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What is cool 1992: Movies

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Meryl Streep, and Mary Wickes are some of the folks we like

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Cool Movie Accesory
The less imaginative can tie it around their necks; in Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone preferred to use her 56-inch white silk Hermès scarf (in a white-on-white jacquard-and-bee pattern called ”Abeille”) for more knotty purposes. Like tying up her lovers. Now the $195 swatch of silk is sold out in all 10 Hermès boutiques around the country. Voilà. Probably because it’s the details that make the (birthday) suit.
Lisa Schwarzbaum

Cool Movie Actress
There are reasons, good ones, you remember Jennifer Jason Leigh. She was the sweet young thing in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High who loses her virginity to a creep in a baseball dugout and is later used and abused in a poolside cabana. In 1990’s Miami Blues, she was a harmless young prostitute who mistakes a psycho killer for Prince Charming. In 1991’s Rush, she played a devoted narcotics cop who loses everything to her own major jones. And then there was her awesome performance in 1990’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, in which she played Tralala, a hopelessly hard hooker who ends up violated in the back of a car by every human dog in the neighborhood.

”I always think it’s a lot easier to relate to the neurotic on film,” she says, ”or to the eccentric. It’s in the strange that we find ourselves.”

It’s this approach that informs her deep, honest, painful, and sensual portrayals of what Leigh calls ”complicated women”: outcasts, misfits, whores, junkies, and other otherwise innocent sisters who find themselves lost.

Though none of Leigh’s films has set the box office on fire (except 1991’s Backdraft, in which she had a small part), that hasn’t seemed to matter much to producers and directors, who are eager to hire her. This summer she’s starring in director Barbet Schroeder’s Single White Female, a hotly anticipated thriller about a young Manhattanite (Bridget Fonda) who makes the mistake of taking in a roommate (Leigh) without checking her references. It could be her commercial breakthrough. And if it’s not, well, that probably won’t bother Leigh much either.

What you expect before meeting Leigh: a rather straight, light-haired, 30-year-old woman — half plain, half pretty — with a Pre-Raphaelite body. What you don’t expect while waiting for Leigh outside a Hollywood coffee shop, and what you get: a tiny woman with a bad dye job and chapped lips, swimming in a brown pantsuit, nervously clutching an oversize purse, standing in the middle of the sidewalk behind huge, round sunglasses with lenses like multicolored oil slicks.

Before we get to lunch, a little history. She’s the daughter of the late actor Vic Morrow (who was killed in 1982 while shooting Twilight Zone: The Movie) and Barbara Turner, a TV writer, who divorced Morrow when Leigh was 2. As far back as she can remember, Leigh says, she wanted only to act. In high school she legally declared herself an emancipated minor, signed her own notes excusing herself from school, and spent many afternoons at the movies in Westwood. Six weeks before graduation, she got her first part (in 1981’s Eyes of a Stranger, a horror film shooting in Florida), promised her mother she’d take an equivalency exam when she returned, closed the book on high school, and flew east.

Leigh never made good on that promise to her mother; she was too busy getting challenging parts in troubled films. She has since caught up on her education by doing exhaustive research for roles. ”I’m not well educated,” Leigh says quietly, toying with a piece of lettuce in her Chinese chicken salad. ”So it’s through my research that I come to understand things. I love throwing myself into something.”

For the part in Single White Female, she read books on borderline personalities and talked to several therapists (including her own). She’ll soon start research for her next role — a mother who makes her living doing phone sex at home — in Robert Altman’s film Short Cuts. ”I don’t know what phone sex is like,” she says, ”but I’m going to find out. They have a training course people take to learn how to do that. Obviously we all know how to talk dirty, but there are ways to keep people on the phone longer. I think I might take that course.”

Leigh gets frequent offers to play what she describes as ”the woman who has it very easy,” but she turns them down. ”There are a lot of other people who can do that, and do it beautifully. I don’t relate to that woman. It’s not why I wanted to act. I work so hard that it doesn’t make sense for me to do something unless I really want to explore it. I want to change my life, and I want to become another person.”

Flicking her yellow Bic and firing up a Marlboro Light, Leigh starts to describe that process: ”The way your personality sort of dissolves, and the other personality sort of embraces you, is so subtle and such a slow transformation, you don’t really feel it happening. But suddenly your reactions to things are very different than they would normally be. It’s like having a virus. And then, after the shoot, in a couple of weeks, you get over it. You come back to yourself.”

Letting go of Last Exit’s Tralala, Leigh says, was particularly hard. ”Tralala’s disconnected from her feelings,” she says. ”She doesn’t feel anything. And that can feel pretty good.” Leigh stops and smiles at her own sudden naivete-she knows that for herself, at least, feeling nothing can never feel good. So she backtracks:

”Being witness to extreme pain is not something foreign to me. And in a certain way I’m thankful for it. What I can do is take what pain I have and use it in a constructive way; I can put it into a movie, and express it, and not live it.”
Trish Deitch Rohrer

Cool Screenwriter
Shirley MacLaine and Marcello Mastroianni got him first. Then it was Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland’s turn. Director James Cameron will have him next. And behind them in line, patiently, is Madonna. The man with the increasingly attractive Rolodex is screenwriter Todd Graff, who may soon have seven movies to his credit and who is polite enough to speak of his career in amused, happy shrugs. ”Sometimes all the stars are in the right place, and you get lucky,” he says, an outlook that doesn’t begin to account for his extraordinary winning streak.

Graff, 32, is no film-school yearling; he’s an actor who was doing just fine, thank you, during 15 years of work that won him a Tony nomination (for the musical Baby) and eye-catching roles in a dozen movies (he was a white rat’s best friend in The Abyss). ”I didn’t think I was a very good actor,” he demurs. ”Anybody who has ever worked with me knows me as that actor who said, ‘But what I really want to do is write.”’

Several thousand pages later, here’s where his spree of screenplays stands: Fly by Night, a drama about New York’s rap world, is already shot. In the fall, MacLaine and Mastroianni will appear in his romance, Used People. Bridges and Sutherland are now filming The Vanishing, his adaptation of the acclaimed Dutch thriller, in Seattle, where Graff recently spent a few weeks doing rewrites while finishing Skippy, his new screenplay for TriStar. After that, he headed for Sundance to hone his adaptation of Avra Wing’s novel Angie, I Says for Madonna (”I have a fixation with her,” says Graff). Next year Cameron plans to direct Graff’s The Crowded Room, a multiple-personality drama that may star John Cusack. And then there’s Backstab, the thriller he’ll write for Fox. After that? ”Well,” says Graff, ”I would really like to get involved in movie musicals.”

If Graff has any war wounds from his foray into filmdom’s most frustrating profession, they don’t show. ”I’ve never gotten screwed in any real way as a writer,” he says. ”But remember — I was an actor. Nothing will thicken your skin like that. Besides, this has been my goal since I was a little kid.” Indeed, when Graff was growing up in Queens, he’d while away afternoons by inventing imaginary baseball leagues. ”I was never interested in being a player,” he says. ”I just wanted to write down what all the other guys were doing.” These days, Graff knows better: Being a player isn’t so bad after all.
Mark Harris

Cool Supporting Actress
”When they told me I was going to be the Ice Princess in Batman Returns,” says 26-year-old Cristi Conaway, fast-talking, breathless, and slightly coquettish despite the giant, Rasta-type, black velvet hat perched on her head like an over-risen brioche, ”I thought I was going to be the ruler of the world.” Conaway makes a goofy, Lucille Ball face, bats her eyelashes, and says, sarcastically, ”No.” She bats her eyelashes some more for good measure.

”She’s the beauty queen-elect of Gotham City. A very lampoon, Vanna White kind of thing. She’d push an old woman down and try to fix her nail at the same time,” explains Conaway, miming those activities all the while. ”It’s just silly — it’s, like, a comedy,” she continues, as if comedy were declasse. ”It wasn’t some great acting role. Puh-leease.”

Conaway, who grew up Lubbock, Tex., is ashamed to say she modeled before coming to L.A. with a suitcase full of ambition and not a thing on her résumé. She signed with her actor brother’s manager, met the head of casting at Warner Bros., and, bing-bang-boom, got roles in Woody Allen’s untitled fall project and Batman Returns. Her secret, it seems, is that she’s not impressed. ”I know I’m supposed to tell you that I’ve studied acting for 15,000 years, but I just don’t believe in it — I truly believe you either have it or you don’t.”

”Having it” generally doesn’t mean much in Hollywood, but ”having it” and seeming not to care means a lot. Conaway recalls her experience with Allen: ”We’re talking a descriptive monologue, looking straight into the camera, and they told me I couldn’t lift my hands — I couldn’t do anything, I just had to sit there. And Woody says to me in the middle of this, ‘If my words don’t work for you, if you need to improv, go ahead.”’ Conaway rolls her mega-blue eyes. ”I’m, like, ‘Okay, Woody, thanks.”’ And she breaks into the girlish laughter of someone who has found herself with the keys to the palace when all she meant to do was find the john.
Trish Deitch Rohrer

Cool Movie Haircut
On Sinéad O’Connor it looks sort of politically creepy, but on Sigourney Weaver in Alien3, the baldy ‘do — chosen, the plot line goes, for its lice-defying properties — looks sort of — oh, fresh. Easy-maintenance. Out-of-this-world. Sure sign that it’s the cutting edge in coiffures? A New York City hair salon is offering Alien Buzzcuts at $10 a scalping for men, $12 for women. Gee, your head smells terrific.
Lisa Schwarzbaum

Cool Movie Abode
Sexy Dana Delany, who plays architect Steve Martin’s hard-to-please squeeze in Housesitter, must be the only person in America not impressed with his dream house. Nestled by a pretty pond in Concord, Mass., it’s both snug (1,800 square feet) and architecturally prestigious. The columned porch is classic Yankee farmhouse, the gables evocative of 1800s Greek Revival, the clapboard siding and checkerboard window pattern very ”American Gothic.” ”It taps a memory bank,” says architect Debra Wassman, who did the design with husband Jonathan Lanman. And it’s available by mail from New York’s Trumbull Architects. Why not live out the lifestyle of the rich and fictional?
Tim Appelo

Cool Special Effect
When Meryl Streep, having taken a potion that promises eternal life, falls down the stairs of her Beverly Hills mansion in Robert Zemeckis’ forthcoming black comedy, Death Becomes Her, she breaks her neck and dies. That is, she dies, but she isn’t dead. Or rather, she’s dead, but not dead enough to keep her from standing up, trying to take a step forward, and finding that the step forward is really a step backward, because her neck is broken and her head is now twisted around 180 degrees.

The folks at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic are responsible for this corkscrew effect, by way of what the film’s special-effects supervisor, Ken Ralston, calls a ”completely artificial, computer-generated, twisted-neck piece that blends into Meryl’s head.” Streep wore a blue-screen hood over her head when the scene was first shot, Ralston says, while her body did a dance of the derangedly disoriented — spinning around, bumping into things, tumbling. Later on, with the camera trained only on her face, the Academy Award-winning actress synchronized her expressions with the body movements she’d done weeks before. Okay, but will she be able to do the dialect?
Trish Deitch Rohrer

Cool Movie Couple
Both are unpredictably, yet undeniably, sexy. Sarah Jessica Parker: crackerjack district attorney on TV’s Equal Justice, Steve Martin’s dizzy temptress in L.A. Story, the thinking man’s sex symbol. Nicolas Cage: charmingly devoted husband in Raising Arizona, actually ate a real cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss, dangerous, but dangerously sad-eyed.

They’ll add a few degrees to the month of August, when they come together as two waylaid lovers in the romantic comedy Honeymoon in Vegas. The plot is goofy: Boy meets girl. Boy takes girl to Vegas for quickie wedding. Boy loses girl in poker game. But their chemistry is powerful. He’s a wimp. She’s cocksure. Arm in arm, they upstage the countless Elvis impersonators that director Andrew Bergman (The Freshman) uses as the movie’s window dressing. And that takes a hunk of burning love.
Jess Cagle

Cool Movie Trailer
The voice is ominous. ”In this city…” it intones over images of pretty, red-haired Allison (Bridget Fonda) taking out an ad for a roommate, ”on this street, in this apartment,” the voice continues as Allison meets the plain Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh), ”an ad for a roommate brought a stranger into Allison’s life. Someone who shares, someone who cares.” (Hedra, it turns out, wants Allison all to herself.) ”Someone who borrows, someone who steals.” (Hedra climbs into bed with Allison’s boyfriend.) ”Someone who would kill to be her.” (Hedra threatens Allison with various weapons.) ”How do you lock the terror out when you’ve already invited it in?” the voice asks. , ”Single White Female. Living with a roommate can be murder.”
Anne Thompson

Cool Seduction Scene
That four-alarm explosion in the opening sequence of Lethal Weapon 3 is a mere campfire compared with the sparks that fly when Lorna Cole and Martin Riggs (Rene Russo and Mel Gibson) start comparing scar tissue. The sexual tension mounts as the two take turns peeling back denim to display old bullet wounds in a competitive peekaboo. Refusal to acknowledge Riggs’ pièce de résistance — a scar that leaves him stripped down to his tight, black BVDs — leads to a skirmish, which leads to a long, hard kiss. But Cole is still determined to come out on top. So she uses her martial artistry to put Riggs in his place: beneath her in a sexy tangle on the hard, wooden floor. Ka-BOOM.
Melina Gerosa

Cool Film Veteran
Mary Wickes began her acting career as a nurse in 1942’s Now, Voyager. She learned all about playing nuns in ’66’s The Trouble with Angels. And all about sleuthing as the cranky housekeeper in Father Dowling Mysteries. Now, in Sister Act, the 75-year-old actress gets all the best lines as the tough habit-ué who longs for her rustic convent with no hot water (”Now those were nuns,” she says). The movie’s a hit, but Wickes still voices the character actor’s lament: ”I just wish Mary Lazarus had had a few more scenes.” Hail, Mary.
Jess Cagle

Cool Rebirth
At last we know why Laura Palmer was wrapped in plastic when she washed up on the shores of Twin Peaks two and a half years ago-to keep her fresh, of course. It worked: This August Laura returns, alive if unwell, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch’s R-rated, 2-hour-14-minute prequel to the strictly PG-13 TV series. Which is good news for Sheryl Lee: Originally hired for just four days of playing dead in the Peaks pilot, the 25-year-old actress has vaulted to a starring role in the movie, which details Laura’s nightmare wanderings through Northwest passages of sex, drugs, and molestation in the last week of her life. ”Because it’s a film, we can take it a lot further,” says Lee, who is currently starring in Broadway’s Salome opposite Al Pacino. ”For Laura to go through all the things that you only heard about on TV was very interesting. People don’t take the path Laura took unless they’re in great pain. So for me, the film wasn’t necessarily about defending her — it was about showing that every one of us has the potential to walk on the wild side.” Lee says another sequel is possible, but Laura’s life-after-death story may finally have reached a uniquely Lynchian happy ending: In the film, it is said, Laura doesn’t just die — she goes to heaven.
Mark Harris

Cool Director
Tim Burton has done what few mortals have: He has bent Hollywood to his will. Recognizing the hipness and huge popularity of his work, Warner Bros. gave the 33-year-old director a free hand and a $55 million budget to make Batman Returns, the sequel to the 1989 megahit, any which way his darkly witty imagination took him. After all, the studio sages figured, Burton directed Batman, which brought in almost $1 billion worldwide — over half of that from merchandising. What’s not to like?

Burton was a hired gun on Batman, directing Michael Keaton as the Great Caped One from a script developed by producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters. But on Batman Returns (again with Keaton), he was top gun, overseeing eight script revisions and inventing many of the characters, sets, and costumes himself. Not that the young director’s own costume is particularly dramatic: He still favors the art-student look of grungy black clothes, long bedraggled hair, what-the-heck affability. ”Two years ago I could not return people’s phone calls and I was just crazy, wacky Tim,” he says. ”Now if I don’t return people’s calls I’m an a–hole. I’m still the same socially inept person I was two years ago. But it doesn’t matter anymore.”

In fact, Burton’s awkward outsider’s response to the world, born of his childhood as a lonely, artistic kid in Burbank, Calif. (his father worked for the parks department; his mother owns a gift shop), has given most of his movies their tone of surreal humor. In Edward Scissorhands (1990), Burton’s most personal movie, a suburban boy with hedge clippers for hands embodies all the gawkiness and isolation of adolescence. And suburbia was also the setting for the live-action short Frankenweenie (1984), a subversive retelling of the Frankenstein story, in which a boy brings his dead bullterrier back to life after the pet has been hit by a car.

On the strength of Frankenweenie, Burton was hired to direct Pee-wee Herman in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), which was made for less than $7 million and grossed more than $40 million. He followed that with the haunted-house comedy Beetlejuice (1988), starring Keaton, which returned an even bigger payoff of $80 million.

Now Hollywood’s most unprepossessing hip director awaits the payoff of Batman Returns — a sequel he didn’t think he wanted to do at first. Burton says he feels closer to his second Batman baby than he does to his first. And he’s particularly happy with the addition of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), a secretary who flirts with Bruce Wayne by day and a leather-clad dominatrix who clashes with Batman by night.

”It just sort of feels like a pretty normal relationship to me,” Burton says, waving his arms like windshield wipers. Himself married to German-born artist Lena Gieseke, he sees in Batman and Catwoman an accurate depiction of relations between the sexes. ”People kind of connecting, not connecting…in synch, not in synch…Probably much like you have at home.” He then breaks into laughter that’s like the cackling of a gnome.
Trip Gabriel

Cool Movie List
Cool Minions
The flock of killer penguins in Batman Returns.

Cool Shades
Goldie Hawn’s secondhand pink plastic sunglasses in Housesitter.

Cool Credits
The explosion outtake at the bitter end of Lethal Weapon 3‘s closing credits.

Cool Performance
Brendan Fraser’s Cro-Magnon leftover in Encino Man (modeled on Chauncey Gardiner in Being There).

Cool Catch
Geena Davis doing the splits to snag a pop fly in A League of Their Own.

Cool Title
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.