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FALL / HOLIDAY SNEAKS

Another Dramatic Finish

Sure, there'll be comedies, action and musicals too. But rest easy, serious film fans: Dramas still form the core of the fall / holiday season.

September 29, 1996|Jack Mathews | Jack Mathews is the film critic for Newsday

If movies were food, we'd all be sick. Not because they're diseased, though that Howard Stern film in production may be carrying something, but because of the imbalanced diet. Carbohydrates all summer, protein in the fall, saccharine over the holidays, leftovers through the spring.

The summer just ended was particularly malnourishing, virtually indigestible for people whose systems respond better to stories than special effects and to characters with recognizable human traits. We watched "Twister" with sudden longing for the complexities of Dino De Laurentiis' "Hurricane." We came to the conclusion after seeing "Independence Day" that the Earth is indeed ripe for takeover by reasonably intelligent life in the universe. And we watched "Mission: Impossible" in awe of how little it had in common with the cleverly written, ensemble-driven TV series.

But that's all behind us, like pounds gained over the holidays, and we're into a fall schedule as sinewy as the summer was fat. There are more than 20 dramas heading our way, including a fistful of literary adaptations, and about a dozen adult love stories. The comedy lineup has a broad range--"Beavis and Butt-head Do America" will bring up the rear--but there are a lot of them, most aimed at audiences with mature senses of humor.

Action fans aren't totally abandoned. There are films with mesomorphs Sylvester Stallone ("Daylight") and Steven Seagal ("The Glimmer Man") and an airplane thriller ("Turbulence"). Plus, a trio of horror movies: "Stephen King's Thinner," about a man placed on an involuntary weight-loss program after running over a peeved Gypsy; "Bad Moon," about a werewolf going fang to fang with the family dog; and Wes Craven's "Scream," about kids who must avoid the cliches of horror movies ("Don't go into the basement!") in order to survive.

There's high adventure in store in Stephen Hopkins' "The Ghost and the Darkness," a true story about an engineer (Val Kilmer) and a big-game hunter (Michael Douglas) who track a pair of lions terrorizing workers on the East African railway in the 1890s. And there's higher adventure yet, altitude-wise, in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" and the eighth filmed episode of "Star Trek."

If you sort the accompanying fall/holiday list by general categories, the most flagrant error in seasonal planning is with films targeted for children and families. Disney is squeezing another sequel out of "The Mighty Ducks" and looks to have a hit on its hands with its live-action "101 Dalmatians," which stars Glenn Close, who has been playing Cruella De Vil since "Fatal Attraction."

Warner Bros. will attempt to fill the animation gap with "Space Jam," which pits a real Michael Jordan and some Looney Tunes teammates--among them, Bugs Bunny and the Tasmanian Devil--in a basketball game against an intergalactic five of evil aliens. Could be the Nike tie-in of the century.

Besides the Dalmatian herds, kids can look forward to lovable beasts in "Larger Than Life," which sends Bill Murray on the road with an elephant inherited from his dad, and "The Leopard Son," a nature study (which opened Friday) tracking a leopard from birth to adulthood in the African veldt.

Finally, there's "Jingle All the Way," a Christmas picture starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guilt-ridden father scrambling on Christmas Eve to fill his son's impossible wish list.

*

The bulk of the Oscar nominees are always introduced in the final quarter of the year, but the first nine months of '96 left a virtually blank best picture ballot. Critics lined up behind the Coen brothers' "Fargo," released in March, and Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting," imported from England in July, but both figure to be forgotten by February. Most of the contenders will emerge from the bumper crop of high-profile dramas.

Neil Jordan's "Michael Collins," a biographical portrait of the man credited with winning Ireland's independence from England, won the top prize at the recent Venice Film Festival, and with Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts paired as the martyr and his lover, it will be treated as a major event. (Though it may not get Oscar consideration, first-time director Terry George's "Some Mother's Son," about the mothers of arrested Irish Republican Army members, will make a nice companion piece.)

"The Crucible," adapted by Arthur Miller from his own play about witch-hunting in Salem, Mass., and directed by Nicholas Hytner ("The Madness of King George"), has been getting Oscar buzz since it and its stars--Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Paul Scofield--were announced.

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