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

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 30, 2014 at 4:54PM

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. 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.
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Finding Vivian Maier

"Finding Vivian Maier" (Sundance Selects/IFC) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 75; Festivals include: Toronto 2013, DocNYC 2013, Berlin 2014; available on Video on Demand on 3/31

$63,600 in 3 theaters; PSA: $21,200

Some of the most successful documentaries in recent years have focused on obscure artists involved with the creative process. "Finding Vivian Maier" certainly qualifies. It chronicles the work -- and the discovery of the work -- of an unheralded photographer, unknown in her lifetime, whose accumulated amateur work was discovered among the belongings left with the family she worked for as a nanny. Since then curated and shown at exhibition, this film both presents her art but also strives (a la "Searching for Sugar Man," albeit with the central figure no longer alive) to recreate her life. IFC opened this at 3 prime New York/Los Angeles theaters to significant interest. This is the best limited opening for a documentary since last summer in fact (when "20 Feet from Stardom," "Blackfish" and "Act of Killing" all opened strong).

What comes next: IFC is expanding this quickly to all top markets in the next two weeks to parallel its home viewing availability. This might end up being a year-end awards contender as well.

"Mistaken for Strangers" (Abramorama) - Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 70; Festivals include: Tribeca 2013, Seattle 2013, London 2013; also available on Video on Demand

$81,800 in 9 theaters; PSA: $9,089

No genre of documentary has been as successful over nearly 50 years than those about rock concerts and bands, from "Woodstock" to those directed by masters like Jean-Luc Godard, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme and many more. But this one found its own take -- the somewhat alienated filmmaker brother of the lead singer of the band "The National" goes along on their European tour and records his own impressionistic take on the goings on, not always enthusiastically received by the group or his fellow roadies. Opening in a range of theaters, apart from New York's IFC Center primarily in non-chain independents, this shows a respectable result (more so with the limited, mostly social-media marketing keeping the expense to a minimum). And it came alongside Video on Demand showings, which these initial dates will enhance.

What comes next: The VOD looks like its main future venue, although this has multiple dates (some less than full-week) across the country throughout April.

Ongoing/expanding

The biggest move among already opened films that have yet to reach the Top 10 came from "Bad Words" (Focus). Jason Bateman's comedy jumped to 842 screens (+755) to place #13 with $2,645,000 (PSA $3,141, total $3,564,000). This could be the high water mark for the film, which has expanded fairly quickly, backed by significant advertising. This is falling short of the early returns for similar more general audience appeal comedies from studio specialized units. For example, Fox Searchlight's "The Way, Way Back" in its 4th week (after already banking $5 million) grossed $3,445,000 on 886 theaters on its way to a $21 million total. As the first two weekends' results for "Words" suggested, this looks headed to a much lower total, likely shy of the $10 million mark, subpar for the initial investment of $7 million for worldwide rights.

Among second-week films, the two of note whose distributors reported returns are "Jodorowsky's Dream" (SPC) and "Rob the Mob" (Millennium). "Dream" took in a modest $36,700 in 7 theaters (+4), PSA $5,243, suggesting this will have a mostly niche future ahead. Raymond De Fellita's "Mob," which had a decent initial weekend at New York's Angelika Theater to open, added 4 theaters to gross $25,600 (PSA $5,120), indicating that this won't match the breakout success of his previous "City Island."

Other than end-of-run Oscar related films, only a handful of other releases grossed above $50,000 this weekend. The best was "The Lunchbox" (Sony Pictures Classics) in its fifth week, adding $313,000 in 73 theaters (+37) for a $911,000 total  Also doing well is "Le Week-End" (Music Box), finding some of the older audiences that recently have embraced "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Quartet" among others. It grossed $225,000 in 50 theaters (+25) in its third weekend, total $483,000 so far.

Also expanding in their third weeks were "Enemy" (A24), with only $132,000 in 120 theaters (+ 24total $778,000) despite the same director/actor pairing (Denis Villeneuve/Jake Gyllenhaal) as last falls "Prisoners." Cohen Media's Catherine Deneuve-starring "On My Way" added $60,200 in 31 theaters (+11) to reach $150,600.

Two longer-run docs added to their totals. "Tim's Vermeer" (SPC) in its 9th week did $97,000 in 94 (-35), total $1,430,000, while "Particle Fever" (Abramorama) held up well, falling only 5% in total as it grossed $75,000 in 27 (+6) in weekend 4 to reach $449,000 so far.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, The Raid 2, Cesar Chavez


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.