Many have come before, but this documentary will blow Nirvana fans’ minds. HBO Documentary’s Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck will have select awards-qualifying theatrical bows beginning this weekend before its mainstay rotation on HBO early next month. The weekend will usher in a number of new limited release films, hoping to lure audiences from the latest heavy hitters, The Age Of Adaline and Little Boy. Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale star in RADiUS’ Toronto ’14 feature Adult Beginners, inspired by Kroll’s brush with a babysitting gig for his siblings. Well Go USA will open Kung Fu Killer, capitalizing on a familiar genre, while Freestyle Releasing is going teen haute couture with After The Ball. And tipping its hat to Earth Day, Music Box Films opened doc Emptying The Skies on Wednesday. Also making their debuts this weekend are Freestyle’s Brotherly Love, Rialto’s Forbidden Games (1952), Tribeca Films’ Misery Loves Comedy and Mousetrap Films’ Road To Juarez. Also of note is Warner Bros. Russell Crowe-directed The Water Diviner, which will open on a few hundred screens Friday.

kurt-cobain-montage-of-heck-posterKurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck
Director-writer: Brett Morgen
Subjects: Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic
Distributor: HBO Documentary Films and Universal Pictures (international)

If this isn’t the biggest debut of a non-fiction title this year, then the world is just wrong. Much has been said about the late Nirvana frontman who died in 1994. Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck is certainly not the first doc to look into his life and come up with some possible answers for an unlikely antihero who very reluctantly was crowned ‘voice of a generation,’ but this one uncovers an artist who has remained an enigma for more than two decades since he died at 27. Nirvana fans will have a chance to hear some previously unreleased material in the documentary, which unlike previous films such as Kurt & Courtney (1998), or Kurt Cobain: About A Son (2006), was made with the blessing of Cobain’s family.

“There was over 200 hours of unreleased music and audio and a [huge amount] of art, writings and home movies that I had access to,” said Brett Morgen, whose On The Ropes (1999) was nominated for an Oscar. “Courtney and Frances gave us access to their storage facility … and I pulled up this tape that said, ‘Montage of Heck’ and I put this tape in and it felt like a portal into Kurt’s life. It had pieces from the Beatles, Black Flag, The Brady Bunch and all this stuff that was uniquely Kurt. It was funny, haunting and intriguing…”

Eight years in the making and executive produced by Cobain and Love’s daughter, Frances Bean Cobain (who nabbed headlines recently for saying to Rolling Stone she’s not a Nirvana fan), the film chronicles his lifetime of work, incorporating footage from his childhood in Aberdeen, WA as well as Cobain-inspired art diving into the artist’s many dark moments with his own voice narrating his difficult adolescence, addiction, philosophy and reluctant fame. The film includes interviews with both Cobain’s parents as well as Courtney Love, who reveals a backstory behind Cobain’s first publicized brush with death (but not his first) in Rome.

“People say Kurt was the last rock star, I don’t think that’s true, but I do think he was the last analogue rock star,” said Morgen during a Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Monday night for a pre-theatrical launch screening. “I was as cynical as anyone whether there was a space for another Kurt Cobain doc, but I found that when listening to interviews with him, he always felt uncomfortable under the [spotlight]. So we decided to let his purest form of expression through his art to tell the story. The idea wasn’t to put him on a pedestal, but to look him in the eye.”

Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck will open in limited release in the U.S. this weekend, but its biggest bow will be via HBO beginning May 4.

adultbeginners-posterAdult Beginners
Director: Ross Katz
Writers: Jeff Cox, Liz Flahive, Nick Kroll
Cast: Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Joel McHale, Jane Krakowski, Bobby Moynihan, Mike Birbiglia, Josh Charles, Jason Mantzoukas
Distributor: RADiUS

Comedian/actor/writer Nick Kroll said his plethora of nieces and nephews inspired Adult Beginners, though he hasn’t yet experienced the domestic responsibilities depicted in the feature.

The film follows a young hipster (Kroll) who comes apart at the seams on the eve of his company’s big launch. Facing a life of disarray, he leaves New York City to move in with his estranged pregnant sister (Rose Byrne), brother-in-law (Bobby Cannavale) and 3-year-old nephew in the suburbs — and morphs into their de facto nanny (or ‘manny’). Confronted with with responsibility, he may in fact grow up.

“I have 12 nieces and nephews and have been asked to babysit once, and I thought, ‘What would it be like for a guy like me who had to suddenly be one of my nieces’/nephews’ nanny?’ ” Kroll said Kroll at the New York premiere of the film, hosted by the Cinema Society and Andrew Saffir. “So I had that idea and flushed it out a bit and brought the idea to [exec producer] Mark Duplass. He’s made a ‘film or two’ of course and seems to understand this marketplace, and he maneuvered me through.” Writers Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive then came on board to pen the concept and Rose Byrne joined the cast. She also brought along a companion to co-star. “She ironically said that she thought the part of her husband would be great for her boyfriend, and I said, ‘Who is your boyfriend?’ and she said, ‘Bobby Cannavale.’ No joke, we literally had written that part for him…”

As the planets aligned for the cast, the shoot took place in New Rochelle and Eastchester, NY over 22 days in January 2014. Producer Jared Goldman worked with WME to close financing. “The movie takes place over a few seasons, so when you watch the film and see the outside of the house, you don’t see snow. But if you move the frame a foot to the right or left, there is three feet of snow,” said Goldman at the NYC premiere at AMC Lincoln Square. “We had a blast, everyone was in it to win.”

Adult Beginners also ‘won’ distribution via RADiUS which is opening the title day and date in theaters and on-demand this weekend.

kungfukiller-posterKung Fu Killer
Director-writer: Teddy Chan
Writers: Ho Leung Lau, Tin Shu Mak
Cast: Donnie Yen, Charlie Yeung, Baoqiang Wang, Bing Bai, Deep Ng, Alenx Fong
Distributor: Well Go USA

Plano, TX based distributor Well Go USA has a long history with action cinema from Asia including a couple installments of the Ip Man series. The company will continue its courtship of the genre with Kung Fu Killer, which they first viewed at a buyers’ screening last year. A world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival last October, the film centers on a martial arts instructor from the police force who is imprisoned after killing a man by accident. He sees a route to freedom, however, after a killer starts targeting martial arts masters and he offers to help the police in return for his release.

“The timing for [the film’s theatrical release] makes sense for us based on when we want to begin the home video rollout,” said Well Go USA V.P. Jason Pfardrescher. “We’ve done a lot of day and date releases for these genre titles in the past, but we decided to make this a traditional [rollout] beginning this weekend.” Pfardrescher noted the success of Chan’s previous directorial, Bodyguards And Assassins (2009) which grossed over $50M in Asia and fared well stateside.

“We’re be targeting the fanboys, working with outlets that cater to that demographic and doing a lot of social media with [star] Donnie Yen,” said Pfardrescher. “We’ll be going out all at once with this, opening on 30 screens in major markets.”

emptying-the-skies-posterEmptying The Skies
Directors: Douglas Kass, Roger Kass
Writer: Jonathan Franzen
Subjects: Peter Berthold, Sergio Coen Tanugi, David Conlin, Jonathan Franzen,
Distributor: Music Box Films

Music Box Films’ Ed Arentz noted that some people have called Emptying The Skies a kind of The Cove for “migratory birds.” The comparison to the Oscar-winning doc about dolphins is “not far off,” Arentz said. “It certainly generates the same kind of horror and anger.” Based on a New Yorker essay by novelist Jonathan Franzen, the film chronicles the rampant poaching of migratory songbirds in southern Europe. Songbird populations have been drastically declining for several decades, and a number of species face extinction. The film explores the plight of the globe-flying marvels, millions of which are unlawfully slaughtered each year for large sums on the black market, and follows an intrepid squad of pan-European bird-lovers who risk their lives waging a secret war against poachers, disrupting illegal trapping and freeing as many birds as possible.

“We had released an earlier doc about bird watching called, Birders: The Central Park Effect – coincidentally also featuring Jonathan Franzen. We knew this audience and how to reach them somewhat,” said Arentz. “Thankfully numerous organizations that share the films concerns — like the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy — are advocating about it to their members.”

Some culinary personalities come under fire here because of their taste for the tiny birds. “You have otherwise respectable celebrity chefs like Alain Ducasse and TV gourmands like Anthony Bourdain still shamelessly prattling about the wonderful taste of these tiny endangered songbirds and the honorable ancient culinary traditions they are upholding by killing and consuming.”

Music Box Films will open Emptying The Skies day and date at Cinema Village in New York and Music Box in Chicago, along with digital platforms including iTunes and Amazon. Added Arentz: “Additional regional venues with one-off screenings will follow in the next several months. After a couple of months, viewers will be able to find Emptying The Skies on subscription streaming services.”

after_the_ball_posterAfter The Ball
Director: Sean Garrity
Writers: Kate Melville, Jason Sherman
Cast: Portia Doubleday, Marc-André Grondin, Chris Noth, Lauren Holly, Natalie Krill, Anna Hopkins, David Michael
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

Freestyle president Mark Borde became familiar with teen comedy After The Ball through colleagues at Myriad Pictures which partnered on the Canadian release of the film earlier this year.

Set in the fashion world, the film centers on Kate (Portia Doubleday) whose dream is to design haute couture. Though talented, she’s having difficulty getting in the door. She meets a retail guru who markets clothes “inspired” by the very designers Kate wants to work for. Reluctantly, Kate joins forces, joining the family business where she must navigate around her duplicitous stepmother and two wicked stepsisters. But with the help of a charming guy in the shoe department and her godmother’s vintage clothes — along with an identity switch — Kate just might be able to expose the evil trio.

“This is a Devil Wears Prada for young girls,” said Borde. “Our staff really liked the movie [and] we have high hopes for it.” After The Ball grossed over $200K in Canada, which is not bad for a non-studio release. The film was buoyed there with a tie-in with retail chain Le Château. The U.S. release does not have the same arrangement, but Freestyle is pushing out the cast on social media leading up to this weekend’s simultaneous bow in theaters and on-demand. “You try not to over-spend when doing a VOD/ day and date release,” said Borde. “It’s a tight rope, but you also want to do marketing outside buying tons of TV [ads].”

The company has also been spreading the word with word-of-mouth screenings. Freestyle will open After The Ball in 10 theaters in 10 of the top 20 markets, and expansion will depend on performance. “The big play is obviously when it hits iTunes” and cable TV, said Borde. “That’s where we hope to recoup most of our investment. Theatrical is icing on the cake.”