Friday, September 29, 2000

Fall 2000: A Preview of Things to Come

As the fall season begins to swing into gear at the cinema, moviegoers who reflect on the seasons that have already passed will undoubtedly be left in complete dismay. In the early months of the year, the theater screen was bombarded with a seemingly endless supply of half-baked material (unfunny comedies, pretentious thrillers, etc.), unleashed at a steady pace and laying the foundation for what could be the single worst year for movies in well over a decade. As those pictures subsided, we began seeing a touch of inspiration sprout out from the motion picture crop by early April (with pictures like “American Psycho”), and for a brief period of time, felt that the industry was heading in the right direction. But hopes were painfully dashed, alas, with the arrival of summer: a disappointing three-month journey through loud, obnoxious and even ridiculous blockbusters that trashed much hope for a worthwhile experience at the local multiplex. The period had its share of great successes, yes, but in all fairness, could not live up to most of its hype both critically and commercially. In fact, the highest grossing picture of the season—“Mission: Impossible 2”—made just a little over $200 million at the domestic box office, down from the $400+ million earned by last year's biggest summer flick, “Star Wars Episode 1—The Phantom Menace.”

Very few pictures this year have made a definite standout. So what's left? What can the coming months possibly do to preserve the urge for going to the movies? What do filmmakers have left in their arsenal, if anything at all to begin with? The release schedule below alone may be a positive sign, as it sees big departures from the common material already released throughout this year (not to mention the long-awaited returns from some familiar faces). Autumn usually jump-starts the Oscar buzz, too, so this will hopefully be the season that will save the year from almost total catastrophe.

* REMEMBER THE TITANS (Opens September 29)
Screen star Denzel Washington attempts to duplicate his success from “The Hurricane” with this sports drama about a coach newly recruited for a high school football team in an area where racism is still at a disheartening high. Positive reviews are already piling up for this one, some calling Washington’s performance equal to that of his Oscar-nominatedportrayal as Rubin Carter.

* GET CARTER (Opens October 6)
Sylvester Stallone has been missing the big screen in 1997’s “Cop Land,” but with his new endeavor, “Get Carter,” looks ready to remind his audiences as to how he earned the nickname “Sly.” This action picture tackles familiar territory with the rugged screen star, having him in a position where extreme physical qualities are needed in pulling off dangerous stunts, fights, etc. But this time around, Stallone plays a mob enforcer who is spurred by the notion that his brother did not die accidentally, and he wants to hunt down the real killers and give them the same fate. The previews themselves are swift and loud, adding a touch of nostalgia for those who have followed the actor’s career faithfully for almost three decades.

* LOST SOULS (Opens October 13)
Even though movies with all-too-familiar concepts are not exactly the ideal things many of us look forward to, “Lost Souls,” which follows on the heels of the recent slew of satanic thrillers like “The Ninth Gate” and “Bless The Child,” argues otherwise. For an entire year, New Line Cinema has held the production back for fear that it would clash with other films of similar substance, thus resulting in a heavily hyped horror flick. The movie stars Winona Ryder as an exorcist, of sorts, who discovers a plot that could pit mankind up against the forces of Satan, and suspects that someone nearby will undergo the possession. Trailers have been playing in theaters for well over a year.

* MEN OF HONOR (Opens October 20)
A large ensemble cast including Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Robert DeNiro stars in this story of the U.S. Navy’s first African-American diver, who endured racism, loss and extensive physical injury throughout his career, but persevered through nearly every problem that jumped into his path. “Men Of Honor” may be this year’s best shot at an extensive human drama, and perhaps the fact that it’s a true story will make itall the more meaningful.

* BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (Opens October 27)
The sleeper hit from summer 1999, “The Blair Witch Project,” was so well received by the industry that two follow-ups—a sequel and prequel—were immediately put into production. The first of these installments, “Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” is targeted for release right before Halloween: an ideal setting considering this is when moviegoers are usually in the mood for seeing something creepy on the big screen. If the movie is anything like its trailers, this one promises a worthy follow-up to its predecessor.

* LUCKY NUMBERS (Opens October 27)
After the fiasco that was “Battlefield Earth,” John Travolta is set to return to the movie screen with this crime caper about a TV weatherman short on cash who, along with his close friends, attempts to fraud the state lottery. Travolta is hardly a significant comedy actor, but as the cast includes Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth and Ed O’Neill in the mix, perhaps it’s safe to bet on a few laughs from this one.

* CHARLIE’S ANGELS (Opens November 3)
One of the most anticipated film adaptations aimed for a fall release is this film, starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore in the lead roles of the popular characters from the 70s/80s television show of the same name. Its hype, however, is certainly not owed to the teaser trailers in theaters, which are corny and call more attention to the stars than the picture itself. Still, a loyal fan base will ensure at least a few weeks of box office success.

* RED PLANET (Opens November 3)
Ever notice how big blockbusters always come in pairs? That may be something on our minds with “Red Planet,” which will face release just six months after the fated arrival of “Mission To Mars.” The premise for this one has a similar structure to the other, the difference being that this one is said to have a style combining elements of “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix.” Val Kilmer and Carie-Anne Moss lead the cast.

* WONDER BOYS (Re-released November 8)
One of the few movie masterpieces of 2000 that was, unfortunately, yanked from theaters before it ever found an audience. Now this spurring human drama, starring Michael Douglas and Francis McDormand, is being re-released to theaters this November, likely because the studio wants to encourage Academy voters to take it into consideration for next year’s Oscar nominees. And heck, if the movie is given the right promotion this time, lots more people might actually get to see it.

* LITTLE NICKY (Opens November 10)
Adam Sandler’s fan base can look forward to a new entry from the comedian this November with “Little Nicky,” a comedy about the son of the devil, who is asked by his father to go up to Earth and apprehend his two missing siblings. Promotion has been more quiet with this one than Sandler’s previous comedy hits like “Big Daddy” and “The Waterboy,” but that will likely pick up towards the final weeks before release.

Jim Carrey returned to his comedy roots this summer with “Me, Myself & Irene,” but it was considered a big disappointment for fans of the Golden Globe winner. Now Carrey is set to strut his stuff in the film adaptation of the immortal Dr. Seuss story “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” with him in the lead role and Anthony Hopkins as the narrator. Millions of Seuss fans have waited for this picture for almost half a decade, and with the comedy expertise of Carrey at the helm, it may very well be the biggest hit of the season.

* THE SIXTH DAY (Opens November 17)
An intriguing setup revolved around the essence of cloning humans, “The Sixth Day” sees a helicopter pilot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger returning home to his wife, discovering that a duplicate of him has taken over, and the scientist who masterminded the setup wants him dead. Schwarzenegger is gradually returning to movies with thriller premises, and because this one sounds like a vague echo of “Total Recall” (which is one of his best), this may be the right project to herald him back into the movie spotlight.

* 102 DALMATIANS (Opens November 22)
Disney’s live-action sequel to the 1996 outing sees the villain Cruela DeVille released from prison and seeking revenge on all the pups who imprisoned her to begin with. An animated sequel might have been preferred, but because Glenn Close’s screen antics are always irresistible, then perhaps this follow-up will at least please the audience it is aiming for.

* UNBREAKABLE (Opens November 22)
The new M. Night Shyamalan film, which follows on the heels of his last outing “The Sixth Sense,” is a very hush-hush production at the moment, but has trailers filled with all sorts of eerie imagery and captivating cinematography. Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis lead out the cast, who were also seen together in “Die Hard With A Vengeance” a few years back.

* DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (Opens December 8)
Like “Charlie’s Angels,” the phenomenon of “Dungeons And Dragons” has a fan base so overwhelming that, even with a potential critical slam, the movie will likely reel in millions of dollars at the box office. The difference? The film adaptation of the popular video game looks very promising from the trailers; they call attention to elaborate production design, rich costumes and fancy special effects. Plus, the cast is headed by Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch and (!) Marlon Wayans. Only one question remains: will non-fans of the game be able to appreciate it as well?

*note: release dates are subject to change

Written by DAVID KEYES

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