PARAMOUNT PICTURES HAS OPTIONED Stuart Cohen’s new novel, “17 Stone Angels,” for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner’s C/W Prods.

“Angels,” which is now being shopped to publishers, is the story of a detective near retirement in Buenos Aires assigned to investigate the murder of an American writer — a crime that he was involved in. Story, which has been likened to “Insomnia,” also involves an American woman who travels to Buenos Aires to investigate the crime.

Cohen is an author of literary thrillers whose first novel, “Invisible World,” was published by HarperCollins imprint Regan Books.

Cohen’s rep, Joe Regal, said the author’s new book “is saturated in Tango. It’s as much about the place as about the people.” Cohen is also repped by CAA.

WHO NEEDS THE WORLD CUP when you have the Montclair, N.J. women’s soccer tournament?

Gotham indie Hart Sharp has optioned and will develop as a feature film New York Times sportswriter Harvey Araton’s “Alive and Kicking,” a portrait of a group of surburban mothers in Montclair — including Araton’s own wife, Beth Albert — who created their own soccer league.

Book, released last year by Simon & Schuster, follows the women for two seasons, recounting the challenges they faced from their first practices, juggling work and family and playing against a new generation of competitive women athletes who came of age under Title IX.

The commercial success of pics like “The Rookie” and “Season on the Brink” (an ESPN movie about former Indiana Hoosiers coach Bobby Knight), suggests that a sports film market saturated with loud brand-heavy vehicles such as “Space Jam” and “Like Mike” may still have room for thoughtful stories about unusual, real-life sporting events.

John Feinstein, the sportswriter and NPR contributor who wrote the book, “Season on the Brink,” says the best sports movies are often based on actual events.

But he noted that in most cases, too many nuances are lost in the transition from field to screen.

“Almost always, people who make them don’t understand the sports. There are scenes in most sports movies that are laughable to people who know sports,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein, who no longer appears on ESPN, has distanced himself from the cabler’s adaptation of his book, which earned high ratings but dismal reviews.

“They ended up with a horrible, horrible screenplay,” he said. “I think they could have made a worse movie if they had tried but I’m not sure.”

That’s not likely to be a concern for Araton. Hart Sharp is known for its literary approach to material.

The shingle is currently producing “Nicholas Nickleby” with United Artists.

“Alive and Kicking” will be produced by Hart Sharp Entertainment John Hart, Jeff Sharp and Robert Kessel, who said project “has all the elements of a classic sports dramedy.” Director of development Nina Wolarsky will oversee development.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to have a project that had its genesis in my own community and family, with my wife as one of the players, land with Hart Sharp, which has produced wonderful films,” Araton said.

COULD VIVENDI UNIVERSAL’S scramble for cash in the wake of CEO Jean-Marie Messier’s exit spell the end of French ownership for Houghton Mifflin?

Last year, Messier marshaled close to $2 billion to add Houghton — one of the biggest U.S. textbook publishers — to Vivendi U’s sizable French publishing unit, Havas. The move surprised some in Hollywood. How did a sleepy textbook giant, with its modest but stable cash flow, fit into Messier’s grand vision of a synergistically interlocking media colossus?

Now that Messier’s plans for Vivendi U are in tatters, board members could spin off Houghton for a quick cash infusion — provided they can find a buyer in a heavily consolidated textbook market.

But the consensus among analysts and publishing execs is that the publisher could divest some of its assets — perhaps the tiny consumer publishing division that holds the “Lord of the Rings” copyright? — but the overall company is likely to remain in the Vivendi fold.

Agnes Tourraine, Paris-based chief of Vivendi U Publishing, said earlier this year that Vivendi had already saved tens of millions of Euros in paper and printing efficiencies.

Says one banker, “Does Houghton have any great synergy with a record company? No. With a movie studio? No. But Vivendi does have, with Havas, a substantial publishing operation. Houghton has little in Europe. If you’re a publishing company, why restrict yourself to one language and one market?”

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