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Arthouse Audit: 'Cesar Chavez,' 'The Raid 2,' 'Finding Vivian Maier' & 'Mistaken for Strangers' Find Initial Success

Box Office
by Tom Brueggemann
March 30, 2014 4:54 PM
1 Comment
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Michael Pena in 'Cesar Chavez'

Four new specialized/independent releases from diverse backgrounds showed initial strength this weekend. Two of these -- "Cesar Chavez" (Pantelion/Lionsgate) and "The Raid 2" (Sony Pictures Classics) -- are intended for wider release (the former opened at 664 theaters mainly targeted to Mexican-American audiences). Two others -- "Finding Vivian Maier" (IFC) and "Mistaken for Strangers" (Abramorama) -- are documentaries focusing, as have so many hits in the medium, on aspects of the creative process, and seem headed to decent or better art-house success, though theatrically limited by both being available now on Video on Demand.

Three films of note -- the initial weekend of Drake Doremus' "Breathe In" (Cohen Media) and the second stanzas of Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac Vol. 1" (Magnolia, also on Video on Demand, as is Vol. 2 already, which heads to theaters next Friday) and "Anita" (Samuel Goldwyn) -- opted not to reveal their grosses. Among sub-Top 10 expansions (with "The Grand Budapest Hotel" becoming the new standard for early year specialized success as it continues to thrive), "Bad Words" (Focus) continued its just OK performance so far.

Opening

"Cesar Chavez" (Pantelion/Lionsgate) - Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 52; Festivals include: Berlin 2014, South by Southwest 2014

$3,000,000 in 664 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $4,518

This latest effort from Pantelion (a partnership formed by Lionsgate and Mexico-based Grupo Television to nurture Latino-oriented films in the U.S.), "Cesar Chavez" marks their first to try to straddle both core and wider audiences and cater to critics as well as the public. The results so far fall short of their 2013 breakout "Instructions Not Included." That sleeper success grossed nearly $8 million in only 348 theaters its opening weekend, building on the popularity of Mexican comic Eugenio Derbez to reach $44 million in the U.S, and was followed by "Pulling Strings" with Jaime Camil, which opened on 387 screens to just under $2.5 million. 

Both were in Spanish, while this Participant Media-backed biopic of the late United Farmer Workers organizer/Civil Rights activist Cesar Chavez (who was himself American-born) is primarily in English. Directed by Canana's producer-star Diego Luna ("Abel") and starring a number of leading Latino actors (Michael Pena, America Ferrara and Rosario Dawson), this initial gross came in somewhat below expectations but still managed in limited release to place #12 for the week. The U.S. Latino population has been harder to attract to more "serious" subjects (compared to the African-American population, who along with crossover audiences have made films like "Precious," "The Butler" and "12 Years a Slave" successful), in part because of the diversity of the population and its multi-cultural roots. The film's mixed reviews didn't help.

What comes next: It won't expand much further, making its future dependent on possible good word of mouth -- its Cinemascore was "A". Still, as a low-budget film with targeted (thus less expensive) marketing and some international potential and long-term library value, this should turn out as a decent investment for the partnership.

"The Raid 2" (Sony Pictures Classics) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Sundance 2014, South by Southwest 2014

$177,000 in 7 theaters; PSA: $25,286

Welsh-born director Gareth Evans' higher-budgeted (and at 148 minutes longer) followup to his Indonesian-made "The Raid: Redemption" (which grossed $4.1 million in the U.S., over $15 million worldwide) somewhat surprisingly for a sequel opened in fewer theaters than its predecessor. Whatever the reason, the result is impressive -- the per screen average is $10,000 above the take for 14 theaters last time (all in New York and Los Angeles, high-end ones with strong wider audience appeal). Though the film is primarily subtitled, action and martial-arts scenes dominate, with its fans younger and less art-house oriented than most SPC releases (the company of course had its biggest success with "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"). The first film, despite the language barrier, found further success on DVD and cable, which should increase the sequel's potential in the weeks ahead.

What comes next: This opens a handful of new cities this Friday, with a 1,200 theater break planned for April 11.

1 Comment

  • Jean Pierre | March 31, 2014 4:05 AMReply

    The problem with Cesar Chavez is simple. The casting was wrong. Mexican Americans were the main characters in the real strike so why wasn't the wife of Cesar Chavez not Mexican American and why was not Dolores Huerta not Mexican American? You have to pay attention to details.

    America Ferrera is Nicaraguan and Rosario Dawson is Afro Cuban/Puerto rican. Our accents are accents are different and there are many things that is different between Mexicans and other Hispanic ethnic groups. Argentinians and Dominicans are different and so are Puerto Ricans and Peruvians so when you make a movie about real life people you need to pay attention to who is your demographic is and who the people in the film were.

    I can't believe because both America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson were part of Voto Latino Diego Luna gave them these parts. You can't mix business with outside political activities and hope for success. Why these ladies are successful these ladies are not Mexican America or Mexican. You can't just continue to give Mexican and Mexican American roles to outsiders and expect for your audience to show up to your movie. Maybe these parts were given to attract other Latinos but to me if the movie is good you don't need to do this because they will show up. If you have to add other Latinos just give them minor parts but not major parts.

    Mexicans and Mexicans Americans who did this in real life but other people have benefited economically from Mexican roles.

    Jennifer Lopez made millions playing Tejana singer Selena.
    Andy Garcia played a Mexican General in For a Greater Glory Cristero War when he is Cuban and accents differ.

    Michelle Rodriguez got a Mexican part in Machette Kills
    Mark Anthony played a Mexican Mogul in Man on Fire with Denzel Washington

    Or course like I mentioned that America Ferrera got the part of Helen and she is Nicaraguan and Rosario Dawson got the part of Dolores Huerta.

    You also have to understand this has happen before in racist times when Mexican American Guy Gabaldon who captured the most Enemy combatants single handily was played by a White Anglo Blonde hair blue eyed man on the screen. Name of movie was Hell to Eternity.

    I just wonder what non Mexican is going to play the Mexican American Oscar de la Hoya. You know that would be a good movie but if they don't get the right person I am not watching.

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