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Movies: A harvest of remakes, sequels, and series

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As all students of the contemporary cinema know, and most reviewers tediously reiterate, the change of seasons from summer to fall should also signal a transformation in the variety of entertainment flickering in the multiple tense darknesses of the megaplexes.

            Accepted wisdom preaches that with the kids back in school and the weather turning cooler, and perhaps freed somewhat from the desperate need to release some new spectacular every week, Hollywood will serve up heartier fare than the usual kiddie cartoons, raunchy comedies, exploding blockbusters, horror films, science fiction, cop thrillers and of course, assorted teenpix.

            Empirical analysis and the hard lessons of experience, on the other hand, suggest that for the most part, we=ll all be seeing the mixture as before. Of course, only time, that subtle thief of youth (and hope), will tell.

            Perhaps fittingly for harvest time, the fall season of 2002 looks to be absolutely overflowing with product. Some of the fruits of the season, of course, actually ripened at some point in the past, but for numerous unexplained reasons are scheduled to appear this year, a not uncommon phenomenon in the film industry. Some may be tasty and properly matured, but as experience teaches, many may turn out to be, shall we say, somewhat overripe or, not to put too fine a point on it, rotten, but whatever their condition or flavor, the following sampling of the harvest may provide a useful guide for the consumer.

            To begin with, the season promises a surprising number of remakes, sequels, and items occurring in long and endless series. The series flicks will probably enjoy what amounts to a guaranteed audience, most of them reared on the previous movies and perfectly happy to accept any additions to the list.

            In two ongoing sagas that have attained the level of a genre unto themselves, Pierce Brosnan will return in yet another James Bond movie, the 20th mission of the intrepid secret agent, Die Another Day, and while Bond roams the world, Patrick Stewart and the crew of the Enterprise will rocket through the galaxies in the latest installment of the most famous space voyages of them all, this one entitled Star Trek: Nemesis.

            As a single swallow doesn=t make a spring, so two works don=t exactly make a series, but the sequel to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer=s Stone represents the second in what will probably turn into a long string of successes. Due out Thanksgiving, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets --- who=ll be the first to call it the ChamberPotter? --- is about the nearest thing to a mortal lock I can imagine. The producers, in fact, made it right after the first movie, using the same cast and presumably the same sets, without waiting to see if The Sorcerer=s Stone made money --- there never was any question about that.

            Another such sequel, Analyze That, will follow the profitable and funny Analyze This and will feature once again the talents or Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal, repeating their roles as gangster and shrink. And though he=s no De Niro (or Crystal either, for that matter), Antonio Banderas returns for the third adventure of the guitar-playing gunfighter, El Mariachi, in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, co-starring with such well known actors as Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe; their presence indicates the usual ascent of the writer-director, Robert Rodriguez, from low-budget outsider to accepted (and funded) Hollywood filmmaker.

            The film industry=s powerful sense of itself, together with its need to repeat the past, sometimes bursts forth in the full blossom of a remake, and the coming season, oddly, promises from that flourishing a full basket of old wine in new bottles. Some of those pictures expected in the upcoming season look most intriguing, even more encouraging than the entirely new materialBat least now, before their opening --- because they derive from some important and entertaining original material, both fictional and cinematic. On the other hand, the tried and the true can sometimes turn into dull repetition and questionable reinterpretation, as in, for example, Gus Van Sant=s bizarre replication of Psycho.

            Guy Ritchie has written and directed a new version of Lena Wertmuller=s 1975 film, Swept Away, starring Madonna, naturally, and Adriano Giannini in the role his father, Giancarlo, created in the original. Its themes of sex and class worked well in its examination of Italian society, but would seem perhaps less fruitful in an American context.

            Madonna seems unlikely to recreate the distant, icy manner of Mariangela Melato, so her interpretation may differ strongly from her predecessor, and of course, so far she has managed to kill or at least maim every movie she appears in, from Dick Tracy to Evita. And if you can believe that Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton can measure up to Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, then Jonathan Demme=s remake of Charade, now entitled The Truth About Charlie, is for you: good luck to them and you.

            Two more or less literary colonial films will also appear, one based on a novel by A.E.W. Mason and a simply splendid motion picture, the other derived from a rather more literary work that was turned into a decidedly inferior movie. The first is a remake of the wonderful desert epic The Four Feathers, directed by Zoltan Korda in that miracle year for motion pictures, 1939.

            The other, based on Graham Greene=s brilliantly prophetic novel The Quiet American, surely must improve on the 1958 movie, which starred Audie Murphy as a CIA agent in Saigon when the French were fighting and losing their version of the Vietnam War; in this case the second film starts off ahead of the game, since it cannot treat the novel more carelessly than the first.

            One other remake belongs in an odd category, since it also amounts to a prequel. Thomas Harris=s novel Red Dragon, the first appearance in a supporting role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, was first adapted to the screen in 1986, retitled Manhunter.

            Hampered by uninspired casting and a fundamental misunderstanding of a terrific novel, it never engaged the attention of audiences or critics; now, however, under its original title, and starring Anthony Hopkins once again as the ineffable Hannibal the Cannibal, and Edward Norton as the FBI investigator Will Graham, it will reappear, surely gladdening the hearts of horror/mystery fans everywhere, including this one.

            In the realm of original motion pictures, or at least new titles (and there is a difference), naturally the film industry has churned out a great many potentially wonderful worksBthey all look good in the trailers and the press releasesBsome of which, we all devoutly hope, will fulfill that potential. To begin with the unusual and unorthodox, Michael Moore=s new documentary, Bowling for Columbine, examines the explosive topic of firearms in America in his own inimitable style. The movie purportedly includes an encounter with Charlton Heston, apparently post-alcoholism treatment and pre-Alzheimer=s, which may prove a selling point.

            Aside from those Graham Greene and A. E. W. Mason novels that inspired both the originals and the remakes, a number of other upcoming films began life as literature. Personal Velocity, written and directed by Rebecca Miller, who wrote the short stories the film is based on, will star Parker Posey, Kyra Sedgwick, and Fairuza Balk in what looks to be an intense, contemporary women=s picture. Another such film, also based on contemporary fiction, a novel by Michael Cunningham, The Hours, stars Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman, who plays, of all people, Virginia Woolf.

            A somewhat better known writer, Charles Dickens, will probably receive at least a mention in the credits for the new version of Nicholas Nickleby; because of his stories and characters, the real stuff of movies, the great novelist remains a treasure trove for filmmakers, so it=s pleasant at least to contemplate the possibility of another adaptation of one of his marvelous books.

            Gangs of New York, directed by Martin Scorsese, originally slated for a summer release, should appear in the fall or winter of this year. As the title implies, it covers the familiar Scorsese territory and subjects, but in an entirely different era, the New York of the 1860s, during the Civil War, and the Irish gangsters of the notorious Five Points area, later the breeding ground for Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. The picture, alas, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, but may, for all that, turn out to be an absorbing work --- remember that this director made both Taxi Driver and Bringing Out the Dead, which demonstrates that nobody hits a home run every time at bat.

            Julie Taymor, another talented and original director, who demonstrated a truly remarkable vision in the staging of The Lion King and the inventive and daring adaptation of Shakespeare=s Titus Andronicus, returns with another unusual offering, Frida.

            A number of actors and self confessed art lovers, including Madonna and Cher, have spoken about making (and of course, starring in) a biography of the painter Frida Kahlo, the wife of Diego Rivera, whose fascinating art and tragic life have turned her into something of a cult figure, but Selma Hayek will portray Frida, while Alfred Molina plays Rivera. Antonio Banderas, unfortunately, also appears, along with such fine actors as Geoffrey Rush and Edward Norton.

            Though better known than Taymor, William Friedkin seldom receives the credit he deserves, perhaps because some of his movies suffered Hollywood-style editing and some ill advised and unfortunate publicity decisions. But the maker of such important pictures as The Exorcist and The French Connection returns with The Hunted, a thriller starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benico Del Toro.

            Finally, the new season promises a number of comedies, perhaps the most difficult genre of them all. Scheduled titles include a couple of television-inspired films, The Wild Thornberrys, from a kids' show on Nickelodeon, and I Spy, from the old Bill Cosby-Robert Culp series. One of the more unusual examples of the form, A Few Good Years, follows the lives of a successful New York family, played by many members of the Douglas family --- Kirk, Michael, Cameron, Diana, etc. (these guys even outnumber the Sheens).

            Saving the biggest production for last, the smash hit musical Chicago has been adapted for the screen with a most unusual cast that includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere. Scheduled to open for Christmas, this could be The Big One for the holidays; whatever else it accomplishes, it simply has to be better than the last big musical, the overproduced and entirely wretched Moulin Rouge.

            Scores of other motion pictures, many from abroad, many as yet unsung, unhyped, unknown, will be arriving in the theaters in the coming season. Whatever the publicity, the exaggeration, the disappointed expectations, the broken promises (and hearts), the failures and futility of the past, some of those pictures should be worthy of our money and regard; though movies, like many things in life, often please more in the anticipation than in the fulfillment, something out there just has to be good. Let=s all hope so.

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    p> Credit:

    Festivals

    Agricultural Society Fair, Genesee Country Nature Center, 1410 Flint Hill Rd, Mumford (538-6822, www.geneseecountryvillage.org): A country fair, 19th-century style, with food, livestock and crafts. Oct. 5-6.

    Art

    Local 1570 Gallery, Valley Manor, 1570 East Avenue (442-8470): "Art for the Soul," with work by Eve Bothelho, Coral Dalton, M. Wendy Gwirtzman, Raphaella McCormack; opening reception, 6-8 p.m.

    Literature and lectures

    30th Annual Rochester Book Fair, benefits the University of Rochester Libraries: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 21, the Student Life Center, St. John Fisher College, 3690 East Avenue.

    Theater

    Blackfriars Theatre, 28 Lawn St (454-1260; www.blackfriars.org): Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, Oct. 5-26. Dirty Blonde, Dec. 7-29, with performances Dec. 31.

    Classical music

    Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Text: Philharmonic Series(454-2100): All concerts at 8 p.m. in Eastman Theatre; pre-concert chats at 7 p.m.

    Families and museums

    Text: Center at High Falls, 60 Browns Race (325-2030): Historic district, touring and learning center with orientation to Rochester for groups. Attractions: Original Mill Raceway, Archaeology Site & Giant Waterwheel,"Laser, Light & Fireworks Spectacular!" offered weekends through mid-October, holidays.

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