Helen Mirren and Friends in Taylor Hackford's 'Love Ranch'

Your weekly guide to the world of independent film returns, under the stewardship of a man who endured a very challenging month, thus putting me in a perfect mood to shut up and write about summer movie alternatives.

As counter-programming to the latest virginal Twilight installment and a live-action children's fantasy, Taylor Hackford's legal prostitution drama Love Ranch (pictured above), starring Helen Mirren, opens in 11 theaters today. In real life, the star and director are a married couple, so Hackford has been sharing how much he enjoys directing his wife in love scenes with strangers and Mirren has been casually naked in a bath tub photo shoot. It's a good strategy; unfortunately, the reviews have not been kind, proving that flashing your breasts and talking about sex will only take you so far (?!).

In their third week of release, two flicks are expanding: Cyrus, a comedy starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Jonah Hill, goes from 17 to 77 theaters, while The Killer Inside Me (AKA The One Where Jessica Alba's Face Gets Smashed) jumps from 4 to 17 theaters. Cyrus, obviously, should draw much better; Fox Searchlight has been teasing it out with a fair amount of marketing as well as advance screenings. On the other hand, IFC must figure that moody indie fans are curious to see what the Killer fuss is about -- and to escape from a sun-drenched holiday weekend. Pale skin prefers darkened movie theaters.

Also expanding, but in smaller degrees, are the almost universally acclaimed drama Winter's Bone and the pesky doc Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. The latter flick I have seen; it's a personality profile that provides compelling viewing.

After the jump: Recent distribution deals and upcoming film festivals.