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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 the month.

ANGELO MY LOVE - Robert Duvall wrote and directed this astonishingly vivid picture about a young gypsy boy and his family, with a cast of real New York Gypsies playing themselves in the framework of a fictional plot about a feud over a stolen ring. After a few weak moments near the beginning, it's a colorful , deeply engaging, and relentlessly dramatic movie, with some of the most unpredictable performances ever captured on film. (Not rated; contains a little vulgar language and some dissolute behavior.) BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ - The sleazy milieu suits the cheap lives and petty aspirations of the characters, whose experiences revolve around a small-time thug named Franz, but brilliant performances and ingenious directing make this 15-hour epic a monumental capstone for the career of prodigious West German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. (Not rated; contains occasional bursts of violence and sexual activity.) CUJO - After an hour of tepid soap opera, the plot gets down to its dreary business, a rabid dog terrorizing a woman and her little boy. Directed by Lewis Teague and based on a novel by Stephen King, who must be running out of ideas. (Rated R; contains very graphic violence.) DANIEL - A dense, crowded, somewhat sanitized adaptation of E. L. Doctorow's intelligent novel ''The Book of Daniel,'' about a young man struggling to understand himself, his culture, and his heritage of radical politics by exploring the fate of his parents, who were executed for espionage in the 1950s. Echoes of the real-life Rosenberg case lend extra resonance to the drama, but as directed by Sidney Lumet, the screen version too often seems hectic and overwrought, despite its obvious sincerity. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and graphic electrocution scenes.) DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT, THE - Period romance about an artist who mingles amorous intrigue with a professional project. Directed by Peter Greenaway with a sense of structure that's as important to the film's effect as the story and characters. (Rated R; contains some violence and scatological detail.) FANNY AND ALEXANDER - In what he says will be his last film, Ingmar Bergman explores the life of a provincial Swedish family in 1907, approaching his very personal material with a mixture of insight, humor, and curious detachment. Though too long, sometimes vulgar, and surprisingly uneven in its inspiration, the result is perhaps the most Dickensian drama ever filmed: crowded, colorful, and compelling. (Rated R; contains sexual activity and bathroom humor.) FLASHDANCE - Punchy, cleverly stylized, but utterly empty yarn about a feisty young woman who welds by day, disco-dances by night, and dreams of the day when she can devote her life to her art. Directed by Adrian Lyne, who cares more about the frazzled musical numbers than the story, characters, or anything else. (Rated R; contains nudity and vulgar language.) GREY FOX, THE - A gentle, picturesque western set at the turn of the century, about a crusty old thief who goes back to his nefarious ways after a long stretch in the pen. Richard Farnsworth's starring performance is the picture's reason for being, though Canadian filmmaker Phillip Borsos has directed it with a good eye for mood, atmosphere, and telling detail. (Rated PG; contains a little violence and has a rather accepting attitude toward the misdeeds of its ''hero.'') I MARRIED A SHADOW - Mildly suspenseful French yarn about a young mother involved in a case of mistaken identity. Directed by Robin Davis with some imagination but a rather heavy hand. (Not rated; contains a little violence and implied sex.) KRULL - Mix and match the romance, adventure, and howling cliches in this ragingly old-fashioned yarn about a prince trying to rescue his beloved from the clutches of a monster on some faraway planet. Directed by Peter Yates, who at least has the courage to take the material straight, without condescending or camping it up. (Rated PG; contains violence of the sword-swinging and fang-bearing variety.) LA PASSANTE - A political activist kills a diplomat who used to be a Nazi, and through a long string of flashbacks we trace the origins of this event in his turbulent childhood. Capably directed by Jacques Rouffio, who was chosen by the late Romy Schneider to make what turned out to be her last film. (Not rated; contains some violence.) L'ETOILE DU NORD - ''North Star'' is the American title of this dull drama about a middle-aged man and woman involved in murder. Dirested by Pierre Granier-Deferre with the lethargy that often mars his work. (Not rated; contains some sexual innuendo.) LIQUID SKY - A flying saucer lands in downtown Manhattan, perversely attracted by the demented lives of the trendy ''new wave'' set, which it spies and preys on. Directed with great visual panache but a striking absence of moral perspective by Soviet emigre Slava Tsukerman, who seems equally repelled and attracted by the loud, lascivious ''punk'' behavior he paints with hair-raising, and surely exaggerated, detail. (Rated R; contains enormous amounts of sex, violence, and vulgar language.) MAD MAX - Reissue of Australian director George Miller's 1980 action melodrama about a highway cop and all kinds of bizarre villains. Less pretentious and more gripping than the overrated sequel, ''The Road Warrior,'' but viciously violent and awfully shallow. (Rated R; contains a great deal of mayhem.) MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE - Fierce drama about clashing cultures, values, and personalities in a World War II prison camp holding British prisoners, Japanese captors, and Korean guards. Directed by Nagisa Oshima and splendidly acted by an international cast. (Rated R; contains explicit violence and sexual references.) METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN - The idiotic story, bored performances , and irritating 3-D effects vie for last place in this dull science-fiction yarn about otherworldly adventurers. Directed by Charles Band. (Rated PG; contains some violence.) MR. MOM - Michael Keaton minds the kids while Terri Garr finds success in the business world. Evenhanded in its treatment of gender roles, but heavily directed by Stan Dragoti, and not nearly as funny as it might have been. (Rated PG; contains occasional vulgarity and sexual innuendo.) OCTOPUSSY - A tiny octopus is the symbol of a circus that gets mixed up in international intrigue, and the insignia of a smuggling ring that James Bond vanquishes after sundry close shaves. Directed by John Glen, who keeps the excitement level high for an hour or so, then lets the show slip into the doldrums. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language and sexual innuendo.) PAULINE AT THE BEACH - On vacation, a teen-age girl watches two men court her older cousin and tries to figure out why adults are so crafty and conniving about something as simple as affection. The third entry in the ''Comedies and Proverbs'' series of French director Eric Rohmer, who fills the picture with his usual blend of constant conversation, impeccable images, and sly intelligence. (Rated R; contains some nudity and sexual innuendo.) 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.) RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE, THE - In the 16th century a prodigal son returns to his native village, but some of the neighbors think he's really an impostor, and they may be right. As directed by Daniel Vigne, the story is engaging much of the way and the performances are strong, but there's ultimately not much point to it all, except to let us know that forensics weren't very advanced 400 years ago. (Not rated; contains some violence and sex.) 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.) STAR CHAMBER, THE - Convinced that ''something's gone wrong with the law'' because so many criminals are set free on courtroom technicalities, a group of judges decides to ''do something'' about the situation. As directed by Peter Hyams, the first half attacks the American judicial system and posits a well-dressed version of vigilante justice as the solution, while the second half pallidly tells us we're better off as we are. (Rated R; contains vulgar language and violence.) STAYING ALIVE - It's ''42nd Street'' with a disco beat in this sequel to ''Saturday Night Fever,'' being a rehash of the ancient story about a talented dancer yearning for a big break on Broadway. Directed by Sylvester Stallone, who pours lots of energy but little intelligence into scads of short, sweaty scenes more suited to the rhythms of cable-TV ''rock video'' than to the wide screen. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language and implied sex.) TENDER MERCIES - Exquisitely written and performed drama about a former country-music star recovering from a wrecked career and a drinking problem with the help of his new wife and stepson. Directed by Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford in his Hollywood debut, with a gentle style that's all the more stirring because it avoids the usual melodramatic twists. (Rated PG; contains a little vulgar language.) 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.) TWILIGHT ZONE, THE MOVIE - A four-part ''anthology film'' of varying quality, ranging from George Miller's stunning thriller about a demon sabotaging an airplane to Steven Spielberg's limp fable about senior citizens learning to be children again. (Rated PG; contains violence and vulgar language.) VACATION - Chevy Chase plays a dad who's bent on showing his family an all-American good time, but finds that fun can be much more bother than it's worth. Directed by Harold Ramis with some obligatory vulgarisms, but a generally milder tone than the notorious ''Animal House,'' which was also presented by National Lampoon magazine. (Rated R; contains four-letter words and sex jokes.) WARGAMES - A bright but irresponsible high-schooler unwittingly dials into a military computer that's used for rehearsing World War III and, thinking it's all a game, nearly touches off a nuclear holocaust. The teen-age heroics of the plot are eventually coupled with a laudable antiwar message, but the approach of director John Badham and hos screenwriters is too pat and smug to shed real light on the desperately important issues at hand. (Rated PG; contains vulgar language.) WAYS IN THE NIGHT - During the Nazi occupation of Poland, a young German soldier gets a crush on a local dowager and can't understand why she loathes him despite their mutual love of the arts. The reason, of course, is her fierce nationalism, which is just one of the many attitudes and ideas explored by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi in this eminently thoughtful drama, made in West Germany. (Not rated; contains some sexual references.) ZELIG - Woody Allen's amazingly funny and poigmant 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 ''documemtary'' style, with cleverly faked newsreel and home-movie footage that seamlessly blends the hostorical and the new. (Rated PG; contains a handful of sexual references.)

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