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An Early Thaw

Hollywood fills the multiplexes with early '06 releases

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As the 2006 releases begin to filter into local movie auditoriums -- Hostel, Glory Road and Last Holiday were among the first batch of new year offerings -- they're having to share theater space with the 2005 titles that aren't quite ready to go away.

The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong are still doing solid business at the box office, while Brokeback Mountain will continue to expand its Charlotte theater count in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, plenty of other year-end contenders haven't even opened here yet, among them Caché, Mrs. Henderson Presents and Transamerica. (The Matador is finally opening this Friday; see review in this section.) This means that, for a while anyway, 2006 will continue to look a lot like 2005.

But the cinematic floodgates will be busting open soon enough; to that end, here's a checklist of the 50 flicks scheduled to debut between now and the beginning of the summer movie season.

JANUARY 27: A young man (James Franco) from a poor family has trouble fitting in at the Naval Academy until he takes part in a boxing competition in ANNAPOLIS ... Martin Lawrence returns as the FBI agent with a knack for dressing up in granny's garments to thwart the bad guys in BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE 2 ... Based on Christianna Brand's "Nurse Matilda" books, NANNY MCPHEE stars Emma Thompson (who also scripted) as the title character, whose presence in the household of a widower (Colin Firth) and his seven rambunctious children leads to unexpected developments.

FEBRUARY 3: In the romantic comedy SOMETHING NEW, a black businesswoman (Sanaa Lathan) falls for a white architect (Simon Baker), only to be forced to make a decision when a seemingly perfect man (Blair Underwood) arrives on the scene ... WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, a remake of the minor 1979 hit, concerns the efforts of a babysitter (Camilla Belle) to escape a psychopath who's terrorizing her.

FEBRUARY 10: The animated family film CURIOUS GEORGE, featuring the internationally recognized star of a series of children's books, finds the little monkey involved in various big-screen shenanigans, all the while accompanied by The Man With the Yellow Hat (voiced by Will Ferrell) ... Tired of their grown son (Matthew McConaughey) living at home, two parents (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates) hire a savvy woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) to permanently get him out of the house in the romantic comedy FAILURE TO LAUNCH ... More teens are slated to die, this time at an amusement park, in the horror sequel FINAL DESTINATION 3 ... A bank security expert (Harrison Ford) must crack the system he designed if he hopes to save his wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids from a merciless criminal (Paul Bettany) in FIREWALL ... The long-delayed comedy THE PINK PANTHER finds Steve Martin trying to fill the sizable shoes of Peter Sellers, who transformed the bumbling Inspector Clouseau into a screen icon in a series of popular films.

FEBRUARY 17: DATE MOVIE finds two of the countless screenwriters from the Scary Movie franchise spoofing Meet the Parents, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and seemingly every other hit from the past few years in this yarn about a couple (Alyson Hannigan and Adam Campbell) dealing with obstacles to their blessed union ... With no Eddie Murphy in sight, DR. DOLITTLE 3 centers on the ability of the doctor's daughter to likewise talk to the animals ... Inspired by a true story, the Disney live-action tale EIGHT BELOW concerns the efforts of eight sled dogs to survive the punishing Antarctica weather until a rescue can be mounted ... Based on Richard Price's novel and inspired by the Susan Smith story, FREEDOMLAND stars Samuel L. Jackson as a detective who questions the truthfulness of a woman (Julianne Moore) who claims her child was snatched by an African-American man ... On her wedding day, a bride (Piper Perabo) unexpectedly falls for a florist (Lena Headey) she spots while on the way to the altar in the romantic comedy IMAGINE ME & YOU.

FEBRUARY 24: Before he hosts the Oscars on March 5, Jon Stewart will be heard in the animated fantasy DOOGAL, in which three friends (Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy, Jimmy Fallon) and their dog Doogal (Kenan Thompson) try to prevent an evil sorcerer (Stewart) from freezing the sun and destroying the earth in the process ... A fledgling mobster (Paul Walker) maneuvers to recover a gun used in a hit before it's found by the cops in RUNNING SCARED ... It was almost exactly a year ago that Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman proved to be a sleeper hit, so now we get TYLER PERRY'S MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION, with Perry again dressing in drag to play the outspoken family matriarch Madea ... The futuristic sci-fi flick ULTRAVIOLET stars Milla Jovovich as a member of a race of genetically modified super-humans trying to protect themselves from the government that created and now wants to destroy them.

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