* 21 Grams
In Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams, tragedy is finally given its due, and the respect it deserves. The story is told in a series of fragments. Flashing forward and back, the audience is given glimpses of its three main characters; Paul (Sean Penn) is on the cusp of death, waiting for his heart condition to finally claim him. Cristina (Naomi Watts) is a suburban wife with two children and a doting husband--who is soon to be scarred by an accident of epic proportions. Jack (Benicio del Toro) is an ex-jailbird turned fundamentalist Christian who can't escape the tragedies of his past which, like the repeated scenes of this film, keep returning as his future. The previously mentioned accident binds these three into an unwanted triad, sending each on a skidding path with their pasts, and sealing what seems to be a predestined fate. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Fox Tower 10

The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin
A faithful German Shepherd and a spry young tyke embark on many adventures. Pix Patisserie

* American Splendor
As an examination of the self-loathing artist, American Splendor is arguably a better film than Adaptation, thanks to the auto-on-autobiographical nature of the material and the on-the-nose performances by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis, combined with disarmingly deadpan voice-overs and interview interstitials with Harvey Pekar himself. (Shanon Gee) Laurelhurst, Baghdad

* Anonymously Yours
In 1999, documentarian Gayle Ferraro and a crew of three smuggled digital video cameras into the dictatorship of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Their mission was to document the brutal sex trade that plagues Southeast Asia, ripping women from their homes, often against their will, and the cycle of poverty that perpetuates it. Posing as tourists, the crew ventured into areas forbidden to foreigners to talk with women working the streets. With the help of a Burmese social worker, they filmed clandestine interviews with young women whose whole lives have been filled with pain, rape, prostitution, and poverty. Then, risking grave punishment, another person smuggled the tapes out. The result is Anonymously Yours. (Julianne Shepherd) Hollywood Theatre

* Bad Santa
Despite his crippling, perpetual drunkenness, Willy (Billy Bob Thornton) possesses a strange gift: he can crack a mean safe. Every Christmas he and his fiery dwarf friend (Tony Cox, hilarious) team up as a Santa/elf team to work the papier-m=ché North Pole in some generic department store, case the joint for a few days, then sneak in after hours and rob it. It's a ridiculous premise that feels almost like an afterthought as director Zwigoff relentlessly mines the angst-riddled depths of his characters. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

Bubba Ho-tep
Bubba Ho-Tep has an ingenious premise: Elvis (Bruce Campbell)--who didn't die, but instead swapped places with an Elvis impersonator--is stuck in a dilapidated rest home, spending his days desperately trying to convince nurses and visitors that he's The King. Unfortunately, the only person who'll believe Elvis' claims is another rest home resident: JFK (Ossie Davis), who insists that he survived his assassination, was dyed black, then stuck in the retirement home thanks to a Lyndon Johnson-led conspiracy. Elvis and JFK soon notice their geriatric compatriots are dying off even more often than usual. After some investigation, they discover that the culprit is an evil, soul-sucking mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep. So, as only two American mega-icons can, the two combine forces to kick some undead Egyptian ass. (Erik Henriksen) Laurelhurst

The Cat in the Hat
Staying true to the original Dr. Suess classic, two siblings are tempted by a talking cat into wrecking their house. Surprisingly, this live action version nicely captures Seuss' sense of unbridled mischief. In a startling turn, the kids who play Conrad and Sally are completely charming and non-annoying. Their mom (Kelly Preston) is hot and believable, and Alec Baldwin is a goddamn hoot as her slimy boyfriend. Though Seuss purists may pooh-pooh the appearance of a slimy boyfriend, rest assured you'll thank your lucky stars Alec Baldwin is here--because Mike Myers STINKS! (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Constructing History--Walid Raad and the Atlas Group
See Visual Arts pg 36 Cinema Project

* Cyrano de Bergerac
Italy's 1925 version of the classic play about a guy with a big nose, a big vocabulary, and a big something else. Whitsell Auditorium

* Die, Mommie, Die
Set in 1967, and starring Frances Conroy, Natasha Lyonne, and Jason Priestley, the story of a washed up pop diva who may or may not have poisoned her husband to death. A whodunit, double-cross-filled comedy that's low on substance, high on camp. Hollywood Theatre

* Dracula
Director Guy Maddin transposes the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's interpretation of Bram Stoker's Dracula to the big screen, with haunting and dramatic results. Whitsell

Elephant
Elephant shows us a couple days in the life of two grumpy teens who go all Vice City on their Portland high school. Both the boys are cardboard characters who shop for guns on the internet, play violent video games, and have a brief homosexual affair. Neither is likeable, neither evokes sympathy. Their fellow high school students, however, are worse. (Katie Shimer) Fox Tower 10

* Elf
It's no secret that Will Ferrell is one funny mo-fo, and yet to this point in time his movie roles have been limited to comic relief. Elf begs the question: Can Ferrell carry a feature-length film, and can he do it wearing tights in every scene? The answer is yes, because Ferrell, for all his goofiness, has the uncanny ability to take himself utterly seriously. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

Fletch
Chevy Chase: when's the last time you heard that name? Chevy, in his prime, plays a detective who changes identities more often than he changes channels. Old Town Pizza

Girl with the Pearl Earring
Scarlett Johansson plays a peasant girl sent to work as a maid at the house of famous painter Johannes Vermeer. Eventually she becomes the subject of his most famous painting. Whitsell Auditorium

* Gothika
Gothika tells the suspenseful tale of Dr. Miranda Grey, a gifted shrink (Halle Berry) treating Chloe, a mentally disturbed woman (Penelope Cruz), who's convinced the devil himself is raping her, "filling her with fire." "You can't trust someone who thinks you're crazy," Chloe tells Grey. Pretty soon, Grey figures out what that means when, after having a frightening encounter with a beaten and shivering woman on a bridge, Grey wakes up in the very insane asylum where she works--as a patient. (Julianne Shepherd) Regal Cinemas, etc.

The Haunted Mansion
Eddie "Anything-for-a-Buck" Murphy stars in a traditional haunted house movie (based on the Disneyland ride), playing smarmy real estate agent Jim Evers. Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Honey
Jessica Dark Angel Alba stars as a music video choreographer faced with a difficult choice: Sleep with hunky Mekhi Phifer, or have her career ruined? Honey, this is 2003: you can have BOTH. With cameos by Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, and Lil' Romeo! Regal Cinemas, etc.

* The Human Stain
Director Robert Benton spends most of the film relationship between a professor (Sir Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman playing a Jew who is actually an African American) and the last love of his life, a janitor played by a terribly thin Nicole Kidman. (Charles Mudede) Laurelhurst, Kennedy & St. Johns

In America See review this issue. Fox Tower 10

The Last Samurai
The year is 1876, and Tom Cruise plays Civil War hero Nathan Algren, who has been reduced to a drunken, carnival sideshow attraction. To make a quick buck, he accepts a post overseas training Japanese soldiers to battle samurai insurgents, and bring the country's military machine into the modern age. Unfortunately, his trainees are forced into battle far too early, and Algren is taken captive by the enemy. Befriended by the group's leader (Ken Watanabe), Algren must decide if he should betray his own army to join a coup led by ass-kicking samurai. The only logical answer: Shit, yeah. The directing/producing team of Edward Zwick and Marshall Hersovitz (Glory, Courage Under Fire) are well adapted for encapsulating war down to the internal struggle between a man's honor and his duty. The downside is their use of pretty boy Tom Cruise, and their insistence on painting their pictures in colorful, overly romantic tones. (Wm. Steven Humphrey) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Love Actually
Yes, it's frequently saccharine, and it's a Christmas movie, but it has an incredible cast. Any movie with Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, and Laura Linney is going to have to work its ass off to suck. Love Actually doesn't even work its ass off. Several of its many love-themed story threads are genuinely moving, and several of its scenes are surprisingly hilarious. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

Love Don't Cost a Thing
But it cost loads of dough to remake the perfectly serviceable Can't Buy Me Love. Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Making Maya
A 17-year-old girl lives with her alcoholic mother, but immerses herself in playing street basketball. Written and directed by Portland native Rolla Selbak. Hollywood Theatre

* The Man Without a Past
The second installment of director Aki Kaurismaki's "Finland" trilogy, Man Without A Past is striking in its quiet intelligence. Those who revel in action, emoting, quick dialogue or hot actors will fill their shoes with drool by the film's end, so be forewarned. But if you're feeling patient and contemplative, the simplicity and oddness of it is like being cinematically cuddled. The story follows a man in Helsinki who, after getting beaten severely and robbed, loses his memory. The man begins his life anew, with nary an angst over the whole loss of life and memory. The lack of moaning and hair-pulling suggests the freedom in starting from scratch, a fantastic simplicity that shapes the entire film. (Marjorie Skinner) Guild Theater

* Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
The year is 1805 and Napoleon is running roughshod over Europe. The only thing stopping France from infecting the whole of the continent is the tiny island of England, which may be lacking in ground forces, but kicks ass on the high seas. Russell Crowe plays Cap'n "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, one of Britain's finest seamen, who runs afoul of a Frenchy frigate boasting twice the guns and manpower. Barely escaping with their lives, Cap'n Jack becomes obsessed with the Froggie warboat, and vows to send ship and crew to the bottom of the briny blue. Regal Cinemas, etc.

The Missing
The fact that The Missing is directed by Ron Howard should be a tip-off that it isn't the supernatural and eerie tale promised by the advertisements. Set in 1885 New Mexico, the story starts with intriguing promise. Maggie (played by Cate Blanchett) is a single mom raising two daughters. When her eldest sets out to town one day, she is abducted by an evil shaman and his lawless pack of Navajo Indians, who plan to sell her and several other frontier teens in Mexico. With the cavalry and the sheriff unable to help out, Maggie, along with her long-absent father (Tommy Lee Jones), take off after the kidnappers. What could have been friction between frontier families and Indians, between Christianity and witchcraft, instead turns into long, drawn-out galloping scenes and achingly empty conversations between Maggie and her desperado father. (Phil Busse) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* The Nightmare Before Christmas
This movie is truly a wonderful thing. The animation is incredible, the visualization is fine, and the story--about the forces of Dark and Light as played out by Halloween and Christmas--is easy to follow when drunk. But the songs, by the great Danny Elfman, are the real reason to see the film. (Jamie Hook) Clinton Street Theater

* Notes from the Underground
Students from local filmmaker Matt McCormick's Underground Cinema and Do-It Yourself Filmmaking class show recent works. Included are original footage, found film, and manipulated film (film that has been painted on, scratched, etc.). Selections include Innuendoes by James Horn, which explores the sexual ethics of the 1960s and '70s, The Chinaman by Chris Cooley, and plenty more. Cinema Project

* Pieces of April
Starring Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt, Pieces of April has a look and feel that I hesitate to label "documentary-like." Gritty due to its transfer of digital to celluloid and mainly handheld, there is a certain spontaneity in the film, almost an improvised feel, that is enhanced by the sharp cast. Clarkson is particularly good, becoming the heart of the film that the rest of the group rotates around. (Bradley Steinbacher) Fox Tower 10

* Postcards from the Future: The Chuck Palahniuk Documentary See review this issue. Clinton Street Theater

Prey for Rock and Roll
This Gina Gershon car wreck is a compilation of everything that sucks about the entertainment industry--bad posturing, sappy clichés, and using a big name and the right stylist to market your crappy product to the masses. (Jennifer Maerz) Hollywood Theatre

* Shattered Glass
Stephen Glass, a fast-rising writer and editor for the New Republic, scandalized the journalism world in 1998 when it was unearthed that an article he penned for his employer, titled "Hack Heaven," was an outright fabrication. Shattered Glass chronicles Glass' exposure and tumble. Despite some minor flaws, the film shows us in an intelligent fashion how the reputation damage to the New Republic came about, and gives us a smart portrayal of Stephen Glass the man. (Bradley Steinbacher) Laurelhurst

* Sinister Cinema
More local films than you can shake a stick at, all in the comfort of your local watering hole, DV8. DV8

Something's Gotta Give
Jack Nicholson recovers from a bout of heart disease and a lifetime of misogyny in this raucous romantic comedy. Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Southpark: The Movie
Your favorite cartoon kids fart, swear, and die unnatural deaths. XV

* The Station Agent
Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), The Station Agent's protagonist, was born a dwarf, and has built up a stone-faced resistance to the stares and slurs directed at him daily. When he inherits a small abandoned train station in rural New Jersey, he leaves the city and makes the shack his home. Within a day, the locals notice him and are banging on his door. (Brian Brait) Koin Center

Stuck on You See review this issue. Regal Cinemas, etc.

Timeline
Timeline, the latest product from the Michael Crichton franchise Books for the Screen Inc., follows a group of nerdy archeologists as they travel back in time to save their leader, who has been stranded in 14th-century France just as the Frenchies are waging bitter feudal war against the English. No, this ridiculous scenario can't be plausibly explained, but Timeline sure tries, concocting a typical blend of mad scientists and wormholes with so many logical plot holes it could drive the physicist in you nuts. (Justin Sanders) Regal Cinemas, etc.

* Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (Don't Touch the Loot)
A 1953 French noir about criminal Max the Liar who pulls off his "one last job" only to have his best friend abducted. He manages to turn the tables on the abductors, but his dreams of retiring to a life of ease disintegrate. Cinema 21

Tupac: Resurrection
The success of the documentary Tupac Resurrection, which attempts to do nothing less than produce a saint from MTV videos, news reports, and intimate interviews, is that it focuses less on his music and more on his actual life--his childhood in New York, his teens in Baltimore, his early 20s in the Bay Area, and, finally, the transformation of this ordinary life into a pop life. Narrated by Tupac himself, as if from the grave ("I always knew I was gonna be shot"), the most important revelation the documentary has to offer is that Tupac was not a thug to begin with, but something of a geek who took ballet lessons, read Shakespeare, and wrote poetry in notebooks. Mission

* What the '70s Really Looked Like
To watch Charlie's Angeles filtered through the lens of special effects and plastic surgery sadly distorts the bumpy, clumsy and often chintzy look from the original estrogen detective TV trio. This compilation removes the lenses and stares directly back at the 1970s through a collection of rescued news clips, public services announcements, and commercials. It may not be pretty, but it is pretty funny! Guild Theater

Wonderland
Though John Holmes plays a major part in the film, Wonderland has disappointingly nothing to do with the porn industry. Instead, it focuses on the true story of a grisly mass murder that took place in the summer of 1981, and the hopped-up coke fiends who made it happen. Kennedy