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Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin

“A PRIVATE WAR” My rating: B+ (Now showing)

110 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There have been enough movies about war correspondents to make up a cinematic subgenre, yet I can recall none with the pure emotional power of “A Private War.”

No doubt much of that has to do with the fact that it’s a true story.  Marie Colvin was a native of Long Island who got into the journalism game and by middle age was one of the most renowned war correspondents on the planet. By the time she died in 2012 covering the civil war in Syria for Britain’s The Sunday Times, she had seen more war than most career soldiers.

No amount of hyperbole can quite express how good Brit actress Rosamund Pike is in the leading role. Her nuanced performance paints an indelible portrait of a woman who was simultaneously heroic and horrified, driven into the arms of danger by a fatal idealism most of us can understand but few of us could emulate.

Kudos to screenwriter Arash Amel, who in adapting Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair profile has found just the right balance of the intensely personal and sweepingly epic; and especially to first-time feature director Matthew Heinemann, whose background in documentaries (his “City of Ghosts,” about volunteer Syrian rescue crews who risk death by pulling  victims from the rubble of bombed-out cities) provided the perfect on-the-job training for this scarily realistic hand-held depiction of modern warfare.

Early in the film Colvin loses an eye covering a revolution in Sri Lanka.  For most of us that would be it…time for a nice cushy desk job.

Not this woman.  (“I’m not hanging up my flak jacket.”)

Driven by a near-pathological need to experience and report the hardships of citizens in war zones, she returns again and again to dangerous environs, focusing not on soldiers but on the suffering of the common man. Even while the bullets were still flying in the U.S. occupation of Iran, Colvin hired heavy equipment to unearth a mass grave where Saddam’s minions had secretly murdered and buried hundreds of villagers who had defied his reign.

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Viola Davis

“WIDOWS” My rating: B (Now showing)

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Widows” is a sprawling crime drama that wants to be something more…and almost gets there.

The latest from Brit director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave,” “Shame”) is a heist film with a twist: The perps are all women forced to engage in a crime in order to survive.

In the opening moments we see a group of career criminals — their leader, Harry Rawlings, is portrayed by Liam Neeson — saying goodbye to their families and going off to “work.”  That night all of them die in a fiery crash after stealing millions from a local Chicago crime lord.

They leave behind grieving women who aren’t sure how to get on with their lives.  Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis), still has the couple’s posh apartment and at least a small reservoir of cash. But her love for Harry was so intense and complete that she’s a mere shell of her former self.

Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) has supported her two kids with a dress shop — though her no-good hubby was always dipping into the till and, in fact, hasn’t paid the rent for months. Trophy wife Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) is pretty much cast adrift; her often-violent spouse (Jon Bernthal) has left behind nothing but bruises.

Worse is still to come.  Veronica is paid a visit by Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) whose millions, stolen by Harry’s crew, went up in flames. He now informs Veronica that she must make good on that debt…or else.  She has no choice but to recruit the other widows whose lives are also in danger; using as their guide a notebook in which Harry meticulously planned future crimes, the three women prepare and execute another multi-million-dollar heist.

This would be enough plot for most films. But the screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is only getting started. What they envision with “Widows” is a multi-character examination of modern American urban life…and it isn’t pretty.

This is a world in which everybody is a crook, including — no, especially — politicians.

Despite his criminal enterprises, Jamal Manning is running for city alderman (hey, it’s Chicago). His opponent is the Kennedy-esqe Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), whose closet-racist father (Robert Duvall) has up to now kept the seat in the family despite redistricting that has left the voter pool almost 100 percent black. No matter who wins, the residents are going to get screwed.

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Lucas Hedges

“BOY ERASED”My rating: B (Opens Nov. 16 at the Tivoli, Barrywoods and Town Center)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In real life, forgiveness is a virtue.

In cinema, it’s a handicap.

That may be why Joel Edgerton’s “Boy Erased,” based on Gerrard Conley’s memoir of undergoing gay conversion therapy as a teen, seems simultaneously important and a bit underwhelming.

The film (and, presumably, Conley’s book) doesn’t go looking for villainy in religious-backed efforts to pray the gay away. The movie is astonishingly open minded and open hearted.  The folk who operate conversion camps are given the benefit of the doubt; they appear sincere in their beliefs and seem to have the best interests of their young clients at heart.

They’re  misguided, sure. But not evil.

That sort of evenhandedness, while morally sound, is narratively problematic. Great drama needs great conflict, and “Boy Erased” soft-pedals issues of prejudice and persecution that might kick the film into dramatic high gear.

What we’re left with is a well-acted, insightful drama that is more mournful than pissed off.

Egerton’s picture (he wrote and directed) begins with college freshman Jared Eamons (a terrific Lucas Hedges) arriving at a big city conversion camp with his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, with the poofy blonde ‘do and vaguely out-there fashion sense of a tasteful Tammy Faye Bakker).

While his mom retreats to the hotel where the two will be sharing a suite for the next two weeks, Jared gets a walkthrough of the joint.  His wallet, cell phone and personal effects are placed in a box and locked away (it’s a bit like reporting to prison).  His journal, in which he scribbles notes for possible short stories, is confiscated (it will be returned to him with certain pages missing). He’s told that all outside reading materials, music, radio and TV are banned.

The man in charge, Victor (director Edgerton), approaches the young men and women in his custody with the sort of enthusiasm and concern exhibited by a good athletic coach. He’s totally upbeat about the possibility of these kids bringing themselves back to God.

Because it’s really not their fault, you see.  Not that they were born gay.  No, that’s a myth.  Rather, at some point in their developmental years these individuals had their psyches warped by someone — usually a family member —  who triggered their gayness.

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“MONROVIA, INDIANA” My rating: B (Opens Nov. 16 at the Screenland Armour)

143 minutes | No MPAA rating

In this age of polemical documentarians, Frederick Wiseman is an aberration.

The 88-year-old Wiseman — who gained fame and notoriety with 1967’s “Titticutt Follies,” a harrowing descent into life in a mental institution — is as close to an objective filmmaker as exists.

Basically he records reality, making no comment on what his film captures.

Obviously he must make editorial choices…where to point his camera, when to turn it on and off, what footage to use in the final production, what must be left behind.

In “Monrovia, Indiana” Wiseman turns his lens and microphone on the residents of a rural Midwestern burg. Many a filmmaker would use this as an opportunity to comment on Trump country, to subtly slam or celebrate the blue-collar types who are the backbone of these United States.

Uh-uh. Wiseman is aiming for something deeper than a quick where-we-are glimpse at the political scene. Deeper, even, than capturing the current zeitgeist.

He’s looking for even bigger themes of humanity. Who are these creatures called Americans, and what are their lives like?

“Monrovia, Indiana” opens with a sequence set in a Bible study class. The theme is tribulation.

There’s lunch period at the local high school, followed by a talk and slide show presented by a teacher who recounts the town’s legendary place in the world of basketball (Monrovia is the home of coach JohnWooden, among other honors).

The sequence unfolds in five minutes of real time. It requires patience from the observer…if you look closely you can see some of the kids starting to squirm.

Well, get used to it.  This is Wiseman’s style: He turns on his camera and simply lets it run.

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Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, JakeGyllenhaal

“WILDLIFE”  My rating: B+

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In “Wildlife,” the  mesmerizing directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, people — adults, anyway — are perplexing creatures.

A father loses his job at a country club and instead of launching a job search abandons his family for immensely dangerous and low-paying work fighting forest fires. The bitter mother flips almost overnight from June Cleaver domesticity to provocative sexuality.

These near-radical personality changes are hard to fathom — until you realize that Dano’s film (co-written with actress Zoe Kazan from Richard Ford’s novel) centers on the perceptions of the couple’s 14-year-old son. Seen through the kid’s bewildered and traumatized eyes, even the slightest change in familial surroundings registers like an earthquake.

Set in the early 1950s, the film begins with Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) losing his job as the golf pro in a small Montana town.  His wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), who never wanted to move there in the first place, does her best to beef up Jerry’s battered ego and even rejoins the workforce, teaching adult swim classes at the local Y.

All this is tremendously worrying for their 14-year-old son, Joe (a spectacularly good Ed Oxenbould). It’s hard seeing your once-upbeat dad sinking into depression and ennui. And while Mom seems to be enjoying her new economic independence, even that has a downside. She’s not at home all that much.

But Joe’s a good kid and, to help prop up the family’s failing fortunes, signs on as an assistant at the local photographic portrait studio.

Jerry’s decision to join a firefighting crew battling the stubborn blaze — which has burned for weeks in a nearby mountain range, threatening the town not only with flames but lung-congesting smoke — comes as a shock to Jeanette and Joe.  People are getting burned up fighting the conflagration.

“What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?” Jeanette seethes. The poetic theatricality of that line of dialogue (would your average wife phrase it in just that way?) suggests it has been refliltered through Joe’s tormented imagination and memory.

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Melissa McCarthy

“CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?” My rating: 
106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Can a criminal act be a form of art?

Well, yes — at least according to “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Writer/director Marielle Heller’s sophomore feature (after the hair-raising “Diary of a Teenage Girl”) is based on the real case of Lee Israel, a minor author of literary and show-biz biographies who back in the early ’90s revived her flagging financial fortunes by forging and selling nearly 400 letters from famous literary types like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker.

Starring Melissa McCarthy (in serious mode) as the curmudgeonly Israel and Richard E. Grant as her lowlife friend and co-conspirator, “Can You Ever…” walks a fine line between bathos and black humor. Along the way it gets you rooting for the “bad” guys.

When we first meet McCarthy’s Lee she’s trying to get her long-time agent (Jane Curtin) to cough up advance money for a bio of vaudeville legend Fanny Brice. That isn’t going to happen. As the agent calmly points out, there’s no interest in a Fanny Brice book and, anyway, Lee’s snarling personality pretty much alienates everyone she comes into contact with.

Indeed, Lee has just lost a temp gig for drinking on the job and loudly cursing her co-workers. Her sole friend is her cat, who needs medicine she cannot afford. Lee’s not above stealing another woman’s coat at a literary cocktail party.

She’s slugging them back at her local bar when she makes the acquaintance of Jack Hock (Grant), an aging British queen who passes himself off as a jaded sophisticate (he’s jaded, but hardly sophisticated) while living hand-to-mouth on NYC’s mean streets.

Jack’s catty, go-for-broke outlook meshes nicely with Lee’s misanthropy…they’re just what the other needs. For a while they’re mere drinking buddies.

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Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

“BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”  My rating: B

134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Remi Malek is a most unconventional star.  His biggest break to date has been as the lead of cable’s “Mr. Robot,” where he plays an emotionally-challenged computer genius, a role that perfectly meshes his acting chops with his unusual physiognomy.

He’s a weird-looking dude.

Nevertheless, in Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” Malek becomes a bona fide movie star, sinking so completely into the role of flamboyant Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury that he immediately joins the frontrunners for the year’s best actor Oscar, turning a rather humdrum musical biopic into something scintillating.

Ramen is charismatic, sexy, funny and ultimately heartbreaking as Mercury, whose baroque (or is it rococo?) sensibilities made Queen one of the most unlikely rock bands of the 1970s and ’80s.

Like the new “A Star is Born,” another film that cannily mines the backstage world of pop/rock, “…Rhapsody” follows a predictable arc, being the story of a rock star’s rise to fame and descent into ego, arrogance and, eventually, death (Mercury died of AIDS in 1991).

But that familiar  — almost cliched — tale provides a solid platform for Malek’s performance —  in addition to offering a musical soundtrack that’ll have you humming days and weeks later.

Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan’s screenplay begins with Farrokh Bulsara (Malek) hustling baggage at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Wherever he goes, the shy Farrokh is a fish out of water.  His fellow workers dismiss him as a “Paki” (Pakistani); his Farsi parents, who fled religious persecution in their native Zanzibar, don’t know what to make of his dramatically long hair and disco fashion sense.

Moreover, the kid has an amazing set of choppers…reportedly Farrokh had four extra incisors (Malek wears a lip-stretching set of fake teeth).

Early on Farrokh takes up with a struggling rock band —  guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), baby-faced drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) — and amazes with his songwriting, theatrical presence and balls-to-the-walls vocals (reportedly a combination of Malek’s voice and that of Mercury impersonator Marc Matel).

Oh, yeah. He also changes his name to Freddy Mercury, a break with his heritage that alienates his traditionalist parents.

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Timothee Chalamet, Steve Carell

“BEAUTIFUL BOY” My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Drug addiction movies are a bit like Holocaust movies.

Even if the film is well made, the subject matter is tremendously off-putting and depressing. It takes something remarkable, a new way of looking at the topic, to make the painful bearable.

“Beautiful Boy” comes close. It is based on journalist David Sheff’s memoir of dealing with his son Nic’s addiction, as well as a second memoir by Nic.  There’s little emphasis here on the usual tropes of the genre…back-alley drug buys, spoons and needles, withdrawal agonies.

Instead the film puts a parent’s horror and anxiety front and center, and by doing so it forces every viewer — or at least those with children — to question how they would deal with a similar situation.

Coddle? Criticize? Wash your hands of an uncontrollable child?

At various points in Felix Van Groeningen’s film, all those options are examined. And it helps immeasurably that the film stars Steve Carell as the elder Sheff and the ever-resourceful Timothy Chalamet as his tormented son, Nic.

The  screenplay by Van Groningen and Luke Davis cleverly juggles its time frame, opening with a conversation between the deeply concerned David and a drug counselor and then employing a series of jumbled flashbacks to tell the story of this father and son.

A narratively straightforward, step-by-step depiction of young Nic’s descent into depravity might be too much to handle; by zigging and zagging between the family’s homey past and its uncomfortable present, the film offers an emotional buffer between the audience and the film’s inescapable angst.

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Alex Hannold

“FREE SOLO” My rating: B (Opens Oct. 26 at the Tivoli)

100 minutes | MPAA rating:PG-13

The faint of heart had best pass on “Free Solo,” a mountaineering documentary with so many close calls that the audience spends a good chunk of the running time with their hearts in their throats.

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s film follows young Alex Honnold, who eschews pitons and ropes and the usual paraphernalia of mountain climbing in favor of his hands and feet.  As a free soloist, he clambers up impossible cliffs with nothing but his own strength and a sort of sixth sense about what cracks and indentations can accommodate his fingers and toes to support his weight.

“Free Solo” follows Honnold over two years as he prepares to be the first to freestyle climb Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, viewed by mountaineers as “the most impressive wall on earth.” We also learn that the most famous of Honnold’s fellow free soloists have fallen to their deaths…it’s a high-mortality calling.

There’s a good deal of information here about how Honnold approaches this killer challenge.  He has climbed El Capitan dozens of times using ropes  and safety equipment, trying to decide what route he’ll take once he’s on his own.  Frequently he loses his grip and falls. The lines that save him won’t be there on the day of the big climb.

Over time he maps out in his head every nook and cranny of the 2,000-foot tall mountain face, and choreographs his every move, planning what each hand and foot will be doing in a sort of life-or-death choreography.

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Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong

“FIRST MAN” My rating: B 

141 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

With “First Man” wonderkid director Damien Chazelle has segued from the high artifice of a musical (“La La Land”) to a soaked-in-realism docudrama.

“First Man” is the story of Neil Armstrong, who in 1969 became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The creation of NASA, setbacks in the U.S. space program and the eventual triumph of a moon landing  already have inspired the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” and films like “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

The emphasis from Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer is on momentous events as experienced by one man…and not a terribly demonstrative man at that.

The Neil Armstrong of this retelling is a jet jockey whom we first meet in a near-disastrous sub-orbital test flight of the experimental X-15 plane. Like a lot of guys who risk death as part of their daily routine, he keeps his feelings — both fear and love — pretty much to himself. Whatever  ego he possesses stays hidden…getting the job done is his primary goal.

So it’s a good thing, then, that Armstrong is played by “La La…” star Ryan Gosling, who has the skill and talent to project the inner turmoil of a man who doesn’t give away much.

The screenplay cannily focuses on Armstrong’s most traumatic experience.  It has nothing to do with  ejecting from a crashing plane and being dragged across the landscape by his wind-propelled parachute.

No, it’s the cancer death of  his young daughter, a beautiful child who, thanks to the Chazelle/Singer screenplay, appears periodically to Armstrong’s inner eye, a reminder that no matter his stoic appearance, there’s fierce emotion bubbling beneath.

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Amandla Stenberg (center)

“THE HATE U GIVE” My rating: B

132 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Hate U Give” begins with an African American father swallowing his rage and giving his children “the talk,” instructing them how to behave if they’re ever pulled over by the cops. For starters, don’t argue. Put both hands on the dashboard and don’t remove them until told to do so.

The film ends with a race riot of the kind seen in Ferguson MO in 2014.

Between those cringeworthy moments this movie — based on Angie Thomas young adult novel and brought to the screen by director George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious,” “Soul Food,” “Men of Honor”) — explores the world of Starr Carter (Amanda Stenberg in a star-making perf), one of the few black students at her mostly white private school.

Starr is our narrator and she points out from the get-go that she’s living a dual life.  Evenings and weekends she’s a resident of a mostly-black neighborhood, where she can just be one of the girls.

Miles away at school, though, she’s got to be whiter than the white kids (who are free to appropriate gangsta manners while Starr must cling to the straight and narrow). She’s got a white boyfriend (K.J. Aha), who seems a decent enough guy, even if he is making noises about taking their relationship up a step (nudge, nudge).

“The Hate U Give” (the title references one of Tupac’s raps) is set in motion by the death of one of  Starr’s childhood friends, Khalil (Algee Smith) in a police confrontation to which she is the only witness.

The authorities expect Starr to testify about the incident, including her knowledge that Khalil was peddling dope for local drug lord King (Anthony Mackie).  King wants to stop her from talking and will threaten Starr’s family to do so.  It doesn’t help that there’s bad blood between King and Starr’s father, Mav (Russell Hornsby), a grocery owner who broke away from the  gang years before.

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Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

“A STAR IS BORN”  My rating: B

135 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Lady Gaga (Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) has been a major star for almost a decade now, but even if you’d never heard of her, “A Star Is Born” would confirm that there is indeed a new comet in the heavens.

She’s really, really good.

This is the third remake of the original show-biz love story (after the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the ’54 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the ’76 vehicle for Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). Though many of the details have been refreshed for this Bradley Cooper-directed effort, it’s still the story of a rising young performer’s romance with an older, established star who cannot handle it when her career eclipses his.

So don’t expect much new in the plot department.

But watching Gaga sink her teeth into her first major acting opportunity is thrilling. The woman who in her stage shows often relies on visual overkill here delivers a sensitive and carefully modulated performance that will likely result in an Oscar nomination. And what makes it even more remarkable is that hers is the less showy performance.  Her co-star, Cooper, gets the big chewy scenes (You want attention? Play a drunk.) yet Gaga is all you want to look at.

Plus, the screenplay by Eric Roth, Will Fetters and Cooper perfectly nails its milieu of arena rock concerts, tour busses and messy hotel rooms. The plot may be familiar, but the setting has a life of its own.

Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a bearded, gravel-voiced star whose music ranges from folkie efforts to guitar-shredding Southern rock (something along the lines of Lynyrd Skynyrd/Marshall Tucker). He’s also a heavy drinker who gets itchy if he’s too long without a bottle in his hand.

Which is how Jackson ends up in a gay bar (they’ve got alcohol, right?) watching a drag show in which a waitress named Ally (Gaga) steals the spotlight with a spot-on Edith Piaf imitation. He’s impressed enough to go backstage to make her acquaintance.

It’s the start of a big-time romance.  Ally is flattered by the attention, but doesn’t think she’s pretty enough to be hobnobbing with a big star. (Interesting that Gaga, who in her earliest incarnations hid behind elaborate costumes, wigs and makeup, here goes through much of the film with almost no makeup at all).

She’s a songwriter and Jackson urges her to develop that talent.  In fact, after whisking her off to one of his stadium gigs in a far-flung city, he more or less drags her onstage to perform one of her compositions as a duet.  The audience goes ape (so will folks watching the movie) and before long the Ally show is in full swing with a fancy-pants manager/producer, an appearance on “SNL” and a Grammy nomination for best new artist.

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