BetteBack November 20, 1988: Hollywood Unwraps Their Winter Movies

Madison Wisconsin State Journal
November 20, 1988


Entertainment News Service – Oh boy, what a summer! Yeeech, what a fall! No, that isn’t a quote from Jose Canseco (although he might have said it). Rather, that’s a collective gasp emanating from Hollywood, where the most successful summer movie season on record has been followed by a particularly dismal fall.

Of course, everybody has a theory about why this autumn was such a disappointment.

The traditional October distractions – the baseball playoffs and World Series – were particularly dramatic this year, combined with September’s Indian Summer Olympics, a strike-delayed TV season that provided viewers with new offerings well into November and a presidential race that was far more attuned to entertainment value than to substantive discussion. In short, there was a lot to keep viewers at home, glued to their sets.

There is also the cyclical petering out of the Hollywood bull market. Variety’s industry analyst, A.D. Murphy, who’s been watching this stuff for decades, has a theory that every couple of years, the movie business is like a vehicle that switches gears between feast and famine. The recent up trend started in early ’86 (with, ambivalently enough, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills “), so if the pattern holds, it should be – to dredge up the title of a noteworthy fall flop – running on empty even as you read this.

Of course, nobody in Hollywood wants that to happen. The major studios have convinced themselves they’ve got sure-fire audience-pleasers lined up for the holiday season (except the ones owned by CocaCola, but more on that later). To prove it, thej-‘ve either already lumped the product deemed “weak” (as Warner Bros, did with “Everybody’s All-American,” which was originally slated for a December rollout) or exiled it to release limbo, euphemistically referred to by movie marketers as “sometime in 1989.”

But hey, it’s the season to think positive, and on paper, anyway, the release schedule from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day looks like it should have more producers saying thanks than resolving to get out of the business
It just wouldn’t be December without yet another rehash of Charles Dickens’ venerable “A Christmas Carol.” This year’s version, called “Scrooged,” marks the longawaited return of Bill Murray. He plays a New York TV network executive with a heart colder than Wollman Rink. After the usual midnight visitations, (David “Buster Poindexter” Johansen, the cab-driving Ghost of Christmas Past, Carol Kane, a stumblebum Ghost of Christmas Present, and a sleighful of state-of-the-art special effects call up the ghost of Murray’s last big hit, “Ghostbusters”), Murray learns to be nicer to the people around him, who include Karen Allen, Bob Goldthwait and Robert Mitchum.

Another visitation from familiar characters can be expected in “Cocoon: The Return,” with everyone from the original cast except Brian Dennehy once again demonstrating that sentimental sci-fi isn’t just kids’ stuff. Joining the ensemble this year are “Family Ties’ ”

Courtney Cox and stage great Elaine Stritch.

While we’re talking fantasy, let’s not leave out “Twins,” the film with this season’s most impossible premise. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Danny De Vito. Separated at birth. Even Spy magazine wouldn’t suggest anything so outrageous, but director Ivan Reitman, who helmed “Ghostbusters,” should be perfectly comfortable with the premise.

Look .for Emmy-winning “St. Elsewhere” star Bonnie Bartlett in a pivotal role.

And if you believe De Vito and Schwarzenegger as twins, would you buy Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as brothers? “Rain Man,” after going through numerous directors (“Good Morning, Vietnam’s” Barry Levinson finally brought it to light), offers Cruise as a somewhat incompetent con man who tries to trick his long-institutionalized, idiot savant brother (Ipffman) out of a multimillion-dollar inheritance. Those of us who saw “Cocktail” and “Death of a Salesman” are still trying to figure out how the roles got so reversed.

Enough of this brotherly love. Sisterhood is powerful for Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey in “Beaches,” which examines the lifelong friendship of two intriguing women.

It’s Midler’s first dramatic project since “The Rose,” and Hershey’s first chance to work opposite a Divine person since “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Garry Marshall, who created the other serious female duo “Laverne and Shirley ” directs.

Michael Caine and Steve Martin play rival gigolos working the French Riviera in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” If the concept sounds about as original as “Scrooged’s,” well, it is. This film is based on the 1964 Marlon Brando-David Niven vehicle “Bedtime Story,” which itself had been around the block a few times before that.

Speaking of originality, how’s thisjfor something new? A plucky junior achiever climbs the corporate ladder by pretending to be an executive. “Secret of My Success,” right? Well, yes, but also “Working Girl,” the new film from director Mike (“The Graduate”)
Nichols. Naturally, Michael J. Fox was unavailable for the title role, so they got Melanie Griffith instead. With Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver along for the upscaling, there should be enough sophisticated star power to insure that this comedy won’t stay a secret for long.

But if you want to talk original, nothing outdraws “The Naked Gun.” Imagine: a movie based on a TV series that was itself a parody of other TV series. The show was the short-lived “Police Squad,” the brainchild of David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, all formerly of Madison, the guys responsible for “Airplane!” and “Ruthless People.” “The Naked Gun” is nominally about an attempt to assassinate the Queen of England, and features an all-star cast of Leslie Nielsen, Ricardo Montalban, O.J. Simpson, Priscilla Presley and the late John Houseman.

Then there is “Oliver & Company,” Disney’s newest full-length, animated feature.

Oliver is a young, orphaned cat who gets taken in by a band of canine thieves in contemporary New York. The second holiday movie to rob the grave of poor old Dickens, “Oliver” will be competing with form ney animator Don Bluth’s “The Land Before Time” In the feature cartoon sweepstakes. The tale of four young dinosaurs’ adventures as they search for a new home, “Land” only goes back to Winsor McCay‘s turn-of-thecentury creation, Gertie the Dinosaur, for inspiration.

Considering the abundance of cartoons and comedies under the tree this year, Hollywood seems determined to make this the season to be jolly. But it’s also the season for lastditch Oscar considerations, so a couple of adult offerings will also be unwrapped.

“The Accidental Tourist” is a comedy-drama, really, adapted from Anne Tyler’s best-selling novel about a travel writer who hates to leave his house (William Hurt), his estranged wife (Kathleen Turner) and the winsome dog trainer who teaches him a few new tricks (“Beetlejuice’s” Geena Davis). The film reunites the steamy Hurt-Turner duo with “Body Heat” director Lawrence Kasdan.

More on the order of “Body Heat’s” sex-and-crime combo will be “Tequila Sunrise.” Mel Gibson plays a “retired” L.A. dope smuggler whose best friend (Kurt Russell) is a major narcotics cop. The deal goes down when both of them fall for restaurant manager Michelle Pfeiffer, trying to be Italian for the second time this year (“Married To The Mob”). Director Robert Towne won a screenwriter Oscar for a previous primavera of romance, corruption and Southern California angst, “Chinatown.” Filmgoers in New York and L.A. will also get to watch Pfeiffer attempt French before the year’s out, in the screen version of the smash play, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” She’ll portray the sweet young thing corrupted by despicable, Enlightenmentera nobles Glenn Close and John Maikovich.

Offscreen, the scenario worked the other way around, withPfeiffer luring Malkovich away from wife Glenne Headley.

One film Pfeiffer couldn’t romance her way into is “Torch Song Trilogy,” the adaptation of Harvey Fierstein’s award-winning play about drag queens and custody fights. Fierstein stars, as he did on Broadway, along with Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft.

Rounding out the play-into-movie category is “Talk Radio,” based on star Eric Bogosian’s hit one-man show AND Stephen Singular’s non-fiction book, “Talked to Death: the Life and Murder of Alan Berg.” Bogosian plays a controversial talk-show host who’s targeted for murder by rightwing extremists. Directed by Oliver (“Platoon”) Stone, the film also features Ellen (“Little Shop of Horrors”) Green and Alec Baldwin.

Right-wing violence again rears its ugly head in “Mississippi Burning,” loosely based on another true story that took place in the 1960s. Gene Hackman, who’s been appearing in more movies than Michelle Pfeiffer lately, plays a Dixie FBI agent who teams up with Northern G-man Willem Dafoe to hunt for what’s left of some missing civil rights workers.

With a holiday lineup like that, who would want to ask for more? According to the folks at Coca-Cola, hardly anybody. The Coke-controlled entertainment companies, constantly rumored to be on the auction block, have postponed practically all of their late ’88 releases. Forget about the Jane Fonda-Gregory Peck Mexican Revolution romance, “The Old Gringo,”

And you’ll have to wait to find out whether “Bloodhounds of Broadway” is yet another of Madonna’s dogs.

Over at sister distributor Tristar, nobody’s asking “Who’s Harry Crumb?” before January. (He’s John Candy, by the way.) And chances are you won’t find out what Cybill Shepherd’s “Chances Are” of becoming a movie star again until ’89.

Coke, in fact, is pouring all of its Christmas wishes into a single TriStar offering, the Peter O’TooleDaryl Hannah-Steve Guttenberg ghost comedy, “High Spirits,” and two releases from the new Weintraub Entertainment Group, “Fresh Horses,” a romance between Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy, and “My Stepmother Is an Alien,” more of the same (though funnier) involving Kim Basinger and Dan Aykroyd.

So, Merry Christmas to all, and one last thing: Cannon Films plans a limited release of a genuine, faithful, Victorian-era Dickens adaptation, “Little Dorrit,” with an all-star cast of renowned British actors. Only catches are that it’s six hours long, and the last three hours tell essentially the same story as the first three, from a different point of view.

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