‘The Card Counter’ First Fall Fest Title In An Arthouse Market Whose Chips Are Down – Specialty Preview

Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter moves from Venice into 579 theaters this weekend — the first in a welcome stream of specialty films from the Lido, Telluride and Toronto that could, perhaps maybe, buck up the struggling arthouse market this fall. The film is 90% certified fresh and hails from Focus Features, which presented one of the rare specialty hits of recent months, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

That film came out in mid-July before the Delta Variant reached full sweep. It was released on nearly double the number of screens.

The Card Counter stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish and Tye Sheridan. William Tell (Isaac) a military interrogator haunted by his past just wants to play cards. But his spartan existence on the casino trail is shattered when he’s approached by Cirk (Sheridan), a vulnerable, angry young man seeking help to get revenge on a military colonel (Willem Dafoe). Tell sees a chance at redemption through Cirk but ends up being dragged back into the darkness of his past. Haddish plays La Linda, Tell’s financial backer and love interest. Deadline review here.

Delta has made it harder to draw out the older arthouse demo, many opting to avoid theaters until there’s more visibility on the virus. “Labor Day was pretty exciting with Shang-Chi but that doesn’t immediately translate to the audience that Landmark theaters relies on,” said one indie distributor, referring to the Disney/Marvel hit and the arthouse theater chain.

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The 2021 summer box office is now at about 60% of 2019. But arthouse ticket sales this year may be at 35% — maybe lower, he said. There was a brief glimmer of hope at the time of Road Runner, but the older arthouse audience “is highly cognizant of the trends in this pandemic,” he added. Suburban arthouses have been hit the hardest.

If the Delta Variant peaks and there’s no surge, the story could shift, especially with the list of films rolling out. The more product, the better. Dune and Spencer (also in Venice), King Richard and Cyrano (Telluride), The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Dear Evan Hansen (Toronto) roll out between now and year end, as do Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, Warner Bros’ Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark and Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast.

The Card Counter trailer:

Speaking of Delta, Fauci from National Geographic Films (one of four docs NatGeo brought to Telluride this month), offers a glimpse into infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci who has led the U.S. fight against epidemics from AIDS to SARS to Ebola and now Covid. Directed by John Hoffmann and Janet Tobias, the film is requiring all presenting theaters to have vaccine mandates, including in markets that don’t yet have city-wide ordinances in place where theaters there are implementing the policy separately or, in some cases, specifically for Fauci.

The Angelika Film Center, for instance, is playing Fauci in NYC and in DC, and is also doing two full-day take-overs next week at their Sacramento and Fairfax VA locations – playing the film on every screen in each complex, and requiring proof of vaccination for that day only.

Fauci is executive produced by Dan Cogan (Icarus) and Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone, The Farm: Angola, USA).

Other docs opening include The Alpinist from Roadside Attractions in 173 theaters and The Capote Tapes from Greenwich Entertainment on about 30 screens. The former is an intimate portrait of climber Marc-Andre Leclerc, a young, visionary and gifted climber. From Peter Mortimer, the Telluride 2020 film uses never-before-seen footage of the elusive climber’s breathtaking ascents.

In The Capote Tapes, by Ebs Burnough, Answered Prayers, an unfinished manuscript, was meant to be Truman Capote’s greatest masterpiece, an epic portrait of New York’s glittering jet-set society. Instead, released in excerpts in the mid-1970s, it sparked the downfall of the iconic author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. Through never-before-heard audio archives and interviews with Capote’s famous friends and infamous enemies, film follows the rise and fall of one of America’s most influential writers. Capote died in 1984 at age 59.

Screenplay by Holly Whiston, Ebs Burnough. Producers – Zara Akester, Holly Whiston, Ebs Burnough, Lawrence Elman. Subjects include Dick Cavett, André Leon Talley, Jay McInerney, Dotson Rader, and Kate Harrington.

The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain — writer-director David Midell’s drama about the 2011 fatal police shooting of a 68-year-old Black man by police in White Plains, New York — will host a premiere in that Westchester town next week ahead of a Sept. 17 release.

Frankie Faison plays Chamberlain in the film, which won both the jury and audience awards at the 2019 Austin Film Festival. It follows the last hours in the life of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., an elderly African-American veteran with bipolar disorder killed by officers who were sent to his home to check on him after his medical alert device was mistakenly activated. They were recorded taunting him, ridiculing his military service and howling racial epithets. Midell and Enrico Natale of Redbird Entertainment are producers. Executive producers include Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary, Gary Lucchesi, Sharad Chib, Chris Paladino and Milan Chakraborty.

Specialty openings: From Grindstone, Michael Feifer’s Catch the Bullet, a Western dedicated to the memory of the late actor Jay Pickett, who died at age 60 on July 30 of unknown causes while shooting the film Treasure Valley in Idaho. With Pickett, Mason McNulty, Gattlin Griffith. Peter Facinelli, Cody Jones, Callder Griffith, Tucson Vernon Walker, Rick Moffatt, Ardeshir Radpour, Kevin McNiven, Peter Sherayko, Eric Pickett, Ryder Kozisek also star. Jerry Robbins wrote the script.

The film centers on Britt MacMasters (Pickett), a U.S. marshal who returns from a mission to find his father wounded and his son kidnapped by the outlaw Jed Blake (Griffith) and goes on a dangerous search to track them down.

IFC is releasing rom-com Dating & New York, written and directed by Jonah Feingold, in 38 theaters and digitally. Starring Jaboukie Young-White (C’MON, C’MON, The Daily Show) and Francesca Reale (Stranger Things). With Catherine Cohen, Brian Muller and Jerry Ferrara. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Good to hear that the opening night 8:10 pm showing at the IFC Center in New York has apparently sold out.

Wendy (Reale) and Milo (Young-White), both jaded about their love lives are thrown together at what might be the worst, most complicated time for romance in their lives. As they face their inner dating demons, their L-Train fueled-quest for love ultimately begs the question: can ‘happily ever after’ truly exist in the age of read receipts?

Small Engine Repair from Vertical Entertainment: A black comedy with John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Jordana Spiro, Shea Whigham. Frank (Pollono), Swaino (Bernthal) and Packie (Whigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars and Frank’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frank invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play,

Gravitas Ventures releases The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre, directed by Max Martini and starring Randy Couture, DB Sweeney, Adrian Pasdar and Bas Rutten. A sequel is already in the works for the slasher pic, written by former professional wrestlers Mike Carey and Chris Margetis, who play the notorious Manson Brothers, a wrestling tag team now in their twilight years who are relegated to smaller promotions and agree to a midnight cage match on Halloween. They don’t know the contest involves being trapped in the arena with wrestlers and fans infected with a mutated form of rabies.

Comedy Queenpins from STX with Kristen Bell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Paul Walter Hauser, Vince Vaughn, Joel McHale, Annie Mumolo, Paul Rust, Stephen Root, Bebe Rexha. Aron Gaudet, Gita Pu Kirby. A bored and frustrated suburban homemaker (Bell) and her best friend (Howell-Baptiste) turn a hobby into a multi-million-dollar counterfeit coupon caper. After firing off a letter to the conglomerate behind a box of cereal gone stale, and receiving an apology along with dozens of freebies, the duo hatch an illegal coupon club scheme that scams millions from mega-corporations and delivers deals to legions of fellow coupon clippers.

An STX presentation of an AGC Studios, Marquee Entertainment, Red Hour production. Producers: Linda McDonough, Nicholas Weinstock. Co-producer: Kim H. Winther. Executive producers: Carrie Feigel Bischke, Patricia Braga, Stuart Ford, Miguel A Palos Jr., Breean Solberg, Robert Simonds, Adam Fogelson, Samuel J. Brown, Kristen Bell, Ben Stiller, Mike Upton. Co-executive producer: Alastair Burlingham.

Directed and, written by Aron Gaudet, Gita Pullapilly.

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