It's fall, and that means it's time for Hollywood to get serious.
Changes in Scenery
After a so-so summer, the cinema scene changes dramatically. Bye-bye crowd-pleasing, special effects extravaganzas; hello, festival-winning independents, Oscar-hopefuls, intriguing foreign fare and holiday treats. Below is a chronological list of some of the more promising entries this fall. As always however, remember that release dates are subject to change.
Sept. 6 "Turn it Up" Author and Fugees musician Pras stars in this semi-autobiographical film about a rapper from Brooklyn trying to make it big. The flick originally was titled "Ghetto Superstar," which just happens to be the name of Pras' 1998 album.
Sept. 8 "Nurse Betty" This Cannes Festival winner (best screenplay) features Renee Zellweger as a small-town waitress who's fallen in love with soap star Greg Kinnear. When her husband gets killed by two hitmen (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock), Betty leaves Kansas and heads straight to L.A. and her dream doctor. She is pursued, of course, by Freeman and Rock. Directed by Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors"). "The Watcher" The revival of Keanu Reeves continues. This time our minimalist actor is a cunning and sadistic serial killer who lures former FBI nemesis James Spader out of retirement for one last cat-and-mouse game. Marisa Tomei co-stars as a psychologist who may or may not fall victim to Reeves' charms. "The Way of the Gun" Two criminals, Ryan Phillippe and Benecio Del Toro, kidnap surrogate mom Juliette Lewis, intending to hold her unborn baby for ransom. But what the two don't count on is the guy (James Caan) the wealthy parents send to deliver the ransom. This is the directorial debut of "The Usual Suspects" co-writer Christopher McQuarrie.
Sept. 15 "Bait" Comedian Jamie Foxx is on a roll since his breakout performance as a high-priced, high-profile quarterback in last year's "Any Given Sunday." This time Foxx returns to his comic roots playing a small-time crook who gets released from jail to become bait in FBI agent David Morse's trap to catch dangerous gold thief Doug Hutchison. Directed by "The Replacement Killers'" Antoine Fuqua. "Beautiful" Oscar-winning actress Sally Field makes her directorial debut with this tale of a poor girl (Minnie Driver) who dreams of becoming Miss America. "Birthday Girl" Nicole Kidman is a mail-order Russian bride; Ben Chaplin is the English bank manager who buys her over the Internet. But when her two cousins arrive (Vincent Cassel and Mathieu Kassovitz), his veddy, veddy quiet British existence is turned upside-down.
Sept. 22 "Chain of Fools" Steve Zahn, Salma Hayek and Lara Flynn Boyle head up an ensemble cast in this comedy of errors about a barber (Zahn) who gets mixed up in the theft of some rare coins. Hayek is the detective investigating the theft. This one's directed by a Swedish duo (Pontus Lswenhielm and Patrick Von Krusenstjerna) that makes up one-third of the famous Traktor team of TV commercial directors.
Sept. 29 "Remember the Titans" Denzel Washington and Will Patton star in this high-school football drama. Based on real events, the year is 1971 and the Alexandria school board must integrate its football teams. Washington plays Herman Boone, the man the board members select as head coach of the newly integrated team over popular and winning white coach Patton. Despite great odds and plenty of racial prejudice on and off the field the Titans go on to great success.
Oct. 6 "Get Carter" Mike ("Croupier") Hodges' '70s cult crime caper gets a Hollywood update. Sylvester Stallone plays a vicious hitman who returns home for his brother's funeral only to end up investigating the death and seeking revenge. What makes this interesting is the fact that Michael Caine, Hodges' original Carter, co-stars here. "Impostor" Or "Imposter," as some early press and posters misspell it. Former Tidewater native Gary Fleder ("Things to Do in Denver," "Kiss the Girls") directs Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe and Vincent D'Onofrio in this tale of a weapons engineer who creates the ultimate weapon in a war against aliens. But wait, his creation is so out of this world, co-workers begin to suspect that he must be an alien too. "Meet the Parents" Ben Stiller runs into all sorts of trouble when girlfriend Terri Polo takes him home to meet her parents, Blythe Danner and Robert De Niro. It's a case of instant dislike, as Murphy's Law of relationships kicks in. Incredibly, this is a remake of Emo Phillips 1992 movie of the same name.
Oct. 13 "Bounce" Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow star as lovers in this tale of fate and faith. It seems that Affleck gave up his airline ticket to Paltrow's husband, only to have the plane crash and burn. A year later, he's drawn to Paltrow. When he starts to fall in love with her, he's trapped because he's never owned up to the coincidence that brought them together. "The Contender" Lots of Oscar buzz surrounding this political thriller. After the Affair Lewinsky, here comes a drama about a female senator who finds herself about to be nominated for vice-president. But there's a potentially damaging sexual skeleton in her closet. The incredibly talented Joan Allen stars as the woman under fire; Gary Oldman plays a rival congressman who opposes her nomination; Jeff Bridges is the president; and Sam Elliott is his chief of staff. "Dr. T and the Women" Robert Altman directs Richard Gere as a gynecologist going through a mid-life crisis. Farrah Fawcett is his estranged wife. Things come to a comic head as his daughter's wedding day approaches. "Ladies Man" Yet another "Saturday Night Live" skit gets expanded to the big screen. Tim Meadows reprises his horny, completely politically incorrect role of Leon Phelps, a late-night, love advice TV show host. "Lost Souls" Famed cinematographer Janusz ("Schindler's List") Kaminski makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Poppy Z. Brite's novel of the same name. Winona Ryder plays an exorcist who discovers a conspiracy to unleash Satan and his nasties on an unprepared world.
Oct. 22 "Pay It Forward" "Sixth Sense" sensation Haley Joel Osment stars as a young student challenged by teacher Kevin Spacey to do something to make the world a better place. Using a spin on karma, Osment comes up with the idea of "pay it forward." In essence, when you do someone a good deed, they in turn must do three good deeds ... and so on ... and so on. Osment begins by taking in a homeless man (James Caviezel) much to the surprise of his mom (Helen Hunt).
Oct. 27 "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" Whether you were captivated or merely infuriated by last year's independent darling, you knew a sequel was inevitable. The story picks up again in Burkittsville, Md. This time, four young people sign up for a tour of the Black Hills and camp near the house of the old hermit who was hanged for murdering seven children. In the morning, the campers awake with no memory of having gone to sleep or having five hours stolen from their lives. "Little Vampire" Cute and precocious Jonathan Lipnicki ("Stuart Little") stars in this adaptation of a popular German children's book series about an American boy in Europe who meets a new friend who in turn just happens to be a vampire. Together the two set out to find a magic pendant that will save the other vampires from a life of eternal darkness. "Numbers" John Travolta is a TV weatherman and sometime snowmobile salesman strapped for cash. Lisa Kudrow is his girlfriend, the local lovely who pulls the winning lottery numbers. The two team up to do the impossible rig the lottery in their favor. "Sleepless in Seattle's" Nora Ephron directs.
Nov. 3 "Charlie's Angels" The '70s TV show remake trend continues with this big-screen adaptation about three female private investigators. Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz are the ones giving girl power a kick this time out as they race to recover some highly advanced computer software. "The Legend of Bagger Vance" Robert Redford directs Will Smith and Matt Damon in this tale about a World War II hero who's asked to play two golfing greats. Damon is the hero, Smith a mysterious caddy who helps him get back into the games of golf and life. Originally set for release this past spring, buzz says it was moved to the fall to make it easier to score a few Oscar nods. "Little Nicky" You didn't think you could go a whole year without an Adam Sandler comedy did ya'? It seems Nicky's dad, Satan (Harvey Keitel), wants him to take over the family business. His first task head to the world of the living in search of his two brothers (Rhys Ifans and Tiny Lister) who left the underworld when daddy wouldn't let them take over. Talk about respect, Rodney Dangerfield shows up as Satan's dad.
Nov. 10 "Men of Honor" Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro, David Keith and Charlize Theron star in this drama based on the true story of the U.S. Navy's first African-American diver. Gooding Jr. plays Carl Brashear from the '40s through the '60s, whose bravery and courage continues to inspire divers today. Many counted Brashear out when he lost a leg on a mission. They were wrong.
Nov. 17 "Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas" Jim Carrey fires the first salvo in the big-bucks holiday box-office battle. In this live-action, though heavily made-up, version of the holiday classic, Carrey is joined by Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon and Bill Irwin. Ron Howard directs. "Original Sin" Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie co-star in this drama about a wealthy Cuban tycoon who discovers that his young bride is big-time trouble. The film's based on the novel "Waltz into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich, screenwriter for such classics as "Rear Window" and "Phantom Lady." "Rugrats in Paris: The Movie" The title of this sequel says it all. "The 6th Day" Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen as a helicopter pilot who returns home only to find he's been replaced by a clone. Now he's in a race to rub out the clonester before evil scientist Robert Duvall's hitmen can kill him.
Nov. 22 "102 Dalmatians" Glenn Close returns as Cruella de Ville in this sequel to 1996's live-action remake of Disney's 1961 animated classic. Just out of the slammer, Cruella sets up shop in a struggling animal orphanage and is still looking for that elusive Dalmatian-fur coat. This time Gerard Depardieu is also after the fur. Can anyone save those cute little guys? "Unbreakable" "Sixth Sense" writer-director M. Night Shyamalan reunites with Bruce Willis for this story of a security guard who discovers something mysterious about himself after a train accident. Robin Wright Penn is Willis' wife; Samuel L. Jackson is the man who helps Willis understand the meaning of his life.
Limited Appeal A number of terrific, smaller budget and foreign films also are on the docket for release this fall. In September, Oscar-winner Billy Bob Thornton writes, directs and stars in "Daddy and Them," a family drama about what happens when a relative is charged with murder. Latin hottie Penelope Cruz ("All About My Mother") stars in "Woman On Top" as a Brazilian TV cooking-show host who flees to San Francisco after finding her husband in bed with another. Director Cameron Crowe follows up his "Jerry Maguire" success with "Almost Famous," an ensemble look at a high school kid's dream to be a rock journalist in the '70s. He gets his shot when he lands a chance to follow a hot new band as they tour the United States. Also out this month in limited release, "Girlfight," a winner at both Sundance and Cannes. Newcomer Michelle Rodriguez scores a knockout as a troubled teen who wants her father to teach her to box. When he refuses, she heads to another gym and becomes a champ. But things get complicated when she starts to fall in love with one of her rivals.
Then get ready to turn up the volume to 11! Yes, this month marks the rerelease of the landmark rock music mockumentary, "This is Spinal Tap." Also on tap this month, William Friedkin's director's cut of "The Exorcist." Not only digitally remastered and remixed, this new version boasts "never before seen scenes" intended to further creep you out.
In October, Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix and Charlize Theron star in the thriller "The Yards," set in the vast New York City Subway yards. Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand directs Dan Aykroyd, Thomas Gibson and a host of others in this tale of a small-town girl plucked from obscurity and plopped into the cutthroat, high-stakes world of a supermodel.
This month, the cult classic getting a refurbished rerelease is none other than the Academy Award-nominated Beatles's campy comedy, "A Hard Day's Night." If you're wondering, "Why now?" Simple, this rerelease corresponds to the 35th anniversary of its original appearance in 1964.
In November, Aussie director Geoffrey ("Romper Stomper") Wright turns his talents to the overworked teen/horror genre. While the buzz is good on "Cherry Falls," this tale of a serial killer who stalks virgins and one young man's opportunist approach to deflowerment as salvation created quite a stir while filming at a Richmond high school last year. Sometime this month, or perhaps earlier, we'll get to see if all the fuss was warranted. Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr and Candy Clark
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