Monthly 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 in the Arts & Leisure section. The Movie Guide appears on the third Thursday of the month.m A STAR IS BORN - Reissue of George Cukor's 1954 classic about a rising star and the troubled man who is her mentor and husband, with a solid performance by Judy Garland and an amazing one by James Mason. Restored to its original three-hour running time, not seen since the musical's first reserved-seat engagements, and a bit too long for comfort. (Rated PG; contains some dissolute behavior.) ANGELO MY LOVE - Robert Duvall wrote and directed this astonishingly vivid picture about a young gypsy boy and his family, with a cast of real New York Gypsies playing themselves in the framework of a fictional plot about a feud over a stolen ring. After a few weak moments near the beginning, it's a colorful , deeply engaging, and relentlessly dramatic movie, with some of the most unpredictable performances ever captured on film. (Not rated; contains a little vulgar language and some dissolute behavior.) 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.) 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 Douglas Trumbull flings one visual amazement after another at the camera. (Rated PG; contains some violence, deliberately disturbing imagery, and a small amount of sex.) DANIEL - A dense, crowded, somewhat sanitized adaptation of E. L. Doctorow's intelligent novel ''The Book of Daniel,'' about a young man struggling to understand himself, his culture, and his heritage of radical politics by exploring the fate of his parents, who were executed for espionage in the 1950s. Echoes of the real-life Rosenberg case lend extra resonance to the drama, but as directed by Sidney Lumet, the screen version too often seems hectic and overwrought, despite its obvious sincerity. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and graphic electrocution scenes.) DANTON - He and Robespierre grapple with deep historical issues while the French Revolution rages around them. Energetically filmed by Polish director Andrzej Wajda, who may or may not mean the central characters to be surrogates for Lech Walesa and Solidarity on one hand, the Polish military regime or even the Kremlin on the other. (Rated PG; contains scenes of loose living, and a gory guillotine sequence.) DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT, THE - Period romance about an artist who mingles amorous intrigue with a professional project. Directed by Peter Greenaway with a sense of structure that's as important to the film's effect as the story and characters. (Rated R; contains some violence and scatological detail.) FANNY AND ALEXANDER - In what he says will be his last film, Ingmar Bergman explores the life of a provincial Swedish family in 1907, approaching his very personal material with a mixture of insight, humor, and curious detachment. Though too long, sometimes vulgar, and surprisingly uneven in its inspiration, the result is perhaps the most Dickensian drama ever filmed: crowded, colorful, and compelling. (Rated R; contains sexual activity and bathroom humor.) FLASHDANCE - Punchy, cleverly stylized, but utterly empty yarn about a feisty young woman who welds by day, disco-dances by night, and dreams of the day when she can devote her life to her art. Directed by Adrian Lyne, who cares more about the frazzled musical numbers than the story, characters, or anything else. (Rated R; contains nudity and vulgar language.) GREY FOX, THE - A gentle, picturesque western set at the turn of the century, about a crusty old thief who goes back to his nefarious ways after a long stretch in the pen. Richard Farnsworth's starring performance is the picture's reason for being, though Canadian filmmaker Phillip Borsos has directed it with a good eye for mood, atmosphere, and telling detail. (Rated PG; contains a little violence and has a rather accepting attitude toward the misdeeds of its ''hero.'') HANNA K. - A young American woman, transplanted to Israel where she has become a lawyer, defends an Arab accused of terrorism and, while unmarried, has a baby that becomes a living symbol of complex and unsettled Middle East issues. It's directed by Costa-Gavras, but lacks the electricity and emotional impact of ''Missing,'' his last picture. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and clinical depiction of a circumcision.) HEART LIKE A WHEEL - Enormously likable ''bio-pic'' based on the life of Shirley Muldowney, the first woman to become a big-time drag racer. The talented director Jonathan Kaplan rides right over the seemingly drab subject matter, charging the picture with humor, warmth, an unspoken commitment to equality between the sexes, and an affectionate view of working-class life that's as refreshing as it is uncondescending. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and some car crashes.) 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 an impressive power with its vivid moods and performances. (Rated R; contains some verbal and visual vulgarity.) I MARRIED A SHADOW - Mildly suspenseful French yarn about a young mother involved in a case of mistaken identity. Directed by Robin Davis with some imagination but a rather heavy hand. (Not rated; contains a little violence and implied sex.) KOYAANISQATSI - The title comes from an Indian word for ''life out of balance.'' Director Godfrey Reggio seeks to unmask such a life with his sensuous images of contemporary Western civilization, which is allegedly too dense and speedy for human habitation.check with DS With music by Philip Glass, in his newer and more conservative style, and cinematography by Ron Fricke. (Not rated.) LEOPARD, THE - Reissue of Luchino Visconti's 1963 drama about an Italian nobleman of the 1860s trying to keep some dignity and order in his life at a time of revolutionary social change. A slow and stately epic, now restored to its full length and original Italian dialogue. (Not rated.) LIQUID SKY - A flying saucer lands in downtown Manhattan, perversely attracted by the demented lives of the trendy ''new wave'' set, which it spies and preys on. Directed with great visual panache but a striking absence of moral perspective by Soviet emigre Slava Tsukerman, who seems equally repelled and attracted by the loud, lascivious ''punk'' behavior he paints with hair-raising, and surely exaggerated, detail. (Rated R; contains enormous amounts of sex, violence, and vulgar language.) MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE - Fierce drama about clashing cultures, values, and personalities in a World War II prison camp holding British prisoners, Japanese captors, and Korean guards. Directed by Nagisa Oshima and splendidly acted by an international cast. (Rated R; contains explicit violence and sexual references.) MR. MOM - Michael Keaton minds the kids while Terri Garr finds success in the business world. Evenhanded in its treatment of gender roles, but heavily directed by Stan Dragoti and not nearly as funny as it might have been. (Rated PG; contains occasional vulgarity and sexual innuendo.) MOON IN THE GUTTER, THE - The style of director Jean-Jacques Beineix is as overblown as it is visually ambitious. The story, about a stevedore mooning over his late sister while doting on a flashy new girlfriend, is just hopeless. (Rated R; contains sex and violence.) 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 who never reaches the sense of mystery and splendor that marked his earlier movie, ''The Black Stallion.'' (Rated PG; contains some earthy biological details.) PASSION - A film about a filmmaker making a film. One of Jean-Luc Godard's most complex, maddening, and generally discombobulated works. (Rated R; contains nudity and some vulgarity.) PAULINE AT THE BEACH - On vacation, a teen-age girl watches two men court her older cousin and tries to figure out why adults are so crafty and conniving about something as simple as affection. The third entry in the ''Comedies and Proverbs'' series of French director Eric Rohmer, who fills the picture with his usual blend of constant conversation, impeccable images, and sly intelligence. (Rated R; contains some nudity and sexual innuendo.) REAR WINDOW - Reissue of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 suspense classic about a snoopy photographer stuck in his apartment with a broken leg. He gradually realizes 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.) RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE, THE - In the 16th century a prodigal son returns to his native village, but some of the neighbors think he's really an impostor, and they may be right. As directed by Daniel Vigne, the story is engaging much of the way and the performances are strong, but there's ultimately not much point to it all, except to let us know that forensics weren't very advanced 400 years ago. (Not rated; contains some violence and sex.) RISKY BUSINESS - Another stupid sex comedy, about a randy teen-ager who gets involved with a gang of prostitutes while his parents are away on vacation. But director Paul Brickman shows a very strong filmmaking talent, which might blossom if given material worthy of it, and the music by Tangerine Dream is a knockout. (Rated R; contains nudity, sexual activity, and vulgar language.) RUMBLE FISH - Fiercely filmed tale of a teen-age boy caught in a complicated relationship with his older brother and his peers. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola with a visual flair and a violence for exceeding those of his last youth-oriented movie, "The Outsiders," and co-written by S.E. Hinton with hard-bitten dialogue that will come as a surprise and maybe a shock to readers of her young-adult novels. (Rated R; contains violence, some sex, and much vulgar language.) STAYING ALIVE - It's "42nd Street" with a disco beat in this sequel to "Saturday Night Fever," being a rehash of the ancient story about a talented dancer yearning for a big break on Broadway. Directed by Sylvester Stallone, who pours lots of energy but little intelligence into scads of short, sweaty scenes more suited to the rhythms of cable-TV "rock video" than to the wide screen. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and implied sex.) TRADING PLACES - To settle a wager about heredity and environment, two crusty old capitalists take a wealthy banker and a streetwise con man, manipulate their lives so they wind up in each other's shoes, and watch the sparks fly before their victims turn on them. Directed by John Landis with a surprising amount of class, though he lets some of his old "Animal House" vulgarity slip ostentatiously into the action. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and nudity.) VACATION - Chevy Chase plays a dad who's bent on showing his family an all-American good time, but finds that fun can be much more bother than it's worth. Directed by Harold Ramis with some obligatory vulgarisms, but a generally milder tone than the notorious "Animal House," which was also presented by National Lampoon magazine, (Rated R; contains four-letter words and sex jokes.) WARGAMES - A bright but irresponsible high-schooler unwittingly dials into a military computer that's used for rehearsing World War III and, thinking it's all a game, nearly touches off a nuclear holocaust. The teen-age heroics of the plot are eventually coupled with a laudable antiwar message, but the approach of director John Badham and his screenwriters is too pat and smug to shed real light on the desperately important issues at hand. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language.) ZELIG - Woody Allen's amazingly funny and poignant account of a ''chameleon man'' whose desire to ''be liked'' induces an ability to change his looks and personality to match any company he's with. Set in the 1920s and '30s, and ingeniously told in ''documentary'' style, with cleverly faked newsreel and home-movie footage that seamlessly blends the historical and the new. (Rated PG; contains a handful of sexual references.)

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