As Far as They're Concerned, It's Fall

Like leaves in autumn, so many movies are dropping into theaters this month that it's hard to avoid the clutter. This coming weekend, for example, nine films are scheduled to open with six more the following week. To be sure, only two of the movies debuting this Friday--"Rounders," starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, and "Simon Birch," a story of a boy's search for his destiny--will open wide at theaters around the country. But September is also the month when a lot of smaller films are trotted out, now that the big summer movies are beginning to fade from memory. "Let the fall begin!" said Tom Sherak, who heads distribution at 20th Century Fox. "There are a lot of movies out there that haven't been released yet. . . . People are looking for the right date to open. They're trying to find their audience without a lot of competition for their audience." For example, Warner Bros. will release "Without Limits" in Los Angeles and New York this weekend before going wide later. The film is director Robert Towne's biographical drama based on the life and athletic accomplishments of the late Oregon distance runner Steve Prefontaine. Meanwhile, Fine Line's "Let's Talk About Sex," a film about mating and dating in the '90s from the female perspective, will be released Friday on about 200 screens. Also scheduled to open this weekend in limited release are "The Cube" (Trimark), "Digging to China" (Legacy), "Out of the Past" (Zeitgeist), and the reedited 40th-anniversary edition of Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" (October). "We all sit there and say, 'Why are they doing this?' " Sherak said of the fall's film glut. "But you got to believe and hope they know what they're doing. There are some talented people out there."

Baring Her 'Celebrity Skin' for MTV

It's not like Courtney Love or Marilyn Manson need help getting attention, but their scheduled performances on the MTV Video Music Awards show Thursday will provide key springboards in the launch campaigns for their respective new albums. Viewership-wise, the VMAs, with more than 7 million expected to tune in across the U.S., are nowhere close to the Grammy Awards' U.S. audience of 25 million. But it's the right audience. "The viewership is lower, but it's an active record-buying audience," says Roy Lott, deputy president of EMI Recorded Music North America and president of Capitol Records, whose Beastie Boys are also performing. "And this is perhaps the most difficult show to get an artist on. With the Grammys, only nominated artists can perform. Here performers who have nothing to do with the actual awards can appear." So retailers are more focused on who's appearing rather than who's nominated--and they expect Love's band Hole's "Celebrity Skin" (due in stores Tuesday) and Manson's "Mechanical Animals" (due Sept. 15) to be the real winners, with already established albums by other performers, including the Beasties, Madonna, Brandy and Monica, also due for sales spikes. "Hole's going to benefit the most with the album just in stores," he says. "And Manson will get a head start for next week. It's great timing." Maybe if Love and Manson mud-wrestled during the show, it would help even more.

Improvise Your Own Headline Here

Improvisational comedy seems to be making inroads on television these days. Ratings were so good for ABC's summer offering "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" that the network ordered 13 more episodes of the Drew Carey-led improv show, and now, L.A.'s own Groundlings hit the tube tonight with the premiere on cable's FX network of "Instant Comedy With the Groundlings." Airing weeknights at 10 and based on the Groundlings' long-running Thursday night show "Cooking With Gas," "Instant Comedy" features the troupe's regulars performing improv skits with a guest star. Guests the first week include Lisa Kudrow, Andy Dick, Sandra Bernhard, Teri Garr and Kathy Griffin. Of course, the show could just as easily have been called "Saturday Night Live West," given the number of current and former "SNL" cast members who trained with the Groundlings, including Will Ferrell, Julia Sweeney, Jon Lovitz and the late Phil Hartman. Now, the nation will discover what Angelenos have known for some time. "The power of TV is obviously much stronger than the word-of-mouth we've had for the past 25 years," said Allison Kingsley, the Groundlings' general manager.

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