It's a tough fall, one of the toughest on record. Long a soft spot in the schedule, when the big studios would relax their grip on the theaters, knowing that the kids were back in school, the September-October-early November run usually meant movies
for grown-ups with ample seating and no waiting.
This fall is a bear.
More films, more competition; the number of four- and five-film Fridays is staggering, and only one Friday boasts a single title ("Ransom"). What that means is simple: A lot of movies are going to lose a lot of money, disappear without a chance, be gone before you get around to reading a single review.
So this is a very good time to give thanks -- that is, if you're not in the movie business. If you are, hah: boy, did you screw up!
The starters, with the usual provision that the schedule can change like the germs in "Outbreak":
On Friday, the film version of David Mamet's long-awaited "American Buffalo" arrives at the Charles, with Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz as small-potatoes thieves chewing the fat and each other as they plan a boost. That same day, John Herzfeld's story of another group of small-timers, "Two Days in the Valley," arrives, and it watches as James Spader, Danny Aiello, Glenne Headly, Paul Mazursky and Teri Hatcher, among others, intermingle in several random plots. I think somebody has seen a few Quentin Tarantino movies. Our last opener is "Extreme Measures," the thriller that Elizabeth Hurley produced for Hugh Grant after Divine Brown. Hmmm. Can this relationship be saved? Anyhow, Grant is a young New York doc whose admiration for his mentor, Gene Hackman, gets him in big trouble.
Oct. 4 is the first of those super Fridays. Tom Hanks makes his debut as screenwriter and director in "That Thing That You Do," a fictitious story of a 1964 rock group called the Wonders, headed to L.A. for a shot at stardom. Hanks has a small role but the real stars are all of a later generation: Jonathan Schaech, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott and Liv Tyler. "Mighty Ducks III" features those bad-news blarers who play peewee hockey under the tutelage of Emilio Estevez. In "Bound," les femmes get a shot at Tarantino-like grittiness as mob mistress Jennifer Tilly and thief Gina Gershon take on the Mafia. "The Glimmer Man" is a more conventional thriller, with stud tough-guy Steven Seagal and new partner Keenen Ivory Wayans as cops on the track of a serial killer.
The second week in October brings a real oddity to the screen. On Oct. 11, "The Ghost and the Darkness" arrives, which is the first true hunting movie in years, though the trailers make that difficult to discern. Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas play two British railway men who have to go after a couple of killer lions during the building of the East Africa railway back in the 1890s. The previews make it look as if the two boys are up against spirits or haunts: er, no, they're up against the Man-Eaters of Tsavo, who killed about 100 men before they were served a diet of .570 Nitro Express loads. Then there's "The Long Kiss Goodnight," from the same team that brought you "Cutthroat Island," far more despised than it ought to be. So the pendulum should swing for Geena Davis and her husband Renny Harlin, the action director, in this story about an amnesiac housewife who realizes she's actually a professional espionage agent. Samuel L. Jackson co-stars. On that same day, we get Grishamed again, this time in "The Chamber," in which the inevitable young lawyer (Chris O'Donnell this time) defends his grandfather (Gene Hackman), a Klansman who committed a long-ago racist crime. Much less bloody is "Big Night," which watches as two Italian brothers try to publicize their Long Island restaurant in the late '50s by inviting big star Louis Prima for dinner. Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, who grew up on Long Island, co-directed and co-star, though Scott is not Tucci's brother, only a Cadillac salesman who wanders by. Finally, "Grass Harp" opens that day also, with Walter Matthau, Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek, a love story set in the South.
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, the new Spike Lee film gets a no-competition opening. "Get on the Bus" is the story of a variety of African-American men who decide to travel to the Million Man March. Among the stars are "Homicide" guys Andre Braugher and Richard Belzer (he's the driver), Ossie Davis and Baltimorean Charles Dutton.