Rivals flee wizard in Europe

'Potter' to dominate weekend B.O.

BERLIN — “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is set to take Europe by storm this weekend, casting its spell far and wide and enchanting moviegoers and exhibs alike.

Pic got off to an excellent start in Germany (see accompanying story), where it opened with 1,300 copies and is poised to achieve one of the best weekend start so far this year.

Yet the film has received decidedly mixed reviews here. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote, “David Yates leads the adventure of the young wizard into a new dimension. He transforms the protagonists from two-dimensional figures into real characters. The visuals serve to impressively transport the story rather than simply being filler between the action scenes and special effects as in the previous installments.”

Yet Spiegel Online said that Yates “does not develop characters but rather checks off plot points and relies mostly on CGI effects.”

Counter-programming against the wizard boy blockbuster, Central is releasing “Clerks 2,” while Buena Vista Intl. brings out Masanobu Deme’s Japanese World War I film “Ode to Joy,” about German prisoners of war held in a Japanese camp; pic stars local thesps Bruno Ganz and Kostja Ullmann as POWs.

Also hitting screens are Alamode’s “The Caiman,” Nanni Moretti’s cinematic skewering of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; and Neue Visonen’s re-release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic “Blow Up.”

In the U.K., “Order of the Phoenix” got off to a splendid start and will own the box office this weekend with virtually no competition.

“Moliere,” the French costumer starring Gallic pin-up Romain Duris, is going out on 50 prints via Pathe. Pic has garnered some good reviews and could work as savvy counterpramming to the Potter juggernaut and the other Yank tentpoles.

Of late, sophisticated Brit auds have had little to get stuck into other than Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose,” which is entering its fourth weekend on release.

Topliner Duris is fast becoming something of a fave with Brit arthouse auds after he won great praise from the Brit critics for his turn in “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.”

But not all “Moliere” reviews purr: “Oscar Wilde died complaining of the wallpaper in his Paris hotel room. French wallpaper can be a nasty thing and French costume biopics even worse: wallpaper in motion,” sniped Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times.

“Order of the Phoenix” enjoyed a mind-blowing opening day in Gaul, where it went out on 950 screens and achieved the best ever launch for Warner Bros.

French crix were also quite divided, however. While TeleCineObs lauded, “The fifth ‘Potter’ film holds to all its promises in mobilizing the flower of British actors,” Allocine shrugged: “After a masterful opening, it quickly becomes disillusioning.”

Among the new openers, “Hostel Part II” is off to a so-so start. Helmer Eli Roth’s latest foray into so-called “torture porn” has divided critics in Gaul, much as elsewhere, but took in a mere $125,000 on 138 for Sony. “Brilliantly written situations. Shockingly morbid gags. Roth poses formidable questions,” proclaimed Le Monde. “Unlimited gore that only hardcore Roth fans could appreciate,” dissed Liberation.

The frame is all about “Harry Potter” in Italy, where “Order of the Phoenix” bowed boffo on Wednesday, busting the Italo record for a Wednesday outing.

Early indication is the risk Warner Bros. took by including Italy in its summer outing of “Phoenix” will pay off and local exhibbers are hailing it as the turning point in the country’s summer release patterns.

In the past Italy was largely excluded from day-and-tentpoles since historically Italians desert movie theaters and hit the beaches in the sunny season, but that is changing.

Italo admissions since June are up 24% compared with the same period last year, thanks to other recent tentpoles, including “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Transformers.”

Only other Italo outings besides Potter this weekend are BVI’s “The Lookout,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, about a physically disabled young man who becomes involved in a bank heist, and Gallic auteur Jacques Rivette’s “Don’t Touch the Ax,” out on 18 via Mikado. Based on a Balzac book, “Ax” was in Berlin and is going to Toronto.

In Spain, an abyss separates “Potter’s” 617 copy-spread and the second-biggest release, “Gray Matters,” which goes out on 100 prints via Aurum.

The third biggest newbie, Sven Taddicken’s German drama “Emma’s Bliss,” receives only a 32-copy launch Friday.

“The weekend will be big, but I don’t think the weekend in itself will be an all-time record,” said one box office analyst.

Pic got a less than stellar review from El Pais, which wrote: “The franchise has lost its naughty childlike freshness.”

Negative reviews will hardly affect the franchise’s huge number of fans, however.

For Spanish distribs looking to deal with “Pottermania,” it’s all about counter programming. “All we can do is counter-program, carefully selecting urban locations,” said one distrib.

Manga is releasing “Fast Food Nation” on 32, while “Emma Bliss,” going out via Nirvana, may see good first week biz given its upbeat reception at last year’s San Sebastian Film Festival.

Additional reporting by David Hayhurst (France), Nick Vivarelli (Italy), Archie Thomas (U.K.) and Emilio Mayorga (Spain).

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