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Movie mania!

Do you like John Travolta? How about Gwyneth Paltrow and John Goodman? Well, if you're a frequent moviegoer, you'd better get used to seeing a lot more of them this year.

That's not an intentional reference to Paltrow's nude scene in the recent big-screen adaptation of "Great Expectations," but it is a not-too-subtle hint that these actors (as well as a handful of others) have made a lot of movies recently. And some of the films in question have already started showing up in theaters.

Goodman can be seen co-starring in both "Fallen" and "Blues Brothers 2000" but also appears in the new Coen brothers comedy/drama "The Big Lebowski" and "The Borrowers." Paltrow stars in "Great Expectations" and has both "Hush" and "Sliding Doors" on the horizon. And Travolta evidently survived last year's "Mad City" with little ill effect (his upcoming movies are discussed further along in this article).

Obviously, these three are among the biggest names appearing in this spring's onslaught of cinema. There are nearly 50 movies scheduled to open before the big summer rush, and though some of them use the usual formula for success/failure, some of the others could be interesting at the very least.

For example, one of the nicest surprises is the sudden upturn in the number of so-called family movies. There are at least a half-dozen films that are being aimed at families (including "The Borrowers," "Barney's Great Adventure," "Paulie" and "Lost in Space").

Actually, given the quality of last year's crop of "kid-pics" (such as "That Darn Cat" and "Good Burger"), maybe that's not such a good thing after all.

And some of the films from this year's Sundance Film Festival will start showing up at local theaters before the summer (including the opening-night premiere film "Sliding Doors"), but the same caveat about the family films holds true here as well.

Other movies that look or sound promising include:

- "Twilight," a murder/mystery from writer/director Robert Benton, reteaming him with his "Nobody's Fool" star Paul Newman, and featuring Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon and James Garner.

- A 20th anniversary reissue of "Grease," with cleaned-up digital sound and a much younger and slimmer Travolta.

- "Primary Colors," a vicious political satire that also stars Travolta, though here he's playing a presidential candidate who bears more than a passing resemblance to our current commander-in-chief.

- A non-musical version of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush ("Shine") starring, respectively, as Jean Valjean and his longtime nemesis, inspector Javert.

- "The Apostle," actor Robert Duvall's much-anticipated drama about a hard-drinking, womanizing Episcopalean preacher who finds redemption only after he loses everything he's ever loved.

Following is an extremely tentative list of films scheduled to open locally in the months to come. Just remember, as always, that the dates can and will change, subject to the whims of the studio heads:

FEB. 13

AFTERGLOW - The personal lives of two Canadian couples (Nick Nolte and Julie Christie and Lara Flynn Boyle and Jonny Lee Miller) are intertwined in this drama from writer/director Alan Rudolph ("Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle").

THE APOSTLE - Actor Robert Duvall wrote, directed and stars in this drama about a disgraced preacher who rediscovers his faith while on the run for a crime of passion. Co-stars include Farrah Fawcett and Miranda Richardson.

BEAUMARCHAIS THE SCOUNDREL - Along the lines of "Dangerous Liaisons," this comedy from director Edouard Molinaro (the original "La Cage Aux Folles") is loosely based on the real-life story of Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a writer, inventor and businessman in 18th-century France.

THE BORROWERS - Mary Norton's beloved children's book about a clan of very, very tiny people comes to the big screen, courtesy of director Peter Hewitt ("Tom and Huck") and star John Goodman, playing an evil attorney who's trying to capture them.

CONSPIRATORS OF PLEASURE - More weirdness from surrealist Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, a black comedy about six lonely people that combines live action, puppetry and animation but which features no dialogue.

FOUR DAYS IN SEPTEMBER - Fact-based drama from director Bruno Barreto ("Carried Away") about four young Brazilian idealists who kidnapped the U.S. ambassador to their country (Alan Arkin) in 1969.

SPHERE - "Wag the Dog" director Barry Levinson and actor Dustin Hoffman reteam for this science-fiction thriller, based on Michael Crichton's best seller, about a crew of scientists investigating a spacecraft resting on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Co-stars include Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson.

THE WEDDING SINGER - This romantic comedy, set in the mid-'80s, stars comedian Adam Sandler ("Happy Gilmore") as the title character, a struggling musician and entertainer who falls in love with a waitress (Drew Barrymore) who's engaged to a heel.

ZERO EFFECT - Jake Kasdan, son of screenwriter/director Lawrence Kasdan, makes his directorial debut with this black comedy about a mysterious P.I. (Bill Pullman) hired to find out who's been blackmailing a timber tycoon (Ryan O'Neal).

FEB. 20

OSCAR AND LUCINDA - An odd love story, adapted by director Gillian Armstrong ("Little Women") from Peter Carey's novel about an unconventional heiress (Cate Blanchard, from "Paradise Road") and a disgraced minister (Ralph Fiennes) addicted to gambling.

PALMETTO - A disillusioned ex-con (Woody Harrelson) bungles the kidnapping of an heiress in this drama from director Volker Schlondorff ("The Tin Drum," "Swann in Love"). Co-stars include Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon and Chloe Sevigny ("Tree's Lounge").

SENSELESS - Marlon Wayans stars in this urban comedy as a struggling university student who volunteers to be a guinea pig for experiments that wind up heightening some of his senses and deadening others. Co-stars include David Spade and Rip Torn.

THE SWEET HEREAFTER - Director Atom Egoyan's faithful and acclaimed adaptation of the Russel Banks novel (it was even praised by the author himself), about a lawyer (Ian Holm, from "The Fifth Element") capitalizing on the misery of parents whose children died in a tragic bus crash.

FEB. 27

DARK CITY - A futuristic thriller, from writer/director Alex Proyas ("The Crow") about a man who discovers that his "reality" is nothing but an artificial creation. Rufus Sewell ("Cold Comfort Farm"), William Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland star.

HOMEGROWN - Sort of the dark side of "Half-Baked," this comedic thriller stars Billy Bob Thornton, Hank Azaria ("Great Expectations") and Ryan Philippe ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") as northern California pot growers slowly being squeezed out by organized crime.

KISSING A FOOL - David Schwimmer (from TV's "Friends") stars in this romantic comedy as a young man who uses his best friend (Jason Lee, from "Chasing Amy") to test whether his fiance is being faithful.

KRIPPENDORF'S TRIBE - A comedy starring Richard Dreyfuss as an anthropology professor forced to "create" a New Guinea tribe (himself and his children in disguise) to qualify for grant moneys. Jenna Elfman (TV's "Dharma and Greg") co-stars.

LES MISERABLES - Bille August ("Smilla's Sense of Snow") directed this adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, starring Liam Neeson and "Shine's" Geoffrey Rush as longtime antagonists. Uma Thurman and Clare Danes co-star.


THE BIG LEBOWSKI - A blackly comedic drama involving mistaken identities and kidnappings, as only the Coen brothers ("Fargo," "The Hudsucker Proxy") can do it. Stars include Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Ben Gazzara and John Turturro.

3 NINJAS: HIGH NOON AT MEGA MOUNTAIN - Third sequel to 1992's surprise hit about a trio of young kung-fu practicioners, who this time must stop an evil bandit queen (Loni Anderson) and free their favorite TV action superstar (wrestler-turned-actor Terry "Hulk" Hogan).

TWILIGHT - A dream cast of veteran actors (Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman and James Garner) stars in writer/director Robert Benton's latest, a mystery-drama set in Los Angeles about a broken-down private investigator (Newman) trying to solve the murder of a millionaire.

WILD THINGS - Kevin Bacon stars as a detective in this steamy thriller set in the Everglades, about a love triangle (involving Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell and Denise Richards, from "Starship Troopers") gone bad.


HUSH - Originally titled "Kilronan," this thriller stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a young woman who finds out her new mother-in-law (Jessica Lange) has a very dark side. Co-stars include Johnathon Schaech ("That Thing You Do!") and Hal Holbrook.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK - Fresh off his success in "Titanic," Leonardo DiCaprio plays twin brothers - one the evil king of France and the other a sweet-natured swordsman - in this swashbuckling adventure film. Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu and Jeremy Irons co-star as the Four Musketeers.


PRIMARY COLORS - Based on the anonymously written best seller, a thinly veiled swipe at the Clinton administration, this comedy-drama stars John Travolta as a Southern governor running for president, while being beset by scandals galore. Emma Thompson and Billy Bob Thornton co-star.

SOUR GRAPES - Larry David, co-creator of TV's "Seinfeld," wrote and directed this two cousins (Steven Weber and Craig Bierko) whose relationship is ruined when one of them hits a winning jackpot in Atlantic City with a quarter borrowed from the other.


EATERS OF THE DEAD - John McTiernan ("The Hunt for Red October") directed this version of Michael Crichton's fantasy/horror novel about Vikings (including Antonio Banderas!) struggling to overcome unbeatable warriors with mystical powers.

GREASE - In a similar vein to last year's "Star Wars" trilogy re-releases, this 20th anniversary reissue of the big-screen musical (starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as mismatched high school students!) features cleaned-up sound and picture.

MR. NICE GUY - Advertised as having "more action than the last three Jackie Chan films combined," this martial-arts comedy stars Chan as a famed chef with a penchant for getting into trouble.

MY GIANT - Billy Crystal produced and stars in this comedy as a talent agent who accidentally discovers a new star, a 7-foot-plus monastery caretaker (Gheorghe Muresan, from the NBA Washington Wizards), while in Europe.

RIDE - Rags to riches story from first-time writer/director Millicent Shelton about a group of inner-city kids struggling to change their fate and find stardom.


BARNEY'S GREAT ADVENTURE: THE MOVIE - The much-beloved and almost-as-reviled big purple dinosaur finally gets his own movie with this musical/comedy, which features original songs written by Broadway composer Jerry Herman ("Hello Dolly," "Mame").

LOST IN SPACE - The cult '60s television series, a science-fiction take on "Swiss Family Robinson," comes to the big screen. Stars include Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc and Lacey Chabert (TV's "Party of Five").

MEET THE DEEDLES - Two surfer dude brothers have to prove themselves to their millionaire father and wind up saving Yellowstone National Park from a deranged park ranger (Dennis Hopper) in this comedy, which was filmed partly in Park City.

MERCURY RISING - Bruce Willis stars in this action-thriller as an outcast FBI agent hired to protect a 9-year-old autistic savant who's accidentally cracked a top-secret governmental military code.


THE BIG ONE - Michael Moore ("Roger & Me") returns to America's heartland to tell more stories about corporate downsizing in this comedic documentary, made during a cross-country tour to promote his new book "Down-size This!" A selection of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

THE ODD COUPLE II: TRAVELIN' LIGHT - Playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon resurrects his characters Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar (reprised by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon) for this sequel to the hit play, movie and television series, which brings the two former roommates together for the wedding of their children.


NIGHTWATCH - Director Ole Bornedal remade his low-budget Dutch thriller, originally shown at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, about a night watchman at a morgue who is suspected of being a serial killer. Ewan McGregor stars with Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin and Patricia Arquette.

WIDE AWAKE - After his grandfather dies, a 10-year-old boy tries to find the meaning of life from a group of adults (including Rosie O'Donnell, Dana Delany and Denis Leary) and helps them recapture their youth.


BLACK DOG - An action-thriller pairing Patrick Swayze and musicians-turned-actors Randy Travis and Meat Loaf, about a professional trucker who is duped into becoming an illegal gunrunner.

HE GOT GAME - Writer/director Spike Lee's latest drama stars Denzel Washington as a prisoner who is paroled so he can persuade his son (Ray Allen, from the NBA Milwaukee Bucks) to play college basketball.


CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD - Prop comedian Carrot Top comes to the big screen in this comedy about a surfer/inventor who inherits a major manufacturing company. Courtney Thorne-Smith (TV's "Ally McBeal"), Raquel Welch and Jack Warden co-star.

THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE - A young Cherokee boy comes of age when he is sent to a private school in this fact-based drama, which stars James Cromwell ("Babe"), Joseph Ashton and Tantoo Cardinal.

THE GINGERBREAD MAN - Kenneth Branagh stars in and Robert Altman directs this adaptation of John Grisham's first screenplay (written before he became a bestselling novelist) about an attorney trying to free his lover from her imposing father (Robert Duvall). Embeth Davidtz and Robert Downey Jr. co-star.

INCOGNITO - Master art forger Jason Patric is on the run from both his former employers and detectives after he's betrayed in this thriller from director John Badham. Irene Jacob ("Red") and Rod Steiger co-star.

LOVE WALKED IN - A frustrated lounge singer (Denis Leary, from "Wag the Dog") and his lover conspire with a woman to prove whether her wealthy husband is cheating on her in this suspense/drama. Aitana Sanchez-Gijon ("A Walk in the Clouds") and Moira Kelly co-star.

MAJOR LEAGUE III - Set in Utah but not filmed here, this installment to the baseball comedy series stars Scott Bakula as a minor league pitcher who's given a chance to manage the Buzz. Corbin Bernsen co-stars.

PAULIE - Family comedy about a little girl who forms a lifelong bond with the title character, a parrot who learns to speak and comprehend the human language.

A PRICE ABOVE RUBIES - "Jerry Maguire's" Renee Zellweger stars as a Orthodox Jewish woman whose new career threatens her seemingly perfect family life in this drama from writer/director Boaz Yakin ("Fresh"). A selection of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

SLIDING DOORS - The opening night selection of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, this variation on "It's a Wonderful Life" follows what happens when a young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) misses a London subway train, as well as what happens when she makes it to the train station on time.

SWEPT FROM THE SEA - A romantic drama, based on a Joseph Conrad story and set in 19th-century England, about a young servant girl (Rachel Weisz) and her immigrant lover (Vincent Perez), the lone survivor of a capsized ship bound for America.

TWO GIRLS AND A GUY - Love-triangle drama starring Heather Graham ("Boogie Nights") and Natasha Gregson Wagner (daughter of Robert Wagner) as women fighting for the love of their heel boyfriend (Robert Downey Jr.)

U.S. MARSHALS - Tommy Lee Jones reprises his role from the 1993 hit "The Fugitive" in this spinoff, which pairs him with a cocky young government agent (Robert Downey Jr.) who's trying to find a government operative on the run (Wesley Snipes).

WELCOME TO SARAJEVO - A fact-based war drama about a television news reporter sent to cover the fighting in 1992 Yugoslavia (British stage star Stephen Dillane) but who winds up smuggling an orphan out of the country illegally. Co-stars include Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei.