In this weekend’s specialty box-office debuts, IFC Films hopes to replicate the critical and commercial success of Michael Winterbottom’s first amusing little travelogue/talker of a feature, The Trip, with a semi-sequel, The Trip To Italy. The second Trip again stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon; the entertainingly garrulous pair on yet another jaunt across restaurants, countryside and philosophy. The latest Trip will bow in NYC and LA this weekend after a successful Australian run earlier this summer (or their winter).

Frank, a British-Irish-American drama from Magnolia Pictures featuring Michael Fassbender that had runs at Sundance and SXSW, bows in only one U.S. theater this weekend. Frank centers on an eccentric band, giving Fassy fans a chance to hear the Oscar-nominated actor sing, albeit from behind a mask (he’s not bad, actually).

Other notable new films include Philippe Garrel‘s Jealousy, which Distrib Films will expand beyond its exclusive run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Also opening this weekend is A24′s Life After Beth, featuring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan and John C. Reilly while Monterey Media will open Fort McCoy for a limited run.

The Trip to Italy Steve Coogan Rob BrydonThe Trip To Italy
Director-writer: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan, Marta Barrio, Timothy Leach
Distributor: IFC Films

IFC Films became involved with Winterbottom’s The Trip To Italy in the script stage. The distributor has released Winterbottom’s past several films, including The Trip in 2011. That one grossed slightly more than $2 million domestically.

“We told [Winterbottom and his Revolution Films] that if there was ever a [follow-up] to The Trip, we’d be on board,” said IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring. “Steve has a big profile in the U.S. and ‘[Rob's] continues to grow.”

IFC is having a great summer, driven by its long-in-coming box-office and critical hit Boyhood. Since opening July 11, that film already has cumed more than $11.1 million, with another expansion this week. Not surprisingly, IFC also has been running The Trip To Italy‘s trailer during Boyhood showings.

Sehring said Trip to Italy opened well in Australia in May and has cumed $3 million in Oz and New Zealand. IFC has cross-promoted the title with its satellite and television partners in the lead-up to this weekend’s release. It will bow at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in New York and the Landmark in L.A. before expanding later this month.

Frank movie Michael FassbenderFrank
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Moira Brooker, Scoot McNairy, François Civil, Carla Azar, Paul Butterworth, Phil Kingston, Mark Huberman
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Abrahamson and producer Ed Guiney boarded Frank a few years before shooting, but the project predated even their involvement. Producers Stevie Lee and David Barron brought the project, based on an article by Jon Ronson (also one of the film’s writers), to Film4 in the U.K. The story centers on Jon, a young wannabe musician who becomes involved with an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and masked Frank.

“They worked on it with Film4 for some years, and Lenny was asked to be involved there years before it was made,” said Guiney. “It was done with ‘blue-chip Brit flick’ financing.” In addition to Film4, the British Film Institute and the Irish Film Board were among the other investors.

Casting was “organic,” Guiney said. “We thought of a lot of people, and saw a lot of people. Michael (Fassbender) read the script and really responded to it. It’s something that’s very different than anything he had done before.” Very true, some people at Sundance said they liked the film but were at times disappointed not to see Fassbender’s face until well into the film.

“I think part of what drew Michael to the movie was wearing the mask,” said Guiney. “You have to rely on a whole different set of skills when your fortunate and very famous face is [covered]. When you see the movie, the [mask] actually is very expressive.”

Frank shot for about a month in Ireland (also doubling for the U.K.) and three weeks in Albuquerque, N.M., which doubled for Austin because part of the story takes place during SXSW’s music segment.

“Albuquerque makes a damn good Austin,” said Guiney. “We looked for the best places for tax credit and film infrastructure.” After Sundance, Frank screened — appropriately — at SXSW, Sarasota, Istanbul, Sundance’s London fest, San Francisco, Seattle and the LA Film Festival.

At the NYC premiere, the band/cast performed the film’s “I Love You,” with Fassbender wearing the mask (an insider told me he spent several hours rehearsing) before a crowd that included members of The White Stripes, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Marky Ramone and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna.

Magnolia Pictures, which picked up the title out of Sundance, will open Frank at the Sunshine in New York this weekend in addition to Canadian locations in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. “[Magnolia president] Eamonn Bowles also has a musical background,” Guiney pointed out. “I’ve known him from the Galway Film Fleadh, which he and [the late] Bingham Ray had been attending for 20 years.” (Incidentally, Bowles will be playing with his two bands, XL Kings and The Martinets, this weekend in New York). Frank will open August 18 in Long Island with an additional run ahead of an expansion in about a dozen cities August 22, including LA’s Nuart. It will add more major markets into September.

Jealousy
Director-writer: Phillippe Garrel
Writers: Marc Cholodenko, Caroline Deruas-Garrel, Arlette Langmann
Cast: Louis Garrel, Anna Mouglalis, Rebecca Convenant, Olga Milshtein, Esther Garrel, Arthur Igual
Distributor: Distrib Films

Jealousy movie posterInsiders working on French filmmaker Phillippe Garrel’s U.S. release noted that Jealousy (La jalousie) is probably the “biggest” release of the director’s career. It’s also a family affair.

His children Louis and Esther Garrel star in the film, and his wife is a co-writer. The story centers on a wife and husband whose relationship founders. “I’m not [an automatic] fan of Garrel’s but understood that there was something interesting about this movie,” said Distrib Films’ François Scippa-Kohn.

The film exec, who is planning to set up shop Stateside, qualified that he likes Garrel’s films but is not blinded by them as a fan, so he said he felt Jealousy had qualities that made it particularly accessible.

“I felt that if it could touch me then it could really touch others,” Scippa-Kohn said. “I wasn’t blinded by my admiration for the guy and could see it with objectivity. When you’re a big film company, you can make a lot of mistakes like pay too much and hope that others will like it as much as you do. I’ve done some of those mistakes in the past.”

He also hired former IFC Films exec Ryan Werner for the release after being introduced by sales company Wild Bunch. Philippe Garrel did his first-ever American interviews with the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Filmmaker magazine, among others, according to Werner. “I had been a big fan of Garrel and also worked on his previous films A Burning Hot Summer and Frontier Of Dawn,” he said.

Scippa-Kohn said that for Jealousy, Distrib Films will target both younger and older audiences. Louis Garrel’s heartthrob status has won some U.S. converts, and Philippe Garrel has his loyal audience among longtime French film aficionados. As an aside, Scippa-Kohn said that his company will open Italian filmmaker Roberto Andò’s Viva la Libertà in November. It is the first movie starring Toni Servillo since the Oscar-winning foreign film The Great Beauty. Jealousy will open exclusively at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Friday and will head to L.A. next week.

Life After Beth
Director-writer: Jeff Baena
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser
Distributor: A24

Life After Beth posterJeff Baena’s script for what would become Life After Beth had floated around William Morris for a period, but momentum behind the project came more through close personal connections than from a deal-making agent. Baena’s friend, the producer Michael Zakin (The Bling Ring), came on board. Plaza, whose manager was seeking a showcase project for her, also happens to be his girlfriend. Reilly is another Baena friend.

“Having Aubrey and Dane’s availability put the financing together,” said producer Elizabeth Destro. “We shot in L.A. and did the bare-minimum production you can do while still being full union. But shooting in L.A. [also had a fringe benefit] because the cast could go home at night.”

Life After Beth mostly shot in the Valley over 23 days. A24 came on as distributor after the film’s Sundance debut. It then played just a few follow-up festivals in Edinburgh and New Zealand and has been available digitally on DirecTV for the past month as part of A24′s partnership with the satcaster. The film will open in New York and L.A. this weekend and then expand to the top 50 markets.

Fort McCoy
Directors-writers: Kate Connor, Michael Worth
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Kate Connor, Lyndsy Fonseca, Andy Hirsch, Camryn Manheim, Seymour Cassel, Brendan Fehr
Distributor: Monterey Media

Fort McCoy movie posterFilmmaker Kate Connor found the seeds of Fort McCoy among the lives and memories of her grandparents. They lived in Wisconsin next to a Nazi POW camp during World War II.

“I heard stories my whole life,” said Connor. “I started writing in Eastern Europe about 10 years ago, while I was [working as an actor on a project].” Fort McCoy’s production proceeded with fits and starts, an initial shoot set for before a hedge fund investor from Atlanta pulled out. In the meantime, Connor kept her “day job” acting and eventually found private-equity money willing to get the money financed.

“We shot in Wisconsin and got permission to shoot in Fort McCoy, which was amazing,” said Connor. “We shot in Wisconsin and California for 29 days.”

Fort McCoy played a host of festivals in the U.S. and Europe but held off distribution offers until after it completed its circuit run, Connor said. “A lot of people contacted us, and [we told them] we’d meet after the festivals were over.” Monterey Media came on board and will open the feature in L.A. at Music Hall and Encino’s Town Center. It also will be screening with a reception in NY on September 22 as part of Cinemonde. The film will be released on VOD/DVD on September 23 and continue to screen in theaters around the country.