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Opening Films 

Coach Carter -- Based on the real-life coach who made in headlines in 1999 for benching his entire undefeated basketball team, Coach Carter uses Samuel L. Jackson and some Pulp Fiction-worthy speechifyin' to drive home the importance of school. Rated: PG-13

Elektra -- If you didn't happen to see Daredevil -- starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner -- don't worry. Even though Garner's character (comely ninja assassin Elektra Natchios) was introduced there, you really don't need much more background than that. Raised from the dead by the mysterious Order of the Hand, Elektra is sent out on various exotic killing assignments -- some of which threaten to turn her new life upside down. Rated: PG-13

House of Flying Daggers -- The romance of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon meets the sheer physical beauty of Hero. A dancer (Zhang Ziyi) with ties to a revolutionary group known only as the House of Flying Daggers needs protection; unlikely salvation comes in the form of a recent combatant and police deputy (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Rated: PG-13

In Good Company -- Generation clash, both the serious and funny sides of it, is right up front in this tale of corporate downsizing, resulting in a veteran magazine adman (Dennis Quaid) getting a new eager-beaver boss (Topher Grace) who is half his age, and knows not even half of what's necessary for the job. There's also some complicated involvement for both guys -- one romantic, one fatherly -- with the adman's daughter (Scarlett Johansson). Witty script, great acting. (E.S.) Rated PG-13

Racing Stripes -- Every animal of the Kentucky farm can chat with each other, including a visiting pelican named Goose, and they're all smarter than the people around them. But the plot of this live-action film hinges on a young zebra (voice of Frankie Muniz) who thinks he's a racehorse, and, of course, ends up in a major thoroughbred race. The talking animal effects are perfect, but the script -- despite a solid message about tolerance for young viewers -- is shallow and simplistic. And there are lots of poop jokes. (ES) Rated PG

A Very Long Engagement -- Dark dreaminess from uber-Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jeunet, suiting up his star from Am & eacute;lie (Audrey Tautou) for a phantasmagorical and horrific World War I nightmare. Based on S & eacute;bastien Japrisot's bestseller, Jeunet mingles the absurdity of war with the absurdity of love as Mathilde (Tautou) keeps faith that her fianc & eacute; Manech has survived, despite being wounded and abandoned with five other court-martialed soldiers in the no-man's land between the French and German armies. She seeks out his story, convinced that she would know it if he were dead. Despite each variation in the story she hears, she soldiers onward. Jeunet's valor lies elsewhere, visually embroidering and embalming his story at each turn. Mathilde takes a licking, but she keeps on ticking. (RP) Rated: R

Publication date: 1/13/04

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