It's De Niro as Frankenstein, and, yes . . . Freddy's back FRIGHTS OF FANCY

September 18, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The monsters are back. Yes, for your fall movie-going, genuine scary monsters of the sort that so rarely make it to the screen anymore.

We have very scary professional hit men John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in the intensely awaited "Pulp Fiction." We have the big guy himself, in "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," with Robert De Niro throwing the long shadow as he clomps around in cement boots. We have that blood-sucking freak Lestat, the vampire himself, as personified by Tom Cruise, and won't that be a fright? Even Freddy Krueger returns. Now there's a chill or two, no?

You're not scared? You say you want monsters? OK, try . . . Sylvester Stallone. Now you're quaking in your boots. We have . . . Macaulay Culkin, and that sends me into the bottom of my sleeping bag. And we have . . . brace yourself . . . William Shatner's hairpiece!

I knew that one would get you. Anyway, here's a preview of monsters and more reasonable people who will be checking into the local multiplex between now and Thanksgiving, offered (as always) with the proviso that dates change sometimes cavalierly, and movies appear and disappear in strange and mysterious ways.

The new fall season gets a great start Friday with Robert Redford's "Quiz Show," a brilliant autopsy of the TV scandal that rocked America in the late '50s and early '60s. But more, it's a story of American character, intensely dramatic, and also a document that details the subtly corruptive power of popular culture. Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro (Oscar nods both, I'm predicting) play Charles Van Doren and Herbert Stempel, antagonists and brother victims in the drama.

That same Friday gives us no less than Charlie Sheen romancing Nastassja Kinski, who may be a KGB agent, in the sky-driving melodrama "Terminal Velocity." Haven't they heard? The KGB is out of business. Then there's the potentially amusing "It Runs in the Family," with a Culkin that isn't a Macaulay, but a Kieran, as derived from the works of Indiana humorist Jean Shepherd. Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen round out the cast.

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, "Jason's Lyric" breaks through yonder window; that is to say, it's being offered as an "African-American 'Romeo and Juliet,' " which would seem to mean it's about a young woman from one gang principality falling in love with a young man from another. Filmed in Houston, it stars Baltimorean Jada Pinkett along with Allen Payne and Forest Whitaker, and almost got an NC-17 from the ratings board, until softened.

Friday, Sept. 30, looks quite interesting as well. First is the big-budget action flick that re-invents Meryl Streep. Called "The River Wild," and also starring Kevin Bacon, the film gives us La Streep rafting down some Western whitewater roller coasters with her kids while beset by psychotic escaped prisoners. Then, thanks to Stephen King, there's "The Shawshank Redemption," with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the former as a dishonest Wall Street dude sent to prison, where he meets the latter, a wise old con. Can it possibly be that elusive first: a good movie from a Stephen King story? Stay tuned. Last, and potentially most pleasing, is "The Scout," with Albert Brooks as a Yankee scout who discovers a genius toiling in the Mexican leagues: one Steve Nebraska, played by Brendan Fraser. Alas, Brooks did not direct the picture; he merely stars and co-writes.

Friday, Oct. 7, is a day with a theme. It's the good, the bad and the really weird. The good is "Only You," with Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei, said to be a gentle yarn about star-crossed lovers in Venice and "surprisingly good for its kind." The bad has to be "The Specialist," with those two high-octane thespians S. Stone and S. Stallone. It's the same old story: revenge. He's a guy who blows a lot of stuff up, including all her enemies. The weird is "Ed Wood," from the already weird Tim Burton, a black-and-white bio of the cross-dressing nutty guy revered as the worst director in history, who unleashed "Plan 9 From Outer Space" on an unsuspecting world. Is Burton's take Plan 10?

I shudder at the approach of Oct. 14: it's one of those super Fridays in which every hack in Hollywood releases a film. But the most hotly anticipated is "Pulp Fiction," by bad boy Quentin ("Reservoir Dogs") Tarantino, a triptych of gangster tales that won the Palme d'or at Cannes and is said to resuscitate John Travolta's dying career. It's already been on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. "Little Giants" hasn't been on the cover of anything: It's a kid movie, with Rick Moranis as a hapless coach who shapes a series of A-team rejects into a football team to oppose Ed O'Neill's gang of winners.

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