Wes Anderson dazzled the specialty box office in 2012 when Focus Features opened Moonrise Kingdom with one of the year’s highest per-screen averages. Now Fox Searchlight takes the Anderson mantle with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which bowed in Berlin and took the Siver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Also this frame, Elijah Wood goes indie with the thriller Grand Piano courtesy of Magnolia, while the distributor’s genre label will bow China box office behemoth Journey To The West. Emerging Pictures will oversee an Italian initiative to bring targeted films from the country “nationwide” in the U.S., starting with veteran actress-turned-director Valeria Golino’s Miele (Honey). Abramorama and BOND360 are collaborating on Sheffield documentary Particle Fever and Adopt Films will open Israeli thriller Bethlehem in more than two dozen theaters Friday.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director-writer: Wes Anderson
Writer: Hugo Guinness
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Anderson’s latest film opens nearly two years after his last film, Moonrise Kingdom. That proved to be an opening-weekend powerhouse, smashing the screen average when Focus Features bowed the title in four theaters at the end of May 2012, grossing a whopping $523K for a dazzling $130,749 average. It went on to gross more than $45.5 million in the U.S. (Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums remains his biggest box office grosser to date in theaters, taking in more than $52.3M domestically in 2001. Budapest, the Berlin Film Festival opener, reunites some cast from Moonrise including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton. It centers on the adventures of Gustav H (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous Eastern European hotel between the wars, and Zero, a lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. Budapest has already launched to strong numbers in France where it grossed nearly $2.8M its opening weekend in 172 theaters for a strong $16,220 average, becoming his biggest opening ever in the country.
The film had its U.S. debut last week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and will open in only several venues initially. It will play the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in LA as well as Regal Union Square and AMC Lincoln Square in New York. Fox Searchlight noted that the film “will have a limited platform release continuing to open in art, specialty, and mainstream theaters in North America over a 5- to 6-week period.”
Spanish-born director Eugenio Mira filmed his thriller based off a script by Damien Chazelle, a filmmaker who had initially planned to direct it himself. Starring Elijah Wood, the feature centers on a genius concert pianist who discovers he’s being targeted by an assassin as he opens his sheet of music at his comeback concert. “So much of the tension in the film was down to the construction of each sequence which was predetermined before shooting,” said Mira. “On paper it all works but it’s was extremely complicated.” The music is also central to telling the story. It corresponds with the rising tension as the plot unfolds, but also the performance Wood’s character, Tom, must play on the piano. About 80% of the story takes place in a concert hall. “I’m not nearly as adept as I was when watching the film [and] I took lessons when I was young,” said Wood. “It was important to me to make this as accurate as possible. The character is meant to be a genius piano player and the music is very complicated, so it was important to make that as realistic as possible. I had about three weeks in with a piano teacher in LA before going to Barcelona [where we began filming]. She taught me from a perspective which allowed the learning curve to be extraordinary.”
Grand Piano is a specialty feature, though Mira sees it as a tribute of sorts to films that were de rigueur in Hollywood’s past. “The irony of this movie is that 20 years ago it would be a mainstream movie,” said Mira. “Richard Donner and the late John Frankenheimer are directors that I grew up with and I loved and for some reason, Hollywood has failed to deliver [today].” Magnolia picked up Grand Piano ahead of last year’s Fantastic Fest. Mira and Wood have been doing a hefty round of press and other events ahead of this weekend’s theatrical rollout. The pic is already available on-demand and will open in one theater each Friday in New York, L.A. and Austin. “Grand Piano has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and we think it will benefit from a theatrical release,” said Magnolia exec Matt Cowal.
Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons
Director-writers: Stephen Chow, Kwok Chi-kin
Writers: Huo Xin, Wang Yun, Fung Chi Keung, Lu Zhengyu, Lee Sing-Cheung, Ivy Kong
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
As it opens Stateside, Journey To The West is notable because it is China’s biggest theatrical release of all time after it opened there last year. The fantasy adventure centers on Tang Sanzang, a Buddhist trying to protect a village from three demons. He develops feelings for Miss Duan, the demon hunter who helps him. The feature grossed $12.5 million on its opening day February 10 last year, a record in China. It went on to gross $205 million at home in addition to $3.6M in Hong Kong and other seven-figure cumes in Malaysia and Singapore. “It’s a famous story in China,” noted Magnolia/Magnet’s Cowal. “We’re hoping to get Chinese audience here out to see the film and are expecting that the story’s [prominence] among those audiences will [get them to theaters].” Magnet is targeting Chinese media in the U.S. and is also messaging Stephen Chow to heighten excitement as it heads to theaters and a day-and-date release Friday. It will open theatrically in 10 markets and will continue to rollout further throughout the month.
Director-writer: Valeria Golino
Writers: Mauro Covacich (novel), Francesca Marciano, Valia Santella
Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Carlo Cecci, Libero de Rienzo, Vinicio Marchioni, Iaia Forte
Distributor: Emerging Pictures
This is the directorial debut for veteran Italian-born actress Golino, the film is based on a novel by Mauro Covacich abut a young woman, Irene, who goes by the nickname Honey. She is devoted to helping terminally ill patients to choose their time to die, but one day meets Grimaldi who wants to end it all despite being perfectly healthy. “I met Valeria more or less 10 years ago at a Chinese restaurant,” said actress Jasmine Trinca. “I’ve always loved her acting and personality. She’s very empathetic. We hadn’t worked together, but then four years ago, she asked me if I would cut my hair and then from there we started this incredible journey.” Golino decided to go behind the camera for the story, though her long connections with Italian and American cinema did not mean getting production in place was uncomplicated. Euthanasia, despite gaining wider acceptance, was not a topic a trove of financiers wanted to touch. “Financing it was not easy because people were mostly afraid, but then a lot of people eventually regretted it,” said Golino. “When I took the film to Cannes, they told me they regretted it. In Italy, the industry is in pieces, so people don’t want to take risks. For me the hardest part was the construction and tone of the movie. I didn’t want it to be ideological and have a freedom to express doubts.”
Miele is part of five Italian films that are part of a new initiative called Cinema Made in Italy. Spearheaded by Emerging Pictures, Instituto Luce-Cinecittà and the Italian Trade Commission, the participating films will receive a “nationwide release” in the U.S. with Emerging overseeing the program Stateside from a fund created by the initiatives’ Italian partners. Miele will first open in New York at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and will head to Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills as well as Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena next week. It will then continue to Coral Gables, Washington, D.C. and Miami Beach the following week with more markets added in April.
BOND360 and Abramorama began collaborating on the U.S. release of documentary Particle Fever after it tied for the Audience Award with The Act Of Killing at England’s Sheffield Doc/Fest last summer. The feature follows physicists who are on the cusp of the “greatest scientific discovery of all time — or perhaps their biggest failure. “I immediately called Richard Abramowitz and asked him work on the U.S. release with me,” said BOND360’s Marc Schiller. “We have had a wonderful collaboration on such films as Exit Through The Gift Shop, Senna, The Imposter, and many others. What drew us both to the project was that it’s a science film that you don’t have to love science to enjoy. It’s truly a film for general audiences. You cry, you laugh and – most importantly – you leave the theater inspired.” Since its screening in Sheffield last June, the companies have worked to “expose the film to a wide and diverse group of audiences,” noted Schiller. He added that their strategy is to cross over the film quickly to general audiences, similarly to what they’ve done in the past with films like Senna.
Particle Fever will open at Film Forum in New York, the NuArt in Los Angeles, University Town Center in Irvine and The Bloor in Toronto this Friday. “All of these theaters – especially the Film Forum – are known for their curation, so we feel that we are starting off in the best position possible,” said Schiller. “We are expanding quickly after our initial week and have already committed to being in over 30 markets. We’ll be on VOD and on-demand in the coming months and will be supporting our digital release with an innovative marketing and PR campaign. This is a film that we will be supporting for a long time to come.”
The folks at Adopt Films first caught thriller Bethlehem at the last year’s Toronto Film Festival. It is the story of the complex relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant. Shuttling back and forth between conflicting points of view, the film is a raw portrayal of characters torn apart by competing loyalties and impossible moral dilemmas. “We felt it was a first-class thriller, featuring a trio of riveting characters, charismatic actors — made all the more remarkable given that it was the debut performance for all three — and a stunning debut by a first-time feature director,” said Adopt Films’ Jeff Lipsky. “Additionally, there was the fantastic backstory that it was co-written by its Israeli director and a Palestinian journalist. Just knowing this yielded an extra dollop of immediacy to the drama. Also, the idea that it was the odds-on favorite to become Israel’s Official Oscar submission was a potent lure. It should have been nominated. It should have won. We also feel it’s going to be a critically driven success.”
Adopt is targeting traditional foreign film devotees as well as Jewish audiences who it says “constitute the highest percentage of the frequent moviegoing audience and always reliable to support Israeli cinema.” The film has already played dozens of Jewish film festivals since January. “Our ‘sneak preview’ program is the best positioning of the film and word-of-mouth platform we could ask for,” added Lipsky. Adopt Films will open Bethlehem on Friday in 25 theaters in 13 markets. “Our goal will be to open on at least 100 screens over a platform release lasting eight to 12 weeks,” said Lipsky.