GIFTS FROM TINSELTOWN At theaters near you: Hollywood's offerings for the holiday season

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An article in Sunday's Arts and Entertainment section about holiday films incorrectly implied that Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder are married. In fact, they are engaged.

The Sun regrets the error.

It began Wednesday, of course, when "Three Men and a Little Lady," "Dances With Wolves," "The Nutcracker Prince" and "Predator 2" opened. But it goes on -- the Christmas movie season, the most intense period of filmgoing of the year. Hollywood may make more money over the summer, but the weeks ahead remain the most hotly contested campaigns of the year and have a great deal to do with the financial stability of the studios.

Here's a look at what's coming to Baltimore, with the proviso that some films will debut to national reviews in New York but not reach this city till after the new year, Mel Gibson's "Hamlet" being one such example and the much anticipated "Awakenings" as another. If you're not Stephen King-konged out from "It" on the tube and "Graveyard Shift" in the movie houses and "Four Past Midnight" in the bookstores, on Friday, Nov. 30, a film version of the horror master's novel "Misery" opens. Directed by Rob Reiner, starring James Caan and Kathy Baker (who some say will be turned into a star), the film is clearly an autobiographical fantasy. It's about a successful novelist who is kidnapped by his most ardent fan, and ordered, under penalty of the title experience, to write for her and her exclusively. Advance word is that it's a very scary film; in any event, the people working on it seem a cut higher than the usual numb hacks charged with transferring the King canon to the screen.

On Dec. 7, "The Rookie" arrives, with Clint Eastwood as a salty old copper and Charlie Sheen as his new, green partner. They almost blew up half of Los Angeles while making this one, so it should be explosive. And that's a Smith & Wesson .44 magnum in the center of the ad campaign, but it's not a Dirty Harry movie. A lot depends on the chemistry between the old guy and the new guy, and in the chemistry department, Eastwood hasn't exactly been Mr. Wizard before.

On Dec. 12, Universal opens the latest Robert Redford-Sidney Pollack collaboration with high hopes that the team can repeat the success it had last time out with "Out of Africa." This one is called "Havana," not to be confused with the Richard Lester picture "Cuba," starring Sean Connery (though isn't that a potential double feature for the Charles?). Redford plays a cynical American gambler who falls in love with a beautiful revolutionary, played by Lena Olin,so incandescent in "Enemies -- A Love Story." The setting is the island's capital city in the last days of the corrupt Batista regime.

Dec. 14 is a gigantic day. Surely the most original film opening is Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands," starring Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Depp -- or is it Mrs. and Mr. Winona Ryder? In any event, the pair star with Dianne Weist in an unusual story about a young man born with scissors for hands, which makes him an excellent barber, ice sculptor and topiary horticulturalist, but somewhat retards his romantic technique. The movie looks to be full of Burton hallmarks, brazen Gothic angles, organ music, a mixture of comedy and horror, a la "Batman."

Then there's "Mermaids," also with Mrs. Depp, this time starring as Cher's daughter in a working-class romance. The romance is between Cher and Bob Hoskins. The movie was reportedly troubled on the set, but has limped gamely into release. Then, Kirstie Alley returns in "Look Who's Talking Too," the follow-up to the original sleeper hit of 1988, directed again by Amy Heckerling and again co-starring John Ravoltin'. Another typo; I meant, of course, to type "John Travolta." Bruce Willis reprises as the baby's voice box.

On Dec. 19, "Almost an Angel" returns Paul Hogan to the American screen, although not as Crock -- oh, pardon that errant "k", folks! -- Croc Dundee. He gets conked on the head and thinks he's an angel.

On Dec. 21, it's the day of books. First, John le Carre's glasnost thriller "The Russia House" opens. Sean Connery stars as a dissipated British publisher pressed into service as a courier by British intelligence who makes the mistake of falling in love with his contact, a beautiful Soviet dissident played by Michelle Pfeiffer. The film itself is a true artifact of the glasnost age, made with Soviet cooperation. That's the authentic dreary Moscow in the background, not the usual Helsinki. The movie, written by the elegant British playwright Tom Stoppard, and directed by the insightful Fred Schepisi, is said to be a bit on the slow side, with all the yakky espionage chatter, but ultimately affecting. It may be worth the price of a ticket just to see Connery with a goatee playing the saxophone.

The second big book movie opening is Brian De Palma's version of the Tom Wolfe best seller "Bonfire of the Vanities." There's already a whispering campaign afoot suggesting that this one really stinks, but we shall see. Tom Hanks stars as Sherman McCoy, the arrogant young bond trader who is brought low by a combination of bad luck, bad journalism and bad strategy when he accidentally hits a black teen-ager with his Mercedes, then flees the scene. Certain changes don't bode well for the production: the smarmy Brit journalist who tracks Sherm down and turns him into media monster is played by Bruce Willis -- who couldn't master the English accent -- as an American, which denies the character his delirious-hilarious-hysterical edge of contempt for the colonies; and the Jewish judge has been turned into a black judge (Morgan Freeman). Hmmmmm.

The other biggie of the day stems from no book but from the imagination of comedy impresario-director Ivan "Ghostbusters" Reitman. Called "Kindergarten Cop," it's high concept all the way, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a tough, undercover hotshot who meets his match when he's assigned to impersonate a kindergarten teacher.

For Christmas we may get the biggest present of them all -- or the biggest disappointment. This is Francis Coppola's long-awaited "Godfather III," written with Mario Puzo, said to complete the story of the Corleone family. Al Pacino, now feeling guilt over the killings in his past, makes an attempt to go legit, and take the family out of all illegal businesses. But he's opposed by a younger generation of Pistol Petes, as exemplified by his own nephew (his dead brother Sonny's son), played by Andy Garcia. Garcia, a star waiting to happen for about four years now, will happen this time out, it is said. More problematical was the director's decision to use his own daughter Sofia, an inexperienced actress, in the key role as Michael's daughter, who falls in love with Garcia, when the understandably exhausted Winona Ryder backed out after a few days.

In the wings are a number of promising films that almost certainly will not reach Baltimore until 1991. Among them are the new Alan Parker film, "Come See the Paradise," a love story about the relationship between an American and a Japanese-American woman at the worst possible time, the early months of World War II when the federal government was rounding up Japanese-Americans to place them in internment camps. Also, Bernardo Bertolucci has an epic based on a Paul Bowles cult novel called "TheSheltering Sky," with John Malkovich and Debra Winger, filmed in Morocco.

"Mr. and Mrs. Bridge," a study in a quietly sarcastic vein, of a repressed Kansas City lawyer and his wife and kids from 1935 though 1945, is due in the new year. It's from the swanky James Ivory who also did "Room With a View," and the stars are Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

The gifted satirist Paul Mazursky checks in with "Scenes from a Mall," one of the stars being a non-directing Woody Allen. The directing Woody Allen directs "Alice." Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe and Brad Johnson star in a big-budget version of the Stephen Coonts novel "Flight of the Intruder," about A-6s in Vietnam, which may or may not be helped by the threat of war in the Middle East. And, of course, the Mel wonders whether to be or not to be in "Hamlet" and the Bob (De Niro) wonders whether to remember or not to remember in "Awakenings."

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