Frears drama and Levy comedy go head to head

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II takes on Adolf Hitler at the box office this weekend as Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” and Dani Levy’s controversial homegrown comedy “Mein Fuhrer” open in Germany.

Invigorated by a media blitzkrieg that has generated plenty of buzz — much of it negative — local laffer “Mein Fuhrer” looks sure to attract large numbers of curious moviegoers eager to find out what all the fuss is about. Pic, released by X Verleih, climbed to the top of the charts on its opening day Thursday with an esti-mated box office north of $400,000 but the laffer may face an uphill battle to retain auds over the weekend.

Local reviews have not been kind to Levy’s film and critics have questioning the morality of a comedy about Germany’s darkest era. A poll by research group Forsa published this week by weekly Stern, indicated that 56% of those surveyed were against the film while only 35% were in favor of the pic; 9% were undecided.

“The Queen,” distribbed locally by Concorde, may not prove mainstream German auds’ cup of tea, but has benefited from stellar reviews and also has received plenty of media attention. Today’s announcement that the pic has nabbed a leading 10 BAFTA noms will further tweak the interest of Teuton film fanatics engrossed in the awards season circus.

Brit bookers have high hopes that Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland” can take $1.5 million in its first frame. Reviews have been mostly positive and the Idi Amin biopic has had good audience awareness in the U.K. since its high-profile U.K. bow as opening night film of last October’s London Film Festival.

Recent awards season attention for lead Forest Whitaker has given Fox’s “Last King” a timely boost. In addition, Scottish thesp James McAvoy — who came to the fore in hit TV show “Shameless” — is a star on the rise and should attract younger auds, especially north of the border.

Working Title’s blood-soaked Las Vegas mob thriller ” Smokin’ Aces” — which marks Universal’s first U.K. release since the dissolution of UIP — gets its world debut in Blighty this weekend and local exhibs are hoping for a take approaching $2 million.

The pic’s prospects are hampered by extremely poor reviews and the restrictive ’18′ certificate but exhibs praise the “well-pitched trailer.”

“Although the film actually plays as a drama, the funky trailer should attract fans of ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’,” said on exhib.

Last year, Josh Hartnett-starrer “Lucky Number Slevin” — which had a similar marketing look and feel to “Aces” — grossed an impressive $8.8 million.

Acclaimed Brit documaker Nick Broomfield’s drama “Ghosts” should perform well in upmarket sites for indie distrib Tartan Films.

The pic, about the plight of illegal asylum seekers in the U.K., should resonate with left-leaning arthouse auds.

Colder weather and two hot new titles are expected to keep the Italo market buoyant as local helmer Gab-riele Muccino’s “The Pursuit of Hap-pyness” goes toe-to-toe with “Rocky Balboa.”

Muccino’s Will Smith-starrer goes out on 430 via Medusa, making it the weekend’s widest opener. But exhibs aren’t sure “Happyness” will knock “Rocky Balboa” to the canvas.

Promoting the pic, which Fox releases on 350, Stallone has been pumping up his Italian heritage to the local media. His evergreen tub-thumping efforts have helped generate supportive reviews from the Italian crix.

Muccino, whose “The Last Kiss” was a mega Italo hit, has reaped raves for “Happyness” and is hailed as the only Italo helmer to conquer Hollywood. But doubts remain about how loud his father-and-son feelgood pic will resonate with multiplex auds.

On the arthouse front, Istituto Luce is releasing Italo-Chinese co-production “Little Red Flowers,” on some 50 screens. Zhang Yuan’s pic set in a boarding school for preschoolers in post-revolutionary China has scored 20 million admissions in China. Venice film fest topper Marco Muller is one of the producers.

Aki Kaurismaki’s deadpan thriller “Lights in the Dusk” goes out on 45 via BIM. Despite the fact that both these pics have been well received by Italo crix, neither is expected to trouble the top 10.

Expect meek box office business in Spain this weekend where the weather is warm and there are few significant openers. “Babel,” which is entering its third frame, remains the pic generating the best buzz in Spain.

Spanish hopes rest with Daniel Monzon’s English-language “The Kovak Box,” produced and distribbed by Filmax, one of the few production houses in Spain that turns out films with straight commercial ambitions.

The film, which stars Timothy Hutton as a writer trapped in the mind-control plot of one of his novels, was one of the best received Spanish world preems at October’s Sitges Fest.

It has received largely positive reviews and gets a mid-range release on 194 prints. Local bookers are looking for at least a $200,000 three-day bow.

Eric Barbier’s local thriller “The Serpent” goes out on 295 through Wild Bunch in Gaul and will attract auds due to the presence of popular thesps Yvan Attal and Clovis Cornillac. The pic has been supported with a strong ad campaign by Wild Bunch.

Mel Gibson’s gory epic “Apocalypto” looks set to wreak havoc toward the top of the French box office charts as it has already done in the U.K. and Germany.

Reviews have been strong. “An original and rather exceptional voyage,” declared Paris Match.

Additional reporting by John Hopewell (Spain), Ed Meza (Ger-many), Liza Klaussmann (France) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy) .

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