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Tasty Dishes on Fall Menu : The Coming Movie Season Promises Wide Variety, From a Big-Screen Musical to Another From Sly to High-Tech Suspense

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If movie titles were cholesterol, this fall’s arrivals would be enough to permanently clog the arteries.

Compared to movies released during the lucrative summer and holiday periods, fall films can have the odor of also-rans--or at best high prestige (read: low box office).

But the films opening between Labor Day and Thanksgiving this year appear to include rich fare among the usual junk food.

Included are an array of glitzy titles, featuring major movie stars (Demi Moore, John Travolta, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Whoopi Goldberg and Whitney Houston) along with new entries from such well-regarded directors as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant and Woody Allen.

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There will even be one-quarter of a movie from last fall’s undisputed champion, Quentin Tarantino, who joins fellow directors Alison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell and Robert Rodriguez for “Four Rooms.”

The less hefty fare includes horror sequels to “Halloween” and “Hellraiser” and the high-tech suspense of “Screamers,” “Strange Days” and “Hackers.” Plus there’s the major cheesecake of “Showgirls,” Paul Verhoeven’s NC-17-rated strip-a-thon. And Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze show off their glorious gams in the middle-America-goes-drag comedy “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.” Also, for the first time in recent memory, there’s even a big-screen musical, an adaptation of the longest-running Off Broadway play, “The Fantasticks.”

Here are highlights of the rest of the season:

For those who like their movies high-toned, Moore stars as Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter,” a loosely based translation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Gothic classic, co-starring Gary Oldman. Those too young to remember the story without music can find a new version of Victor Hugo’s epic novel “Les Miserables” from French director Claude Lelouch.

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There’ll be yet another high tea with the Bloomsbury literary group, “Carrington,” starring Oscar-winner Emma Thompson as artist Dora Carrington and Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey, the role that won him best actor honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Character-based dramas are traditional fall offerings, and this year is no exception. Jodie Foster will be the off-screen guiding force in her second directorial effort, “Home for the Holidays,” about that cruel ritual, the family reunion. Holly Hunter stars, in her first role since her Oscar-winning turn in “The Piano,” with Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson. Diane Keaton directs the family drama “Unstrung Heroes,” which was well-received at Cannes.

“Waiting to Exhale,” from Terry McMillan’s popular novel about four African American career women, will be guided by yet another actor-turned-director, Forest Whitaker. It will give audiences a chance to judge Houston’s acting chops after “The Bodyguard.” One of her co-stars, Angela Bassett of “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” is a triple-threat this fall with turns in “Strange Days” and “Vampire in Brooklyn.”

“Moonlight and Valentino” is an intergenerational diva fest with Goldberg, Kathleen Turner, Elizabeth Perkins and Gwyneth Paltrow. Also, Christina Ricci and her teen-age pals will appear in a female version of “Stand by Me” titled “Now and Then,” in which they eventually grow up to become Moore, Melanie Griffith and Rosie O’Donnell.

Universal has just moved “How to Make an American Quilt,” from Christmas into October. Starring Winona Ryder, Bancroft, Alfre Woodard and Jean Simmons, the film uses the quilt to stitch together the life stories of the women who made it.

Rebecca De Mornay will track down a serial killer and fall for Antonio Banderas in “Never Talk to Strangers,” while Hunter and Sigourney Weaver pair up to capture another multiple murderer in “Copycat.”

And guys, fret not. There are plenty of guns ‘n’ guts planned for the coming months. Adventure stalwart Sylvester Stallone will combat Banderas in “Assassins,” and Jean-Claude Van Damme will experience “Sudden Death.” Alec Baldwin will attempt a breakout as one of “Heaven’s Prisoners.” Pitt will do the buddy cop thing with Morgan Freeman in the thriller “Seven.”

Spike Lee will again be trafficking the mean streets of his native Brooklyn in Richard Price’s “Clockers,” starring Harvey Keitel and John Turturro. The young Hughes brothers (Allen and Albert) who dazzled in their debut, “Menace II Society,” will drop back to the Vietnam era with their new “Dead Presidents.” And Andy Garcia will discover that one last heist is not the easiest thing to pull off in the originally titled “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.” (Garcia will also play twins in the comedic “Steal Big, Steal Little.”)

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Those who prefer their murder mixed with a little more atmosphere may choose “Devil in a Blue Dress,” in which Denzel Washington stars as free-lance gumshoe Easy Rawlins, trying to solve a murder; the suspense film, set in 1940s Los Angeles, is from Carl Franklin, who directed the acclaimed “One False Move.” Linda Fiorentino, who bewitched her male co-stars in “The Last Seduction,” will now bother and bewilder David Caruso and Chazz Palminteri in the sexy thriller “Jade.”

And speaking of bad girls, Sharon Stone will unite with De Niro and Joe Pesci in Scorsese’s latest underworld exploration, “Casino.” The film is set amid the tawdry neon lights of Las Vegas, which is also the backdrop for “Showgirls” and the tragic romance “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nicolas Cage.

But there’s the promise of laughter this fall season too. Eddie Murphy hopes to draw yuks and blood with yet another comeback try, “Vampire in Brooklyn.” Michael Moore, who hilariously stalked General Motors in the documentary “Roger and Me,” stalks the evil empire, Canada, in the fictional “Canadian Bacon,” one of John Candy’s final screen efforts. As was true last fall, Woody Allen has a new film. He’s in front of and behind the camera this time with his usual eclectic ensemble cast in “Mighty Aphrodite.” “Mallrats” is the sophomore screwball effort from Kevin Smith, who broke into the big time with the low-budget “Clerks.”

Travolta will learn that gangsters and movie producers are not so different in an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s bitingly comic “Get Shorty” co-starring Gene Hackman. (Travolta will also star in the reverse racism drama “White Man’s Burden” with Harry Belafonte.)

Also mining the dark comedy vein is Van Sant with “To Die For,” in which Nicole Kidman seduces men to marriage and murder in her attempt to become the new Barbara Walters.

All this should hold over comedy lovers until Jim Carrey comes blazing in with the “Ace Ventura” sequel for the holidays, which promises to be as congested as ever with everything from a new James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) epic, “GoldenEye,” a remake of romantic comedy “Sabrina” with Harrison Ford, Robin Williams’ high-budget effects-laden adventure “Jumanji” and at least the voice of Tom Hanks in the animated “Toy Story.”


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