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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





* The Butterfly Effect -- Long shelved, The Butterfly Effect premiered at Sundance this week before griming theaters across the country, a callow and cruel grab-bag of time-travel pretension, preteen lust, pedophilia, the threat of jailhouse sodomy (eagerly depicted), Ashton Kutcher's pubic hair and, yes, several scenes teasing at and finally giving us a little Yorkie flamb & eacute;. With Amy Smart, miscast and mistreated yet still game as Kutcher's much-abused love and Eric Stoltz as the dad who videotapes his fornicating children. (RP) Rated: R





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





*** 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





**** 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





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





** Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! -- Hollywood hunks get a light skewering in this light and frothy comedy about Hollywood hunk Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), who's losing his boy-next-door image, and the na & iuml;ve young fan (Kate Bosworth) from West Virginia who does what the title suggests. The slight plot involves her sad puppy-eyed boss (Topher Grace), who has a crush on her, and what happens when Mr. Hollywood follows her back home, hoping some of her goodness will rub off on him. Funny stuff from Gary Cole as her father, but the film never digs in or takes off. (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: 1/29/04

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