As runups to a small film’s debut weekend go, snagging a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination in the previous five days ranks right up there. That’s the case for Sony Classics’ Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore in a tour de force role, as the film begins initial limited runs in five cities.
Alice arrives with a raft of other limited releases, a week after very few new films debuted among awards-hopeful holderovers. This week, among other specialty
releases, Lionsgate/Pantelion had tremendous success with last year’s Instructions Not Included, and it will hope to tap some of that winning formula for its latest, Spare Parts. That film has taken on added urgency in light of the latest Washington maneuvers on immigration, including President Obama’s sweeping executive orders in December and a House vote that would rescind them.
For South Asian expat audiences in North America, the simply titled I will target them with the biggest Tamil-language film to hit screens here. And three titles will debut simultaneously in theaters and on demand: Amplify’s Little Accidents, IFC Films’ Match as well as Gravitas Ventures’ Sundance ’14 title, Appropriate Behavior. Also going into release are The Orchard’s Loitering With Intent, PNP’s Three Night Stand and Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life.
Writer-Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Shane McRae, Hunter Parrish, Seth Gilliam, Stephen Kunken, Erin Darke
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Still Alice features a performance by star Julianne Moore that has won just about every award out there so far, including a Golden Globe last Sunday, but also the Gothams, National Board of Review, various critics groups and of course an Oscar nomination Thursday morning.
Sony Classics’ Michael Barker said the film had a December qualifying run that also proved the film’s potential box-office prowess.
“Qualifying runs usually don’t do well because you do them low key, but [Still Alice] did very well,” he said. “We took a page out of our own playbook from Pollock, which we had success with.”
Pollock ended up with an Oscar nomination for Ed Harris in the Best Actor category and a win for Marcia Gay Harden for Best Supporting Actress. Pollock debuted in two theaters in 2000, grossing $44,244 its opening weekend. It went on to cume nearly $8.6M domestically.
Still Alice centers on Alice Howland (Moore), who is happily married with three grown children. She is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. She receives a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease and she and her family find their bonds thoroughly tested. Her struggle to stay connected to who she once was in frightening, heartbreaking and inspiring.
“This is a film that was on our radar for a long time,” said Barker. “We went to the first screening in Toronto and it blew us away. But we also felt it was one of those films we were ordained to have. We released the filmmakers’ [2006 film] Quinceañera…These guys are great to work with. Also we had worked with Julianne Moore not long after we opened Sony Classics in 1992, including Safe and The Myth Of Fingerprints.”
Barker said the company wanted to keep working with Moore but she was “taken over by bigger companies and went on to do major roles.” Added Barker: “We knew that this was her moment.”
The company also wanted to work with veteran producers Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler, among the people spearheading the title.
“We knew we’d have to rush out at the end of the year,” said Barker. “Normally we’d go slow, but because we knew each other so well, we were able to work very closely and quickly.”
Still Alice opens in five cities this weekend, including New York and Los Angeles.
Director: Sean McNamara
Writers: Joshua Davis (article), Elissa Matsueda
Cast: George Lopez, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alexa PenaVega, Carlos PenaVega, Marisa Tomei, Esai Morales
Distributor: Lionsgate/Pantelion Films
Pantelion Films, the Latino-centered studio partnership of Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa, became familiar with Spare Parts through producer Ben Odell, whom they had worked with previously, and management company Circle of Confusion, which had optioned the story from a Wired magazine article.
Spare Parts chronicles the journey of four undocumented Mexican high school students from Phoenix, Ariz., who form a robotics club. Their teacher (George Lopez) leads them into a national robotics competition against an MIT team. Pantelion provided financing, and after working with the filmmaking team to develop the script, shot the title at the end of 2013.
“We’ve had both our cast and the real-life people behind the story to get the word out about Spare Parts,” said Pantelion head Paul Presburger. “The film also has cameos by some big [Hispanic] stars including Gerardo Ortiz, a well-known Latino musician, and Alessandra Rosaldo, who was in Instructions Not Included. That film became the biggest Spanish-language hit in the U.S. and also one of 2013’s biggest Specialty releases, cuming over $44.46M.
“[Ortiz and Rosaldo] have been using their social media to push Spare Parts,” said Presburger. “We’ve also done ad buys in the mainstream press, though our marketing budget is smaller than Lionsgate’s.”
Pantelion has also pushed the title with the technology and science communities. Oscar Vazquez, one of the students in the Wired article, was an inspiration for the Dream Act. That bill sought to allow offspring of parents who entered the country illegally to remain in the U.S. if they have lived in America for a certain amount of time. The bill never passed, but in 2012 President Obama said his Administration would stop deporting young illegal aliens who match the criteria described under the Dream Act.
“The Republicans in the House of Representatives just voted to rescind the Administration’s executive actions [on Wednesday],” said Presburger. “So the story in this film is especially relevant.”
Lionsgate/Pantelion will open Spare Parts in about 435 theaters around the country this weekend with an emphasis on markets with concentrations of Latino audiences. “If it resonates, we’ll go wider. For Instructions Not Included, we did an initial 300 screens but then eventually went to 1,000.”
Writers: A.N. Balarishnan, S. Shankar, D. Suresh
Cast: Chiyaan Vikram, Amy Jackson, Suresh Gopi, Upen Patel, Santhanam, Ramkumar Ganesan
Distributor: Aascar Film/Dakshaa Releasing
Aascar Film’s I will be the biggest North American release ever of a Tamil-language film (the language is big throughout southern India, Sri Lanka and some other parts of south and south-east Asia). At $30 million, it is, according to Naveen Varadarajan, it’s also the highest budgeted Indian film to date.
In I, actor Chiyaan Vikram appears in three different looks, as a bodybuilder, a model and a hunchback. He also ‘surprisingly’ appears as a beast in a pivotal sequence. His Lingesan character is a bodybuilder whose dream is to win the Mr. India title. Lee is a top model endorsing various brands. And the hunchback is, according to an official description, “the spine of the movie — both terrifying and sympathetic, with an air of suspense around him.” British-born actress Amy Jackson plays Diya, a supermodel who tends up falling in love.
One of south Asia’s biggest production companies, Aascar Film Pvt. Ltd financed and produced I.
Actor S. Shankar’s previous film Robot (Enthiran) is the biggest grossing Tamil film in the U.S. ($3M). It opened in October, 2010.
Aascar is hoping to do at least that well and is using a combination of social media, traditional and digital ad buys ahead of its release in 200-plus theaters in the U.S, with more than 400 playdates.
There are three versions of the film, in the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi languages. Many theaters will offer all three versions to cater to various groups of Indian expatriates. I will be released simultaneously worldwide except in China and Japan, and open in more than 6,000 screens in India.
Sara Colangelo’s Little Accidents began as a short at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, eventually winning prizes at festivals in Seattle and San Francisco. She later attended the Sundance Labs when producer Anne Carey became aware of the story. Little Accidents centers on a teenage boy who goes missing in a small town that has already had to live through a fatal mining accident.
Reeling from her son’s disappearance , Diane (Banks) finds herself drifting apart from her husband (Lucas), a executive whose role in the mining accident has made her family a prime target of town anger. When she forms a dangerous bond with the disaster’s sole survivor (Holbrook), truths will be uncovered that threaten to tear apart the town’s few remaining connections.
“I met [Colangelo] in 2012 and took a look at her short filmmaking work,” said Anne Carey of NYC-based production company Archer Gray. “We worked on the script and then worked in tandem with [WME agent] Craig Kastel on a schedule, budget and cast.”
Financing came together via producers Jason Berman and Thomas Fore from a host of private investors. Executive producer Chris Columbus was also a supporter of Colangelo’s through their mutual NYU connections. Little Accidents shot over 28 days in July and August, 2013.
“It was important for Sara and me to shoot the film in a real coal-mining community,” said Carey. “It was a challenge, though, finding one. Coal-mining communities are understandably [wary] about how they will be portrayed. They are by nature proud and private.”
Little Accidents was shot in 35mm film, “Likely one of the last to use 35mm at that budget level,” said Carey.
The result screened last year in Sundance’s Premieres section, where Amplify executives first saw it. The distributor will open it in select theaters and on demand this weekend.
Director-writer: Stephen Belber
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard, Maduka Steady
Distributor: IFC Films
Stephen Belber’s play Match was his Broadway debut in 2004, starring Frank Langella (who received a Tony nomination). Belber, a stage and TV writer, directed his first film Management in 2008, and with encouragement decided to return to the big screen by adapting his play.
“I didn’t take advantage of the medium [with Management], so I blew this out more,” Belber said. “I wrote the script in 2008 and ’09, and gave the script to [executive director] David Beitchman.”
Initially Langella was slated to bring his character to the film version, but dropped out, to be replaced Stewart.
In it, he stars as Tobi, an eccentric, pot-smoking Manhattan ballet instructor whose quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of a young couple, played by Gugino and Lillard. The couple, from Seattle, presumably are there to interview him about his colorful life as a dancer in the 1960s.
As Tobi spins salacious tales from his former career, an ulterior motive for the couple’s visit emerges, forcing the trio to confront a secret that may connect them all.
“We had three different funding sources [including] Whitewater Films,” said Belber. “We shot over 15 days in Brooklyn in December, 2012. The crew were able to stretch a [slim] budget.”
Budget challenges were eased by the storyline, set mostly in one location in Crown Heights.
“We didn’t have to travel much, I live only 2 miles away,” Belber said.
IFC Films boarded as distributor after the film’s debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. The title also screened at the Key West and Palm Springs film festivals. It will debut theatrically in New York and Los Angeles and also on demand this week before expanding in the coming weeks.
Director-writer: Desiree Akhavan
Writer: Cecilia Frugiuele
Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Scott Adsit, Halley Feiffer, Anh Duong,
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Before its big-screen life, including a spot in last year’s Sundance, Appropriate Behavior was a web series co-created by Desiree Akhavan.
“It was a comedy called The Slope and all the time I was making it, I knew I wanted to make it a feature,” said the writer-director. “The online series was very quick and I found it very inspiring.”
Akhavan wrote a script for a feature-length film and showed it to a UK producer-friend who told Akhavan she thought the film could get financed there.
Akhavan stars as Shirin, a hip woman living in Brooklyn. But acceptance eludes her. Her perfect Persian family doesn’t know she’s bisexual and her ex-girlfriend, Maxine, doesn’t understand why she doesn’t simply tell them.
In the meantime, she teaches a moviemaking class to a group of six-year-old boys, but they seem too distracted and hyperactive to focus. Following a family announcement of her brother’s betrothal to a parentally approved Iranian prize catch, Shirin embarks on a private rebellion involving a series of pan-sexual escapades, while trying to decipher what happened with her relationship with Maxine.
“I started writing in January, 2012 and showed it to my friend from [UK-based production company] Parkville Pictures in June, 2012,” said Akhavan. “Originally it was going to be 12 scenes, with each being one month out of the year in their relationship. But [Parkville] said, ‘you should include your family. So I wrote scenes where she includes them. With my friend’s help I started to shape it into something bigger, and then decided to make it a non-linear story with the couple already broken up.”
Appropriate Behavior shot mostly in Brooklyn over 18 days with additional scenes with Shirin’s family in New Jersey. Akhavan worked with casting agent Allison Twardziak to find her co-stars.
“I know the script could be absurd at moments, but wanted to ground these people,” added Akhavan. “I wanted it to feel very real in their absurdity, and Allison knew exactly what I was going for with its tone.”
Editor Sara Shaw began the final day of production and the pari worked through November.
“It’s my first feature and my first time at Sundance and I didn’t stress out,” said Akhavan. “I had a great time because my expectations were reasonable. I wanted to dance and watch people watching the film.”
Gravitas picked up the title last August. It will have a simultaneous on-demand and theatrical (13 cities) release this weekend.
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