A specialty market dotted by holdovers as Oscar nods approach and gripped by Sundance fever debuts a compelling handful of new openers from Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s Introduction to Bhutan’s first ever entrant on the Academy Awards International feature shortlist, to a Ukrainian coming of age story and a Queen Latifa-starrring family film Tiger Rising based on the bestselling Kate DiCamillo book.
They come in a frame with two new wide releases: Faith-based romance Redeeming Love presented by Universal on 1,903 screens, and Sean McNamara’s family adventure The King’s Daughter at 2,170 locations, presented by Gravitas. (See below for more on both.)
The Avenue presents The Tiger Rising on 800+ screens, the weekend’s widest specialty release. Directed by Ray Giarratana from a screenplay he adapted based on the DiCamillo novel. With Christian Convery and Dennis Quaid. Lonely 12-year-old Rob Horton (Convery) discovers a caged tiger in the woods near his home, his imagination runs wild and life begins to change with the help of a wise and mysterious woman Willie May (Latifah – also an executive producer) and the stubborn new girl in school (Mills).
International openers include Cinema Guild’s Introduction by prolific Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo. The black and white film about a young man who travels from South Korea to Berlin to surprise his girlfriend scored the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin International Film Festival last year. Deadline review here.
Introduction starts out at Film at Lincoln Center, adding LA, Chicago and other markets next weekend and expanding thereafter.
“We’ve had success in January before,” said Tom Sveen, Cinema Guild’s head of theatrical sales. “It may be a little bit of a different January, with Covid. But we can release a film by a named director like him that has had some excitement around it and roll it out across the country into the spring.” It doesn’t hurt that the director just had another pic. The Novelist’s Film, selected for Berlin 2022. Cinema Guild has distributed films released by Sang-soo since 2017.
Sveen said theaters now full of Oscar hopeful holdovers. “Other countries’ submissions for international film are out there. It’s just a nice place for someone like Hong to land. Where people can watch a Joachim Trier film and see the trailer and say, ‘That looks good too.” (Neon is releasing Trier’s The Worst Person In the World on Feb. 4).
As for Omicron, “I think in early January it got bad, but hopefully we are seeing the [infection] numbers drop now and the box office numbers start to come up a little more.” Recent CDC data shows cases starting to decline in the earliest hard hit areas.
Introduction stars Kim Young-ho, Park Mi-so, Shin Seok-ho.
Samuel Goldwyn Films presents Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom a comedy-drama from Bhutan written, directed and produced by Pawo Choyning Dorji. The film made the Oscar’s International Feature shortlist, a first for the South Asian nation. (It was submitted for consideration last year but rejected because Bhutan’s paperwork — it hadn’t submitted a film since 1999 — was out of date.) Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) is a government-contracted teacher and aspiring singer punished for slacking off with a transfer from a large city to a remote village called Lunana, a six day walk from the nearest bus stop. Winner of the Audience Award Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Opens at the IFC Center in NYC.
Stop-Zemlia from Altered Innocence. A coming of age story from Ukraine, written and directed by Kateryna Gornostai. With Arsenii Markov, Maria Fedorchenko, Yana Isaienko. Three best friends navigate the emotional turmoil of waiting for life to begin and falling in love. An official selection last year at MoMa’s New Directors/New Films and Berlin International Film Festival. Playing at the LA’s Laemmle Glendale and on demand.
Salt in My Soul from Giant Pictures. Will Battersby’s documentary based on Mallory Smith’s posthumously published memoir. A look inside the mind of a young woman trying to live while dying. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 3, Smith she passed away at 25 but had turned to a secret diary to record her thoughts. Sad, but a 100% with critics. Opens in New York (Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Royal). On VOD Jan. 25.
Vertical Entertainment presents racial justice thriller A Shot Through The Wall in 14 locations including NY and LA Written and directed by Aimee Long, film explores how a Chinese-American police officer’s life unravels after he accidentally shoots an innocent Black man in Brooklyn, leading to protests and further violence. The predominantly Asian-American cast including Kenny Leu, Tzi Ma, Lynn Chen, Fiona Fu, and Ciara Renee, alongside Dan Lauria, Kelly AuCoin and Clifton Davis.
Zhen Pictures presents Unsilenced from Leon Lee. With He Tao, Sam Trammell. When the Chinese Communist Party launches a brutal crackdown against 100 million citizens, a jaded American reporter and a team of innocent students risk everything to expose the deadly propaganda and fight for freedom.
From Gravitas Ventures, historical romance The Laureate written/directed by William Nunez. Set in the mid-1920s, celebrated writer Robert Graves (Tom Hughes) returns from war traumatized and creatively struggling. It takes young poet Laura Riding (Dianna Agron) to reignite his passion.
From Strand Releasing, French romance Simple Passion Danielle Arbid with Laetitia Dosch, Lou-Teymour Thion, Sergei Polunin. In this portrait of female lust and vulnerability, a mother falls into an addictive relationship with a Russian diplomat with whom she has nothing in common. Written by Arbid based on book by Annie Ernaux. At the Quad Cinema in NYC.
Thriller Warhunt from Saban Films by Mauro Borrelli. With Jackson Rathbone, Mickey Rourke, Robert Knepper. Written by Reggie Keyohara III, Scott Svatos, Borrelli. During WWII a U.S. military cargo plane loses control and violently crashes behind enemy lines in the middle of the German black forest. Major Johnson (Rourke) sends a squad of his bravest soldiers on a rescue mission to retrieve the top-secret material the plane was carrying before the Nazis do.
Lin Manuel Miranda’s Andrew Garfield-starrer Tick, tick… BOOM! from Netflix returns to 15+ theaters, including Alamo Drafthouse locations in NYC, LA and additional cities. The streamer is also expanding Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog to 45+ theaters.
Much decorated doc Faya Dayi is back with screenings/ &As with director Jessica Bashir in NYC. The film, Oscar shortlisted for documentary feature, is an hypnotic immersion in the world of rural Ethiopia, where one commodity called khat, a euphoria-inducing plant once prized for its supposedly mystical properties, holds sway over the rituals and rhythms of everyday life. Originally opened in September. (Streaming on Criterion Channel.)
Back to the wide releases: Redeeming Love, set against the backdrop of the California Gold Rush of 1850, centers on Angel (Abigail Cowen), who was sold into prostitution as a child and is consumed with hatred and self-loathing until she meets Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis) and discovers the healing power of love. Directed by D.J. Caruso, written by Francine Rivers and Caruso based on Rivers’ hugely popular novel of the same name. Also stars Logan Marshall Green, Famke Janssen, Nina Dobrev and Eric Dane. (A 13% with critics, 98% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.)
In The King’s Daughter, powerful monarch Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) is obsessed with his own mortality and the future of France, leading him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force. The move gets complicated when his illegitimate daughter returns and discovers the creature. With a rare solar eclipse approaching, Louis will discover where his daughter’s true loyalties lie as he races against time to extract the mermaid’s life-giving force. With William Hurt, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Pablo Schreiber, Rachel Griffiths, Bingbing Fan and Julie Andrews. Written by Ronald Bass, Barry Berman based on Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun. Shot at the Palace of Versailles. A 26% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.