THE LIGHTHORSEMEN - Australian soldiers fight in the Middle East during World War I. In terms of action, exoticism, and sheer scale, Australian director Simon Wincer has created a genuine epic on what Hollywood would consider a minuscule budget. The story and characters are inexcusably trite, though. The result is a textbook example of how resourcefully filmmakers can preserve a creaky and sentimental genre that has thoroughly outlived its usefulness. (Not rated) THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - Reissue of the 1962 political thriller about a brainwashed assassin whose stepfather is a United States senator. George Axelrod's screenplay is witty, suspenseful, and charged with biting commentary on the state of American politics. John Frankenheimer directed, in the semidocumentary style he knows best. (Rated PG-13) THE STEAMROLLER AND THE VIOLIN - The brilliant Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky directed this ``diploma film'' at the Moscow Film Institute in 1960. It's an appealing little reverie about a musically minded child who strikes up a friendship with a road worker. The story is slight, but the colors are wonderfully delicate, and Tarkovsky shows a strong instinct for in-depth visual composition that prefigures the sophistication of his later work. Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, another MFI filmmaker who would have a bright future, co-wrote the screenplay. (Not rated) SALOME'S LAST DANCE - To amuse Oscar Wilde, some friends put on a parlor production of his weirdly poetic ``Salome,'' and it takes up nearly all of this movie. The proceedings were directed by Ken Russell, who has more visual imagination than a dozen ordinary Hollywood filmmakers, but is perilously low on common sense and old-fashioned good taste. While this opus is more controlled than his recent ``Gothic,'' its many cinematic merits are mired in campy humor and a deliberately decadent atmosphere. (Rated R) STICKY FINGERS - Two penniless young women are entrusted with a satchel of ill-gotten money, and can't resist the temptation to spend it. Helen Slater and Melanie Mayron make a good comedy team, and director Catlin Adams shows a few sparks of visual originality. Still, the screenplay is irredeemably silly. (Rated PG-13) A TAXING WOMAN - The setting is Tokyo; the heroine is a zealous tax collector; the villain is a tax evader who matches her in cleverness and tenacity. Juzo Itami, the leading satirist in Japanese film today, directed this biting and sometimes raunchy farce. Although it's in the same sardonic vein as his earlier dark comedies, it's more tightly constructed than ``The Funeral,'' less invigorating than the admirable ``Tampopo.'' (Not rated) WHITE MISCHIEF - The title is an understatement. Idleness and decadence turn to jealousy and murder in Kenya, where a colony of effete Britishers has settled to wait out World War II. The movie's anticolonial attitudes are commendable, but the characters are so languid that it's hard to care a whit about them after the first few scenes. Directed by Michael Radford; glowingly photographed by Roger Deakins. (Rated R)

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