An Italian papal crisis, Lawrence Kasdan returns to filmmaking, a battle of two 'Sarah' films at the box office, and spine-tingling Gallic suspense are featured in this week's column.
New Distribution Deals
Sounding like an unholy mix tape of The Sopranos, The King's Speech, and The President's Analyst, Nanni Moretti's Habemus Papam (AKA We Have a Pope) stars Michel Piccoli as a newly-elected Pope who suffers a panic attack after he is chosen to lead a billion people. A renowned psychoanalyst (Moretti), who just happens to be an atheist, is called in to help. Hilarity and heart-warming drama ensue, we presume. The film has been acquired for distribution by Sundance Selects, according to indieWIRE.
Release plans have not yet been announced, but Habemus Papam will play at the Toronto festival in September. The film debuted at Cannes in May, where it provoked a mixed response from critics. As comprehensively rounded up by David Hudson at Mubi, the consensus seems to be that the films is gentle and lightly amusing, but not quite the bracing examination of the modern Catholic Church that some were expecting / demanding. Despite that, it sounds like it might be a perfect end-of-year release, especially with veteran French actor Michel Piccoli, a familiar face to art house audiences, teaming with Moretti, who previously made Caro Diario and The Son's Room, among others.
Lawrence Kasdan has not made a movie in nine years (his last was the disastrous Dreamcatcher), but he's bouncing back in a big way with an all-star cast in Darling Companion, the tale of a woman searching for a dog (?!). It may sound, er, slight, but Kasdan works well with an ensemble (The Big Chill, Silverado) and is perfectly willing to tackle deeper subjects within the context of a very slight story (Grand Canyon). Darling Companion has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, indieWIRE reports.
Diane Keaton stars as a woman who makes a deep emotional connection with a dog she rescues. Her husband (Kevin Kline) loses the animal after a wedding at their vacation home in the Rockies, leading to a frantic search. The cast includes Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, and Sam Shepherd. Sony Classics plans to release the film next year.
Indie Box Office
Sarah's Key placed at the top of the indie charts last weekend, earning a per-screen average of $23,142, per Box Office Mojo. Kristin Scott Thomas stars as an American writer living in Paris who learns that her husband's family shiftily obtained an apartment building when the original Jewish owners were rounded up by the Vichy government in 1942. The writer investigates, learning the true story of a brave young girl. Reviews have been mixed, but clearly the subject matter drew people out of their homes.
Not far behind came Another Earth, a character-based drama that deals with a fantastic science fiction premise from a very human perspective. Brit Marling and Mike Cahill teamed up to make the tiny-budgeted flick, collaborating on the script and producing, with Marling in the lead role and Cahill directing. Marling plays a broken-hearted young woman who is inextricably tied to William Mapother, a broken-hearted, somewhat older man. As they try to put their lives back together, the improbable discovery of a world that is an exact mirror of Earth offers the possibility of new beginnings. It doesn't fall neatly in line with expectations, which is perhaps what attracted a per-screen average of $19,435.
Playing at only one theater in New York, The Myth of the American Sleepover performed nicely, taking in $8,700. The documentary Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness expanded into 8 theaters and enjoyed healthy returns of $7,150 per screen in its third week of release.
To be incredibly obvious … A Little Help could use some. The comedy / drama stars Jenna Fischer as an unhappy wife whose husband (Chris O'Donnell) dies not long after 9/11. (The two events are unrelated.) She then must raise their young teen son alone, while also navigating the dating waters. Critical reaction has tepid, but here's a case where the subject matter is probably working against the film, especially with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 approaching. Opening in 24 theaters, A Little Help averaged $1,870 per screen.
We questioned last week whether The Undefeated, unofficially known as "the Sarah Palin doc," should be treated the same as other indie releases, and now we have our answer: No. As returns on a second weekend of underwhelming returns came in ($1,762 per screen at 14 locations) , the company behind the documentary announced that it would be offered on VOD and pay-per-view beginning on September 1, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
ARC Entertainment is also preparing to spend millions of dollars on an advertising campaign, a change in strategy from the theatrical release, which relied almost exclusively on social media and word of mouth.
It's a crowded weekend for indies, so we decided to focus on just a handful. Let's start with two narrative features and two documentaries to tempt you into theaters. Click the links below for more information.
Attack the Block. This rollicking creature feature from England burned down the house when it debuted at SXSW in March, and with good reason: mostly, it's a lot of fun. It's a tale of alien invasion that takes place within a beaten-down housing estate, where teens who have been robbing a woman suddenly find themselves faced with saving the world. Nick Frost has a supporting role as a stoned-out neighbor.
The Guard. Another movie that originated overseas and has benefited from strong word of mouth in the U.S., this Irish comic thriller stars Brendan Gleeson as a confrontational Irish cop who is forced to team up with uptight FBI agent Don Cheadle. Our own Elisa Osegueda talked with the actors recently; in their conversation Cheadle described The Guard as "kind of like a Western set in the shores on Ireland."
The Interrupters. Steve James has a distinguished resume as a documentarian (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door), and advance word has been similarly positive on his latest film. It's an examination of counselors in Chicago who are working to educate young people on the dangers of gangs.
Life in a Day. Last summer, director Kevin Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott solicited submissions from all over the world via YouTube in an attempt to present "a microcosmic view of our daily experiences as a global society." Did they succeed? Audiences will decide this weekend.
Trailer of the Week
What do you do when your pregnant wife is kidnapped? Why, you jump into a whirlwind of exciting action and nail-biting suspense! In the French-language thriller Point Blank, ordinary nurse Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) is given three hours to liberate a crime boss from a hospital, where he is being guarded closely by the police. If he fails, the criminals threaten to kill his wife and unborn child.
Fred Cavayé directed; his previous film, Anything for Her, got the remake treatment as The Next Three Days, with Russell Crowe as leading man / desperate husband. Gilles Lellouche, the desperate husband this time around, had a supporting role in Tell No One, a terrific French thriller that burned up the specialty box office in the summer of 2008. Magnolia Pictures is opening Point Blank on Friday in seven theaters; check the link above to see if one is near you. To whet your appetite, watch the trailer below, but be prepared to chew your cuticles.