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Eye Spy: Johnny Depp plays an 18th-century cop chasing a killer in Tim Burton's 'Sleepy Hollow.'

Fall Into Film

Be afraid, be very afraid--the new season offers everything from scary bombs to cinematic shooting stars

By Richard von Busack

LOOKS LIKE HALLOWEEN came early this year. Is it coincidence that the new season in film features so many excursions into the October Country, to use Ray Bradbury's phrase? Does the cinema industry turn to supernatural horror because of its unwillingness to deal with ordinary horrors--consumer debt, overpopulation, pollution, fanatical Kansas school boards, even the hair-raising price of Northern California housing? (After you've perused the real estate ads, how could The Haunting make your blood could run cold?)

It's no secret that the one independent movie that earned studio respect this year was The Blair Witch Project. And the taut horror film The Sixth Sense was a surprise hit for weeks in a row. The key film demographic of 12- to 20-year-old males loves horror, and as a result, fright continues to pack the theaters. Among the tales of the scary and the supernatural this fall are a handful of comedies and romances. But on the whole, from now until Christmastime, the theaters are turned over to the frightening and the bizarre.

Gabriel Byrne works the muscles of his weary puss as a Vatican troubleshooter in Stigmata (Sept. 10), investigating a case of demonic possession. Byrne also plays the devil to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Satan-hunting cop in End of Days (Nov. 24). Stir of Echoes (Sept. 10) is a supernatural thriller set in Chicago and based on Richard Matheson's 1958 novel in which a blue-collar guy (Kevin Bacon) finds himself with unwanted psychic powers.

Ride With the Devil (Nov. 12) is a Civil War drama starring the bestselling American poet alive, Jewel. (But I cheated putting this here. Jewel doesn't have the title role, and it's a war drama. Still, her success has a diabolical quality. Could it be ... Satan?)

Tim Burton's elegant terror film Sleepy Hollow (Nov. 19) features Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, an investigator hunting a decapitation murderer in New York's Hudson Valley during the 1700s. The film bears only a casual relation to Washington Irving's humorous sketch about a scrawny schoolmaster, a country bully and a creamy-skinned heiress named Katrina (played here by Christina Ricci).

Horror of a different sort lurks in the season's most exciting offering: Bringing Out the Dead (Oct. 22), the new Martin Scorsese/Paul Schrader effort, starring the husband-and-wife team of Nicolas Cage and Patricia Arquette. Cage works too-long night shifts as a New York ambulance driver, losing his mind as the hours go by.

David Fincher (Seven, The Game) weighs in with The Fight Club (Oct. 15). Fincher is one of the few directors whose morbid mood and strength of composition can transcend an uneven script. The story--amateur bare-knuckle fighters meet to slug it out in an underground club--sounds repellent, faux-macho. Worse, the film stars Brad Pitt, who has proved himself over the years to be a particularly pernicious kind of screen blight: the pretty-boy deluded into thinking of himself as a cutting-edge artist. Thus, a long career of miscasting. But Fincher's deadly visions of fearful, rotting downtown splendor have been compelling in the past.

Dogma (sometime in November, if it is released at all) is Kevin (Clerks) Smith's cosmology, which has angered Catholics enough to convince Miramax to sell it off outright to another studio. The casting of Alanis Morissette as God has especially piqued Catholic anti-defamation groups. Well, Smith's boasting now, but he'll be roasting later. What our theology can't prove, our history can: when we Catholics get miffed, we're not the ones who smolder.

I know, I know. It was ostensibly the English who burned Joan of Arc, who comes back for reheating in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (Nov. 5), in which Milla Jovavich, last seen as a naked alien Teletubby in The Fifth Element, stars as St. Joan against a cast that includes John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway.

If Jovavich burning at the stake doesn't seem ghastly enough, look out for the real-life horror story The Insider (Nov. 5). Christopher Plummer plays Mike Wallace--scary! The Insider tells the story of the yellow streak CBS grew when 60 Minutes planned to present damning evidence about the tobacco industry from an ex-employee (played by Russell Crowe) of Brown and Williamson tobacco. Al Pacino plays the investigative reporter whose story was quashed by CBS's sudden cowardice.

Patricia Arquette and Nicholas Cage
Ambulance Chasers: Patricia Arquette and Nicholas Cage fret over the fate of accident victims in 'Bringing Out the Dead,' opening Oct. 22.

THE FALL SEASON ALSO offers four promising comedies for audiences satiated with fright films. Man on the Moon (Nov. 5) stars Jim Carrey as the '70s comedy-of-cruelty comedian (performance artist?) Andy Kaufman. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen return to do the voices for Pixar's Toy Story 2 (Nov. 24). Ace comedienne Joan Cusack plays Cowboy Woody's plastic gal-pal from his '50s cowboy TV show. There's a much more sizable villain than last time: an obese vintage toy collector played by Wayne Knight.

Play It to the Bone (Nov. 12) reunites Ron Shelton with his star from White Men Can't Jump, Woody Harrelson. And Mumford (late September), shot in Sonoma County, concerns a psychiatrist (Loren Dean) who weasels his way into the lives of a small town. The romantic comedy was directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the co-script writer of the only good Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back.

The only even slightly romantic American film of the summer, The Thomas Crown Affair, precedes other autumnal romances: Random Hearts with Kristin Scott-Thomas and Harrison Ford (Oct. 8) and The Story of Us with Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis (Oct. 15).

If both of these are too mainstream, you could always take an excursion to UC-Berkeley's Pacific Film Archives to catch the Max Ophuls retrospective running Sept. 17-Oct. 10. This magnificent series includes the heart-wrenching Le Plaisir, Letter From an Unknown Woman, The Earrings of Madame de ... and La Ronde. In the lens of Ophuls' elegant, gliding camera, romance is a matter of the mind as much as the heart.

Try also Patricia Rozema's adaptation of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Nov. 5). Rozema previously made the most visually beautiful lesbian romance ever, 1995's When Night Is Falling. For a more forceful look at sexuality, consider Romance (Sept. 30), a film festival succès d'estime directed by France's Catherine Breillat. Basically, it's Story of O and Emmanuelle, Parts 1-1,000,000: a boyfriend who drives his girlfriend into a tour of the sexual underground. The film is hard to judge from the previews, except to say that it's obviously no R-rated cheat--here's the chance to pant over all the sex that got left out of Eyes Wide Shut.

This fall also includes some disturbingly underbuzzed efforts from top-notch filmmakers. Atom (The Sweet Hereafter) Egoyan's Felicia's Journey (Nov. 12) is a harrowing tale starring Bob Hoskins as a "befriender" of homeless girls in grim Birmingham, England. After making one of the best horror films of the last 10 years, Lost Highway, David Lynch returns with the uncharacteristically wholesome The Straight Story (Oct. 15), from Walt Disney Pictures (!!). An elderly man (Richard Farnsworth) travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a riding mower to visit his long-estranged brother. Steven Soderbergh, whose Out of Sight was one of the best of '98, returns with The Limey (Oct. 8), a gangster revenge story starring Terence Stamp as a British ex-con outsmarting L.A. thugs.

Lastly, there's Holy Smoke, Jane (The Piano) Campion's tale of the affair between an older man (Harvey Keitel) and a younger woman (Kate Winslet), to be released Oct. 22.

At the end of the season, James Bond blows up the Bohemian Club to foil a Republican madman's plot to hoard the world's supply of Viagra ... and then I woke up. The soap-opera title, The World Is Not Enough (Nov. 19), is an inside reference: it's the Bond family motto, according to the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In the newest episode of the long-running series, an injured 007 (Pierce Brosnan) travels from Bilbao to Central Asia to Istanbul tracked by a Bosnian assassin (Robert Carlyle, the dangerous Begbie from Trainspotting).

Here's a much bigger role for Judi Dench as M; John Cleese turns up for a cameo as Q's successor, R. Naturally, the Bondian madness is also grounded with fall-season horror--the threat of the usual nuke in the usual worst place possible. And it certainly won't be the only bomb we'll be seeing in the next few months.

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From the September 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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