It’s summer, so it’s time for a Woody Allen film. Irrational Man is the latest in a half-dozen titles the filmmaker has had in recent years to be released in the summer by Sony Pictures Classics. The popular adage among some circles is that Allen makes a movie, then moves on to the next, never looking at its performance or reception. Some of that is true, though his producer (and sister) Letty Aronson let it be known that he actually does take a look at the numbers. His films have been all over the box office map, though his past several titles have scored into the eight figures — with wide variances. Irrational Man and Roadside/Miramax’s Mr. Holmes with Sir Ian McKellen and Laura Linney will spearhead the alternative to this weekend’s Trainwreck and Ant-Man along with IFC Films’ The Stanford Prison Experiment with Billy Crudup and Ezra Miller and The Look Of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to Oscar-nominated The Act Of Killing, via Drafthouse Films and Participant Media.

Other specialty rollouts include Picturehouse’s Gloria, which will open exclusively in McAllen, TX, ahead of an L.A. bow in early August; Zeigeist’s Court, which bowed Wednesday; thriller Catch Me Daddy from Oscilloscope; and Hannover House’s Bonobos: Back To The Wild.

Irrational Man
Director-writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Ethan Phillips, Betsy Aidem
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Irrational Man posterMost of Woody Allen’s previous seven films have had summer releases (2010’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger technically missed the threshold with a September 22 debut), and his latest continues that trend.

Irrational Man centers on philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), who is at rock bottom emotionally and unable to find any meaning or joy in life. Abe feels that everything he’s tried to do, from political activism to teaching, hasn’t made any difference. Soon after arriving to teach at a small-town college, he gets involved with two women: Rita Richards (Parker Posey), a lonely professor who wants him to rescue her from her unhappy marriage, and Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), his best student, who becomes his closest friend. While Jill loves her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley), she finds Abe’s tortured, artistic personality and exotic past irresistible. Even as Abe displays signs of mental imbalance, Jill’s fascination with him only grows, but when she tries to make their relationship a romantic one, he rebuffs her. Pure chance changes everything when Abe and Jill overhear a stranger’s conversation and become drawn in. Once Abe makes a profound choice, he is able to embrace life to the fullest again, but his decision sets off a chain of events that will affect him, Jill and Rita forever.

“The summer is a good period for Woody’s films,” said Aronson. “There are many big extravaganza movies with a lot of killing and shooting, so his films are an alternative to those action-packed movies.” Aronson said Allen began writing the Irrational Man script around January of last year. While he did not write with his eventual cast in mind, noting that “stars won’t necessarily be available” by the time one of his projects is ready for production, he did think of Phoenix, Stone and Posey for the primary roles. “This [time] it did work out,” said Aronson. “They were cast in March [of last year] and the timeline worked because they were available.

Of the notion that Allen finishes a project then he moves on to the next, paying little if any attention to its release and response, Aronson said that is partially true. She said that he does not read reviews because, Allen rationalizes, “If you believe the good reviews, then you have to believe the bad ones.” Aronson said that he will take a look at the box office, though.

“We know the films don’t make a lot of money, even if they have rave reviews,” she said. “Fifty percent of the time, they don’t get rave reviews. Personally, I think he’s reviewed on a different criteria than others; so much more is expected. … [He] keeps up with the box office, but not in the same way the rest of us do. We producers will look how a film is doing several times a day.”

Aronson added that many in the press have mischaracterized Irrational Man: “There are a lot of press people calling it a romantic comedy, but it’s a drama — so you have to wonder.”

The project shot over seven weeks in Newport and Providence, RI. The campus of Salve Regina University served as the backdrop of the fictitious Braylin College. Irrational Man was backed by American financiers, with some having financed Allen’s previous work, according to Aronson. Since 2009’s Whatever Works, Sony Pictures Classics has spearheaded distribution for Allen’s films, including his biggest box office success, 2011’s Midnight In Paris ($56.8M) and last year’s Magic In The Moonlight ($10.53M). SPC will open Irrational Man in limited release Friday in New York and L.A., adding additional cities the rest of July. The company will take the feature wide August 7.

Mr. Holmes
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Mitch Cullin (novel), Jeffrey Hatcher
Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Nicholas Rowe
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Miramax

Mr Holmes posterRoadside Attractions and Miramax acquired Mr. Holmes on the last day of shooting last summer, ahead of its Berlin International Film Festival debut in February. Based on the novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin, the story is set in 1947, when a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the circumstances of the unsolved case that forced him into retirement, and searches for answers to the mysteries of life and love – before it’s too late.

“The release is similar to our relationship with Lionsgate. They’re funding the release, and we’re executing the theatrical,” said Roadside Co-President Howard Cohen. “[Miramax] is handling television and some media, while Lionsgate will also [handle] some media.” Cohen noted that Miramax was looking to re-enter the acquisition arena as a company, and Roadside approached them about partnering on Mr. Holmes. “It’s not a service deal. We’ll probably do other movies with them,” said Cohen. “They have their extensive library and want to add to it. We picked this film specifically because we thought it would be a good fit and they agreed.”

Mr. Holmes will be the widest release for a new specialty title this weekend with about 350 screens slated, similar to Roadside’s A Most Wanted Man, which it debuted July 25 of last year on 361 screens, grossing $2.68M. It went on to cume $17.23M.

“Ian McKellen and Laura Linney are doing an insane amount of press,” said Cohen. “Bill Condon is shooting Beauty And The Beast in the U.K., so they have taken on the [bulk of] the press and television with appearances on The View, Live! With Kelly And Michael. Ian will be on Jimmy Fallon.”

Cohen added that Mr. Holmes is poised as the counter-movie of choice this weekend to the studio releases because of its bow in hundreds of locations throughout the country. “We get to own the space with older audiences,” he said. “The Woody Allen film is only in New York and L.A., so we’re going much faster than them.” Cohen added that most of the screenings at the Landmark and ArcLight in Los Angeles already are sold out, including two where McKellen and Linney will take part in Q&As.

The Stanford Prison Experiment
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Writer: Tim Talbott
Cast: Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, Logan Miller
Distributor: IFC Films

Stanford Prison Experiment posterFilmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez read the script for The Stanford Prison Experiment after actor Brian Geraghty, who starred in his 2009 feature Easier With Practice (and is a producer of this project), suggested he take a look at the story as a potential project. “I met with [producer] Brent Emery, and I had a strong point of view about what it should be,” said Alvarez. “I then made my [previous movie] C.O.G. and came right back to this.”

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a psychological thriller based on a notorious true story. Billy Crudup stars as Stanford University professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who, in 1971, cast 24 student volunteers as prisoners and guards in a simulated jail to examine the source of abusive behavior in the prison system. The results astonished the world, as participants went from middle-class undergrads to drunk-with-power sadists and submissive victims in just a few days. The film was created with the participation of Zimbardo himself.

“After C.O.G., it was a two-year turnaround,” said Alvarez. “At that stage we got cast involved, including Ezra [Miller] and Michael [Angarano], and took it out for financing. It followed a classic ‘indie path.'” He added that he met with the producers and discussed potential cast including Miller, who then boarded the project, while financing came via Abandon Pictures and Sandbar Pictures. “I’ve done two other films, and financing was much more complicated, coming from [a hodgepodge of sources], so this was different.”

The Stanford Prison Experiment shot over 23 days in October at an L.A. soundstage as well as downtown L.A. Alvarez described the production as very intense. “There’s a 130-page script and 25 leads, many of them working every day,” he said. “Every morning we hit the ground running. In my previous projects there were no more than four people, but this time there could be a dozen in one scene with speaking parts. Our DP Jas Shelton was great, though — he was a brute in getting what we needed. We were a low-budget film, so we had to stick to a 12-hour day.”

The Stanford Prison Experiment debuted at Sundance in January, where it received the Alfred P. Sloan feature film prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. IFC Films will open the title this weekend in New York and L.A. on one screen each and will head to the top 10 markets July 24 before expanding to the top 20 July 31. VOD will begin July 24.The Look Of Silence
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Distributor: Drafthouse Films and Participant Media

The Look of Silence posterThe Look Of Silence is a follow-up to documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 Academy Award-nominated The Act Of Killing. That film explored the ideologically driven 1965 Indonesian genocide through the eyes of its aging perpetrators, who talk about their murderous rampages through Hollywood-esque re-enactments they themselves “star” in. In The Look Of Silence, Oppenheimer re-examines the genocide through Adi, whose younger brother was a victim of the genocide, which targeted communists or perceived communists. In the latest feature, Adi, who is an optometrist, tracks down the murderers, pretending to be paying medical visits, and asks them about their deeds.

“From the moment we saw Joshua’s first film, The Act Of Killing, we knew that he was the rarest of talents: He wasn’t just capable of making incredible cinema but had the ability to redefine the whole storytelling paradigm,” said Drafthouse Films’ Chief Brand Officer Christian Parkes. “When he told us he had another film basically in the can, we committed to it sight-unseen, such was our belief in him as a filmmaker and a visionary.”

The Look Of Silence has had a number of festival accolades with several awards at the 2014 Venice Film Festival including the Grand Special Jury Prize as well as wins in the U.S. and abroad. “Being able to say ‘from the Oscar-nominated director of’ is definitely an advantage; it carries valuable weight with the target audience,” added Parkes. “We also have the luxury of leaning on its win at the Venice Film Festival and the phenomenal way it has been received by the film critic community — currently 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. … Despite this, we take nothing for granted, we know this is a foreign-language film with a challenging subject at its core. We are fighting tooth and nail for every ticket and article.”

While The Act Of Killing received awards kudos, it did have vehement dissenters who were perturbed by its visceral nature, with some calling into scrutiny the ethics of using mass murderers who tell their POV through re-enactments starring themselves. “Simply by being a companion piece, The Look Of Silence carries the baggage of The Act Of Killing, both positive and negative. … That said, The Look Of Silence is a very different film from its predecessor in that it’s far more intimate and accessible. If The Act Of Killing explored man’s inhumanity, The Look Of Silence cherishes one man’s humanity.”

Drafthouse Films will open The Look Of Silence exclusively at the Landmark Sunshine in New York this weekend, followed by L.A. the next weekend at the Nuart and University Town Center in Orange County. Oppenheimer will do Q&As at screenings in both coasts in addition to other locations as the film expands to the top markets. “We’re opening deliberately and with patience as we’re committed to working this market by market, theater by theater, and letting the film grow,” noted Parkes. “This is a traditional release and we anticipate the film will have lengthy theatrical legs as the word of mouth grows. Our VOD and home entertainment release is not until early 2016.”