A documentary about the McCarthy-era lawyer who eventually became Donald Trump’s mentor, a story about a corrupt billionaire prime minister, a corporate retreat that might or might not end in casual cannibalism, a dramatic thriller about the gig economy and a light-hearted Indian romance about luck and cricket — the films on deck for this weekend’s Specialty box office are terrifying, funny and have a dash of heart. Here’s a preview of what’s coming.
Where’s My Roy Cohn?
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Subject: Roy Cohn
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
When Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker first saw Matt Tyrnauer’s Where’s My Roy Cohn? he did not hesitate to acquire the rights to the documentary about the life of the lawyer who was the epicenter of McCarthyism, the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and, many say, the rise of Donald Trump. Needless to say, he wasn’t necessarily seen as the good guy.
The biopic, said Barker, “reveals so much about this true-life villain and how he got away with what he got away with.”
Cohn is known as one of the most controversial and influential American men of the 20th Century. In his 28-year career, he was a ruthless and political power broker and Tyrnauer digs deep into his public and personal lives (Cohn was a closeted gay man who persecuted gay government employees). Barker was familiar with Tyrnauer’s work which includes documentaries Valentino: The Last Emperor and Studio 54. In fact, Barker said Tyrnauer’s previous work was one of the reasons why they bought Cohn.
Currently, Sony Pictures Classics has three documentaries in theaters: Aquarela, Maiden and David Crosby: Remember My Name. As of last week Aquarela is at a domestic gross of $205,632, David Crosby netting $644,319 and Maiden has proven to be a cash cow for SPC, currently at $3,048,644 since its June 28 release. Barker hopes to add to the documentary success with Cohn.
“The key with a documentary that works is not all about the box office performance,” said Barker. “It’s about having a long tale over the years. We’ve had tremendous success over the years of documentaries like Every Little Step, Crumb, Inside Job, Fog of War, Gatekeepers, Searching for Sugarman — they’ve become evergreen. They keep producing revenue year in and year out. It has to be an original story or a story on a subject that people want to know about that is done in a definitive way.”
Barker says they still remain strategic in what they acquire and they really pay attention to the marketplace, which informs their choices. “Last year when we saw RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers, the box office became really strong,” he pointed out. “It became obvious that there is a theatrical experience with documentaries. We started focusing on documentaries that could continue the trend.”
Where’s My Roy Cohn? opens in New York and Los Angeles on today with a national rollout to follow.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello
Cast: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio
Distributor: IFC Films
In Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro, we are transported to mid-2000s Italy where sex, drugs and power are all the rage and Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo) is sitting on his egomaniacal throne as a billionaire prime minister whose empire is riddled with corruption. Sergio (Riccardo Scamarcio) is an ambitious young hustler managing an escort service catering to the rich and powerful. Determined to move up in the world, Sergio sets his sights on roping in Berlusconi who is currently plotting a political comeback after being disgraced. As Berlusconi attempts to bribe his way back to power, Sergio devises his own equally audacious scheme to win the mogul’s attention.
Arianna Bocco, EVP of acquisitions at IFC said they had been tracking Loro for a while. She admits she has been an admirer and fan of Sorrentino’s work and she loved the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty which he directed. “You either embrace Paolo’s style and are a fan or you don’t,” Bocco told Deadline. “We know that, and that’s okay. The intrigue and story of the film will bring audiences to the theaters.” Loro, which was co-written by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello, also marks a reunion for the director and actor Servillo. Bocco said that Loro is probably one of Servillo’s best performances. “He is absolutely stunning and I think word of mouth will spread in relation to his performance.”
Loro jumps into the foreign-language space, a category of films which Bocco says U.S. distributors are buying less of because there is less of a demand. “I think that’s partially due to the ability to stay home and watch great foreign-language series on Netflix or Amazon,” she said. “There’s more accessibility in home viewing and it has been challenging in the theatrical market for foreign language films. I do still think there is an audience, desire and hunger for quality foreign language and to be exposed to that culture.”
Loro opens in New York today and expands to Los Angeles and VOD on September 27.
Director: Patrick Brice
Writer: Sam Bain
Cast: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams
Distributor: Screen Media
Mike Messina from Screen Media saw Corporate Animals when it debuted at Sundance and it appealed to him for a simple reason: It was really funny.
“We are always looking for commercially minded movies that have a chance to grab an audience’s attention,” Messina told Deadline. “There are some pretty outrageous moments on screen that we think people will talk about.” And yes, there will be a lot to talk about — most likely the cannibalism.
Directed by Patrick Brice (The Overnight, Creep) and written by Sam Bain, Corporate Animals stars Demi Moore as a delusional CEO of a struggling millennial-focused startup. She ends up taking her staff, including her long-suffering assistants Jess (Jessica Williams) and Freddie (Karan Soni), on a team-building retreat in the caves of New Mexico led by an overeager guide (Ed Helms). When disaster strikes and the food runs out, the staff begins to bond…and partake in casual cannibalism.
Though the premise sounds crazy, it’s meant as a satire of contemporary corporate culture, Messina points out, particularly the outrageous situations that pop up when substantive leadership goes MIA in a crisis.
Corporate Animals opens today in select theaters and on-demand.
Director: Derrick Borte
Writers: Derrick Borte, Daniel Forte
Cast: Jim Gaffigan, Tammy Blanchard, Isabel Arraiza
Distributor: Saban Films
Derrick Borte tends to gravitate towards stories that explore the point where capitalism and humanity intersect. With American Dreamer, which he co-wrote with Daniel Forte, he got the inspiration from the gig economy — specifically ride-sharing. He listened to Uber drivers talk about how they got on board and the feeling of invisibility in their lives.
“That’s where it started and then I read an article about burner riders where dealers use rideshare drivers to chauffeur them around because of search and seizure laws — it started to gel,” Borte told Deadline. “It became this worst-case scenario of horrible decisions and tragic consequences.”
American Dreamer follows a rideshare driver who is financially struggling so makes extra cash driving around a low level drug dealer around town. He then finds himself in a serious financial bind and decides to kidnap the dealer’s child. The biggest surprise of the film might be that comedian Jim Gaffigan plays the driver. For many, it will definitely be a bit of a shock to see Gaffigan in such a dramatic role.
“We knew we needed someone who was likable and an empathetic character when he is doing some pretty horrible things,” said Borte. “We were circling some actors but then Mary Vernieu, one of our executive producers, brought up Jim Gaffigan’s name and it was someone we wouldn’t have thought of initially — but he was worth talking about.”
Borte had a long talk with Gaffigan and really appreciated how he understood the material and what they were trying to do. “He was very enthusiastic and willing to go there,” Borte said. “He was really willing to take chances in taking a role like this — and it just seemed like a good fit.”
He adds, “It’s one of those powerful, nuanced performances people won’t stop talking about because it defies expectations.”
American Dreamer opens in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Minneapolis, Detroit and Cleveland today.
The Zoya Factor
Director: Abhishek Sharma
Writers: Neha Rakesh Sharma, Pradhuman Singh
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Dulquer Salmaan
Abhishek Sharma’s The Zoya Factor brings something a little more light-hearted to the Specialty box office this weekend. Based on the best-selling book, the romantic comedy follows Zoya (Sonam Kapoor), who was born on the day that India won its first World Cup in cricket. From that day, she became her father’s lucky charm and he believed that she was responsible for all of India’s subsequent wins. As a result, she begins to hate cricket – until she meets the Indian cricket captain who is struggling to keep his team from losing. When she enters the picture, the team starts winning. The players, too, believe she is their lucky charm — their 12th woman.
“Cricket and films are like religions in India and both have a massive following,” said Rohit Sharma of FIP. “There is a huge Indian diaspora which is our target audience. There is a demand to see Indian films day and date with the India release. The family genre films that have a large appeal work well across this market.”
With U.S. audiences, Sharma said that they will be attracted to the story idea as “superstition is highly prevalent in India and this concept has not been explored in a rom-com genre for an Indian film.”
Added Sharma, “Our recent hits such as Mission Mangal and Chhichhore further highlight the point that good unique concept-based films are resonating with the diaspora audiences in a positive way.”
The Zoya Factor opens in 100 North American theaters today, the widest of any new Specialty releases this weekend.