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Arthouse Audit: ‘The Immigrant’ and ‘Chinese Puzzle’ Lead Specialty Box Office

Arthouse Audit: 'The Immigrant' and 'Chinese Puzzle' Lead Specialty Box Office

As Cannes is well under way, The Weinstein Co. finally opened a movie that debuted during the festival a year ago, James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” which came to the festival freighted with big expectations. In the interim its status as one of their prime films faded, and it only now is seeing the light of day stateside (it has already played many countries internationally). It was joined by “Chinese Puzzle” (Cohen Media) from veteran French director Cedric Klapisch. Both opened to mid-level results in limited runs this weekend, but actually above average for similar Cannes-parallel releases in recent years, with both likely to benefit from their initial showings.

Meantime last weekend’s strong opener “Chef” (Open Road) expanded with a healthy take as it broadens out slowly to what is likely to be a much wider than usual break in the weeks ahead. Fox Searchlight’s “Belle” and Music Box’ “Ida” — two films with very different expectations — both continue to show strength in their respective third weeks, leading a stronger than usual group of mid-spring specialized releases. The overall strength might encourage some distributors looking to acquire films at Cannes to be somewhat more aggressive in their bids and take some chances that otherwise might seem riskier.

Opening

“The Immigrant” (Weinstein) – Criticwire: B+, Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, New York 2013, Chicago 2013, Newport Beach 2014

$45,400 in 3 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $15,133

The torturous journey of director James Gray’s (“Two Lovers,” “We Own the Night,” “The Yards”) film to U.S. theaters might rival the tale of a Polish emigre’s travails after making it through Ellis Island. Apart from Gray, it initially seemed like one of last year’s top potential awards contenders because of its cast including Marion Cotillard (in a rare lead English-language performance), Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner. But for whatever reason, its release was put off until now, missing any shot in Weinstein’s busy (but ultimately underperforming) Oscar slate for 2013. At one point, it was suggested as a Radius release (the TWC arm that usually has a Video on Demand element). The end result was a more typical New York/Los Angeles specialized release, at three respectable theaters and a gross that in context actually is more decent than the numbers might indicate.

Weinstein for its top films usually gets the four top crossover theaters, often with double screens and maximum seating, backed by high-end limited run advertising and high profile media appearances by top talent. Over the last two years, this has yielded PSAs ranging from under $10,000 to the mid-$30s for their best recent films (“August: Osage County” and “Philomena” recently at the higher end.) A few weeks ago, “The Railway Man” opened to the same PSA at four theaters with better chances overall of higher grosses, and expanded fairly quickly (although slower than some TWC films) to 183 theaters at this point. So based on the standards by which the company operates (with more intensity than other companies), and particularly considering the lower profile this film had on its opening (despite well-placed pre-opening key newspaper interviews and positive reviews in the NY and LA TImes — both much more prominent than for “The Railway Man”) — this would seem to be promising enough, despite the relatively low PSA, to justify the much wider exposure recently anticipated for the film. Its increase yesterday from Friday’s initial figures — ahead of what “The Railway Man” did its second day by comparison — also seems to indicate a positive response so far despite the concerns over the film’s appeal.

What comes next: This is scheduled to expand to more top cities and 50 theaters next Friday, with future widening possible based on these initially positive results.

“Chinese Puzzle” (Cohen Media) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 65; Festivals include: London 2013, City of Lights City of Angels 2014, San Francisco 2014

$24,200 in 2 theaters; PSA: $12,100

Cohen Media over the last few years has emphasized French films with broad audience appeal (comedies and period dramas) that used to have a ready American audience. Times have changed, and they have had mixed results while sticking to their quest to keep the spirit alive. “Chinese Puzzle,” from Cedric Klapisch (“L’Auberge Espangnole, “Russian Dolls,”) actually came through with their second best limited PSA (after “Farewell My Queen,” which reached $18,000 in four). This film takes the central character from those two earlier films and updates his story, now with a New York connection.

Playing at top uptown and downtown Manhattan theaters initially, without a lot of attention (again, tougher to corral a media throng centered on Cannes), this came in at a better than expected level, even if not really enough to suggest a sea change in the fortunes of French film in this country, More importantly, it is enough to encourage further dates and support.

What comes next: This looks like it might have a shot at being Cohen’s first $1 million-plus gross of the year, assuming their usual maximized placement at appropriate theaters. The holiday weekend hold in New York will also given a clearer sign about its future.

Also opening:

Three other new films reported grosses, all under $10,000 in exclusive New York dates. “The Discoverers” (Quadretric) starring Griffin Dunne in a modern-day reenactment of the Lewis and Clark expedition, is estimating $8,000, aided by being a New York Times critics’ pick on Friday. “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case” (International Film Circuit) is showing $6,200. “House of God” (Kino Lorber) which premiered at Cannes 2012, opened at the Film Forum to a minor $2,500 ($4,000 for 5 days).

Ongoing/expanding

Eleven specialized-rooted films took in over $50,000 this weekend, again above average for the season. The top gross remains as it has for months “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight), still up at #12 overall with another $1.1 million and a $55.5 million total, with $60 million likely ahead as a new benchmark for non-awards season success.

Last week’s two leading openers expanded to much different results. Jon Favreau’s “Chef” (Open Road), following  a much different pattern than most of that company’s broad-audience releases, grossed $734,000 in 72 (+66, PSA $10,200). These are the best second week numbers for going in this kind of pattern since the record-setting “Budapest” (which did $55,000 in 66), but still ahead of others that have done recently otherwise. It will continue to expand with hoped-for ongoing positive word of mouth expected to take it to the second highest total of the year thus far.

Tribeca’s “Palo Alto” fared less well. After an OK (but 20% lower than estimated) initial weekend, Gia Coppola’s debut future took in $110,000 in 36 (+32, PSA $3,056) an at best ordinary result for this early stage of its run playing better big-city theaters.

In its third week, “Belle” (Fox Searchlight) did $960,000 in 193 (+128, PSA $5,549, total $1,787,000). It seems to be satisfying audiences looking for something different in historical dramas, with some crossover beyond the typical arthouse crowd. Like “Chef,” this looks like it could end up one of the top first half of 2014 releases.

Music Box’ “Ida” on a smaller scale (black and white Polish films don’t draw as well as some of the above usually) is no less impressive, particularly among key niche arthouses. It grossed $131,000 in 21 theaters (+14, PSA $6,328, total $350,000) as it continues to show that more rigorous critically acclaimed films – similar to some of those showing currently at Cannes – can still attract an American theatrical audience.

Two films later in their runs both passed the $2.7 million mark. John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” (Millennium) added $445,000 in 356 (+16) in its 5th week. Still having played in fewer theaters, Weinstein’s “The Railway Man” did $305,000 in 183 (+2). Both still look they should approach or pass the $5 million mark,

Among the rest, “Locke” (A24) continues to struggle with $218,000 in 121 (+48, total $833,000), “The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Classics) continues to impress with $170,000 in 130 (-23, total nearing $3.7 million), “Only Lovers Left Alive” (also SPC) $127,000 in 95 (+3, just under $1.3 million) and “Under the Skin” (A24) nears the end of its run with $85,300 in 56 (-37, total $2.2 million).

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