Sometime over the next few weeks, or months, a trio of movies probably will play the Magic Lantern. There's nothing special about them, other than the fact that they are well-regarded examples of the art-house circuit.
But they do stand out in one way: You can read them before you see them.
"The Postman" (Hyperion, 118 pages, $9.95 paperback), a film in Italian (with English subtitles) by director Michael Radford, is based on the novel by Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta. On the surface a romance, Skarmeta's story involves the fictional relationship between real-life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and a figment of Skarmeta's imagination, a postman named Mario Jimenez.
1. Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey brought the villains to life in "Batman Forever." The third film in the Batman series topped the summer box-office list.
2. Performances from Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood made "Bridges" a surprise hit of the season.
3. The big stinker: Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" was essentially an expensive remake of "The Road Warrior" with a little water added.
When a film forsakes the slickness of big-studio production, it faces a weighty problem: how to please the critics, keep true to a presumed artistic vision and attract an audience.
"The Brothers McMullen," written and directed by Edward Burns (who also plays one of the film's three main roles), has very nearly cleared all three obstacles.
Shot on a shoestring budget (reportedly $18,000) over a two-year period, the film is Burns' vision from start to finish. It has received mixed-to-good reviews from all parts of the country (even the fussy New York Times praises Burns' "solid grasp of story and character").
1. An edited version of "The Fire Below Us" will air on "National Geographic's Explorer" Sunday, 6 p.m. on cable network WTBS (Cox Cable 21.)
2. Michael Lienau and his film crew were caught in the second volcanic blast. This image, captured from video, shows the destruction the crew encountered.
For such a young actor, Chris O'Donnell has put together a smart body of work.
Check him out as the pained elder son of Jessica Lange in "Men Don't Leave" (1990). Or as the young-but-doomed heartthrob in "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991).
"Bein' a idiot is no box of chocolates," said the protagonist of Winston Groom's novel "Forrest Gump." The mammoth man with a baby-sized brain, whose idiot-savant abilities leads him to careers that his 80-something IQ hasn't prepared him for, is back.
"Gump & Co." (Pocket Books, 240 pages, $22) is due in bookstores this week.
As philosophical as ever, Gump is now prone to statements such as, "Everybody makes mistakes, which is why they put a rubber mat around spittoons. But take my word for it - don't never let nobody make a movie of your life's story."
No matter how many times it happens, it's always a surprise when a good book is ruined by a movie director.
Take "The Prince of Tides," for example. Pat Conroy's thoughtful prose became, in Barbra Streisand's hands, little more than a vehicle for her to do love scenes with Nick Nolte.
Whatever else they have to offer, the outdoors aren't always disability-friendly.
That's why The Washington Trails Association has compiled the "Accessible Trails in Washington's Backcountry: A Guide to 85 Outings" (The Mountaineers, $12.95). Not only does the book offer a variety of outing choices, it ranks them according to difficulty, indicates such necessary information as accessible parking, rest room services and campsites and includes specific descriptions of each listed site.
For ordering information, write: The Mountaineers, 1011 SW Klickitat Way, Seattle, WA 98134. Or call (206) 223-6303.
The tone of "Man Overboard: The Counterfeit Resurrection of Phil Champagne" (Northwest Publishing, 182 pages, $19.95) by Burl Barer, is set in the opening paragraph:
"Phil Champagne died Aug. 31, 1982, in a tragic boating accident off Lopez Island, Washington. He was 52. Champagne was survived by his wife of 28 years, four grown children, an octogenarian mother and two despondent brothers. Phil didn't know he was dead until he read it in the paper. All things considered, he took it pretty well."
Author Barer, an Edgar Award winner, takes a look at what Champagne did during that decade during which he was dead but was instead posing as Washington restaurateur Harold Stegeman.
This week's best bet features the proverbial something different from a new director. In this case, the film is "Before Sunrise" and the director is Richard Linklater.
As director of "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused," Linklater has evolved here from cynic to romantic. His objects of study are the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), whose European vacation is nearly over, and French graduate student Celine (Julie Delpy), who is on her way back to Paris.
If there's one way that men and women are truly similar, it's in their desire for pain-free living. Only our methods of soothing that pain seem different.
As the millennium draws to a close, technology offers us more and varied means of fleeing from pain in all its forms - physical, emotional, imaginary, etc. Many are effective, but only for a while. Some don't work at all.
But here's what looks like a first: A husband-wife team who will be visiting Spokane this week claims to be able to help you solve your problems "instantaneously."
Say again, "instantaneously."