Serious Business : Movies: While summer blockbusters make their last runs, the studios are gearing up for fall with more adult-themed, prestigious films. Hopes are high for ringing up big numbers.

Ah, fall . . . .

An adult can safely venture back to the movie theaters.

The body-count films of summer yield their spaces for more thoughtful and prestigious fare.


Hardly. Any season that features work by such stellar directors as Martin Scorsese, Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols, James Ivory and Philip Kaufman, to name a few, leads to higher expectations.

"Films do change in the fall," said Tom Sherak, 20th Century Fox's marketing and distribution president. "The material seems to get more upscale, more adult."

"Fall is within striking distance of the awards," added Greg Morrison, Pathe International's president of worldwide marketing, noting that historically, a preponderance of the films receiving nominations are late fall/Christmas-season releases. "If you open much earlier than fall, it's very difficult to get the loop-line going to the end-of-the-year awards," he said.

As summer wanes, fading fast are those $100 million-plus box-office blockbusters: "Pretty Woman," "Total Recall," "Ghost," "Die Hard 2" and "Dick Tracy." Not to mention those "lesser-grossing" films and sequels: "Days of Thunder," "RoboCop 2," "Gremlins 2," "The Two Jakes," "Another 48 HRS.," "Young Guns 2" and "Back to the Future, Part III."

Of course, "lesser grossing" is a relative term. When a film's budget is high, like the $50 million to $55 million "Days of Thunder," and it grosses $76.9 million (to date) during summer, a good number of film executives have been known to become squeamish. They'd rather place their bets on a lower costing film that has a potential of generating income several times over the cost--the kind of movie more typical of autumn.

Among last year's examples, Tri-Star's low budget "Look Who's Talking," released in October, went on to gross $138 million and is still earning revenue in the home-video market; the September release of the Al Pacino starrer, Universal's "Sea of Love," did $57 million in business.

This fall's first big weekend arrives Sept. 14 with the release of three highly anticipated films, starring a slew of stars, ranging from Clint Eastwood to Meryl Streep to Jeff Bridges. The "season" ends mid-November, when the first of the Christmas holiday pictures arrive.

"The fall leaves barely turn and we're already ringing Christmas bells," chuckled Pathe's Morrison, whose company releases films through MGM/UA.

Indeed, the holiday season is more and more encroaching on what was traditionally considered fall. This year, several of the larger holiday-size movies, such as "Rocky V: The Final Bell" starring Sylvester Stallone, and "Kindergarten Cop" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, are scheduled for release the week before Thanksgiving Day. They will be followed by Francis Coppola's "The Godfather Part III," opening Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving.

But meanwhile, back to September:

Looming large on the horizon is Eastwood's portrayal/impersonation of the late John Huston in Eastwood's "White Hunter, Black Heart" (Warner Bros., Sept. 14), a film adaptation of Peter Viertel's thinly disguised novel about the making of "The African Queen." Jeff Fahey, George Dzundza and Marisa Berenson also star in this film about a brilliant and erratic filmmaker obsessed with hunting an African elephant.

More drama set against a filmmaking background will come in "Postcards From the Edge" (Columbia, Sept. 14), Mike Nichols' film adaptation of Carrie Fisher's semi-autobiographical novel about a mother-daughter relationship in Hollywood. The film stars Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine and Dennis Quaid.

"Texasville" (Columbia, Sept. 14), the sequel to 1971's Oscar-winning "The Last Picture Show," reunites Peter Bogdanovich with such original cast members as Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Eileen Brennan, Cloris Leachman and Randy Quaid.

In "GoodFellas" (Warner, Sept. 21), director Scorsese and star Robert De Niro reteam to tell yet another true story, based on Nicholas Pileggi's book "Wiseguy," of a Brooklyn kid "adopted" by neighborhood gangsters and raised as a member of their crime family. Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Joe Pesci and Paul Sorvino co-star for producer Irwin Winkler.

Psychological terror drives three films this fall. In "Pacific Heights" (Fox, Sept. 28) a tenant, Matthew Modine, terrorizes landlords Melanie Griffith and Michael Keaton. John Schlesinger directs this true-story thriller.

In "The Desperate Hours" (MGM/UA, Sept. 28), Michael Cimino's remake of the 1955 chiller, Mickey Rourke assumes the Humphrey Bogart role of the escaped convict who holds a family captive. Anthony Hopkins, Mimi Rogers, Lindsay Crouse and Kelly Lynch also star.

Another feature in an autobiographical mode is Barry Levinson's "Avalon" (Tri-Star, Oct. 5), a saga based loosely on his own immigrant family's pursuit of the American dream through three generations. The ensemble cast includes Elizabeth Perkins, Joan Plowright, Aidan Quinn, Leo Fuchs and Lou Jacobi.

Using the journals of Anais Nin, writer-director Philip Kaufman explores a real-life sexual awakening in "Henry and June" (Universal, October), in which a young woman is torn among her husband, author Henry Miller and Miller's exotic and mysterious wife. Fred Ward, Uma Thurman, Maria de Medeiros, Richard E. Grant and Kevin Spacey star.

"Memphis Belle" (Warner, Oct. 12) marks the first film from British producer David Puttnam since his departure as head of Columbia Pictures. Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, John Lithgow, D.B. Sweeney and Billy Zane star in this drama about American airmen who flew a B-17 bomber during World War II.

One widely heralded independent from the film festival circuit is "To Sleep With Anger" (Samuel Goldwyn, Oct. 19), a contemporary drama written and directed by Charles Burnett. Danny Glover stars as a seemingly benevolent visitor whose presence precipitates a clash of values and loyalties in a black Los Angeles family.

From the Coen brothers--Joel (writer-director) and Ethan (writer)--comes "Miller's Crossing" (Fox, Oct. 5), a 1929 tale of the political and gang warfare in an Eastern city which erupts from a shattered friendship. Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and John Turturro star.

"The Grifters" (Miramax, Nov 9), another Scorsese production--which he produced for director Stephen Frears--brings to the screen a yarn by Jim Thompson, whose novels about criminal personalities have long fascinated filmmakers. John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Anette Bening star in this exploration of the world of con artists.

Tom Selleck plays an American cowboy who must battle man and nature in "Quigley Down Under" (MGM/UA Oct. 19), an Australian Western directed by "Lonesome Dove's" Simon Wincer. Laura San Giacomo plays a mysterious woman who thinks Quigley is a ghost named Roy.

In the suspense film "Jacob's Ladder" (Tri-Star, Nov. 2), strange visions haunt a Vietnam vet who fears for his sanity. Adrian Lyne directs Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena and Danny Aiello in this tale of military experiments and psychological terror.

The Irish and Ireland figure in several films. In the political thriller "Hidden Agenda" (Hemdale, late October), director Ken Loach focuses on an investigation into the murder of an American human-rights worker. In "Fools of Fortune" (New Line, Sept. 14), directed by Pat O'Connor, Julie Christie and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio star in a family saga set within the Irish rebellion against England.

In "State of Grace" (Orion, Oct. 5), directed by Phil Joanou, Sean Penn plays a man who returns to his Hell's Kitchen neighborhood where he must choose between the cold-blooded Irish street gang of his youth and his family and girlfriend.

In his political thriller "The Man Inside" (New Line, Oct. 26), writer-director Bobby Roth tells the true story of German investigative reporter Gunter Wallraff and his undercover operation that exposed the corrupt practices of his country's leading newspaper. Jurgen Prochnow, Peter Coyote and Nathalie Baye head an international cast.

In a different kind of political thriller, "Life and Nothing But" (Orion Classics, Sept./Oct.), Bertrand Tavernier dramatically explores the question of who really lies beneath Paris' Arc de Triomphe in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Such previous Tavernier players as Philippe Noiret and Sabine Azema star.

Gene Hackman and Anne Archer get trapped aboard a train carrying hit men out to kill them in "Narrow Margin" (Tri- Star, Sept. 21), a thriller directed by Peter Hyams.

Many intimate, smaller dramas also are on the fall schedule:

In "The Hot Spot" (Orion, Sept. 21), Don Johnson plays a drifter who becomes involved with two disturbing desirable women, Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly. Dennis Hopper directs this tale of a dangerous triangle.

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward star in "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" (Miramax, September), a story of a marriage set in Kansas City and Paris from 1919 to 1944. James Ivory directs a screenplay by his frequent collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on two Evan Connell novels.

In "White Palace" (Universal, Oct. 6), Luis Mandoki directs James Spader, Susan Sarandon and Eileen Brennan in a story of a young widower who falls in love with an older woman from the wrong side of the tracks.

"Tune in Tomorrow" (Cinecom, Oct. 12), based loosely on Mario Vargas Llosa's novel "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," sees a young man befriend a crack soap-opera writer and fall in love with his aunt. Barbara Hershey, Keanu Reeves and Peter Falk star for director John Amiel.

"Reversal of Fortune" (Warner, Oct. 26), produced by Oliver Stone, concerns the Claus von Bulow trial. Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons and Ron Silver star for director Barbet Schroeder.

In "Vincent & Theo" (Hemdale, early Nov.), Robert Altman directs Tim Roth and Paul Rhys in his exploration of the relationship between the Van Gogh brothers.

In the comedy/fantasy category:

In "The Icicle Thief" (Aries, Sept. 7), Maurizio Nichetti satirizes TV's treatment of films as he plays loving tribute to the Italian neo-realist film movement.

In "Funny About Love" (Paramount, Sept. 21), Gene Wilder, Christine Lahti and Mary Stuart Masterson star in a comedy directed by Leonard Nimoy about a New York cartoonist confronted with fatherhood just as he separates from his wife.

In "Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones" (Warners, Oct. 5), New York independent filmmaker Ellen Weissbrod examines the life and work of one of the most noted men of music.

"Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead" (Cinecom, October) finds Tom Stoppard directing his film adaptation of his award-winning play that gives a comic slant to Shakespeare's tragedy. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth play the two messengers who emerge existential heroes. Richard Dreyfuss appears as the Player King.

"Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael" (Paramount, Oct. 12) stars Winona Ryder and Jeff Daniels in a comedy about a teen-ager determined to follow in the footsteps of her hometown's biggest celebrity. Jim Abrahams of the Abrahams/Zucker Brothers comedy writing-directing team directs.

In "Mr. Destiny" (Touchstone, Oct. 12), James Belushi meets a curious stranger, Michael Caine, who has the power to show him how different his life would have been if he hadn't struck out in a high school baseball game.

"Sibling Rivalry" (Columbia, Oct. 26). Kirstie Alley, Bill Pullman, Carrie Fisher, Jami Gertz, Scott Bakula, Sam Elliott and Ed O'Neill appear in this comedy about the repercussions of a frustrated housewife's affair.

In "Too Much Sun" (CineTel, Nov. 9), Robert Downey Sr. directs Robert Downey Jr., Eric Idle, Andrea Martin and Ralph Macchio in a black comedy about a millionaire's will that leaves an estate to his two gay children--provided one can produce an heir in nine months.

Kevin Costner makes his directorial debut in "Dances With Wolves" (Orion Nov. 9), a movie fable about a white settler in the 1860s who is assimilated into a Sioux tribe.

Carl Reiner takes a look at the fragile bonds of family love. John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell star in "Object of Beauty" (Avenue Pictures, November), a comedy about a commodities broker and his girlfriend, who wind up penniless and stranded in a London luxury hotel.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Friday August 24, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 10 Column 5 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction Wrong names-- Carl Reiner was mistakenly identified as director of "Object of Beauty" in an article in Wednesday's Calendar. Reiner is the director of Columbia Pictures' upcoming "Sibling Rivalry." Michael Keaton will play the bad guy in "Pacific Heights"; Matthew Modine will play another role. Universal's "Kindergarten Cop" was listed as a pre-Thanksgiving release. Its scheduled opening is Dec. 14.
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