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Aisle Seat Fall Preview

An Exhaustively Brief Look at 26 Upcoming Films

by Andy Dursin

Greetings again from jolly ol' New England, where summer weather pretty much ended before Labor Day for the second consecutive year. To top that off, the Red Sox are losing their playoff lead (something that matters deeply to Lukas and me) and everything lately seems to be going downhill, relatively speaking.

Well, back to the movies, and I apologize for not jumping right into a discussion of the Autumn roster of films. The reason why I'm stalling this year is that, honestly, I'm just not too cranked up about the releases scheduled for the next few months. That's not to say that there won't be some fine pictures, but the bottom line is that there are few instantly exciting films to get juiced about right now. Fall is usually a time for melodramas and vehicles for good actors, plus the occasional action movie just to spice things up, and that's plainly evident from reading this year's Aisle Seat Fall Preview. It's also difficult to form an impression based on reading the plot descriptions of a lot of these films, since most of them boast solid casts and capable filmmakers. Who's to say just how good a lot of these films are going to be?

However, I still get the feeling that it's mainly going to be SAVING PRIVATE RYAN dominating the Oscar talk and critical "Ten Best" lists we'll be hearing about come January. For some odd reason, I'm already envisioning an Oscar race between Tom Hanks (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) and Jim Carrey (THE TRUMAN SHOW) next March, and I see Hanks winning his third Oscar and Spielberg sweeping the awards--rightly or wrongly--much like he did for SCHINDLER'S LIST several years ago. (What is this, the Emmys? Three Oscars for Tom Hanks? Carrey, more deserving for his performance, may win just because Hanks has won it twice already this decade).

Anyhow, we have a long way to go before then, and perhaps some of these films will factor into the "Best of 1998" race before it's all said and done. We'll see, but don't be holding your breath.


RONIN (United Artists, Sept. 25, R). STARS: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgard. MUSIC: Elia Cmiral (who? I don't know either). DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer. THE SKINNY: Post-Cold War action thriller with DeNiro as the head of a band of mercenaries in Paris, hired to find a briefcase with shady contents. BOTTOM LINE: Frankenheimer's last good movie was.... Still, with DeNiro and that excellent supporting cast, bank on some excitement. The movie's car chase is said to be one of the best action set-pieces in quite some time, and certainly Frankenheimer deserves another shot at directing an action-thriller after having taken thankless control of the disastrous Brando remake of "The Island of Dr.Moreau." ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

URBAN LEGEND (Columbia, Sept. 25, R). STARS: Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayhart, Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, Danielle Harris, Robert Englund. MUSIC: Christopher Young. DIRECTOR: Jamie Blanks. THE SKINNY: College kids find various "tall tale" horror legends to be coming to life. BOTTOM LINE: Sounds like a juvenile rendition of 1992's terrific "Candyman," still one of the best genre films of the decade. Early indications, however, are that this is just another lame, "Scream"-influenced youth horror film, though with an attractive cast of young leads and a few cameos by genre veterans, it may be fun nevertheless. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 5

APT PUPIL (TriStar, Sept. 30, R). STARS: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, David Schwimmer, Joe Morton, Bruce Davidson. MUSIC: John Ottman, who also edited the picture. DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer. THE SKINNY: Loosely adapted from Stephen King's novella, this morality tale stars Renfro as an impressionable high-schooler who becomes obsessed with elderly neighbor McKellen, who's actually a Nazi war criminal. BOTTOM LINE: Several good sources inform me that this is a well-acted but disjointed thriller, very obvious in its intended messages and curiously uneven at the outset. Could Singer be suffering from the Sophomore Jinx? Certainly the movie's well documented, controversial behind-the-scenes problems can't have helped this long-delayed picture, which comes to theaters with plenty of baggage in addition to its potentially exploitive subject matter. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 5


WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (PolyGram, Oct. 2, PG-13). STARS: Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max Von Sydow. MUSIC: Michael Kamen, replacing Ennio Morricone. DIRECTOR: Vincent Ward. THE SKINNY: After his children are killed in a car crash, Williams himself tragically dies in an auto accident, leaving behind wife Sciorra, who ultimately kills herself. In an afterlife based on visualizing dreams, Williams sets out to save her from eternal damnation. Based on a novel by Richard Matheson ("Somewhere in Time"). BOTTOM LINE: Having seen an early test version of the movie, complete with Ennio Morricone's now-excised score, it's clear that Ward's trademark audacious visuals are on full display. Think Terry Gilliam crossed with "Stairway to Heaven" and you should have a good idea what this movie's visual scheme is all about. Still, Ward's narrative skills--not his strong suit--showed up from time to time, much like it did in his last film, "Map of the Human Heart," which had haunting cinematography but a one-note, often contrived dramatic range. Morricone's score, while one of his most poignant and lovely efforts this decade, was probably too "European" for the studio's taste, and didn't give the rather meandering story the focus it needed. Hopefully, Michael Kamen will be able to provide the film with a dramatic grounding in his score, and it's a great opportunity for any composer--this is one of those rare films where the music could well determine how effective the entire picture is. With some re-shooting also having taken place, perhaps a new score and new scenes will bring this flawed but intriguing fantasy together. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

ANTZ (Dreamworks, Oct. 2, PG). STARS: Voices of Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone. MUSIC: John Powell. THE SKINNY: First of two computer-generated insect movies for children this season, this one from Dreamworks, which struck out with the offensive and critically lambasted kiddie-film "Small Soldiers" this summer. BOTTOM LINE: The animation here looks adequate for CGI but nothing more, while the folks over at Disney are claiming Jeffrey Katzenberg stole the concept from their November effort "A Bug's Life," which has in development at The Mouse while Katzenberg was working there. In terms of box-office performance, you have to think the first movie out of the gate will fare better, yet I'm stilling placing my bet on the Disney effort, even though it doesn't come to theaters until Thanksgiving. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

PRACTICAL MAGIC (Warner Bros, Oct. 9, PG-13). STARS: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Aidan Quinn, Dianne Weist, Stockard Channing, Goran Visjnic. MUSIC: Michael Nyman. DIRECTOR: Griffin Dunne. THE SKINNY: Fun with witches in a New England town as sisters Bullock and Kidman conjur up romance and magic while an accidental death complicates the lives of the two modern-day sorcerers. BOTTOM LINE: The confusing trailer is a mishmash of comedy, "chick flick" romance, and the supernatural, and apparently the movie itself has the same identity crisis with too many disparate elements thrown into its brew. Regardless, that cast makes things interesting, as does Nyman composing the musical score. With female audiences having turned Bullock's mediocre "Hope Floats" into a modest hit this summer, the box-office prospects are bright on this one, no matter how good or bad it turns out to be. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

BRIDE OF CHUCKY (Universal, Oct. 16, R). CAST: Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif, Katherine Heigl, John Ritter. MUSIC: Graeme Revell. DIRECTOR: Ronny Yu. THE SKINNY: It's been a few years since the last "Child's Play" film, but when the genre is red-hot, why not dust off the old doll? Here, Chucky finds a mate in ex-flame Jennifer Tilly, who is promptly murdered and returns in the body of another Cabbage Patch reject, joining the Chuckster in a sure-to-be-wild murder spree. THE SKINNY: Again written by series creator Don Mancini, this premise sounds like it could make for trashy genre fun. The "Child's Play" films have always had their share of surprisingly competent filmmaking behind them, and this new sequel is noteworthy as it marks the American debut of Hong Kong filmmaker Ronny Yu, whose "Bride With White Hair" is one of the finest fantasies to come out of that industry in the Ô90s. If Yu is given enough directorial freedom (he was able to bring over his editor David Wu to work on this picture), don't be surprised if this crazy-sounding sequel actually clicks with audiences and (certain) critics alike. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

PLEASANTVILLE (New Line, Oct. 16, PG-13). STARS: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Don Knotts. MUSIC: Randy Newman. DIRECTOR: Gary Ross. THE SKINNY: Two modern-day teens accidentally zap themselves into an old Ô50s sitcom they've been watching. BOTTOM LINE: Obvious parallels--and expected unfair comparisons--to "The Truman Show" aside, this sounds like a gentler, more comedic take on the line between reality and fantasy, marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Ross ("Working Girl," "Dave"). There's good word-of-mouth on this one, so mark down "Pleasantville" as a potential sleeper hit this fall. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

HOME FRIES (Warner Bros., Oct. 16, PG-13). STARS: Drew Barrymore, Luke Wilson, Jake Busey, Michael Madsen, Catherine O'Hara, Shelley Duvall. MUSIC: Rachel Portman. DIRECTOR: Dean Parisot. THE SKINNY: Truth in Advertising, Part One. The trailer adeptly illustrates the blossoming romance between pregnant single mom Barrymore, who works at a fast-food chain, and shy, nerdy Wilson. What Warner Bros. marketing department cannily neglects to inform us is that Wilson and brother Busey have been asked by mom O'Hara to kill Barrymore, who was sleeping around with their late father! BOTTOM LINE: The trailer looked like a charming romantic comedy, but it only told half of what the movie is about. If the Coen Brothers-styled murder aspect is handled the same way, this could be an offbeat comic entertainment, yet concealing major plot aspects like that are typically the sign of a nervous studio. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

SOLDIER (Warner Bros., Oct. 23). STARS: Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Gary Busey, Connie Nielsen, Jason Isaacs. MUSIC: Joel McNeely. DIRECTOR: Paul Anderson. THE SKINNY: Self-described "science fiction western" with Russell as a futuristic fighter who finds his lock on the top tough-guy role challenged by the younger Lee. BOTTOM LINE: A distinguished pedigree is behind "Soldier," including a script by David Webb Peeples ("Blade Runner," "Unforgiven") and production design by David L.Snyder ("Blade Runner"). Sounds like they're going to need more than that from the movie's awful early reviews, which liken this expensive genre effort with recent Warner Bros. disasters "The Postman" and "The Avengers." Director Paul Anderson also didn't fare so well on his last movie, the visually stimulating but creatively bankrupt "Event Horizon," so prospects are looking dim, despite all the creative people involved. Regardless, it'll be worth a view to see just what the folks over at Warner Bros. are thinking these days, if it truly is as bad as many insiders have said. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 5

A SIMPLE PLAN (Paramount, October). STARS: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton. MUSIC: Danny Elfman, collaborating for the third time with the filmmaker. DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi. THE SKINNY: Scott Smith's novel comes to the screen as a pair of brothers find a $4 million jackpot in a plane wreck and conspire to keep the goods. BOTTOM LINE: Raimi's first film since the troubled studio production "The Quick and the Dead" finds the filmmaker again attempting to distance himself from his typical, frenetic "Evil Dead" visual style. However, this thriller was apparently made for a conservative $15 million, which should keep Raimi honest in his filmmaking skills, which have yet to find an outlet outside of the comic-book antics of his "Darkman" and "Army of Darkness." Could this finally be Raimi's "breakthrough" studio film? Advice solicited from long-time friends the Coen brothers can only help. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7


THE SIEGE (Fox, Nov. 6). STARS: Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis. MUSIC: Graeme Revell. DIRECTOR: Edward Zwick. THE SKINNY: Terrorist bombings in New York City lead to a military take-over of the Big Apple, led by colonel Willis and questioned by CIA member Bening and FBI man Washington (starring in his third film for director Zwick). BOTTOM LINE: Topical plot and excellent cast notwithstanding, beware of any film that changes its title more than twice in a year. This was originally called "Martial Law," then "Against All Enemies," and is now, well, "The Siege." Don't you get the feeling that they should have stuck with one of the earlier titles? ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6

A BUG'S LIFE (Disney, Nov. 20, G). STARS: Voices of Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. MUSIC: Randy Newman. DIRECTOR: John Lasseter. THE SKINNY: More computer-generated fun with bugs, this time from the folks who brought us "Toy Story." BOTTOM LINE: With animation and story having been developed by Pixar Studios and overseen by director Lasseter (who was honored with an Oscar for his work on "Toy Story"), I'm willing to bet that this will be a better-looking and all-around more polished piece of entertainment than Dreamworks's "Antz," which seems to have been rushed into production to compete with this picture. With Disney's seal of approval, this ought to be a big hit with kids this season, and possibly a bigger one if it crosses over into the teen and adult market like "Toy Story" did. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (Columbia, Thanksgiving). STARS: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Brandy Norwood, Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Esposito, Muse Watson. MUSIC: John Frizzell. DIRECTOR: Danny Cannon. THE SKINNY: Quickly produced sequel to last year's box-office smash, with Hewitt in college, on vacation in the Carribean, and someone with a hook is chasing after her. Again. BOTTOM LINE: It can't be any more obvious or contrived than its predecessor, which looked like an ugly, garish slasher film made palatable by Hewitt's plucky heroine and Sarah Michelle Gellar (who literally got the hook in the original and obviously isn't returning here). Kevin Williamson, who wrote the first film, didn't return to repeat those chores on this sequel, yet that's no great loss as the first "I Know" was "Scream" without the self-satirical insight, and felt like it was written by the prolific author on auto-pilot. Still, Danny Cannon was once considered an up-and-coming Brit director (at least until "Judge Dredd"), and Hewitt is always easy on the eyes, so I'm there. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (Universal, Thanksgiving, G). STARS: James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski. MUSIC: Nigel Westlake. DIRECTOR: George Miller. THE SKINNY: Plucky Babe packs up on a metropolitan tour to save the family farm from being taken over by the bank. BOTTOM LINE: The original BABE truly was a fairy tale come to life, confident enough in its subdued, poignant storytelling to charm audiences of all ages without resorting to the kinds of melodramatic saccharine elements that plague most Hollywood "kid" pictures. This sequel ought to be made on the same level, with Miller--who wrote and produced the original--here taking the full directorial reigns (it's his first movie since 1992's "Lorenzo's Oil," and just his second in over a decade). Expect a box-office bonanza if it's anywhere near as good as its predecessor, and there seem to be good indications that it will be. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 8

ENEMY OF THE STATE (Touchstone, mid-late November). STARS: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight. MUSIC: Hans Zimmer. DIRECTOR: Tony Scott. THE SKINNY: Lawyer Smith gets implicated in a murder by a secretive government agency; Hackman plays someone on the "in" who tries to help him beat the system. BOTTOM LINE: My prejudice against Bruckheimer productions aside, this sounds like a belated entry into the "Conspiracy Theory" political thriller race, and the movie's first trailer made absolutely, positively no sense. Fortunately, though, it did contain scenes of shaking cameras and smoky, filtered cinematography, evidence that Tony Scott was in the director's chair in place of Michael Bay. Smith and Hackman are both on-tap for their second Bruckheimer affair, while Scott and Zimmer have been here a number of times before. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7

MEET JOE BLACK (Universal, November, PG-13). STARS: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani. MUSIC: Thomas Newman. DIRECTOR: Martin Brest. THE SKINNY: Death (Pitt) comes calling for millionaire Hopkins, but falls in love with his daughter (Forlani) instead. BOTTOM LINE: A blend of romantic fantasy and Capra-esque sentiment, Brest's first film since "Scent of a Woman" showcases a top-notch cast and the promise to be one of the holiday season's most elegant productions. Shot on Long Island and also near "Aisle Seat" Headquarters in East Greenwich, RI (I witnessed one night of filming a year ago), this should be one of the top draws of the upcoming season. ANDY'S MUST-SEE INDEX: 9

To Be Continued with December's Listings Next Time!

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