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Reviews: Widows; Boy Erased; Bohemian Rhapsody

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Steve McQueen’s Widows starts with some tender canoodling between Viola Davis and spouse Liam Neeson, intercut with a heist that goes very, very wrong.

As a result, the grieving widow Davis must repay the $2 million that had been stolen from the ruthless crime boss Bryan Tyree Henry, as he could really use that money to fund his campaign for alderman against Colin Farrell, son of entrenched political fixture Robert Duvall. Luckily, her late husband left her a book containing the plans for one last robbery. So what’s a widow to do…well, if you’ve got intelligence, grit, and determination, you gather the other widows (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Carrie Coon) for one big score—enough to pay back the “boss’ with more than enough left to split among the rest.

There’s plenty going on in Widows, as the screenplay by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (based on a teleplay by Lynda La Plante) uses the imminent election (in Chicago) and power struggle spurred by racial divisions (with no clear candidate to root for) as the backdrop for a heist drama in which women are taking on roles usually reserved for men (which could be used to their advantage, as Davis astutely points out). Make no mistake—this is no jaunty caper like the Ocean’s Eleven movies but a drama of women driven by desperation and the need to stay alive. Each widow has her own tale of woe, from Elizabeth Debicki, still reeling from wounds inflicted by her now-deceased husband and her very much alive mother (Jackie Weaver), while Michelle Rodriguez has lost her business thanks to her husband’s gambling. The only widow who doesn’t want in is Carrie Coon, and she has her reasons (luckily for the ladies and the movie, hairdresser Cynthia Erivo is able to fill in). The performances from Davis, Erivo, Debicki and Rodriguez are all solid and sympathetic, and there is a fiery turn from Duvall, as well as a chilling performance from Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as the crime boss’s brother—and lethal enforcer. There are a few twists in the plotting, including one you may spot in advance, and some unexplored elements in the wake of the climax. Still, while it’s not perfect, Widows is generally gripping and well-acted all the way.

Boy Erased

boy erased true story 1200

The beautifully acted, affecting drama Boy Erased dramatizes the true story of a college freshman who is forced to undergo gay conversion therapy at the request of his devoutly religious parents. Joel Edgerton’s film stars Lucas Hedges as the conflicted son of Baptist preacher Russell Crowe and devoted wife Nicole Kidman. When we first meet Hedges, he is about to enter the facility, with concerned mother Kidman forced to keep her distance while the therapist (Edgerton) informs his charges that their sexuality is a sin brought on by poor parenting. In flashbacks, we see that while Hedges has been maneuvered into an abortive heterosexual relationship, he discovers his true feelings are for members of his own sex. His parents, at a loss over how to respond, consult “older, wiser men” for counsel, leading to what is, for all concerned, an unfortunate decision. Boy Erased is distinguished not necessarily by the scenes at the center—it becomes clear that the defining feature of the center is its ability to inflict real emotional harm. Rather, the strength of the film lies in the conflict and interaction between Hedges and his well-meaning but narrow-minded parents.  As much as he says he loves Hedges, Crowe only will accept him on his own terms, using the tenets of religious faith as his sole support—thus ignoring the anguish and needs of his son. Meanwhile, Kidman nicely displays her character’s moral awakening in the face of Crowe’s intransigence, while Hedges believably conveys both the character’s confusion and growing assurance. Boy Erased shows that the road to acceptance and tolerance can be a difficult one, but it is is worth the journey.

Bohemian Rhapsody

bohemian rhapsody rami malek

Bohemian Rhapsody is the entertaining, poignant, and ultimately rousing story of the rise of the rock band Queen—and the ascent of its lead singer (and provocateur) Freddie Mercury—followed by Mercury’s descent into drugs, bad behavior, ill-advised sexual escapades, culminating in both his being diagnosed with AIDs, and being offered an opportunity to salvage both his career and Queen’s with a performance at Live Aid. Bryan Singer’s film, with a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, is not necessarily a factual one—and it does follow the standard trajectory of the rise and fall biopic. However, Bohemian Rhapsody benefits from an Oscar-worthy performance from Rami Malek as Mercury—rebellious, hungry, driven, mercurial (yeah, I know), conveying the musician’s contradictory compulsions to succeed, to love—and to fight with and alienate those he needs the most. One telling vignette has Mercury trying to return to Queen after an unsatisfactory experience with musicians who “gave him what he wants.” The interactions among the band members feel genuine, the songs and the snippets well done, and the concert at Live Aid is cathartic, wringing every emotion out of the viewer, bolstered by excellent camera work and well-timed reaction shots. It will make you want to revisit your Queen catalog—or begin to build one.

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Mike Peros

Mike Peros is an author whose new book, DAN DURYEA - HEEL WITH A HEART, the first biography of classic Hollywood's iconic villain, was recently published by the University Press of Mississippi.  He is  also an educator with a passion for movies ever since he saw John Wayne riding toward the bad guys, reins between his teeth, in TRUE GRIT.  Some of his favorite films include THE BAND WAGON, THE WILD BUNCH, OUT OF THE PAST, THE SILENT PARTNER, IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER ( a great musical--if you're a Gene Kelly fan, what are you waiting for?), and KONGA with the great Michael Gough.

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