A CRY IN THE DARK - Meryl Streep gives a tough-minded performance in this Australian drama, based on the real experiences of a woman who is charged with murder after her baby's accidental death. Sam Neill is less convincing as her deeply religious husband, but director Fred Schepisi keeps the story thoughtful and engaging. (Rated PG-13) FAR NORTH - Tangled relationships in an eccentric northern Minnesota family are the subject of Sam Shepard's first movie as a director. His screenplay shows occasional flashes of the sardonic inventiveness that marks his best work as a playwright. Most of the going is soggy and unoriginal, though, despite some good acting. (Rated PG-13) SPIKE OF BENSONHURST - He's an ambitious young rascal, and upward mobility in his Brooklyn neighborhood means being married to the mob for life. Paul Morrissey directed and co-wrote this lively but forgettable comedy-drama, which has its share of nasty moments along with attempts at raucous fun. (Rated R) THEY LIVE - Let's hope it's not for long. Actually, this variation on ``Invasion of the Body Snatchers'' has a fascinating idea for its starting point: The world has already been colonized by aliens, who control us through secret messages in advertising, TV programming, and other media that bombard us every day. Too bad director John Carpenter doesn't match this tantalizing premise with snappy, thoughtful filmmaking; long stretches of the movie are trite and silly. (Rated R) U2/RATTLE AND HUM - A concert film starring the Irish rock group U2, which is known for being politically outspoken. It also has enough sense to borrow liberally from its betters, such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles, giving its music a variety and eclecticism that raise it a cut above the contemporary norm. Directed by Phil Joanou and gorgeously shot by Jordan Cronenweth and Robert Brinkmann, two first-rate cinematographers. Although some portions are in radiant color, incidentally, most of the film is in luminous black-and-white. Who says today's young audience won't watch anything unless it's colored (or colorized)? (Rated PG-13) WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN - Romantic problems multiply as a woman tracks down her wandering boyfriend and her apartment fills up with lovelorn friends and acquaintances. Carmen Maura's starring performance is a delight, but the best asset of this Spanish comedy is director Pedro Almod'ovar's visual style; in his hands the slightly surreal story becomes a kind of gentle, carefully controlled delirium. (Not rated)

RATINGS: Films with ratings other than G may contain varying degrees of vulgar language, nudity, sex, and violence.

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