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"Friends with Money" and "Smoking" Find their Groove; "Sir!" Strikes

By Indiewire | Indiewire April 25, 2006 at 6:02AM

"Friends With Money" and "Thank You For Smoking" have found their comfort zones in relatively wide release, although neither looks to be a breakout indie hit on the order of a "Brokeback Mountain" or "Sideways." As a result, this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT), compiled with numbers supplied by Rentrak, is dominated by films in exclusive release. And the unlikely couple of Matthew Barney and Jane Fonda were art-house stars last weekend.
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"Friends With Money" and "Thank You For Smoking" have found their comfort zones in relatively wide release, although neither looks to be a breakout indie hit on the order of a "Brokeback Mountain" or "Sideways." As a result, this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT), compiled with numbers supplied by Rentrak, is dominated by films in exclusive release. And the unlikely couple of Matthew Barney and Jane Fonda were art-house stars last weekend.

[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]

There was a strong New York debut for a new documentary about anti-Vietnam protest featuring Fonda - Balcony Releasing's "Sir! No Sir!" It previously had played the Bay Area for two weeks. The film finished second on iWBOT with its $11,930 take at the IFC Center. (Ranking is based on per-theater average, usually but not always the same as per-screen.)

And a powerful Los Angeles opening moved conceptual-artist Barney's avant-garde opus, "Drawing Restraint 9," to third place from fifth on iWBOT with a $7,017 average. It grossed $11,139 at Landmark's NuArt Theatre on L.A.'s west side, according to Nielsen EDI.

This means Matthew Barney's film - a challenging collaboration with musician Bjork - will definitely be going into the top ten markets in coming weeks, said Mark Boxer, IFC Films' vice president of distribution. Because NuArt is a calendar house, the film is moving to Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood on Friday.

Meanwhile, holding at two theaters until its expansion this Friday into 125 locations in 40-plus markets, Lionsgate's "Hard Candy" easily led iWBOT again. But per-screen average for the sexual thriller directed by David Slade dipped by 35%, to $18,901 from $29,025.

After two terrific weeks in limited release, Sony Classics increased the play dates on Nicole Holofcener's "Friends With Money" to 991 theaters from 42. The result was that it grossed $3.2 million, good for tenth place among all films in theatrical release. Overall, it has earned almost $5 million in three weeks. But it dropped to 15th from second on iWBOT as its per-screen average plummeted 82% to $3,208 from $17,611.

Like Fox Searchlight did a week earlier with "Thank You For Smoking," Sony Classics was attempting to go as wide as possible with "Friends With Money" before May's Hollywood blockbusters take all the screens. The film, a sophisticated and female-centric mix of drama and romantic comedy, had done especially well in upscale urban locales. Its expansion represented a stab at adult counterprogramming at a time when youth comedies and horror movies dominate the multiplexes.

Tom Bernard, Sony Classics co-president, said the per-screen average roughly was in line with his $3,500-$4,000 hopes. "It was very strong in urban areas; OK in the hinterlands," he said, mentioning Alabama and Mississippi as examples of "hinterlands." In Kerrville, Texas, it did especially poorly, he said - just $1,000.

Still, it was worth opening this widely, although the number of screens will not increase greatly. "The more awareness you have, the better off you are. It helps with the ancillaries and gives the movie a longer life," Bernard said.

Larry Thomas, who books several Southern and Midwestern art-houses out of Cincinnati, said that the "Friends With Money" weekend numbers were acceptable. (None of his theaters are showing it.) "Per screen average of $3,584 is OK for a small film in mainly commercial houses," he said in an email. "You can't expect a whole lot more than that when you go from your major towns/major houses in just a few places to 991 screens nationwide." However, he said, "...expanding in plexes will only cripple potentially excellent grosses in the art houses that might be playing it."

Jason Reitman's political satire "Thank You For Smoking" added just five sites - rising to 1,020 screens from 1,015. It saw its overall weekend gross drop 38% to $2.78 million from the previous weekend's $4.49 million. Last week, Fox Searchlight chief operating officer Stephen Gilula told indieWIRE he expected the film to top out theatrically at a satisfying $20 million. It is now at $15.78 million in its sixth week.

There have been other documentaries about Vietnam protest, but David Zeiger's "Sir! No Sir!" is aiming to bring a new dimension to a hidden aspect of a familiar subject. Early indications are there's an audience for it - thanks especially to Fonda's help.

It's about the protest within the military itself, which was surprisingly strong. In fact, the movie explains, anti-war GIs championed Fonda, who toured in support of them as an alternative to Bob Hope's USO appearances. That amounts to a revelation, considering that contemporary pundits have viewed her anti-war activities as weird, aberrant conduct bordering on treason.

This may be one reason why Fonda has supported the film. (Her son by Tom Hayden, Troy Garity, provides the narration.) Before the New York opening, she attended a special screening on behalf of a group of Iraq veterans opposing the current war there.

"She's been spreading the word among her friends," said Connie White of Balcony Releasing. "She was also a guest for us at an intimate screening in Mill Valley before the San Francisco opening."

The film opens Friday at Denver's Starz Film Center - it was in last year's Denver International Film Festival - and on May 5 in Madison, Wisc., and three theaters in Los Angeles. About 25 dates around the country have been booked so far, White said.

Overall, the number of screens dedicated to art/specialty releases leaped last weekend to 3,532 from the previous weekend's 2,827. But the cumulative gross declined to $8.24 million from $8.57 million. There was a slight decline in titles reported to iWBOT; 87 instead of 89. The per-screen (or per-site) average for all the films fell 23% to $2,334 from $3,037.

[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.]


indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email studiogrosses@rentrak.com







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