Sony units are fattening up

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CANNES -- Looking to bolster its post-"Spider-Man" slate, Sony's various arms swarmed the Croisette on Monday with a series of acquisitions.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions snagged North American and select international rights to Millennium Films' "88 Minutes," a thriller directed by Jon Avnet starring Al Pacino.

In addition, Sony Pictures Classics is in final negotiations to acquire North American rights to "The Band's Visit," from Bleiberg Entertainment; Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group picked up all international territories except Russia and Asia for the horror-actioner "Legion," from Velvet Octopus; and Sony Pictures Entertainment scooped up North American rights and a slew of other territories to Paul W.S. Anderson's "The Long Good Friday," from U.K. production and finance banner Handmade Films.

In "88 Minutes," Pacino plays a college professor who moonlights as a forensic psychiatrist for the FBI. He receives a death threat claiming he has only 88 minutes to live. The movie also stars Alicia Witt, Amy Brenneman, Leelee Sobieski and William Forsythe. Avnet and Nu Image's Avi Lerner produced.

"Nu Image and Sony have a long-standing and successful relationship; they are going to do well by this film," said Lerner, who already is prepping his company's next Pacino film, "Righteous Kill," which also will star Robert De Niro.

The "88 Minutes" deal was negotiated at Cannes by Lerner and Danny Dimbort of Nu Image and Sony's Lara Thompson and Lia Buman.

"Visit," which garnered a 15-minute standing ovation after Saturday's official screening here, provides Sony with an instant art house crowd-pleaser and a possible awards-season contender.

The film, produced by July August Prods. and Bleiberg, kicks off when an Egyptian police band arrives in a remote town in Israel having gotten lost on their way to a festival. They are taken in by friendly locals who, despite their cultural differences, open their hearts to the outsiders.

"Visit" sold Sunday in several key international territories. Sophie Dulac, the film's co-producer, purchased the rights to France and will release on 80 prints. Mikado bought the rights to Italy, while Spain went to Manga. Swen-Brazil bought the rights to all Latin America territories, and Madman purchased Australia and New Zealand. Audio Visual bought the rights to Greece, and Xenix bought the rights to Switzerland.

The "Visit" deals are being negotiated by Bleiberg's Roman Kopelevich. SPC is headed by co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard and executive vp Dylan Leiner.

"Legion," penned by Peter Schink, marks the directorial debut of special effects maven Scott Charles Stewart, founder of the Orphanage.

Casting is under way, and shooting is scheduled to start by year's end. Thompson, senior vp acquisitions and productions at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, negotiated the deal with support from Scott Shooman, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group executive director acquisitions and productions.

The group also had a hand in acquiring "Friday," a deal it jointly announced Monday with Handmade Films International.

Billed as a contemporary remake of the classic 1980 British gangland crime thriller, the project will be produced by Anderson's business partner Jeremy Bolt and Handmade Films' Patrick Meehan. Anderson also is writing.

Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper described the project as "a compelling and contemporary reimagining of the original film."

Added Culpepper, "We are especially looking forward to collaborating again with Paul and Jeremy after our successful work together on 'Resident Evil.' "

"Friday" was negotiated by Peter Schlessel and Thompson on behalf of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, and Guy Collins and Michael Ryan for Handmade Films International.

Stuart Kemp in Cannes and Borys Kit in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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