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Arthouse Audit: ‘Locke’ Breaks Out, CBS Films Takes VOD Route for Diaz-starrer ‘Gambit,’ Written by Coens

Arthouse Audit: 'Locke' Breaks Out, CBS Films Takes VOD Route for Diaz-starrer 'Gambit,' Written by Coens

Specialized movies tend into underperform in April, but this last weekend of the month marked the year’s third-best specialty opener: A24’s “Locke.” The trapped-in-a-car drama starring Tom Hardy follows “Fading Gigolo” and “Under
the Skin,” and scored a reasonable $22,000 per-screen-average for a two city opening for this time of the year. Last year only boasted two at that level among limited openers — “Trance” (which quickly faded) and wide-appeal “The Company You Keep” (which managed to top $5 million). But last April also brought “Mud,” playing more broadly from the start and ultimately getting over $20 million, with core art houses benefiting from its success. This year has nothing looking remotely as good. Still, the month’s new product at least has given the theatrical end of the business (with VOD increasingly popping up as a rival, with several new significant entries this week).

Opening

“Locke” (A24) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 79; Festivals include: Venice 2013, London 2013, Sundance 2014

$89,200 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $22,300

Premiering to acclaim at Venice, particularly for Hardy’s bravura solo performance against a series of voice-only phone calls, then not showing up again until Sundance (strangely absent from Telluride and Toronto), veteran scripter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises”) turned a high concept — a Welsh construction contractor has to balance three life crises on the phone during a night drive to London — in a bravura directorial achievement comparable to Mike Figgis’s innovative triptych “Time Code.” Hardy has been a regular in both high-end specialized and wider films since “Black Hawk Down,” and gained some fame from his two Christopher Nolan appearances (“Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises”). Still, he has yet to achieve real solo marquee value. The strong reviews particularly touted Hardy–with some mention of awards. Still, the high concept is tricky– equally acclaimed “All Is Lost,” featuring a silent solo performance by Robert Redford, disappointed at the box office. “Locke” opened to a lower PSA (although slightly higher gross in 6 rather than 4 theaters). The idea of 85 minutes in a car with one actor likely needs strong word of mouth from initial viewers to get to its deserved ultimate level. A24 has had its best success in marketing to a younger female demo (“The Spectacular Now,” “The Bling Ring”). Their Scarlett Johansson-starring “Under the Skin,” with a more exotic/sexy appeal opened about 50% better earlier this month, though it now is struggling as it broadens. “Locke” opened a bit better than “Only Lovers Left Alive”‘s actual numbers two weekends back — which is also meeting some resistance in wider release. “Locke” may have broader appeal, but at a minimum has gotten the initial attention it needs to spark further interest.

What comes next: New cities come on board starting next week, although this might not be expanding as quickly as “Under the Skin.”

The German Doctor(Samuel Goldwyn) – Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 62; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Montreal 2013, Chicago 2013

$35,000 in 5 theaters; PSA: $7,000

Opening in 3 markets (the Bay area joins New York and Los Angeles), this acclaimed Argentinian film premiered at Cannes last year under its original title “Wakolda.” Based on incidents in the exiled life of Nazi Josef Mengele hiding in South America, it’s a thriller (similar to Gregory Peck film “The Boys from Brazil”) but with a more realistic, small-cast feel. Despite mixed reviews and no Foreign Language Oscar nomination, this managed to get an initial toe-hold that should buttress the expected wider release for Goldwyn.

What comes next: More markets next Friday, with a nationwide rollout throughout May.

“Blue Ruin” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, Sundance 2014; also available on Video on Demand

$31,800 in 7 theaters; PSA: $4,543

Scoring a rare top 3 festival trifecta, and building up a strong reputation as one of the best recent American indies, “Blue Ruin” finally opened nearly a year after its premiere via Radius/Weinstein, including on Video on Demand, where it found its widest audience. The strong reviews clearly will help those venues. Meantime, while this is not a strong gross compared to many limited VOD releases from Radius and others, it’s better than average. The company normally opens their VOD films in more theaters. The narrower run suggests they maintain hopes of some theatrical playoff that goes beyond a week or two at most.(This pattern resembles what fellow top-end VOD providers Magnolia and IFC usually prefer.) This inexpensive but good-looking film lacks the star power of other rustic-America recent successes such as “Mud” or “The Place Beyond the Stars,” or more recent VOD offering “Joe.” Similar “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” with star power,  followed its Sundance acclaim to a PSA of about double in only 3 theaters, without having to compete with VOD.

What comes next: Radius typically gets maximum play despite the home competition, particularly when there’s interest, so expect this to broaden to other cities, though likely with continued mixed results.

“Young and Beautiful” (IFC) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, Rendezvous With French Cinema 2014; also available on VOD

$4,600 in 1 theater; PSA: $4,600

French director Francois Ozon is one of a handful of European directors these days whose films nearly always get U.S. distribution (“8 Women” via Focus in 2002 scored best, $3.1 million). This drama, like many of his films, focuses on an attractive, adventuresome young woman: a 17-year-old girl coming of age in provocatively unconventional ways. (Ozon hit some negative blowback from politically incorrect statements he made about prostitution at a Cannes press conference.) IFC, a leader in pushing the VOD envelope, has sometimes held back with its subtitled films (most significantly with “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” which did well theatrically despite what must have been the temptation to go the home route from the start. For “Young,” only one theater in New York has opened so far, to minor results and reviews somewhat below the norm for Ozon. His previous film, “In the House,” released by Cohen Media last year to theaters solely, managed $31,000 in 3 theaters its first two-city weekend, ending up slightly under $400,000.

What comes next: More spot bookings in available theaters, but most attention as usual will be VOD.

Also opening:

Three other new releases of varying pedigree released grosses. The most prominent is “For No Good Reason” (Sony Pictures Classics), which qualified for a week in Los Angeles last December as a documentary contender. It focuses on illustrator Ralph Steadman, most famous for his collaboration with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Despite the presence of Johnny Depp in the film, it managed a meager $5,000 in two New York theaters despite substantial advance marketing provided by its distributor. “The Last Passenger,” a somewhat unusual British film from normally subtitle-oriented Cohen Media, managed only $9,100 in 10 theaters. Much wider, a Hungarian-set Holocaust escape drama “Walking With the Enemy” (Liberty Studios) grossed $357,000 in 258 theaters (PSA $1,384).

Most curious among the non-reporting openers is the much delayed domestic release of “Gambit” (CBS Films), Colin Firth’s initial follow up to “The King’s Speech.” This remake of the 1960s Michael Caine caper costars Cameron Diaz the same week her much-later “The Other Woman” opened (he’s in current release “The Railway Man”). Directed by Michael Hoffman (“The Last Station”), the script was co-written by the Coen Bros. It opened on ten screens including New York on Friday without chasing reviews despite the names involved and its parallel premiere on VOD. Its Rotten Tomatoes average is 18% so far. CBS isn’t reporting numbers but reports that the movie is in the top 10 on iTunes Comedy. 

Expanding/ongoing

John Turturro’s strong opener from last week “Fading Gigolo” (Millennium) replicated its best-of-recent-weeks limited run with a second weekend superior to other April releases, grossing $323,000 in 37 theaters (+32) with a decent PSA of $8,730. Woody Allen clearly continues to draw as an actor, with the chances of this film continuing to prosper now more in the hands of wider audience reaction. So far, so good.

Two films that showed some promises earlier in April initially continue to expand, though at different speeds. The always ambitious Weinstein Company already has “The Railway Man” with Colin Firth up to 156 theaters (+130) for a gross of $606,000, $923,000 total so far, with a PSA of $3,885. This is an almost identical pattern to “Quartet,” which in its third weekend in 163 theaters had a PSA almost double ($7,111). But that film got to $18 million, an impressive take. Though they might have to spend a bunch to get there, this could find its way over $5 million before it’s through.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” (SPC), also in its third weekend, which opened ahead of “Railway” in its limited openings, grossed $216,000 in about as third as many theaters (53, +36). That left it with a PSA slightly higher ($4,075), although with the much lower theater not showing the same amount of strength at the moment. Its total is $516,000.

Fading already in only its fourth weekend is “Under the Skin” (A24), $264,000 in 158 theaters (-18. PSA $1,671, total $1,522,000). This looks like it won’t have the depth that A24 has achieved for some of their other stylish releases.

Other ongoing films with grosses above $50,000 this weekend include: “The Lunchbox” (SPC) – $339,000 in 165 theaters, at $2.7 million about to become the biggest subtitled release of the year (soon ahead of Oscar-winner “The Great Beauty”); “Le Week-End” (Music Box), $145,000 in 120, with an impressive $1,840,000 so far; “Finding Vivian Meier” (IFC), complementing its VOD run with a decent additional $133,000 in 58 ($674,000 total); “The Raid 2” (SPC), down to 71 theaters with $84,200, nearing $2.5 million; “Dom Hemingway” (Fox Searchlight) a scant $67,000 in 119 ($437,000 total); “Bad Words” (Focus) $56,000 late in its run in 114, approaching $7.7 million after earlier playing much wider; and “Jodorowsky’s Dune” (SPC), $51,300 in 41, $384,000 total.

All these of course pale in comparison to the year’s benchmark specialized hit, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight), still at #13 in its 8th weekend, grossing another $2,475,000 to reach $48.8 million, now well beyond director Wes Anderson’s most recent success “Moonrise Kingdom.”

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