By Indiewire | Indiewire May 6, 2008 at 2:04AM
"Mister Lonely," filmmaker Harmony Korine's sweet-natured drama about two lovelorn celebrity impersonators, rocketed past all art-house releases with a debut, per-screen average of $16,769 at New York's IFC Center. "Son of Rambow," British filmmaker Garth Jennings' coming- of-age comedy for Paramount Vantage, also debuted in the iWBOT top five, which ranks films by per-screen average, with $53,778 in weekend box office from five runs in New York and Los Angeles. Rounding out the iWBOT Top Five, were "Redbelt," director David Mamet's fight drama for Sony Pictures Classics, "Viva," director Anna Biller's sexploitation drama for Vagrant Films Releasing and Samuel Goldwyn's "Roman de Gare," a thriller from French master Claude Lelouch.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available at indieWIRE.com.
News of the first hit of the summer blockbuster season, Marvel Entertainment and Paramount Pictures' "Iron Man," highlighted the difficult task of specialty films companies attempting to build awareness for their art-house releases during the summer season and attracting young adults to independent fare. While "Iron Man" established a new movie franchise for Marvel and Paramount, solid debuts by "Son of Rambow," "Redbelt" and the chart- topping "Mister Lonely" helped prove that some audiences remain committed to alternative fare no matter what season.
Filmmaker Harmony Korine became the comeback kid of the specialty film biz thanks to IFC Films' "Mister Lonely," about a sad Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) looking to start a new life at a Scottish commune with a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (Samantha Morton). "Mister Lonely" earned an impressive $16,769 from its exclusive debut at New York's IFC Center. For Korine, whose two previous features "Gummo" (1997) and "Julien Donkey-Boy" (1999) earned a combined $202,000 in total box office, "Mister Lonely" looked to become his first shot at an audience-friendly film. "There has been such great anticipation for Harmony Korine's film to open in New York and we're glad audiences came out for the opening weekend," said Mark Boxer, VP Sales and Distribution, IFC Films. "Mister Lonely" played extremely well at the Tribeca Film Festival and we are very encouraged with the opening numbers. The film skewered to a younger demographic, which is not a surprise, and sold out evening shows at the IFC Center." Boxer confirmed a deliberately paced expansion plan for "Mister Lonely" including 15 new markets throughout May.
"Son of Rambow" director Garth Jennings' funny coming-of-age drama about a young outcast in 1980s Britain who collaborates with the school bully on a homemade action movie, earned $53,788 for Paramount Vantage and a $10,757 per-screen average from five runs in New York and Los Angeles. Rob Schulze, executive vice president, distribution, Paramount Vantage, confirmed an expansion for the British comedy into suburban New York and twelve additional markets on Friday; hoping to capitalize on the film's strong word-of-mouth and the gap between blockbuster titans "Iron Man," "Prince Caspian" and "Indiana Jones." "Our feeling about this film is it's a charming British comedy that's very playable," Schulze said. "The more exposure customers get to this film the better off we're going to be with it."
"Redbelt," director David Mamet's drama about a Jiu-Jitsi teacher forced into a rigged prize-fighting contest in order to save his self- defense school, earned $63,361 from six runs in New York and Los Angeles for Sony Pictures Classics. Featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role, and Mamet regulars Joe Mantegna and Ricky Jay in support, "Redbelt" landed in the middle of Mamet's previous debut, per-screen rankings with $10,560. A planned expansion to 1,000 venues Friday should increase "Redbelt's" chances at becoming Mamet's highest- grossing film.
"Viva," actress/director Anna Biller's cultish drama inspired by 1970s Sexploitation films for Vagrant Films Releasing, shot into the iWBOT top five with $8,688 in weekend box office at New York's Cinema Village. The challenge for a small independent film like "Viva," said Ryan Bruce Levey, president and founder, Vagrant Films Releasing, is to create a niche in the marketplace via flyers, the Internet and appearances by the filmmaker. "The audience was surprisingly all over the map, a combination of Baby Boomer couples, students and general art-house movie fans," said Levey. "Based on the response at the weekend question and answer sessions, the film definitely struck a cord due to its retro style and sly commentary." "Viva" will open New Orleans and Cleveland in May and debut in Los Angeles June 20.
Remaining in the iWBOT top five for a second week was Samuel Goldywn's "Roman de Gare," the latest film from French master Claude Lelouch. Featuring Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana and Dominique Pinon as three strangers whose lives intersect with thrilling consequences, "Roman de Gare" held its debut weekend grosses with $22,533 from two New York runs.
Other top-performing holdovers included "Up the Yangtze" director Yung Chang's debut feature film, about China's gargantuan hydroelectric project along the Yangtze River. "Yangtze" earned $13,676 from New York's IFC Center and the Jacob Burns Center in suburban New York for Zeitgeist Films. "The Visitor" filmmaker Tom McCarthy's follow up to his 2003 film "The Station Agent," earned $606,597 in weekend box office for Overture Films, the new film division of Starz LLC, for a $4,666 per- screen average. Featuring character actor Richard Jenkins as a New York professor who befriends a Syrian musician, "Visitor" has earned $1,576,256 in total box office after four weeks.
The premiere reissue was "As Tears Go By," filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's 1988 romance featuring Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung. "As Tears Go By" earned $4279 for Kino International at Brooklyn's BAM Rose Cinema; quadrupling the per-screen average of Wong's current release "My Blueberry Nights."
Other specialty debuts outside the iWBOT Top Ten included "Fugitive Pieces," director Jeremy Podeswa's adaptation of Anne Michaels' novel about a World War II survivor haunted by his past. "Fugitive Pieces" earned $102,212 from thirty engagements in New York, Los Angeles and Canada for Samuel Goldwyn Films. Argentine filmmaker Lucia Puenzo's drama "XXY," about a young inter-sex teenager, earned $3,300 from its debut engagement at New York's Cinema Village. "As It Is In Heaven," Swedish director Kay Pollak's drama about a successful orchestra conductor who goes on hiatus and returns to his rural hometown, earned $2402 for Vitagraph Films at Dallas' Angelika Film Center.
While the Paramount action movie "Iron Man" started the summer blockbuster season with a blast, director Arthur Dong's self- distributed documentary "Hollywood Chinese," a far-reaching examination of Asian characters and artists in Hollywood film, earned $1,921 from its New York debut weekend at the Quad Cinema and accumulated $23,224 in total box office since opening in San Francisco April 11. The cost vs. box office proceeds for "Hollywood Chinese" prove that there's room for a film with a minimal P&A budget, said Dong, room for a true grassroots effort. "I'd like to think of "Hollywood Chinese" as the DIY film that could. It just needs massaging and a chance to gather good old fashioned word-of-mouth as opposed to relying on the opening weekend numbers as the only gauge to determine its possible performance in theaters."
Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.
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 be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.