villeneuve/Jake Gyllenhaal) as last falls “Prisoners.” Cohen Media’s Catherine Deneuve-starring “On My Way” added $60,200 in 31 theaters (+11) to reach $150,600.

Two longer-run docs added to their totals. “Tim’s Vermeer” (SPC) in its 9th week did $97,000 in 94 (-35), total $1,430,000, while “Particle Fever” (Abramorama) held up well, falling only 5% in total as it grossed $75,000 in 27 (+6) in weekend 4 to reach $449,000 so far.

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