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Independent's Day:
Hollywood is hot for indie & foreign films

With the phenomenal success of independent and foreign films last year, Hollywood is on the indie bandwagon. Amid the customary action-adventure summer flicks, the industry has its eye out for the next "Il Postino" and "Sense and Sensibility," and is ready to turn up the PR volume for second films by last year's favorite first-time directors. New films from the creators of "The Brothers McMullen" and "Shallow Grave" are due in July. A film by the director of "Heavenly Creatures" and another Jackie Chan flick are close on their heels.

In the last month we've seen "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Horseman on the Roof" get exposure in such mainstream press as "Entertainment Tonight." But the big push begins this month and everything's coming up Sundance -- the Utah festival has contributed to five films this summer.

Here are some of the outside Hollywood pictures vying for box office recognition this summer:

Opening this week:

- "Switchblade Sisters." Re-release of Jack Hill's 1975 girl gang sexploitation flick, complete with hookers in high school bathrooms and a girl gang gunfight on roller skates. Why you ask? Quentin Tarantino said so. This alleged cult classic is the first release from Rolling Thunder, the Miramax offshoot created to coddle to his every whim.

-"Butterfly Kiss" stars the always odd Amanda Plummer ("Pulp Fiction") as an American psycho drifting through England in a stolen car (with a body in the trunk) and looking for a lost lover with the help of a naive gas station attendant (Britain Saskia Reeves). It's "Kalifornia" meets "Thema and Louise."

- "Purple Noon" is part of a resurgence of 1960s French cinema (the young Catherine Deneuve is omnipresent lately). This particular revival follows an American youth (Alain Delon) who is dispatched to Paris to retrieve a businessman's wayward son. But when he finds his charge they decide to stay in Europe and live of father's money.

Opening in July:

-"Heavy." Liv Tyler (daughter of Aerosmith lead Steven Tyler), pretty, young waitress, is the object of unrequited love from Pruitt Taylor Vince, overweight pizza slinger. Writer-director James Mangold calls his film "meat and potatoes filmmaking," i.e. low frills and character-driven. The folks at Sundance seemed to seem to think the frills aren't needed -- "Heavy" was awarded a Special Grand Jury Prize for Best Direction. Get used to seeing Tyler. She's has two films this summer and two more in the can.

- "The Neon Bible." Young boy growing up in the boring bible belt with miserable, unemployed father Denis Leary (yes, it is a drama) gets a kick start to a more interesting life when his risque, nightclub singer aunt (Geena Rowlands) comes to town.

- "The Visitors" is the biggest-grossing film ever in France. On the Miramax slate for two years, it has been repeatedly delayed to allow its star, Jean Reno, to gather more star power in English-language films like "The Professional" and "Mission: Imposible." Here's the scoop: Two 12th Century knights are transported to present day, and boy are they confused. The advance word: hilarious.

- "She's The One." Shoestring budget director Ed Burns ("The Brothers McMullen") heeded the call of Hollywood, and for his sophomore effort he has $3 million, TV notables Jennifer Aniston and John Mahoney, and Cameron Diaz ("The Mask") working for scale. More dysfunctional family fun is the buzz.

- "Trainspotting." Almost guaranteed to be the art house hit of the summer, this second effort by "Shallow Grave" director Danny Boyle was the biggest homespun box office grosser in England in years.

- Dark and goofy story of junkies in Edinburgh trying to stay grounded long enough to pull off a big scheme to finance all their bad habits. Fast and furious with the drugs, sex and violence, but word is "Trainspotting" keeps it's sense of humor -- very English humor -- throughout.

- "Supercop." You can bet any company with rights to Jackie Chan material is going to milk it for all it's worth after "Rumble in the Bronx" scored big, and Miramax is no exception. This 1992 Chan tour de force is actually the third film in his "Police Story" trilogy, and is certainly one of his best, especially if measured in stunts.

- "Stonewall." The long awaited, much ballyhooed semi-fictional story of the 1969 drag queen-lead riots in Greenwich Village that were the birth of the modern gay rights movement.

The story follows several gay New Yorkers through the weeks before the riots and examines oppression, discrimination and the '60s from a gay perspective.

The buzz is strong. Will probably play in San Francisco forever.

Opening in August:

- "Cyclo," directed by Tran Anh Hung ("The Scent of Green Papaya"), tells the story of a bicycle taxi driver in Vietnam who turns to crime when his bike is stolen and with it his only source of income. A downward spiral of debt, sabotage and easy money follows.

- "Emma." That Jane Austin just keeps churning them out, doesn't she? Two hit movies last year based on her work did huge business, "Sense and Sensibility" and "Clueless," a cellular phones and valley talk rendition of "Emma."

Now it's the purists turn. Gweneth Paltrow ("The Pallbearer") and Greta Scacci star in this faithful adaptation of Austin's novel about the 19th Century England's most popular busybody teen.

- "Kansas City." Robert Altman's apology to his fans for "Ready to Wear" is a gangsters-and-girls-with-guns romp through 48 hours in the 1930s Midwest. And can this guy recruit a cast or what? Harry Belafonte (nightclub owner), Jennifer Jason Leigh (gun-slinging mob moll), Miranda Richardson (kidnapped wife of a crooked politician) and Dermot Mulroney (Leigh's husband-in-hot-water) star.

- "Girl's Town." An ensemble cast, lead by Lili Taylor, wrote the story as they filmed this movie about the traumas and tribulations of high school.

- "Bound." More Sundance fodder, this time starring Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as bisexual gangster girls who set out to sting $2 million from the mob.

- "Walking and Talking." It took debut director Nicole Holofcener five years to raise the cash for her film about a woman riding the emotional roller coaster of her best friend's pending nuptials. This one also sprung from Sundance.

- "Jude the Obscure" is directed by Michael Winterbottom, who also helmed "Butterfly Kiss" (see above). Adapted from the Thomas Hardy novel, Jude is a 19th Century rural Englishman whose troubled love life and constant craving for knowledge leave him struggling with life in the underclass.

Married once, in love twice and burdened with bad jobs and dying relatives, he seems destined for unhappiness, even with a love as pretty as Kate Winslet ("Sense and Sensibility"). Starring Christopher Eccleston from "Shallow Grave."

- "The Spitfire Grill" won the Audience Award at Sundance and was promtly scooped up by Castle Rock for wide release. Ex-con Alison Elliott moves to small town Maine and becomes a waitress to put her life back on track -- despite the ire of some locals. Also starring Ellen Burnstyn. Castle Rock shelled out $10 million for distribution rights (Gulp!).

- "Basquiat," as in dead-from-heroine Worhol protege Jean-Michel Basquiat. If you don't know the name, you'll know the cast, which includes Gary Oldman, Courtney Love and David Bowie as Worhol (?!).

- "Last of the High Kings," adapted from an Irish best seller about teenage love, teenage sex and waiting for the results of the British make-or-break high school board exam.

In other words, a coming of age movie. Cast includes Jared Leto, Catherine O'Hara, Gabriel Byrne, Christina Ricci, Colm Meany and Stephen Rea. Byrne co-wrote the screenplay with director David Keating.

Other summer movies that may be of interest for the art house crowd:

- "The Crow: City of Angels." Brandon Lee is dead, but then the character is a resurrected rock star, so sticking a different actor (in this case Vincent Perez) in the role really isn't all that weird, now is it? Sequel dollars can justify anything. More vengeful justice, co-starring Iggy Pop as a baddie.

- "Escape from L.A." The good news is John Carpenter is at the helm of this long overdue sequel to his 1981 tongue-in-cheek apocalypse adventure. The bad news is it was Kurt Russell's idea to revive Snake Plissken, and really, who is going to buy him as a one-eyed tough anymore? Bound to be one of those movies one has to see, no matter what one hears. With Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golino and Peter Fonda.

- "The Frighteners" is what happens when you give "Dead Alive" and "Heavenly Creatures" director Peter Jackson a $30 million budget and a story about the supernatural. Starring Michael J. Fox, who says "It's 'Beetlejuice' meets "Natural Born Killers'."

- "Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe." Hopefully a more true adaptation of Defoe's labors than "Moll Flanders" was, this time round Hollywood's choice for the shipwrecked seaman is Pierce (more than just James Bond, dammit) Brosnan.

A version of this article appeared in July 1996 in SF Live, a San Francisco arts & entertainment monthly.

©1996 All Rights Reserved.

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