USA Today, September 22, 2001
Fall films, slightly askew

By Josh Chetwynd, USA TODAY

A packet of letters that talks. A mysterious, imposing dwarf. A mental patient who munches on bananas, peel and all. A dentist who pulls his own teeth. After a summer of formulaic action and before Oscar contenders start clamoring for attention an eclectic mix of oddballs is taking over. "Hollywood takes more chances in September and October. It is a safe haven for films that would not be well-served amid the summer madness or in the year-end Oscar frenzy," says Paul Dergarabedian, of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.

Moviegoers will have more of them to choose from this year. At least 29 wide releases are expected over the next two months, according to the box office trackers ACNielsen EDI. That's up 21% over the past two years.

"It will be great for people suffering from blockbuster fatigue," Dergarabedian says.

The riches come courtesy of Hollywood labor negotiations. Studios, fearing strikes by actors and writers, increased production in the spring and early summer. But when strikes were averted, they found themselves with extra movies.

And many on the fall slate are a little, well, strange. The dwarf mentioned above comes in David Lynch's surreal Hollywood-set Mulholland Drive (opening Oct. 12).

Mulholland Drive

The auteur quirk: David Lynch. After playing it relatively sane with 1999's The Straight Story, Lynch goes wacko again with this TV pilot turned feature.

The talent: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux

The twisted tale: Combine Hollywood and a dash of Blue Velvet, and you get Hollyweird. A dusky beauty (Harring) with amnesia wanders from a fatal car crash on the titular L.A. roadway and into an apartment occupied by a cheery would-be actress (Watts). The usual Lynchian descent into surreal madness follows, including appearances from old-time tap queen Ann Miller and that Achy Breaky Heart dude Billy Ray Cyrus.

The lowdown: Theroux, who plays a hotshot movie director whose world crumbles as the movie progresses, doesn't have any deep insight into the meaning of Mulholland, whose plot takes some whiplash turns. But he does know why Lynch chose the street name as the title. He told Theroux, "Well, it's a really dangerous road. One false move and you can kill yourself. I love that road."

Quirky fact: The glasses worn by Theroux are his own. "Now I can't wear them," he says. "They are too self-referential."

Who will fall for it: The Lynch mob, who don't mind dangling plot threads and unexplained objects.

Opens: Oct. 12

© 2001 USA Today

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