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By Inlander Staff


*** Bad Santa -- Billy Bob Thornton plays a foul-mouthed, sex-crazed drunkard who, with his "elf" helper (Tony Cox) gets a department store Santa job each year, then robs the seasonally bulging safe after hours. The film is overflowing with bad cheer and a bit of depravity, but it also manages to be a riot of black humor and slapstick. Its soft side features a young, innocent, slightly daft boy who takes to "Santa," but the story never gets mushy. This is not a family movie; it's twisted. (ES) Rated R





Brother Bear -- Disney's latest stars Joaquin Phoenix as the voice of a young man whose older brother is killed by a bear. Hoping to avenge his brother's death, Kenai (Phoenix) sets out on a heroic mission, only to find himself suddenly developing a strong craving for honey and enjoying the company of an owl, a piglet, a donkey and a rabbit. Oh wait. Wrong bear. No, Kenai turns into the very thing he set out to destroy -- a great big sharp-clawed, fur-covered, meat-eating grizzly bear. Rated: G





* The Cat in the Hat -- When Mom's away the Cat (Mike Meyers) will play, and maybe even change the control-freak tendencies of Sally (Dakota Fanning) and the misbehavior of Conrad (Spencer Breslin) while he's at it. Mike Meyers, in an obnoxious performance, treats the Dr. Seuss classic like a litter box. What little is left of the beloved children's book serves as nothing more than an anchor for fart jokes and gross-out humor. Rated: PG (Marty Demarest)





Elf -- Li'l baby Buddy crawls into Santa's bag of toys and ends up at the North Pole, where the kindly elves raise him as one of his own. Now an adult Buddy (Will Ferrell) is no longer content to make toys nor is he especially eager to study dentistry on the side or counsel lovelorn young reindeer. So it's off to Manhattan to find his real dad (James Caan) and teach the urbanites a thing or two about the meaning of Christmas (which probably has something to do with licensing). Rated: PG





*** Gothika -- Lurid, self-conscious ghost-story bunkum, done with style (and secondary characters) to burn. With Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr., both slumming; and with Charles Dutton, Jr. and John Carroll Lynch, each chewing the walls. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (the photo booth-obsessed love interest in Amelie). (RP) Rated: R





The Haunted Mansion -- Pirates of the Caribbean was such a huge success, it was only a matter of time before the fine folks at Disneyland started looking at the rest of their rides as a herd of potential cash cows. In The Haunted Mansion, Eddie Murphy plays a real estate agent who brings his family along to evaluate the curb appeal of a huge New Orleans mansion. Once inside, the family is tormented and trapped by 999 (um, isn't that, like, the Number of the Beast upside down???) ghosts. Rated: PG





Honey -- Jessica Alba is a bootylicious young dancer from the inner city, whose name, incidentally, really is "Honey." She is discovered by a movie mogul who thinks Honey should maybe sweeten up his biscuits if she wants to hit the big time. But, mister, Honey don't play that. Rated: R





**** The Last Samurai -- Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe are the washed-up American soldier and the soon-to-be-extinct Samurai warrior who are initially at odds but eventually come to admire and respect each other. Taking place in 19th-century Japan, this is the story of cultures clashing and a world changing. It's magnificently photographed and choreographed, featuring battle scenes that will leave you breathless, and monologues and silences that make it a study of humanity. (ES) Rated R





*** Love, Actually -- All kinds of British folks (and one American) are falling in and out of love, searching for it or mourning the loss of it in this sprawling comedy-drama from the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral. The ensemble piece (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, many more) has a little too much going on: Just as one story gets interesting, it jumps to another. It's funnier than it is sad, but it could use some trimming. (ES) Rated: PG-13





**** Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World -- The man of the title is Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, whose ship, the Surprise, is attacked off the coast of Brazil at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The decision to go after the bigger, faster bad guys leads to a gigantic adventure story, with stunning photography and effects (a storm at sea is terrifying); smart, emotional tempered performances from Crowe and Paul Bettany as the ship's doctor; and some great storytelling twists. Based on two of the series of books by Patrick O'Brian. (ES) Rated: PG-13





*** The Matrix Revolutions -- The kicky, streamlined finale to the trilogy dispenses with much of the philosophy and gets down to loud, sustained action set-pieces that will thrill the younger set and test the patience of anyone over 30. There's a sweet climax, cheesy but pleasant. Directed by the Wachowski brothers. (RP) Rated: R





** The Missing -- Drawn from a little-known pulp novel, Ron Howard's latest movie is a gritty, brutal, often unpleasant portrait of a family crisis in 1885 New Mexico, in what Howard describes as "warped and strange and tragic times." Cate Blanchett has the John Wayne role; Tommy Lee Jones is her estranged father who helps save the day when daughter Evan Rachel Wood is kidnapped as a sex slave by renegades. (RP) Rated: R





**** Mystic River -- An excellent adaptation of the Dennis Lehane crime thriller and character study by screenwriter Brian Helgeland and director Clint Eastwood. Three urban boyhood pals grow apart and come together years later, each with inner demons. The thug, Jimmy (Sean Penn), is grieving over his daughter's murder; the investigative cop, Sean (Kevin Bacon) can't get over his wife leaving him; and possible suspect Dave (Tim Robbins) keeps reliving a horrible incident from his youth. Powerful stuff. (ES) Rated R





Pulse -- A Stomp "odyssey," filmed in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and the American Southwest. In addition to the usual sounds generated by brooms, trash cans, old metal sinks and PVC pipe, Pulse captures the ancient song and dance traditions of the world's peoples. Not Rated





Radio -- South Carolina high school football coach Ed Harris befriends developmentally disabled Cuba Gooding Jr. in this "yoohoo, Oscar, over here" drama. Radio is inspired by a Sports Illustrated article on the two principal characters and their enduring, real-life friendship. Rated: PG





*** Santa vs. the Snowman -- Steve Oedekerk, the twisted mind behind Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron, has revitalized the Christmas special with just the right mix of the familiar and the original. When the Snowman covets Santa's beloved status, the future of Christmas is at stake. Armies of elves and tiny snowmen can't settle things, so it's up to a little girl to show everyone the real meaning of Christmas. This is a half-hour filled with lots of laughs; the big battle scene alone is worth the price of admission. Not Rated. Only at Imax. (TM)





Scary Movie 3 -- The Scary Movie franchise gets a little help this time out from deadpan actor Leslie Nielsen, writer Kevin Smith and Airplane! director David Zucker. Look for spoofs of The Ring, The Others, The Matrix, Signs and even 8 Mile. Rated: PG-13





*** School of Rock -- Floundering rocker Jack Black assumes his roommate's name and takes a job as a substitute teacher for private school fifth-graders, who are used to an unimaginative curriculum. He gets them to appreciate the only thing he knows -- rock music -- in an alternately sweet and raucous film. This film is much better than its trailers make it out to be. (ES) Rated PG-13





* Timeline -- Contemporary archeology students are sent back to 14th-century France to rescue their professor (Billy Connolly) who has somehow become stuck there. Michael Crichton's novel had that good idea, but the film adaptation suffers from mundane direction, loose ends to spare, and much overacting. It turns into a story of smart people doing dumb things -- one of them falls for a medieval girl -- instead of just getting the prof and coming back. A few good visuals, but even the "action" is dull. (ES) Rated: PG-13





**** Don't Miss It *** Worth $8 ** Wait For The Video * Save Your Money





& lt;i & Capsule reviews are written by Ed Symkus (ES) and Ray Pride (RP), unless otherwise noted. & lt;/i &





Follow these links for movie times and tickets at & lt;a href= "http://www.movietickets.com/house_detail.asp?exid=amc & amp;house_id=6584 & amp;.submit=Search " target= "_blank " & & lt;font size= "2 " & AMC & lt;/font & & lt;/a & & r & and & lt;a href= "http://www.fandango.com/my_box_office.asp?remotefilter=REGL & amp;txtCityZip=99202 " target= "_blank " & & lt;font size= "2 " & Regal & lt;/font & & lt;/a & & r & .





Publication date: 12/11/03

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