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In a word:  Dark

     This is a movie for wannabe movie actors, who seriously study the art of acting by watching every move, every expression every nuance, every word spoken (or unspoken) by star, Frances McDormand, the quintessential thespian. This is what Oscar performances are made of.  

     The plot surrounds the single, middle-aged mother of a girl who had been raped and murdered in a small town in Missouri, where the perpetrator(s) were never caught or brought to justice. After several months of no action by police, Frances Hayes (played by McDormand) runs out of patience and proceeds to rent three dilapidated billboards, in consecutive arrangement, off a desolate road near blue-collar Ebbing, Missouri (a town that does not exist) where she pastes three large signs that read: 1) RAPED WHILE DYING, 2) STILL NO ARRESTS and 3) HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?

     The bold action by the take-no-crap woman ignites a firestorm of reactions from the entire town, including the chief of police whose name appears on one of those signs, deftly played by Woody Harrelson. Enemies erupt from everywhere, but this is one tough gal who dazzles and puzzles the authorities

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     In a word:  revealing

If you want to know more about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) victims as related to military service and the pains of war, see this movie.

This is not just a medical diagnosis, it is a somber dilemma for many thousands of American men and women who have witnessed the horrors of fellow soldiers dying in agony, forever embedded in involuntary memory. Or, for those who suffered their own physical trauma.

The movie primarily centers on three friends, young men from the mid-west who had spent multiple tours in Iraq during war time. Each has their own stories, their own demons, and their own frustrations, some of which will stun the audience. These are but a microcosm of the national dilemma. I didn’t realize this was based on a true story with actual characters until the end of the film.

With shocking realism, the movie captures the living hell not only of the battlefield, but of the suffering these soldiers experience at home once the ordeal is thought to be over. Such trauma also creates huge impacts on perplexed spouses, family and friends who are at a loss

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In a word:  Illuminating. (in more ways than one)

     In a nutshell, this is a story, based on true events, about a unit of Arizona fireman and their sacrifices fighting dangerous forest fires.

     For certain, I would give this movie an A-plus for educating viewers about all the hazards, training, methods and tools involved in braving the elements within one of the most dangerous challenges there is for public servants, who often give their lives in the process of saving lives.  These men are, without question, the epitome of brave dedication, the very definition of “heroes.”   

     There are a number of worthwhile personal sub-stories built in to the movie, mostly dealing with the private lives of the men, and the struggles of their families and other loved ones.  Many moving scene keep the viewer glued to the screen.

     The problem for this reviewer was the writing. While it was refreshing to watch a movie that didn’t rely on curse words for effect, nor sex, the dialogue between the men, in some places, seemed  amateurish. Having been a part of an emergency responder organization for 30 years, I feel I know the difference between real

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“MARSHALL”  –  8 ½

     In a word:  Engaging

     This movie is not so much about the life of the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. Rather, it’s about a young civil rights attorney and the struggles he had to overcome in defending a young black defendant charged with rape in 1941 in Greenwich, Connecticut. At this time, Marshall was the sole staff attorney for the NAACP.

     The story focuses on the plight of a black chauffeur accused of raping a wealthy white woman, married, who was his employer. Several issues of racism are highlighted, particularly in the courtroom as the judge would not allow Marshall to utter a word during the trial, but had to pass that task on to a white attorney who had never tried a criminal case. The partnership between Marshall and Sam Friedman starts off on rocky grounds but eventually evolves into harmony and mutual respect.

     Actually, the trial is quite interesting with evidence and revelations that would intrigue folks who like to solve crimes.

     The movie is well-directed and maintains a pace which keeps the viewer engaged. Acting is good, with the Marshall role played by Chadwick Boseman, the same actor who portrayed

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     In a word:  Struggles

This is an entertaining, well-done movie about personal struggles within two sports stars who lived under the public eye. Folks who’ve been around a while, will remember the much ballyhooed tennis match between the dominant, 29-year-old female star of 1973, and the over-the-hill once-great Bobby Riggs, 55 year-old, who challenged Billie Jean King to a one-on-one match to prove a great man would always beat a great woman on the court.

     There was much more playing out in this docudrama than a mere tennis match, although the fact remains that the event topped the charts as the most watched sports even (then) in history.

     At play was the rise of women’s plight for equality in a time when male professionals earned ten times the dollars than did women, and it appeared their demands were falling on deaf ears until Billie Jean King came along to stand up to the establishment. 

     Once a major tennis star of the 1950’s, Bobby Riggs struggled with being a notorious gambling addict, not to mention an egomaniac who, knowing of the friction between women and men in tennis, concocted an idea to prove women’s tennis

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     In a word: gripping

     Before describing the movie, we should take into account a few tidbits about the actor Tom Cruise, probably the most recognized star in Hollywood, though he never won an Oscar for any of the 41 major movies he has made. Now age 55, looking more like 35, his dynamic persona and physical conditioning is nothing less than amazing, as he performs almost all his own stunts. In terms of money, he is the 8th highest grossing actor of all time in America. His films have grossed over $9 billion worldwide.

     For Tom Cruise, American Made is just another high-powered action film based on the true-life story of Barry Seal, a one-time pilot for TWA who – in the early 1980s — was lured into the world of drug smuggling, commiserating with the top figures of the international cartels, including the notorious Pablo Escobar. He is also acquainted with Manuel Noriega, famed dictator of Panama. Intoxicated by the flow of money, Seal becomes careless in some of his contacts as the film depicts him as collaborating with DEA or CIA until the web of crime and law enforcement catches up

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“ STRONGER” – 8 ½

In a word:  Heartbreaking

     The movie is a docudrama about love, compassion, outrage, sacrifice and most of all, struggle in coping with extreme personal tragedy.

     The story begins with the Boston Marathon bombing four years ago, which took the lives of  three innocent people and seriously injured hundreds more including 16 people who lost limbs. Jeff Bauman was one of these, a regular blue collar fellow who happened to be in attendance near the finish line to cheer on his girlfriend when the bombs went off.

     I remember seeing the first news photos of this young man in 2013, lying in shock amid the chaos, with his shin bone protruding through the skin of his lower leg.

     Surprisingly, the movie is not so much about the bombing or terrorism, or the investigation. It’s about one man, and the people who love him, and his life-changing catastrophe becoming a double-amputee. While Bauman’s life is turned inside out, so are the lives of his family members plus the girl he loves.

    The movie portrays Bauman’s long time relationship with Erin Hurley as having been rocky, in and out, breaking up, making up. At the time of the

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