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Sci-fi ‘Z for Zachariah,’ Starring Robbie, Ejiofor and Pine, Heads for Late August Release

Sci-fi 'Z for Zachariah,' Starring Robbie, Ejiofor and Pine, Heads for Late August Release

Whenever a movie lands a late August release date, the warning flags go up in Hollywood. Why?

Well, if it’s a studio, the movie is going out during what is considered not prime summer playing time. This is when “Exorcist,” “Halloween” and “Expendables” movies get to play. That doesn’t mean that a word-of-mouth hit can’t break out during this usually less-than-competitive period (“Superbad,” “Bring It On,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”). And distributors can decide that they need a little extra playing room, because maybe their elements aren’t that strong, or they’re afraid of going up against the big summer guns.

As for the indies, there’s more room to play in August. But opening then often signals: “This is not an awards movie.” If it were, distributors would wait just a few more weeks for the fall festivals and the adult quality film season. (Historically, the Weinstein brothers have done well in this corridor, from “Hero” and “The Butler” to “Inglourious Basterds.”)

Movies that open early in the year can build up a good head of steam–and be branded as winners– and come back during the awards season with year-end critics’ groups, from Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (March) to Ridley Scott spectacle “Gladiator,” ensemble drama “Crash” and Woody Allen Cannes-opener “Midnight in Paris” (May) and Kathryn Bigelow’s eventual Oscar-winner “The Hurt Locker” (June). 

So when Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions pushed back “Z for Zachariah” to August 28 (a week later than originally announced due to the cast’s press availability), we can assume they are not chasing an awards campaign for Craig Zobel’s post-apocalyptic survival triangle. The picture boasts a strong premise and alluring cast: Australian actress Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) plays a lonely farmer in her mountain Shangri la above the post-nuke clouds that have destroyed the world, until two weary travelers (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine) stumble onto her farm and vie for her affection. Adapted by Nissar Modi from the 1974 Robert C. O’Brien novel, the movie didn’t leave Sundance 2015 with all-round raves. 

“The August release date was chosen in order to find a weekend when a film can own the specialty marketplace,” wrote Roadside co-president Howard Cohen in an email, “more than other seasonal concerns. And this seemed like a quiet period in the specialty market where we could dominate.”

When Roadside opened doc “The September Issue” on the same weekend in 2009, it played well as a specialty film ($3.8 million). For similar reasons, Sony Pictures Classics is opening another Sundance opener, “Grandma,” on August 21, which could signal that they do not harbor high hopes for the film–or not.

Another likelihood is that Roadside is heading for a three-week theatrical playoff on this 30-screen release as the movie heads for VOD. That’s the indie alternative, especially with such an attractive cast. 

Read: Craig Zobel Listens to Many Voices on Sundance Entry ‘Z for Zachariah’ (CLIP)

Check out the competition (or lack thereof) on Friday, August 28, including two Weinstein Co. entries: 
Open Road’s wide release “Max Steel” stars Andy Garcia and Ben Winchell as a 16-year old with an alien companion. It’s based on a toy.

Warner Bros.’ electronic music drama “We Are Your Friends” (wide) stars Zac Efron as an aspiring DJ who is mentored by Wes Bentley and falls for his younger girlfriend (“Gone Girl”‘s Emily Ratajkowski). 

Set in Minnesota in 1990, Alejandro Amenabar’s “Regression” (Weinstein Co., wide) skipped the festival circuit and stars Ethan Hawke as Detective Bruce Kenner, who is investigating the case of a young woman (Emma Watson) who accuses her father, John Gray (David Dencik) of a hideous crime; regression therapy digs up more than anyone could have imagined. 

The Weinstein Co. sequel “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon II: The Green Destiny” takes us back to a mystical ancient world of sword fighters poets and sorcerers, and stars Donnie Yen, Michelle Yeoh, Jason Scott Lee, Harry Shum Jr. Made in partnership with Netflix, this will boast a limited release. 
Writer-director Alex Kendrick plays the lead in Christian drama “War Room” (Tristar, limited), which is about the impact prayer can have on families. 
In football star Simeon Rice’s feature debut, “Unsullied,” a track star (Murray Gray) is kidnapped by a pair of sociopaths after her car breaks down on a deserted road. (Lambert Releasing, limited.) 
Oscilloscope Releasing’s Brazilian film “The Second Mother” debuted at Sundance and stars Regina Case as a live-in housekeeper in Sao Paulo whose life is thrown into disarray when her grown daughter returns home. 

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