A wife and mother in her 40s is at the center of Sony Pictures Classics’ Sundance fest acquisition Puzzle starring Kelly Macdonald and making its theatrical bow this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Directed by Marc Turtletaub, the feature, which also stars Irrfan Khan, is based on an Argentine film from 2009. Greenwich Entertainment is taking doc Scotty And the Secret History of Hollywood to select locations this weekend. Based on a best-selling memoir, the film spotlights Scotty Bowers who provided for the sexual needs of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars during its Golden Age. And Music Box Films is going out with its Toronto ’17 fest feature The Captain, based on a true story about a German army deserter who finds a captain’s uniform in the waning days of World War II. The film will have an exclusive New York run this weekend before heading to other cities.

Other limited releases this weekend include A24’s Hot Summer Nights with Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe as well as Big World Pictures’ Scarred Hearts and Well Go USA’s Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings.

Puzzle
Director: Marc Turtletaub
Writers: Oren Moverman, Polly Mann, Natalia Smirnoff (original film)
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

SPC’s weekend release Puzzle is adapted from the Argentine film Rompecabezas (Spanish for ‘puzzle’) by Natalia Smirnoff. Filmmaker Marc Turtletaub was inspired by his mother to do the story about a woman who finds her “true voice” after turning 40. The feature shot over six weeks in the spring of 2017 in Yonkers and Manhattan. The company picked up the film out of the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

Puzzle centers on Agnes (Kelly Macdonald), who has reached her early 40s without ever venturing far from home, family or the tight-knit immigrant community in which she was raised. That begins to change in a quietly dramatic fashion when Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday gift and experiences the heady thrill of not only doing something she enjoys, but being very good at it. Stepping out of her domestic bubble to pursue her new hobby, Agnes meets Robert, a wealthy, reclusive inventor who immediately recognizes her talent and recruits her as his partner for an upcoming world jigsaw tournament. Each day out in the world, puzzling and conversing with Robert, takes Agnes further along on the road to a new understanding of herself and her strengths. With that understanding comes new insights and an assertiveness that finds her pushing back against the assumptions and routines that have until now defined her role in her family.

“We bought the worldwide rights to Puzzle — we think it’s a winning film,” said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker. “Irrfan Khan also starred in films like Life of Pi and The Lunchbox. He has an international following so that is helpful.”

Turtletaub and Macdonald have toured the country screening the feature at various events and word of mouth showings. SPC expects the title to be especially appealing to women. Said Barker: “Women adore this film and Kelly Macdonald’s performance speaks to women of all ages. It’s a surprising film that feels fresh and different and it was only a matter of time before Kelly Macdonald would have a role like this.”

Sony Pictures Classics is opening Puzzle in select New York and L.A. locations Friday before heading to Washington, D.C. and San Francisco the following week. The company expects Puzzle to be at its widest by August 24.

Scotty And the Secret History of Hollywood
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Subject: Scotty Bowers
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment

Documentary Scotty And the Secret History of Hollywood is based on the best-selling memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, which pulled the veil on a pre-Stonewall alternate history in Hollywood. Valentino: The Last Emperor director Matt Tyrnauer met subject Scotty Bowers in 2011 through Gore Vidal, who he worked with as the author’s literary executor.

“While gossipy, salacious and fun, it was obviously an important contribution to our understanding of Hollywood social history and the pre-Stonewall era of gay history generally,” commented Greenwich Entertainment’s Ed Arentz. “Scotty Bowers was a revelation — a mischievous Pan-like figure, weathered but still miraculously vital in his 90s, who steps out of the anonymity of the Kinsey Report and the shadows of Hollywood Babylon underground legend to assert, ‘And what’s wrong with that?’ when confronted by the shamers and squares.”

Scotty And the Secret History of Hollywood spotlights the story of Scotty Bowers, a handsome ex-Marine who landed in Hollywood after World War II and became confidante, aide-de-camp and lover to many of Hollywood’s greatest male—and female— stars. In the 1940s and ‘50s, Scotty ran a gas station in the shadow of the studio lots where he would connect his friends with actors and actresses who had to hide their true sexual identities for fear of police raids at gay bars, societal shunning and career suicide. An unsung Hollywood legend, Bowers would cater to the sexual appetites of celebrities — straight and gay — for decades.

“Challenging people’s long held perceptions, in this case their perceptions about the sexual habits of revered Hollywood luminaries and moralizing attitudes toward sex workers, can also lead to challenges in a theatrical, even art house theatrical marketplace that increasingly privileges the safe and comforting,” noted Arentz. “Unfortunately what makes Scotty so interesting is also what makes it a challenge theatrically, specifically outside of the major markets. It is being perceived as too risqué, too explicit, too gay I suppose for the older, conservative patrons of suburban and smaller market art houses.”

Arentz added that while the memoir Full Service was seen in much the same way it nevertheless went on to become a best seller. “This suggests that interested audiences denied an opportunity to view in theaters will gravitate to the more democratic home entertainment platforms.”

Through its publicity and social media, the company is positioning the title as “fun, dishy and relevant.” The gay core audience is an obvious emphasis, but Greenwich Entertainment is also targeting audiences that tune in to TCM and fans of Hollywood lore.

Scotty And the Secret History of Hollywood opens in L.A. exclusively Friday at the Arclight, followed by New York’s IFC Center on August 3, with major urban markets set for the next several weeks. Added Arentz: “This is such an L.A. story that we felt it was appropriate [to start there], and because the film evokes a lot of conversations, we wanted director Matt Tyrnauer and Scotty himself to be on hand for post-screening Q&As on opening weekends in both L.A. and New York which prompted the staggering” schedule.

The Captain
Director-writer: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Max Hubacher, Milan Peschel, Frederick Lau, Bernd Hölscher, Waldemar Kobus, Alexander Fehling, Samuel Finzi
Distributor: Music Box Films

Distributor Music Box Films was taken by the “brute force, nightmarish atmosphere and provocative mixture of tones” when it first viewed its weekend release The Captain, at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The company, which announced its acquisition of the title in February, said the fact that it’s based on the true story of the ‘Executioner of Emsland’ made it “all the more intriguing.”

The Captain follows German army deserter, Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), who stumbles across an abandoned Nazi captain’s uniform in the final weeks of World War II. Emboldened by the authority the uniform grants him, he amasses a band of stragglers who cede to his command despite the suspicions of some. Citing direct orders from the Fuhrer himself, he soon takes command of a camp holding German soldiers accused of desertion and begins to dispense harsh justice. Increasingly intoxicated by the unquestioned authority, this enigmatic imposter soon discovers that many people will blindly follow the leader, whomever that happens to be.

“With the resurgence of neo-Nazi parties in Europe and white nationalist factions in the U.S., The Captain resonates as a timely examination of fascism,” said Music Box’s Brian Andreotti. “The complex and relevant subject matter is ripe for post-screening conversations, and Robert will be traveling to several major markets for Q&As and other events.”

Music Box expects the feature to play to diverse audiences though it anticipates a core arthouse crowd that skews younger. The company is emphasizing the film’s early ironic tone and absurdist elements, according to Andreotti, adding: “Although it is based on a bizarre true story, this is not a traditional World War II film, so it will appeal to those interested in the genre who are clamoring for a fresh take. To reach that demographic, we’re partnering with the Goethe Institute, German consulates, language groups, museums, and university history departments, among others.”

The company decided to open The Captain in late July since many subtitled films from spring have “played out.” The date will also allow the film to expand over August when “many exhibitors are hungry for new product,” said Andreotti.

“Since August is typically a dumping ground for studio films, we have access to screens that might not be available during a more competitive corridor like the end of the year. For a film with crossover appeal like The Captain, one that has potential to play to younger audiences who might not typically see a subtitled film, exhibitors are more open to experiment as the summer winds down.”

Music Box Films will open The Captain with an exclusive run at the Quad Cinema in New York. It will expand slowly from there to accommodate Robert Schwentke’s travel schedule.

Said Andreotti: “He’s a very articulate advocate for the film, and we expect that these early engagements will be crucial in building word-of-mouth for this unconventional and challenging work. He’ll be appearing for Q&As with collaborators like Mark Bomback and Scott Silver this weekend. The title will then head to the Music Box Theatre in Chicago August 3 and the Nuart in L.A. August 10 as well other cities. The Captain will be in most major markets by the end of the month.