FREEZE FRAMES

A weekly update of film releases

* MENACE II SOCIETY

The troubled Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles is the setting for this relentless, angry, and violent story about an African-American teenager struggling to survive in a family, a city, and a culture that seem hopelessly stacked against him. The picture is directed with great technical skill by the Hughes Brothers, who have obviously earned their promotion from the music-video scene to the world of feature filmmaking. The horrific mayhem and vicious attitudes shown in the movie are so aggressive, however , that it's hard to believe they're intended to get audiences thinking rather than merely reacting. Some spectators may receive a useful cautionary message, but others are likely to revel in the incendiary outrages that the movie claims to deplore and come out of the theater more jaded and confused than when they entered it. (Rated R)

* DR. BETHUNE - Based on true events, this Canadian-Chinese-French coproduction chronicles the experiences of a dedicated Canadian physician whose humanitarian ideals and socialist philosophy led him to aid the Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War and then to join the Communist movement in China. Donald Sutherland gives a witty and freewheeling performance in the title role, despite the stilted dialogue that crops up in Ted Allan's screenplay, and legendary French cinematographer Raoul Coutard makes th e picture consistently engaging to view. The film is too brazenly romantic to be very convincing as history or biography, though, and its medical footage is not for the squeamish. Helen Mirren and Anouk Aimee are among the good supporting players. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Phillip Borsos, and originally titled "Bethune: The Making of a Hero." (Not rated)

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