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Clooney Gets Stuck in Space, Johansson Man-Eats in Venice

Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play two endangered astronauts in "Gravity" by Alfonso Cuaron. The movie opened the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 28., 2013. Source: Venice Film Festival via Bloomberg

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock get stranded in outer space, Scarlett Johansson stalks male hitchhikers, and Zac Efron treats wounded President John F. Kennedy in movies premiering at the Venice Film Festival.

Starting tomorrow and ending Sept. 7 on Venice’s Lido island, the world’s oldest film festival has 20 titles competing for the Golden Lion award this year -- including, unusually, a couple of documentaries.

Opening movie “Gravity,” a 3-D science-fiction title, casts Bullock as a medical engineer who’s on her maiden space mission with a seasoned astronaut (Clooney). Their shuttle is wrecked, leaving them cut off from earth and tethered to each other.

“It was a very intense experience for Sandra: That I have to admit,” said director Alfonso Cuaron at San Diego’s Comic-Con convention last month, noting that Bullock spent long spells in a narrow cube of LED lights during the shoot.

“Our focus was not the technology: Our focus was the performance. It was the emotional journey and how that was going to be translated,” said Cuaron, known for “Children of Men” (2006) and Mexican road movie “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001).

One contender for the Golden Lion is Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin.” It stars Scarlett Johansson as an alluring alien who captures male hitchhikers and has them sliced up and delivered to a corporation that markets human flesh. The movie is adapted from a Michel Faber novel.

Dallas Kennedy

In “Parkland,” also a Venice competitor, Efron plays Jim Carrico -- the first doctor to give President Kennedy emergency care on the day of his assassination. Director Peter Landesman recreates the dramatic circumstances at Dallas’s Parkland Hospital that day; Marcia Gay Harden co-stars.

Other stars poised to head up the red carpet this year: Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, and Christoph Waltz for Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem,” about a computer hacker probing the meaning of human life; and Lindsay Lohan, for “The Canyons” (by “American Gigolo” director Paul Schrader), an erotic thriller about an L.A. rich kid who turns violent when he discovers that his actress girlfriend is cheating on him. Lohan’s co-star is the real-life porn actor James Deen.

One of the two documentaries vying for the top prize is “The Unknown Known” by Errol Morris, a portrait of former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Bertolucci, Sakamoto

This year’s main jury is led by director Bernardo Bertolucci (“Last Tango in Paris”) and includes U.S. actress Carrie Fisher and Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Other U.S. movies in the competition are “Joe” (by David Gordon Green), where Nicolas Cage plays an ex-convict who encounters a teenage boy; and “Night Moves” (by Kelly Reichardt and starring Jesse Eisenberg), about three environmentalists who conspire to destroy a hydroelectric dam.

In Stephen Frears’s “Philomena,” also in the official competition, Judi Dench plays an Irish mother searching for the son who was taken away from her when she fell pregnant in her teens.

Screening outside the official contest is a documentary about cyclist Lance Armstrong, and Italian director Ettore Scola’s tribute to fellow filmmaker Federico Fellini.

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, George Walden on books and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

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