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Good-bye to Summer

What this year's movies portend for next year

Hits and Misses: Despite glowing reviews and great word of mouth, John Sayles' terrific Lone Star has not yet managed to emerge from the art-house ghetto. To date, it has grossed $8 million -- a tidy sum when compared to other Sayles movies, but a pittance when set against ticket sales for more conventional releases. By comparison, Harriet the Spy, a movie deemed a box-office disappointment, has made $25.7 million, while Flipper -- also known as Flopper -- has a $30 million worldwide gross to its credit. (Both of these family-oriented movies should make even bigger bucks on home video.) Maybe a few Oscar nominations will elevate the visibility of Sayles' masterwork. By the time the nominations are announced, however, Lone Star likely will be playing at a video store near you.

Other notable summer releases that failed to attract the audiences they deserved: Dragonheart, Multiplicity, Matilda and The Phantom. On the art-house circuit, the cuddly Walking and Talking has been a box-office fizzle, and even Robert Altman's Kansas City has opened to general indifference. Maybe what these movies needed was a tornado or two. Or, at the very least, a flying saucer the size of Cleveland. Independence Day is a great deal of fun, and even Twister can be enjoyed as a wild roller coaster ride. But I would hate to think that, next summer, we will see nothing but natural disasters and alien invaders at our friendly neighborhood multiplexes.

Signs of Intelligent Life: A Time to Kill is making money. So is Tin Cup. By art-house standards, the audacious Trainspotting is a modest hit. Eddie Murphy revealed a comic genius undiminished by recent box-office humiliations in The Nutty Professor. Denzel Washington made an early bid for Oscar gold with Courage Under Fire. Gwyneth Paltrow proved she's worth the hype in Emma. And a ridiculously young Alain Delon managed to chill and charm with equal ease in the re-issue of Purple Noon. Meanwhile, audiences firmly rejected House Arrest, Bordello of Blood, Chain Reaction and a dozen or so other disasters too painful to remember. So, see: the news isn't all bad. Maybe it was a swell summer after all.

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