In recent years, Memorial Day weekend has launched several arthouse success stories. “Before Midnight,” as well as “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Tree of Life” off the Cannes Film Festival all rank among the best specialized openers of their years. And even subtitled films have thrived on this date, with both “Fill the Void” and “The Intouchables” having good initial numbers. Though none of this year’s openers were projected to be anything like those, several films managed to gain at least some traction with their initial numbers. (And Cannes, which will provide at least a few hits later this year, didn’t provide the chance for new films just yet.)
The weekend was led by three films — “The Dance of Reality” (ABKCO), “Words and Pictures” (Roadside Attractions) and “Cold in July” (IFC) — from the most recent top three festivals in impact (Toronto and Sundance along with Cannes). While none had elevated expectations, each had some level of initial sampling that could lead to further expansion. Two other films, “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” (IFC) and “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” (Oscilloscope), though more modest, deserve mention as well.
Two films not reporting include “Love Punch” (Ketchup Entertainment), which despite its Toronto Gala debut and stars Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan fared badly in reviews, and “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn” from one time top-drawer director Phil Alden Robinson (“Field of Dreams”) and starring Robin Williams. Lionsgate had scattered theatrical dates to accompany its Video on Demand release, a rare attempt for a major company (heir partner Roadside Attractions has been a leader with this venue).
“The Dance of Reality” (ABKCO) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 77; Festivals include Cannes 2013, South by Southwest 2014
$24,970 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,485
Earlier this year, Sony Picture Classics opened “Jodorowsky’s Dune” about the South American cult director known for “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” managing to get the documentary up to $566,000. “The Dance of Reality” is the director’s first feature in over two decades. And in a bit of late-career irony, its distributor comes from the same company that originally handled “El Topo.”
ABKCO is a high-end music conglomerate founded by the late Allan Klein, who at various points managed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Their theatrical division has been mainly Jodorowsky over the years (including reissues and home video), but despite the long gap between films, he still returned to his previous home. The pick-up (following its Cannes premiere a year ago) was smartly noticed by Landmark Theaters, which in the 1970s was a leader in midnight shows and other counter-culture programming, and showcased the film at two theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Its North American premiere at South by Southwest also helped boost its visibility and confirmed Jodorowsky’s still current appeal.
Helped by a strong New York Times review (the only featured on the front page of the movie section, calling it something close to a masterpiece), this is heading toward a more than respectable initial gross for an offbeat entry from a now 84-year-old director. Jodorowsky, as in earlier films, revels in surrealistic imagery and a unique, dream-like feel that helped gain him attention from high-end (more of the stoner variety) moviegoers of an earlier generation. This is a niche film, unlikely to do multiple millions or play many suburban runs. But its initial success shows it has potential to be a throwback to a past era when cult films like this could find a theatrical audience in key cities with younger audiences (likely including older ones with fond memories now) and make a decent specialized showing.
What comes next: Four more cities next Friday, with further runs nationally over the summer.
“Words and Pictures” (Roadside Attractions) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 45; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, Palm Springs 2014, Newport Beach 2014
$91,400 in 10 theaters; PSA: $9,140
Fred Schepisi is one of the best among recent directors who even most film buffs might not recognize. With a visual elegance balancing wit and intelligence in his films (his eclectic lineup includes “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,” “Roxanne,” “A Cry in the Dark” and “I.Q.”), even his lesser works have shown qualities worth viewing. Very much like John Boorman, another veteran with limited output in recent years, although the latter just premiered a film at Cannes, his films usually haven’t been specialized even if they retained qualities that often made him a critics’ favorite.
His latest film stars Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as dueling academics in an older-audience rom-com situation, and though it found some critical disfavor (The New York Times a key exception), its slightly wider-than-normal 10 theater opening showed enough response to suggest that opening this weekend against high-end commercial product, and less to appeal to adults, made sense.
What comes next: Roadside has anticipated quickly moving this to around 200 theaters, not planning the VOD route they used most recently for “Joe.”
“Cold in July” (IFC) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 74; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, Cannes 2014; also available on Video on Demand
$40,800 in 6 theaters; PSA: $6,800
The first of the Sundance 2014 Dramatic Competition entries to open theatrically, this also was one of the two from this year’s festival to be shown at Cannes (which had a much lower Park City veteran quotient this year). From Jim Mickle (“We Are What We Are”) and starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson in this 1980s Texas-set noirish revenge thriller, the early VOD track for this film is a bit unusual, but after the weak showing last year for similar Sundance films (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “Austenland,” and “Kill Your Darlings,” though others broke out led by “Fruitvale Station”) a dual-track release seems logical. Under those circumstances, with a more low key six-city/theater release, this side of the equation, particularly with the extra attention the good reviews adds, looks to have performed adequately.
What comes next: Most of the action will be on VOD.
Two other more limited openings, both which premiered at last year’s Tribeca, had respectable initial numbers for lower-profile releases. IFC’s documentary “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” opened at two good Manhattan theaters for a $14,000 total. Oscilloscope’s “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” backed by the third strong review of the week from the New York Times managed $7,000 in the not usually prominent Cinema Village. The New York set film, shot mostly in subways, focuses on an autistic teen who heads underground after a rough day at school. It will have some limited further theater play, with VOD scheduled before long.
The top result this weekend is a better than expected (and very rapid) expansion of “The Immigrant” (Weinstein). While hardly spectacular numbers, $463,000 in 147 theaters (+144) came with a much lower marketing profile than is usual for a TWC release. The $3,150 PSA is lower than what their “Railway Man” did in a similar number of theaters its third weekend, but again with more of a build up. No company will respond to any signs of potential more than TWC, so after a delayed launch, this might get more attention in the weeks ahead, even if it never becomes one of their top releases of the year.
The other second weekend film to report is “Chinese Puzzle” (Cohen Media) which grossed $44,900 in 10 (+8, PSA $4,490), a minor showing for this latest from French director Cedric Klapisch.
For the first time in weeks, the top total gross for the rest of the field wasn’t Fox Searchlight’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (which grossed $668,000 in 360, -270, at $56,600,000 adding to its year-best gross). Open Road’s “Chef” expanded to #9 with $2,260,000 in 498 (+426) in its third weekend, with much wider expansion ahead. Meantime, another Fox Searchlight film, “Belle” rose to #12 with $1,700,000 in 453 (+280, PSA $3,753, total $3.9 million through four weekends).
An additional healthy and varied slate of eight other specialized films amassed an additional $50,000 of more this weekend, including:
– “The Railway Man” (Weinstein) – $560,000 in 600 (+417, PSA $933,000, total $3,451,000)
– “Fading Gigolo” (Millennium) – $295,000 in 186 (-170, PSA $1,586, total $3,134,000)
– “Fed Up” (Radius/Weinstein) – $227,000 in 102 (+47, PSA $2,225, total $688,000)
– “Ida” (Music Box) – $225,000 in 34 (+13, PSA $6,618, total $633,000) – this film in particular continues to impressive with its rigorous core art-house appeal bolstered by strong critical support
– “Locke” (A24) – $119,000 in 111 (-10, PSA $1,013, total $1,036,000)
– “The Lunch Box” (Sony Pictures Classics) – $101,000 in 68 (-62, PSA $1,485, total $3,864,000)
– “Palo Alto” (Tribeca) – $98,000 in 42 (+6, PSA $2,333, total $361,000)
– “Only Lovers Left Alive” (SPC) – $80,900 in 70 (-25, PSA $1,156, total $1,449,000