Feast on These 12 Movies During the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend

20 Nov

The end of the year always brings with it a bounty of new movies, and sure enough, there’s a lot in theaters right now that’s worth seeing. Or that looks worth seeing but really isn’t.

So, with the end-of-the-year rush upon us, I thought I’d share some brief thoughts on 12 recent releases that you may be considering seeing as we head into the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, starting with my favorite ones.

“You know that feeling like there’s a song in the air, and it’s playing just for you?”

The latest from Disney-Pixar is a wonderful treat. Coco tells the story of Miguel, a young Mexican boy who dreams of becoming a singer, just like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), but whose family forbids the playing of any music. When Miguel is magically transported to the Land of the Dead, he learns valuable lessons about family and faith, and how far people will go for fame and fortune.

While not as sophisticated a story as, say, Inside Out, Coco is an imaginative, deeply affecting, visual masterpiece, one that respectfully celebrates the people and culture of Mexico without veering into stereotype. It’s filled with colorful characters (despite many being just skeletons) and beautiful, richly rendered settings that are a feast for the eyes. But, in true Pixar style, the storytelling aims right for the heart, and it provides an emotional payoff that’ll make you happy you’re watching in the dark, ideally behind dark 3D glasses. B+

“See, I took you on a safari.”

The characters in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project don’t have much, but what they lack in financial resources, they make up for in dreams and imagination. Especially precocious Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year-old who makes every day an opportunity for adventure. Willem Dafoe costars as the patient but grumpy manager of “The Magic Castle,” the budget hotel in Orlando where Moonee and her mother (Bria Vinai) live.

While mostly about Moonee and her friends, Florida Project is not a movie for kids. It’s raw and profane, and Baker doesn’t shy away from showing what life is like for these down-and-almost-out folks who live in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom but have far-from-Disney lives. That said, this is an absolutely delightful movie that will stay with you. Especially that ending. It’s one of my favorite movies of 2017. B+

“She’s warm, but she’s also kind of scary.”

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Greta Gerwig (loved her in Greenberg, hated her in Mistress America). But with Lady Bird, her directorial debut, Gerwig has created a film so likeable that it made me overlook any previous transgressions. It tells the semi-autobiographical story of a Sacramento high school senior named Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn), who just wants to leave town, and the mother (Laurie Metcalf) who is struggling to let her go.

Bittersweet, and filled with moments that are joyous, awkward, and frustrating, but always true, Lady Bird is one of those coming-of-age films where the main character’s dreams are often bigger than her abilities, but she has enough determination to make them real. Ronan and Metcalf are both excellent, and they’re assisted by a SAG Award–worthy ensemble that includes Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Timothée Chalamet (the upcoming Call Me By Your Name), Tracy Letts (Indignation), and Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising). Gerwig’s film, which she also wrote, is richly observed and touching. It soars. B+

“This time, the chick ain’t losing.”

In Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a mother who’s tired of the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) doing nothing to solve the case of her murdered daughter seven months after the young girl was raped and killed. Taking matters into her own hands, she rents space on — yes — three billboards and calls out the sherrif for his inaction. Then keeps poking the bear.

The film is a drama filled with moments of dark comedy, and is mostly propelled by the award-nomination-worthy performances of its three leads (aforementioned Harrelson and McDormand, plus Sam Rockwell as a racist cop). But it sputters out about halfway, telegraphing plot points a bit too broadly and not always delivering a satisfying resolution. Still, McDormand, as usual, is a force to be reckoned with; she is the main reason this film (written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths) is worth seeing. B

“I want some nice friends for a change.”

Wonder tells the story of a 10-year-old boy named Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, Room), who was born with a craniofacial condition and learns to live without his astronaut helmet during his first year in public school, and how his family and classmates adjust to the change. The film is the predictably heartwarming story you expect it to be, and it has a handful of cheesy lines of superficial inspirational dialogue — including the old chestnut, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” It also has an impressive cast including Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, and Hamiton’s Daveed Diggs.

I wanted to see more of Diggs, in particular, but what impressed me the most about Stephen Chbosky’s film is the way the adult cast really isn’t the focus. Rather, Wonder is about how Auggie, his sister, and their friends deal with their circumstances and find the strength to overcome their challenges largely on their own, without a lot of parental or teacher assistance. The film is definitely sweet and charming, and will likely become required viewing for school kids (for good reason). Adults, however, should let their tolerance for such nice films be their guide before seeing this one. B

“Hulk like raging fire. Thor like smoldering fire.”

Thor’s anvil and hair aren’t the only things missing from Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel movies typically do a great job at blending humor and action, but this one swings a bit too far in one direction. Which means Ragnarok is a fun sci-fi comedy, but it’s not as satisfying as other MCU movies have been. And worse, some of its best bits will have already been spoiled for you by the trailers before you even get to the theater.

Jeff Goldblum is, predictably, a hoot, and Tessa Thomson (Creed) makes a great addition to the team, but Cate Blanchett disappoints. Don’t believe the hype; Ragnarok isn’t as super as you may be led to believe. B

“I see evil on this train.”

Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit, is a gorgeous, slick, old-fashioned film filled with one of the highest wattage casts since Ocean’s 11. Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., and Derek Jacobi play strangers on a luxury train, suspects in a murder that Branagh’s fussy and particular Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, will solve. (Johnny Depp is also in the movie, but let’s just say he’s not in it for very long.)

At the risk of using a tired and all-too-predictable cliché, Murder chugs along nicely for a while, but it eventually runs out of steam. B

“They said the age of heroes would never come again.”

In short: Justice League is not bad. It’s not great, either. But after the mess that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you’re smart to keep expectations low if you have any hope of enjoying this one. Zack Snyder has basically made a mess of the DCEU; very few of his choices — aesthetics and casting (especially Ben Affleck, who somehow seems bored here) — make for an endearing movie.

That said, Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is a fun Barry Allen and Gal Gadot continues to charm as Wonder Woman. And it’s, um, super cool the way Danny Elfman incorporates his Batman theme from the Tim Burton films into the score for this movie. No, Justice League isn’t The Avengers. But it could have been worse. A lot worse. Thank God it’s not. B

“If you place an object in a museum, would that make it art?”

In The Square, Claes Bang stars as Christian, the respected curator of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm, whose bad decisions turn his calm life into a chaotic mess. The film, which is in both English and Swedish (with subitles), puts Christian into one awkward situation after another — from how he reacts to his cell phone being stolen to his poor management of a PR firm hired to promote an upcoming exhibit — and rolls out its plot through a series of anecdotal segments. Sounds funny in concept, but it’s not always effective in execution.

Though it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year, The Square is a bit of a polarizing film that — like mother! earlier this year — will likely divide audiences. Count me among those who didn’t care for it all that much. C

Men make the wars; wars make the men.”

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is a giant disappointment, considering his last film, Everybody Wants Some!!, was my favorite movie of 2016. It tells the story of three Vietnam War veterans (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne) who travel together to retrieve the body of Carell’s character’s son, a soldier who has died overseas. The three actors don’t exactly have much chemistry, and there are times when Cranston overacts so much that he basically takes himself (and viewers) out of the movie.

If anything, Last Flag Flying shows that Linklater is just so much better when the ideas are his, and he’s not directing someone else’s material (though he co-wrote the film’s screenplay, it’s based on his co-writer’s novel, which was a sequel to The Last Detail). Linklater is a master of time and place, and this film doesn’t allow him to do his best work. As a result, the film is a chore to sit through. Bummer. C–

And if you’re staying in …

I’ve also seen Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), two Netflix originals that had short awards-qualifying runs in theaters. If you prefer to see your movies in the comfort of your living room, these are good alternatives that I gave B grades to. See them for Mary J. Blige and Adam Sandler’s fine performances, respectively.

What movie(s) are YOU planning to see this holiday weekend? Share your answer in the comments section below, or in a tweet.

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4 Responses to “Feast on These 12 Movies During the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend”

  1. andrew albert November 22, 2017 at 1:01 am #

    This is fantastic. What a great review. Thanks. Now that kids are getting old, I can pick and choose. Can’t wait to see what fun winter Rachel has to say…..

    • Martin Lieberman November 22, 2017 at 4:59 am #

      Thanks! Let me know if you end up seeing any of these movies, with or without the kids!

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