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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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Gardening, mechanical creatures, library books and neighborly friction figure in a magic-tinged fable starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Wilkinson.
In the gently comic, slightly tart fairy tale This Beautiful Fantastic, a novice gardener named Bella Brown learns to till the soil, to weed and plant and prune. Leading a pitch-perfect cast, Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay plays this “oddest of oddballs,” an orphan whose care as an infant was handled briefly by ducks. As the earth gradually yields to the grown-up Bella’s newfound know-how, none of what transpires is earth-shattering, but it’s the way it happens, with the simplicity and sense of wonder of an old-fashioned picture book, that makes her story, however wispy, delightful.

Writer-director Simon Aboud doesn’t push the quirk factor; even when the narrative is at its most playful, he keeps it rooted to a lived-in reality. Mining familiar territory with an earnest clarity, he shapes a mild yet winning fantasy about hearts opening and friendships blooming. The movie should travel well as it books international dates after its North American festival premiere.

In a lead role that had been pegged to Carey Mulligan and Felicity Jones at various times during the production’s development, Findlay combines fresh-faced innocence and a nascent streak of inner steel as Bella, a creature of rigid habit whose world changes after she comes into contact with her crotchety neighbor.

Tom Wilkinson’s Alfie Stephenson is one of those engagingly acerbic misanthropes who is easier to find in literature and film than in life. He delivers crisp, irked assessments of the young woman next door, first in brief bits of voiceover narration and then face-to-face. (His eloquently cutting remarks probably played a key role in the screenplay’s selection for the Brit List, a U.K. version of the Black List of unproduced scripts.) Alfie’s chief complaint: Bella’s criminal neglect of her rented house’s backyard, which has turned into an overgrown English jungle of tangled greenery. Outraged by the abomination, he snitches on her to her landlord, who gives Bella a month to tidy up the garden or be evicted.

The bargaining chip between them is Vernon, the housekeeper and talented cook who leaves Alfie’s employ for the kinder, if less well-heeled, domain of Bella’s cottage. Played by Andrew Scott (Moriarty on Sherlock) with the right mix of vulnerability and gusto, Vernon is a widowed dad who agrees to resume cooking meals for his demanding former boss if Alfie will help Bella keep her home by sharing his gardening expertise.

Vernon’s culinary exuberance and Alfie’s lush, colorful, quasi-wild garden (played by that of London-based garden designer Peter Beardsley) embolden Bella and chip away at her penchant for orderliness. So too does sweetly bumbling inventor Billy Trantor (Jeremy Irvine), who frequents her workplace and puts Bella at odds with the comically imperious head librarian (Anna Chancellor) — a woman who’s given to spelling out admonishments on a letter board and sometimes resorts to a microphone to amplify her demand for silence. In turn, Bella inspires them as well, although the character remains a tad too passive and reactive.

The highlight among Billy’s handcrafted mechanical critters — and one of the most memorable elements in a film that isn’t the stuff of deep, lasting impressions — is a metallic bird named Luna, scruffily elegant and powered by moonlight. (Its brief flight was manipulated by puppeteers who were then digitally painted out, in the film’s sole CGI sequence.)

Though it has been compared to Amelie, the movie has a leaner sensibility, never lapsing into froufrou. Aboud, whose feature debut was the 2012 crime thriller Comes a Bright Day, elicits an unforced energy, with a touch of the elegiac, in the performances and every other aspect of This Beautiful Fantastic. In Ian Fulcher’s costumes, Alexandra Walker’s interiors and Anne Nikitin’s score, the whimsy of the ephemeral proceedings is undeniable but understated. Alfie’s cherished flowers have an abstract radiance in cinematographer Mike Eley’s out-of-focus close-ups; in more straightforward fashion, the intensifying connections among Bella and her new friends have a radiance, too.

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He is the golden-voiced Italian tenor who overcame blindness and other extreme obstacles to find success on the world stage, selling more than 80 million albums. Now Andrea Bocelli, 58, has inspired one of Britain’s leading film directors to tell his extraordinary story on the big screen. The singer has asked only that his blindness not be portrayed as a disability.

The Music of Silence is being shot by Michael Radford, whose previous films include the critically acclaimed Il Postino – for which he received an Oscar nomination – and a version of The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino.

This new film, based on Bocelli’s autobiographical novel of the same name, explores the relationship between blindness and hearing, as well as other senses heightened by the loss of sight. Bocelli went blind as a child, struggled to teach himself to read music in Braille, and competed in talent shows until his potential was recognised by Luciano Pavarotti, who declared that “there is no finer voice than Bocelli”.

Having made ends meet as a bar singer, Bocelli went on to perform to sold-out audiences all over the world, sang to presidents and popes, and was awarded a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

He is portrayed in the film by Toby Sebastian, the British actor known for Game of Thrones, who speaks with an Italian accent and mimes to tracks of Bocelli’s voice that are synchronised in a complex technical process.

Radford told the Observer that Bocelli asked that Sebastian did not attempt to portray a blind person “because I spend most of my life trying to pretend that I can actually see”. He said that Bocelli tries to avoid embarrassing people, believing that “nobody wants to see me reaching for a chair like a desperate man with my arms stretched out and feeling about”.

The director was initially wary of making a film about a living person, but he said he found Bocelli’s story so inspirational. “He was born with glaucoma in one eye. He was in hospital most of his early childhood until they managed to save about 10% of the sight in one eye. He was categorised as blind, but with a limited amount of sight,” he said. “Then, when he was 12, he was playing football in his blind school and somebody kicked a ball that hit his other eye and blinded him.”

In working on the script with Bocelli, Radford got to know him and began to understand exactly why the singer “doesn’t consider himself to be handicapped in any way”. Radford explained: “This is about a guy who’s determined – he’s a forceful character. He’s also physically extremely courageous. He rides horses and does all sorts of things that you wouldn’t imagine that someone who is blind would do with the degree of skill that he achieves.

“You see him walking round the place. Last time I went to see him, he greeted me on an Andalucían stallion which was walking only on its hind legs and he was controlling it. Amazing. Then he galloped into the distance.”

He added: “There are all these tricks that he uses. He’ll kick a chair with his foot, to figure out where it is. And of course his other senses are absolutely developed. He can smell, touch, feel, above all he can hear. Literally by clicking his fingers he can tell you how far away a wall is.”

Bocelli has just released a special 20th anniversary edition of his hit album, Romanza, which includes two new versions of the song that catapulted him to stardom, Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Partirò), one of the biggest-selling singles of all time. It has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. Now he has made new recordings to be used in The Music of Silence.

He also has a cameo role in the film. Radford said: “The scene kicks off with him sitting at a typewriter, writing the story of the film, and he’s in the theatre … at the end, he goes through the theatre … and then steps out in front of a huge audience and starts to sing.”

The film takes the story up to the point where Bocelli was “desperate for some sort of success”, Radford added. An international cast includes Antonio Banderas, whose films include Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Desperado, who plays the Maestro. The script is a collaboration with both Bocelli and Anna Pavignano, Radford’s collaborator on Il Postino.

The film is being made in English. “This was something I was very wary of to begin with, because my area of activity is authenticity,” said Radford. “But I succumbed to that pressure.

“We have Italian actors speaking English with an Italian accent. That seems to work, strangely. Toby [Sebastian] speaks English with an Italian accent. We have dialogue and dialect coaches. We have absolutely everybody coaching everybody. It’s very complicated. We have music experts, blind experts, every type of expert. It’s quite extraordinary.”

Radford spoke to the Observer on the set at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, where the shoot continues throughout this month. He said that while Bocelli might not be able to see the final movie, he can certainly “feel it, sense it and hear it”.

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