NOW IN THEATERS:
Disney-Pixar's animated dramedy Coco (PG) is inspired by Mexico's annual Dia de los Muertos, the "day of the dead" when departed ancestors are celebrated. Good for diversity, although the movie isn't as good as its intentions.
Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) defies his family and runs away to be a musician after one abandoned his great-great-grandmother. The boy's quest leads to the afterlife, where his late singing idol (Benjamin Bratt) and a skeletal peasant (Gael García Bernal) pull the plot strings.
LAST FLAG FLYING
Richard Linklater does another "spiritual sequel," this time to Hal Ashby's 1973 classic The Last Detail based on Darryl Ponicsan's novel. Ponicsan's followup Last Flag Flying (R) inspires a movie trying too hard to dodge its past.
Bryan Cranston, right, does a mean Jack Nicholson impression as a man who's reunited with his Navy buddies (Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne). One's son was killed in Iraq and needs company on a road trip to Arlington and beyond.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS
Don't miss Christopher Plummer's turn as Ebenezer Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG), now or every year on home video. This fanciful notion of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol is bound to become a holiday perennial.
Dan Stevens, above, makes a charming Dickens, struggling with debt and writer's block when the idea of a Christmas novel comes to him. In 1843, the holiday wasn't a big deal. His book made it so.
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.
Denzel Washington, below left, stars as Roman J. Israel, Esq., (R) an old-school civil rights lawyer facing an ethical crisis. Colin Farrell co-stars in a courtrooom character study written and directed by Dan Gilroy, whose 2014 debut Nightcrawler was a nasty piece of business.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is where Mildred Hayes vents grief over her daughter's rape and murder, and anger toward a police chief who hasn't solved the case. Ten words on stark canvases setting off a powder keg of poetic cruelty and unexpected redemption.
The setting and Martin McDonagh's movie are no country for weak women. No problem. As played ferociously by Frances McDormand, Mildred is no one to underestimate, not for her callousness or ease of violence when necessary, which is for her alone to decide.
INDIE FLICK: LADY BIRD
Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird (R) is a different sort of delightful, like its first-time director in her day job as an indie cinema darling. Initially considered an acting and writing muse, Gerwig finds her own in Saoirse Ronan playing a version of the filmmaker's Sacramento youth.
Ronan's portrayal of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson has the makings of a Gen-Z hero, a rebel whose weapon of choice is stubborn irony. She gave herself the nickname, part of growing up spunky with parents who aren't. Lady Bird is bright, not book smart, a better person than those she won't hang around.
Lady Bird is determined to leave the family nest for a New York college without the grades or the blessing of her alpha mother (Laurie Metcalf). Her father (Tracy Letts) has been downsized at work and home. The McPherson family dynamics elicit the best of Gerwig's writing, bitter and sweet. The trio's bond is acrid yet unquestioned.
As assured as Lady Bird seems, she's still immature enough to allow a crush (Timothée Chalamet) to pull her away from a true friend (Beanie Feldstein) and impose a poseur (Odeya Rush). The right guy for her (Manchester by the Sea's Lucas Hedges) will get trampled in Lady Bird's rush to discover who she is and if that's enough.
Gerwig's movie doesn't say much new about growing up cool with parents who aren't. But it says plenty about Gerwig's talent, another channel for a distinctive voice of her generation. B+
In theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: One of 2017's best films. Review, Page 16
2 The Florida Project: Homeless children make their own magic in Disney World's shadow.
3 Lady Bird: Saoirse Ronan shines in Greta Gerwig's directing debut.
4 The Man Who Invented Christmas: Christopher Plummer isn't humbug as Ebenezer Scrooge.
5 Last Flag Flying: Richard Linklater's sequel of sorts to The Last Detail.
(Dates subject to change)
Dec. 1: He's Out There
Dec. 8: The Shape of Water; The Disaster Artist
Dec. 15: Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Ferdinand
Dec. 22: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; Pitch Perfect 3; Downsizing
Dec. 29: The Greatest Showman; Molly's Game