It's a tough fall, one of the toughest on record. Long a soft spot in the schedule, when the big studios would relax their grip on the theaters, knowing that the kids were back in school, the September-October-early November run usually meant movies
for grown-ups with ample seating and no waiting.
This fall is a bear.
More films, more competition; the number of four- and five-film Fridays is staggering, and only one Friday boasts a single title ("Ransom"). What that means is simple: A lot of movies are going to lose a lot of money, disappear without a chance, be gone before you get around to reading a single review.
So this is a very good time to give thanks -- that is, if you're not in the movie business. If you are, hah: boy, did you screw up!
The starters, with the usual provision that the schedule can change like the germs in "Outbreak":
On Friday, the film version of David Mamet's long-awaited "American Buffalo" arrives at the Charles, with Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz as small-potatoes thieves chewing the fat and each other as they plan a boost. That same day, John Herzfeld's story of another group of small-timers, "Two Days in the Valley," arrives, and it watches as James Spader, Danny Aiello, Glenne Headly, Paul Mazursky and Teri Hatcher, among others, intermingle in several random plots. I think somebody has seen a few Quentin Tarantino movies. Our last opener is "Extreme Measures," the thriller that Elizabeth Hurley produced for Hugh Grant after Divine Brown. Hmmm. Can this relationship be saved? Anyhow, Grant is a young New York doc whose admiration for his mentor, Gene Hackman, gets him in big trouble.
Oct. 4 is the first of those super Fridays. Tom Hanks makes his debut as screenwriter and director in "That Thing That You Do," a fictitious story of a 1964 rock group called the Wonders, headed to L.A. for a shot at stardom. Hanks has a small role but the real stars are all of a later generation: Jonathan Schaech, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott and Liv Tyler. "Mighty Ducks III" features those bad-news blarers who play peewee hockey under the tutelage of Emilio Estevez. In "Bound," les femmes get a shot at Tarantino-like grittiness as mob mistress Jennifer Tilly and thief Gina Gershon take on the Mafia. "The Glimmer Man" is a more conventional thriller, with stud tough-guy Steven Seagal and new partner Keenen Ivory Wayans as cops on the track of a serial killer.
The second week in October brings a real oddity to the screen. On Oct. 11, "The Ghost and the Darkness" arrives, which is the first true hunting movie in years, though the trailers make that difficult to discern. Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas play two British railway men who have to go after a couple of killer lions during the building of the East Africa railway back in the 1890s. The previews make it look as if the two boys are up against spirits or haunts: er, no, they're up against the Man-Eaters of Tsavo, who killed about 100 men before they were served a diet of .570 Nitro Express loads. Then there's "The Long Kiss Goodnight," from the same team that brought you "Cutthroat Island," far more despised than it ought to be. So the pendulum should swing for Geena Davis and her husband Renny Harlin, the action director, in this story about an amnesiac housewife who realizes she's actually a professional espionage agent. Samuel L. Jackson co-stars. On that same day, we get Grishamed again, this time in "The Chamber," in which the inevitable young lawyer (Chris O'Donnell this time) defends his grandfather (Gene Hackman), a Klansman who committed a long-ago racist crime. Much less bloody is "Big Night," which watches as two Italian brothers try to publicize their Long Island restaurant in the late '50s by inviting big star Louis Prima for dinner. Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, who grew up on Long Island, co-directed and co-star, though Scott is not Tucci's brother, only a Cadillac salesman who wanders by. Finally, "Grass Harp" opens that day also, with Walter Matthau, Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek, a love story set in the South.
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, the new Spike Lee film gets a no-competition opening. "Get on the Bus" is the story of a variety of African-American men who decide to travel to the Million Man March. Among the stars are "Homicide" guys Andre Braugher and Richard Belzer (he's the driver), Ossie Davis and Baltimorean Charles Dutton.
A more conventional Friday opening (the 18th) is reserved for one of the most awaited films of the year, Barry Levinson's job on "Sleepers," the best-seller that author Lorenzo Carcaterra claims to be a true story about four young men who take revenge on the guard who assaulted them in reform school when they were teen-agers. Great cast: Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Patric, Kevin Bacon, even Vittorio Gassman. That's the guy movie of the weekend. The gal movie is "To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday," in which Peter Gallagher mourns the death of his wife so much he talks to her ghost. The ghost is Michelle Pfeiffer. Lots of tears, mucous and tissue for this one. Then "Jude" represents serious literature, based on the novel "Jude the Obscure," by Thomas Hardy. Kate Winslet, of "Sense and Sensibility," is the big news here. It's said to be much tougher than the usual 19th century Brit film.
October ends with a boom. Liam Neeson arrives as "Michael Collins," founder of the Irish Republican Army back in the bloody Teens and Twenties, on the 25th. Neil Jordan -- "The Crying Game," "Interview With a Vampire" -- directs, and Julia Roberts is among the co-stars. "Night Watch" stars Ewan McGregor of "Trainspotting" and Nick Nolte, in which the Scotsman, a morgue attendant, becomes the No. 1 suspect in a series of killings. Steven Soderbergh wrote the screenplay for Danish director Ole Bornedal, based on Bornedal's own Danish movie of a few years ago. More comically, there's "High School High," with Jon Lovitz, a parody of all those inner-city teen dramas. It's produced by the ZAZ team, which did the "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" films but the director is Hart Bochner. And not so comically, "Stephen King's 'Thinner' " is a weight-loss horror flick with Robert John Burke as a guy who has to eat like crazy or he'll lose weight at a rate of three pounds a day till it's all over. And finally, Whoppi Goldberg disguised herself as a guy in "The Associate" as a way to get some respect on the Wall Street that won't take black women seriously.
Some as-yet unscheduled other possibilities for October should also be mentioned. Our two great American comic directors, Woody Allen and Albert Brooks, both have films that should arrive that month. Brooks checks in with "Mother," in which he stars (and writes and directs) as a middle-aged guy who moves back home, where his mother turns out to be Debbie Reynolds. The horror, the horror! Allen's film is "Everyone Says I Love You," a musical no less. Not much info available, as per usual. Others include "Rosewood," John Singleton's story of a black Florida town torched by whites in the '20s; "The War at Home," which Estevez directed in return for making "Mighty Ducks III" -- it's about a 'Nam vet, whom he plays; then there's "Small Wonders," a documentary about a symphony violinist who gives it up to teach the violin and fiddle to inner city kids; and "Curdled," a Quentin Tarantino production that follows a woman who "cleans up" after violent mob hits. It's an extension of the Harvey Keitel character from "Pulp Fiction."
The competition is also incredible on the first day of the 11th month, grim and drizzly November. It begins with a film version of Kurt Vonnegut's best but most forgotten novel, "Mother Night," with Nick Nolte in the role of radio-writer-turned-traitor-turned- heroic-spy Howard W. Campbell. Vonnegut has all but dropped off the cultural radarscope, but this one stems from his wonderful pre-discovery years when he was quietly America's best writer. Keith Gordon directed. Then there's "Larger than Life," with Bill Murray and an elephant, traveling cross-country. In "Mad Dog Time" Richard Dreyfuss plays a gangster who hangs out in a cocktail joint and has lots of fun. Others in the cast include Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne and Burt Reynolds. Joey Bishop's son Larry directs, supposedly in memory of his dad's pals, the Hollywood Rat Pack of the early '60s. In "Looking for Richard" Al Pacino looks for Richard III, in a self-financed documentary production about an actor trying to find the soul of Shakespeare's greatest villain. Finally, "Dear God" gives talk-show guy Greg Kinnear, who scored nicely in last year's "Sabrina," a chance to star in a film. He plays a con man who uses dead letters to God as the basis of a scam; Garry Marshall directed.
On Nov. 4, another Wednesday opening, Baltimorean Jada Pinkett's new film "Set It Off" sets it off. Co-starring with Queen Latifah, Jada plays a woman who bonds with three others to start pulling bank jobs.
On Nov. 8, one film has literally terrified the competition into backing out. That's Mel Gibson in "Ransom," as directed by Ron Howard: it's the story of an airline owner whose son is kidnapped and he has to deal with the moral dilemma of encouraging further kidnappings by paying the ransom.
Seven days later, on the 15th, the competition heats up again, with four major films. The most talked about brings Ralph (that's pronounced "Rafe," you parvenues!) Fiennes in an opulent version of "The English Patient," the Michael Ondaatje novel about a burned pilot in the aftermath of World War II; besides Fiennes, the stars are Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Willem Dafoe. The advance buzz is very good on this one. Then there's the old Neil Simon stage hit, "I'm Not Rappaport," with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis as two elderly Brooklynites. "Space Jam" combines world stars -- Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny -- in a live-animated spoofer for the kids. Finally, the trailers point out that "the director of 'Prince of Tides' and 'Yentl'" brings you Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges in a romantic comedy about an English professor who decides to put sex on the shelf because it complicates things." And who, pray tell, is the "director of 'Prince of Tides' and 'Yentl'"? Well, it's one B. Streisand. The new movie is "The Mirror Has Two Faces."
The big Christmas pictures start hitting the week or two before Thanksgiving. On Nov. 22, the two biggies are "Star Trek: First Contact," starring you know who and about you know what; and "Jingle All the Way" with Arnold Schwarzenegger in another comedy, this time as a dad who's hunting for the last extant model of a certain rare toy, which he has promised his son. Unfortunately, several other dads have made the same promise.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, the two big openers are "The Crucible," with Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis in the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials, and finally the live-action version of the Disney classic "101 Dalmations," with real Dalmations and a real Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil.
Among the November possibles are some oddities. One is "Unhook the Stars," with Nick Cassavetes directing his mother, Gena Rowlands, and Marisa Tomei in a domestic drama. In "Swingers," a bunch of guys cruise for chicks in present-day L.A.; in "Albino Alligator," hotshot actor Kevin Spacey has some fun behind the camera, with Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise and Faye Dunaway before it, as incompetent robbers who take a whole bar and grill hostage; and finally, in "Slingblade" Arkansas genius Billy Bob Thornton gets his shot to direct himself in a small film about a serial killer released into society.
Pub Date: 9/22/96