Denzel Washington directed and stars in Fences, which Paramount will tease in New York and Los Angeles this weekend in just four locations ahead of a Christmas national rollout. Washington tapped a number of his fellow performers from the Tony-winning 2010 Broadway revival of Fences for the big-screen awards contender. After a solid start with Jackie, starring Natalie Portman, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín has another feature opening theaters this weekend. Mexican actor Gael García Bernal stars in Neruda, which the Orchard picked up in Cannes in May. It was Chile’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration and is nominated for a Golden Globe. China Lion is targeting its core Chinese diaspora for The Wasted Times, opening in 20 cities today. The company also is eyeing art house crowds familiar with actor Zhang Ziyi. And Vertical Entertainment opening crime thriller The Hollow Point, starring Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane and John Leguizamo, in a day-and-date release today.

Fences
Director: Denzel Washington
Writer: August Wilson
Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

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Paramount Pictures

Joining this year’s pack of awards contenders is Denzel Washington’s Fences, which will hold its wide release for a week in favor of an initial limited rollout this weekend. Fences is based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play, and wrote the screenplay version prior to his 2005 death. The film stars many of the cast members who appeared in the 2010 Broadway revival, including Washington and Viola Davis, who won Tonys for their performances.

Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences sees Washington as a former baseball star who now is a garbage collector. Tensions in his family rise when he interferes with his son’s dream of playing college football.

“[Paramount] owned the script for a while, and Scott Rudin developed it,” said Megan Colligan, President of Worldwide Marketing & Distribution at Paramount. “Denzel really wanted to direct this movie and has been the captain of the ship. … This is a movie about family and how family relates to one another — how they do so when there’s a dominant patriarch in the family who is settling into unfulfilled dreams in his life. I think it ends up being a relatable story. He’s flawed but not a bad man.”

Paramount has been screening the film, and Washington has been traveling with the title to screenings in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., London and Atlanta. “They’ve been working their tails off,” said Colligan. “Viola is still working on her television show but is still doing press on weekends and nights, and Denzel will be on 60 Minutes this weekend.”

Paramount’s PR and media spending will kick into higher gear for its wide Christmas release, but in order to tap word-of-mouth, the company is opening Fences in limited release today. “This is an event for upscale moviegoers,” said Colligan. “You may miss the upscale moviegoers if you don’t do that, and in this era of social media, it’s good to have the wind at your back and get it going that way. I think people in New York and L.A. are going to be blown away.”

Paramount will bow Fences in four locations in both cities today. The feature then will head to about 2,000 theaters for the holiday weekend.

Neruda
Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Guillermo Calderón
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Alfredo Castro, Pablo Derqui, Mercedes Morán, Emilio Gutiérrez Caba
Distributor: The Orchard, Participant Media

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Neruda is Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s third release in the U.S. in 2016, the most recent being Jackie, starring Natalie Portman, which Fox Searchlight opened December 2 and has cumed more than $1 million. And Music Box opened his Larraín’s The Club in February. Neruda was Chile’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, though it didn’t make the shortlist, but is a Golden Globe nominee in the Foreign Language category.

Neruda centers on the chase of Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco). The Chilean communist is forced underground when the political tide shifts, but on his trail is a tenacious police inspector (Gael García Bernal). Meanwhile, in Europe, the legend of the poet hounded by the policeman grows, and artists led by Pablo Picasso clamor for Neruda’s freedom. Neruda, however, sees the struggle with his police-inspector nemesis as an opportunity to reinvent himself. He cunningly plays with the inspector, leaving clues designed to make their game of cat and-mouse ever more perilous.

“We had been developing [Neruda] since 2008, but finding the right point of view was difficult,” said producer Juan de Dios Larraín, brother of the director. “We didn’t want to do a [straight] biopic or explore the mind of someone. Three years ago, we had the idea of telling the story from the perspective of a policeman — that was a big [breakthrough]. Neruda shot over 52 days in Chile in addition to a day of shooting in Paris and three days in Buenos Aires in summer 2015.

The Orchard saw Neruda in Cannes, where it premiered in Directors’ Fortnight. The company jumped on nabbing the feature soon after its debut. “To us, it was a no-brainer,” said the Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “We made an aggressive offer even before the reviews came out. We ran into the Larraíns and Participant, which produced it, at a party that night. I think they were impressed by our passion, and when the reviews came out, it confirmed what we felt about the film. It’s an evolutionary step forward for Pablo Larraín.”

García Bernal starred in Larraín’s No, which Sony Classics released in February 2013 and grossing $2.34 million domestically. The Orchard decided to time Neruda’s release toward year’s end to maximize its award potential and to pick up on momentum from Jackie. “When we picked it up, Jackie hadn’t been acquired yet, but we figured it would be picked up and released in the fall,” said Davidson. “We think all boats can rise. This is his third movie of the year, and we felt there would be a great opportunity to message his collective body of work. It’s a great story for him. Both Jackie and Neruda are biopics, but they’re drastically different in style and story.”

The Orchard opens Neruda today at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center in New York as well as the Royal in Los Angeles. The title will head to Chicago before New Year’s Eve and then will head to additional markets in early 2017. 

The Wasted Times
Director-writer: Cheng Er
Cast: Ge You, Tadanobu Asano, Zhang Ziyi, Chung Gillian
Distributor: China Lion

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China Lion picked up drama The Wasted Times back in 2015 based on “cast alone,” according to the company’s Robert Lundberg. The distributor is targeting its core Chinese speakers on this side of the Pacific but also is “gauging Western critics,” according to the exec because of “Zhang Ziyi’s relevance to Western audiences.”

“We’re ensuring her name is front-and-center in our promotional outreach to non-Chinese speakers,” said Lundberg. “Ge You and the supporting cast will be the focus for our first-language Chinese speakers. The story revolves around a tumultuous time in Chinese history which we think will strongly resonate with anyone familiar with the period. The trailers and marketing materials we’ve gotten out there have been sharp and intriguing and having seen the film, Cheng Er and Du Jie — the film’s DP — have made a tremendously lush and beautiful film. We think there’s a lot for non-Chinese speaking audiences to discover here.”

Set against a chaotic, war-torn Shanghai, The Wasted Times follows a local crime boss (Ge) at the receiving end of the Japanese army’s attempt to forge a dubious alliance. When a trusted friend and adviser (Tadanobu Asano) plots against him, he seeks revenge even in the face of a coming war and his flawed outlook on a corrupt system he himself has engineered. Zhang plays a woman caught in the conflict. Spanning three separate times during the period, the story details mindsets from various perspectives, all culminating in what the distributor describes as a, “suspenseful and tense finale.”

China Lion will open The Wasted Times in 20 cities, targeting the distributor’s core audience, though with this feature, it is focusing on “local populations” rather than international university students, who likely will be traveling back to their home countries over the holidays. Added Lundberg: “Our exhibition partners have been great at making room where possible, but this is a very competitive time of year and we’re cognizant we’ll need to perform early. We’re also using the Mainland release date to our advantage, going out on the same day as the film releases in China, so there’s a buzz layered onto our release from that.”

The Hollow Point
Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Writer: Nils Lyew
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, James Blushi, Lynn Collins
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

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Initially titled The Man on Carrion Road, crime thriller The Hollow Point landed in producer Andy Horwitz’s orbit after a colleague set him up in a general meeting with writer Nils Lyew in early 2011. During the meeting, Lyew told him about a script he was working on, inspired by a few articles he had read.

“[He] pitched me the general storyline and the concept,” said Horwitz, who is VP of Atlas Entertainment. “I told him I loved the sound of it and when he’s done, please send it my way before it hits the town. I also asked his manager, Evan Cavic, to do the same. About 15 months later and 10 annoying check-ins on the status, Evan called me and made good on his promise. … The characters, the tone, the plot — it was all right in my sweet spot in terms of what I was looking for and what we wanted to be making at Atlas Independent. I, of course, knew the challenges of trying to mount a film like this in the independent film space, but my other producing partners William Green and Aaron Ginsburg and I didn’t care.”

Set in the back roads of a border town, the film follows a botched Mexican cartel arms deal that leaves several dead and a bag of money missing. An aging retired sheriff with violent tendencies and his young replacement with a dark past must join forces to investigate the source of this deal and protect the residents of the town. As the story twists and turns, a mysterious and vicious cartel hitman arrives in search of the missing loot, systematically eliminating anyone who crosses his path. After discovering that the new sheriff’s girlfriend is on the hitman’s list, the lawmen must abandon their law enforcement ideals in order to even the playing field.

After moving forward with he project, the focus was sending the script out to attract talent. The producers also shared the material with filmmaker Gonzalo López-Gallego, who had worked on 2013’s Open Grave, which Atlas had made. “He’s an incredibly talented filmmaker, and we were hoping he’d respond positively and, based on what we knew he was looking for, felt good about sending him this material,” said Horwitz. “His response to the material was the same as ours. He called us after he read it and described why he needed to direct this film, and we agreed after hearing his passion for the visceral world that Nils created.” In front of the camera, Timothy Olyphant had signed on, but a schedule conflict meant he had to drop out. Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane and others joined the project.

“As we started to assemble our package, we then shared the material with the good folks at Mica Entertainment — Dale Johnson,” noted Horwitz. “After a few meetings, Mica Entertainment agreed to finance the film, and we couldn’t have asked for better partners. After all these pieces of the puzzle were put in place, we were on track for an April 2014 start of production. We then started to assemble the rest of the cast.”

The Hollow Point shot in Salt Lake City over 25 days. The producers worked with CAA on domestic sales, introducing them to Vertical Entertainment. “[After] a few conversations with them, along with a few other distributors around town, we decided Vertical was the right home for this film,” concluded Horwitz. “That decision was one that we’re very happy with, and our partners at Vertical have been doing a fantastic job getting this little movie out there for the world to see.”

Vertical opens The Hollow Point in a day-and-date release today in about a dozen markets.