With awards season hitting its peak this weekend, a new crop of Specialty releases will do its best to vie for attention. Stanley Tucci, along with Addison Timlin and Kyra Sedgwick, stars in drama Submission, opening with an exclusive engagement in New York. The film is one of two from distribution label Paladin this week, along with Philip Gelatt’s unconventional They Remain. Sony Pictures Classics is heading out with its latest foreign-language offering, Foxtrot, which landed on this year’s foreign-language Oscar shortlist. And Film Movement is opening Oh Lucy! starring Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett. That title is up for two Spirit Awards this Saturday.
Also making its theatrical bow is A24 and DirecTV’s drama-mystery, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall by Shawn Christensen and starring Michelle Monaghan, Elle Fanning and Logan Lerman.
Director-writer: Richard Levine
Writer: Francine Prose (novel)
Cast: Stanley Tucci, Addison Timlin, Kyra Sedgwick, Janeane Garofalo, Ritchie Coster
Filmmaker Richard Levine was introduced to author Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel five years ago by his brother, who was attending a small liberal arts college. He was impressed by what he said was an “accurate depiction” of the political climate on campus.
“I loved it,” he said. “To me, it was one of those great reads where I was watching a train wreck.” Levine optioned the book and began his adaptation a few years back. The project picked up steam, but then fell through.
“I stuck with it because I really believed it would be a great ride,” said Levine. “I had no idea that it would take on such a new relevance.”
Submission centers on Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci), a once-acclaimed author who teaches writing at a small liberal arts college. Though his marriage to Sherrie (Kyra Sedgwick) is comfortable, he finds himself drowning in discontent – stuffy departmental dinners at which he drinks too much, smug colleagues whom he dislikes yet fears he resembles, and an endless stream of students who are as untalented as they are unteachable. But when a new pupil, Angela Argo (Addison Timlin), shows promise, Ted focuses on nurturing her career, and she appears more than willing to devote the one-on-one time required. Basking in Angela’s youth, talent, and admiration, just as she benefits from Ted’s wisdom, experience and professional connections, it’s only a matter of time before lines are crossed. It becomes unclear whether Ted is predator or prey and Angela is victim or victimizer.
Submission was revived after Levine began working with producers Jared Goldman and Wren Arthur. Goldman provided notes to “fine tune the script,” according to Levine. He also worked with casting director Avy Kaufman to tap Stanley Tucci for the lead.
“I hadn’t thought about him,” said Levine. “It’s a role I’ve never seen him [play] but he was great. Once Stanley came on board, Jared and Wren facilitated financing.” The filmmaking team also rounded out the cast including Timlin who plays the student and Sedgwick as the teacher’s wife. Great Point Media provided financing.
Submission shot over 24 days in the New York City area. “We shot an idyllic Vermont campus in [New York],” offered Levine. “It’s a composite of Fordham University in the Bronx and a seminary on 19th Street and 10th Avenue [in Manhattan], which feels like you’re back in the 19th century. We then did interiors [at various locations].”
Levine headed to L.A. but worked on cutting the film with editor Jennifer Lee in New York. “I’d be on my iPad with her in real time. I’d get up [early] my time… It actually worked out great.”
Submission debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival and later played fall festivals including Woodstock, where it won best ensemble cast, as well as the Denver Film Festival. Paladin boarded the project soon after its LA festival premiere. Submission will bow with an exclusive start at the Landmark 57 West in New York ahead of expansion throughout various markets, with 35 theaters set to date.
Director-writer: Samuel Maoz
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Spray, Gegen Barkai, Dekel Adin, Shaul Amir, Itay Exlroad
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Israeli drama Foxtrot was short-listed this year for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration. Though it didn’t make the final five, it did win the National Board of Review’s best foreign film as well as the Silver Lion in Venice. SPC, which is opening the title Friday, also released Foxtrot filmmaker Samuel Maoz’s previous war-drama Lebanon in 2010.
In Foxtrot, Michael and Dafna experience gut-wrenching grief when army officials show up at their home to announce the death of their son Jonathan. Michael becomes increasingly frustrated by overzealous mourning relatives and well-meaning army bureaucrats. While his sedated wife rests, Michael spirals into a whirlwind of anger only to experience one of life’s unfathomable twists — a twist that can only be rivaled by the surreal military experiences of his son.
“We’re very excited about it. Samuel Maoz knows how to tell a story visually,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “Foxtrot is borderline surreal, but also funny and intense. It has real depth and it’s a powerful anti-war movie.”
Barker touted its festival run, which included screenings at Telluride, Toronto and Sundance. SPC has two films nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscars this Sunday – A Fantastic Woman (Chile) and Loveless (Russia) – but Barker called Foxtrot a miss on the part of the Academy.
“We were surprised it didn’t make one of the five. It really deserves it,” he said. “It’s one of the major foreign films of the year.” Barker said the potential audience for the film is “all over the place,” appealing to young, foreign film fans and others, adding that it has caused a stir.
“It’s a controversial movie with the Jewish community which is a good thing because it generates a lot of discussion and debate. It’s one of those movies that after you’ve seen it, you feel you’ve had a full meal.”
Sony Pictures Classics will open Foxtrot in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles Friday, followed by locations in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. followed by additional markets.
Director-writer: Atsuko Hirayanagi
Writer: Boris Frumin
Cast: Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Koji Yakusho, Shioli Kutsuna, Megan Mullally, Reiko Aylesworth
Distributor: Film Movement
Distributor Film Movement caught dramedy Oh Lucy! at last year’s Cannes Film Festival where it debuted in Critics Week. The film takes place in Japan as well as California, starring Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett. Oh Lucy! is Film Movement’s third title of the year as well as the third release by a female director. The film is up for two Spirit Awards this Saturday.
Said Film Movement president Michael Rosenberg about Oh Lucy!: “It’s humorous, but serious at the same time. It’s also quirky, but incredibly well-done and acted. Though it is set in Japan, it heads to California and with Josh Hartnett, there’s potential to expand it beyond [a typical] foreign-language film. The ‘fish out of water’ and finding yourself elements are appealing.”
Oh Lucy! centers on a single, emotionally unfulfilled woman (Shinobu Terajima) who is seemingly stuck with a drab, meaningless life in Tokyo. But she is convinced by her niece, Mika, to enroll in an unorthodox English class that requires her to wear a blonde wig and take on an American alter ego named “Lucy.” This new identity awakens something dormant in Setsuko, and she quickly develops romantic feelings for her American instructor, John (Josh Hartnett). When John suddenly disappears from class and Setsuko learns that he and her niece were secretly dating, Setsuko enlists the help of her sister Ayako and the pair fly halfway across the world to the outskirts of Southern California in search of the runaway couple. In a brave new world of tattoo parlors and seedy motels, family ties and past lives are tested as Setsuko struggles to preserve the dream and promise of “Lucy.”
“We’re going relatively broad for us,” said Rosenberg. “We’re making a concerted effort for Japanese-Americans in the West Coast. [The filmmakers and cast] have been doing a lot of press with Japanese-American publications there. We’re also pushing to women and Josh Hartnett fans who perhaps haven’t seen him in a while. He has a lot of fans who follow him and he has been very supportive of the film here as well as all over the world.”
Rosenberg added that Hartnett is doing a radio tour for the film now and said that he’s messaged his fans that he wouldn’t encourage them to see all his films, but that this is one of them “they should see.”
Oh Lucy! is opening at the Landmark 57 West and Village East in New York as well as the NuArt in Los Angeles Friday. Director Atsuko Hirayanagi will take part in select Q&As in New York, while Shinobu Terajima will do the same in Los Angeles. The film will then head to select cities the following week, with more markets planned well into March and beyond around North America.
Director-writer: Philip Gelatt
Writer: Laird Barron (short story)
Cast: William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson
Paladin head Mark Urman worked as a consultant on filmmaker Philip Gellat’s first film, The Bleeding House, in 2011. Cut to his second directorial, They Remain, and Urman’s distribution label Paladin is back again guiding Gelatt’s latest feature.
“I saw it over the summer of 2017,” said Urman. “It took a while to organize things, and we wanted to avoid [releasing] in the fall and especially the fourth quarter. We waited for the traffic to subside. It’s very distinctive. Technically, it’s a genre film… there’s a suggestion of the supernatural, hallucination and isolated scientists going mad. It’s a mash-up of genre tropes. From a visual standpoint, it’s more Andrei Tarkovsky than Wes Craven.”
They Remain explores the evolving relationship between Keith and Jessica, two scientists who are employed by a vast, impersonal corporation to investigate an unspeakable horror that took place at the remote encampment of a mysterious cult. Working and living in a state-of-the-art, high tech environment that is completely at odds with their surroundings, they spend their days gathering physical evidence, analyzing it, and reporting on their findings.
The intensity of their work, and their extreme isolation, brings the pair closer. But, when Jessica discovers a mysterious artifact of unknown origin, the dynamic between them changes: secrets are kept, sexual tensions rise, and paranoia sets in. Keith begins to have visions and is unable to distinguish whether they are nightmares or hauntings. Having lost all sense of what is real and what is imagined, all he knows is that the horror he and Jessica have been sent to uncover – a horror that could be biological, psychological, or supernatural – now threatens his very survival.
“We’re targeting this film toward a cult audience,” said Urman. “The author…is very acclaimed, and has a following of his own. But there’s a new breed of storytelling in this space and it’s quite simply ‘Weird.’ So we’ve been aiming this to aficionados of ‘weird’ cinema. There are devotees of this [space] and they communicate with each other.”
Urman said there are a number of art house theaters that cater to this kind of genre and audiences know what to expect. “We’re concentrating on markets that support these followings,” added Urman. “We’re getting the word out on social media. It’s very artisanal but that’s what’s appropriate to the film.”
Paladin will open They Remain in New York exclusively Friday, followed by Los Angeles the following weekend. It will then head to targeted locations around the country.