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. BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ, THE - A sort of ''Rashomon'' set in the wild West, piecing together contradictory versions of a killing allegedly perpetrated by a poor Mexican in turn-of-the-century Texas. Directed by the very talented and largely unsung Robert M. Young. (Not rated; contains some violence.) 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 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.) 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.) 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 an impressive power with its vivid moods and performances. (Rated R; contains some verbal and visual vulgarity.) MONKEY GRIP - A bright young woman falls in love with an unstable drug abuser. Flatly directed by Australian filmmaker Ken Cameron. (Rated R; contains sex and vulgar language.) 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.) PURPLE HAZE - Irony, nostalgia, and melodrama play musical chairs in this 1960s yarn about a rebellious and befuddled young man trying to ''find himself'' during a difficult decade. Capably directed by David Burton Morris and featuring lots of rock-and-roll from the period. (Rated R; contains sex, drug use, 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.) THE RIGHT STUFF - 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.) 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 far exceeding those of his last youth-oriented movie, ''The Outsiders.'' Cowritten 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.) STREAMERS - Physical and emotional mayhem in an Army barracks, reflecting the horror and confusion of the Vietnam war raging outside. Based on David Rabe's play and directed in a surprisingly stagy style by Robert Altman. (Rated R; contains violence, homosexual innuendo, and much vulgar language.) SUNLESS - ''Sans soleil'' is the original French title of this complex intellectual travelogue, which probes contemporary Japanese society and what it implies about human beings everywhere. Directed by Chris Marker, who has long delighted in turning the documentary format on its head. (Not rated; contains images of human and animal sexual activity.) 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.) 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.) UNDER FIRE - A journalist, photographing the anti-Somoza revolution in Nicaragua , must decide whether to maintain his neutrality or help the side he favors. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who balances outspoken and controversial political stances with a keen exploration of personality dynamics. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and graphic battle carnage.) 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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