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Diamonds, rubies and ordinary rocks star at area's new Mine Gallery.

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A memorial to the commander of the Civil War's Massachusetts 54th Regiment comes to town.

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Sex Romps, Thrillers & Space Bugs:
Fewer Quiet Dramas in an Unusual Fall
Actor Russel Crow portrays detective Bud White with actress Kim Basinger playing call girl Lynn Bracken in Regency Enterprises' "L.A. Confidential," a powerful crime drama distributed by Warner Bros.
W/B Monarchy Regency Ent.

By Stephen Hunter
and Rita Kempley

Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 7, 1997

Will "Titanic" tank? Will "Flubber" flub?

Will the Myopia Anti-Defamation League boycott "Mr. Magoo"?

These are some of the questions that theater owners ponder as the thermometer moves south, the kids go back to school and the studios announce their lineups for the last four months of 1997.

Traditionally, the last third of the year encompasses two distinctly different seasons: fall, rich in art films, quiet dramas and other adult-oriented offerings; and the holidays, lousy with big-budget epics, family-friendly fare and Oscar bait.

But the boundaries are less clear-cut than usual. Autumn is crowded with studio products and offers fewer independent films than last year. Science fiction, action adventure, sex comedies and high-tech thrillers will far outweigh women's films and literary adaptations. And for every dysfunctional family drama like "The Ice Storm" or "A Thousand Acres," there are three serial-killer yarns and a horde of giant bugs from outer space.

Among the most eagerly anticipated fall releases are "In & Out," a comedy about a high school teacher (Kevin Kline) who freaks when his sexuality is called into question on the eve of his marriage; "Seven Years in Tibet," a bio-pic about an Austrian mountaineer (Brad Pitt) who befriends the Dalai Lama; and "The Peacemaker," a thriller about a scientist (Nicole Kidman) and a spook (George Clooney) in search of a missing nuke.

Big things are expected of "Starship Troopers," a potential blockbuster about Earth's war against those huge space bugs; "Alien Resurrection," the fourth "Aliens" movie, about, well, another good-size bug; and "The Devil's Advocate," a Faustian tale about lawyers, many of whom can drive you buggy.

Movies generally get conspicuously bigger and conspicuously dumber between Thanksgiving and New Year's as the teenage population, liberated from school, reoccupies the nation's theaters. But this season, that tendency seems to have reversed itself. Oh, sure, there are big fat movies like the much-delayed "Titanic," which not even its own previews have been able to make look interesting. But there is also some unusual, not to say quirky, fare amid all the expensive stuff.

In fact, if it's anything, December is an unusually director-dense period. America's four most successful independent auteurs are all represented, as well as some of our best-loved and most-admired hacks. Woody Allen, leading the smart guys, checks in with "Deconstructing Harry." Quentin Tarantino tries to follow up on the great hit "Pulp Fiction" with "Jackie Brown," another B-movie with an A cast. Those adorable scalawags the Coen brothers throw a little "Big Lebowski" at us (kidnapping again, in a purely comic mode). And finally, Martin Scorsese presents the strangest film of his career yes, stranger than "After Hours" in "Kundun," about the boyhood of the Dalai Lama, although it probably won't reach Washington until after the new year.

And we haven't even mentioned mainstream icons Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood (the boring director, not the interesting old actor). Spielberg's film is an anti-epic (meaning it cost about a third as much as "The Lost World: Jurassic Park") about a slave rebellion on a Spanish ship in 1839, and the American trial that followed. It's called "Amistad." Eastwood breaks all expectations and boggles all minds (ours especially) with a version of John Berendt's great bestseller "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Not his cup of tea at all, one would think, and we can only say, "So, Eastwood . . . do you feel lucky?"

The rest is the usual collection of high-gloss, low-IQ Christmas baubles. Barry Levinson, his back so turned on his great Baltimore movies that it's difficult to believe he ever came from that town, much less chronicled its agonies and ecstasies, tries Michael Crichton again in the undersea thing "Sphere." We can hardly wait. Then there's more of Pierce Brosnan blowing people away as 007 in "Tomorrow Never Dies." "The Horse Whisperer" features Robert Redford both before and behind the camera, in a pensive love story that has many calling it "the American 'English Patient,'Ç" sharing as it does Kristin Scott Thomas as The Woman. James L. Brooks, who has been making a movie about every decade since "Terms of Endearment," checks in with "Old Friends," about people like Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt going to Baltimore. And, of course, for those who can't abide the happiness of the season, there's always "Scream 2," by the creator of the "Elm Street" series, Wes Craven.

Have yourself a merry . . .

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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