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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 on the arts-entertainment pages. The Movie Guide appears on the third Thursday of each month.

BEST FRIENDS - Two pals get married, visit each other's parents, pass through an emotional crisis, and emerge better marriage partners (and friends) than ever in this intelligent, sometimes hilarious comedy. Directed by Norman Jewison. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language and sexual references.)

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BETRAYAL - An examination of a love triangle in reverse, starting after the affair is over and moving backward to discover its earlier phases. Directed by David Jones, the Harold Pinter screenplay is exquisitely sharp, and the performers match it stunningly, with Jeremy Irons at the top of his form, Patricia Hodge a devastating foil, and Ben Kingsley topping his brilliant work in ''Gandhi'' with the most riveting portrayal of the season. (Rated R; contains adult subject matter and a very little vulgar language.)

CHOSEN, THE - In a Jewish section of Brooklyn during the 1940s, a young man gradually grows away from his family's Hasidic way of life, and his father (a powerful rabbi) has trouble accepting the change. Contains the surface, but only bits and pieces of the substance, of the fine Chaim Potok novel on which it is based. Directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan.

COME BACK TO THE 5 AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN - Near the Texas town where ''Giant'' was filmed, members of a fan club mark the 20th anniversary of James Dean's death, and we learn something lurid about almost everyone. Sensitively directed by Robert Altman from an uneven and sometimes sensationalistic script by Ed Graczyk. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and sexual discussion.)

COUP DE TORCHON - ''Clean Slate'' is the English-language title of this savage French satire on colonial attitudes, which are embodied by a dull-witted French policeman who loses his mind while trying to impose law and order on a sleepy African town. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, with much more energy than is found in most of his earlier films. (Not rated; contains vulgar language and nudity.)

DARK CRYSTAL, THE - The story is old hat, but the visual style is imaginative in this lavish fantasy about an elf-like ''gelfling'' who must find and repair a mysterious crystal to rid his world of evil rulers. Directed by Muppet-masters Jim Henson and Frank Oz, using complicated puppet techniques instead of human actors. (Rated PG; contains cartoonlike violence.)

DIVA - Fast and furious thriller about a young music fan who secretly records a performance by his favorite prima donna, a gaggle of cops and robbers who think his tape holds criminal evidence, and some crazed capitalists who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the real opera recording. Directed by French newcomer Jean-Claude Beineix with lots of style, it avoids sensationalism except for a little nudity and some violence near the end.

EATING RAOUL - Cannibalistic comedy about a bourgeois couple who are more shocked by sex than by murder. Directed by Paul Bartel. (Rated R; contains cartoonish sex and violence, and vulgar language.)

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E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL - Lost on the planet Earth, a friendly spaceman becomes the secret pal of a little boy, who can't believe his own good fortune. A grade-school version of ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind,'' directed by Steven Spielberg with lots of wit in the first half, but too much artificial emotion in the long climax, which leads to a resolution right out of ''Peter Pan.'' (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and a sci-fi medical sequence.)

48 HRS - Violence is the raison d'etre of this technically sharp but thoroughly nasty thriller about a cop and a crook who join forces to catch a psychopath. Directed by Walter Hill with his usual slam-bang competence. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, sexual innuendo, and mayhem.)

FRANCES - Melodramatic biography of the late movie star Frances Farmer, dealing with her rebellious teen years and her success in Hollywood, and graphically depicting her struggle with a series of apparent mental breakdowns. After some rocky moments near the beginning, Jessica Lange turns in a forceful performance, but director Graeme Clifford stresses the most sordid aspects of the story, and takes evident glee in painting the professional characters (mostly psychiatrists) as fools at best and outright thugs at worst. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, nudity, and much emotional violence.)

GANDHI - Dignified but flat biography of the great Indian leader, giving more facts than insight. Directed by Richard Attenborough. (Rated PG; contains occasional scenes of historical violence.)

INDEPENDENCE DAY - A young woman can't decide between her small-town boyfriend and the lure of the big city in this melodrama, which revolves around those sad soap-opera standbys, illness and bad marriages. Directed by Robert Mandel, who brings some force and conviction to a few harrowing scenes involving a battered wife. (Rated R; contains some vulgar language and family violence.)

KAMIKAZE '89 - The late Rainer Werner Fassbinder gives a punchy performance in the leading role of this West German detective story, set in the future, about a private eye trying to head off a mad bomber. Directed, in a sort of pop-art style, by Wolf Gremm. (Not rated; contains violence.)

KING OF COMEDY, THE - In a variation on their nasty masterpiece, ''Taxi Driver,'' director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro depict a character so obsessed with TV stardom that he kidnaps a talk-show host (played by Jerry Lewis) and demands network air time as the ransom. Barely under control much of the way, the groggy plot veers between drama and comedy, often settling on embarassment as both its theme and its mood. (Rated PG; contains a little sexual innuendo.)

KISS ME GOODBYE - Terribly written, flatly made, unevenly performed comedy about a woman and her fiance who are haunted by the ghost of her late husband. Directed by Robert Mulligan, who is capable of much better work, from a screenplay based on the overrated Brazilian film ''Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.'' (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language and a bit of sexual innuendo.)

LIANNA - Two women, a teacher and a ''faculty wife,'' have a love affair. Written and directed by John Sayles with dull, plodding earnestness. (Rated R; contains explicit sex.)

LOVESICK - After breaking all the rules by falling in love with a patient, a doctor leaves the psychoanalysis ''industry'' for a life of just plain helping people. Marshall Brickman wrote and directed this literate romantic comedy, which looks elegant even when it sinks to silliness. (Rated PG; contains broad satire of Freudian sexual discussions and a little implied sexual behavior.)

MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER, THE - Australian western with all the classic cliches and stale situations, wrapped into a pretty and energetic package by director George Miller. Kirk Douglas plays two roles: a self-made rancher who wants to shield his daughter from romance with a handsome hired hand, and the rancher's long-lost brother, a sort of Gabby Hayes among the kangaroos. (Rated PG; contains some violence.)

MUDDY RIVER - Muted, sharply filmed drama about working-class life in Japan shortly after World War II, as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy. Inventively directed by Kohei Oguri. (Not rated; contains occasional sexual references and a scene in which live shellfish are set on fire.)

NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS, THE - Amid the sad confusion of World War II, a group of Italian peasants flee the Germans who control their town and head into the countryside, looking for American soldiers and liberation. Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani with their patented blend of realism, fantasy, and myth. (Rated R; contains some earthy details of peasant life.)

OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, AN - Except for its realistically rotten language and sexual activity, this is a surprisingly old-fashioned military drama about a young man dragged into maturity by a tough-but-kindly drill sergeant. The training and growing-up scenes are very effective. But the movie also wants to be a love story, and here it sinks into trite and sometimes distasteful formulas. Directed by Taylor Hackford. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and nudity.)

PARSIFAL - Visually lavish and musically lush rendition of Wagner's last opera. Directed by West German filmmaker Hans Jurgen Syberberg, with the combination of epic vision, mystical preoccupation, and technological audacity that have long made him the world's most Wagnerian cineaste. (Not rated; contains brief nudity.)

PETER PAN - Reissue of the classic Disney cartoon about a boy who won't grow up. Still a charmer. (Rated G.)

SOPHIE'S CHOICE - Harrowing but humanistic drama, set in 1947, about a young writer who gets involved with a non-Semitic survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and her brilliant but unstable Jewish boyfriend. Written and directed by Alan J. Pakula, who eliminates much of the sensationalism and sexual detail of the original novel by William Styron. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, sexual innuendo, and Nazi war crimes.)

STILL OF THE NIGHT - A psychiatrist gets involved with an enigmatic woman who may have murdered one of his patients. Directed by Robert Benton with visual elegance and comparative restraint, considering the harrowing subject matter, but far too dependent on tricks borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock classics. (Rated PG; contains some violence and a moment of nudity.)

TEX - Sensitive, moving, intelligent drama of a teen-age boy who wants to grow up but isn't sure how to go about it. The plot, adapted from S. E. Hinton's popular novel, follows the title character through several adventures, touching on difficult topics including drugs and tentative sex but maintaining a tasteful and responsible attitude in every scene. Directed with tact and insight by newcomer Tim Hunter for Walt Disney productions. (Rated PG; contains some violence and mildly vulgar language.)

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON - Five men lurch uncomfortably into middle age, sustained by nothing more substantial than memories of a great year on their high-school basketball team. Written and directed by Jason Miller, who has extended the scope of his successful Broadway play without adding to its skimpy insights. (Rated R; contains vulgar language.)

TOOTSIE - An out-of-work actor becomes a star by masquerading as a woman in this reasonably funny comedy featuring a complex performance by Dustin Hoffman. Directed by Sydney Pollack. (Rated PG; contains some vulgar language and sexual innuendo.)

TOY, THE - Botched comedy about a spoiled little boy who is offered any toy he wants, and insists on ''owning'' a human being. The director, Richard Donner, aims for high comedy and social commentary, and completely misses the mark on both. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language.)

VERDICT, THE - Paul Newman gives what may be the performance of his career as a down-and-out lawyer who risks what's left of his practice to take a courageous stand on a difficult case. Sensitively directed by Sidney Lumet from a screenplay by David Mamet that is flawed only by some bumpy spots near the beginning and end. (Rated R; contains some vulgar language and a few medical details.)

VIDEODROME - Technocrats turn TV into a mind-control device, with results as harrowing as they are incoherent. Horror specialist David Cronenberg directed this dense, daring, dialectical, and sometimes despicable drama. (Rated R; cantains vulgar language, lurid violence, and kinky sex.)

WINTER KILLS - The ending has been slightly altered for the current reissue of this bizarre political melodrama about a young man tracking down the assassins of his brother (a president of the United States) and finding that the trail leads toward his own family. The atmosphere varies from grotesque to lyrical to downright hysterical, and filmmaker William Richert plays every mood to the hilt. (Rated R; contains vulgar language, nudity, and explicit sex.)

WITHOUT A TRACE - Drama, directed by Stanley Jaffe, about the search for a missing child and the effect of his disappearance on the parents. A schematic, often contrived look at an important subject. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and some frank talk about sexual abuse of children.)

YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, THE - A young journalist takes on his first big assignment, covering the last days of the Sukarno regime in Indonesia, and meets a diverse array of characters, including an enigmatic little man named Billy, brilliantly played by the American actress Linda Hunt. Directed by Australian filmmaker Peter Weir, not at the peak of his powers as in ''Gallipoli'' and ''The Last Wave,'' but pretty close. (Rated R; contains a little vulgar language and occasional scenes of social and physical misery.)

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