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 first and third Thursdays 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.) BASILEUS QUARTET, THE - Morose drama about the tribulations of a successful music ensemble after the death of a key member, who is replaced by a much younger man. Droopily directed by Fabio Carpi. (Not rated; contains homosexual activity and protracted illness.) 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.) CAN SHE BAKE A CHERRY PIE? - A divorced man and newly separated woman, a bit too old and quirky for the ''singles'' scene, strike up a ''relationship'' in New York. Directed by Henry Jaglom with too much studied casualness, but partly redeemed by Michael Emil's offbeat comic performance. (Not rated; contains vulgar language and a little sex.) CHRISTINE - Standard horror story about a nerdy high-schooler who falls in love with a killer car. Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by shock specialist John Carpenter, who brings little verve to the predictable plot except for some carefully crafted scenes of teen-age life that recall his earlier ''Halloween.'' (Rated R; contains violence and vulgar language.) 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.) GORKY PARK - Plotty crime drama about a Soviet cop investigating a grisly triple murder with connections to the KGB and the international fur trade. Directed by Michael Apted, who keeps the action hopping at least for the first hour, and treats most of his Russian characters as reasonably whole human beings. (Rated R; contains some vulgar language, violence, and sex.) THE KEEP - Pretentious horror yarn about a mysterious creature plaguing Nazi soldiers holed up in a dank, dark dungeon. Unconvincingly directed by Michael Mann, who doesn't fulfill the promise of ''Thief,'' his earlier movie. (Rated R; contains violence and vulgarity.) MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, THE - Hollywood rehash of Francois Truffaut's dramatic comedy about a man so smitten with womankind that he can't settle for any one representative. Directed by Blake Edwards, who plays up the melancholy overtones as well as the farcical possibilities of the story. (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.) NOSTALGHIA - While researching a book in Italy, a Soviet author meets an apparent madman who thinks he can save the world by performing a ritual. The plot is less important than the astonishing imagery that blossoms during the long, meditative, visionary interludes that are the main concern of the director , Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. (Not rated.something more?) 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.) REUBEN, REUBEN - Very dark comedy about a minor Scottish poet drinking, womanizing, and philosophizing while in New England on a lecture tour. Directed by Robert Ellis Miller, and dominated by Tom Conti's performance as the antihero. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and sex.) SCARFACE - Nasty crime drama based vaguely on the old Howard Hawks classic, with Al Pacino as a Cuban cocaine dealer who hits the big time in Miami's underworld. Directed by Brian DePalma, who apparently considers ''money isn't everything'' an original and profound message. (Rated R; contains violence, sex, and such rotten language that even one of the characters complains.) SILKWOOD - Meryl Streep gives a stunningly complex performance in this drama about a real-life union organizer who died in an unexplained auto accident after seeking evidence of dangerous corner-cutting at the nuclear equipment plant where she worked. Sensitively directed by Mike Nichols, but the screenplay is so bent on giving all sides of every issue that the drama gets badly diluted. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and a subplot about lesbians.) SUDDEN IMPACT - Clint Eastwood and his most enduring character, policeman Dirty Harry, are no more subtle than usual in this loosely plotted excuse for mayhem. Directed by Eastwood with less imagination than he sometimes shows, and featuring Sondra Locke as the vengeful sister of a mentally disturbed rape victim. (Rated R; contains violence, sex, and vulgar language.) 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.) 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.) YENTL - Romantic comedy-drama about a feisty young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to study and learn, pursuits forbidden to females in Eastern Europe around the turn of the century. Based on an Isaac Beshevis Singer story and capably directed by Barbra Streisand, who plays the title character with more conviction than energy. (Rated PG; contains a little sexual innuendo and seminudity.)

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