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A charming, beautifully photographed modern fairy tale about love and gardening, This Beautiful Fantastic is worth seeing in spite of its dumb deterrent of a title. It’s an odd story about some very odd people guaranteed to grow on you. Written and directed with whimsical taste and obvious talent by Joseph Aboud, the son-in-law of Paul McCartney, it’s different, gorgeous to look at, and you go away feeling good about life and lilacs.

The centerpiece is a reclusive woman who dresses almost entirely in black. Her name is Bella Brown (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay). She was a foundling tended by a flock of ducks, rescued by an old man in the bulrushes by a lake and raised in a Catholic orphanage. Cut to Bella as a very strange adult indeed—an assistant librarian with a passion for order and precision with a dream of becoming an author of children’s books. One thing Bella has no interest in or talent for is horticulture.

When the garden behind the modest little house she rents turns to weeds, her irascible landlord threatens her with eviction unless she can pull the neglected garden to its former glory in 30 days. With the encouragement of Vernon (Andrew Scott), an Irish cook and widower with two daughters, she begins the arduous task of restoring the garden while enduring the insults of a curmudgeonly next-door neighbor, Alfie Stevenson (the great Tom Wilkinson). Eventually a color palette comes alive as the surly old man teaches Bella about life and love through the metaphor of gardening as the barren, vine-choking lot turns into a magical world of hollyhocks, delphiniums, and dahlias.

Stevenson turns out to be an unexpected but treasured ally, while Vernon keeps them all faithfully sated with béarnaise and blancmange. By the time it ends in a rainbow, Bella has experienced a new appreciation of happiness through nature, a fresh definition of friendship, and even romance—with an eccentric inventor of mechanical birds (the impossibly handsome Jeremy Irvine from War Horse, in nerd disguise) whose flying objects give Bella the inspiration she needs to write her first children’s novel.

It’s all a bit too precious for my taste, but it’s sweet as marzipan, dreamy to look at and warmed by performances that resonate.

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guardianangelnews

AMBI Distribution has acquired worldwide sales rights (Scandinavia, Iceland and former Yugoslavia) to thriller The Guardian Angel, now shooting.

Writer-director Arto Halonen [pictured] is currently filming the Finnish-Danish-Croatian co-production on location in Croatia and Denmark.

Pilou Asbæk (A War), Josh Lucas (The Lincoln Lawyer), Rade Serbedzija (Downton Abbey) and Cyron Melville (A Royal Affair) lead the cast.

The English-language film is based on the true story of Copenhagen’s Hypnosis Murders of 1951; a police investigation discovers that one man used manipulation and hypnosis to turn another man into a robber and a murderer.

“The story holds great interest for us today, not only as proof of the external power of controlling the human mind but also as it focuses on the visible and invisible manipulations acting upon us and affecting us as human beings,” said Halonen. “Focused on a single, fascinating case of an actual hypnosis crime, The Guardian Angel will use this situation to suggest much deeper issues of how present-day systems use manipulation on all of us – the mass-mind of the modern world.”

Halonen also produces for Finland’s Art Films Production AFP Ltd alongside Timo T Lahtinen of Copenhagen-based Smile Entertainment and Igor A Nola of Croatia’s MP Film Production. AMBI’s Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi will executive produce.

Backers are Finnish private venture capital fund IPR.VC, Finnish Film Foundation, Nordic Film & TV Fond and Croatian Audiovisual Fund.

Iervolino said, “The Guardian Angel, the previously untold story of a fascinating hypnosis crime, is especially relevant today as we shine a spotlight on issues surrounding mass manipulation through technology in the modern world. We are excited to bring Arto Halonen’s compelling vision to audiences which will leave them questioning their environment and outside influences.”

The film will be delivered in 2018.

Halonen’s past films are A Patriotic Man and Princess.

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Open Road Films has acquired all U.S. distribution rights to Mark Steven Johnson’s “Finding Steve McQueen.” The heist movie, which Open Road plans to release wide in 2018, stars Travis Fimmel, Forest Whitaker, William Fichtner and Rachael Taylor. The film was introduced to buyers at the European Film Market in Berlin by AMBI Distribution, the worldwide sales arm of AMBI Group.

“‘Finding Steve McQueen’ is an explosive, character-driven film, smartly told in a way that will keep audiences guessing throughout,” said AMBI’s Andrea Iervolino, who negotiated the deal with Open Road alongside AMBI’s Silvio Muraglia and Joseph Cohen of Paradox Studios. “Open Road has outlined a masterful marketing and distribution plan that will allow this film to perform very well.”

Taking place in 1972 it tells the true story of the biggest bank heist in U.S. history when a gang of thieves from Youngstown, Ohio, attempted to steal $30 million in illegal contributions and blackmail money from President Richard Nixon’s secret fund. The script was written by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon.

“Finding Steve McQueen” is an Identity Films/Paradox Studios/AMBI Media Group production. Anthony Mastromauro, Silvio Muraglia, Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi and Alexandra Klim serve as producers. Mikael Wiren serves as executive producer.

The deal was negotiated on behalf of Open Road Films by CEO Tom Ortenberg, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel, Elliott Kleinberg and SVP Acquisitions, Lejo Pet.

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Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Heidi Klum, John Cleese, James Franco, Anjelica Huston and Omar Sy are part of voice cast of the family film, hitting theaters in 2018.
Open Road is teaming with the Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad, acquiring the starry and topical CGI-animated film for a 2018 release.

Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Heidi Klum, John Cleese, James Franco, Anjelica Huston and Omar Sy are among the voice cast of the family film, directed by Aaron Woodley. It is produced and fully financed by AMBI and its principals, Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi. Animation work is currently being done out of AMBI’s Toronto-based AIC Studios.

Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad tells the story of a rag-tag group of inexperienced heroes (voiced by Renner, Franco, Baldwin, Huston, Klum and Sy) who come together to save the arctic and foil the evil plans of a sinister Doc Walrus (voiced by John Cleese), who hatches a secret plot to accelerate global warming and melt the arctic circle.

“The family film audience is hungry for quality product and we are very happy to serve up something fresh and topical with Arctic Justice,” stated Tom Ortenberg, CEO of Open Road.

The deal was negotiated on behalf of Open Road Films by CEO Tom Ortenberg, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Elliott Kleinberg, senior vp, acquisitions, Lejo Pet, and by Iervolino on behalf of AMBI Media Group.

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As the first week of the Sundance Film Festival comes to a close, Netflix continued its buying spree, picking up worldwide rights to the drama “To the Bone,” starring Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins, Variety has confirmed.

The movie, directed and written by Marti Noxon, follows a 20-year-old anorexic girl (Collins) who tries to get the medical help she needs at a group home. Reeves plays her doctor. The rest of the cast includes Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor and Alex Sharp.

The deal, estimated to be around $8 million, will allow the streaming giant to show the movie in regions around the world.

“To the Bone,” which debuted in the festival’s U.S. dramatic competition, was produced by Julie Lynn, Bonnie Curtis, Karina Miller, Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi. It was executive produced by Talal Al Abbar, Matthew J. Malek, Anita Gou and Joseph Lanius.

Netflix has had a very active Sundance, arriving in Park City with eight completed projects, including “I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore,” the opening night comedy starring Melanie Lynskey as a disillusioned nursing assistant. It’s also picked up five documentaries so far, ranging from the global-warming picture “Chasing Coral” to “Don’t Speak,” a revisiting of the Hulk Hogan libel-lawsuit trial that sunk Gawker.

CAA and WME handled the deal.

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