After summer of flops, a season of quality?


September 12, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Hail, hail, the Gang's finally here.

That would be Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese's long-awaited latest, an epic tale of love and loyalties, played out among the rival immigrant groups of 19th-century New York City. Not since Titanic has a film been so widely anticipated, and so steadily delayed.

How long has Gangs been delayed? When Scorsese first announced the project, in a two-page ad in Variety, Jimmy Carter was president. In the time since filming was completed, star Leonardo DiCaprio has made another film, for another huge-name director (Catch Me If You Can, for Steven Spielberg).

The folks responsible for May's Cannes Film Festival, so anxious to see what all the fuss is about, were willing to settle for just a few scenes of Gangs - and went ga-ga over them.

So yeah, Gangs of New York is getting all the ink. But it's far from the only prestige film opening between now and Christmas, which is always the time of Hollywood's biggest opening days.

Keep in mind that studios are famous for shoehorning all their Oscar-worthy films into the last three months of the year. And after a summer when just about every major-studio release failed to live up to even the most meager of expectations (Spider-Man being one of the few exceptions), American movie audiences could sure use some quality to choose from.

Among the most anticipated releases are The Four Feathers, an attempted return to the sweeping historical epics of yore, with Heath Ledger as a 19th-century British soldier attempting to prove his bravery on the battlefields of colonial Africa; Moonlight Mile, a rumination on how to deal with grief, starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon; and Red Dragon, Anthony Hopkins' third turn as Hollywood's favorite man-eater, Hannibal Lecter.

Also on this list are Cannes favorites About Schmidt (Jack Nicholson as an emotionally devastated retiree), Punch-Drunk Love (Adam Sandler as a repressed romantic); The Pianist (director Roman Polanski's contribution to the canon of Holocaust-themed films); and the latest chapters in the Harry Potter, James Bond, Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings franchises.

And then there are the independent releases, the smaller, less-trumpeted films that often turn into the critical darlings - and frequently dominate both the best-of lists and the Oscar nominations. Among the likely suspects: Frida, with Selma Hayek as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; Bloody Sunday, director Paul Greengrass' take on recent Irish history; Antwone Fisher, Denzel Washington's directorial debut; and the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

Best guess as to the big winner over the next four months? DiCaprio, because both Gangs of New York and Catch Me If You Can are scheduled to open the same day (Dec. 25).

The following list of coming movies is presented with the usual caveat: Movie release dates are notoriously fluid, so don't take the dates listed here as gospel. Between the time this was written and the time you are reading it, some have most likely already changed. But at least the list will give you something to look forward to - and unlike those Variety readers who have been waiting since 1977 for Gangs of New York, you'll only have a few months' anticipation.

Sun staff writer Faith Hayden assisted in compiling these film capsules.

Barbershop: Ice Cube and Sean Patrick Thomas star in the story of a man who impulsively sells his father's barbershop, then realizes that he wants it back. The problem? He doesn't have the cash. Sept. 13.

Mostly Martha: An obsessive German chef finds herself playing mother to her orphaned niece. Sept. 13.

Stealing Harvard: The uncle of a Harvard-bound student, desperate to find a way to pay for his niece's tuition, turns to a life of crime. The comedy stars Jason Lee and Tom Green. Sept. 13.

24 Hour Party People: A film based on the story of Tony Wilson, whose record label brought the world such bands as Joy Division. Sept. 20.

Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever: A newly widowed former FBI agent (Antonio Banderas) plays a game of cat-and-mouse with a tough woman (Lucy Liu) in this tale of revenge. Sept. 20.

The Banger Sisters: Two former headbanger-band groupies reunite after decades, and struggle to find contentment in their current lives. Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush star. Sept. 20.

The Four Feathers: A 19th-century English solider (Heath Ledger) resigns on the eve of a battle, then changes his mind about refusing to fight and goes undercover to help his regiment. Sept. 20.

Happy Times: From Chinese director Zhang Yimou, this film watches as an unlikely bond develops between a poor, aging bachelor and the blind stepdaughter of his intended wife. Sept. 20.

Igby Goes Down: A teen steals his mother's credit card and enjoys a shopping spree in Manhattan. Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Ryan Phillippe and Claire Danes star. Sept. 20.

Joshua: Christ's second coming happens in a small American town. Sept. 20.

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