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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





Along Came Polly -- Ben Stiller recreates the kind of role he does best -- anxious would-be suitor a la There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents -- in this romantic comedy. Stiller plays a guy who researches germs and risks for a living; Jennifer Aniston plays his love interest. Rated: PG-13





**** 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





*** Chasing Liberty -- 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. (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





*** The Cooler -- Imagine yourself not only an unlucky schmo, but one who can pass your bad luck on to others: call it schmojo. Wayne Kramer's dark, sometimes brittle first feature is a dark little fantasy about a professional "cooler" -- someone hired by a casino to break winning streaks by sitting down at the right table at the wrong time. William H. Macy gets his best role since Fargo as the deep-in-debt loser who may become a successful failure. Alec Baldwin has a role as a pit boss that reminds you of why he was considered such a terrific actor several rants and many pounds ago. But Macy and Maria Bello, as a showgirl wannabe, have the breakout scene: a tender, intimate sex scene. (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





**** 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





**** 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





*** Monster -- Real-life prostitute turned serial killer Aileen Carol Wuornos is played with startling dedication to her craft by Charlize Theron, in a film that never strays from the unpleasant road it sets out on. Her young, na & iuml;ve lover is played by Christina Ricci, also terrific in the part. Neither of the characters provides even the least positive note, and it's difficult to root for either of them. Theron, putting on some pounds and some drastically unflattering make up, has reached a high point in her career. The film is tough to take, but fascinating to watch. (ES) 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





*** 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





Pieces of April -- Katie Holmes plays a free spirit living on New York's Lower East Side who decides to invite her straight-laced Pennsylvania family for Thanksgiving dinner. Ovens malfunction, relatives bitch and neighbors are effortlessly odd in this lively farce. Rated: PG-13 Playing at the Met Jan. 22-23





**** 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





*** 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





Teacher's Pet -- In an obvious paean to literacy, Disney's latest effort involves a dog (voiced by Nathan Lane) who teaches himself to read and -- eager for more education than obedience school might provide -- starts attending class at his young master's elementary school. Rated: PG





*** Torque -- Linear but loony, this 81-minute cavalcade of self-mocking attitude, fast cuts and motorcycle chase mayhem is the flash and the spurious, all the color of candy and fireworks: it's modern moviemaking as a Red Bull and Milk Dud headrush. Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson) skips town and hides out in Thailand; six months later he returns to reconnect with the girlfriend he left behind (Monet Mazur) but also to straighten out some misunderstanding he's caused between two biker gangs. But the plot's immaterial -- just an excuse to make pictures and blow stuff up. (RP)





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: 1/22/04

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