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Romney Strategist’s Ties To George Clooney

By | Monday September 17, 2012 @ 7:38am PDT

Given how much Republicans hate Hollywood in general, and George Clooney in particular because of his  Obama fundraising and Democratic Party activism, you’d think any associations would be radioactive to the GOP. Nope. Stuart Stevens is currently Mitt Romney‘s chief campaign strategist, chief campaign ad maker, and chief campaign speechwriter. And yet Stevens was the political consultant for Clooney’s 2011 political movie The Ides Of March and 2003 political TV show K Street. In fact, Stevens has many Hollywood connections: he was a UCLA Film School grad student, a one-time fellow with the American Film Institute, and a credited TV writer on Northern Exposure, I’ll Fly Away, and Commander In Chief (also a consultant producer — see below.)

George Clooney Appearance Raises $625K For Obama
George Clooney’s Record $15M Fundraiser For Obama

Stevens now has a bullseye on his back because of a new Politico article which is creating big buzz over the last 24 hours. It says Republicans are blaming Stevens for all the recent stumbles in Romney’s presidential campaign. It claims Stevens was responsible for the many rewrites to Romney’s RNC speech that left out mentions of Afghanistan or Al-Queda or troops serving in war zones. It also claims that Stevens arranged for Clint Eastwood’s rambling RNC speech with that chair. (Stevens ”loved the idea of the tough-talking American icon greeting the millions of viewers tuning in.”) Read More »

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OSCAR Q&A: George Clooney On ‘The Descendants’, ‘Ides Of March’ And His Love Affair With Making Movies

By | Thursday February 9, 2012 @ 9:01am PST

At this point in his accomplished, eclectic career, George Clooney enjoys the luxury of taking his pick of film projects that inspire him. In 2011, those were two films: the political drama The Ides Of March, which Clooney co-starred in as well as directed and co-wrote; and The Descendants, co-written and directed by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne. The latter picked up five Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nom for Clooney, his third in the category. Clooney will be busy on Oscar night, as he’s also up for Adapted Screenplay with his Ides co-writer Grant Heslov. Clooney talked with Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond about his busy season.

AWARDSLINE: What made you most happy about The Descendants?
CLOONEY: I just wanted to work with Alexander first and foremost. I hadn’t read the script when we met in Toronto a little over two years ago. He said, “Do you want to do this movie?” And I said “Yep!” And then he sent me the script and I was just thrilled. It was sort of the same experience I had the first time I met with the Coen brothers and they said “Do you want to do a movie?” and then they sent me O Brother, Where Art Thou? and I was like how lucky I am! Read More »

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Australian Academy Of Cinema Names First International Awards Nominees

Mike Fleming

The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television, which previously honored Aussie productions, has launched five new award categories that will recognize international product in Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. In other words, the Aussies are going Hollywood. The nominees were announced tonight by Jacki Weaver, the Aussie actress who was Oscar nominated for Animal Kingdom. I am not sure how these will factor into the Oscar conversation, but here are the nominees:



The Artist – Thomas Langmann (The Weinstein Company)

The Descendants - Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Hugo – Graham King, Tim Headington, Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp (Paramount Pictures)

The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver (Columbia Pictures)

Margin Call - Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto (Roadside Attractions)

Melancholia – Meta Louise Foldager, Louise Vesth (Magnolia Pictures)

Midnight In Paris – Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Jaume Roures (Sony Pictures Classics)

Moneyball - Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt (Columbia Pictures)

The Tree of Life – Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner, Sarah Green (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

We Need to Talk About Kevin – Jennifer Fox, Luc Roeg, Bob Salerno (Oscilloscope Pictures)
Read More »

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HAMMOND: Oscar Race Still Wide Open As Early Awards Provide No Clear Clues

Pete Hammond

National Board Of Review Names ‘Hugo’ Best Film, Martin Scorsese Best Director
‘The Artist’ Is NY Film Critics Best Picture; Meryl Streep Best Actress, Brad Pitt Best Actor

The first week of actual awards-giving and nominations has now passed and pundits are searching for clues. Has anything actually been clarified in this year’s Oscar race?


Based on the mixed bag out of the New York Film Critics, National Board of Review and Gotham Awards winners along with the announced nominees for Independent Spirit Awards, this year is completely, completely wide open. But then you knew that already.

The New York Critics so wanted to be first and “influence” the Oscars that they advanced their voting date up two weeks and prematurely presented a list of winners Tuesday that seemed downright conservative and very “Academy friendly.” After honoring harder edged films in the past, they went for a delightful black and white silent film as their Best Picture (The Artist) and Director (Michel Hazanavicius) plus big stars  Meryl Streep (in another biopic — as Margaret Thatcher this time) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) both playing real-life characters, something  Academy voters have tended to favor in many of their recent acting winners. It was Streep’s fifth acting honor from the NYFCC. The group moved their voting up in order to beat everyone else, particularly the National Board of Review which is normally first, and in effect forced Sony to show them David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by agreeing to move their voting date back a day (and then ignored the film). They also miscalculated Warner Bros’ willingness to show Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close before it was completely finished and ready to be seen by some of the nation’s most “important” (at least in their own minds) critics. So that one wasn’t part of their deliberations. The Broadcast Film Critics Association (I am a member) and the Los Angeles Film Critics among others will be able to see Dragon Tattoo starting Friday. Neither has changed its voting schedules (about 10 days out) in order to jump the gun and will be able to see everything before weighing in on the year’s best. That seems like the right course for critics groups  instead of trying to force the hands of filmmakers in order to pursue their own delusional quixotic quest for influence. Read More »

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HAMMOND: Composer Alexandre Desplat Is Music To Oscar’s Ears Again This Season

Pete Hammond

Is Alexandre Desplat the new hardest working man in show business? The prolific French composer  who has had four Oscar nominations in the last five years  is just coming off his busiest year since gaining international notoriety in 2003 with Girl With A Pearl Earring. Since then he has been one of, if not  the most in-demand composers in the business with a remarkable output that made me tired just reading all the titles. Those Oscar-nominated scores, The King’s Speech, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Queen are just a tiny sample of the nearly 60 scores he has written in the last 10 years, a decade of major achievement for the now-50 year old Desplat who can probably safely say life really does start at 40.  He has actually been actively composing for films for a quarter century but has only become an international household name in movie music circles since 2003. When I sat down with him at a small dinner last week he was in town just for 36 hours and between back-to-back Q&As with his The Ides of March director George Clooney. That morning he had just completed the score for Stephen Daldry’s Christmas release, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It was a rush job to be sure as he was brought in as a last minute replacement for the film’s first composer, Nico Muhly ( who despite having composed Daldry’s The Reader as well as serving as a music coordinator … Read More »

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‘Real Steel’ Bot-Battle Wins Weak Weekend; George Clooney’s ‘Ides Of March’ Distant #2

SUNDAY AM,  4TH UPDATE: Younger males used to be Hollywood’s target audience. But as I’ve been pointing out recently, they’re just not consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies anymore. The reason is either financial or too many other entertainment choices. That was the gist of internal conversations inside studios all summer when uncompelling fare fell short with young guys who stayed away from the malls. But would this troubling pattern continue into fall? It’s fuzzy so far. DreamWorks/Disney’s Real Steel required a mammoth marketing push to pump up mediocre tracking so it could dominate the North American box office all weekend. Grosses went up +25% from Friday to Saturday for a $27.3M opening weekend and an ‘A’ CinemaScore. Problem is Hollywood would have impressed if the result was $35M because of its family overlay and $110+M budget. By contrast, George Clooney’s newcomer The Ides Of March had only a $12.5M production budget after rebates. But this R-rated adult political thriller co-starring Ryan Gosling was hard to sell even for Sony Pictures. The pic eked out $10.4M, less than the modest weekend which Hollywood expected after it was a hit at both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Though well-reviewed, audiences gave it just a ‘B’ CinemaScore though those under age 25 bestowed a ‘B+’. The rest of the box office held well for an overall weak weekend.
Here are the Top 10 movies:

1. Real Steel (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW [3,440 Theaters]
Friday $8.5M, Saturday $10.8M, Weekend $27.3M, International $22.1M

This Shaun Levy-directed bot battle starring Hugh Jackman received a rare ‘A’ CinemaScore overall and ‘A+’ from moviegoers under age 25. But its awareness and wannasee going into this weekend concerned DreamWorks because, if anything of late, tracking has been overperforming box office, not the other way around. This was considered a crucial weekend financially for the rebooted studio. Sources told me as recently as Friday that Real Steel needed to make $125+M all in domestically to keep India’s Reliance funding on track (even though CEO Stacey Snider claimed the partnership is solid). But even though it placed #1, the $27.3M weekend opening (with $3.2 million from IMAX) is soft for the PG-13 father-son drama if it hopes to recoup its $110+M costs. Disney believes Sunday and Monday business could push the cume higher because of the Columbus Day holiday when one-third of kids are out of school. Which is why the pic was sold as feel-good family fare (Levy directed Night At The Museum et al) simultaneously with the Rocky With Robots rock’em-sock’em. Hugh Jackman stars as the relatable “everyman” — that is, if everyone had a hardbody and Sugar Ray Leonard as a boxing trainer — with Dakota Goyo plucked from thousands of 10-year-old boys who auditioned to play son Max.

The pic is based on the 1956 short story “Steel” by Richard Matheson, who seven years later adapted it for a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin in a futuristic world of android combatants. John Gatins received screenplay credit with Dan Gilroy and Jeremy Leven getting story credit, and Don Murphy, Susan Montford, and Shawn Levy producer credit. Marketing was predictably omnipresent and expensive, including cast personal appearances at Comic-Con, CinemaCon, Super Bowl XLV, NBA finals and NFL fall games. Demonstrating the airline will do anything for a few bucks, Virgin America permanently branded its new Airbus A320 “Real Steel” and wrapped the plane with image from film. Extensive integration took place on ESPN including homepage takeover across all platforms the day before the film’s release. ESPN Deportes, Boxeo Telemundo sponsorship, Univision tie-in to Futbol Liga Mexicana, Solo Boxeo, and more were aimed at Hispanic audiences. Overseas, the pic made $22.1M as it rolled out to 25% of the international market this weekend including Jackman’s native Australia following a global press junket in Los Angeles, and international press tours in France, Russia, Germany, UK, Latin America, plus Toronto and Down Under.

2. The Ides Of March (Sony) NEW [2,199 Theaters]
Friday $3.4M, Saturday $4.2M, Weekend $10.4M

Let’s be honest: George Clooney can’t marquee a major movie anymore unless it’s an ensemble. But even though he’s only modest box office, Hollywood still wants to be in business with him and his classy low-budget films that get attention at awards time. So $11M-$13M grossing pics (his average without frequent co-star Brad Pitt) are acceptable as long as the production budgets stay in that range as well. Like The Ides Of March did. Sony Pictures acquired rights to distribute while the project was still in development. It’s based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, a writer who’d worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. It’s the first film with Sony since Clooney and his Smokehouse Pictures partner Grant Heslov moved from Warner Bros to Sony in 2009. The Ides Of March was fully financed by Cross Creek Pictures so Brian Oliver shares producer credit. Millimon’s first Farragut North draft came in so clean that Clooney and Heslov committed immediately. They re-wrote the script with Willimon and renamed it The Ides Of March, perhaps a too-obvious reference to all that Shakespearean plotting in Julius Caesar. Film had a 23% uptick from Friday to Saturday. Ultimately, Sony hopes the pic can do a 5X multiple because of word of mouth and the standout cast’s Oscar chances including Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.

The film’s first trailer went up with Crazy, Stupid, Love in July. But the real buzz launched at the Venice Film Festival at the end of August, and built to the Red Carpet gala at Toronto. Nevertheless, marketing a political film from the liberal Clooney — especially when he’s director, producer, and writer — is a tough task in this deeply divided 2012 election climate. (Supposedly the script would have made it to the big screen sooner but it was deemed too cynical to release when President Obama first took office. Not so now…) Interesting how Ryan Gosling is featured more prominently on the one-sheet than Clooney even though George appeared on Time magazine’s cover in real life. This also explains why, in the TV ad, Sony took great care to barely show Clooney or even hint at the specific ideology behind The Ides Of March. (Like, duh.) The media campaign targeted adults of both sexes and its highlights included the Emmy Awards, new season primetime premieres, NFL fall games, and the MLB divisional playoffs. Trailers were aired during CNN’s Piers Morgan talk show as well.
Read More »

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OSCARS: Academy Turns Out Crowd For ‘Moneyball’; But Is It Best Picture Worthy?

Pete Hammond

Take it with a grain of salt. But Saturday night’s “official” Academy member screening of Moneyball seemed to draw the most enthusiasm since last May’s packed Midnight In Paris. At least judging by several unsolicited responses emailed to me by Academy members in attendance. Of course it helped that the film came in a very respectable No. 2 at the box office this weekend with just over $20 million. One Acad member told me it was “as crowded as it gets.” While another wrote, “I just went to the Academy screening  of Moneyball, and it was packed! Pretty much filled besides a few random open seats.” The make-up of the Acad crowd was described as “older than usual, and a lot of new faces” and by another member in attendance as “definitely older than I would have expected. But there was great reaction throughout the film and big applause at the end for Brad and Jonah.” Another opined that “the lighter moments played well, which as you know is always telling. The few jokes were responded to well. There was warm applause at the end. But personally I gauge baseball movies by the emotional swelling I get in my throat at least once. I didn’t get that here.” Read More »

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Global Showbiz Briefs: India, Qatar, Spain

By | Wednesday September 21, 2011 @ 3:14am PDT

Rom-Com Zombies Lurching Into Bollywood Films
Indian filmmakers are dipping their creative toes into the zombie water, but with a light-hearted touch. Shaadi of the Dead (Wedding of the Dead) is about a zombie invasion at a Punjabi marriage ceremony. It’s set for release next year. Also in the works is Go Goa Gone, starring Saif Ali Khan, about a group of youngsters who fight the undead in the resort state of Goa. Shaadi of the Dead director Navdeep Singh is banking on the novelty value of the genre to attract younger Indian film audiences. “We feel this idea of a zombie film is very fresh,” he told AFP. “It is something that has never been tried in the Hindi film industry and so we feel it will work.”

Al-Jazeera Head Steps Down After WikiLeaks Link To U.S.
Qatar’s government has replaced Wadah Khanfar, the director-general of the Al-Jazeera satellite TV network, with a member of its own royal family. Khanfar’s resignation comes after eight years of revolutionizing the Middle East’s media landscape, but in the wake of a WikiLeaks controversy. A U.S. government cable uncovered last month suggests Khanfar agreed to “tone down” objectionable content and promised to “remove it over the subsequent two or three days.” Al-Jazeera has played a key role in the protest movements sweeping the Middle East, airing round-the-clock coverage of uprisings that brought down rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year. The new chief is Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, an executive at Qatargas. Read More »

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Toronto: Big Stars, Big Risks Hit Film Fest

Pete Hammond

Only at a film festival: I left a movie today in which the basic plotline had to do with a man trying to deal with his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis and all the horrible things that entails. Afterward, the pic’s publicist comes up and asks how I liked it. ”Well, it was kind of depressing,” I said. To which she replied, “What exactly was depressing about it?” Spin, spin, spin. That’s what you get at film fests. At the more serious-minded Toronto Film Festival, though, things swung into high gear today. The big guns came into town, including the casts of Moneyball and The Ides of March which had back-to-back premieres Friday night. At the Soho House pre-party for the Ides premiere, I talked to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stars in both films, and suggested he was probably the first actor in history who had to walk two red carpets almost simultaneously. Hoffman said he was about to collapse from having done junket interviews all day. Sony Pictures marketing honcho Marc Weinstock is shepherding both films and said it was his idea to do the back-to-back premieres after the festival came to him. When it rains, it pours — and after the heartbreak of seeing its frontrunner The Social Network succumb to the Weinsteins’ The King’s Speech at the last Oscars, Sony is taking any awards talk cautiously this time around. As studio head Amy Pascal told me, “It’s … Read More »

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Toronto: Brad Pitt, George Clooney Bring Sony Pictures Roaring Back Into Oscar Race

By | Thursday September 8, 2011 @ 10:50pm PDT
Pete Hammond

The film industry poured into town for the Toronto Film Festival’s Gala Opening Thursday night kickoff of Davis Guggenheim’s U2 movie, From the Sky Down. But the festival really got off and running earlier in the day, as least as far as Sony Pictures was concerned. The studio that could have had its first Best Picture Oscar win in more than two decades last year with The Social Network is serving notice that it is back in the race again this year with two potential Best Pic contenders. Both Brad Pitt’s Moneyball and George Clooney’s The Ides of March screened back-to-back in a theater packed with press and industry types this afternoon. This was in advance of the studio’s double gala premieres Friday night at the Roy Thomson Hall. That inevitably will provide a double dose of star power that film festival organizers can only dream of.

In the case of Moneyball, Sony is throwing its world premiere here. Bringing it to the screen was a tumultuous 8-year ride, but it was all worth it. You can definitely add Pitt to the growing list of Best Actor contenders and throw in Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill as supporting possibilities. The film, based on Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, is a baseball movie that even people who hate baseball might appreciate. It all started in 2003 when former New Line exec Rachael Horovitz tried to sell it to a studio but got no takers. Finally teaming with writer Stan Chervin (who gets a story credit), they threw a winning pitch, drawing fervent interest in 2004 from both Warners and Sony. They went with the latter and Amy Pascal, who I am told showed great passion for the project from day one.

Initially, baseball freak Steven Soderbergh was involved, but he had to pass because of other commitments, including another baseball-themed movie he had for George Clooney. Eventually Sony brought in producer Michael De Luca to join Horovitz and, five years later in 2009, Soderbergh was back to direct. But  in a well-detailed case of creative differences the Oscar-winning director was jettisoned from the film just 72 hours before production was to begin when the studio changed its mind about his changes to Steven Zaillian’s adaptation. His primary addition included Reds-like testimonials from real-life players. Pitt, knowing a good thing when he saw it, stayed on board throughout. The project really got back on track with executive producer Scott Rudin coming aboard along with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who did a polish on Zaillian’s script (both get credit now), and the hiring of Bennett Miller (Capote) to replace Soderbergh.

It’s easy to see why Pitt would want to stick with this role even after his friend and Ocean’s 11 director Soderbergh left (he moved on to direct Contagion, which hits theaters today). This is a classic movie star role in the tradition of something that Robert Redford or Paul Newman would have done in their prime. He has never been better, and the movie is the best sports film since Bull Durham, a real triumph considering the long and winding road it took to get to the screen. Read More »

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London Film Festival Sets Program As George Clooney Global Tour Continues

Mike Fleming

The 55th BFI London Film Festival has set its slate for the 16-day festival that runs Oct. 12-27. It’s composed mostly of the high-profile films that will have made their debuts at the Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals. The festival previously announced Fernando Meirelles’ 360 as its opener, and other highlights include George Clooney’s The Ides of March as well as The Descendants, the Alexander Payne film that stars Clooney. Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous, Madona’s W.E., Steve McQueen’s Shame, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Michel Hazanavicius’ celebrated silent film The Artist are all on the docket for the Gala Premiere section.

The Film on the Square program includes the Roman Polanski-directed Carnage, Gus Van Sant’s Restless, the Paolo Sorrentino-directed Sean Penn-starrer This Must Be the Place, Oren Moverman’s Rampart, Dee Rees’ Pariah and Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene.

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VENICE: George Clooney On ‘Ides Of March’

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Hot Trailer: George Clooney’s ‘The Ides Of March’

Mike Fleming

Sony Pictures has released a new and pretty intense trailer for The Ides of March, the George Clooney-directed thriller about cutthroat presidential politics that originated in Beau Willimon’s play. Clooney stars with Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. The film was just named to open the 2011 Venice Film Festival.

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68th Venice Film Festival Sets Fall Lineup

By | Thursday July 28, 2011 @ 4:36am PDT
Mike Fleming

The 68th Venice Film Festival has unveiled its film lineup of pictures that will run from Aug. 31 to Sept. 10. It begins with the George Clooney-directed The Ides of March and concludes with Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. Every fall fest tries to be a harbinger of Oscar gold, but last year’s winner, the Sofia Coppola-directed Somewhere, became mired in controversy and was a total non-factor in an Oscar race that was shaped by film launches in rival festivals that included Toronto, Telluride and the New York Film Festival. Here are the films that will play in Venice:

In Competition

The Ides Of March, George Clooney (US)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Tomas Alfredson (UK, Germany)
Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold (UK)
Texas Killing Fields, Ami Canaan Maan (US) (second work)
Quando La Notte, Cristina Comencini (Italy)
Terraferma, Emanuele Crialese (Italy/France)
A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg (Germany/Canada)
4:44 Last Day On Earth, Abel Ferrara (US)
Killer Joe, William Friedkin (US)
Un Ete Brulant, Philippe Garrel (France/Italy/Switzerland)
A Simple Life (Taojie), Ann Hui (China/Hong Kong)
The Exchange (Hahithalfut), Eran Kolirin (Israel) (second work)
Alps (Alpeis),Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece)
Shame, Steve McQueen (UK) (second work)
L’ultimo Terrestre, Gian Alfonso Pacinotti (GIPI) (Italy) (first work)
Carnage, Roman Polanski (France/Germany/Spain/Poland)
Chicken With Plums, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (France/Belgium/Germany)
Faust, Aleksander Sokurov (Russia)
Dark Horse,Todd Solondz (US)
Himizu, Sion Sono (Japan)
Seediq Bale, Wei Te-Sheng (Taiwan) (second work)
Surprise film Read More »

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George Clooney’s ‘Ides Of March’ To Open Venice Film Festival

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The George Clooney-directed The Ides of March will open the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 31, I’m told. The film, adapted from Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, stars Clooney as a presidential candidate, Ryan Gosling as a head of media and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a campaign manager. Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood also star. The drama takes place during the Ohio primary for the Democratic nomination. It’s extremely topical, given the recent resignation of Congressman Anthony Weiner for sending photos of his package to online “sexting” partners. The Ides of March involves similar scandalous activities. Clooney, who retreats to a vacation home in Lake Como in Italy, has had several of his films play at the festival. They include Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Stared at Goats, and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Out of Sight. Sony Pictures will distribute the film in fall.

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