Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Terrence Malick is always an anticipated name among cineastes and his latest, To The Wonder, will undoubtedly be a tour de force among Specialty Releases this weekend. Magnolia Pictures will open the film, which stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem in limited runs. LD Entertainment will bow Disconnect, starring Jason Bateman and Hope Davis, lending more star power to this weekend’s limited release newcomers. Brandon Cronenberg rolls out his directorial debut in Antiviral starring Caleb Landry Jones. The film had its world premiere in Cannes last year. The Angels’ Share, starring newcomer Paul Brannigan, is also set to bow. And Norwegian filmmaker Petter Naess’ Into The White recalls a peculiarity of WWII when British and German military had to fight together for survival in the wilderness.
Terrence Malick’s 2011 release, The Tree Of Life grossed one of the highest opening averages of the year when it bowed in four theaters grossing $372,920 ($93,230 average). The film, however, only went on to make $13.3 million domestically. His latest film, To The Wonder has been called by some as the auteur’s “most accessible” to date. Like Tree Of Life, which had Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, his latest also boasts star pedigree in the form of Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams. And it has generated excitement among Malick’s legion of cineaste fans. “I think this film fits right in with The Tree Of Life, [though] I think there was a bit of backlash from that one,” Magnolia exec Matt Cowal said. “There was overwhelming critical response, so it [garnered] a backlash. So we wanted to give To The Wonder a bit of time.” Magnolia saw the film out of Toronto where it had its North American debut (following Venice). The distributor decided to give some buffer between the film’s festival appearances and its theatrical start. “I think it’s better outside a festival context and works better on its own,” added Cowal. “It’s sparking an incredible dialog. You can’t expect it to be liked by everyone. Some hate it, some adore it. And that’s expected in a work of art – it’s fascinating.”
Magnolia will open To The Wonder, about a couple who return to Oklahoma after visiting France and face challenges to their relationship, on Friday day and date theatrical and digital. It will open in 18 theaters this weekend, heading to virtually every major market over the next two weeks. Added Cowal: “Terrence is a cinematic hero of ours and we’re excited we get to work on one of his films.”
LD Entertainment helped develop Disconnect with producers Mickey Liddell and William Horberg. The drama centers on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world. With script in hand, LD and producers turned to Henry Alex Rubin, whose 2005 doc Murderball received an Oscar nomination. “We’ve known Henry since the Murderball days,” said LD Entertainment president David Dinerstein. “He has an interesting perspective as a documentarian. It’s very observational and it really works and is very effective. We were invited to Venice film festival where it had its world premiere and received a rousing response. It then went to Toronto where we also had wonderful screenings.” LD Entertainment decided the film “needed time,” according to Dinerstein, to be marketed effectively. The company played Disconnect‘s trailer for four months and cast members including Jason Bateman were supportive in promoting the film.
Disconnect opened the Santa Barbara International Film Festival earlier this year, where it had its U.S. premiere. Word-of-mouth screenings also took place in the top 30 markets around the country. “Jason has been incredibly supportive, showing up on Kimmel, GMA, the cover of GQ, and was a presenter at Spirit Awards on behalf of the movie,” added Dinerstein. Disconnect will open in 7 markets on 15 runs this weekend. The following weekend it will be in the top 20 markets and proceed in a traditional theatrical trajectory.
Suffering a bad flu inspired Brandon Cronenberg’s directorial feature. The film centers around a man who must unravel the mystery surrounding a virus that killed a superstar and has infected him. “I was very sick with a flu and in a semi conscious state upset and began thinking about how it was in my body and how it came from someone else’s body,” said Cronenberg. ” I decided to give it a celebrity-obsessed twist.” Cronenberg began writing the script while still in film school where he met Kevin Krikst who later formed a production company that had some success. “He was able to get some money from Telefilm Canada and decided to do a series of films with first-time directors,” said Cronenberg. Hobo With A Shotgun was the first in the series and [Antiviral] was the third.”
Production began in late 2011, shooting in Hamilton, Ontario. Cast included a number of locals, though he met Caleb Landry Jones through his father, David Cronenberg. The film shot over 21 days, though there was a break in the middle while Jones flew out to work for his role in Neil Jordan’s Byzantium. Sundance Selects acquired the film out of Cannes last year where it had its world premiere. The film will open in limited runs this weekend in addition to VOD and digital platforms.
Longtime Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty wrote The Angels’ Share. Like many of their previous works, the film gives social commentary through personal stories with a left-leaning P.O.V. The Angels’ Share centers on new father Robbie, who vows to change his ways after avoiding jail. A visit to a whisky distillery inspires him and his friends to seek a way out of what appears a hopeless future. “We were both interested in doing a film with young people,” said Laverty. “There’s a crisis throughout Europe with unemployment, especially among youth. I also wanted to deal in the world of whiskey. It’s the national drink and it’s the drink of the elite and powerful, but at the same time there are many people in these villages who have never really tasted it. There are a lot of contradictions that I found interesting.”
Actor newcomer Paul Brannigan had a somewhat parallel story to the character he plays on the big screen. He had been to prison and Laverty met him while doing research. Brannigan’s future changed after their meeting. “He’s such a brilliant lad,” said Laverty. “We decided to cast him and his confidence grew and grew” (Incidentally, he’ll next be seen in Scarlett Johansson-starrer, Under The Skin). Sundance Selects will open The Angels’ Share in Los Angeles and New York City and via VOD this weekend with a further expansion in the coming weeks.
Norwegian director Petter Naess came on board Into The White after Danish film company Zentropa (founded by Lars von Trier) asked him if he would take on the project. Based on a true story, the film centers on a group of British and German soldiers who become stranded in the wilderness after an air battle during WWII. Together they find shelter in the same cabin and put the rules of war aside in order to survive. “I vaguely heard about it many years ago,” said Naess. “I thought it was a beautiful set-up to investigate what happened between two enemies.” Originally Zentropa had planned a documentary, but opted for a narrative after the non-fiction encountered financing problems.
Both British and German pilots had written books on the incident. Into The White shot in April 2011 over six weeks. “It was extremely stressful, but the actors worked very hard,” said Naess. “I wanted it to appear slow and not overly dramatic. If you spend five days in a cabin like that, it feels like a long time and it”s meant to evolve at a [deliberate] pace, though that contrasted with the stress of the set.” Into The White has been available via VOD since March 7th and will open theatrically in LA and Columbus, OH this weekend.For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...