MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Body Bags

Beverly Hills Chihuahua continued to bark up the right tree as it claimed the top weekend viewing choice with an estimated $17.4 million. However unless you were a high concept horror movie, the news was grim to disappointing for new movies. The bright light was Quarantine, which ranked second with $14.1 million.

The anticipated weekend champ — the star powered political thriller Body of Lies– came up short of expectations to slot third overall with $13 million. Even further off the mark was the inspirational sports saga The Express, which grossed $4.7 million, and the kid-lit adaptation of City of Emberwith a $3.1 million tally.

There was also a glut of debuting titles in limited and regional exposure, but few displayed real growing strength. The off-shore crime drama RocknRolla get off to a fast start with $143,000 from seven locales, and Mike Leigh’s disarmingly upbeat yarn Happy-Go-Lucky scored with $77,400 from four venues. A couple of reissues did reasonably well — Ashes of Time: Redux generating a $4,160 average from five exposures and 1950s classic Lola Montes attracting a comparable $4,400 per in three placements.

Bollywood entry Hello was very soft with barely a $1,000 average in 21 theaters and the Hispanic-targeted Talento de Barrio failed to make the connection with a $28,100 gross from 17 playdates. A handful of other independents, including Breakfast with Scot and the regionally opened family picBill: The Early Years, barely registered a commercial blip.

A couple of potent titles combined with sheer volume pushed viewing stats ahead of last year though it was roughly on par with the Columbus/Canadian Thanksgiving holiday frames that fell a week later on the calendar.

Body of Lies was expected to break the Iraq War jinx that’s dogged both overtly political fare as well as thriller fodder such as The Kingdom that it more closely resembles. The presence ofLeonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe waged war with a torrent of bad reviews and lost. Polling by asked roughly 2,000 potential patrons whether the film’s current events backdrop would impact their decision to see the film and 31% replied in the affirmative; that appears to have translated into an opening about one-third less than expected.

Quarantine continued the Screen Gems streak of mining low budget, exploitable horror themes for fast returns on fungible entertainments. The genre remains the most enduring commercial engine in American cinema going back to Universal’s Frankenstein/Dracula cycle back in the 1930s. The current entry probably won’t be quite as venerable.

Walden Media’s penchant for bringing uplifting children’s books to screen continued with City of Ember. It most certainly wasn’t Narnia with an opening closer to The Seeker that likely translates into a comparable number of sequels to the latter film.

The weekend head-scratcher was unquestionably The Express, based on the real-life saga of Ernie Davis, the first black winner of college football’s Heisman Trophy back in 1961. While expectations were modestly pegged at $8 million to $10 million, results were considerably off projections. The film had enthusiastic response at previews and A+ exit polls but after a soft opening day and a 22% Saturday bump, both partisan and unaffiliated studio execs (and this pundit) can’t come up with a solid scenario for the film’s lack of commercial traction.

The session also featured several expansions, with Rachel Getting Married adding 17 screens and remaining very potent. The national expansion of The Duchess had a good response but also suggests the period drama has pretty much hit its limit, while Appaloosa may have a few more hoof beats left to be trotted out. Fireproof is also keeping apace with its base but the likes of Miracle of St. Anna and Blindness are proving too fast and too furiously downbeat.

– Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates – October 10-12, 2008

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Beverly Hills Chihuahua BV 17.4 (5,4000) -4-41% 3218 52.4
Quarantine Sony 14.1 (5,730) 2461 14.1
Body of Lies WB 13.0 (4,790) 2710 13.0
Eagle Eye Par 10.9 (3,010) -39% 3614 70.4
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist Sony 6.4 (2,650) -43% 2421 20.7
The Express Uni 4.7 (1,760) 2808 4.7
Nights in Rodanthe WB 4.5 (1,760) -39% 2575 32.3
Appaloosa WB 3.2 (2,500) -36% 1290 10.8
Fireproof IDP 3.1 (3,290) -21%- 875 16.9
The Duchess Par Vantage 3.1 (2,590) 25250%50% 1207 5.4
City of Ember Fox 3.1 (1,520) 2022 3.1
Lakeview Terrace Sony 2.6 (1,160) –43% 2218 36.1
Religulous Lions Gate 2.1 (3,770) -37% 568 6.6
Burn After Reading Focus 2.0 (1,440) -51% 1406 55.1
An American Carol Vivendi 1.4 (850) -62% 1621 7.3
Flash of Genius Uni .83 (760) -63% 1098 3.7
The Family that Preys Par .74 (1,370) -52% 539 36.3
Igor MGM .56 (470) -68% 1195 18.1
Blindness Mrmx/Alliance .55 (320) -76%- 1695 3.5
The Dark Knight WB .53 (1,410) -36%- 375 526.7
Ghost Town Par .51 (890) -65% 575 12.5
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $95.30
% Change (Last Year) 20%
% Change (Last Week) -12%
Also debuting/expanding
Rachel Getting Married Sony Classics .43 (15,810) 46% 27 0.85
Billy: The Early Years Rocky Mountain .20 (700) 282 0.2
RockNRolla WB .14 (20,430) 7 0.2
Happy-Go-Lucky Miramax 77,400 (19,350) 4 0.08
Paris 36 Vivendi 37,300 (2,330) 16 0.04
Talento de Barrio Maya 28,100 (1,650) 17 0.03
Hello Shemaroo 21,500 (1,020) 21 0.02
Ashes of Time: Redux Sony Classics 20,800 (4,160) 5 0.02
Lola Montes Rialto 13,200 (4,400) 3 0.01
Breakfast with Scot Regent 7,400 (1,850) 4 0.01
Nights and Weekends IFC 3,250 (3,250) 1 0.01
Choose Connor Strand 1,480 (1,480) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share – To October 12, 2008

Distributor (releases) Gross Mrkt Share
Warner Bros. (24) 1491.7 19.80%
Paramount (15) 1305.7 17.40%
Sony (21) 999.6 13.30%
Universal (17) 961.6 12.80%
Fox (19) 780.4 10.40%
Buena Vista (13) 696.9 9.30%
Lions Gate (15) 292.2 3.90%
Fox Searchlight (6) 153.5 2.00%
Focus (6) 117.9 1.60%
MGM (14) 103.2 1.40%
Overture (6) 93.6 1.20%
Paramount Vantage (11) 75.2 1.00%
Picturehouse (7) 62.6 0.80%
New Line (4) 61.8 0.80%
Miramax (7) 57.2 0.70%
Summit (3) 46.8 0.60%
Other * (267) 223.8 3.00%
* none greater than 0.4% 7523.7 100.00%

Top Grossers Canada- To October 12, 2008

Title Distributor Gross
The Dark Knight WB 52,841,693
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Par 29,568,498
Iron Man Par 28,152,494
Wall-E BV 20,303,553
Mamma Mia! Uni 19,879,173
Hancock Sony 19,812,094
Kung Fu Panda Par 18,362,038
Sex and the City WB 18,093,682
Juno* Fox Searchlight 14,809,547
Wanted Uni 12,787,958
The Chronicles of Narnia BV 12,747,983
Horton Hears a Who Fox 12,683,955
Tropic Thunder Par 12,479,608
Get Smart WB 12,410,644
Journey to the Center of the Earth Alliance 12,278,935
Stepbrothers Sony 12,088,422
National Treasure: Book of Secrets BV 11,573,264
The Incredible Hulk Uni 10,589,35`
10,000 B.C. WB 10,458,225
21 Sony 9,941,522

*Does not include 2007 box office

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon