A24’s A Most Violent Year will dominate the Specialty Box Office New Year’s weekend. The feature began as director J.C. Chandor was releasing his previous feature, All Is Lost. A Most Violent Year will begin its limited run in the New Year, but the title will have a wide release by the end of the month. Also opening this weekend is IFC Films’ doc The Search For General Tso, which has its roots from a New York Times Best Seller. Well Go USA will bow China’s The Taking Of Tiger Mountain in exclusive engagements. The title opened number one at home when it rolled out ahead of Christmas. And Magnolia’s genre label, Magnet, will open Spanish thriller [REC] 4: Apocalypse in five locations January 2. the title is already available via ultra-VOD.
Neal Dodson produced J.C. Chandor’s first two films, All Is Lost in 2013 (Roadside Attractions, $6.263M) and 2011’s Margin Call (Roadside Attractions, $5.35M). The concept for A Most Violent Year came together as the team was working on post-production for All Is Lost. “J.C. had some friends of his family who were husband and wife business owners together and was interested in how that would complicate the relationship,” said Dodson. The CT shootings also had happened and he lived near Sandy Hook. His kids came to school and had an armed guard.” The feature is set in New York City in 1981, statistically one of the most violent years in the city’s history. Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain play a husband and wife who try to expand their oil business but the widespread violence and corruption of the day threatens to destroy their livelihood.
“I read the first draft around the holidays in 2013 and began talking about casting,” said Dodson. “We talked with Jessica Chastain about the project at the Cannes Film Festival where we debuted All Is Lost.” While the filmmaking team was at Telluride with All Is Lost, Chandor received a letter from Chastain suggesting that they cast Oscar Isaac. The two had attended Juilliard together. “After meeting him, we realized she was right,” said Dodson. Jonathan King and Robert Kessel at Participant boarded the project with financing. Producer Anna Gerb as well as Chandor and Dodson worked with FilmNation, their foreign sales outfit, for additional resources. “We wanted to make sure we built a model that worked for everyone,” said Dodson about the project’s budget. “By November and December, we were speaking to a handful of distributors and A24 came on board.” Shooting took place in all five boroughs of New York.
“The shoot was wonderful and horrible at the same time,” he added. “We shot during the polar vortex and the night before the first day of the shoot there was a blizzard. J.C. said, ‘let’s just embrace the snow. It’s an oil movie and people need heat.'” The deep freeze, however, meant all those in front and behind the camera were exposed to the elements. A good chunk of A Most Violent Year takes place outside. A month after shooting in NYC, a small crew shot in Detroit to get a sense of decay that is much rarer in NYC. A24 will open A Most Violent Year at the Sunshine and Lincoln Square in New York and the Landmark and Arclight in L.A. over the New Year’s weekend. It will be in all markets by the end of January, going to 1,200-plus theaters.
The Search For General Tso
Director-writer: Ian Cheney
Subject: Jennifer Lee, Ed Schoenfeld, Michael Tong, C.K. Peng, Philip Chiang
Distributor: IFC Films
Jennifer Lee wrote a book called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, which Twelve (an imprint of Hachette) published in 2008. The New York Times bestseller was featured on The Colbert Report and was the core of a TED talk called “The Hunt for General Tso.” One chapter in the book centers on General Tso’s chicken. The documentary traverses the globe to find out who General Tso is. General Tso’s chicken is a staple of Chinese-American cooking. In the film, Cheney travels from Shanghai to New York and the Midwest to uncover the origins of the dish, turning up surprising revelations and humorous characters along the way. The feature is both a detective story and a tale of the American immigrant experience. “While I was initially doing the book, I thought it would be cool to do a documentary and went to Sundance Film Festival for the first time to learn about that process,” said Lee. “I even bought a nice camcorder and a lavalier mic to interview my subjects. Very quickly I realized that the creative process for writing a book is incredibly different from doing a documentary, and it would be impossible for me to do both. So I shelved that idea.”
In 2009, Lee received an email from Curt Ellis from Wicked Delicate Films. Ellis and his partner Ian Cheney won a Peabody for their food and agriculture project King Corn, which opened in theaters in 2007 and aired on PBS in 2008. They had once started a General Tso documentary themselves, but then shelved the project, but reached out to Lee after reading her book. “It turned out that Ian and Curt had a similar idea for a documentary for General Tso,” said Lee. “The original name of my book was ‘The Long March Of General Tso,’ so I knew immediately we were kindred spirits.” Lee signed on as producer and tapped her donor friends for funds. They also received a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and unlocked that with a number of donations from friends with Wall Street and Silicon Valley connections. They also received a grant from the New York Council on the Arts and Women Make Movies.
“I appear in the film in a few places to make helpful observations to move the narrative along,” said Lee. “For documentaries you need someone to ‘say’ something, and can’t just pull into omniscient narrator. It certainly helps for one of the documentary producers to be an expert in the topic you are shooting about, so she can say ‘just the right thing.'” In all, the documentary took about three years to make. One of the first people they shot was Chef Peng, the creator of General Tso chicken, who lives in Taipei. They also visited Hunan province, the home of General Tso which celebrated his 200th birthday. The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival where IFC Films saw it. “I have to say, as soon as I knew John Sloss was going to be our sales agent, I felt that was an achievement in and of itself,” said Lee. “Turns out he’s a big fan of Chinese food, which helps.” IFC Films will open The Search For General Tso in limited release along with VOD day-and-date January 2.
The Taking Of Tiger Mountain
Director: Tsui Hark
Writers: Qu Bo (novel), Huang Jianxin
Cast: Tony Ka Fai Leung, Kenny Lin, Liya Tong, Zhang Hanyu
Distributor: Well Go USA
Tsui Hark’s The Taking Of Tiger Mountain is opening a week after its debut in China. The film opened at the top of the Chinese box office where it bowed December 23. The Bona Film Group Co Ltd and August First Film Studio production grossed RMB52 million ($8.38M) from 1.21 million admissions its first day, according to Film Business Asia. Adapted from the Chinese novel Tracks In The Snowy Forest, The feature is set during the civil war era of 1946. Northeastern China was under the control of a group of bandits, with the most powerful being Hawk (Tony Leung) who had an impenetrable fortress up Tiger Mountain. Unit 203 of the Liberation Army led by Captain 203 (Lin Gengxin) crossed the region and encountered Hawk’s men. The captain then decides to stay and fight Hawk. The army’s headquarters sends investigator Yang (Zhang Hanyu) who infiltrates Hawk’s gang as an undercover and the two begin a battle of wits with the cold-blooded Hawk, deep inside the snowy forest.
“We’re lucky that Tsui Hark’s work has really broad appeal,” said Well Go USA’s Crystal Orren. “Fans of his work going back to A Better Tomorrow and Once Upon A Time In China. His Detective Dee fans can tell that The Taking Of Tiger Mountain is that sort of epic story. It’s going to have lots of big action and visual effects.” Last year’s Young Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon grossed RMB600 million ($96.7M) during last year’s theatrical run according to Film Business Asia. Well Go USA is hoping to lure Chinese American audiences by opening Tiger Mountain close to its Chinese debut. The distributor said it’s expecting about a $5K theater average from its 15 locations where the film will open stateside January 2. It will expand to an additional 7 theaters January 9 including Toronto and Vancouver. “As far as expansion, we’re going to see what additional booking requests come in while we keep an eye on holdovers,” said Orren who said the company expects the film to gross about $200K in its North American theatrical run.
[REC] 4: Apocalypse
Director-writer: Jaume Balagueró
Writer: Manu Díez
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Héctor Colomé, Javier Botet, María Alfonsa Rosso, Ismael Fritschi, Críspulo Cabezas, Mark Schardan
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Spanish thriller [REC] 4: Apocalypse follows Ángela Vidal, a spunky young television reporter who enters a building in Barcelona where something terrible has happened. The army decides to intervene and an elite group of soldiers infiltrate the building in order to plant detonators. Ángela enters the building just hours before and manages to make it out alive, but the soldiers don’t know that she hasn’t made it out alone. She carries with her the seed of the strange infection that ravaged the building. She is taken to a provisional quarantine, but the remote location is perfect for the virus to re-energize.
The feature debuted in the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival where the folks from Magnolia saw the film. They picked it up for their genre label Magnet later in the fall. “Magnet distributed the previous two REC films so we were happy to sign on for this one as well, and like that it’s a return to hardcore scares after the previous entry, which skewed a bit more comedy than horror,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “The film had an Ultra VOD release and is currently available across all VOD platforms. It’s getting a limited theatrical release in five regional markets on Friday.” Magnolia Films had several features that popped via their theatrical and on demand releases this year including Honeymoon, Journey To The West, The Sacrament and The Protector 2. REC 3: Genesis only made $9,600 at the box office, so one could surmise the title did much better via its VOD window. Magnet will open [REC] 4: Apocalypse in Columbus, OH, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Salem, MA and Tucson January 2. It will add Syracuse, NY January 14 with Albuquerque set for January 23.