COMING TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU

As New Line Cinema approaches its third decade as a distributor of indie pics, and its second decade as a producer, the company’s chairman and founder, Robert Shaye, can truly claim that his company is finally in direct competition with the Holywood majors for scripts, talent and grosses.

Although 1994 was the first year that Shaye – thanks to Ted Turner – could implement his long-held dream of launching a full slate of pics in a range of genres and budgets, 1995 and 1996 should consolidate New Line’s new status in the industry. New Line’s late-summer B.O. champ “Mortal Kombat” is a case in point.

No longer simply a niche or arthouse player, New Line has begun enlisting A-list helmers and stars with multiple development deals. The best example is provided by Renny Harlin, who with spouse Geena Davis is planning a series of projects with New Line via their production company the Forge. After winning a shoot-out with two major studios over the Shane Black script, “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” with a $4 million bid, New Line puts the pic into production in January with Harlin helming.

Davis will star as a woman who recovers from amnesia, only to discover she was a government assassin. Harlin, who helmed “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” for Shaye, is best known for directing big-budget actioners “Die Hard 2” and “Cliffhanger.”

After wrapping “Long Kiss,” Harlin will produce another Davis vehicle,”The Politician’s Wife.” Then the Finnish helmer plans to direct “Exit Zero” for New Line, a futuristic thriller penned by Kurt Wimmer.

Currently in production in Australia for New Line is a remake of the H.G. Wells chiller “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando and directed by John Frankenheimer.

Also in production is a Walter Hill-scripted-and-helmed actioner “Gundown!” a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai pic “Yojimbo.” Hill received the rights directly from Kurosawa. The cast includes Bruce Willis and Bruce Dern and is slated for a ’96 release.

Demi producer

In October, “Now and Then” opens, starring Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith, Rosie O’Donnell with an ensemble cast. Moore is producing.

Then, at Christmas time, Whoopi Goldberg stars in a family comedy about a dinosaur who teams with Goldberg’s cynical cop character.

In January, “Bed of Roses” (formerly “The King of Plants”) is slated to debut, a “storybook romance” set in New York City starring Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson. It was written and directed by first-timer Michael Goldenberg.

Also in January, Hong Kongstyle action meets New York’s mean streets in “Rumble in the Bronx,” starring Jackie Chan and directed by Stanley Tong, in a co-production with Golden Harvest, a Hong Kong company.

In April, New Line plans to release a pic starring Ice Cube, set in South Africa. The Cube plays an exile who returns to his homeland after 12 years only to encounter new problems of crime and drugs. Pic co-stars Elizabeth Hurley as a stripper.

Another New Line deal has Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M, exec producing a slate of pics. One Stipe-optioned script, “The Powers That Be,” was penned by Beverly Hills high school student Jessica Kaplan. The story involves affluent white kids who get involved with rap culture. Another Stipe project is “Frigid and Impotent,” starring Drew Barrymore.

Arthouse

Fine Line, New Line’s arthouse division, now headed by Ruth Vitale, will supply a stream of eclectic product this fall and winter. With parent company New Line richer, Fine Line has announced plans for projects with larger budgets.

“The Grass Harp,” opening in November, is based on the Truman Capote story. The film stars Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in a cast that also includes Mary Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek, Edward Furlong and Cicely Tyson. Helmed by Charlie Matthau, and screened at both the Boston and Toronto film festivals, Variety called the pic “a jewel of a film.” (Sept. 11) Also in November, Fine Line will release “Frankie Starlight” with Matt Dillon and Gabriel Byrne.

In February of ’96, the producers of “Pulp Fiction” unveil “Feeling Minnesota,” a drama about a drifter who becomes trapped in a cycle of violence and betrayal when he and his brother fall in love with the same woman. Starring Keanu Reeves, the Fine Line pic is written and directed by Steve Baigelman. The producers are Michael Shamberg and Erwin Stoff.

Among the high-profile pics New Line hopes to put into production next year are: “The Mask 2,” with Jim Carrey reprising as Stanley Ipkiss; the long-awaited “The Women,” starring Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan, scripted by “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English; and “Lost in Space,” yet another adaptation of a 1960’s TV series, to be produced by Robert Rehme and Mace Neufeld, the team who brought you “Clear and Present Danger.”

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