Clooney Plays Astronaut, Johansson Turns Alien in Venice

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are set to open the Venice Film Festival in spacesuits as they play endangered astronauts in the 3D science-fiction title “Gravity” by Alfonso Cuaron.

Twenty movies are competing for the Golden Lion award at this year’s film festival, the world’s oldest, which runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7 on Venice’s Lido Island. They include Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin,” starring Scarlett Johansson as a comely extraterrestrial who preys on hitchhikers.

Other stars poised to head up the red carpet this year: Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, and Christoph Waltz, all in Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem,” about a computer hacker probing the secret of human life; and Lindsay Lohan, for “The Canyons” (directed by Paul Schrader), about an L.A. rich kid driven to violence by the discovery of a secret tryst.

“It’s a crisis period in the world, and this year’s movies reflect that,” Venice Film Festival Artistic Director Alberto Barbera said at a Rome news conference. “They’re disturbing, dark, and unconsoling, and some are extreme and radical.”

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

Unusually, two documentaries are among the 20 films vying for the top prize. One is “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld” by Errol Morris, about the former U.S. Defense Secretary who oversaw the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Kennedy’s Killing

Other U.S. contenders in the competition are “Parkland” (by Peter Landesman), starring Zac Efron, about the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated; “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 dam.

Judi Dench plays a mother searching for the son taken away from her decades earlier in Stephen Frears’s “Philomena,” also in the official competition.

Screening outside the official contest is a documentary about cyclist Lance Armstrong and Italian director Ettore Scola’s movie on the life of fellow filmmaker Federico Fellini.

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