Movies 'Serious' Fare And Big-name Comedy May Enliven A Long Winter's Night

Posted: December 13, 1990

In New York and Los Angeles, Hollywood gives its gifts at Christmas, offering a slate of high-prestige, big-name releases eager to meet that Dec. 25 deadline for Oscar nominations.

In Philadelphia, we get to open the presents in January.

The best of the pre-Christmas hits will still be heating up screens in '91, but the early part of the new year will ring in with at least a half-dozen highly competitive entries aimed at adult audiences, particularly Awakenings and The Sheltering Sky.

Even in February and March, there should be enough worthwhile films (Silence of the Lambs, The Doors and L.A. Story, perhaps) to take the chill off winter.

All dates, of course, are approximate, depending in part on the success of the holiday films.

JANUARY

Expected to usher in 1991 is the eagerly awaited Awakenings. Robert De Niro plays a coma victim brought back to life after a 30-year sleep. Robin Williams is the doctor who tries to reorient him to the world. Penny Marshall (Big) directs. By the time it arrives, the Oscar hype ought to make this a deserving must-see.

Come See the Paradise is Englishman Alan Parker's new American social history lesson. Parker, who touched upon racism in Mississippi Burning, now uses a white man-Asian woman love story to tackle the internment of Japanese- Americans during World War II. Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita star. The early word was great. The later word was baw-ring. The trailer was sensational.

From another Brit comes another typically American movie, The Grifters. Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) directs John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening in a film-noir thriller based on Jim Thompson's book. Donald Westlake wrote the screenplay, versatile Elmer Bernstein (The Ten Commandments, Animal House) wrote the score and Martin Scorsese co-produced. Sounds like a winner.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci, who scored big in China with The Last Emperor, now travels to North Africa for a story of love and despair. The Sheltering Sky stars Debra Winger and John Malkovich, so there should be plenty of angst to go around. Success will depend on reviews and the early reviews have not been very good.

Green Card is the latest from Aussie Peter Weir. Weir has been incredibly successful with male movies (Gallipoli, Witness, Dead Poets Society), but here he tries his hand at high-concept romantic comedy. Gerard Depardieu (star of virtually every French import, from Going Places to Cyrano) is a foreigner who needs a wife to stay in America, and Andie MacDowell (sex, lies, and videotape) is an American who needs a spouse to get an apartment. Already one of Hollywood's more bankable directors, Weir's stock will skyrocket if he has a light enough touch to pull this one off.

In the 1960s, director Franco Zeffirelli scored big with two Shakespeare adaptations, The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet. In the 1980s, he made opera accessible with hit versions of La Traviata and Otello. In Hamlet comes his greatest challenge: Mel Gibson. If moviegoers will buy Mad Max as the confused Danish prince, it probably won't be long before Stallone is doing Lear. No truth to the rumor that the famous sword battle is fought with Uzis or that Gibson calls on Bill Murray to kill the ghost. Glenn Close also stars.

Scenes From a Mall seemed like a perfect holiday release before it was postponed. Woody Allen and Bette Midler play a married couple who dissect their life together and discuss their infidelities during a shopping trip. Was it too "adult" to battle Kindergarten Cop? Too sweet? Too - egad - dull? We'll know soon enough. Paul Mazursky (Enemies, a Love Story) directs.

If you like Allen better when he's funny behind the camera, look for Alice. It features a typical killer Allen cast, including William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Cybill Shepherd and Joe Mantegna. Mia Farrow plays a woman of the '90s who undergoes a change-of-life. This is not Another (Menopausal) Woman. It's a comedy.

Also in the pipeline for January is White Fang, based on the Jack London novel, with Klaus Maria Brandauer and Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society) as gold prospectors in Alaska. White Fang is their wolf-dog. (See, these are winter's dog days.) The film, the first to be shot entirely on location in Alaska, is an endurance tale of bonding and greed that sounds something like Never Cry Wolf Meets the Treasure of Sierra Madre. Randal Kleiser (Grease) directs.

How long has it been since there was a good chopsocky film? Some would say it has been since Jackie Chan's Police Story. Well, take heart, Chan fans, Police Story 2 is on its way.

For real men who prefer their kicks in the air, there'll be Flight of the Intruder, director John Milius' Vietnam flyboy film, originally supposed to open last summer. Danny Glover stars. Also pushed off repeatedly has been Dive, a submarine comedy starring Bill Pullman and Ned Beatty.

And for sci-fi fans, Gregory Hines stars in Eve of Destruction.

FEBRUARY

If Hamlet clicks in January, it might give a boost to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in February. Writer Tom Stoppard makes his directorial debut with his existentialist spinoff. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth star.

Following the January theme of foreign directors taking on American themes, Englishman Mick Jackson (Chattahoochee) oversees L.A. Story, a modern romantic and social comedy starring and written by Steve Martin. The amusing trailer can be seen on video copies of Total Recall.

True Colors is an ethics-and-friendship story about how two guys change in the decade after their meeting in law school. James Spader and John Cusack star.

Another relationship film - this time with a romantic Rashomon-ic twist - is He Said, She Said, starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins. The gimmick? The film is split in half: His view of the relationship was directed by Ken Kwapis, her view by Marisa Silver.

The battle of the sexes takes on far uglier tones in Sleeping With the Enemy, in which Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) plays a wife abused by her husband. Directed by Joe Ruben (True Believer).

In Mortal Thoughts, Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) also has an abusive husband, Bruce Willis, but he winds up murdered. Whodunit? As the police investigation closes in, it strains the friendship of Headly and her beauty salon partner/best friend, Demi Moore. (Of course it does, she's Willis' real wife). Art-house favorite Alan Rudolph directs, but since he didn't write the screenplay - William Reilly did - the stars give this one crossover potential.

The same William Reilly - it's amazing how quickly you can become a somebody in the film business - is writer and director of Men of Respect, a modern-day Macbeth set in the New York underworld. John Turturro (Miller's Crossing), Katherine Borowitz and Dennis Farina star.

If you like to feel your skin crawl, you'll find appeal in The Silence of the Lambs, based on Thomas Harris' bestselling psycho-butcher-thriller. Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn star. Jonathan Demme (Married to the Mob, Something Wild) directs. People who have seen rough cuts say it's sensational.

And for those who like to scream but don't care so much about style or substance, there's A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy's Dead. (Let's hope.) No plot details were available, so use your imagination.

On the lighter side will be a film about a singing group, The Five Heartbeats, starring and directed by Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle).

Also in February: Convicts, a prison pic starring Robert Duvall; Shipwrecked, an adventure story from director Nils Gaup (the award-winning Pathfinder), and Everybody's Fine with Marcello Mastroianni.

MARCH

It's L.A. Story in February, "L.A. Woman" in March. Director Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon) goes back to 1960s for The Doors, about the cultish rock group, their leader Jim Morrison and the times they lived in. Val Kilmer (Real Genius), Meg Ryan and Billy Idol star.

When Sylvester Stallone gets laughs, it's usually not because his films are comedies. Oscar may change that. Director John Landis goes back to the territory he mined so successfully in Trading Places to fashion a slapstick farce that might give a jump-start to Stallone's post-Rocky career. Stallone plays a mobster who promises his dying father he'll go straight and become a banker. Bet this one's going to go over big at the S & L hearings.

Neil Simon, who hasn't had a cinematic hit in ages, writes again for the big screen in The Marrying Man - a lust-filled romantic comedy starring allegedly real-life item (don't believe it) Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Baldwin is a millionaire and Basinger is a lounge singer. (Her camp has said she out-vamps Michelle The Fabulous Baker Boys Pfeiffer.) After a quickie Vegas marriage, they instantly realize they'reincompatible. When the dust settles they are, according to the press notes, "uncontrollably drawn to a series of calamitous marriages - all to each other." Huh?

In what sounds like Taps with a cocaine twist, a film with the working title of Toy Soldiers focuses on a group of Colombian narco-terrorists who take hostages at an exclusive boarding school for delinquent boys. The boys fight back - and not by reading poetry and standing on their desks.

Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver) throws out the first baseball movie of the season with Talent for the Game, about a major-league scout whose career depends upon his signing a hot prospect. Lorraine Bracco (GoodFellas) co-stars.

For the kids at Easter time, Disney checks in with the re-release of The Great Mouse Detective, an animated adventure a la Holmes and Watson that features the voice of Vincent Price.

The karate critters also return, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, the sequel to one of the films that starred the most amazing pop-culture phenomenon of our time.

Also expected in March: Point Break, a thriller with Gary Busey, Keanu Reaves and Patrick Swayze, and Class Action, a courtroom comedy with Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as father-daughter competing lawyers.

REPERTORY HIGHLIGHTS

The Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia will host an ''Ethnicity on Film" series. Highlights will be Crossing Delancey on Jan. 15, Jerzy Skolimowski's Moonlighting on Feb. 19 and Family Gathering on March 12. All shows are free, Tuesdays at 4 p.m., in Montgomery Auditorium, Logan Square. Information: 686-5322.

Temple Cinematheque, 1619 Walnut St., highlights will include Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Jan. 11 and 12), Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers (Jan. 25 and 26), Diva (Feb. 1 and 2), Ingmar Bergman's Shame (Feb. 4 and 5), and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (Feb. 8 and 9). Call 787-1529 for times and information.

Reunion starring Jason Robards will be shown at the Gershman Y at 8 p.m. on March 9 and at 3 p.m. on March 10. The film was written by Harold Pinter and directed by Jerry Schatzberg. For tickets and information, call 545-4400, Ext. 243. The Y's January film is The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick (Jan. 12 and 13) and the February film is Avanti Popolo (Feb. 9 and 10).

Other repertory sites:

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Broad & Cherry Sts, 972-7600.

Film Forum 509 S Broad St, 732-7704.

Neighborhood Film/Video Project International House, 3701 Chestnut St, 895-6542.

Roxy Screening Rooms 2023 Sansom St, 561-0114.

Villanova University Connelly Center, Villanova, 645-4750.

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