By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood May 18, 2014 at 5:13PM
"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.
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).
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).