It's more than just kid stuff Quality directors unreel new works

COMING ATTRACTIONS

August 29, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

As Mel Brooks might have said, It's good to be the movie critic.

But it's even better to be the movie critic in the fall: You go from heaven to paradise. That's because control of the theaters is more or less recovered by the adult segment of the population, as the children are all back in school studying to get good jobs as electrical engineers or working hard to earn additional merit badges in the Scouts. Yes, indeed, there are a few "RoboCop III's" and "Striking Distances" on the docket, but there's also a film or two of some potential distinction, as, for example, new works by Scorsese, Merchant-Ivory and David Cronenberg. Yes, movies to chew, not swallow. It's characteristic of the fall that there's not a single film (or films) dominating talk, as with "Jurassic Park" vs "Last Action Hero" this summer. And isn't that refreshing?

So here's a look at the schedule through Nov. 24, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is the traditional start of the Christmas movie season, offered with the usual proviso that these dates are as slippery as baby food on linoleum, as movies disappear and appear on the strangest of marketing whims.

September

* Friday begins a busy week among the small fry, with only one studio film slated. That's "Calendar Girl," from Columbia, set in the perpetual movie Camelot of 1962. It's about three 18-year-old boys -- Jason Priestly, Jerry O'Connell and Gabriel Olds -- who try to meet Marilyn Monroe.

The controversial "Boxing Helena," also opens with Sherilyn Fenn as the Helena who is, literally, boxed. It hails from Jennifer Lynch, the daughter of director David ("Blue Velvet") Lynch. Julian Sands plays the surgeon who boxes Ms. Fenn by removing her arms and her legs. Ick.

In "Kalifornia," Brad Pitt plays a psychotic killer who terrorizes two earnest, liberal researchers who believe in rehabilitation.

"Fortress" returns Stuart Gordon to the big job behind the camera after a hiatus: He was the sick genius behind "Re-Animator." "Fortress" is billed as a futuristic thriller and stars Christopher Lambert as a man trying to escape from a sophisticated prison in 2013.

Finally, "Wedding Banquet" chronicles an arranged marriage in this country between two Chinese students, with the complication that the boy is gay and only gets married to masquerade for his visiting parents.

* Sept. 10, Tony Scott's version of a script by Quentin ("Reservoir Dogs") Tarantino arrives. "True Romance" stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in an unusual love story set in L.A. It's attracting advance buzz based on its intensity and violence.

"Money for Nothing," with its title borrowed from a hot lick by Dire Straits, follows: John Cusack suddenly finds himself in possession of $1.2 million in unmarked bills that's fallen off a truck. Sleepy, cool Michael Madsen plays the cop who tracks him down in this fact-based comedy thriller.

In "The Real McCoy," Kim Basinger is an ethical bank robber battling unethical bank robber Terence Stamp, with Val Kilmer as her love interest.

Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner pair up in "Undercover Blues," a comedy about a CIA couple trying to stay retired but continuously brought back into the world of espionage.

* Sept. 17 is shaping up as one of the most extraordinary days in recent movie-going memory. Martin Scorsese's long-awaited and much-delayed (it was originally scheduled for last Christmas) "The Age of Innocence" begins an exclusive run at the Senator. Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder, it's based on the Edith Wharton novel.

Mike Newell's "Into the West," his follow-up picture after "Enchanted April," also opens. It's about kids who run away to the West on a big white stallion, except that the West is the West of Ireland. Their father, Gabriel Byrne, and half the cops in Dublin follow.

A more conventional big Hollywood thriller stars Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker as Pittsburgh-based river police (they have three of them there, remember), called "Striking Distance."

"Airborne," from Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, stars Shane McDermott and takes place in the world of rollerblading.

* Sept. 24, William Hurt returns to the screen after a vacation for "Mr. Wonderful," which doesn't sound so wonderful at all. He's a divorced guy trying to find a husband for his ex-wife to cut down his alimony payments. Annabella Sciorra co-stars.

That same day, James Caan plays a hard-nosed football coach in "The Program," a slice-of-life piece that examines big-time college football. Craig Sheffer ("A River Runs Through It") is the biggest of the young actors masquerading as jocks. David S. Ward, currently in Baltimore shooting "Major League II," co-wrote and is directing.

Morgan Freeman makes his directing debut and Arsenio Hall his producing debut with "Bopha," a drama starring Danny Glover as a South African policeman caught between worlds when his son turns rebel against the system he's spent his life defending.

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