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Europe extends B.O. festivities

Hollywood pics benefit from holidays

ROME — Holiday holdovers are poised to prolong their Christmas feast at the Euro box office, where new releases are scarce, prolonging the rich runs of Hollywood releases, including “I Am Legend,” “The Golden Compass” and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” and adding steam to local megapics dominating in Italy.

There are no new openers at the Italian B.O. this weekend, meaning smooth sailing for smash hit homegrown Christmas comedies “Natale in Crociera” (Christmas on a Cruiseship), from Filmauro, and “Una Moglie bellissima” (A Very Beautiful Wife), from Medusa, which have already cumed more than $20 million and $14 million respectively in two frames.

Leading the Hollywood pack in Italy is “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” which over the extended Dec. 21-26 Christmas frame scored $4.5 million off 297 for Buena Vista International.

Italy’s Dec. 24-26 two-day frame was worth $25 million this year, down about 2% compared with the same period in 2006. But December as a whole was up 14.5% in Italy where 2007 is being hailed as a banner year.

Meanwhile, in the Italian arthouse arena, what’s been working over the holidays are Robert Redford’s much-maligned “Lions For Lambs,” currently at number six via 01 Distribuzione, and Marianne Faithfull starrer “Irina Palm,” ensconced at number 10 via Teodora Film. Both are expected to stay strong.

The U.K. box office continues to be dominated by Will Smith’s post-apocalyptic zombie thriller “I Am Legend” as only a handful of niche pics are being outed by U.K. distribs this weekend.

The only openers in Blighty are The Works’ period drama “Closing the Ring,” the latest directorial effort from august Brit film institution Richard Attenborough; Artificial Eye’s Gallic period drama “Don’t Touch the Axe”; and the Goya-winning Spanish pic “Princesses,” released by Swipe Films. This bold trio is bowing in a box office landscape overrun with family-friendly polar bears, princesses, naughty schoolgirls and, of course, a buffed-up, machine gun-wielding Will Smith.

Warner Bros.’ “I Am Legend,” which opened on the Dec. 26 Boxing Day holiday, grossed more in two days than nearest competitor New Line’s “The Golden Compass” did in an entire week, taking a whopping $8.8 million (£4.4 million) off 422 sites to claim the top spot.

Other Boxing Day releases — Paramount’s “The Kite Runner” and Universal’s “Balls of Fury” — fared less grandly, but will still be hoping to lure auds away from the tube and leftover roast turkey.

Marc Forster’s adaptation of Khaled Husseini’s best-selling tome about two Afghan friends whose lives — and kite running — are interrupted by two decades of tumultuous Afghan history, bowed modestly with $260,000 off 129 sites in its first two days. But there is still a chance that pic’s generally good reviews will translate into strong word of mouth with Blighty auds.

“It is an exemplary piece of storytelling, ripped quite beautifully from Khaled Hosseini’s famous book,” wrote the Times’ James Christopher.

Robert Ben Garant’s “Balls of Fury,” a laffer about a down-on-his-heels former table tennis player recruited by the F.B.I., has been less well-received by U.K. crix. “A crude, almost painfully unfunny comedy,” said the Guardian’s Philip French. Pic grossed $390,000 in its first two days off 238 sites and remains one of the few male teen-skewing laffers currently on wide release.

Elsewhere in Blighty, fare remains family-oriented and festive. New Line’s “The Golden Compass” continues to perform strongly, holding on to the second spot to bring its cume to $36 million. U.K. distrib Entertainment is keeping pic very wide on 479 playdates. Only Disney’s “Enchanted” is more widely released on 504 sites. Fairytale romance has brought in $16 million in two weeks.

Entertainment’s anarchic schoolgirl romp “St. Trinians” is holding its own against its bigger budgeted Yank rivals, with a gross to date of just under $6 million (£2.9 million) since its Dec. 21 release off 378 sites.

In Spain, “I Am Legend” is capitalizing on the Christmas bonanza with a muscular $8.5 million one-week cume after bowing Dec. 19.

“Legend” underscores the importance of a star making the trek to tubthump.

“Smith came to Spain to promote ‘Legend’ and he was great,” enthused one exhibber. “People like him; they warm to the futuristic theme of the movie. The ending might be a bit weak, but on the whole they come out of the cinema satisfied.”

By contrast, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” has underperfed in Spain taking a disappointing first weekend $2.4 million off 433 prints.

“Disney made the mistake of going head-to-head with ‘Legend’ and paid the price, with ‘Legend’ proving first choice,” said one distributor.

Figures bear the distributor out. Though soft on its opening, “National Treasure 2” is now bearing up, having gone on to make $4.7 million in the first full week.

But there’s more festive cheer to follow: “American Gangster” bows Friday with all the makings of an upscale near bockbuster.

“It’s been well-reviewed, has pedigree, star appeal, and an Oscar buzz,” said a distributor, who forecast “Gangster” will track like “The Departed,” which wound up with $14.7 million in Spain.

“The Golden Compass,” meanwhile defies exhibitors’ predictions that it would implode by showing remarkable legs, making a third weekend $1.2 million for a three weeks cume of $14 million, a standout overseas result.

“It’s had little competition and came out of the gates slightly slowly with people finally getting round to seeing it,” an exhibitor commented.

With “Alvin and the Chipmunks” also pumping a first three-day $1.2 million for a full week’s $2.5 million, it’s been a very merry Christmas for Spanish exhibitors, albeit less so for the country’s producers.

Now local pics’ fortunes hang on first-timer Felipe Jimenez Luna’s “No digas nada,” a modest but ingratiating high-school gore comedy in which students murder anybody who gets on their nerves, but with the most ethical democratic propriety, resorting to assembly voting systems and debates.

Warner Bros., which has shown skill handling Spanish pics locally, is outing “Nada” on 100. Pic, like “The Orphanage” and “Rec” will test, though on a far more modest scale, Spaniards’ new-found appetite for films made by a new generation of far more audience-minded helmers.

In Germany, Russian gangsters take on hordes of bloodthirsty extraterrestrials as “Eastern Promises” goes against “Aliens vs. Predator — Requiem” this weekend.

Local exhibs expect the latest “Alien” installment to appeal primarily to genre fans in view of the once classic franchise’s devolution into strictly B-movie material.

The first “Alien vs. Predator” opened at number two in 2004, pulling in a respectable weekend take of $4 million, and went on to gross a total of $8.7 million.

With a one day head-start, Fox’s space monsters are set to claw their way to the top of the heap (pic opened Dec. 26, one day ahead of the week’s other openers).

Yet stellar reviews for Tobis’ “Eastern Promises” and Viggo Mortensen’s increasingly magnetic star power could also propel David Cronenberg’s latest caper high in the charts.

“From the stars to the timing, from the dramaturgy to the atmosphere, ‘Eastern Promises’ is a film that delivers on all counts,” gushed trade mag Treffpunkt Kino.

Two new local dramas showcase dysfunctional Teutonic families. In Real Fiction’s “Die Unerzogenen” (The Uneducated), Pia Marais follows a teenage girl growing up with carefree hippie parents and longing for a more white-bread upbringing, while Nicolette Krebitz’s “Das Herz ist ein dunkler Wald” (The Heart Is a Dark Forest) looks at a seemingly perfect family whose facade begins to crack when a wife discovers her husband has led a double life with another woman and child.

Also hitting Teutonic
screens are Koch Media/Neue Visionen’s “The Astronaut Farmer,” starring Billy Bob Thornton, and Kinowelt’s French tyke pic “The Fox & the Child.”

In Gaul, most distribbers are still lamenting a below-par December. With a few exceptions, this holiday season’s high-profile offerings are simply not enticing auds in sufficient numbers.

Still “I Am Legend” took in a hefty $8.6 million over the Christmas period, and is expected to keep going strong, while Gallic helmer Luc Jacquet’s “March of the Penguins” followup “The Fox and the Child” is also showing legs, down a mere 12% in its second frame.

But other Gallic offerings over the holidays are limited to arthouse titles, such as thesp-turned-helmer Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “Actrices” (Actresses), which is likely to benefit from rave reviews. “Inventive and brilliant,” gushed Le Monde. “Bruni Tedeschi offers a gallery of wild portraits with manic brio,” chimed Premiere.

Additional reporting by Ali Jaafar (U.K.), John Hopewell (Spain), Ed Meza (Germany) and David Hayhurst (France) .

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