The message of the fall movie season seems to be: You can run, but you can't hide.
In an industry obsessed with running away from reality with lurid escapist fantasies, the hallmark of the fall appears to be a gritty realism, a confrontation with those urban complexities from which the movies, for all too long, have been a retreat.
Certainly, there's the usual amount of escapist fare, but two strong and controversial films from America's two most gifted producers and directors, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee, will in all likelihood set the tone for what follows, and tower over the mere "product," as the industry likes to call its own issue. Other serious themes include adultery and Lolitaism, the breakup of a family, the tissue of deceit in marriage, and the agony of growing older. And that's only from Woody Allen! There's anti-Semitism, evangelism and terrorism; there's even cannibalism!
Here's a brief look at the major studio pictures on the horizon through Thanksgiving, keyed to the weekends of their release, as currently scheduled:
Friday will be a busy, busy weekend as the fall schedule swings into gear. The most important film almost certainly will be "South Central," produced by Oliver Stone and directed by Steve Anderson. From a book by a former Crip, the movie is an examination of the chronic problems confronting the black community in that section of Los Angeles.
More notoriously, the new Woody Allen film, "Husbands and Wives," about an older husband who falls in love with a younger woman, who is not Mia Farrow, checks in, and it's been rushed into about a thousand theaters in a naked bid to slurp up the publicity in the real-life Woody-Mia-Soon-Yi mess. Then there's "School Ties," from Robert Mandel, with the Encino man himself, Brendan Fraser, as a prep quarterback at a snooty private school, where he decides to keep his Jewishness a secret.
Tim Robbins, a Hollywood flavor of the month after "The Player," ups his own private ante starring in, writing and directing "Bob Roberts," a satire of far-right political evangelism.
"Singles," a look at lifestyles among the unmarried, with Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda also checks in, as does "Captain Ron," a comedy, featuring Martin Short as a mild suburbanite and Kirk Russell as a somewhat piratical charter boat captain. Finally, the French hotshot Jean-Jacque Arnaud, who did "Quest for Fire" and "The Bear," offers up "The Lover," set in Saigon of the '20s, with Jane March having an affair with mysterious Asian millionaire Tony Leung.
Sept. 25, "Innocent Blood" puts "La Femme Nikita" Anne Parillaud at the center of a big budget American horror job, as directed by John Landis. She's a female vampire who likes to drink gangster blood; Anthony LaPaglia is an undercover cop who tracks her down.
Then there's "Mr. Saturday Night," the new Billy Crystal film, with the fastest mouth in movies playing a third-rate comic who never quite makes it in an inside-show biz tale.
"Sarafina!", an American-South African film that uses some music video techniques to illustrate the horrors of apartheid in South Africa, also opens that weekend.
Oct. 2, the torrent continues. The man who invented "Miami Vice" takes on the 18th century. This is Michael Mann's much-anticipated version of the James Fenimore Cooper classic, Last of the Mohicans." The stars are Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe.
Dustin Hoffman stars in "Hero," about a fugitive who performs a valiant act and gets ticked when someone else claims credit. The nifty Stephen Frears, who directed "Dangerous Liaisons" and "The Grifters," helms this one, and the writer, David Peoples, wrote "Unforgiven" and "Blade Runner."
Sports and mystery
Tom Selleck is "Mr. Baseball," a Yank long-ball hitter playing out the end of his career in the Japanese big leagues. "The Mighty Ducks" features Emilio Antonio as a smug yuppie lawyer ordered to coach a losing hockey team. "Traces of Red" is a Miami murder mystery with Tony Goldwyn, Jim Belushi and Lorraine Bracco. "Of Mice and Men" returns American literature to the screen after a long absence, as Gary Sinise directs himself and John Malkovich in a version of the Steinbeck story adapted by the great Horton Foote. And finally, the corrosive David Mamet play "Glengarry Glen Ross" opens with a powerhouse cast including Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Jonathan Pryce and Kevin Spacey. James Foley directs.