Fall Movie Preview

Fall Movie Preview: October

''Four Rooms,'' ''Assassins,'' and ''Get Shorty'' are some of the films coming out this month

Four Rooms
Starring Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Madonna, Jennifer Beals, Valeria Golino, Antonio Banderas
Directed By Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

It was 1992, and the Sundance Film Festival was shaking. Three unknown directors had stormed into Utah with movies that signaled a fresh and funky moment in American film: Anders brought Gas Food Lodging, Rockwell served up In the Soup, and a fast-talking firebrand named Quentin Tarantino strafed the place with a blood-soaked manifesto called Reservoir Dogs. Something was afoot. ''That was like a coming-out party,'' recalls Rockwell, 38. ''We all gravitated toward each other, and became really good friends.'' Someone made an offhand remark: Let's make a movie together.

That remark became Four Rooms. Rockwell had the idea: Bring together five young directors — the original title was Five Rooms — and ask each to write and direct a short film based on three simple rules: It's New Year's Eve, the setting is a Hollywood hotel, and there's got to be a bellboy. And Tarantino had the clout to get it made. Miramax bigwig Harvey Weinstein greenlighted the film as soon as Pulp Fiction took off.

For the fourth wheel, Tarantino roped in El Mariachi's low-budget whiz kid Robert Rodriguez; the fifth, Dazed and Confused's Richard Linklater, bowed out. When the auteurs finally met for a slumber party at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont, they stumbled upon a lucky coincidence: Despite their wildly different styles, each had written a black comedy. ''It's a f---ing miracle,'' says Anders. ''It was a testament to our warped sensibilities.''

Things got more warped during filming. The fab four shot separately and, in Rodriguez's words, ''just did whatever the hell we wanted.'' Rockwell directed wife Jennifer Beals, while she sat bound and gagged in a chair. Rodriguez worked with two hyperactive kids who had to zip off to their tutor in between bouts of trashing a suite. And Anders, whose segment features a coven of witches, staged a real witch party — with candles, incense, chanting, and tarot cards — to get her cast in the mood.

Short on time and cash — the directors divvied up a paltry budget estimated at $5 million — the team nonetheless found megastars willing to work for mini-bar peanuts. ''I said yes without even looking at the script,'' says Bruce Willis. ''I did it as a favor to my friend Quentin Tarantino.'' Same goes for Madonna, who, as one of the witches, required a special crew to squeeze her into a black rubber dress. The Material Girl was ''absolutely not a diva,'' Anders reports. ''She was really part of the ensemble.''

Only one person got to glimpse the whole shebang: Tim Roth, who plays the befuddled bellboy ushering viewers into each room — and into each director's bizarro vision. ''It was quite an experiment,'' he deadpans. ''I got to work with all of them, and they're all crazy. Every single one.''

Buzz: It's a nutty idea...but it just might work; the Tarantino cult is sure to generate curiosity, and test screenings are said to have yielded the highest scores in Miramax's history.

Assassins
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julianne Moore, Antonio Banderas.
Directed By Richard Donner

After the lackluster box office performance of Judge Dredd, is Stallone losing his muscle tone? Hardly, but in his newest action flick, the 49-year-old superstar pocketed $15 million to play a hitman who's over the hill and a target of his hot young protégé (Banderas), the new killer on the block. ''It doesn't take a smart person to know that Stallone and I are totally different people,'' Banderas says, ''and we're totally different people on screen, so it works well.''

While Banderas describes his character as ''cruel and amoral,'' the filmmakers took pains to make Stallone a likable killer. ''He was an assassin in the Cold War, and now all of a sudden there's no place for him,'' says Donner (Lethal Weapon, Maverick), who thinks ''it's brilliant of Sly to play the older man. Hopefully, his audience will accept him like this, and say, 'I remember Rocky, and he's a pretty good actor.'''

On the set, Stallone was happy to play benevolent elder statesman. Julianne Moore (Nine Months), who makes her first foray into action as the surveillance expert who warily teams with him, says, ''He was very helpful. The first time I hurt myself, Sly was there with ice before the medics.''

Indeed, Stallone's kinder, gentler self shows on screen: ''He only kills one person in the entire picture,'' Donner says. ''It's a psychological thriller.'' But fewer murders didn't add up to a smaller budget: In addition to Stallone's take, Donner could reportedly make more than $10 million. ''I'd like whoever said that to be my agent,'' Donner says. ''I am getting a percentage more than I got for my last film [Maverick]. Literally, that's it.'' Still, he doesn't deny that Assassins was an expensive enterprise. ''Nothing keeps the budget down,'' he says. ''We had to pay for [producer] Joel Silver's wardrobe, and that puts it over the top.''

Buzz: It's placed in Warner Bros.' October ''Stallone slot,'' where 1993's Demolition Man and 1994's The Specialist each made about $60 million, and this film's gotta be better than those two...right?

Copycat
Starring Holly Hunter, Sigourney Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, William McNamara, Harry Connick Jr.
Directed By Jon Amiel.

To prepare for her role as a hunter of serial killers, Hunter was equipped with a beeper so she could be summoned by two L.A. homicide detectives. ''They let me go to court with them, I spent all day in the car with them, and I went on about eight crime scenes,'' she says. ''Of course, I wasn't interested in seeing any dead bodies. I took an awful lot of grief from the cops for that.''

On screen, however, the body count is plentiful: When the title murderer begins imitating the greatest hits of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, et al., Hunter tries to enlist the help of a criminal psychologist (Weaver) who has been agoraphobic since being stalked by one of her more dastardly subjects (Connick). Weaver's research took her to the stacks, where she boned up on agoraphobia and pondered her own, real-life fear of elevators. (''Over a lifetime, growing up in New York, you do get stuck a number of times,'' she says.)

The director's traumas were less emotional and more practical, since Weaver is almost a foot taller than Hunter. ''I created a whole new format,'' says British director Amiel (Sommersby). ''You've heard of CinemaScope? I just devised this format called 'DiagoVision.' I had Sigourney sitting down a lot and Holly standing up. Putting them in the same frame always posed a certain interesting test of ingenuity.''

Buzz: Early reports say Weaver stands tall.

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