Ring in the HollyDaze
Holiday Movie Previews
Do the math. It boggles the mind. Who can possibly see all these movies and what are the reasons behind such an embarrassment of riches?
Standard thinking says that it's due to the end-of-the-year Oscar rush for fame, glory, and the fatter paychecks such accolades are sure to bring. But more important than trophies and applause is the inescapable bottom line. Simply put, the holiday season is the most lucrative time of year for film exhibitors and distributors. Audiences attend more movies and do so with greater frequency during this five-week period than at any other time of year. This seasonal spike in viewership means that each product released during these weeks has a higher potential for monetary return, and all for the same amount of effort on the part of the distributors. Furthermore, this year, as a bonus, both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Wednesdays, creating a fortuitous bonanza that essentially amounts to two five-day weekends back-to-back.
Increasingly, we're entering a time in which the old distribution rule books no longer apply. The age of experimentation is in, and, ever more so, it's the smaller independent distributors who are leading the way. You can be certain that the financial success of a "serious" movie like Lone Star -- a Castle Rock release distributed by Sony Pictures Classics at the beginning of this summer, a season considered to be the kiss of death for anything other than light fluff -- makes industry forecasters sit up and take notice. The discovery of niche marketing and the demonstrated efficacy of off-season counter-programming is opening up all sorts of new possibilities while disrupting conventional business calculations.
Nov. 8: Ransom
Disney is hardly alone in this game of "switch the calendar." New strategies are constantly being tested. Each successive weekend since Ransom opened on November 8 has seen Hollywood rolling out another one of its big, instantly identifiable "event" movies. So far, the pay-off looks something like Christmas in July. Ransom's opening weekend went through the roof, bringing in over $34 million in ticket sales and becoming the number-one movie in the nation. But when Space Jam opened one week later on November 15, that too instantly rocketed to the number-one position with a $27.5 million weekend take, which makes it the fourth most successful opening on record for an animated feature. Barbra Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces also opened respectably that same weekend and its distance from the upcoming December onslaught of romantic comedies is probably helping it presently at the box office.
By the weekend of November 22, another instantly recognizable new release, Star Trek: First Contact, seized the top box-office mantle. Also released on November 22, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way lacked enough clout to knock the previous number-one winners from their top spots and came in a disappointing number four. However, The English Patient, which is in extremely limited release (playing 268 screens versus 2,812 for Star Trek), came in at number eight for the same week and appears to be the happy beneficiary of successful counter-programming. Since Thanksgiving weekend has already been conceded to 101 Dalmatians, the only question that remains is the fate of Sylvester Stallone's new thriller, Daylight, since it's the only major release scheduled for December 6 and absolutely the only action thriller visible on the holiday horizon. We'll have to wait until December 13 for the holiday season to adopt a more traditional and familiar form. That weekend's three big releases include Tim Burton's spoof Mars Attacks!, the Tom Cruise vehicle Jerry Maguire, and The Preacher's Wife, an angelic romance starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.
Not only does the holiday season now begin earlier than ever before, things are further complicated by the extension of the season into the months of January and February. Of the approximately 40 pictures opening up during this period, less than 20 are designated as "wide" releases -- in other words, opening everywhere at the same time. Most of the others are "platformed" around the country, gradually opening wider a few weeks at a time and continuing to dribble into cities outside New York and Los Angeles throughout the winter. Many times, film distributors will adopt a wait-and-see attitude while closely studying the holiday box-office numbers, looking for new release opportunities as the laggards fall out and the glut's unpredictable process of attrition comes into play. Thus, all the release dates listed in the accompanying box are specific to Austin. Many titles are still without hard dates.
Certainly, some of the smaller, artier movies lacking bona fide box-office stars are intentionally held in abeyance by their distributors for months at a time strategically waiting for the high visibility of a year-end release. Shine, which was acquired by Fine Line Features in an expensive bidding war during last January's Sundance Film Festival, is a good example of this maximizing, wait-until-December release pattern. Several other films -- among them Breaking the Waves, Ridicule, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Whole Wide World -- which have spent the last several months building some good buzz and winning awards at festivals throughout the world are also currently poised for holiday release.
Glancing at some key Oscar winners from recent years, however, can also illustrate the fallibility of the holiday release strategy. Of last year's winners, only Sense and Sensibility was an end-of-the-year release. Contenders such as Babe, Braveheart, and Apollo 13 all were released mid-year. The same timing holds for some other big winners of recent years: Silence of the Lambs and Forrest Gump, for example. Still, the general consensus seems to hold that 1996 has yet to witness a definite Oscar shoo-in. Sure, there's talk of the films and various performances in such movies as Fargo, Lone Star, Courage Under Fire, Secrets and Lies, A Time to Kill, and Big Night, to name just a few. But none of them is anywhere close to being a sure-fire nominee. And, in the fashion of self-fulfilling prophecy, the perception that there exists a wide-open slate yet to be filled, generates a positive expectation that the best is yet to come.
So what's lurking out there? Mostly dramas and romantic comedies. Looking for much of anything else will be virtually fruitless. The only new action adventure film on the block will be Stallone's Daylight. The handful of kid attractions includes Space Jam, Jingle All the Way, the sci-fi camp of Mars Attacks!, and the juvenile delinquency of Beavis and Butt-head Do America. Horror maestro Wes Craven's Scream is the only other genre offering on the slate.
Star draws, however, are everywhere: Shirley MacLaine in The Evening Star, Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney as the handsomest couple alive in One Fine Day, Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis in The Crucible, Madonna and Antonio Banderas in Evita, Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love in The People Vs. Larry Flynt, John Travolta in Michael, Nicole Kidman in The Portrait of a Lady, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, Debbie Reynolds in Albert Brooks' Mother, Kenneth Branagh in Hamlet, Jack Lemmon and James Garner in My Fellow Americans, Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis in I'm Not Rappaport, Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, and Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep in Marvin's Room.
And should you find yourself reeling from the season's overabundance of offerings, it's also possible to click your ruby slippers and sigh, "There's no time like summer." Independence Day, the Summer of '96's $300-million chart-buster hit the video stores on November 22, just in time to completely confuse Mother Nature.
D: Stephen Herek; with Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson, Joan Plowright.
Glenn Close vamps as the evil Cruella DeVil in this live-action version of the Disney chestnut about puppy love and dog-napping; the film is scripted by the master of family comedy, John Hughes, and is directed by Stephen Herek of Mr. Holland's Opus and Mighty Ducks fame.
JINGLE ALL THE WAY
D: Brian Levant; with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, Jim Belushi, Jake Lloyd.
Schwarzenegger teams with Flintstones director Brian Levant for this family comedy about a suburban dad who desperately tries to locate the season's hot action figure that's coveted by his son.
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA
D: Mike Judge.
As the creator of Beavis and Butt-head, those metalhead cartoon goofballs of MTV, Mike Judge is a one-man band who, in addition to writing and drawing all the cartoons, does most of the voices and also writes and performs the theme music for this feature-length adventure. Here's hoping that this MTV Production fares better on the big screen than the fledgling film company's buggy summer flop Joe's Apartment.
D: Wes Craven; with Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Courteney Cox, David Arquette.
There's terror in teen-town when a psycho, who takes all his cues from the movies, stalks the locals; it's directed by Wes Craven, whose original Nightmare on Elm Street set the genre's modern standard.
D: Albert Brooks; with Brooks, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Morrow, Lisa Kudrow.
In his first film project since Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks casts himself as a twice-divorced science-fiction writer who decides that his problems with women stem from his relationship with his mother and, so, moves back in with mom (Debbie Reynolds) in order to straighten out his life; sounds like another fine neurotic mess.
UNHOOK THE STARS
D: Nick Cassavetes; with Gena Rowlands, Gerard Depardieu, Marisa Tomei, Jake Lloyd.
Gena Rowlands stars as an empty-nest widow who reinvents herself and finds love with Gerard Depardieu in this movie directed by her son Nick Cassavetes.
D: Alexander Payne; with Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, Kelly Preston, Burt Reynolds.
Believe it or not, Citizen Ruth is something of an abortion comedy that tells the story of a glue-sniffing nobody (Laura Dern) whose pregnancy becomes a political football for both anti-abortionist and pro-choice activists.
SOME MOTHER'S SON
D: Terry George; with Helen Mirren, Fionnula Flanagan, Aidan Gillen, David O'Hara, John Lynch.
Set in 1981, two Irish mothers of imprisoned IRA hunger strikers discover their differences and similarities as they struggle to save their sons' lives; it's written and directed by the same team who made In the Name of the Father.
GRUMPY OLD MEN
I'M NOT RAPPAPORT
D: Herb Gardner; with Walter Matthau, Ossie Davis, Amy Irving, Martha Plimpton, Craig T. Nelson.
Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis star as the bickering, old, park-bench buddies of Central Park in this screen adaptation of Herb Gardner's Tony Award-winning stage play.
MY FELLOW AMERICANS
D: Peter Segal; with Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Dan Aykroyd, Lauren Bacall, John Heard, Wilford Brimley, Sela Ward, Marg Helgenberger.
Two former U.S. presidents (Jack Lemmon and James Garner) from opposing political parties find themselves together on a cross-country road trip to Washington, DC; their hatred for each other is put to the test when they find themselves victims of the current president's (Aykroyd) dirty dealings. Of course, it's all comic fiction.
D: Nora Ephron; with John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt, Robert Pastorelli, Bob Hoskins, Jean Stapleton, Teri Garr.
Andie MacDowell and William Hurt play a couple of tabloid reporters who investigate whether the beer-guzzling slob (John Travolta) shacked up in a motel in Iowa is really the angel he says he is; Michael was shot this past summer here in the Austin area -- a hop, skip, and a jump down the interstate from Iowa.
THE PREACHER'S WIFE
D: Penny Marshall; with Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, Gregory Hines, Jenifer Lewis, Loretta Devine.
Denzel Washington plays an angel sent to earth to help gospel-singing Whitney Houston and her minister husband, Courtney B. Vance, whose church is in trouble; the story is a remake of the 1947 film The Bishop's Wife starring Loretta Young and Cary Grant.
D: Joe Pytka; with Michael Jordan, Bill Murray, Wayne Knight, the voice of Danny DeVito.
Warner Bros. inaugurates both its new Feature Animation division and its new WB Toys unit with this mixed live-action and animation movie (and shameless merchandising scheme) that unites NBA megastar Michael Jordan with the entire Looney Tunes gang of yore.
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT
D: Jonathan Frakes; with Patrick Stewart, Frakes, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Brent Spiner.
This is the eighth time the aptly named Enterprise has set its sails for the big-screen movie theatres; here we have a new generation battling the insidious Borg.
D: Tim Burton; with Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lukas Haas, Sylvia Sidney, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Pierce Brosnan, Lisa Marie, Natalie Portman, Martin Short, Rod Steiger, Paul Winfield, Danny DeVito, Tom Jones.
As the Martians attack, comic hysteria spreads across America from Las Vegas to Washington, DC. Tim Burton's science fiction comedy features a knock-out cast and groovy special effects and has wisely put just enough distance between itself and Independence Day so that its arrival comes just in the nick of time.
D: Scott Hicks; with Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Lynn Redgrave, John Gielgud.
This Australian drama is a tribute to the transcendence of artistic genius as well as the crushing consequences of that gift; inspired by the life of piano virtuoso David Helfgott, the movie tracks his triumphant concert career and the devastating mental breakdown that caused him to be institutionalized for 20 years. With a fistful of festival awards already to its credit, the distributors have delayed Shine's release 'til year's end hoping for happy Oscar returns.
THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD
D: Dan Ireland; with Vincent D'Onofrio, Renee Zellweger, Ann Wedgeworth.
Set in Texas in the 1930s and based on the memoirs of schoolteacher Novalyne Price, The Whole Wide World lovingly recounts the troubled but enduring love affair between aspiring writer Price and Robert E. Howard, the popular and eccentric pulp fiction writer who created such immortal characters as Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.
THE EVENING STAR
D: Robert Harling; with Shirley MacLaine, Bill Paxton, Juliette Lewis, Miranda Richardson, Ben Johnson, Marion Ross, Jack Nicholson.
This continuation of Larry McMurtry's Terms of Endearment saga picks up Aurora Greenaway's story 15 years after the death of her daughter. Now the guardian of her daughter's three grown and troubled children, Southern belle Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) suffers continuing parenting crises and engages in some tomfoolery with her therapist (Bill Paxton); dissipated astronaut Jack Nicholson also returns for the ride.
D: Jerry Zaks; with Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Hume Cronyn, Gwen Verdon.
Adapted by the late Scott McPherson from his acclaimed stage play, Marvin's Room stars Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep as two estranged sisters brought together by illnesses and the antics of Streep's arsonist son (Leonardo DiCaprio); in subtle serio-comic ways, all come to learn the virtues of selflessness.
THE WAR AT HOME
D: Emilio Estevez; with Estevez, Kathy Bates, Martin Sheen, Kimberly Williams.
Emilio Estevez wrote, directed, and produced this filmed-in-Austin period drama about a Vietnam vet whose traumatic return to his Texas family poses difficulties for all concerned.
THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE
D: Daniel Sullivan; with Ron Rifkin, Timothy Hutton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tony Goldwyn.
A headstrong father clashes with his three grown children in this drama adapted from his stage play by playwright Jon Robin Baitz; Ron Rifkin plays a Holocaust survivor and publisher who resists his children's pleas to print more commercial fare and instead publishes a financially draining six-volume history of the Nazi medical experiments.
D: Billy Bob Thornton; with Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, John Ritter, J.T. Walsh, Natalie Canerday, Lucas Black.
One False Move's scriptwriter and actor Billy Bob Thornton also tries his hand at directing with this story about a simple man released from an asylum after committing a gruesome crime 25 years earlier; Dwight Yoakam and John Ritter are both surprisingly cast. With this project, Thornton writes, directs, and stars, and many are saying that he may have hit the trifecta.
THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES
D: Barbra Streisand; with Streisand, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, George Segal, Mimi Rogers, Brenda Vaccaro, Lauren Bacall.
Barbra Streisand directs herself in this romantic comedy about relationships, sex, and beauty which was scripted by Richard LaGravenese (The Bridges of Madison County, The Fisher King).
D: Cameron Crowe; with Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Renee Zellweger, Bonnie Hunt, Kelly Preston.
Tom Cruise plays a yuppified sports agent whose sudden act of conscience causes him to lose his job, but hey, it's okay because, as a result, he wins a lovely girl (Renee Zellweger) and a hot client's loyalty; writer-director Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Singles) has, in the past, demonstrated a knowing feel for these mismatched affairs of the heart.
ONE FINE DAY
D: Michael Hoffman; with Michelle Pfeiffer, George Clooney, Charles Durning.
Two divorced, thirtysomething parents meet at their kids' Montessori school and fall in love and hate at first sight; over the span of one day, their lives, careers, and cellular phones become intertwined.
D: Ron Howard; with Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor.
Mel Gibson plays a New York City tycoon whose implacable cool is wrenched asunder when his son is kidnapped and he decides to rely to his own negotiating skills to ensure the return of his son; director Ron Howard follows up Apollo 13 with a more conventional thriller.
D: Rob Cohen; Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Stan Shaw, Viggo Mortensen, Claire Bloom.
When an explosion in a New York-New Jersey tunnel below the Hudson causes both ends to be sealed off, a disparate group of commuters must pull together for survival; good thing the EMS rescue squad has Sylvester Stallone aboard.
D: Alan Parker; with Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce.
Alan Parker, who directed The Commitments and Fame, brings the powerhouse Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice stage musical Evita to the screen; Madonna stars as the legendary Eva Perón, whose raw ambition fed her climb from poverty to the top reaches of power, government, and popular adulation before succumbing to death in 1952 at the age of 33.
EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU
D: Woody Allen; with Allen, Alan Alda, Drew Barrymore, Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Tim Roth.
Woody Allen's latest musings on love and relationships have taken the form of a musical which was shot on location in New York, Venice, and Paris; everyone in the cast sings, which proves that people will do anything to be in a Woody Allen movie.
AND THE AMERICAN WAY
D: Nicholas Hytner; with Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison.
Arthur Miller scripted this screen adaptation of his famous stage allegory about the Salem witchcraft trials; it re-teams those Age of Innocence co-stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, and is directed by The Madness of King George's Nicholas Hytner.
GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI
D: Rob Reiner; with Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods, Craig T. Nelson.
Rob Reiner directs "a few more good men" in this fact-based courtroom drama about Mississippi D.A. Bobby DeLaughter (Alec Baldwin) who, more than 30 years after the assassination of Medgar Evers, re-opened the case and won a conviction against Byron De la Beckwith (James Woods), the man whose fingerprints were all over the murder weapon; Whoopi Goldberg plays Evers' widow Myrlie and Woods appears, in the trailers at least, to have achieved a frightening likeness of the racist De la Beckwith.
THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT
D: Milos Forman; with Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton.
Unlikely ACLU poster boy Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson), the publisher of Hustler magazine, fights all the way to the Supreme Court for his First Amendment rights; the porn king (and one-time presidential hopeful) gets the art-film treatment by Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus) and there's already Oscar buzz for co-star Courtney Love, who plays Althea Leisure, Flynt's drug-addicted, HIV-infected porn star love.
NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN
D: Sidney Lumet; with Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss, Lena Olin, Ian Holm, James Gandolfini, Ron Leibman.
For his 40th movie, director Sidney Lumet (Twelve Angry Men, Serpico, Prince of the City, The Verdict, Q&A) returns to his recurrent thematic concern with the chinks in American justice system.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
D: Anthony Minghella; with Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Scott Thomas, Willem Dafoe.
Told largely through the eyes of an unknown English patient in an Italian hospital, the story links four strangers in a romantic tale of intrigue and adventure and is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Michael Ondaatje; director Anthony Minghella (Truly, Madly, Deeply) adapted the novel for the screen.
IN LOVE AND WAR
D: Richard Attenborough; with Sandra Bullock, Chris O'Donnell.
Chris O'Donnell plays the young, war-wounded Ernest Hemingway to Sandra Bullock's Agnes Von Kurowsky, the Red Cross nurse who tended his injuries and broke his heart; based on Von Kurowsky's recently discovered diaries, the unrequited affair also provided the inspiration for Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.
THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
D: Jane Campion; with Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Martin Donovan, Mary-Louise Parker, Shelley Duvall, Shelley Winters.
Jane Campion follows up her Oscar win for The Piano with this adaptation of the Henry James classic about an independent woman who makes a bad marriage choice; Nicole Kidman follows up last year's To Die For Oscar rebuff with another plum starring role.
D: Trevor Nunn; with Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley, Imogene Stubbs.
Trevor Nunn, the renowned former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and current head of England's Royal National Theatre, turns his hand to filmmaking for this rendition of Shakespeare's great comedy of mistaken identities; reportedly, Nunn's handling turns the story into a meditation on sexual desire and disguise.
D: Kenneth Branagh; with Branagh, Julie Christie, Gerard Depardieu, Rosemary Harris, Kate Winslet, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal.
Shakespeare's most devoted film fan, Kenneth Branagh, has assembled an intriguing cast of European and American actors to once again stir up those old Danish ghosts. To pee or not to pee, that is never in question -- do it before sitting down; Hamlet's running time is just under four hours.
JOSEPH CONRAD'S THE SECRET AGENT
D: Christopher Hampton; with Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette, Gerard Depardieu, Jim Broadbent.
Joseph Conrad's novel (one of the Unabomber's favorites) has been adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton (Carrington); set in Victorian London, Bob Hoskins plays an agent provocateur who works for both the police and a foreign power while posing as a member of a Soho anarchist group whom he must betray.
D: Keith Gordon; with Nick Nolte, Sheryl Lee, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Kirsten Dunst, David Straithairn.
Nick Nolte stars in this screen adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's 1962 novel about an American spy who poses as a Nazi sympathizer in World War II Germany, and, in typically absurdist Vonnegut fashion, eventually loses track of his real identity.
BREAKING THE WAVES
D: Lars Von Trier; with Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard.
Danish visionary Lars Von Trier's new film has been winning awards and rapturous praise wherever it travels; Breaking the Waves tells the erotic story of a young woman in a remote, religious Scottish community whose husband, after becoming paralyzed and bedridden, convinces her to seek sexual fulfillment outside the marriage while sharing with him all the details of her acts.
D: Patrice Leconte; with Fanny Ardant, Jean Rochefort.
Wit is the key to survival in this satirical period piece set in the court of Louis XVI; it stars the great French actors Fanny Ardant and Jean Rochefort and is directed by the always provocative Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire, The Hair Dresser's Husband).
D: Claude Chabrol; with Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sandrine Bonnaire.
Disgruntled postal workers are not unique to America; Isabelle Huppert plays one in French New Waver Claude Chabrol's newest film, although her anger is more class conscious than vindictively homicidal. The story is based on Ruth Rendall's 1977 novel A Judgment in Stone.
LES VOLEURS (THIEVES)
D: Andre Téchiné; with Daniel Auteuil, Catherine Deneuve, Laurence Cote.
Detective Daniel Auteuil discovers that his girlfriend is having a lesbian affair with philosophy professor Catherine Deneuve; director Andre Téchiné reunites with his Ma Saison Préférée stars Auteuil and Deneuve.
THE GARDEN OF THE
D: Vittorio De Sica; with Dominique Sanda, Lino Capolicchio, Helmut Berger, Fabio Testi.
Winner of 1971's best foreign film Oscar, this Italian movie tells the haunting story of an aristocratic Jewish family during World War II who ignore the encroachments of fascism until the monster swallows them whole.