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High HopesUnrated; 1989; 110 minutes; Academy, $89.95.

Celebrated British TV and stage director Mike Leigh writes and directs this bitterly poignant satire about Britain's increasingly stratified society under Margaret Thatcher's economic regimen. High Hopes is an absorbing slice-of-life drama focusing on a working-class family, particularly the elderly mother who lives uncomfortably in a recently gentrified neighborhood, her Marxist son who believes social reform in the U.K. is impossible and her upwardly aspiring daughter who has more money than taste.

_ Hal Lipper, Times Film Critic

Smooth Talk

Rated PG-13; 1985; 92 minutes; Vestron Video, $79.98.

Smooth Talk, a deftly adapted Joyce Carol Oates story, concerns the long, hot summer of the languorous Connie, a sexually awakening 15-year-old played with quiet depth and unusual maturity by the Meryl Streep of tomorrow _ the marvelous Laura Dern. Treat Williams co-stars as an older man (say late 20s) who seduces Connie that disturbing summer _ it's an introduction not to love but to the struggle for sexual power.

At first the film focuses on the strain between the blooming, ever more independent Connie and her fading, clutching mother, Katharine (Mary Kay Place). Jealousy, control, mother-love vie for dominance as the exasperated Katharine inevitably pushes Connie into the clutches of the menacing Williams, a trashy dreamboat with a LeMans convertible who talks her into taking a ride. Oily, persuasive and a little scary, this James Dean throwback calls her "my sweet blue-eyed girl" and relieves her of her innocence. Joyce Chopra directs this compelling, modestly budgeted adaptation, which was scripted by her husband, Tom Cole. In her first feature film, Chopra's documentary style recalls the chatty verite of Eric Rohmer's little mam'selles.

_ Rita Kempley,

Los Angeles Times

Illegal point size/set width My American Cousin

Rated PG; 1986; 94 minutes; Media Home Entertainment, $79.95.

Writer-director Sandy Wilson's autobiographical movie concerns a 12-year-old Canadian girl's maturation and crush on her blond-haired American cousin who wheels into her parents' ranch in a brand-new 1959 Caddy late one summer night. Recounted from a woman's perspective, My American Cousin is a satisfying companion piece to Rob Reiner's more entertaining Stand By Me.

_ Hal Lipper, Times Film Critic

Relentless

Rated R; 1989; RCA-Columbia Home Video, $89.95.

As a rule of cinematic thumb, when a man talks to his reflection in the mirror, it bodes ill. In Relentless, William Lustig's thriller about a serial killer in Los Angeles, Buck (Judd Nelson) hears his father's voice through the looking glass _ the brutal policeman father who put a pistol in his hands when he was still a tyke (and slapped him down for missing the bull's-eye), who made him climb arduous mountain peaks, run obstacle courses while Pop fired live ammo over his head, and treated childhood as boot camp for his offspring recruit.

Relentless is yet another movie about the victim of an abusive childhood who grows up to become a psychopathic murderer, and it is relentless in only one aspect _ relentlessly banal. It's not as if the mind of the psycho killer is little-trod ground, or the filmmakers have any new insights. And the conflicts between the two homicide detectives assigned to the case are strictly according to Buddy-Buddy Hoyle. One of the cops, played by Leo Rossi, is a get-up-and-go New Yorker having trouble adjusting to the mellow Angeleno approach to law enforcement practiced by his partner (Robert Loggia), a veteran more interested in the value of the victims' homes than in finding the killer.

Remarkably, Judd Nelson is the standout _ he's never been more effective. His eyes blacked up by lack of sleep, he looks utterly abandoned, like the last kid to be picked up at the day-care center. Despite all the obstacles, he manages to convey a sense of something broken inside his character's soul.

_ Hal Hinson, Los Angeles Times

Wonderland

Rated R; 1989; 107 minutes; Vestron Video, $79.98.

The subject of Philip Saville's Wonderland is the relationship between two 17-year-old boys in Liverpool. Both are working-class and both are gay, but there the similarities end. Baby-fat soft, with peroxided curls, Eddie (Emile Charles) whiles away the hours watching old movies and reminiscing with his mother about days long ago. Michael (Tony Forsyth), on the other hand, is a punk, with very few illusions about sex in particular and life in general. The relationship is simultaneously idealized and amorphous. And the movie is, too. Wonderland is loaded with incidents and encounters that never add up. The boys seem to be merely pals who enjoy a night out at the video arcade or the Fruit Machine, a transvestite club run by a hugely obese man by the name of Annabelle. One night the boys witness an encounter between Annabelle and Echo (Bruce Payne), a hit man. Forced to hide out, they run away to Brighton to the home of an opera singer named Vincent (Robert Stephens) and his manager, Eve (Clare Higgins). And while Michael allows himself to be used in whatever manner his hosts demand, Eddie, who has tender fantasies of a mysterious dolphin lover, checks out the real dolphins at a nearby aquatic park. Saville and his screenwriter Franke Clarke try to give Eddie's sexuality a precious mystical dimension, but when they present us with dreamy shots of Eddie and his dolphin dreamboat swimming amorously around in the show tank, the picture comes dangerously close to turning into a gay Field of Dreams. After Eddie is stabbed by the hit man, instead of rushing him to the hospital, Michael rushes off to free the dolphin. This kind of thing makes it hard to participate in epiphanies.

_ Hal Hinson

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