Movies, once a magnet for escapists, are turning to reality this fall

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The message of the fall movie season seems to be: You can run, but you can't hide.

In an industry obsessed with running away from reality with lurid escapist fantasies, the hallmark of the fall appears to be a gritty realism, a confrontation with those urban complexities from which the movies, for all too long, have been a retreat.

Certainly, there's the usual amount of escapist fare, but two strong and controversial films from America's two most gifted producers and directors, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee, will in all likelihood set the tone for what follows, and tower over the mere "product," as the industry likes to call its own issue. Other serious themes include adultery and Lolitaism, the breakup of a family, the tissue of deceit in marriage, and the agony of growing older. And that's only from Woody Allen! There's anti-Semitism, evangelism and terrorism; there's even cannibalism!

Here's a brief look at the major studio pictures on the horizon through Thanksgiving, keyed to the weekends of their release, as currently scheduled:

Friday will be a busy, busy weekend as the fall schedule swings into gear. The most important film almost certainly will be "South Central," produced by Oliver Stone and directed by Steve Anderson. From a book by a former Crip, the movie is an examination of the chronic problems confronting the black community in that section of Los Angeles.

More notoriously, the new Woody Allen film, "Husbands and Wives," about an older husband who falls in love with a younger woman, who is not Mia Farrow, checks in, and it's been rushed into about a thousand theaters in a naked bid to slurp up the publicity in the real-life Woody-Mia-Soon-Yi mess. Then there's "School Ties," from Robert Mandel, with the Encino man himself, Brendan Fraser, as a prep quarterback at a snooty private school, where he decides to keep his Jewishness a secret.

Tim Robbins, a Hollywood flavor of the month after "The Player," ups his own private ante starring in, writing and directing "Bob Roberts," a satire of far-right political evangelism.

"Singles," a look at lifestyles among the unmarried, with Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda also checks in, as does "Captain Ron," a comedy, featuring Martin Short as a mild suburbanite and Kirk Russell as a somewhat piratical charter boat captain. Finally, the French hotshot Jean-Jacque Arnaud, who did "Quest for Fire" and "The Bear," offers up "The Lover," set in Saigon of the '20s, with Jane March having an affair with mysterious Asian millionaire Tony Leung.

Sept. 25, "Innocent Blood" puts "La Femme Nikita" Anne Parillaud at the center of a big budget American horror job, as directed by John Landis. She's a female vampire who likes to drink gangster blood; Anthony LaPaglia is an undercover cop who tracks her down.

Then there's "Mr. Saturday Night," the new Billy Crystal film, with the fastest mouth in movies playing a third-rate comic who never quite makes it in an inside-show biz tale.

'Sarafina!'

"Sarafina!", an American-South African film that uses some music video techniques to illustrate the horrors of apartheid in South Africa, also opens that weekend.

Oct. 2, the torrent continues. The man who invented "Miami Vice" takes on the 18th century. This is Michael Mann's much-anticipated version of the James Fenimore Cooper classic, Last of the Mohicans." The stars are Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe.

Dustin Hoffman stars in "Hero," about a fugitive who performs a valiant act and gets ticked when someone else claims credit. The nifty Stephen Frears, who directed "Dangerous Liaisons" and "The Grifters," helms this one, and the writer, David Peoples, wrote "Unforgiven" and "Blade Runner."

Sports and mystery

Tom Selleck is "Mr. Baseball," a Yank long-ball hitter playing out the end of his career in the Japanese big leagues. "The Mighty Ducks" features Emilio Antonio as a smug yuppie lawyer ordered to coach a losing hockey team. "Traces of Red" is a Miami murder mystery with Tony Goldwyn, Jim Belushi and Lorraine Bracco. "Of Mice and Men" returns American literature to the screen after a long absence, as Gary Sinise directs himself and John Malkovich in a version of the Steinbeck story adapted by the great Horton Foote. And finally, the corrosive David Mamet play "Glengarry Glen Ross" opens with a powerhouse cast including Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Jonathan Pryce and Kevin Spacey. James Foley directs.

Oct. 9 brings in yet another go-round on the Columbus thing, this time with high-toned Brit pictorialist Ridley Scott having abandoned the Los Angeles of 2019 for the America of 1492, but I bet they look pretty much the same. Anyway, he pushes Gerard Depardieu through his lines in a sumptuous version of events of five centuries ago called, after the year of its setting, "1492." Reportedly, it's a much darker version of the tale than the recent idiocy with Marlon Brando and George Corraface. Then, in the guilty pleasure department, the ponytailed akido master and world-class bad actor (but puh-leeze don't tell him I said that) Steven Seagal finds himself isolated aboard a battleship with a terrorist mob. Someone has called it " 'Die Hard' Goes to Sea."

An 'erotic thriller'

Oct. 16 the mega-successful producer Irwin "Rockies I-V" Winkler turned not-very-good director ("Guilty by Suspicion") checks in with an elaborate remake of a 1950 film noir. This one is called "Night and the City," about a boxing hustler. The cast includes Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange and Eli Wallach. The same weekend features "Candyman," a gothic horror movie derived from a short story by the same Clive Baker who directs and created the "Hellraiser" series. Finally, for consenting adults, there's "Consenting Adults," with Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, called "an erotic thriller." Don't tell anyone, but

it's about wife swapping.

Oct. 23, "Dr. Giggles" comes to town, with that nutty Larry Drake as a patient who slips out of bed at night and begins to take over the hospital. Then there's "Rich in Love," with a gigantic and classy cast, including Albert Finney and Jill Clayburgh, Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan; the director is Bruce Beresford, and the producers are Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck, the same team who brought us "Driving Miss Daisy." It's about a family struggling to stay together when Mom decides to take a powder.

It's time to go trout fishing in Montana on Oct. 30. Actually, it's always time to go trout fishing in Montana, but on Oct. 30, Robert Redford's film version of the famous "fishing novel" by Norman Maclean, "A River Runs Through It," opens. Redford directs Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Craig Sheffer and Emily Lloyd in this story of a father and two sons and the river that runs through their property, during the time period 1910-1935.

'Die Hard' on a 747

Nov. 6 brings a movie version of Piers Paul Reid's best seller of some years back, "Alive," which examines how plane-wrecked survivors in the Andes survive by eating their less fortunate colleagues. Then there's "Passenger 57," in which Wesley Snipes plays a counter-terrorist expert who finds himself matched against a big bad boy on an overseas flight. This one is "Die Hard" on a 747.

On Nov. 13, a spooky one about a serial killer arrives, called "Jennifer Eight." Andy Garcia plays a cop obsessed with a killer ++ that only he perceives, but as he gets deeper and deeper into the investigation, his colleagues begin to wonder if the killer is there at all, or just in the detective's mind. It was written and directed by Bruce Robinson, the Brit who wrote "The Killing Fields." Then there's "Sniper," from Barry Levinson's Baltimore pictures; it's about the hard-core boys in the camouflage tunics with the Remington 700s who go manhunting in Central America, with Tom Berenger and Billy Zane.

'Malcolm X' release

Between Nov. 20 and 25 -- that is, the Friday and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving -- the big ones hit. Spike Lee's already controversial "Malcolm X" arrives, complete with its maker's recommendation that African-American teen-agers skip school and see his movie -- an idea that will not endear him to America's schoolteachers -- and with its controversial burning American flag credits. Denzel Washington stars.

Then Mel Gibson, in a somewhat lighter vein, checks in with a romantic comedy called "Forever Young." The Disney feature animation unit cranks out "Aladdin," in hopes of repeating the magic of last year's "Beauty and the Beast." Then there's a minor TC item called "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," with Macauley Culkin and his friends Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Finally, the movie with just about the best prerelease buzz of all, "Bram Stoker's Dracula," the $40 million fantasy that many are betting will return director Francis Ford Coppola to the big time. The cast includes Gary Oldman, Winona Rider, and Anthony Hopkins, and the film is said to return to the original novel, thus sidestepping the Bela Lugosi school of vampirism.

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