Hollywood likes to save the biggest and best for last. While the summer box office is traditionally ruled by mindless blockbusters — movies meant to stun you into approval-the holidays are for films that are out to impress you. One reason is simple: Academy Award balloting is just around the corner, and the studios don’t want to miss the qualifying cut-off on Dec. 31. And so begins the annual parade of Very Important Pictures (Brian De Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities, with Tom Hanks; Penny Marshall’s Awakenings, with Robin Williams) and Very Ambitious Ventures (Mel Gibson as Hamlet, Gérard Depardieu as Cyrano de Bergerac). Of course there will be mere fun, too, with family comedies such as Home Alone, and crowd-pleasing sequels such as Look Who’s Talking Too and Rocky V. Here is Entertainment Weekly’s behind-the-scenes guide to the major movies of the coming holidays (although some dates may change), from the releases of this week through the end of the year.
The Rescuers Down Under
Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor team up once again as the mousy voices of timid Bernard and elegant Miss Bianca, the crime-solving rodents of the 1977 animated feature The Rescuers. This time, they save a boy taken prisoner by a wicked poacher who sounds just like George C. Scott (guess why). Wilbur the albatross is also back but with a brand-new voice: John Candy’s.
Voice Activation:: It’s been 13 years since she first lent her voice to the character of Miss Bianca, but ”I just fell right into it like I never left,” says Gabor. The animators watched her do the preliminary recording, and she subsequently recognized a lot more than her voice in the little white mouse. ”When I saw Miss Bianca on-screen and she reached back and pushed her hair up,” Gabor says of one of her more distinctive gestures, ”I just fell over.”
Sylvester Stallone reunites with original Rocky director John G. Avildsen for the latest installment, which takes Rocky Balboa back to gritty South Philly. Massive IRS debts tempt him to reenter the ring, but his wife, Adrian (Talia Shire), vetoes that. It seems all that pummeling has irreparably damaged his brain. Tommy ”Machine” Gunn (real-life boxer Tommy Morrison) becomes Rocky’s protégé, to the dismay of Rocky Jr. (played by 14-year-old Sage Stallone, Sly’s son). Avildsen knows this terrain. After the ‘76 Rocky, which racked up Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Editing, he went on to shoot a career’s worth of valiant underdog films (the three Karate Kid movies and Lean on Me).
The Son Also Rouses: Stuntmen Todd Champion and Stephen Santosusso, who play boxers in the movie, sued Stallone, Avildsen, and the film’s producers, claiming they suffered broken facial bones filming fight scenes with Morrison. But they weren’t the only ones menaced on the set. Young Sage Stallone learned a bit about the downside of stardom from his movie debut. ”Oh, God!” he says. ”After a hard day of working on the set, I’m walking down the street, and I’m like ‘What’s that noise?’ Then I see about 200 women start chasing us! ‘Sage! I wanna kiss ya! Gimme yer autograph!”’ he recalls. ”I ran for my life and locked myself in the trailer.”
Cyrano de Bergerac
French actor Gérard Depardieu looks down his nose even farther than usual in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s faithful, period-perfect adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play about a swordsman with the soul of a poet and the schnoz of Pinocchio. Gorgeous Anne Brochet plays Cyrano’s beloved Roxane, and the equally gorgeous Vincent Perez plays his pal Christiane, the dim Romeo who courts Roxane with love lyrics secretly scribbled by Cyrano. Depardieu won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance.
Language Barrier: In order to find authentic-looking 17th-century locations, the movie was shot in Hungary. In the most famous scene — Cyrano’s comic soliloquy about his nose, delivered in a crowded theater — the extras appear to be hanging on his every word, transfixed by the power of his eloquence. In fact, the Hungarians couldn’t understand a thing Depardieu was saying. Director Rappeneau’s greatest challenge was keeping them out of the star’s way as the actor leapt about on the set.
Twentieth Century Fox
Count your kids carefully before herding them off to see Chris Columbus’ new comedy, Home Alone, about a young boy (Uncle Buck’s Macauley Culkin) whose family accidentally leaves him behind when they depart on a Christmas trip to Paris. Before his parents can catch the next flight back, two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) pick the (nearly) empty house for a heist. John Hughes’ quirky script (he also produced) may leave you wondering whom to feel sorrier for: the 7-year-old tyke or the crooks who bungle into his inventive booby traps.
Snow Job: Director Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting) says that working with kids can be delicate, but his biggest problem on Home Alone turned out to be keeping the production snowbound. ”The first day we shot inside and there was a blizzard outside, but other than that the weather was against us,” he says. For the outdoor shots, production assistants had to haul crushed ice, cartons of white foam, and huge snow blankets to the location. ”It’s difficult to make a Christmas movie without snow,” Columbus notes.
Three Men and a Little Lady
When this sequel to the 1987 comedy smash Three Men and a Baby begins, the baby has grown into a 5-year-old girl (Robin Weisman), and her mother (Nancy Travis) has moved in with the bachelor triumvirate (Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg, and Tom Selleck) who had cared for her infant. This time, the slapstick is muted by love bells between Selleck and Travis.
If It Ain’t Broke: Three Men took in $168 million at domestic box offices, and the sequel doesn’t stray far from the original formula. But there are a few differences between the movies. Baby Director Leonard Nimoy was busy with other projects, and Danson has a smaller role because Cheers and other commitments left him only 23 days to film in Los Angeles, New York, and England. The script was amended to have his character, an actor, spend much of the movie away working.
Twentieth Century Fox
For those who didn’t get their fill of guts and gore from the summer releases, another formidable alien warrior arrives to eviscerate its hapless victims and use their skulls and vertebrae as trophies. Danny Glover stars as the indomitable police detective who is determined to take the monster down. He’ll have to do it without original Predator star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who passed on a sequel, but fellow cops Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton lend a hand.
In the Blood: Paxton says the most common directing call on the Predator set was, ”More blood!” Buckets of Karo syrup, the movie blood substitute, were lugged in each day. Paxton, who hopes the movie will ”open up the bloodgates of my career,” wore a bucket or so of the stuff himself, and claims the faux blood is murder to work with. ”It’s really sticky, gooey, and cold.”
Mr. & Mrs. Bridge
Based on two novels by Evan Connell, this film, about the life and times of an upper-middle-class Kansas City couple and their three children in the 1930s and 40s, might sound a little slow moving. But producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory snared the husband-and-wife team of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to add serious star power to this portrait of a marriage.
On the Dole:
Senator Robert Dole has a unique credit on this film — voice coach for Paul Newman. Connell told Newman that Dole was the kind of upper-crust midwesterner he imagined Mr. Bridge would be today. So Newman called the Kansas Senator and asked him to recite speeches from Romeo and Juliet on tape so the actor could study his accent and inflections. ”It was very easy for Paul to imitate him,” says Merchant.
Rob Reiner takes a stab at his first suspense thriller with this film, based on Stephen King’s book. A famous romance novelist (James Caan) is held captive and tortured by his number one fan (Kathy Bates) after she learns he has killed off her favorite character. ”This movie is about a guy who has a fear of writing something that people don’t expect of him,” says Martin Shafer, partner in and cofounder of the film’s production company, Castle Rock Enterprises. Though Reiner had a hit with Stand by Me, based on a King novella, Shaffer says, ”This is the kind of movie that people don’t expect him to do.”
Head Games: For scenes in which Bates’ character is beaten, four dummy heads were made from plaster casts of the actress’ own head. ”Rob wanted a series of heads with different expressions that could take smacks with a typewriter, or hard punches in the face,” explains special-effects technician Howard Berger. When one was accidentally left uncovered in the makeup trailer, Bates was impressed. ”It was a real bloody one, and she said ‘Please cover it, I just can’t take seeing myself that way!”’ Berger says. ”When the actor gets freaked out, you know you’ve done a good job.”
Here’s an entry from the haven’t-I-heard-this-one-before department: Charlie Sheen plays a well-off rookie cop, Clint Eastwood is his grumpy, grizzled partner, and they just don’t get along. Not at first, anyway. The unlikely duo takes on the leaders (played by Raul Julia and Sonia Braga) of an illegal auto-parts ring.
The Big Bang Theory: For one explosive stunt filmed last spring, the crew blew up a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. Though the press had been invited, only one photographer with a videocam showed up. But after the blast, scores of reporters rushed to the scene, thinking there had been another earthquake. The only footage available belonged to the industrious cameraman; it was picked up by about 30 stations around the world. Even Eastwood caught it via CNN while in Cannes to unveil White Hunter, Black Heart.
Havana will mark the seventh time director Sydney Pollack has focused his camera on actor Robert Redford. Here the golden boy plays an American high roller living out the last days of the Batista regime in Cuba in 1958, where he falls for the wife (Lena Olin) of an aristocratic revolutionary (Raul Julia). If Redford’s performance lives up to advance word, this may be the role that finally wins him a Best Actor award.
The Big Setup: A sizeable chunk of Havana’s $30-million budget was invested in the construction of one of the most elaborate sets in recent Hollywood history. The San Isidro Air Base in the Dominican Republic’s Santo Domingo was turned into a replica of an entire section of ’50s Havana, including three landmark buildings: the famous Floridita Bar, the office of the newspaper El País, and the department store El Encanto.
The Sheltering Sky
Bernardo Bertolucci’s first movie since the Oscar-winning epic The Last Emperor is based on the Paul Bowles novel and set in postwar North Africa. John Malkovich and Debra Winger are tormented married writers exploring exotic terrain with a wealthy young companion, played by Campbell Scott (Longtime Companion).
By George: This film could be the big break for Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst. The movie was shot in several North African countries, where cast and crew endured grueling heat and illness. If the result is as sprawling and beautiful as The Last Emperor, it could mean a second Best Director nod for Bertolucci, who won that honor in 1987.
Almost An Angel
In this comedy-adventure, Australian actor Paul Hogan portrays a small-time thief who, after a head injury, believes he has died and returned to earth as a professional angel. It looks like Hogan is aiming to distance himself from the macho-adventurer image he created in the two ”Crocodile” Dundee movies. Linda Kozlowski, who costarred with Hogan in both Dundees and later married him, stars as the heavenly agent’s lusty sidekick.
Hogan’s Hero: Hogan and producer-director John Cornell (the actor’s longtime partner) are known for their Aussie high jinks on the set. The two once interrupted filming on a television project by staging a mock fight for the crew. ”We threw a bit of furniture around and came out to all these surprised faces,” says the director. But Cornell insists they restrained themselves during the Angel shoot. ”Movies are too serious to have too much fun,” he laments.
Twentieth Century Fox
Johnny Depp (Cry-Baby) stars as a misunderstood humanoid creation with a deadly pair of hedge trimmers instead of hands. Dianne Wiest (Parenthood) plays an Avon Lady who introduces Edward to an unprepared suburban community. The only person who can appreciate his unconventional charm is Wiest’s impressionable daughter (Depp’s real-life main squeeze Winona Ryder). Fox executives are nervous about drawing comparisons between director Tim Burton’s latest project and his blockbuster, Batman, which has grossed more than $425 million worldwide. Meanwhile, studio president Joe Roth is modestly comparing Scissorhands to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial (total box office, $700 million).
Mr. Burton’s Neighborhood Making a real location match Burton’s peculiar vision of suburbia wasn’t easy. In the Florida suburb where Burton shot much of Scissorhands, more than 60 houses were repainted in muted pastel shades and outfitted with smaller windows and warped foliage. ”It must have been kind of a nightmare for [the owners],” Burton admits. ”They were skeptical for a while, but then they really got into it. They pulled out their lawn chairs and watched.”
Cher is nicely cast as the free-spirited single mother who, in the last days of the JFK era, whimsically moves with her family from town to town — much to her daughters’ (Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci) dismay (the family, like mermaids, never quite fit in). Bob Hoskins plays a shabby shoe salesman who takes a shine to Cher.
Learning to Cher: Though she reportedly deep-sixed one costar (Emily Lloyd in Ryder’s role) and two directors (Frank Oz and Lasse Hallström), Mermaids is not an entirely Cher-driven vehicle. ”Cher’s a generous actor,” says coproducer Lauren Lloyd. ”It’s her first part since she won an Oscar in Moonstruck, and it’s really Winona’s movie.” Cher based her characterization on her nonconformist mom (whose photo was pinned up in the costume department), and Ryder drew on her own adolescent experiences (her counterculture parents were friends of Timothy Leary’s).
With the lightweight Bird on a Wire and Air America behind him this year, Mel Gibson takes on what could be his heaviest challenge: playing Shakespeare’s tortured Prince of Denmark. Glenn Close appears as his mother, Gertrude (though she’s actually only nine years older than the 34-year-old Gibson), and Helena Bonham Carter plays Ophelia.
Casting About: Director Franco Zeffirelli admits that casting Gibson was a risky move, but he says he is sure it will pay off. ”I gave him every opportunity to bring forth his hidden talents and, my God, he had a lot hidden there,” he says. Still, the studio is hedging its bets on whether the new higher-brow Mel will sell in middle America: The film will open in just three cities in December, and will then go wider — how wide depends on the audience response.
Bonfire of the Vanities
Brian De Palma brings Tom Wolfe’s blockbuster novel about New York City’s stratified society — and one buttoned-up bond trader’s plunge from its heights — to the big screen. Tom Hanks plays the hapless ”master of the universe,” Melanie Griffith is his sultry mistress, and Bruce Willis is a gin-soaked reporter. Wolfe’s portrayal of New York race relations was controversial, and the filming of Bonfire led to protests in the Bronx; the debate may intensify with the movie’s release.
Artistic License: Just two months before the scheduled opening, De Palma was still locked away in the editing room, raising questions about whether Bonfire would face the same deadline problems that have bedeviled Godfather III. The movie also holds the distinction for the most shamelessly star-driven casting of the year, even if it meant throwing Wolfe’s characterizations out the window. As a middle-aged Jewish judge in the Bronx, Alan Arkin was replaced by Morgan Freeman. Some say Melanie Griffith’s little girl voice make her an odd choice for the role of the darkly sexy Southern mistress. And, to accommodate Willis, the movie makes his character, the boozy British hack, into an American.
Come See the Paradise
Twentieth Century Fox
A wave of racially mixed love stories will be hitting the screen next year, but director Alan Parker (Midnight Express) gets there first. Parker’s romance, set against the backdrop of the Japanese-American internment in the U.S. during World War II, stars Dennis Quaid as a former union organizer who is in love with a young prisoner, portrayed by Tamlyn Tomita (Karate Kid II).
Careful Casting: Stung by charges of historical inaccuracy in his Mississippi Burning, Parker interviewed more than 3,000 Japanese Americans while researching and casting Paradise. In the desert outside Palmdale, Calif., production designer Geoffrey Kirkland constructed a set that closely replicates the prison camp Manzanar. Many of the film’s extras were survivors of such camps, and for some the results were too realistic. ”It brought back really vivid memories,” says Tomita, whose father was interned.
The Russia House
Sean Connery plays a book publisher who’s recruited by British intelligence and sent to Moscow to track down the truth about a smuggled nuclear physics manuscript. Connery falls in love with the place — and with his red hot contact, a Soviet book editor played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Fred Schepisi (Roxanne) directs Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of John le Carré’s spy thriller.
To Russia, With Lox: Thanks to Russia’s woefully undeveloped economy, director Schepisi had to import 52 truckloads of film equipment, as well as every bite of food the cast ate — crowds of Soviet bystanders gathered to gawk, not at the stars, whom they didn’t recognize, but at the catered meals. Schepisi says he experienced both the good and bad sides of the Soviet Union’s bureaucracy: The KGB confiscated all his walkie-talkies, but when he needed to block traffic from Red Square for one scene, he says, ”The policeman said, ‘No problem.’ They have these black-and-white batons they wave and traffic just stops!”
There are two sides to Arnold Schwarzenegger: the adorable gentle giant of Twins and the ultraviolent mind-bender of Total Recall, and both of them have scaled the $100-million box-office plateau. Now that Schwarzenegger has discovered a script which lets him terminate people and look cute, he just may break the bank. Ivan Reitman’s Kindergarten Cop finds our hero undercover in a classroom full of rambunctious 5-year-olds in a campaign to put away a bloodthirsty drug dealer (Richard Tyson).
Pet Tricks: Schwarzenegger happily ignored the show business saw about never working with animals or children. In one scene, his character brings a pet ferret to class in an effort to quiet a mob of squalling youngsters. ”The kids were tremendously curious,” Schwarzenegger says. ”They began to ask questions, ‘Is this a dog?’ and wanted to pet the ferret. This was not in the script,” he says. ”The kids’ reactions changed the scene and made it better.”
The Godfather Part III
Director Francis Ford Coppola called his leading capos (Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and screenwriter Mario Puzo) together again for this much-anticipated third entry in the Corleone family saga. Godfather I and II brought in a combined total of 21 nominations and nine Oscars (including two awards for Best Picture). In addition to the director himself, prime Oscar contenders from Godfather III include Pacino — he’s been nominated five times, but he’s never won — and Andy Garcia, as the boss’ ruthless heir.
In Doubt: The real question hanging over Godfather III is whether it’s any good. Coppola’s sudden decision to cast his inexperienced daughter in a crucial role has been widely questioned. And the rush to bring the movie out in time for Christmas may not leave enough time for polishing the rough edges. In a recent statement Coppola announced his full confidence in the picture.
Look Who’s Talking Too
A surprise hit of 1989, Look Who’s Talking was about to be spun off into a TV series when then president of Tri-Star pictures Jeff Sagansky decided to go for a sequel. So writer-director Amy Heckerling, stars Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, and the rest of the original team reunited to give young Mikey a baby sister, whose wisecracks are provided by Roseanne Barr, and an infant neighbor, voiced by Richard Pryor.
Mouthing Off: Heckerling supervised Barr’s voiceovers in L.A. between tapings of Roseanne. But recording Mikey’s comments took the director all the way to Rome, where Bruce Willis was shooting Hudson Hawk. ”Sometimes Bruce would start to do a take, and if he didn’t like the way it was coming out he would zap into the X-rated version of Mikey,” says Heckerling. ”Let me tell you, audiences will never hear those takes.”
As always, Woody Allen has kept mum on the details of his next comedy. Orion has issued only a cryptic statement that the movie concerns a woman (Mia Farrow) who ”goes through a remarkable series of experiences at a critical point in her life.”
Top Talent: Allen has a reputation for brilliant and unconventional casting, and the cast of Alice reads like a who’s who of respected stage and screen performers: William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Patrick O’Neal, Blythe Danner, Joe Mantegna and Cybill Shepherd.
In director Peter Weir’s first romantic comedy, Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell (sex, lies, and videotape) don’t like each other much, but they get married anyway — he needs a spouse to get a green card; she needs a spouse to get an apartment. They expect never to see each other again, but a U.S. Immigration inquiry forces them to live together for 48 hours and, well, you can take it from here.
French Accent: Weir got a Best Director nomination last year for Dead Poets Society and a nomination is possible for Depardieu, since the Academy might feel silly ignoring the American film debut of the prolific French superstar. Still, Depardieu’s limited command of English posed a challenge. ”He could never pronounce ‘vegetarian’ perfectly,” says executive producer Edward S. Feldman, ”but it’s kind of cute.”
Director Penny Marshall, who scored enormously with Big, gets serious with this true story (based on book by Oliver Sacks) of an encephalitis patient (Robert De Niro) who emerges from a coma after 30 years. Robin Williams straitjackets his humor to play the psychiatrist who coaxes him back to reality.
Method Acting: De Niro is famous for throwing himself physically into his roles (he gained 55 pounds for Raging Bull), but Awakenings may have given him more than he bargained for. During a fight scene with Williams, Marshall says, ”Robin was trying to hold him tight, and in the process his elbow accidentally flew up and hit Bobby in the nose and broke it. ”I yelled ‘Cut!’ and there’s Bobby with blood coming from his nose. Actually, he straightened Bobby’s nose — he had broken it years ago. So Bobby said, ‘Thank you.”’
(The Holiday Movie Preview was written and reported by Tim Appelo, Meredith Berkman, Giselle Benatar, Jess Cagle, Steve Daly, Melina Gerosa, and Christopher Henrikson)