Spring continues to roll out a very full slate of new Specialty films, with Fox Searchlight going fairly wide with Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and a terrific Judah Lewis. The title opened last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Also taking its bow this weekend is Toronto’s Closing Night feature, Mr. Right, starring Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick and Tim Roth via Focus World, while Cannes ’15 title Louder Than Bombs with Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert will open on both coasts via The Orchard. Starz Media is opening Hamptons-set Tribeca Fest feature One More Time in limited release and Samuel Goldwyn is taking doc Havana Motor Club to theaters following an exclusive window on iTunes. Fellow doc Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story) by Lilibet Foster begins a run in NYC followed by L.A. next week. The title also had TUGG screenings Thursday night coinciding with World Health Day, with more screenings to come. And Drafthouse Films is bowing SXSW Film Festival thriller The Invitation day and date.

Also in limited release going out Friday are Strand’s Wedding Doll and First Run’s The Dying Of The Light.

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Demolition
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Bryan Sipe
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, C.J. Wilson, Polly Draper, Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk, Heather Lind, Wass Stevens, Blaire Brooks
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

French-Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée had been working with Searchlight on Wild starring Reese Witherspoon when Black Label Media was given the script by Bryan Sipe for Demolition. Vallée was already attached to direct. “We’re really trying to be a home for filmmakers in the independent space,” said Black Label’s Molly Smith who is a producer of Demolition. “He’s the kind of bold filmmaker we knew we wanted to work with.”

In the film, which opened last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Davis Mitchell, a successful investment banker who struggles after losing his wife in a car crash. Despite pressure from his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep Karen Mareno (Naomi Watts) and amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two form an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her son, Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.

Black Label co-financed the project, which shot in Manhattan and Long Island, N.Y. in the fall of 2014. Some of the eye popping parts of the feature take place in a posh suburban neighborhood where Gyllenhaal’s character along with young Lewis take out their life frustrations on a well-appointed home. “We looked long and hard to find a neighborhood where [Davis and his wife] would live in,” said fellow producer Trent Luckinbill. “We didn’t demolish the house. We had construction pieces in the front and interior of the house.” Along with Black Label, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment along with Searchlight, came aboard with financing.

Lewis, who plays a key role with his own style of self-destruction along with Gyllenhaal’s character, helps carry the story with an eccentricity seemingly beyond his years. “We flipped out when we saw [Lewis’] audition,” said Smith. “He reminded us of a young River Phoenix. To all of us, their relationship was the emotional storyline that people could connect with.”

Fox Searchlight will open Demolition, which screened at the recent SXSW Film Festival, fairly wide this weekend in about 850 theaters. The title will expand from there.

Louder Than Bombs

Louder Than Bombs
Director-writer: Joachim Trier
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, David Strathairn, Devin Druid, Amy Ryan, Ruby Jerins, Megan Ketch, Russell Posner, Rachel Brosnahan
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard caught Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it had a “solid” reaction, according to the distributor. “We were taken by Joachim’s film,” said The Orchard SVP Paul Davidson. “What we were drawn to was his simple story about a family’s loss and how he elevates it to his own artistic vision… It’s poetic, artistic and visually stunning. It felt like an artistic version of those classic American dramas from over the decades — even a John Hughes film from the ‘80s or films like American Beauty.

Three years after the death of his wife, acclaimed photographer Isabelle Reed (Huppert), Gene (Byrne) keeps everyday life going with his shy teenage son Conrad (Druid). A planned exhibition of Isabelle’s photographs prompts Gene’s older son Jonah (Eisenberg) to return to the house he grew up in – and for the first time in a very long time, the father and the two brothers are living under the same roof. Underneath the affection and friction that is a part of restored family life between these three, there is a striking loss that marks each of them. At the same time, the three have markedly different memories of their wife and mother.

“[Louder Than Bombs] has been in subsequent festivals outside the Cannes environment and that’s where this film has soared,” said Davidson. “It was well-received in Toronto and other [events]. We also had a great New York screening with Jesse Eisenberg at BAM. I think audiences are surprised to see there’s humor in it. It’s not just dour.” Davidson said that there have not been a lot of genre-bending dramas this year, though he noted comedies like Hello, My Name Is Doris and Eye In The Sky were strong companions in both comedy and drama.

“This is something original,” he said. “We screened this at a lot of venues including colleges and at Cinefamily [in Los Angeles]. It will have appeal to the [art house crowd], but it will screen for broader audiences as well.”

The Orchard will open Louder Than Bombs at the Sundance Sunset and Royal theaters in Los Angeles as well as the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza cinemas in New York this weekend. Eisenberg will be present for audience Q&As over the weekend following select L.A. screenings, while Trier will do the same in New York. Expansion into Orange County and New York suburbs will take place next week, followed by a further roll out to 40 to 50 of the top markets in the third week. Davidson said the title is already confirmed in over 100 cities with more expected.

One More Time

One More Time
Director-writer: Robert Edwards
Cast: Christopher Walken, Amber Heard, Kelli Garner, Hamish Linklater, Ann Magnuson, Henry Kelemen, Oliver Platt
Distributor: Starz Media

Writer-director Robert Edwards wrote the initial screenplay for One More Time a half-dozen years ago, but set it aside until he later showed it to his agent. After showing interest, his agent connected him to producers Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy at production company, Parts and Labor.

“They say write what you know, but in this case I didn’t know anything about this world,” said Edwards. “I got interested in an artist/performer whose private life is at odds with his public persona. [I liked the idea] that he makes great music, but in real life his life is complicated. This is a real departure from the political espionage I usually do.”

Rattling around in his mansion in the Hamptons, faded ‘Sinatra-esque’ crooner and notorious ladies man Paul Lombard (Christopher Walken) stews over the acclaim that eluded him in his career and the trail of romantic wreckage he left in his wake. Matters are complicated when his punk rocker daughter Jude arrives in need of a place to stay and burdened with problems of her own….including a rivalry with her overachieving sister, her own ruinous love life, and above all, a fraught relationship with her famous father.

“Originally the script was set in summer, but because of logistics, it had to be in the winter,” said Edwards. “I realized the winter would be better for the mood of the film. We moved out to the Hamptons for five weeks, living in the motel where in the movie you see Christopher Walken’s character going to have an affair.”

Edwards said the project’s low budget meant that “every day was a race,” though his young crew helped carry production along mostly smoothly. “The crews all seemed like they were 25 but they were all professionals and really knew what they were doing. They always found a way,” said Edwards. “It’s cold out there. We’d shoot, come back to the hotel and drink beer…”

Amber Heard came on board with a lot of knowledge about music, but had never sung before. She took voice lessons as well as guitar and piano before shooting. “It was a bold thing to do with a full room of people to get up there and sing,” added Edwards. “It was very ballsy.”

Starz Media bought One More Time out of the Tribeca Film Festival last year. Edwards said that over the summer, they devised a roll out plan for an early spring release. One More Time will open in 25 cities including New York and Los Angeles in addition to on-demand platforms this weekend.

Mr Right

Mr. Right
Director: Paco Cabezas
Writer: Max Landis
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, James Ransone, Anson Mount, Michael Eklund, RZA, Katie Nehra, Jaiden Kaine, Douglas M. Griffin
Distributor: Focus World

Mr. Right shot in New Orleans after a number of international locations were considered. The title shot over 25 days in the fall of 2014 in and around the Big Easy. It debuted as the Closing Night feature at Toronto ’15 last September.

Mr. Right features Martha (Anna Kendrick), who has gone manic since her latest breakup. She babbles and parties like a monster — and is looking to do something terrible when she meets Francis (Sam Rockwell). To anyone else, Francis’s approach would come across as creepy, but Martha can’t help but be intrigued. He’s also a professional assassin — but with a cause: he kills the people ordering the hits. Just as Martha begins to realize her new beau wasn’t joking when he said he had to step out for a moment to shoot someone, things start heating up for Francis. His services are solicited by a dubious client who’s being sought by an equally dubious FBI agent (Tim Roth). As the bodies pile up, Martha needs to decide whether to flee or join in the mayhem.

“We are leveraging our talented ensemble cast to get the word out about Mr. Right,” noted Focus World SVP Anjay Nagpal. “To complement spot cable and digital media buys, Sam and Anna have multiple national appearances together including Colbert and GMA, which should be a blast.”

Focus World will open Mr. Right day and date Friday theatrically and on-demand platforms, with over 30 locations in 20 markets supporting the big screen release. Subsequent expansion will be determined based on weekend results.

Added Nagpal: “Anna’s performance in this film delivers on the comedy that her large and loyal fan base will embrace, but there’s also something new in Mr. Right for Anna Kendrick fans — to see her in an action role. Sam, RZA, Tim Roth and the film’s fun and unique action sequences will appeal to the male audience.”

Havana Motor Club poster

Havana Motor Club
Director-writer: Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt
Subjects: Carols Alvarez, Milton Díaz Canter, Hendy Cobas, Ernesto Dobarganes, Saul García, Eduardo Hernández
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Goldwyn released filmmaker Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt’s 2012 documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, taking in over $1 million domestically, and expressed interest in his subsequent project, Havana Motor Club after learning about it.

This doc takes a look at one aspect of Cuba’s slow opening, most obviously typified by President Obama’s visit to the Caribbean island last month. Reforms have offered opportunity in Cuba but the children of the Revolution are unsure of the best route forward. For a half-dozen drag racers, this means last-minute changes to their beloved American muscle cars, as they prepare for the first sanctioned race in Cuba since 1960.

“I had a script I was working on in Cuba [using] a grant from the Sundance Institute,” said Perlmutt. “[While there], I met a Russian filmmaker who asked if I’d do a ‘making’ of his film. He was getting financing together [and] I hired a small grew to do this project, but then his production was shut down by the government.” Perlmutt planned to just head back to New York, but before leaving Cuba, he attended an automobile event. While there, he heard that the first official car race since the Cuban Revolution would take place soon. “Since I already had the crew in place, I thought I’d just follow this story,” said Perlmutt. “I figured it would be a fast shoot catching this race, but then three days before the Pope was to arrive, they cancelled the race because the government needed all the barricades they could get for his visit.”

What was originally supposed to be an event set to take place in just a matter of days ended up taking years. The race had further cancellations but the crew kept filming. “We had 150 hours of footage, but still no race,” said Perlmutt. “With all these hours of footage, we saw Cuba change before our eyes.”

Still, some of the old regime played into the production’s planning. The disintegration of Perlmutt’s “making-of” project taught him to make sure all the necessary paperwork had better be in order or risk facing the same fate. “We also had a Cuban producer with us at all times,” he added. “The paranoid side thought he’d be reporting on us back to the authorities, but he ended up being a great asset. He knew this world, plus he had a car. What I thought would be a six week process turned into four years.”

Gloss Studios gave initial funding to the previous project and allowed the filmmaker to use it for Havana Motor Club. Impact Partners came on board with additional funds and there was also a Kickstarter campaign. “The edit took forever because we had over 300 hours of footage,” Perlmutt said. “It was a long and expensive doc to make.” The film screened at both the Havana Film Festival and at a Cuban car rally before going to Tribeca last year.

Samuel Goldwyn Films will open the film day and date in New York, Los Angeles and Miami in addition to on-demand platforms. The title also had a pre-release exclusive on iTunes, which started March 29.

Be Here Now poster

Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story)
Director: Lilibet Foster
Subjects: Andy Whitfield, Vashti Whitfield
Distribution: Tugg, Be Here Now Productions and Silver Linings Entertainment

Actor Andy Whitfield had just become a star as the lead in the hit television series Spartacus when he was faced with his biggest personal challenge: cancer. Be Here Now is a feature documentary that follows him on his dramatic journey to cure himself. With matching ‘affirmative tattoos,’ he and his wife, along with their two children, commit to taking Andy’s healing into their own hands and living life fully, not in the shadows of the disease. Each step tests their limits and strength of character, while revealing their tenderness, humor and determination. Along the way, each person goes through transformations.

After his first bout with cancer, the actor was declared cancer free, but it reappeared. Filmmaker Lilibet Foster met Whitfield and his wife Vashti through his manager, just as Whitfield was about to take on cancer for the second time. “In that first introduction, I was so inspired by them and their positivity and desire to live in the here and now,” said Foster who embarked on Be Here Now began five years ago when she met the couple. “I was there as they began this journey. I was so struck by their ability to manifest their destiny and I wanted to capture that. The other thing I was seeing was an emerging love story. There are also many parts of the movie that are very funny.”

Starz and Spartacus provided some support for the project. Foster also started a Kickstarter campaign that she said was the third most successful for a documentary at that time, coming in at $300K. “It all came together very quickly all on a hope and a prayer,” said Foster. “Being an observational filmmaker, my objective is to capture what’s happening as it [takes place]. I also care about it being cinematic and Andy wanted that too. But that means you can’t do things on your own timetable, which means you have to get the money in as you go.”

Be Here Now shot over 18 months and had its debut at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival where it won the Audience Award. “That was inspiration into itself,” said Foster. “I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Andy, this is already starting to inspire people.’” The feature is being released via TUGG in 11 cities Thursday coinciding with World Health Day, followed by a regular theatrical screening at the Village East in New York on Friday and the Laemmle Santa Monica starting April 15. Additionally, there are 20 additional TUGG screenings planned.

“In the same spirit as our Kickstarter campaign, we have an exciting way of releasing the film which has a cause attached,” said Foster. “Through TUGG, we have screenings [Thursday]. Each [screening] is hosted by organizations on the forefront of cancer research, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Cancer Support Community and Stand-Up to Cancer. In some cities, there are other [groups].” Additionally, the title is being promoted through a social media network that numbers 2.6 million.

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The Invitation
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writers: Matt Manfredi, Phil Hay
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Aiden Lovekamp, Michelle Jrusiec, Mike Doyle
Distributor: Drafthouse Films

Drafthouse Films picked up The Invitation following its SXSW premiere. In the psychological thriller, the tension is palpable when Will (Logan Marshall-Green) shows up to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and new husband David (Michiel Huisman). The estranged divorcees’ tragic past haunts an eerie present: amid Eden’s suspicious behavior and her mysterious house guests, Will becomes convinced that his invitation came with a hidden agenda. Unfolding over one dark evening in the Hollywood Hills, The Invitation blurs layers of mounting paranoia, mystery and horror until both Will and Eden are unsure what threats are real or imagined.

“It’s a great fit for us because it’s the best adult thriller of the year made by one of the greatest filmmakers working today,” commented James Shapiro, COO Drafthouse Films. “The Invitation doesn’t fit squarely in one particular genre, it’s a smart, psychological thriller with genre elements so we’ve always felt the film has a broader appeal in addition to core horror fans. The high anticipation and love for the film from press across the board…has really helped raise awareness to a larger mainstream audience we’re also wanting to reach.”

Shapiro noted the title has a 92% Fresh on RT and has been a Critics Pick for major publications. Added Shapiro: “It’s been interesting marketing the film since we obviously want people to be aware and excited to see the film but have been particular about highlighting the mystery, paranoia and scares in the film without revealing any spoilers in our trailer, clips and other marketing materials, so audiences can discover the shocking revelations in the film unfold for themselves.”

Drafthouse Films is opening The Invitation in L.A., New York, Austin, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle this weekend in addition to on-demand platforms Friday. There will be a series of weekend Q&As including filmmaker Karyn Kusama and stars Marshall-Green, Corinealdi and Blanchard at the Arclight Hollywood and IFC Center in NYC.