Risky Business: Linney leapt at 'Savages'

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Anne Thompson, Nicole Sperling and Gregg Goldstein are blogging from the Sundance Film Festival at www.riskybizblog.com.

PARK CITY -- For Laura Linney, who turns out another powerful performance as a woman struggling with the care of her dying father in Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages," the well-received drama was Linney's first opportunity to work with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The two hit it off instantly. Hanging out at Fox Searchlight's intimate dinner Friday night on Main Street with Hoffman, Jenkins, a handful of press and Searchlight execs, Linney couldn't praise the experience enough.

"When the writing is so good and your acting partner is so good, it's pretty easy," says the actress, who tends to play the sad sister as she did in "You Can Count on Me" and "Love Actually." Linney did say that with only 30 days to film the movie, the crew worked long hours to pull it together.

Fox Searchlight head Peter Rice says the strategy is to release the film at summer's end, a time the studio has had luck with in the past. The studio released last year's Sundance pickup "Little Miss Sunshine" last July, though it's likely they would opt for a later date, something similar to "The Good Girl," which bowed in August 2002. "We've had good luck with that time period," Rice said. (Nicole Sperling)

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"Crazy Love," the engrossing documentary from director Dan Klores, helped get the acquisition activity humming during the weekend by cutting a deal with Magnolia Pictures. Screened on Friday night at the Holiday Cinema, the docu tells the stranger-than-fiction love story between Linda Riss and Burt Pugach.

Klores and his producing partner, Fisher Stevens, took the chance of prescreening the film in Los Angeles and New York before the festival, a risky decision that could have backfired depending on how the film played. In fact, several of the studio subsidiaries, including Fox Searchlight, passed before the festival. Remake rights were of more interest, sources say. But Fisher says the "Crazy Love" filmmakers thought they had the goods. "It was Dan's idea to go early and I agreed," Stevens says.

Klores, a native New Yorker, remembers reading about the seminal incident in Pugach and Riss' lives, when Pugach had Riss blinded when he realized he was losing her to another man. But it wasn't until Klores read a New York Times story about the couple -- who after Pugach's 16-year jail sentence reconnected and wound up marrying each other -- that he decided to pursue the project.

Klores particularly is fond of Riss, who he calls with no disrespect "a dame." He says, "She's tough, very smart. She put up with Burt for all these years; she has to be strong."

The Pugaches attended the screening, the first time the couple had been to the Sundance Film Festival. They were candid in answering questions about their life.

Says Burt, "It was a story that had to be told. It's about overcoming adversity, overcoming incredible selfishness. I didn't want to be defined by an isolated act that occurred a half-century ago."

How could Linda have let Burt win? He changed the course of her life forever because she wasn't willing to stay with him. And by blinding her and causing her to call off her engagement, Linda essentially let Burt prevail. "That's a terrible way to look at it," Linda says. "He didn't win. Living with me is not the easiest thing that could have happened." (Gregg Goldstein and Nicole Sperling)

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Screenwriter-director Cecilia Miniucchi, who hails from Italy but has lived stateside since she attended the AFI in her 20s, felt lucky when she landed Samantha Morton and Jason Patric for her tough two-hander relationship movie "Expired." They play two traffic cops who can barely talk to anyone, much less have sex with each other. Patric plays a belligerent policeman who gets into fights with people when he gives them tickets. After a disastrous young marriage, he limits his sexual interactions to the Internet. Morton cares for her ailing mother, a stroke victim played by Teri Garr.

Miniucchi also felt blessed when her indie-financed movie landed a spot in Sundance's Spectrum. But bad luck has dogged her stars: Morton is in a London hospital, still suffering from injuries incurred when a ceiling at her new home collapsed on her head, Miniucchi says. Garr, who has multiple sclerosis, is in rehabilitation and physical therapy after a brain operation to repair an aneurysm. "They say she is recuperated and shows no serious damage, thank God," Miniucchi says.

Meanwhile, Patric had to suddenly show up for work on the Paul Haggis mystery thriller "In the Valley of Elah." And Illeana Douglas, who plays Morton's next-door neighbor, had to do some days on the CBS James Woods legal drama "Shark." So Miniucchi canceled all her actors' flights and hotel reservations and soldiered on at Sundance alone. She wrote the role for the always-amazing Morton, who gained weight for the part and "shows an incredible amount of emotions; what goes on behind her eyes is worth more than anything," Miniucchi says. "Most actresses are so slim and skinny and pretty, you don't believe they are real people."

Patric also is brave and excellent in "Expired," which digs into tricky, intimate territory. "He gave everything he had," Miniucchi says. "And so much of a sense of humor. It's a celebration of love; I want to encourage people to get our of their cocoons and join the world and feel pain, pleasure, laughter and suffering, to live and be loved." (Anne Thompson)


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