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WIDOWS: REVENGE IS BITTERSWEET

Widows gets your attention right away with something that’s still rare and provocative: a passionate love scene filmed in close-up between an interracial couple, Viola Davis and Liam Neeson. It’s followed by visceral scenes of action and violence in the execution of a high-stakes robbery that kills all of its participants, including Neeson. When Davis realizes she is alone in the world with no money of her own, she recruits the other women whose partners and spouses have been cut down. Her daring plan: to pull off a heist of their own. Her motivations include survival, revenge, and an outlet for her overwhelming anger.   The leading lady is a tower of strength, although when she breaks down we’re reminded that no one cries onscreen quite…

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GREEN BOOK: ONE OF THE YEAR’S BEST

Green Book is the kind of movie that leaves you with a feeling of elation. That doesn’t happen enough, and when it does, it is often accompanied by a heavy dose of sentiment. Not this time. This is pure entertainment. We’ve all grown tired of seeing the legend “inspired by a true story,” but in this case the co-screenwriter is the son of the man depicted by Viggo Mortensen. He grew up listening to his father’s stories and recorded interviews with him before his passing in 2013. I’m sure dramatic license has been utilized, but the fundamentals are true. The year is 1962. Mahershala Ali plays the brilliant pianist Don Shirley, who is about to embark on a tour of the South. As a highly…

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BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

If hearing “We Will Rock You” or “Another One Bites the Dust” gets your juices flowing, this movie will likely do the same, in spite of its shortcomings. I never knew much about Freddie Mercury, but Rami Malek’s stunning performance won me over to Bohemian Rhapsody. The music of Queen is enduringly popular for a good reason, and the soundtrack is expertly produced by his longtime bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor.  Mercury was a misfit who defied his old-world family and adopted a flamboyant look and lifestyle, even abandoning his surname Bulsara after previously changing his first name from Farrokh. (He didn’t yet realize, or acknowledge, that he was gay.) After helping to form Queen in 1970, he enjoyed enormous success but ignited conflicts…

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Mid90s IS REAL AND RAW

Mid90s is a raw, intimate look at kids in L.A. during the 1990s.The protagonist is a sweet, good-hearted kid (Sunny Suljic) who doesn’t get along with his big brother (a scowling Lucas Hedges) and craves attention from his busy but well-meaning mother (Katherine Waterston). She doesn’t realize how alienated her 13-year-old feels right now. Not surprisingly, he finds a surrogate family of skateboarders on the street. They’re all older than him and completely divorced from reality. They get drunk, get high, get into trouble, and have no ambition whatsoever. One of them harbored dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder, but his best friend, who shared that goal, abandoned it and is now a goofy drunk. The boy tries to pretend he’s more worldly than he…

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BORDER: AS STRANGE AS IT GETS

This Swedish Oscar contender is one of the strangest films I have ever seen. Yet it grabbed me from the opening scene and never loosened its grip. Its protagonist is a notably unattractive woman who works for Customs at a port where cruise ships dock. We quickly learn that she has an unusually keen sense of smell, enhanced by intuition and experience. Actress Eva Melander is forever sniffing, and periodically stops innocent-looking passengers who turn out to be smuggling contraband of one sort or another into her country. She may look peculiar but she’s good at her job. Living life is another matter, involving a variety of challenges. She loves her father, who resides in a nursing home, and lives with a “macho man” who…

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REMEMBERING MY FRIEND JIMMY KAREN

Several years ago I got a phone call no one ever wants to receive: it appeared that Jimmy Karen was on death’s door. He wanted a “proper” obit and asked me to write one. As difficult as it was, I wanted to do right by him. Jimmy had a wide circle of friends, so I wasn’t surprised when his wife Alba put me in touch with George Clooney, Morgan Freeman, and Oliver Stone for quotes. Then a miracle occurred: Jimmy rebounded and regained his health!  George Clooney even referred to this false alarm in his thank-you speech at this year’s AFI Awards dinner. Although his energy was limited in recent years, Jimmy was not the type of person to stay home when something fun was…

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THE GUILTY: A SLEEPER YOU SHOULD SEE

The Guilty is a clever, thoroughly engrossing film from Denmark that marks the directorial debut of Swedish-born Gustav Möller, who also co-wrote the screenplay. This marks his first effort since graduating from film school, and he made it with a bare-bones crew consisting of fellow students. Only leading man Jakob Cedergren is an experienced professional. Möller made sure the story was one he could fully realize, while providing himself with a major challenge: it all takes place inside one office, with a brief detour to an adjoining room. That office is the headquarters of emergency services—what we would call 911. Unlike here in the States, in Denmark the operation is manned by police. Our protagonist is there as a kind of punishment while an internal review…

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