All Wrapped Up
By Marjorie Baumgarten
DECEMBER 1, 1997: What's a family to do in between all the holiday meals and the wrapping and unwrapping of presents? Why, go to the movies, of course. Time off from school, time off from work -- the movies provide the perfect opportunity for shared activity, even if the only tangible thing shared is a tub of popcorn.
It helps that the Hollywood studios annually flood the theatres with new product during the November-December holiday period. This year, the majors are introducing close to 40 new films during these two months. Add to that another dozen or so from the smaller outfits and the bottleneck for screen space becomes readily apparent. The holiday season is the most lucrative one for the film industry, with an average of 25% of its annual profits earned during these few weeks. And with both Christmas and New Year's falling on Thursdays this year, it's the windfall equivalent of two four-day weekends in a row.
The 1997 holiday season actually began back on November 7 with the release of Bean, Mad City, and Starship Troopers, all films that hoped to make a strong showing through the end of the year. The following weekend, November 14, a similar slate of hopefuls was released: The Jackal, The Man Who Knew Too Little, and One Night Stand, as well as Disney's limited two-week re-release of The Little Mermaid that was calculated to provide a strategic hedge against Fox's entry into the animation field with Anastasia. Then things will really heat up on Dec. 19 with the simultaneous release of the new James Bond caper Tomorrow Never Dies and the media-saturated vessel Titanic.
On the whole, this season's studio releases appear to be a strong, varied, and interesting lot -- especially in comparison with last year when such end-of-the-year releases as Sling Blade, Shine, and The English Patient helped foster the ill-substantiated notion that 1996 was the "year of the independents." It seems certain that the Hollywood "regulars" will regain their dominance at this year's Academy Awards. The next few weeks will reveal some of the reasons why.
Quite a number of movies by top-caliber filmmakers are due out before year's end. Already this month, previous Oscar winners Francis Ford Coppola and Clint Eastwood have each released screen adaptations of bestselling books -- John Grisham's The Rainmaker and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, respectively. Still in the offing are Steven Spielberg's Amistad, James Cameron's Titanic, Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry, Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, Gillian Armstrong's Oscar and Lucinda, Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog, Kevin Costner's The Postman, James L. Brooks' As Good as It Gets, and Martin Scorsese's Kundun.
Also in ample supply are a number of sequels and recyclings: 007 returns in Tomorrow Never Dies; the Alien adventures go for number four with Alien Resurrection; Scream 2, Home Alone 3, and An American Werewolf in Paris all try to recapture the success of their originals; and Disney continues to raid its own vaults to rework old standards, thus yielding Mr. Magoo and Flubber. Select revivals are also experiencing a surge of popularity. On local screens this holiday season, there will be at least five: Roman Polanski's Repulsion, Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, Fritz Lang's M, Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore, and Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes.
Star power can also be seen in abundance during these weeks. Topping the list are Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, each of whom is featured in at least three movies playing during this short span. Look for Williams in Flubber, Good Will Hunting, and Deconstructing Harry. De Niro can be found in Jackie Brown, Wag the Dog, and Great Expectations.
All the movies listed here officially debut before the end of 1997 -- although not necessarily in Austin. The dates provided are specifically customized for the Austin market and many of the movies that open nationally in late December won't arrive here until early 1998. Keep in mind that opening dates are always subject to change.
Ripley, Sigourney Weaver's kick-ass action hero, is literally brought back from the dead for this fourth encounter with those alien predators; Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children's co-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet should be in his element directing the otherworldly aliens. (Nov. 26)
D: Anthony Waller; with Tom Everett Scott, Julie Delpy, Vince Vieluf, Phil Buckman.
Julie Delpy of Before Sunrise explores new dimensions of that expression when she pairs with That Thing You Do!'s Tom Everett Scott in this follow-up to John Landis' cult favorite from 16 years ago. (Dec. 25)
Spielberg tackles the dinosaur of American history in this historical saga about the trial of 53 African captives whose 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad caused them to become pawns of the American justice system as their situation pits the interests of incumbent president Martin Van Buren against founding father John Quincy Adams, who argues the Africans' case in the Supreme Court. Amistad is the first film Spielberg has directed for his new DreamWorks company. (Dec. 25)
The first release from the new Fox Animation Studios mixes adventure, comedy, romance, and music in a feature-length animated retelling of the drama of the last surviving Romanov princess; though eager to distinguish themselves from the pack, Fox seems destined to follow Disney's lead in fudging historic verisimilitude for the sake of carefree cartoon entertainment. (Nov. 21)
The Apostle is labor of love for Robert Duvall, who wrote, directed, financed, and stars in this intimate character study of a man who is equal parts firebrand preacher, jilted husband, obsessive worker, and troubled soul. (early 98)
Thanks to a dog named Verdell, three New Yorkers form an unlikely bond of friendship: Included here are curmudgeonly romance novelist Jack Nicholson, waitress and harried single mom Helen Hunt, and gay artist Greg Kinnear. (Dec. 25)
D: Edouard Molinaro; with Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Manuel Blanc, Michel Piccoli, Michel Serrault.
The French playwright Beaumarchais (The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro) is the subject of this opulent study that looks at 11 tumultuous years in his life (1773-1784) during which he also functioned as a political gadfly and an underwriter of the American Revolution; the movie was filmed at Versailles and other historic locations. (Dec. 25)
D: Sean Mathias; with Lothaire Bluteau, Clive Owen, Ian McKellen, Brian Webber, Mick Jagger.
The Nazi persecution of homosexuals provides the historical and dramatic context for this unconventional wartime love story between two prisoners. Mick Jagger plays a bisexual Berlin clubowner in this film adaptation of Martin Sherman's award-winning stage play. (early 98)
Filmmaker Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot) and Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis reunite for this story of a once-promising boxer and former IRA member who is released after 13 years in a British prison only to find Belfast filled with hatred and despair; Breaking the Waves' Emily Watson helps rekindle their old flame. (Jan. 9)
Visually stylish director Alex Proyas (The Crow) helms this futuristic thriller about a man who discovers that his memories and reality are artificial creations and that he must battle to reclaim his own destiny. (Jan. 9)
Even though the actors may change, if it's a Woody Allen movie it means that the plot essentially remains the same. Here Allen plays an author who finds success in the professional sphere but not in his erotic life. (Jan. 2)
D: Arturo Ripstein; with Regina Orozco, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Marisa Paredes.
Mexico's preeminent filmmaker Arturo Ripstein creates a frightening melodrama from the same source material that inspired Leonard Kastle's The Honeymoon Killers -- a story about an overweight woman and her obsessive love for a lonelyhearts con artist, and how the couple's crimes of theft, deception, and murder escalate with their passion. (early 98)
D: Ira Sachs; with Shayne Gray, Thang Chan, Rachel Zan Huss.
A rich 17-year-old Jewish boy in suburban Memphis takes a romantic fling down the Mississippi River with a recently emigrated Vietnamese man of mixed parentage; the film provides a fresh and often painful portrait of the contrasting worlds that commingle in society's margins. (Nov. 28)
D: Barbet Schroeder; with Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, Marcia Gay Harden, Brian Cox.
Michael Keaton plays a convicted multiple murderer who proves the perfect bone marrow match for cop Andy Garcia's gravely ill son. However, the criminal's trip to the hospital provides his golden opportunity for escape and leaves the cop/father in the uncomfortable position of both pursuing and protecting the fugitive. Originally scheduled for a summer release, it's understandable why the filmmakers would want to put some distance between this film and Face/Off. (Jan. 9)
D: Tim Blake Nelson; with Martha Plimpton, Kevin Anderson, Hal Holbrook, Nick Stahl, Richard Jenkins, Mary Kay Place.
Two simultaneous storylines converge in this mystery tale about faith, religion, and the human condition; first-time filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson sets this story in a small Oklahoma town in the middle of desolate oil fields. (Dec. 5)
A cop chases a serial killer who may be the Devil himself; the script for this taut thriller is by Nicholas Kazan and the cast is first-rate. (Jan. 16)
D: Dean Semler; with Howie Long, Scott Glenn, Suzy Amis, William Forsythe.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Dean Semler (Dances With Wolves) makes his directorial debut with this film about a forest firefighter who must single-handedly battle a gang of escaped prison convicts who are posing as firefighters; former football great Howie Long also makes his motion picture debut in the lead role. (Jan. 9)
D: Les Mayfield; with Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden, Christopher McDonald, Clancy Brown, Ted Levine.
Writer-producer John Hughes updates the 1961 Disney classic, The Absent-Minded Professor, and Robin Williams steps into Fred MacMurray's shoes as the distracted inventor of Flubber -- a green goo that makes things fly. (Nov. 26)
When Manhattan couple Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley discover they owe the IRS $5 million in back taxes, they decide to flee the country, but instead wind up in Amish country where they learn to reassess their values. (Dec. 12)
Written by two of its young stars, Matt Damon (The Rainmaker) and Ben Affleck (Chasing Amy), Good Will Hunting finds director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Private Idaho) following up To Die For with another troubled-young-man story; Will Hunting (Damon) is a brilliant but angry Boston 20-year-old who is helped by university professor/therapist Robin Williams. (early 98)
Charles Dickens is updated to contemporary New York and Florida by Alfonso Cuarón, the director who last worked wonders with his film adaptation of A Little Princess. Ethan Hawke plays an aspiring artist whose world is dramatically changed by three disparate strangers: the dangerous convict Lustig (Robert De Niro), the beautiful Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow), and the wealthy and eccentric Ms. Nora Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft). (Jan. 16)
D: Harmony Korine; with Chloe Sevigny, Max Perlich, Nick Sutton, Jacob Reynolds, Linda Manz.
Harmony Korine, the 23-year-old writer of Kids, makes his directorial debut here with another unflinching and controversial portrait of numbingly bored and casually cruel teens in Xenia, Ohio; Kids kid Chloe Sevigny returns, as does long unseen screen actress Linda Manz (Days of Heaven, The Wanderers, The Game). (Nov. 28)
The director of Guncrazy and CB4 guides this prison-break comedy about a group of hapless young men trying to bust their friend out of jail. (Jan. 16)
D: Wong Kar-wai; with Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Chang Chen.
The new film by internationally recognized Hong Kong film stylist Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express, Days of Being Wild) continues his nervy reinvention of narrative techniques. The story follows two male lovers (prominent Hong Kong stars Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung) who leave Hong Kong for Argentina and then promptly split up, get jobs, get back together, split up, etc. (Dec. 5)
This crime thriller about an armored car heist is set against the backdrop of an impending flood in a small Midwestern river town; it was originally called The Flood and was scheduled for release last spring, but then the natural-disaster movie market suddenly became overrun by erupting volcanoes. (Jan. 16)
D: Raja Gosnell; with Alex D. Linz, Haviland Morris, Olek Krupa, Rya Kihlstedt, David Thornton, Lenny Von Dohlen, Kevin Kilner, Seth Smith, Scarlett Johansson, Marian Seldes.
There's not a single Culkin in sight but still, that doesn't automatically make producer John Hughes a great host. The franchise is hoping that all of you who helped make the original Home Alone the seventh highest-grossing film in Hollywood history will continue to show your support. (Dec. 12)
Blaxploitation star Pam Grier returns to the screen in Quentin Tarantino's first writing and directing effort since 1994's Pulp Fiction. The story is a crime caper based on Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch in which Grier plays flight attendant Jackie Brown, who tries to smuggle half a million dollars past gun runners and federal agents. She's joined by a top-notch cast that also features the return to prominence of Medium Cool actor Robert Forster. (Dec. 25)
D: Francis Ford Coppola; with Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Danny DeVito, Jon Voight, Mary Kay Place, Teresa Wright, Virginia Madsen, Mickey Rourke, Dean Stockwell, Roy Scheider, Andrew Shue, Randy Travis, Danny Glover.
Here we have a true match-up of the titans: The legendary Francis Ford Coppola scripted and directs mass-market novelist John Grishman's The Rainmaker (not to be confused with Coppola's early picture The Rain People); Matt Damon, this season's stock Grisham archetype of the feisty young lawyer, seems poised to become the next breakout Matthew McConaughey. (Nov. 21)
D: Bill Bennett; with Frances O'Connor, Matt Day, Chris Haywood.
Neo-noir, Australian-style, sets the mood for this stylish lovers-on-the-lam movie in which events cause the two principals to begin suspecting each other and doubt their love. (Nov. 26)
D: Martin Scorsese; with Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyume Tethong, Kunga J. Tenzin, Tenzin Gyalpo.
Martin Scorsese's rendition of the early life of the current Dalai Lama doesn't feature any Hollywood stars, blond Pitts, or gangland mobsters; the film has caused complications in U.S. and China relations (distributor Disney has hired Henry Kissinger to serve as a special consultant); and it's probably safe to say that the storyline isn't bolstered by any sexy love interest -- i.e., The Last Temptation of the Dalai Lama. (Jan. 16)
D: John Greyson; with Brent Carver, Marcel Sabourin, Aubert Pallascio, Jason Cadiux.
Winner of the Canadian Genie award, Lilies is set in a men's prison circa 1952 and shows what happens when a bishop sent to hear the prisoners' confessions is forced to sit still while the men enact his own buried secrets. (Dec. 5)
D: Fritz Lang; with Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Gustav Grundgens.
When this early talkie came out of Germany in 1931, everyone else might as well have stopped making movies -- it was simply that good. Fritz Lang's story about a child murderer and the underworld justice he faces still holds up as one of the most disturbing movies ever made. The movie established Peter Lorre's career and remains an exciting visual marvel. (Dec. 5)
Clint Eastwood directs this adaptation of John Berendt's bestseller about murder and gothic intrigue in Savannah, Georgia. (Nov. 21)
D: Bertrand Blier; with Anouk Grinberg, Gerard Lanvin, Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi.
French filmmaker Bertrand Blier (Going Places, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) presents another of his distinctive takes on sexual politics in this story of a prostitute who falls in love with a derelict who she tries to turn into her pimp; national film figures Mathieu Kassovitz and Jean-Pierre Leaud have cameos as passing johns. (Dec. 5)
D: John Leonetti; with Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, Deron McBee, Pantaeva, Lynn Red Williams.
A group of heroes battles an unscrupulous warlord who is trying to rule the planet in this second installment of the action-adventure series based on a popular video game. (Nov. 21)
D: Jean-Pierre Eustache; with Jean-Pierre Leaud, Bernadette Lafont, Francoise Lebrun.
This 1971 French film hasn't been seen on tape or on the revival circuit since it first came out; it will be interesting to see how this talky, three-and-a-half hour exploration of male sexual myths plays in the present day. (early 98)
The old cartoon character of the nearsighted millionaire who spoke with Jim Backus' voice is played by Leslie Nielsen in this live-action update in which the oblivious Magoo bumbles his way through the sinister machinations of those around him. (Dec. 25)
D: Claire Denis; with Gregoire Colin, Alice Houri, Jacques Nolot, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Vincent Gallo.
A teenage brother who works in a pizza parlor and his sister, who has run away from boarding school because she's pregnant, find comfort and companionship with each other in this slice-of-life drama set in working-class Marseilles; the always original French filmmaker Claire Denis (Chocolat, I Can't Sleep) directs. (Dec. 12)
Photographer Cindy Sherman directs her first feature film -- an over-the-top horror film about a mousy copy editor who becomes empowered by killing overbearing columnists and other officious office types; a collection of iconographic film actresses lends support in the key roles. (early 98)
A gambling priest and a contrary businesswoman in 1860s Australia combine forces to bring a glass church to the outback in this new film directed by Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Little Women) and adapted from Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel. (early 98)
D: Jacques Tourneur; with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming.
Perhaps the most quintessential example of film noir style, this 1947 classic is rife with taut dialogue, dirty double-crosses, and stand-out performances; newly struck prints should enhance the enjoyment of this black-and-white gem. (early 98)
D: Joe Chappelle; with Peter O'Toole, Joanna Going, Rose McGowan, Ben Affleck, Liev Schreiber.
Dean Koontz's 1983 novel is the basis for this supernatural thriller about a shape-shifting force that has been dormant beneath the earth for centuries but has suddenly surfaced to wreak havoc. (Jan. 30)
The year is 2013 and Kevin Costner is back in post-apocalypse land, although this time he plays a land-bound wanderer who becomes a heroic symbol and unifying force when he delivers people's long-lost mail. With The Postman Kostner does double duty as an actor and director for the first time since Dance With Wolves. (Dec. 25)
Made in 1965, Repulsion was only Roman Polanski's second feature film, but the filmmaker was already perfecting his harrowing psychological style with this story of a repressed young woman's descent into madness. (Nov. 21)
Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson reconvene those teens left standing at the end of last December's blockbuster horror surprise for more fun and games. It's two years later, the survivors are now in college, and a new wave of campus homicides begins when the cutthroat reporter played by Courteney Cox publishes a book about the earlier murders. (Dec. 12)
D: Jacques Audiard; with Mathieu Kassovitz, Anouk Grinberg, Sandrine Kiberlain.
In this ironic French comedy, a boy from the provinces retroactively glamorizes his life by appropriating the experiences of others and "joining" the French Resistance nine months after the Allies have liberated Paris. (early 98)
The life of a scholarship student goes awry after he volunteers for a psychology experiment. (Jan. 9)
D: Kirby Dick.
D: Kristine Peterson; with Molly Gross, Marisa Ryan, Jason Bortz, Bob Neuwirth, Natacha La Ferriere.
Members of an all-girl band in Seattle explore questions of love, ambition, and political activism as they apply to the realm of present-day alternative subcultures. (Dec. 12)
D: Bob Spiers; with Victoria Addams, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Haliwell, Richard E. Grant.
Favorite flavs, the Spice Girls, extend their "girl power" message to the silver screen in a film co-scripted by Ab Fab's Jennifer Saunders; lending support are Richard E. Grant as their manager and such notables as John Cleese, Elvis Costello, Stephen Fry, Elton John, Meat Loaf, Roger Moore, and Dame Edna. Can anyone say Help? Not. (Jan. 23)
D: Manny Coto; with Joseph Mazzello, Richard Gilliland, Joey Simmrin, Corine Bohrer, Ashlee Levitch.
A seventh-grade boy learns the meaning of courage and friendship when he climbs into the body of a superhero-like robot. (Jan. 16)
This magical modern romance (which was partially shot in San Antonio) makes its national bow after making its world premiere during last spring's SXSW Film Festival. Brendan Fraser's enormous rise in popularity since this summer's George of the Jungle is sure to help matters, and look for musician Junior Brown in a supporting role making his screen debut. (Jan. 23)
Grand prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival, The Sweet Hereafter is Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan's screen adaptation of Russell Banks' 1991 novel about the loss and healing that occurs among the residents of a small community after the sudden deaths of 14 local children in a schoolbus accident. With this new film, astringent stylist Egoyan (Exotica, The Adjuster) seems to be developing a more universal dramatic impulse that is winning him wide praise and new fans. (early 98)
D: Sally Potter; with Potter, Pablo Verone.
Sally Potter (Orlando) writes, directs, and stars in this story about a stymied filmmaker who strikes a professional and emotional bargain with her handsome tango instructor. (Jan. 30)
Delayed since the summer, it's finally time to discover whether the release of James Cameron's huge-budget, big-effects disaster epic/romance will really become "a night to remember." The story behind the film (reported to be the most expensive movie ever made) has become almost as epic as the historical event onto which Cameron (The Terminator, The Abyss) has grafted a fictional love story. (Dec. 19)
Mixing news footage with dramatic scripting, Michael Winterbottom (Jude, Butterfly Kiss) shot this movie last year in the streets of Sarajevo. It tells the story of a war correspondent (Dillane) who shifts from dispassionate objectivity to active involvement. (early 98)
D: Stephan Elliott; with Alan Finney, Rachel Griffiths, Barry Humphries, Richard Moir, Susie Porter, Johnathon Schaech, Dee Smart, Rod Taylor.
From the director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert comes this tale of an American who flees to the outback and wakes up one morning to find himself married in the town of Woop-Woop. (Jan. 9)
D: Iain Softley; with Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, Charlotte Rampling.
Henry James is once more adapted for the screen in yet another turn-of-the-century story about couples without money and heiresses without love. (Nov. 21)
Actor Alan Rickman (Sense and Sensibility, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) makes his directorial debut with this intimate drama about a mother and daughter and numerous others in a seaside town in Scotland on the coldest day in living memory; Emma Thompson and her real-life mum Phyllida Law play the bickering duo. (early 98)
D: Hiroshi Teshigahara; with Eiji Okada, Kyoko Kishida, Koji Mitsui.
A man becomes trapped in a woman's sandpit in the 1964 Japanese allegory. (early 98)
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