In the wake of awards season, the specialty arena is revving up with a diverse and numerous slate. Focus World’s Maps To The Stars by David Cronenberg features its own bevy of named talent. Oscar winner Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson star in the Hollywood-set drama. The film will screen in a surprisingly large number of theaters for a day-and-date release. Pantelion/Lionsgate is heading out with romantic-comedy A La Mala, which will target its core Latino audience in the U.S., opening in about 380 theaters. Roadside is starting out with New York and L.A. with Jack O’Connell starrer71 before heading to the top 25 markets in March. And IFC Films has two titles heading out this week simultaneously in theaters and on-demand: Wild Canaries opened Wednesday (under its Sundance Selects label), while Denmark-produced The Salvation opens Friday. Other limited-release debuts include Factory 25’s Bluebird with Amy Morton and John Slattery as well as Cohen Media Group’s doc Deli Man, First Run’s Eastern Boys, RADiUS’ Salma Hayek action thriller Everly as well as documentary The Hunting Ground and Strand’s Futuro Beach.

Maps To The Stars
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Bruce Wagner
Cast: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon.
Distributor: Focus World

Maps to the Stars posterMaps To The Stars has its roots back in the ’90s, when the film’s writer Bruce Wagner was a struggling actor-writer working as a limo driver. He began creating a screenplay based on his experience in Hollywood. Wagner’s career subsequently blossomed, and a decade after its beginnings, he decided to show the script to David Cronenberg.

Maps To The Stars follows the Weiss family in the center of Hollywood rife with money, fame, envy and relentless hauntings. Stafford Weiss (Cusack) is a famed TV self-help therapist with an A-list clientele. Cristina Weiss (Williams) is consumed managing the career of her disaffected child-star son Benjie (Evan Bird), who just returned from rehab. Enter Agatha, another member of the Weiss brood, who just arrived in town and recently released from the psych ward. She soon works her way into a friendship with a limo driver (Pattinson) and becomes the personal assistant to an unraveling actress, Havana Segrand (Moore), who is haunted by the guest of her legendary mother, Clarice (Sarah Gadon).

“Focus has a long history with David Cronenberg, and this was the first film I acquired after arriving at the company from FilmDistrict,” said Anjay Nagpal, SVP at Focus World. “This combines a great auteur director with a great cast that [should have] a great day-and-date release.” Nagpal said that the film has found “great placement” in theaters, though the title will also have a simultaneous on-demand release on Friday. Most chains and independent exhibitors have been resistant to showing films outside an exclusive traditional window. “[Exhibitors] are interested in Cronenberg,” said Nagpal. “My thought is that the movies speak for themselves. The more producers and directors are open-minded to the model, the more [exhibitors] will lower their resistance to day and date.”

The cast has actively supported the film leading into its rollout, with even Oscar winner Julianne Moore setting aside time to support Maps in the lead-up to this weekend’s bow. Writer Wagner and Cronenberg also will be doing Q&As at select showings in New York and Boston. Focus World will open Maps To The Stars in a hefty 66 theaters Friday and will continue to roll it out theatrically based on the numbers.

A La Mala
Director:
Pedro Pablo Ibarra
Writers: Issa López, Ari Rosen
Cast: Aislinn Derbez, Mauricio Ochmann, Papile Aurora, Luis Arrieta,  Daniela Schmidt, Juan Diego Covarrubias, José Ron
Distributor: Pantelion Films/Lionsgate

a-la_mala-posterAislinn Derbez, the daughter of one of Mexico’s biggest actors and one of its most recognizable stars among Spanish-speaking residents of the U.S., stars in new romantic comedy A La Mala, which was developed and produced by Grupo Televisa. It aspiring actress Maria Laura, whose best friend begs her to flirt with her boyfriend in order to test his fidelity. After being hired by women across the city, Maria is given a gig that should be business as usual — until she ends up falling head over heels for her latest mark.

“When Televisa executed production on A La Mala, it was [executed] to fit with our core business,” said Pantelion COO Edward Allen. “On the one hand, the film has all the elements of a universal romantic comedy, but it also incorporates other elements that are attractive to our [core] Latino audience in the U.S.”

Pantelion also is banking on the appeal of the film’s young actress Aislinn Derbez, the daughter of Mexican actor-writer-director-producer Eugenio Derbez. “She does a tremendous job,” added Allen. “She’s an upcoming star not only in our market but potentially beyond what we focus on.” Her male counterpart, Mauricio Ochmann, a Telemundo star, is also a household name among Pantelion’s target audience. “A La Mala has a local flavor that transcends culture.”

Similar to its October 2013 romantic comedy Pulling Strings ($5.84M cume), Pantelion will open A La Mala in 380 locations in the top Hispanic markets. Said Allen, “If we see the audience is responding then we’ll pull the trigger.”

’71
Director: Yann Demange
Writer: Gregory Burke
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Richard Dormer, Paul Anderson, Sean Harris, , Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann, Charlie Murphy, Killian Scott, David Wilmot, Jack Lowden, Jim Sturgeon
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

71-posterJack O’Connell aficionados had their chance to see the British actor in Tribeca Films’ critically heralded Starred Up, which had a digital release ahead of its late-August theatrical bow ($54,915 cume) last summer before his big studio bow. Cut to Christmas day, and O’Connell was front and center in Universal’s WWII drama Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie ($115.35M cume). His next film, ’71, takes him back to the art house crowd, making its theatrical bow on this side of the Atlantic.

The feature takes place over a single night in the life of a young British soldier (O’Connell) who accidentally is abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, and increasingly wary of his own comrades, he must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorientating, alien and deadly landscape.

“We bought the film out of Berlin [where it debuted] with Black Label Media, who we’re partnering with,” said Roadside Attractions Co-President Howard Cohen. “We loved the film and felt like we’d have a real shot [with its theatrical success] after Unbroken. Jack O’Connell is now a bigger star, though the advertising on Unbroken didn’t have him as ‘front and center’ as we had hoped. But still, there’s a big audience that will recognize him.”

Roadside took ’71 on a long festival run post-Berlinale. “It’s similar to what we did last year with Gloria, which really helped get the word out,” said Cohen. “People who are cinephiles were hearing about the film for six months. This definitely has an art house audience but crossed with genre and action.”

Roadside Attractions will open ’71, which has a high-90s rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in four New York and Los Angeles locations before heading to the top 25 markets in the next two weeks. VOD will follow in three months.

Wild Canaries
Director-writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Cast: Sophia Takal, Lawrence Michael Levine, Alia Shawkat, Annie Parisse, Jason Ritter, Kevin Corrigan, Marylouise Burke, Lindsay Burdge, Eleonore Hendricks
Distributor: Sundance Selects

wild-canaries-posterAfter their involvement in a slew of films that were on the dark side, filmmaker-actor Lawrence Michael Levine and producer-actor Sophia Takal decided to go for an audience-friendly project. The result is Wild Canaries, billed as “madcap murder mystery meets razor-sharp relationship comedy.” The husband-and-wife filmmaking team also star as recently engaged but perpetually bickering couple Barri and Noah. When their elderly downstairs neighbor suddenly kicks the bucket, the flighty Barri immediately suspects foul play. The result is a harebrained investigation as Barri enlists her secretly-in-love-with-her lesbian roommate (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) to help her get to the bottom of the matter.

“I wanted to make a popcorn movie and something fun that audiences could get into,” said Levine. “I love comedy and had done some of that, and I thought it would be interesting for Sophia and I to do this. We had been in movies together before but none as a couple.” Levine began writing Wild Canaries three years ahead of going into production. He’d put the screenplay aside as the pair took on other projects, including Always Shine, which Takal directed in October and is in postproduction.

“I had a reading [of the Wild Canaries script in 2012] in order to get reaction,” said Levine, adding that the couple were simultaneously planning their wedding. “After that, I made cuts and sent out the script to investors and production companies.” The pair had worked with or knew most of their fellow castmates. Private sources provided financing and Wild Canaries shot in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn over a month. “It didn’t rain once,” said Takal. “It was an ambitious project, but we mapped out the shoot with [D.P.] Mark Schwartzbard. It was unwieldy in a way, but in a good way.” After six months of post, the title premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2014.

Sundance Selects opened Wild Canaries on Wednesday with a simultaneous limited theatrical and on-demand/VOD day-and-date release.

The Salvation
Director-writer: Kristian Levring
Writer: Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eric Cantona, Jonathan Pryce
Distributor: IFC Films

the-salvatation-posterDanish director Kristian Levring’s The Salvation, which opens Friday in theaters and on VOD, is the fourth film from the filmmaker to be released by IFC Films. It’s a revisionist Western starring Mads Mikkelsen in a white-knuckle tale of revenge. After exacting vengeance on those who killed his wife and son, the Danish ex-soldier incurs the wrath of a sadistic gang leader hellbent on hunting him down. The frontier landscape form the background of a blood-spattered saga complete with action and drama.

“We bought The Salvation out of [last year’s] Cannes, and we’ll work with Kristian anytime we can,” said IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring. “This one is much bigger than the other movies [we’ve worked on] in the past. We’re spending more money on [promotion] than his previous films.” IFC Films is spending some dollars to push the title and not just relying on reviews. The distributor released Levring’s Fear Me Not, The Intended and the Dogme ’95 title The King Is Alive in the early 2000s. The films have had a very niche following at theaters, so one can presume the on-demand following is sufficiently lucrative.

IFC Films’ parent network AMC is promoting the title during its own Western-centric series Hell On Wheels. The Salvation will open day-and-date with theatrical bows at the Sunshine in New York and at the Nuart in Los Angeles.