Avengers: Age Of Ultron will continue to dominate the box office this weekend, but it can’t be said there aren’t plenty of other options for audiences who aren’t easy prey for the studios. Still, some blockbuster stars will tempt the specialty crowd this weekend: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin star in Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate’s genre title Maggie, while Avengers star Chris Evans will give his fans a second dose of his big-screen presence in romantic comedy Playing It Cool via Vertical Entertainment.

Elsewhere, foreign-language fans will get a racy depiction of the life of one of haute couture’s biggest icons in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent (following 2014’s more straight biopic Yves Saint Laurent) from Sony Classics. Also there is The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared from Music Box Films, which will try to replicate its box office success in Europe. On the documentary front, Tribeca Film began its rollout of I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story on Wednesday in New York and via iTunes. And after a painstaking restoration of Indian master Satyajit Ray’s seminal 1950s films depicting the life of a boy and his family in rural India, Janus Films is opening The Apu Trilogy in New York before heading to more locations nationwide.

Other specialty releases this weekend include Entertainment One’s Bravetown with Lucas Till, Josh Duhamel and Laura Dern, in theaters and on-demand; Aspiration Media’s Noble; IFC’s The Seven Five; Magnolia’s Skin Trade; Focus World’s 5 Flights Up; and 2013 Venice and Toronto Italian film Intrepido: A Lonely Hero via Emerging Pictures and Cinema Made in Italy.

MaggieMaggie
Director: Henry Hobson
Writer: John Scott
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Laura Cayouette, Amy Brassette, Denise Williamson, J.D. Evermore, Raeden Greer
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Drama/thriller Maggie had initially been set to play the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight section last year after Grindstone pre-bought the title, but later it was pulled from the festival to move its premiere closer to its theatrical release.

In Maggie (the titular character is played by Abigail Breslin), the world narrowly recovers from a near apocalyptic virus. Sixteen-year-old Maggie is infected and is set to go to a special isolation ward to complete the transformation into one of the walking dead. Wade Vogel (Arnold Schwarzenegger), however, is not ready to give up on his daughter. After weeks of searching for Maggie when she runs away following her diagnosis, Wade brings his daughter back to her home and family as the teenager begins an excruciatingly painful metamorphosis. Having lost Maggie’s mother years earlier, Wade is determined to hold on to his precious daughter as long as he can, refusing to surrender her to the local police who show up with orders to take her. As the disease progresses, stepmother Caroline decides to take their two younger children and move out, leaving Wade alone with Maggie to watch helplessly as she suffers.

Henry Hobson, who has worked a number of roles behind the camera including graphics design at the Oscars, had financing challenges as a first-time director. His producers reached out to Lotus Entertainment’s Jim Seibel, Bill Johnson and Ara Keshishian, and Silver Reel’s Claudia Bluemhuber, who signed on as executive producers and helped secure some of the financing. Shooting took place in Louisiana, and New Orleans-based producer Joseph Tufaro as well as Colin Bates boarded the project to handle the film’s physical production and state tax credits.

“We had the World Premiere at Tribeca,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “It was fantastic because I think people were interested in seeing Arnold [Schwarzenegger] doing something different. He’s changed it up doing a dramatic role and has received the best reviews of his career.” The release has also tapped into Schwarzenegger’s 12.5 million-strong Facebook followers, releasing key art as well as a trailer on the site. “He did a Reddit [event] and the Late Late Show which featured a ‘career retrospective’ which has gone viral,” added Cohen. “He also did an Apple chat during Tribeca and a Sirius Satellite tour. He wants his fans to see him doing something different, so he’s gone all out for the movie.

Lionsgate and Roadside will open Maggie in 76 theaters in 37 markets in addition to a VOD/digital roll out day and date. “It’s one of the most aggressive day and date releases we’ve had,” said Cohen. “Exhibitors heard the buzz about the movie online and we got calls…”

playing it coolPlaying It Cool
Director: Justin Reardon
Writers: Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair
Cast: Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza, Martin Starr, Anthony Mackie, Ioan Gruffudd, Topher Grace, Ashley Tisdale, Patrick Warburton
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Chris Evans has been all over the big screen lately. He stars with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo in the blockbuster Avengers: Age Of Ultron, which was the clear overlord of the box office last weekend. On the Specialty front, his romantic-comedy, Playing It Cool, will open this weekend via Vertical Entertainment, which is no doubt, hoping to tap some of that luster.

The film, centers on ‘Me’ (Evans), a young man disillusioned by love, who meets the breathtaking ‘Her’ (Michell Monaghan) at a charity pretending to be a philanthropist. She is, however, engaged, so he pursues a platonic relationship so that he can keep seeing her. Still, ‘Me’ will not stop at anything to conquer ‘Her’ heart. The film’s script by Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair — originally titled A Many Splintered Thing — was a 2011 Nicholl Fellowship finalist and was on that year’s Black List.

“We saw the film about a year ago at a private screening and thought it was way more elevated and smarter than your basic romantic comedy,” said Vertical Entertainment’s Rich Goldberg. “Chris [Evans] backed the film throughout the process, giving script notes and even [participated] in the editing process. In terms of the release, we’ve had a ton of help from the entire cast, who have used their huge social media [reach] to promote the movie.” Vertical Entertainment is targeting the title’s core audience of couples ages 30 – 40. Evans’ role in the film, the company believes, will make the genre more palpable to males. “Chris is an [actor] that guys can be comfortable with, so we feel that Playing It Cool will not just skew female.”

The feature opened March 31 across VOD platforms and has “performed extremely well,” according to Goldberg. Theatrically, Playing It Cool will open on 13 screens Friday, including locations in New York and L.A., in the top 10 markets.

Saint LaurentSaint Laurent 1
Director-writer: Bertrand Bonello
Writer: Thomas Bidegain
Cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Jérémie Renier, Louis Garrel, Léa Seydoux, Amira Casar, Helmut Berger, Micha Lescot, Aymeline Valade
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Following the release of French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello’s 2011 film House Of Tolerance, producers Eric and Nicolas Altmayer approached the director about doing a film on French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Bonello has stayed away from straight biopics, but was given a lot of leeway to tell the story about the flamboyant figure who reached the zenith of haute couture both at home and around the world.

“We started in January, 2012 and wrote for the whole year,” said Bonello, who worked on the script with Thomas Bidegain. “Visually, in terms of Saint Laurent as a character, I was attracted to a certain period when he was at his creative height. There’s an idea of freedom and craziness and the people around him very much embodied that. His [ideals] was to free women.”

Saint Laurent, which debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and later on this side of the Atlantic at the New York Film Festival, covers the period of Yves Saint Laurent’s life from 1967 to 1976, with occasional flash-forwards to an aging Saint Laurent at home near the end of his life. The film’s official synopsis only teases the title’s plot: “As one of history’s greatest fashion designers entered a decade of freedom, neither came out of it in one piece.”

“During the writing I was already speaking with Gaspard Ulliel to play Saint Laurent,” said Bonello who added the project received a mixture of resources from private investment, TV and big screen distributors and French governmental agencies. “For me it’s so much part of the writing. I can’t write and then decide afterward who will be the actor…There’s a resemblance between him and Yves. I just fell in love with him. You have to love what you have on the camera.” Bonello added that the character on screen is. “50% Yves and 50% Gaspard. I asked him to bring himself and his fragility.” The shoot took place over 9 1/2 weeks in Paris.

Sony Classics announced its acquisition of the title at last year’s Cannes. It will open the title in limited release in L.A. and New York this weekend followed by a slow rollout around the country through June.

big birdI Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story
Directors-writers: Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker
Subjects: Caroll Spinney, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Sonia Manzano, Emilio Delgado, Cheryl Henson, Debra Spinney
Distributor: Tribeca Film

Filmmaker Dave LaMattina had been an intern at the Sesame Workshop in home video, and about five years ago, he discovered that he had a mutual friend with Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer and cartoonist known for playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. “I told Chad [Walker] about this, and we emailed the person I knew there about [the idea of doing a film]. We thought they wouldn’t want to do it, but they responded almost immediately,” said LaMattina. Surprisingly, nobody had ever asked to do a film on Spinney.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story peels away the details of Spinney’s life, looking at the sources of his creation of characters that have influenced generations of children. The film also illuminates little-known facts. Big Bird had actually been set to be aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger, but a last minute change of heart by NASA scuttled the plan. Oscar the Grouch’s voice came about from a cantankerous cabbie, and a fire in his trash can almost led to Spinney’s untimely demise.

“We went into our first meeting [with Spinney] and he was 80. He had no plans to retire,” said director Chad Walker. “We were told that [Caroll’s wife] Debra Spinney had pretty much videotaped everything they had ever done, so we went through hundreds of hours of footage. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Financing came via crowd-funding. The I Am Big Bird Kickstarter campaign took place in 2012 with a goal to raise $100K. The project received 1,976 pledges amounting to over $124K. Caroll Spinny offered original art to some givers in addition to other incentives like a group video chat and a dinner in New York. “We had looked to grants and investors, but they would say things like, ‘Well, what if he dies? It would be so dramatic…’ That just wasn’t what we were looking for,” said LaMattina.

Added Walker: “The first 2 1/2 years was also about developing trust. He’s been in this industry for a while so he’s used to telling these stories in interviews. But then we’d break and have lunch and he’d tell us these other amazing stories about personal relationships. I think since we took our time, the trust built, and that added another diminution to the film.”

I Am Big Bird debuted at last year’s Hot Docs in Toronto with screenings stateside at the Montclair, Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Doc NYC and Key West film festivals. Tribeca Film picked up the title last fall. It opened the title Wednesday night exclusively at IFC Center in New York and rolled it out on-demand on iTunes and other platforms Tuesday, May 5.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared100 year old man
Director-writer: Felix Herngren
Writer: Hans Ingemansson, Jonas Jonasson
Cast: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skäringer, Jens Hultén, Bianca Cruzeiro, Alan Ford, Sven Lönn
Distributor: Music Box Films

Music Box says the very descriptive The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared has a “Forrest Gump” quality. In the film, the heroine is present for some very pivotal moments in history, though unlike the Tom Hanks ’90s classic, his brushes with history are a bit darker. Based on a popular Swedish novel the film follows the antics of a mischievous centenarian on the run. After a colorful life working in munitions and getting entangled in the Spanish Civil War, the Manhattan Project, and other definitive events of the 20th century, Allan Karlsson finds himself stuck in a nursing home. Determined to escape on his 100th birthday, he leaps out of a window and onto the nearest bus, kicking off an unexpected journey involving, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some wicked criminals, and an elephant named Sonya.

In addition to being one of Scandinavia’s most popular novels, its big screen prowess on the other side of the Atlantic has been impressive. The title opened in Scandinavian countries over the Christmas holidays followed by other European territories, grossing over $50.1 million at the box office. “It was a blockbuster [at home] and then Canal Plus picked it up, grossing $10 million in Germany,” said Music Box Films Managing Director Ed Arentz. “We saw it in Berline (2014) and found it intriguing. We later concluded a deal with Studio Canal.”

The film, which stars Robert Gustafsson, one of Sweden’s most famous comics, has won accolades at various stateside film festivals including Mill Valley, Chicago and the Florida Film Festival (Orlando). Music Box is hoping some of that success will translate to the feature’s release here, but acknowledges there are some challenges. “We know people are responding to it, but the question is whether critics will allow filmmakers to enjoy this in theaters,” said Arentz. “Generally film critics can be tough on foreign comedies, but we think the film has a chance to be a bit of a sleeper. It may stumble in New York, but in other markets throughout the country, we may find an audience.”

Music Box will open The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared in New York, L.A., Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix this weekend and will expand to the Bay Area and the top 25 markets over the next few weeks. “I think on home entertainment/VOD we think we’ll find a significant following,” added Arentz. “We typically do DVD / On-demand three or four months after theatrical.”

apu trilogyThe Apu Trilogy (Song Of The Little Road, 1955), Aparajito (The Unvanquished, 1957) and Apur Sansar (The World Of Apu, 1959)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Cast: Kanu Banerjee, Karuna Banerjee, Subir Banerjee, Uma Das Gupta, Chunibala Devi, Shampa “Runki” Banerjee, Reba Devi, Aparna Devi, Tulsi Chakraborty
Distributor: Janus Films

The 1955 release of Pather Panchali (Song Of The Little Road) introduced the world to a cinematic voice depicting rural Bengali life in a style inspired by Italian neorealism. The film introduces the family of a young boy, Apu, in his small Indian village. His father, Harihar, a writer and poet, had to give away the family orchard in order to settle his brother’s debts, leaving the family poor. His sister Durga and old aunt live with them and Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya, faces the brunt of their difficult situation. She scrapes by selling personal items to put food on the table and she bears the taunts of neighbors angry that Durga is always stealing from the orchard.

Two decades after the films that comprise The Apu Trilogy were burned in a fire, filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s films Song Of The Little Road, 1955; The Unvanquished, 1957; and The World Of Apu, 1959 have been reconstructed in new 4K restoration. The three films are considered milestones that brought India into the golden age of international art-house film, following the free-spirited child, Apu, in rural Bengal who matures into an adolescent urban student and eventually into a sensitive man of the world. The films, based on two books by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, were shot over five years and have been likened as pre-cursors to Richard Linklater’s multi-Oscar-nominated Boyhood.

“We started this project more than seven years ago,” said Janus Films’ Peter Becker. “The elements were scattered all over the world and the rights had three holders. These are three of the greatest films ever made…Their rights weren’t available for a while and then when we realized the rights were reverting to their original holders we went back. These films just play so beautifully.” After signing the final contracts for rights to the films, Janus Films gathered elements scattered across the U.S., England and India. The negatives were thought to have been burned, but there were fine-grained masters that existed in various archives. Then the Academy said they had some unopened boxes. Inside were the original negatives for the first two films. The third title, The World Of Apu, had to be restored using the fine-grained masters.

“In the film we see a boy grow up and also see a filmmaking team grow up,” said Becker. “By the final film you see they’ve achieved a certain mastery. Everything gets better. It’s tragic the third negative is essentially gone, but fortunately it was that film and not the first two films because we’d need those originals.”

May 3 was the 60th anniversary the first film screened, and the restoration screening premiere took place at MoMA. “I’ve rarely seen so much pent-up enthusiasm for a classic film re-release,” said Becker. “People are talking about it like we’re doing something extraordinary and special…The press pick-up has been insane. There are big features coming out in all the major papers where we’re playing…It’s a pretty big film culture event.”

The Apu Trilogy will roll out in 20 markets, with New York’s Film Forum leading the re-release. The downtown venue will show the first film for one week, followed by the next two over subsequent weeks. Film Forum will also show a back-to-back marathon of all three titles on Sundays. Landmark will also screen The Apu Trilogy at select venues. Becker noted that each location will tailer how they will roll out the three based on their individual preferences.