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FREEZE FRAMES

THE KARATE KID PART II -- Predictable, heavy-handed, and great fun. This time the kid visits Okinawa to help his lovable old guru settle a score with an enemy he hasn't seen in 40 years. You can hear every plot twist clunking along a half-hour before it arrives, but the emotions are as real as they are primitive, and the back-to-basics style of director John G. Avildsen serves the rudimentary characters and situations just fine. Noriyuki (Pat) Morita purses his lips and utters the warmest words of wisdom since Sam Jaffe reigned in Shangri-La, and Ralph Macchio gobbles them up with a doe-eyed eagerness that would do Bambi proud. Robert Mark Kamen wrote the screenplay, and James Crabe did the cinematography, which makes the most of lovely Asian settings. The inevitable Big Fight is a little too bloody, though. (Rated PG) LEGAL EAGLES -- Behind that trite title is a reasonably bright and original comedy-drama about a defense attorney and a prosecutor, who join forces to solve a befuddling case involving a dead artist and a slew of paintings that may or may not exist. Debra Winger has the courage to do a plain-Jane act right next to Daryl Hannah's voluptuous posing, and Hannah has the courage to bring out every speck of weirdness in her deceptively gorgeous character. Robert Redford gives one of his most attractive performances, poking gentle fun at his own handsome persona, and thus sliding neatly around his weaknesses as an actor. Directed by Ivan Reitman, who mixes different film genres as he did in ``Ghostbusters,'' but lets the story lurch too abruptly between humor and dark, even violent scenes. (Rated PG)

TOP OF THE WHALE -- Raul Ruiz is one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world, churning out fictions and documentaries at an enormous rate. Often he strains too hard and self-consciously for inventiveness, and his work drowns in a torrent of visual and verbal gimmicks. But this film shows his ingenuity, and his deeply unorthodox approach, in full flower. The main setting is a lonely house, populated by an odd mixture of people at some unspecified time in the future, after a revolution has turned the global order upside down. The hazy plot centers on the mutual bewilderment of two Indian men and their white companions. Most of the events are inscrutable, and the dialogue changes into a different language every few minutes. The moods and textures of the film are spellbinding, though, and the imagery is startlingly vivid. Also known as ``The Roof of the Whale'' and subtitled ``a film about survival,'' this is a true original, conceived and executed with the assurance of a master. (Not rated)

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THE MANHATTAN PROJECT -- Partly to protest a secret atomic lab in his neighborhood, and partly to show off by winning a big science fair, a high school student steals a bottle of plutonium and joins the ``nuclear club'' by making his own atom bomb. The story is basically a teen-age science-fiction adventure like many others, but it raises valid points about nuclear safety and military secrecy. And there's a good cast, headed by John Lithgow as a sneaky scientist who's eventually forced to reassess his motives and priorities. Directed by Marshall Brickman, who wrote the screenplay with Thomas Baum. (Rated PG-13) RATINGS: Films with ratings other than G may contain varying degrees of vulgar language, nudity, sex, and violence.


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