Oscar hopefuls continue to dominate the specialty space, though counterprogramming is in full swing as some distributors hope to tap awards-weary audiences. Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis star in Tumbledown from Starz Digital. The company is opening the date movie in New York and L.A. before a fairly hefty expansion into about three dozen new markets the following week. TWC is opening Regression with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson in about a hundred locations Friday, the weekend’s ‘widest’ Specialty opener, while Music Box and The Orchard are bowing their thriller-esque titles The Club by Pablo Larraín and Southbound from an ensemble of filmmakers respectively. And China Lion is opening China’s box office heavyweight The Monkey King 2 just ahead of Chinese New Year.
Director-writer: Sean Mewshaw
Writer: Desiree Van Til
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jason Sudeikis, Joe Manganiello, Dianna Agron, Blythe Danner, Griffin Dunne
Distributor: Starz Digital
Starz Digital picked up Tumbledown out of the Tribeca Film Festival last year. The feature follows pop culture scholar Andrew (Jason Sudeikis) who comes to Maine to interview Hannah (Rebecca Hall), the protective widow of an acclaimed singer. When the unlikely pair strike a deal to co-write a biography, Andrew finds himself clashing with a cast of locals, including Hannah’s hunky suitor (Joe Manganiello) and her loving but defensive parents (Blythe Danner, Richard Masur). When Hannah and Andrew’s stormy partnership blossoms into an unexpected connection, they face the possibility that the next chapter in their lives might involve each other.
“In terms of what drew us to Tumbledown, it is that it really fits our strategy to have quality movies with good stars that appeal to a wide range of people,” said Mara Winkour, SVP of Digital Marketing at Starz Digital. “It’s a high quality movie. It’s not something you see and think it’s low budget…It’s a romantic comedy that’s great for a date night, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘chick flick.’ It doesn’t just appeal to women.”
Winkour noted that while women 24 – 54 will be the base audience for Tumbledown, Jason Sudeikis has a “strong male following.” Added Winkour: “Dates may go grudgingly, but they’ll like it and will recommend it. It’s also counter-programming to some degree. If you’re tired of seeing Leo being mauled by a bear, it’s a feel-good movie a lot of people will enjoy.”
Starz Digital will open Tumbledown in one theater each in New York and Los Angeles. The following week, the company will expand the title to between 30 and 40 markets in at least 50 locations.
Director-writer: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, Lothaire Bluteau, Dale Kickey, David Dencik, Peter MacNeill, Devon Bostick, Aaron Ashmore
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Chilean-born director Alejandro Amenábar’s latest, Regression, is inspired by a wave of events that occurred in the United States during the 1980s. Set in Minnesota, Regression tells the story of a man who is arrested and accused of sexually abusing his daughter. Although he doesn’t remember anything from the event, he pleads guilty. With the help of a psychologist, he’ll relive those moments and eventually accuse a policeman of having participated in the crime. Meanwhile, the local media hints the possibility that everything could have been a satanic cult’s doing.
Regression shot over 12 weeks in both Spain and Canada in 2014 with a budget of $20 million. It is Amenábar’s sixth feature and the third he’s shot in English. “Bob [Weinstein] has always been a fan of Amenábar’s. I think we were involved from inception in some way, shape and form,” said TWC’s president of Theatrical Distribution, Erik Lomis. “It ended up being delayed, but we’re putting it out this weekend, heading to 100 theaters in the top 40 markets.” Lomis said following a 30 day window, Regression will then be available via Amazon.
The Weinsteins last worked with Amenábar on The Others, which was released in 2001 by Miramax. The title was by far Amenábar’s highest grossing feature, taking in over $96.5 million domestically and over $210 million worldwide. Newmarket released his previous film, Agora, starring Rachel Weisz in 2010, grossing a much more modest $619K stateside, though it totaled $39 million worldwide. Amenábar’s 2004 film, The Sea Inside starring Javier Bardem, grossed over $2.1 million domestically with a $38.5 million worldwide cume.
The Monkey King 2
Director: Cheang Pou-Soi
Writers: Ran Ping, Ning Wen
Cast: Gong Li, Aaron Kwok, Feng Shaofeng, Kelly Chen
Distributor: China Lion
China Lion missed out on releasing the first installment of The Monkey King, which was a big hit in China, earning nearly $200M. The Monkey King 2 takes place 500 years after ‘the Havoc in Heaven.” A Tang Priest is appointed by Buddha to go to the West to get sacred scriptures, but accidentally frees the Monkey King. With Lady White (Gong Li) aiming to break up the team assembled to defeat her, the Monkey King must fight in order to save his world.
“Our company’s founder and head, Jiang Yanming, was part of the restoration and 3D conversion of the 1965 classic The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven, which is part of China Lion’s permanent library, so we’ve been keeping an eye on the live action sequel since its initial announcement,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. “When the film’s producers approached us, we snapped it up.”
The Monkey King is a beloved personality in China. It is based on an ancient character and taken from a classic novel, according to Lundberg. The well-known tale has spawned requests from China Lion’s regular audiences.
“We wanted to do something very special for Chinese New Year, so we’ve been able to release the film in 3D and a weekend earlier than the Mainland in both the US and Canada as well as through our sister company in Australia and New Zealand,” said Lundberg. “We’ll also be releasing the film on February 12 in the United Kingdom. You could not pick a bigger film for the Chinese New Year holiday than this sequel, especially as we enter the Year of the Monkey, so we arranged special advance screenings February 4 in New York, Toronto and Vancouver, headed by various local Chinese community organizations, all of which jumped at the chance to be involved in such a big film.”
China Lion has looked to both Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year to roll out new releases. Last year it opened Somewhere Only We Know starring Kris Wu ($482K cume) against Fifty Shades Of Grey, while the year before it bowed Beijing Love Story ($428K cume). “This year, we’re looking to appeal to a broader audience with The Monkey King 2, aiming it at those who may not always gravitate towards romantic dramas,” said Lundberg. “We’re looking at expanding to additional first-language Chinese speaking communities next Friday and then reviewing a broader audience [the following week].”
Director-writer: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Guillermo Calderón, Daniel Villalobos
Cast: Alfredo Castro, Roberto Farías, Antonia Zegers, Jaime Vadell, Alejandro Goic, Alejandro Sieveking, Marcelo Alonso, José Soza, Francisco Reyes
Distributor: Music Box Films
Pablo Larraín’s The Club won the Silver Bear at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival and went on to win Best Film at Fantastic Fest as well as multiple wins at the Chicago International Film Festival. The film takes place in a small seaside town where four unrelated men live along with the woman who tends the house and their needs. All former priests, they have been sent to this quiet exile to purge the sins of their pasts, the separation from their communities the worst form of punishment by the Church. Their fragile stability is disrupted by the arrival of an emissary from the Vatican who seeks to understand the effects of their isolation, and a newly disgraced housemate. Both bring with them the outside world from which the men have long been removed, and the secrets they had thought deeply buried.
“We had been fans of Larraín’s early work and had made an unsuccessful bid to acquire his last film No,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “We found The Club to be a typically dark but bracingly, powerfully film of moral and institutional corruption. Crucially we felt key audience-influencing critics would agree.” Larraín’s No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, grossed over $2.34 million at the American box office in 2013.
Music Box is eyeing a “well-read” audience that is “review-motivated” and are knowledgeable about the Catholic Church’s abuse and cover-up scandal. The company sees its festival wins as an indicator the title may have potential breadth with audiences. “The Club is certainly a horror film that any genre enthusiast would not fail to recognize, it’s the mostly gore free horror of spiritual and institutional monstrosity,” added Arentz. “…Also as much of a privilege as it is to be handling a film from a world class filmmaker such as Larrain, it’s also a challenge we frequently have taken on: attempting to find success with films that the marketplace judges as ‘too difficult.'”
The Club opens at Lincoln Center and the Sunshine Cinema in New York Friday. Music Box will take The Club to L.A., Miami and Naples, FL February 12 with the top 25 markets debuting in the next several weeks. The feature’s theatrical will have a traditional window with DVD/Blu-ray and transactional hits set for May 3 with SVOD via Amazon Prime to follow.
Directors-writers: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Writers: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Susan Burke
Cast: Kate Beahan, Matt Betteinelli-Olpin, Susan Burke, Zoe Cooper, Gerald Downey, Karla Droege, Larry Fessenden
Distributor: The Orchard
Distributor The Orchard saw Southbound as akin to a Twilight Zone anthology when they first caught the title at the Toronto International Film Festival. The feature opens on a desolate stretch of desert highway. Two men are on the run from their past, while a band is on their way to their next gig. There is also a man struggling to get home and a brother in search of his long-lost sister and a family on vacation. The weary travelers are forced to confront their worst fears and darkest secrets in these interwoven tales of terror on the open road.
“Typically we don’t gravitate toward core horror films,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “But we like the directors behind Southbound and we see five themes that allow bleed-over. People are always looking for a new twist in the horror anthology space and this is that.”
The Orchard has targeted the core genre press, but have also set the net wider from a publicity standpoint. The first seven minutes of the film was released on Indiewire in addition to giving additional material from the title to other sites such as Collider. “We’re broadening it out to give a wider swath across the age demos,” added Davidson.
The Orchard is also hoping to tap counter-programming momentum as it takes Southbound out on a day and date release this weekend. Said Davidson: “February represents a month when people are ultra-focused on awards films, so it’s the ultra-antithesis of that. Films like It Follows and What We Do In The Shadows work well [this time of the year]. We didn’t want Southbound to be lost in the Halloween [rush of genre movies] when people are looking for core thrasher films. This is not that.” RADiUS opened It Follows in March of last year, eventually grossing over $14.6 million. Unison and Paladin bowed What We Do In The Shadows last February. The title took in over $3.4 million at the box office.
The Orchard will open Southbound in seven theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago this weekend. The following week, the title will head to 37 markets in North America. Added Davidson: “We’ll go as wide as possible in theaters. Reviews will help propel people to sample [Southbound] on digital and cable.”