Sean Penn’s ‘Flag Day’ Waves At Arthouses In Disconcerting Delta Weekend – Specialty Preview

United Artists Releasing opens Flag Day, directed and starring Sean Penn, in a uneven specialty market where the Delta Variant spike has theaters in key cities requiring proof of vaccination, theaters are hard to book, and hits have been rare since the industry reopened.

Eventually “We’ll crack the code, because good movie and good stories win out.” said Erik Lomis, President, Distribution at UAR. Older demos — the meat-and-potatoes of arthouse —  “are less comfortable coming back than we all hoped. It’s a tough, tough market to crack… but there’s nothing like seeing it in a movie theater.”

The film from MGM Studios premiered at Cannes and debuts in 24 theaters in 10 markets (NY, LA, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego). It expands next weekend to 24 markets and 50 theaters. “We’ll continue to roll out like that until we really step on the gas depending upon market conditions, Lomis said.

Flag Day is based on a true story, Jennifer Vogel’s memoir Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life, adapted for the screen by Tony Award-winner Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. Penn is John Vogel, the charismatic master counterfeiter and problematic dad.

Penn’s daughter Dylan Penn has enchanted critics as Jennifer in the intimate family portrait of a young woman who struggles to rise above the wreckage of her past while reconciling the inescapable bond with her father. (Deadline’s review here.)

“We saw the movie, we fell in love with the movie. Sean Penn is a force both in front of the camera and behind it, and Dylan blew us away,” said Lomis.

It’s produced by William Horberg (The Queen’s Gambit), Jon Kilik and Fernando Sulichin. Executive producers, Maximilien Arvelaiz, Lawrence Kopeikin, Thorsten Schumacher, Vincent Maraval, Sidney Kimmel, Allen Liu, Peter Touche, Christelle Conan, Vaishali Mistry and John Wildermuth. A great soundtrack features original songs by Cat Power, Glen Hansard and Eddie Vedder.

With Katheryn Winnick, Josh Brolin, Norbert Leo Butz, Dale Dickey, Eddie Marsan, Bailey Noble and Hopper Jack Penn.

Vaccination mandates are now effective in NYC, LA, San Francisco and New Orleans. While they’ve tamped down theatergoing in European markets, it’s too early to gauge the impact Stateside and in fact may possibly make some, including the arthouse demo, feel more secure. As for NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week that 75% off all adults have received at least one dose.

Lack of visibility in theatergoing and most communal activities is no surprise. The Atlantic said it well in a piece this week — despite enormous strides in vaccinations Delta has “muddied a lot of people’s ability to gauge their own day-to-day risk, just as they’d begun to venture back out into the world and hug, eat, and laugh in the same airspace together again. In some ways, pandemic life is more confusing than ever… the list of things to consider about any given situation is longer and has fewer hard-and-fast rules.”

There’s not been one documented case of virus transmission at a movie theater since Covid started.

The weekend comes amidst an ongoing shakeup in the arthouse space as family-owned LA-based arthouse chain Laemmle is put up for sale. It’s also the start of a pared down CinemaCon where studios present cinema owners clips of upcoming releases. The National Association of Theaters Owners last year had reached out to arthouses, expanding membership to nonprofits and other independents for the first time and not charging dues.

Also on the specialty docket this weekend: Demonic from IFC Midnight, directed and written by Neill Blomkamp, hits 85 theaters. The horror-sci-fi thriller starring Carly Pope, Chris William Martin and Michael Rogers portrays a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed.

Magnolia Pictures presents Crypotzoo animated feature by Dash Shaw, with the voices of Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Zoe Kazan, Emily Davis, Peter Stormare, Thomas Jay Ryan, Grace Zabriskie, Alex Karpovsky, Angeliki Papoulia and Louisa Krause.

Comic book writer/artist/filmmaker Shaw’s fantastical film follows ‘cryptozookeepers’ through a richly-drawn hallucinatory world as they struggle to capture a baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) but begin to wonder if they should display these rare, mystical beasts in the confines of a zoo, or leave them hidden and unknown.

Written and directed by Shaw, with Jane Samborski directing the animation. Sundance 2021 (Next Innovator Award) *Berlinale 2021*Fantasia Film Festival 2021.

Documentaries include Greenwich Entertainment’s Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power, a timely portrait of the influential African American California Congresswoman and pioneer of racial and economic justice — and the lone voice in opposition to the authorization of military force after the September 11th attacks.

Director/Producer: Abby Ginzberg (Waging Change, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa). Executive Producer: Jonathan Logan (Crip Camp, Welcome to Chechnya) Consulting Producer: Shola Lynch (Chisholm ’72, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners) Editor: Stephanie Mechura Impact Producer: Joslyn Rose Lyons. Cinematographers: Vicente Franco, Ashley James, Thomas Kaufman, Michael Moser.

Featuring: Barbara Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker, Alice Walker, Van Jones, John Lewis, Ayanna Pressley, Lisa Blunt Rochester and Danny Glover.

On Broadway from Kino Lorber is contemporary history of Broadway directed by Oren Jacoby.

As audiences prepare for the return of live theater after an unprecedented absence of 18 months, an all-star cast tells the inside story of the last time Broadway came back from the brink. On Broadway shows how this revival helped save New York City thanks to innovative work, a new attention to inclusion and the sometimes uneasy balance between art and commerce. Interviews with Hugh Jackman, Helen Mirren, Christine Baranski, August Wilson, James Corden, Alec Baldwin, John Lithgow and legends of stage and screen.

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