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Brain drain: An oddball cast blasts off for the holidays in Galaxy Quest.

Hollywood Holiday

Winter season delivers usual chestnuts and handful of true gifts

By Richard von Busack

ONCE UPON A TIME, before chestnut blight, Americans used to troop out into the frost to gather the semi-edible fruit of these spreading trees. After roasting their nuts over an open fire, they'd dine on that characteristic chestnut flavor--underripe yam, puréed with instant mashed potatoes. What they couldn't eat, they'd toss to the pigs or shove up a turkey. Today, we can only listen to Nat King Cole--them of us dinosaurs who have ears for Nat King Cole, that is--singing about those elusive chestnuts.

Or else we can pile into the car and head out to the googleplex, where cinematic chestnuts, turkeys, and pigs all three are available in cornucopic abundance. And here it is, the place itself. As they say in AA, everything I've learned, I've learned in these rooms.

Behind these glass doors in the winter season is the prestigious stuff, grade-grubbing pictures with Oscar written over them. Here, these glass doors would say if glass doors could talk, here awaits Tom Hanks and Robin Williams, fighting twin lumps in their throats . . . in this cubbyhole is Meryl Streep trying on a new accent or a new disease . . . and here's Gwyneth Paltrow--wait, sorry, that's a broom handle, honest mistake.

Before us lies the valedictory season, in which the explosions and crashed cars are put aside in favor of human drama, of attractive people with attractive problems. And so, the eternal cycle of the movie release schedule continues. A gentle snow is falling, metaphorically speaking. Soon it will be time to head into the hills to prepare for that most sacred of holidays--Sundance. Once again the Rockies will echo with the merry chirping of cell phones and the yodels of publicists.

Some noteworthy releases of the upcoming season:

Mansfield Park (late November or sometime in December) Patricia Rozema, who did the glossy, elegant women-loving-women film When Night Is Falling, adapts Jane Austen's lesser-known novel about Fanny Prince (Frances O'Connor), poor relation of Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas. Harold Pinter co-stars (!).

Bicentennial Man (sometime in December) Robin Williams in a Pinocchio story as an android that covets human feelings.

Flawless (late November or sometime in December) After two brain-dead episodes of the Batman franchise and 8mm, a movie fearlessly critiquing the snuff-film industry, Joel Schumacher goes intimate with a New York story about a gruff security guard incapacitated with a stroke (Robert De Niro). Enter his upstairs neighbor and speech therapist, a drag queen (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

zzz
Bedtime story: Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes star inThe End of the Affair.

The End of the Affair (Dec. 3) More Moore, in an adaptation of Graham Greene's novel about infidelity and ambient Catholic guilt during the blitz in London. Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire) directs.

The Green Mile (Dec. 10) Directed by Frank Darabont, who filmed The Shawshank Redemption, this movie concerns a saintly death-row prisoner (Michael Clarke Smith) in the South in 1935 and a Gump-like guard (Tom Hanks) who begins to believe in the convict's supernatural yet benign powers.

Stuart Little (Dec. 17) Robert Minkoff, co-director of The Lion King, directs a live-action and animated version of E. B. White's well-loved children's book about the suburban mouse-boy. Michael J. Fox does the voice of the mouse.

Magnolia (Dec. 20) Paul Thomas Anderson's follow-up to Boogie Nights is a magical-realist Altmanesque survey of various disappointed lives in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The cast includes Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Jason Robards, Tom Cruise (in a cameo), and Melinda Dillon--and welcome back to Dillon, who was one of the best actresses in '70s movies, in such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Slap Shot.

Girl, Interrupted (Dec. 21) It's a drama about a women's psychiatric hospital with an all-star cast--Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Vanessa Redgrave, and Whoopi Goldberg)--as the inmates. James Mangold (Heavy, Cop Land) directs.

Snow Falling on Cedars (Dec. 22) Based on David Guterson's novel, this story of murder in the Puget Sound during the 1950s stars Ethan Hawke. Scott Hicks (Shine) directs.

Man in the Moon (Dec. 22) Director Milos Forman's biography of a historical enigma: the ill-fated comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman, whose theater-of-cruelty routines made the man a sort of stand-up tragedian. Those old enough to remember Kaufman's early death are still not convinced it wasn't yet another of his cruel pranks. Jim Carrey plays Kaufman.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Dec. 24) Patricia Highsmith's novel--the source for that gorgeous Mediterranean chiller of 1960, Purple Noon--is revisited for a new version by Anthony Minghella, late of The English Patient. Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Cate Blanchett co-star in a story of a case of identity theft by Highsmith's handsome sociopath Ripley.

Any Given Sunday (Dec. 25) Aided by appropriate quotes from Vince Lombardi, Oliver Stone does football, with Al Pacino as an aging coach, Dennis Quaid as a quarterback on the way down, James Woods as a sinister orthopedist named Dr. Mandrake, and Cameron Diaz--excuse me, no, that was another broom handle--as the owner of the Miami Sharks. Plus! Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkley as "a gorgeous high priced escort." And Charlton Heston as The Commissioner.

Galaxy Quest (Dec. 25) An irresistible comic premise: the semi-employed veterans of the 1970s television show Galaxy Quest are given a call for help from desperate extraterrestrials who have monitored Earth's TV broadcasts. Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen co-star.

Next Friday (Dec. 25) Ice Cube stars in the sequel (which he also scripted and directed) to Friday, his funny, pleasing, lackadaisical comedy about everyday life in South Central L.A.

Angela's Ashes (January) Alan Parker directs Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle in the adaptation of the Frank McCourt bestseller of Irish starvation, immigration, and infant death--to which a rereading of Flann O'Brien's bitter satire The Poor Mouth might be an after-movie anecdote ("Émigration is thinning out the remote areas, the young folk are setting their faces toward Siberia in the hopes of better weather").

Fantasia/2000 (New Year's Day) In IMAX: the millennial version of the Disney prestige item, complete with seven new sequences and two holdovers.


All dates subject to change. No guarantee of quality is implied by the above descriptions. Films may be smaller than described. No liability is assumed on the parts of the Sonoma County Independent or its heirs from moviegoers disappointed, confused, overcharged, lulled to sleep, or pestered by sassy teenagers. Happy holidays!

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From the November 18-24, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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