A Warming Trend Movies: After years of violence and mayhem from Hollywood, this season's crop of holiday films breezes into town on angel's wings.

News flash: For Christmas, death is out, angels are in! As a friend says, "Good heavens, what's the world coming to?"

The truth is, this is the gentlest Christmas in many a year, with a surfeit of fuzzy-wuzzy get-in-touch-with-your-feelings movies and only one rock-'em-sock-'em adventure, and that one isn't even set against a context of terrorism, serial murder or invasion by genocidal maniacs from outer space. And there are two movies with angels in them, although both the angels appear to have a weakness for the gals. Make love, not war, eh, boys?


What is the significance of this development? Has Hollywood at last matured, developed a new compassion and humanity, a new sense of commitment to all that man can be? Nahhhh. The latex blood supplies ran real low.

So here's a list and description of the next few weeks at the movies, when the big boys come out and play. Be advised that some famous names, like "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Evita" won't reach Baltimore until the new year, although they'll get national publicity due to openings in New York and L.A.


Next Friday:

"Daylight" should do well, not because Sylvester Stallone stars in it, but possibly despite that fact. Its great advantage is that it is the only macho/heroic/action pic in the litter this Christmas, and where will all those teen-age boys who hate their parents but don't yet have girlfriends go if not to this one? "Twelfth Night"? It's a tale of a terrible accident in a New York-New Jersey tunnel (but why would anyone want to go to either place?), where Stallone leads survivors to the valued substance of the title. "Poseidon Adventure" in Gotham, anyone? Does there have to be a morning after? Among the treats: Claire Bloom yes, but no Philip Roth anywhere in sight.

The other opener is, in fact, "Twelfth Night," at the Charles, the third Shakespearean rag to come our way in just a few weeks. This is by far the most traditional and has been called an "official BBC version" of the comedy -- and you know what that means. (Hint: ZZZZZZZZZ. But maybe not.) Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne and Ben Kingsley are the stars in this Trevor Nunn-directed adaptation.

Dec. 13

The big Whitneyfest of the season is "The Preacher's Wife," a remake of an old Cary Grant-Loretta Young film, though a demotion is clearly involved: That one was "The Bishop's Wife." In this case, Whitney Houston is married to preacher man Courtney B. Vance and is unsatisfied because he's such a dry fish. The Big Guy sends a handsome angel in the form of Denzel Washington to help things along, but alas, Denzel himself falls in love with Whitney.

In "Mars Attacks," Tim Burton attacks. The crazed genius of "Batman," "Beetlejuice" and "Ed Wood" unleashes a parody of the cheapo '50s invasion-from-Mars flicks, at a cost of about 350 cheapo '50s invasion-from-Mars flicks. This one is so upmarket it stars Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close as Mr. and Mrs. President of the U.S.A. Look also for Rod Steiger, Natalie Portman, Pierce Brosnan, Martin Short and Annette Bening. I love the preview where the dove of peace gets roasted by a green-brained little dweeb from outer space.

In "Jerry McGuire" it is alleged that Tom Cruise actually acts, but how could they tell? Cruise plays a hard-charging sports agent ++ who loses everything, learns humility and begins again. It's got to be better than HBO's "Arli$$." But then what isn't?

"The Secret Agent" returns the melancholy Pole, J. Conrad, to the screen. This adaptation of one of the master's slighter efforts stars Bob Hoskins and was written and directed by playwright Christopher Hampton and is set in the London espionage underground of the 1890s.


Dec. 20

One oddity of the schedule this year is that so many films are hitting so late. After a relatively sparse few Fridays in the early part of the 12th month, suddenly on a day a mere five before the big one, a full sked of seven films opens.

The most highly publicized of these is probably "The Crucible," with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder in an update of the Arthur Miller classic about the Salem witch trials. Miller always argued that his play was a metaphorical examination of the hysterical grip of McCarthyism on America, but evidence abounds that this version has been opened up to include a wider and more relevant range of targets.

Then there's "Beavis and Butt-head Do America." End of paragraph.

"My Fellow Americans" offers James Garner and Jack Lemmon as former presidents -- one's a conservative, one's a liberal, but just the opposite of which you might guess -- who become involved in a scandal and must help each other out. The occupant of the office at that time is Dan Aykroyd; now that's scary! One of them was married to Lauren Bacall. That's even scarier!

"One Fine Day" offers George Clooney another chance at movie stardom and Michelle Pfeiffer another shot at a hit, two goals that have eluded these handsome people recently.


A comedy, it's about two single parents whose kids attend the same school. The adults are thrown together by a school mishap and naturally hate each other; can love be far behind?

"Scream" is a horror parody directed by the same Wes Craven who first visited "The Last House on the Left" and that "Nightmare on Elm Street." Will he have the right address this time? Five days before Christmas seems an odd time for a blood-fest; my bet is that this one is fairly gentle.

Then there's the scourge of newsrooms, "Ridicule." Actually, this Patrice Leconte film is set in Versailles in 1783, and chronicles the way in which a political culture loses contact with reality and becomes obsessed with a form of discourse -- wit, in this case. An earlier Louis said that after him came the deluge, and this film shows why.

Last is "Slingblade," from Billy Bob Thornton. With a name like that, he better be good, right? Actually, he is: A writer-actor and now director (who wrote and was the bad guy in "One False Move") he plays a retarded Southerner in this tale of Gothic menace, set in small-town Arkansas. Others in the cast include J.T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam and Robert Duvall.

Dec. 25

Christmas Day itself sees four openings. The most widely heralded of them is probably "Shine," getting great advance reviews. A biography of the Australian pianist David Helfgott, it stars Armin Mueller-Stahl, Lynn Redgrave, Geoffrey Rush and Sir John Gielgud. It won a big award at the Toronto Film Festival.


Let's hope Nora Ephron has more luck with "Michael" than she did with her last Christmas picture, "Mixed Nuts." In "Michael," John Travolta stars as a rather worldly angel -- he smokes, he drinks, he, uh, you know -- who comes to Earth supposedly to help someone out but mostly to help himself out.

Others in the cast are Andie MacDowell, William Hurt and Robert Pastorelli.

Then there's "Evening Star," which follows up on the beloved "Terms of Endearment" of 1983, with Shirley MacLaine still kicking butt and raising hell. This time, some of the receptees are Bill Paxton, Juliette Lewis and Miranda Richardson.

Finally, in "Marvin's Room" Meryl Streep returns home to the family she once left behind. Among the survivors are Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro and a very busy Leonardo DiCaprio.

Pub Date: 12/01/96