MOVIE GUIDE

The following summaries of current, widely shown films are provided to help readers plan what to see. Inclusion of a movie does not imply Monitor endorsement. Further description is often supplied in articles on the Arts & Leisure pages. The Movie Guide appears on the third Thursday of the month.m A CHRISTMAS STORY - A cheerfully childish visit with the spirit of Christmas past, set in the Midwest a few decades ago and hosted by master storyteller Jean Shepherd, his powers at their peak. Directed by Bob Clark, who balances nostalgia and sentiment with steady humor, though his weakness for vulgarity shows through occasionally. (Rated PG; contains a little rough language.) LA BALANCE - French policemen pressure a couple of petty offenders to rat on their big-time associates. Directed in France by American filmmaker Bob Swaim, who combines slam-bang melodrama with a keen eye for behavior and a concern for ethical issues raised by the plot. (Not rated; contains violence and some sexual activity.) BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT - Driven by ego, a police inspector railroads a suspect who is probably innocent of the murder charges against him. A rough-hewn but occasionally very effective drama from New Zealand, directed by John Layng. (Not rated; contains scenes of a grisly crime's aftermath.) BIG CHILL, THE - College friends from the '60s get together at a crony's funeral and find out how they have, or haven't, changed since their salad days. Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who has a knack for comic scenes but doesn't always plumb the depths of the situations his characters wade through. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and a subplot about unmarried pregnancy.) BOAT PEOPLE - A photographer from Japan finds rampant corruption on a visit to Vietnam after the communist victory there. Directed in China by Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui, who tries to jolt her audience into awareness but fails to convey a clear sense of balance about the issues. (Not rated; contains violence.) BRAINSTORM - A team of technocrats whips up a machine that can record and transfer thoughts from one person to another, and all kinds of subplots swirl around it, involving government agents who want to use the thing militarily and a scientist who thinks he's found a new way to study death. The intellectual pretensions of the story don't pay off, but the action is fast and splendidly performed, and director Dalton Trumbull flings one visual amazement after another at the camera. (Rated PG; contains some violence, deliberately disturbing imagery, and a small amount of sex.) CARMEN - While working on a Spanish dance version of ''Carmen,'' a director falls in love with his star, and their relationship also parallels the ''Carmen'' tale. Inventively directed by Carlos Saura, with long dance sequences. (Rated R; contains a little nudity and violence.) DEAD ZONE, THE - Chrisopher Walken gives a thoughtful performance as a psychic-in-spite-of-himself who must save the world from a mad politician. Directed by horror specialist David Cronenberg with almost classical restraint, except for a few moments of disgusting gore apparently meant as a sop to his followers. (Rated R; contains violence.) DEAL OF THE CENTURY - The arms race, power politics, and business executives are the targets of this very dark comedy about a free-lance weapon salesman who gets in over his head. Directed by William Friedkin, very unevenly. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language, violence, and implied sex.) DRESSER, THE - Striving to keep his British stage company on the boards during World War II, a dedicated actor loses his mental balance and becomes a pathetic Lear figure, with only a backstage assistant to understand and sympathize with him. Has some memorable moments, but director Peter Yates's overstated visual style is matched by overblown performances from Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. (Rated PG; contains a little rough language and harrowing emotional scenes.) EDUCATING RITA - A working-class woman goes to a literature professor in hope of improving her mind and does just that. The plot is ''Pygmalion'' warmed over, but Michael Caine and Julie Walters give sparkling performances, and director Lewis Gilbert keeps the action humming along. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language.) EXPERIENCE PREFERRED . . . BUT NOT ESSENTIAL - A student takes a summer job at a Welsh hotel and learns the so-called facts of life. Directed by Peter Duffel, who relies on several strong performances for most of the film's effect. (Not rated; contains vulgar language and mostly off-screen sex.) THE EYES, THE MOUTH - A suicide touches off emotional crises in an Italian family. Directed with striking control and imagination by Marco Bellochio, but the deck is stacked against the characters, and even the most ingenious scenes are basically exercises in style and cynicism. (Rated R; contains sex and harrowing domestic situations.) FIRE AND ICE - Trite, empty heroics in a Tolkien-type neverland. Crudely directed by animator Ralph Bakshi, who collaborated on the project with cartoonist Frank Frazetta. (Rated PG; contains a great deal of nasty violence and a primitive attitude toward women.) FIRST CONTACT - Documentary based on actual footage of a 1930 encounter between Australian prospectors and New Guinea natives who had never heard of whites, plus present-day interviews with some of the participants. A film from Australia , intelligently directed by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson. (Not rated.) GOING BERSERK - David Steinberg directed this coarse farce about a bumbling young man who marries into a rich family. Bad all around. (Rated R; contains much vulgar language.) HEAT AND DUST - Returning to India, which they have explored in earlier films, the team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala interweave the stories of two British women, one living a few decades ago, the other in the present. The plots diverge and come together again as the heroines meet a motley assortment of people and cope with romantic entanglements. While there are slow moments, the drama builds impressively, with vivid moods and performances. (Rated R; contains some verbal and visual vulgarity.) NEVER CRY WOLF - A biologist travels above the Arctic Circle to study the ecological balance between wolves and caribou, and discovers new complexities in both his own nature and the animals he becomes increasingly fascinated with. Directed for Walt Disney Pictures by Carroll Ballard, but never reaches the sense of mystery and splendor that marked his earlier movie, ''The Black Stallion.'' (Rated PG; contains some earthy biological details.) NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN - Sean Connery is still up to par as James Bond in the latest adventure of Agent 007, who again saves civilization from a sophisticated terrorist organization. Directed by Irvin Kershner. (Rated PG; contains some violence and vulgarity.) OSTERMAN WEEKEND, THE - A mad intelligence agent uses an innocent man in a revenge scheme with political overtones. Directed with surprising carelessness by Sam Peckinpah. (Rated R; contains sex, violence, and vulgar language.) REAR WINDOW - Reissue of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 suspense classic about a snoopy photographer stuck in his apartment with a broken leg and his gradual realization that there's something, well, wrong in the building across the courtyard. Ingeniously conceived, grippingly directed, and gorgeously performed by James Stewart and Grace Kelly, whose rocky relationship provides a delicious romantic subplot. (Rated PG; contains a smidgen of sexual innuendo and some dialogue about gruesome doings.) RETURN OF THE JEDI - George Lucas's hit ''Star Wars'' series comes to a close, for the time being anyway, with another slam-bang struggle between the evil Empire and good guys Han Solo, Artoo-Detoo, See-Threepio, et al. While much of the action is perfunctory and overdone, director Richard Marquand has managed some thrilling sequences as well, and the family drama centering on Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader lends depth to the colorful proceedings. (Rated PG; contains much stylized violence and a little visual vulgarity.) RIGHT STUFF, THE - A freewheeling account of the Mercury space project and the first seven astronauts. Big and lively, but lacking the intelligence, wit, and fierce irony of the Tom Wolfe book. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language and bathroom humor.) STAR 80 - A born loser helps his girlfriend to a nude modeling career, loses her and his marbles, and solves his problems with a gun. Written and directed by Bob Fosse, whose flashy but hackneyed flourishes can't disguise the pornographic outlook at the picture's core. (Rated R; contains sex and violence.) TERMS OF ENDEARMENT - There's not enough substance to support the sentiment of this longish comedy-drama about a young woman and her crusty middle-aged mother, which culminates in an episode of illness and death. Written and directed by James L. Brooks, who never settles into any aspect of his subject long enough to explore it thoroughly. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language, sexual activity , and illness.) TESTAMENT - Most of the United States is destroyed in a nuclear war, and in a small California town, the survivors sit around and mope. Directed by Lynne Littman, who ignores all but the sentimental aspects of her desperately urgent subject. (Rated PG; contains many scenes of illness and death.) TO BE OR NOT TO BE - A remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 comedy classic about a Polish stage company that outwits the Nazis. Since the original stands up brilliantly well, this is an unnecessary picture, but director Alan Johnson keeps it colorful and funny by staying close to his source and keeping star Mel Brooks under pretty firm control. (Rated PG; contains a little sexual innuendo and an exaggerated homosexual character.) TROBRIAND CRICKET - ''An Ingenious Response to Colonialism'' is the subtitle of this rousing documentary about how cricket is played in Papua New Guinea. Local customs include tribal dances at every out and umpires who try to help their favorite teams with native magic. A movie from Papua New Guinea, directed with wit and energy by Jerry W. Leach and Gary Kildea. (Not rated.) WUTHERING HEIGHTS - Luis Bunuel's 1954 treatment of Emily Bronte's novel in a belated American release, brimful of wacky melodrama, delirious romance, and the surreal touches this director was celebrated for, some of them excessively cruel. Captures the bold flavor of the original book better than the soggy Laurence Olivier version did, but smacks more of Bunuel than of Bronte. (Not rated; contains rough treatment of animals.)

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