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By Inlander Staff


**** 21 Grams -- The feel-bad film of the year is a masterpiece of non-linear storytelling. The three main characters -- Sean Penn's Paul is dying, Benicio Del Toro's Jack has accidentally killed some people, Naomi Watts' Christina has lost her family -- are slowly pulled together as their separate stories intertwine. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros) has fashioned a dizzying pastiche of sequences that at first make no sense, but eventually become a riveting, moving whole story. Grim and fascinating. (ES) Rated R





*** 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





**** Big Fish -- Tim Burton's newest fantasy is more down to earth than his recent films, but still maintains a magical, fantastical edge. A son (Billy Crudup) finally tries to get to know his elusive, story-spinning father (Albert Finney) when dad is on his deathbed. An amazing past is revealed, filled with circuses and strange towns and huge people and short people, and lots of love. The young Finney character is flawlessly played by Ewan McGregor. (ES) Rated PG-13





Calendar Girls -- Aging Yorkshire wives and mothers go the Full Monty route when the husband of one is diagnosed with leukemia. The ladies set out to star in a tastefully photographed pin-up calendar, the proceeds of which will all be donated to cancer research. Based on a true story. Starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters and Linda Bassett. Rated: PG-13





* 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)





*** Chasing Liberty -- Glib yet witty, this Mandy Moore vehicle moves with a kind of knowingly manufactured efficiency. In the first of two First Daughter-centric movies this winter (Katie Holmes is in the other), much of the behind-the-scenes talent is from the UK. Moore falls in the puppiest of love with an undercover, Brit-accented Secret Service agent who keeps tabs on her when she escapes from her handlers and gallivants through the back streets of Prague, then by train to Venice, by car through Austria, all the way to Berlin. Chasing Liberty may be the movie most proud of its European location work since The Bourne Identity. (RP) Rated: PG-13





** Cheaper by the Dozen -- This cleaned-up version of the 1950s true-life comedy turns more to slapstick than heartfelt humor for its laughs. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt play the parents of 12 children, all happy enough growing up in "Hicksville." But when Dad gets a new job in the city, family life gets too crazy for all. There are some truly funny scenes, but after awhile, the kids' constant misbehavior becomes more annoying than charming. (ES) Rated PG





**** Cold Mountain -- Directed by Anthony Minghella. There's simmering perfume in the director of The English Patient's adaptation of Charles Frazier's bestseller. Some performances are steeped in sorrow -- Jude Law's - and others are crackerjacks -- Renee Zellweger's hillbilly sprite and Natalie Portman's lonely widow. Nicole Kidman portrays an object of longing, a woman who comes into focus. It's lovely and tragic. (RP) Rated: R





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





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





**** 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





*** Lewis & amp; Clark -- The IMAX folks have packed a lot into this vivid account of the two adventurers' travels across the American wilderness. (ES) Unrated





**** Lost in Translation -- Bill Murray is a middle-aged actor in Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial for $2 million. Scarlett Johansson is a newly-married twenty-something in town with her celebrity photographer husband. Both of them, searching for themselves, find each other (and the intensity of Japan), in director Sofia Coppola's second film. It's hilarious and romantic. Murray and Johansson give two of the year's best performances. (Marty Demarest) 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





** Mona Lisa Smile -- West Coast art history prof Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) heads east for a teaching stint at stuffy, early-1950s Wellesley College, where she gets her charges to think for themselves. Her free-spirited thinking causes some waves among both students and faculty, but she does create some change for the better. Good acting, but not much new ground covered in the teachers-who-make-a difference genre. Call this Dead Artists Society. (ES) Rated PG-13





My Baby's Daddy -- The only thing ooglier than the title is the premise: the girlfriends of three guy friends all get pregnant at the same time, forcing the boys to grow up and -- if the trailers are any indication -- make funny faces while changing diapers and wiping away infant spit-up. Rated: PG-13





*** Paycheck -- John Woo's non-stop actioner is a version of the Philip K. Dick short story about a man whose engineering research is so secretive that his bosses erase his memory of his work after each project. In return, he gets lots of money. But after Michael (Ben Affleck) wakes up from a three-year work stint, many things have gone very wrong. (ES) Rated PG-13





*** Peter Pan -- The boy who won't grow up (Jeremy Sumpter) opens up a new world to young Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her brothers when they all fly off to Neverland to get away from their parents. But unlike any cartoons or musicals before this one, the tale, sticking to the original play, turns dark: Mermaids become deadly, and Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) kills off those he doesn't like. A visual treat, even if it is rather intense. (ES) Rated PG





**** The Return of the King -- The emotional climaxes that ring throughout the three-and-a-half hours of The Return of the King make up for a movie with many, many endings, all of them sad. Peter Jackson is a maestro of ceaseless and varied visual raptures, including both awe-inspiring armies of the dead, and a daughter-avenges-father scene on the battlefield that might be the best thing onscreen all year. It's the best of the trilogy. (RP) Rated: PG-13





*** Something's Gotta Give -- An old-fashioned comedy starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton that takes a few cues from Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. Nicholson's rogue Harry likes a younger woman (Amanda Peet), a younger man (Keanu Reeves) swoons over Keaton's tired-of-love Erica, and all the audience can do is root for the two pairs to get sorted out. It's fresh and breezy and funny, and features comedic nude scenes from both leads, as well as some sweet bits of romance. An entertaining adult date film. (E.S.) Rated PG-13





*** Something's Gotta Give -- Jack Nicholson's rogue Harry likes a younger woman (Amanda Peet), a younger man (Keanu Reeves) swoons over Diane Keaton's tired-of-love Erica, and all the audience can do is root for the two pairs to get sorted out. It's fresh, breezy and funny, and features comedic nude scenes from both leads, as well as some sweet romance. (ES) Rated PG-13





*** Stuck On You -- The Farrelly brothers offer up another goofball comedy with a heart of gold in this story of conjoined brothers (Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear) who head to Hollywood when one of them wants to become an actor. The slapstick is front and center from frame one, and though it's funny all the way through, the film loses some steam in the latter parts. Meryl Streep has a couple of cameos, Cher has a big extended one, both playing themselves. A very upbeat look at physical disability. (E.S.) Rated PG-13





Young Black Stallion -- With an exclusive engagement at IMAX, Young Black Stallion -- a prequel to the 1979 hit The Black Stallion -- is Disney's first live action foray into large format. Young Neera is separated from her father in World War II-era North Africa. Left to fend for herself in the desert, she befriends a wild young colt -- who helps her reunite with her family. Rated: G





**** 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: 1/15/04

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