FREEZE FRAMES

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HARD CHOICES -- Good guys do bad things and vice versa in this continually surprising, sometimes harshly realistic drama. The main character is a Tennessee teen-ager who gets caught up in a brutal prison system after participating in a felony; his only friend is a rebellious young social worker. Written and directed by Rick King, who tells the tale forcefully despite the limitations of a very low budget. Some moviegoers may be uncomfortable with the picture's skeptical view of both personal and institutional morality, though, as well as its brief but graphic treatment of sexuality and violence. (Not rated) MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE -- A young Pakistani, living in London, gets a chance to lift himself out of the mean streets by managing a run-down laundromat for his conniving uncle. Violence and homosexuality are among the metaphors used by screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and director Stephen Frears, who paint a savagely realistic yet bitterly comic portrait of urban blight, economic disarray, racial hostility, and other afflictions of contemporary Western culture. (Not rated)

PARTING GLANCES -- A going-away party is the centerpiece of this muted, carefully acted drama about a homosexual couple on the verge of a long separation and maybe a permanent breakup. Directed by Bill Sherwood. (Not rated)

SWEET LIBERTY -- Alan Alda wrote, directed, and stars in this comedy about a history professor whose scholarly novel on the American Revolution is being turned into a lowbrow movie by a bunch of hack Hollywood filmmakers. Michael Caine is just right as the leading man of the film-within-a-film, and Lillian Gish has a few good moments as the hero's dotty mother. Alda's character is so relentlessly likable, he wears you down, though, and the story loses its way in a thicket of half-baked subplots. (Rated PG)

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TEA IN THE HAREM OF ARCHIMEDES -- That strange title, translating a French pun involving the word ``theorem,'' comes from a comic scene in a schoolroom. But much of the going is not so lighthearted in this drama about second-generation Algerians in France, focusing on family problems, social relations, and sexual complications. It's like a French version of ``My Beautiful Laundrette,'' only not so witty or incisive. Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Mehdi Charef, based on his novel. (Not rated)

TOP GUN -- Bottom drawer. Tom Cruise romances Kelly McGillis while becoming the world's best fighter pilot. The characters all have names like Goose and Maverick, and every one is made of cardboard. The aerial photography is a knockout, though. Directed by Tony Scott. (Rated PG)

VAGABOND -- A homeless young woman is the tragic heroine of this subtly filmed, unsentimental drama by French filmmaker Agn`es Varda, who calls attention to the plight of homeless people in general by distancing us emotionally and sometimes physically from the main character. The images of the film are eloquently composed, but Varda's documentary-style approach to the story seems more clinical than necessary. The original French title is ``Ni toit ni loi''(``Without Roof or Law''). (Not rated) RATINGS: Films with ratings other than G may contain varying degrees of vulgar language, nudity, sex, and violence.

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