Debate about the role of critics and the demise of local newspapers frequently surfaces among specialty filmmakers and distributors. And for some specialized fare opening this weekend, critics definitely played a big part. Critics and audience reaction prompted Sony Classics to pick up Where Do We Go Now? after initial hesitation. And Roadside Attractions’ theatrical release Tonight You’re Mine appears to have scored some high-powered critical acclaim the distributer is hoping will give the feature a positive push. Also this weekend among specialty offerings, Magnet Releasing bows the thriller God Bless America at sister company Landmark Theatre following a VOD debut. First Run Features’ Nobody Else But You is going for straight theatrical after exhibitors scoffed at a possible VOD component and A Bag Of Hammers also joins this weekend’s limited openers.

Where Do We Go Now?
Director: Nadine Labaki
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Sam Mounier
Cast: Claude Baz Moussawbaa, Leyla Hakim, Nadine Labaki
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Classics execs first saw Where Do We Go Now? — about a group of Lebanese women who try to ease religious tensions in their village — at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but weren’t sure whether to pursue the film for their U.S. slate. “There wasn’t a sense that a lot of film critics in America had seen the film, but we talked about it all summer long and we liked it very much,” SPC co-president Michael Barker told Deadline. “We were just waiting for something to make us pull the trigger.” That trigger came in Toronto where the film scored audience reaction and positive press, prompting SPC to take on distribution.

“The audience in Toronto were so fantastic, and we gave it an offer that was accepted hours before winning the audience award,” said Barker who also noted that the previous winner of the prize was the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech the year before. “Nadine Labaki is a force of nature, and we had been interested in her previous film. We wanted to have a relationship with her and we are close with Pathé which sold it to us.” After picking it up, SPC took the film to Sundance where Barker said it was a “real triumph.” He added that women of all ages “adore the film” and that it’s “one of those well-made films that’s so vastly entertaining.” SPC is hoping for positive word-of-mouth to help propel its rollout over the weekend. Where Do We Go Now? will open in New York and LA this weekend, followed by six additional cities the following week. “It will be a relatively slow rollout but easily in the top 50 markets in five or six weeks,” said Barker.

God Bless America
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Writer: Bobcat Goldthwait
Cast: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith
Distributor: Magnolia Releasing/Magnet Releasing

Bobcat Goldthwait calls this film a ‘very violent film about kindness,’ Magnolia SVP Marketing & Publicity Matt Cowal noted about their latest thriller, which genre label Magnet will open theatrically this weekend. “It’s wild and over the top but has a big heart as well.” A pick up from the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, the film debuted in the U.S. at SXSW, which fit nicely in getting word-of-mouth started domestically. The Texas festival “doesn’t take many films from Toronto, but they did with this one,” said Cowal. “God Bless America fits very well with the fanboy audience, but it will also work for the art house crowd as well.”

Available via VOD since April 6th, Cowal said Magnolia has “been happy” with its numbers so far. They will take it to theaters via their sister company Landmark Theaters, opening in 10 markets over the weekend, expanding through May. “One of the strongest aspects of the movie is actor Joel Murray. He gives it heart — as he goes on his killing spree.”

A Bag Of Hammers
Director: Brian Crano
Writers: Jake Sandvig, Brian Crano
Cast: Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig, Chandler Canterbury, Carrie Preston
Distributor: MPI Media Group

The project came together when director/co-writer Brian Crano met producer Peter Friedlander by chance during a reading of the script. Friedlander was quite taken and the two began collaborating. From the start they decided to make the film with as “few restrictions as possible,” according to Crano. “Luckily, again and again, we found allies,” he said. “Casting started off with a bang and built from there because we had a couple of ringers in our leading ladies, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Seyfriend whose parts were written for them,” noted Crano. Who would play the character Ben was the next step. “When Jason Ritter walked in to read, we knew our search was over. He nailed it.”

The shoot itself did bring an unlikely challenge in the form of a big fire in the hills above Pasadena 10 minutes from their location at a cemetery. “The air was so thick with ash that everyone in our cast and crew had to wear masks, which made for a surreal visual,” said Crano. “Fortuitously, the smoke in the air ended up acting like a giant silk, diffusing the light in a beautiful way.” A Bag of Hammers played at last year’s SXSW and is the second film from the recently announced MPI Pictures. A Bag of Hammers opens Friday in New York followed by Los Angeles May 18 with additional markets to follow.

Tonight You’re Mine
Director: David Mackenzie
Writers: Thomas Leveritt
Cast: Luke Treadaway, Natalia Tena, Mathew Baynton
Distributor: Roadside Attractions (theatrical); SPWA’s Stage 6 Films (all other U.S. media)

Originally titled You Instead, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions’ Stage 6 Films re-titled the film after its world premiere at last year’s Glasgow Film Festival. The film later had its U.S. debut at last year’s SXSW and the company brought it over to Roadside Attractions to handle the theatrical release. Shot over four days at Scotland’s “T in the Park” music festival, Young Adam‘s David McKenzie directed the film, which Roadside will target to a younger audience.

“We’re expecting younger cinephile and music fans in their mid-20s to late-30s,” Roadside head Howard Cohen told Deadline. Cohen said the film played well in Austin and they’re looking forward to strong reviews from A.O. Scott at the NY Times and another from the LA Times to help get the word out. “We have significant reviewers, which is a great sign,” said Cohen. “David McKenzie had some great attention, which is good too. Roadside Attractions will bow Tonight You’re Mine in Los Angeles and New York over the weekend with more cities in major markets coming up. “It’s a classic art house platform,” said Cohen. “We’re hoping to expand based on a good opening.”

Nobody Else But You
Director: Gérald Hustache-Mathieu
Writers: Gérald Hustache-Mathieu, Juliette Sales
Cast: Jean-Paul rouve, Sophie Quinton, Guillaume Gouix
Distributor: First Run Features

French sales and distribution company Mk2 first approached First Run about Nobody Else But You, which the U.S. distributor signed on for six months ago. The film centers on a crime novelist who travels to the countryside to investigate the mysterious “suicide” of a woman who thought she was the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. “It’s not a thriller, but I would describe in in the vein of a Cohen Bros. film in that it’s offbeat and clever,” said First Run acquisitions exec Marc Mauceri. “It’s not rocket science. It harkens back to Marilyn Monroe and [its promotional material] is reminiscent of Marilyn calendars of the ’50s.”

An internal debate brewed about doing a theatrical/VOD release, but in the end the company decided to go for an exclusive theater rollout. “In the end we wanted it to play some of the better theaters in the US but [many theater chains] won’t agree to VOD. So we’re going the more traditional route. Nobody Else But You will open in 15 markets this weekend. Added Mauceri, “If it goes well in New York and LA then we’ll add more cities. It will organically perform or it won’t.”