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The Aviator -- Scorsese, DiCaprio, Hughes -- as in Howard -- are director, star and subject of this splendid mainstream look at three busy decades in the life of the industrialist, filmmaker and airplane nut. John Logan's script focuses on some of Hughes' quirks, and goes as far into his later lunacy as an episode of his collecting his urine in bottles, but gives plenty of leeway for DiCaprio to show his acting chops and develop his character. The power-packed cast includes Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, Alan Alda as a nasty senator and cameos from Jude Law, Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe. (ES) Rated PG-13

Beyond the Sea -- Kevin Spacey gets into Bobby Darin mode in this biography of the chameleon-like '60s and '70s singer who had a bum ticker. It's a look at how Darin wanted to make it in show business from a very young age, how he did it and how he met and married film star Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). Spacey does all his own singing -- and does it well. Spacey also directed, and fills the film with unique flashes back and forward, along with some nicely placed fantasy sequences. (ES) Rated PG-13

Blade: Trinity -- Wesley Snipes still hunts vampires, but now he's joined by two compadres. Their mission is to help create a virus that will wipe out vampires. The film is violent and action-packed, but also very funny in both dialogue and offbeat plot devices. (ES) Rated R

Christmas with the Kranks -- The John Grisham novel Skipping Christmas transfers sloppily to the screen, spreading its holiday "joy" with a story of recent empty-nesters (Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis) who decide to forget about Christmas for one year to go on a cruise. (ES) Rated PG

Closer -- All the things you've thought and felt but never put into precise and profane language at the moment you're most wounded: That's the black heart of the scarring, scarily funny language of Patrick Marber's play. Earning their acting chops in a game of sexual musical chairs are brash dermatologist Clive Owen, self-pitying obits writer Jude Law, photographer Julia Roberts and unformed life force Natalie Portman. (RP) Rated: R

Darkness -- This was reportedly supposed to go straight to video, but Darkness, a creepy little film about a family whose new house is already, uh, inhabited, got the gift of last-minute nationwide release. Stars Lena Olin, Anna Paquin and Iain Glen. Rated: PG-13

Fat Albert -- Bill Cosby, who created and did all the voices in the beloved 1970s animated TV series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, is largely responsible for Hollywood's latest assault on our beloved childhood memories. Here the big guy and his goofy friends literally step out of the animated past. Rated: PG-13

Finding Neverland -- A dramatic, yet kind of whimsical look at how J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) was inspired to write the play Peter Pan -- by meeting a widow (Kate Winslet) with four young boys who definitely could use a father figure. But there's a chance the boyish playwright's own marriage will suffer. (ES) Rated PG

Flight of the Phoenix -- A remake of director Robert Aldrich's 1965 original, Flight of the Phoenix would be better if not for its abysmal use of pop music. The expertly filmed crash sequence is a high point that the movie never again achieves as a group of survivors attempt to escape from the desert. (Cole Smithey) Rated PG-13

The Incredibles -- This is a major departure from Finding Nemo and Toy Story in that all of the characters are humans. One of them, Mr. Incredible is a former superhero who was forced to retire and is now in insurance, but misses his old life. Funny, wild, thoughtful, filled with adult issues. (ES) Rated PG

Kinsey -- Liam Neeson has the title role in this examination of the formative years and the specialized career of the researcher who checked out the sex lives of Americans in the 1950s. Kinsey, according to the script, along with his wife (Laura Linney) and associates, also did a little, you know, experimenting. But the film doesn't try to be titillating, it's just telling a story, and the story turns out to be kind of mundane. (ES) Rated R

Ladder 49 -- When a veteran firefighter (Joaquin Phoenix) is trapped within a high-rise inferno, the chief (John Travolta) and his crew must figure out how to find and rescue him. (ES) Rated PG-13

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events -- Like an Edward Gorey drawing come to life, A Series of Unfortunate Events is at once bleak, sinister, comic and, above all, weirdly beautiful. Imaginary author Lemony Snicket's tale of three resourceful orphans pitted against their evil distant relative, Count Olaf, resonates with real peril. While the plot does sometimes get lost in lugubrious pacing and Jim Carrey will overact, the three children playing the young Baudelaires inhabit their parts with a genuine, unaffected charm. Not for younger kids. (Sheri Boggs) Rated: PG

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou -- Wes Anderson's new film pays a visit to washed-up oceanographic filmmaker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) as he embarks on an "Ahab-like" journey to get the shark that ate his best friend. Most of the film is set at sea, with strained relationships between Anderson's regular company: Murray, Owen Wilson, and Anjelica Houston, here joined by Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bud Cort (!) and the ubiquitous Cate Blanchett. (ES) Rated R

Meet the Fockers -- In Meet the Parents, Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) asks, "What sort of people name their son Gay M. Focker?" In this sequel, he finds out. In fact, the kind of people are Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, and the Byrnes are off to meet the Fockers before their daughter marries Gay forever. We're betting they meet and that De Niro investigates the Fockers, with wackiness ensuing. Rated: PG-13

National Treasure -- An absurdly plotted story has a third-generation treasure hunter (Nicolas Cage) believing that he's finally closing in on some long-lost glittery spoils from thousands of years past. The only problem is the supposed final clue is on the back of the Declaration of Independence. (ES) Rated PG

Ocean's Twelve -- George Clooney, Brad Pitt and all the rest are back in a rousing follow-up to Ocean's Eleven that turns out to be a much looser romp through the now international heist scene. Told in convincing manner that they must return the $160 million they stole the first time around, they head for Europe and some bigger jobs. It's one of those rarities: a sequel better than the original. (ES) Rated PG-13

Office Space -- Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head) wrote and directed this hilarious comedy about a cubicle drone (Ron Livingston) whose increasing bad luck drives him to seek professional help in the form of a hypnotherapist. Jennifer Aniston co-stars, sporting just the right amount of "flair." (Midnight Friday and Saturday at the Garland) Rated R

The Phantom Of The Opera -- The Andrew Lloyd Webber sensation gets a rousing cinematic treatment by veteran director Joel Schumacher. It's hard to figure which will be more popular -- the usually bombastic, sometimes tender score, or the story of the masked man (Gerard Butler) who mentors, then falls for, the chorus girl (Emmy Rossum). Spectacular, lavish, well sung and more than a little campy. (ES) Rated PG-13

The Polar Express -- The popular Chris Van Allsburg book gets a dazzling animated style that makes it look like a living Van Allsburg drawing. Never mind that train to Hogwarts, the one that pulls up at a young boy's house on Christmas Eve is headed for the North Pole and a certain jolly fat man. Tom Hanks voices the conductor and four other parts. (ES) Rated G

Ray -- Jamie Foxx delivers an astoundingly rich performance as musical legend Ray Charles. As one would expect, the music is great and the cast is exceptional. But in the end, this is Foxx's film, and he makes the most of it. Far from an impersonation, his performance is a respectful and accurate tribute to the man, suffused with passion, love, and pain. (Chuck Koplinski) Rated: PG-13

Shark Tale -- This underwater animated feature tells of a dreamer fish named Oscar (voice of Will Smith), who thinks he'll get ahead in the world by taking credit for killing a bad shark. When the shark's crime boss father (Robert De Niro) hears of Oscar's bragging, it's score-settling time. (ES) Rated PG

Sideways -- Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) are two pals who go on a West Coast wine-tasting tour, just before Jack is to get married and Miles is to find out if his novel is being published. Miles is an unhappy sweetheart of a guy who knows his wine. Jack is a carefree, womanizing cad who will drink anything put in front of him. They both meet women on the road (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh), and the film jumps back and forth between vibrant comedy and emotional distress. (ES) Rated R

Spanglish -- Adam Sandler plays it cool and calm as a chef and restaurateur married to a New Age, politically correct, babbling loony (Tea Leoni). Their lives take an interesting turn when they hire housekeeper and single mom Flora (Paz Vega), who has sneaked over the Mexican border with her daughter (Shelbie Bruce). The film's serious center is balanced by comic surroundings, and there's a sweetness to it all. (ES) Rated PG-13

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie -- The first 20 minutes of this movie are hilarious, but then it drags badly. SpongeBob and Patrick go on a spiritual journey to prove they are men -- and to keep Bikini Bottom provisioned with crabby patties. They're as funny as ever, but this is really Plankton's movie -- he's the Yosemite Sam of the modern cartoon era, and his plan for undersea domination is diabolica-licious. Rated: PG (Ted S. McGregor, Jr.)

Publication date: 1/06/04

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