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Photograph by Melissa Moseley

Interdimensional Interstate: Justin Theroux takes a strange journey in David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive.'

Fall's Well

Look beyond the generic autumn sonatas, and there are some promising films coming to theaters this season

By Richard von Busack

THE BEST WAY to draw hope from the fall movie season comes not from watching the previews but from looking beyond them. Now is the summer of our infantile discontent made maudlin by autumn sonatas.

These somber offerings include the usual tear-jerk quartet: sacred alien guy (K-Pax, Kevin Spacey, Oct. 26); sacred mentally handicapped guy (A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe, Dec. 25); sacred mysterious angel guy (Hearts in Atlantis, Anthony Hopkins, Sept. 28); and sacred terminally ill guy (Life as a House, Kevin Kline, Oct. 26--oh, Kline, so rich in comedy, so deadly in tragedy).

Spy Game (Nov. 21) continues the alarming tendency toward generic titles; consider the wacky bank-robbers' movie Bandits (Oct. 12), not to be confused with David Mamet's Heist (Oct. 26). I saw the previews for Heist right before a matinee of The Score. While tuning out the typical clicketyclack of Mamet's dialogue, I daydreamed about a Soviet-style movie palace called "Theater," with a marquee reading, "Movie" double-billed with "Another Movie."

However, some of the upcoming films display the handmade touch and the individual vision; some of the most likely are parsed below.

Haiku Tunnel (Oct. 11 at the Nickelodeon) In this film version of his celebrated performance piece, the Jason Alexanderish San Francisco actor Josh Kornbluth (directed by his brother, Jacob) tells of his days as an eager but ineffectual temp at the Schuyler and Mitchell (S&M) law firm.

L.I.E. (Sept. 7) Short for Long Island Expressway. This well-written but patly ended film is notable for its uneasy subject matter: a 55-year-old chicken hawk (the excellent Brian Cox) and his courtship of a well-off but troubled 16-year-old boy.

The Glass House (Sept. 14)/Joy Ride (Oct. 5)/My First Mister (Oct. 12) It's risky to bet on the careers of up-and-coming actresses. Still, Leelee Sobieski continues to emerge after some offbeat work. She was very provocative in a pantomime part as a young dream-trollop in Eyes Wide Shut and appealing in the James Jones biopic A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries. Joy Ride resembles Steven Spielberg's Duel, with an unseen trucker on the attack; popular cryptonoir director John Dahl (Red Rock West) helms, and Steve Zahn co-stars. In My First Mister, Sobieski plays a rebel girl getting her first job under the thumb of a uptight middle manager (Albert Brooks); the director is that much-missed actress Christine Lahti. Sobieski also shows up as the lead in The Glass House, playing an orphan adopted by a potentially wicked guardian (Stellan Skarsgärd, the Joseph Cotton of the new millennium).

Mulholland Drive (Oct. 19 at the Nickelodeon) David Lynch's expansion of a rejected ABC pilot shows signs of the rewriting needed to tie up loose ends. However, this startling effort continues the mythos Lynch has occupied himself with in Lost Highway, Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me--namely, that human beings are cattle for interdimensional demons, here unleashed by the jealousy of a lesbian starlet for her climbing girlfriend.

Novocaine (Oct. 19) Steve Martin stars as a dentist hooked by a tatty femme fatale (Helena Bonham Carter) in a story that wanders from heavily narrated film noir to Tales From the Crypt. Martin, smooth-faced, antiseptic, looking as artificial as a capped tooth, channels the slick Fred MacMurray of Double Indemnity. Unfortunately, there's not nearly enough of Carter, fantastic as always as a gutter slut.

Our Lady of the Assassins (Sept. 28 at the Nickelodeon) Barbet Schroeder's shot-on-tape love story focuses on two men in Medellin, Colombia: an affluent, burned-out gay writer who grew up in the crime-plagued city and his young lover, a gunman from one of the many local mobs. This long-winded but fascinating portrait of a city ruled by the pistol is full of telling details--apparently, in Medellin they shoot off impromptu fireworks to celebrate every time a coke shipment gets through to the United States.

Performance (Dates TBA) One reason it was hard for me to fall overboard for Sexy Beast was my clear memory of this decadent 1969 British tale. Chas (James Fox), a lamming Cockney gangster, hides in the arabesque-themed flat of a spacy ex-rock star (Mick Jagger) and his two girlfriends (Anita Pallenberg, Michele Breton). The four outsiders indulge in psychedelic personality games as death waits to intrude. The show-stopping "Memo From Turner" number is the best footage of Jagger ever.

Waking Life (Nov. 2 at the Nickelo- deon)/Tape (Nov. 2) Not that long ago, Richard Linklater made The Newton Boys, adding his name to the list of directors vainly trying to prove Matthew McConaughey is star material (my guess is it's going to take 10 years to bring out the callow actor's inner Mitchumness). In Waking Life, Linklater returns to what he does best: exploring the rhythms of conversation, as he did in Slacker and the beautiful Before Sunrise. Linklater's Tape is a quickly made motel-room story starring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.

The Royal Tenenbaums (Dec. 21) Mentioned in honor of everyone else's big feelings about the little film Rushmore. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's follow-up takes place in more J.D. Salinger country: three bright children are abandoned by their father in an imaginary New York City during the mid-20th century.

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From the September 5-12, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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