Europe greets first awards contender

'Atonement' heralds fall season at B.O.

LONDON — The U.K. launch of “Atonement” marks the beginning of awards season fare hitting the European box office while expansions of summer tentpoles “Live Free or Die Hard” in Spain and “The Bourne Ultimatum” in Germany should keep B.O. biz bubbling.

Elsewhere in Europe, Todd Haynes Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” gets its world debut at Italian wickets.

U’s WWII-set romancer “Atonement” goes out in Blighty boosted by terrific reviews from local critics and lots of buzz following its lauded opening night screening in Venice. British director Joe Wright and cast leads Keira Knightley and James McAvoy helped build home turf buzz by attending the Sept. 4 premiere in London.

“Starry, sexy and unmistakably British, ‘Atonement’ is the kind of film that comes along all too rarely,” raved Wendy Ide in the Times.

“Atonement” faces very little meaningful competish from fellow openers, which include Entertainment’s Simon Pegg starrer “Run, Fat Boy, Run.”

“The Bourne Ultimatum” explodes onto German screens this week and is sure to top the charts after weeks of sluggish trade.

“Everyone is waiting to see ‘Bourne,’ ” said one local exhib, predicting pic would easily best the first two installments in the franchise.

“The Bourne Identity” made $13.3 million in 2002, while 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy” made a more modest $9.2 million, but local exhibs are forecasting box office revenues for Universal’s “Ultimatum” to surpass $15 million, thanks in large part to excellent reviews and pic’s revved-up action.

Also sure to bring in the crowds is Warner’s “Hairspray.” John Waters’ 1988 pic has long been a cult classic in Germany and the new musical adaptation will benefit from high recognition and plenty of nostalgia for the original, making it a top candidate for second place.

X Verleih/Warner’s local teen comedy from Anna Justice, “Max Minsky und ich,” about a bookish girl who agrees to do the school jock’s homework in return for basketball lessons, looks likely to attract young viewers, while Pro-Fun’s Israeli drama “The Bubble,” a gay love story between a Palestinian and a Jew in Tel Aviv from “Walk on Water” director Eytan Fox, is sure to heat up the urban arthouse circuit.

Ed Herzog’s German drama “Schwesterherz,” about a successful businesswoman who travels to Spain with her younger sister and discovers she’s ready for a major change in her life, goes out via NFP/Filmwelt.

Munich-based producer-distrib Kevin Lee releases local tyke film “Toni Goldwascher,” about a boy and his adventures in the Bavarian countryside in 1952, while Madhouse/Barnsteiner releases “Video Kings,” Daniel Acht and Ali Eckert’s local laffer about two friends who run a video store in Berlin.

Len Wiseman’s “Live Free or Die Hard” finally arrives in Spain after tasting B.O. success in other major Euro markets.

The Bruce Willis starrer bows on 555 prints via Fox, and looks to follow in the recent success of similarly muscular actioner “Ultimatum” (17-day running cume of $10.6 million.)

Bookers have solid expectations: “‘Die Hard’ will wipe the floor with the other pics,” said a booker. “Willis hardly has any rivals as a star in Spain,” agreed another booker. Local critics reaction has been mixed but industryites doubt the reviews matter.

Gregory Dark’s “See No Evil” goes out 178 via Filmax amid tepid expectations. “I think that the market is saturated with horror movies. Every week we have one or more horror films,” an exhib complained.

Animated underwater comedy “The Reef,” helmed by Howard E. Baker and John Fox, bows on 193 via Manga. Kids pic is the last one prior to their return to school.

“It’s not the best of the summer, but it’s the kids’ cinema summer farewell,” said a booker. “A light and tender bite to cheer up the kids traumatic return to school,” said newspaper ABC.

Argentine-Spanish co-production “Tocar el cielo,” helmed by Marcos Carnevale (“Elsa & Fred”) bows on 85 via Alta. Once more, the critical reaction has been mixed.

Venice fest entries get their first B.O. reality check in Italy, where widest outing is mob drama “The Sweet and The Bitter,” out on 245 via Medusa, after unspooling in competish on the Lido.

Helmed by Andrea Porporati, this hard-hitting tale toplining Luigi Lo Cascio (“Best of Youth”) as a Sicilian torn between Cosa Nostra and the woman he loves, should do decent biz.

“The Sweet,” however, may suffer from a current wave of bitterness toward Italian cinema in local press reports from the Lido, despite having itself been well received.

Mob pic will be vying with another Italo Lido entry, corruption drama “L’ora di punta,” starring Fanny Ardant, out on 91 via 01 Distribuzione.

A key Italo debut is the first world outing of Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There,” which BIM Distribuzione is going wide with it on 190.

Italo press has strongly praised this experimental portrait, especially Cate Blanchett’s performance as the singer–songwriter.

Also straight from the Lido is “Sympathy for the Lobster,” Sabina Guzzanti’s “Viva Zapatero!” followup, debuting on 187 via Istituto Luce.

As for Hollywood fare, Sandra Bullock thriller “Premonition” is going out on 230 via Eagle Pictures, while “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” bows on 200 via Universal.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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