‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ draws $140 million to its web

Amy Kaufman
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Hordes of moviegoers were bitten by the “Spider-Man” bug this weekend, as the superhero flick flew to the top of the box office.

The 3-D reboot starring Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger debuted Tuesday and grossed a healthy $140 million during its first six days in theaters, according to an estimate from Sony Pictures. Overseas, where the film played in 74 foreign countries, the movie collected an additional $129.1 million, raising its international total to $201.6 million.

Audiences were less interested in the weekend’s other new offerings. Oliver Stone’s gritty crime drama “Savages” launched with a decent $16.2 million while “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” an inexpensive 3-D concert documentary about the pop star, brought in a so-so $7.2 million over the weekend.

Last weekend’s No. 1 film, Seth MacFarlane’s R-rated “Ted,” maintained a strong hold at the box office. The film starring a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear saw its ticket sales drop only 40 percent, to $32.6 million, during its second weekend in theaters. The movie has now sold $120.2 million worth of tickets domestically and is primed to become a major hit for distributor Universal Pictures.

As a result of the strong business at the multiplex, ticket sales were up roughly 29 percent this weekend compared to the same three-day period in 2011. So far, receipts are up about 8 percent over last year, while attendance has jumped 11 percent in 2012.

Sony decided to open “The Amazing Spider-Man” earlier in the week to take advantage of the Fourth of July holiday. There are few comparable openings to measure its performance against, but in 2007, the first “Transformers” also opened on the Tuesday before July 4. It went on to gross a slightly better $155.4 million by Sunday.

The new “Spider-Man” appealed to a wide range of moviegoers: Roughly half of the crowd was older than 25, and the film skewed only slightly more male, with 58 percent of the audience composed of men. However, the majority of ticket buyers weren’t willing to shell out a few extra bucks to see the movie in 3-D: Roughly 44 percent of the film’s receipts came from the more expensive format.

“I did think more people would see it in 3-D, because it’s such an incredible visual treat,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of distribution.

Those who saw the $230 million production this week gave it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. With solid word-of-mouth, the picture likely will be headed toward the same level of global ticket sales as its predecessors. “Spider-Man 3,” the previous installment in the franchise, which did not have the benefit of 3-D or IMAX ticket surcharges, grossed $890.9 million worldwide in 2007.

The successful launch of the new Spidey flick is good news for Sony, which in 2010 decided to pull the plug on a planned fourth “Spider-Man” movie directed by Sam Raimi. The filmmaker was responsible for the franchise’s first three entries, all of which starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. But Sony and Raimi parted ways and the studio decided to focus the new movie on how Peter Parker transformed from a high school student into a superhero. Many considered the creative decision a risky move, since that plot line is similar to 2002’s original “Spider-Man.”

So far, it appears the gamble has paid off, and Sony will move ahead with its plan to release a sequel in 2014.

“It’s definitely going to stay on the calendar,” acknowledged Bruer. “We always anticipated this movie would be a new set of stories told in a trilogy, and there’s a definite story arc to be told; now that we’ve established the relaunch, we’re well on our way.”

Overseas this weekend, the new “Spider-Man” performed best in the United Kingdom, where it sold $18.1 million worth of tickets. The movie also had excellent debuts in Mexico and Indonesia, where its $4.5 million opening was the biggest of all time for the country. Like the other films in the “Spider-Man” franchise, the latest offering will likely gross the majority of its ticket sales overseas; about 62 percent of the receipts for “Spider-Man 3” came from international receipts.

“Savages,” meanwhile, did not go over as well with audiences, who gave the film an average grade of C-plus. While the movie debuted with about $3 million more than pre-release audience surveys had indicated, the poor filmgoer response could spell bad news for the picture in coming weeks. The film, about two twentysomething marijuana sellers who get mixed up with a Mexican drug cartel, was financed by Universal and Relativity Media for about $45 million.

While the movie was marketed primarily to older males, it ended up attracting a 51 percent female audience, though 61 percent of the crowd was older than 30. The adult drama, which stars John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro, marks a return for filmmaker Stone to the violent movies from his past such as “Scarface” (which he wrote but did not direct) and “Natural Born Killers.”

“Katy Perry: Part of Me” cost Paramount’s micro-budget label Insurge only $12 million to produce, so the film’s debut isn’t considered a bust. However, the studio clearly was hoping the movie would replicate the success of last year’s “Never Say Never,” a similar concert film about teen star Justin Bieber. That movie, which cost $13 million to make, debuted with $29.5 million and ultimately grossed $98 million worldwide.

The Perry film no doubt will end up grossing far less than Bieber’s movie did, though it’s not certain why. The musician has a huge fan base with 22.5 million followers on Twitter; Bieber has 24.3 million.

“Justin Bieber has a very specific, rabid fan base, and I think there was something mysterious about him at the time, so it was easier to sell the concept that there were things in the movie you just didn’t know about him,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution. “Katy Perry has a much bigger public persona and sometimes it takes a minute for moms to hear from other moms that the movie has a good message.”

Not surprisingly, those who turned up to see Perry’s movie seemed to be her die-hard “Katy cats”: 81 percent of the crowd was female and 72 percent was younger than 25. That young female audience loved the well-reviewed movie, assigning it an average grade of A.

The film, which follows Perry on her recent California Dreams tour as her marriage to comedian Russell Brand falls apart, has grossed $10.3 million since its debut Thursday. The picture also opened this weekend in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and collected $2.3 million in total in those countries.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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