Over the hol­i­days, check out 12 films that take a deeper ap­proach

The Fresno Bee - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL O’SUL­LI­VAN

The hol­i­days just got real. And no, I’m not talk­ing about Santa Claus. In a sea­son when cin­e­mas are typ­i­cally larded with es­capist good­ies like “Aquaman,” “Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch,” “Ralph Breaks the In­ter­net” and “Mary Poppins Re­turns,” this year is no­table for the way the cul­ture wars have in­vaded the sil­ver screen. And yes, I know that lately it seems ev­ery movie is po­lit­i­cal, es­pe­cially at this time on the cal­en­dar, when Hol­ly­wood’s weight­i­est, most is­sue-ori­ented dra­mas vie for Os­car’s at­ten­tion. It’s just that th­ese days, the top­i­cal­ity feels – for bet­ter or for worse – more ur­gent than ever. So why cel­e­brate the se­ri­ous sea­son over the silly? Be­cause th­ese 12 movies grap­ple with race, war, power, pol­i­tics, gen­der and sex­u­al­ity not with empty rhetoric, but in deeply emo­tional and even en­ter­tain­ing ways. Note that open­ing dates and rat­ings are sub­ject to change.

“BOY ERASED”

Star­ring: Lu­cas Hedges, Nicole Kid­man, Rus­sell Crowe, Joel Edger­ton, Troye Sivan By one es­ti­mate, nearly 700,000 Amer­i­cans have been sub­jected to what’s known as con­ver­sion ther­apy, a prac­tice that at­tempts to change one’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and – with­out ev­i­dence of ef­fi­cacy – is still le­gal in 41 states. Based on the 2016 me­moir of Gar­rard Con­ley, whose par­ents sent him to such a pro­gram as a teenager, the film “Boy Erased” tells the story of Jared, a stand-in for Con­ley played by Lu­cas Hedges of “Manch­ester by the Sea.” Crowe em­bod­ies the boy’s Bap­tist min­is­ter fa­ther with trade­mark blus­ter, but Kid­man earns cheers as Jared’s ul­ti­mately heroic mother. Ac­tor Joel Edger­ton wrote and di­rected this fol­lowup to his as­sured de­but, the thriller “The Gift,” while also play­ing the “ex-gay” di­rec­tor of the Love in Ac­tion min­istry. (Opens Nov. 9, Rated R)

“A PRI­VATE WAR”

Star­ring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dor­nan, Tom Hol­lan­der, Stan­ley Tucci The late war cor­re­spon­dent Marie Colvin was a rare breed: a woman cov­er­ing war zones for the Sun­day Times of Lon­don, along­side mostly male col­leagues. In this film by Matthew Heine­man – a film­maker mak­ing the switch from doc­u­men­tary (”City of Ghosts”) to scripted drama – Pike sports Colvin’s sig­na­ture eye patch, a badge of courage the re­porter earned in 2001 af­ter she was in­jured cov­er­ing the Tamil Tiger rebel group in Sri Lanka. As much as the movie fo­cuses on the atroc­i­ties of war in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, “A Pri­vate War” is also about the psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional toll of Colvin’s job and, ar­guably, her ad­dic­tion to its dan­gers. (Nov. 9, R)

“THE FRONT RUN­NER”

Star­ring: Hugh Jack­man, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Sim­mons, Sara Pax­ton, Al­fred Molina Set in the spring of 1987, over the course of the three short weeks in which the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., im­ploded over al­le­ga­tions of in­fi­delity, this wonky yet grip­ping po­lit­i­cal drama has many par­al­lels to the present day. In some ways, it’s al­most quaint to see Jack­man as the ide­al­is­tic politi­cian who still holds an ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy and to watch re­porters hes­i­tate about whether it’s eth­i­cal to pry into the per­sonal lives of pub­lic fig­ures. Yes, those were sim­pler times. This story, set at the dawn of a new me­dia age - one in which ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one is fair game presages the 24-hour news cy­cle and our vo­ra­cious, Twit­ter-fu­eled ap­petite for fresh dirt. (Nov. 16, R)

“WID­OWS”

Star­ring: Vi­ola Davis, Eliz­a­beth De­bicki, Michelle Ro­driguez, Cyn­thia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kalu­uya, Robert Du­vall, Liam Nee­son Call it a grit­tier “Oceans Eight.” When three crooks are killed in a rob­bery, their des­per­ate wid­ows (Davis, De­bicki and Ro­driguez) are left in debt – and with­out a so­cial safety net. They de­cide to carry out a heist. Di­rected by Steve McQueen (”12 Years a Slave”), who wrote the screenplay with Gil­lian Flynn (”Gone Girl”), “Wid­ows” doesn’t set­tle for the su­per­fi­cial tropes of most heist flicks, in­stead ground­ing what might oth­er­wise have been a light­weight crime ca­per in themes of class, race, sex and pol­i­tics. (Nov. 16, R)

“FAN­TAS­TIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDEL­WALD”

Star­ring: Ed­die Red-

PARISA TAG Fo­cus Fea­tures

Mar­got Rob­bie, cen­ter, stars as Queen Eliz­a­beth in “Mary Queen of Scots.”

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