‘The Lost Daughter,’ ‘The Novice,’ ‘The Tender Bar’ Open Into ‘Spider-Man’ Maelstrom, Covid Jitters – Specialty Preview

Much-lauded The Lost Daughter, Tribeca Fest winner The Novice, George Clooney’s The Tender Bar plus Swan Song with Mahershala Ali and the doc President dip a toe in the specialty market this Spidey-centric weekend amid gathering Covid clouds.

The question: how will a surging infection rate (that just closed down theaters in Denmark and is shuttering events and venues Stateside from the Cyrano premiere party to Broadway shows, Apple stores, NYC restaurants and college campuses) will impact older arthouse demos already reluctant to return to theaters. The 18 to 34 years-olds flocking to Spider-Man: No Way Home have not been phased yet with crackerjack ticket sales highlighting the divide in a recovering box office between superhero movies and everything else.

“We are trying to keep our heads down and focus on the work and hope for the best. I think a lot of, us even though we avoided the subject, knew there would be a Covid surge. I mean I can’t really say that I am shocked. It just sucks,” said Kyle Greenberg, VP of Marketing and Distribution at Utopia. “After a great few weeks for ourselves and so many of our peers, this week is a definite curveball.”

The distributor’s Jeffrey Epstein horror satire The Scary of Sixty First opens at the Quad Cinema in NYC this weekend adding to its LA run. It skews young and director/cast Q&A screenings are sold out. “But are people going to show up for the non-Q&A shows, and does attendance fall off for the Q&As because of Covid? We’ll have to see,” said Greenberg. (The winner of the Best First Feature Award in Berlin directed by Dasha Nekrasovya follows two young women who move into an apartment once owned by Jeffrey Epstein.)

Even putting Covid aside, this is a usually a tough few weeks for movies, noted another distribution exec. “This period is the end of everything, all the finals, the sports, things for kids and shopping and Christmas parties and a million things, and it starts to slow. Then kids get back from school and movies can start to gross again.” Fingers crossed.

High profile specialty openers include The Lost Daughter from Netflix, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, in 30 theaters with an expansion planned for next weekend. The psychological drama, Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut based on the Elena Ferrante story, stars Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ed Harris. It premiered in Venice, where Gyllenhaal won the Golden Osella Award for Best Screenplay, and has been scooping up awards and nomination since.

Colman plays the middle-aged Leda alone on a seaside vacation, who becomes consumed with a young mother and daughter as she watches them on the beach. Unnerved by their compelling relationship, and their raucous and menacing extended family, Leda is overwhelmed by her own memories of the terror, confusion and intensity of early motherhood. An impulsive act shocks Leda into facing the unconventional choices she made as a young mother and their consequences.

The Last Daughter is 95% Certified Fresh by critics. Deadline’s review here. Streaming on Netflix Dec. 31.

(Netflix also continues Adam McKay’s buzzy climate satire Don’t Look Up with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in over 675 theaters. Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God and Jane Campions The Power of the Dog each continue in about 25 theaters and on the streamer.)

IFC presents The Novice on about 40 screens. The film, a directorial debut for Lauren Hadaway, took the Best US Narrative Feature prize at the Tribeca Festival. Star Isabelle Furman won for best actress and Todd Martin for cinematography. It was just nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards. Also starring Dilone (Halston) and Amy Forsyth (CODA, The Gilded Age).

Hadaway, a sound supervisor who wrote The Novice during downtime on a Justice League shoot in the UK, is a former competitive collegiate rower who’s made a kind of Whiplash/Black Swan set on the water. Fuhrman (Orphan, First Kill) plays Alex Dall, a queer college freshman who joins her university’s rowing team and undertakes an obsessive physical and psychological journey to make it to the top varsity boat, no matter the cost. Intent on outperforming her teammates, Alex pushes herself to her limits, creating a visceral window into a cutthroat world. With a 95% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Apple presents Swan Song on 30+ screens and on AppleTV+. Written and and directed by Benjamin Cleary, starring Mahershala Ali as Cameron, a loving husband and father expecting a second child with his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris). When Cameron is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he’s presented with an alternative solution by his doctor (Glenn Close) to shield his family from grief. A 76% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. See Deadline review.

And Amazon Studios presents The Tender Bar in NY and LA, heading to theaters nationwide next weekend. Directed by George Clooney, written by William Monahan, starring Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Christopher Lloyd and Lily Rabe and introducing Daniel Ranieri.

Based on J.R. Moehringer’s memoir of the same name, this is the story of J.R. (Sheridan), a fatherless boy growing up in the glow of a bar where the bartender, his Uncle Charlie (Affleck), is the sharpest and most colorful of an assortment of quirky and demonstrative father figures. As the boy’s determined mother (Rabe) struggles to provide her son with opportunities denied to her, J.R. begins to gamely, if not always gracefully, pursue his romantic and professional dreams but with one foot persistently placed in Uncle Charlie’s bar.

Produced by Grant Heslov, George Clooney and Ted Hope. On Prime Video Jan. 7. A 42% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score. Read Deadline review here.

From Samuel Goldwyn films and already out in limited release on Dec. 15, is Minimata, starring Johnny Depp as celebrated photojournalist Eugene Smith. The film based on a true story takes place in 1971 with Smith as a recluse, disconnected from the world he once shot. After receiving one final assignment from Life Magazine editor Robert Hayes (Bill Nighy), he must travel to the Japanese coastal city of Minamata, which has been ravaged by mercury poisoning. Ushered by an impassioned Japanese translator and encouraged by local villagers, Smith’s powerful images exposed decades of gross negligence by the country’s Chisso Corporation.

The film is directed by Andrew Levitas, written by Davis Kessler. Scores 73% with critics, 89% with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020, was acquired by MGM and has been released in a host of international markets. Director and star complained MGM was burying the U.S. release due to Depp’s highly public off-screen legal battles. Iervolino & Lady Bacardi Entertainment (ILBE) teamed up with Samuel Goldwyn for a platformed domestic release.

Samuel Goldwyn also presents Danish historical drama Margrete: Queen of the North, directed by Charlotte Sieling, in a handful of theaters and on streaming. The year is 1402. Margrete has achieved what no man has managed before, gathering Denmark, Norway and Sweden into a peaceful union, which she rules through her young, adopted son, Erik. As enemies and conspiracies abound, Margrete plans a marriage between Erik and an English princess to secure the union’s status as an emerging European power.

Greenwich Entertainment presents the documentary President in NY/LA (Film Forum, Laemmle Monica Film Center). Camilla Nielsson‘s critically-acclaimed film on the fight for democracy in Zimbabwe is executive produced by Thandiwe Newton and Danny Glover and won the Special Jury Award for Cinema Verité Filmmaking at Sundance this year.

When Robert Mugabe was removed from power in 2017, Zimbabwe military leaders promised not to seize control but ensure democracy in a national election. Against a backdrop of economic crisis, food shortages, and political violence, the stakes could not be higher as charismatic Nelson Chamisa (who draws comparisons to a young Nelson Mandela) works to defeat the ruling party that has controlled Zimbabwe since independence. After decades of a corrupt group clinging to power using any tool available — legal or not — can a free, fair, and transparent elections be truly possible? A follow-up to her widely acclaimed Democrats, Nielsson brings viewers into the heart of the struggle for power with stunningly close access. A 92% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lionsgate is releasing cyber-thriller Fortress in a dozen theaters and on demand. Directed by James Cullen Bressack, written by Alan Horsnail, it stars Bruce Willis, Jesse Metcalfe, Chad Michael Murray, Kelly Greyson, Ser’Darius Blain, Shannen Doherty, Simon Phillips.

Willis plays Robert, a retired CIA agent living at a secret resort in the woods. His estranged son drives to the camp for a visit but is followed by Robert’s old nemesis, Balzary (Michael Murray). As the site is besieged by Balzary’s attack squad, father and son retreat to a high-tech bunker. But are its steel walls and advanced weapons powerful enough to match Balzary’s bloodthirsty plans for revenge?

From Well Go USA Entertainment, Schemes in Antiques, a Chinese mystery thriller directed by Chi-kin-Kwok. Despite his family’s famed expertise on ancient relics, Xu Yuan makes a simple living as the owner of an electronics shop, eager to distinguish himself from a disgraced ancestor who was executed for treason after stealing a Chinese artifact for Japan. But when a descendant offers to return the relic to China, Xu Yuan uncovers a decades-old mystery and soon embarks on a journey that could finally restore his family’s reputation–and may also cost him his life.

And since I mentioned it, Peter Dinklage-starring music Cyrano by director Joe Wright from United Artists Releasing starts a one-week awards-qualifying run at the Landmark LA. It opens for real on Jan. 21 in NY/LA, expanding on Jan. 28 and again on Feb. 4.

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