Ah, Thanksgiving: that time of family togetherness and turkey and open movie theaters. Sometimes you need an easy group activity, maybe a little respite from family, or just want to see a good movie. This week, the big studios release their fare on Wednesday, so you can pick from a dark, funny, probing look at race and grief; Denzel Washington proving, once again why he's one of the best in the game; a return to form for Pixar; and another variation on A Christmas Carol, this time starring Dickens himself, not to mention the other movies already in theaters.
Here's what you can check out this Thanksgiving weekend:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (*** ½) From writer-director Martin McDonagh, a timely if scabrous story about a small-town woman (Frances McDormand) taunting the cops (Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell) who have failed to solve her daughter's murder. Contains the brutal violence, savage humor, and surprising moments of warmth that constitute McDonagh's unique voice, and good performances from McDormand and Rockwell in difficult and complex roles, playing difficult and complex people. With Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, and John Hawkes. R. 1 hr. 55. (violence, language).
The Man Who Invented Christmas. (** ½) Fictionalized account of Charles Dickens writing his beloved A Christmas Carol, framed here as a desperate race against time. Fanciful elements have Dickens (a manic Dan Stevens) borrowing heavily and spending lavishly to self-finance his big-gamble book. Characters (including Scrooge, played by Christopher Plummer, appear before him as he works out the story). Not an emotionally powerful film, but it builds to a suitably sentimental conclusion. With Simon Callow. PG. 1 hr. 44.
Coco. (***) In Mexico, a fatherless boy crosses into the colorful land of the dead to learn more about his family, and to pursue his forbidden dream of being a musician. Steeped in the customs and rituals of the Day of the Dead celebration, which provides Pixar animators an opportunity to work with a new range of colors and visual ideas. The music is first-rate as, well, even if the story sometimes sputters. Not in a class with Pixar's best animation, but way better than Cars 3. Featuring the voice of Benjamin Bratt. PG. 1 hr. 40.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (** ½) Denzel Washington delivers a typically fine performance as an on-the-spectrum attorney whose sheltered life as a legal researcher changes when his managing partner dies and he's thrust uncomfortably into a more public role (working for slick attorney Colin Farrell). Washington excels as a neurodiverse man, somehow balancing limited emotional range with expressiveness. With Carmen Ejogo. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy. R. 2 hrs., 9 mins.
A Bad Moms Christmas (**) The three R-rated moms (Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Kathryn Hahn) must put up with their own mothers (Cheryl Hines, Christine Baranski, and Susan Sarandon) over the fraught holidays. What once was transgressive has become reflexive. With Peter Gallagher. R. 1 hr. 44.
The Florida Project (***) Engaging slice-of-life look at residents of an Orlando motel, the adults living paycheck to paycheck, their free-range kids having an improbably wonderful time on the ragged fringe of the Magic Kingdom. Written and directed by Sean Baker. With Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince. R 1 hr. 45. (language)
God's Own Country (****) A young farmer in the north of England numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker for lambing season ignites an intense gay relationship. No MPAA rating. 1 hr. 44.
Justice League (**) This dour, downbeat corner of the DC Universe finds Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gail Gadot) recruiting superheroes Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to combat an invading alien army and an interstellar bad guy (Ciaran Hinds). Directed with a heavy hand by Zack Snyder. With Amy Adams, Diane Lane. PG-13 1 hr. 59.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (**) Yorgos Lanthimos' provocation about a prosperous surgeon (Colin Farrell) with a young fan who turns out to be a stalker and a sociopath, forcing the physician into a sick game of gruesome choices. R. 1 hr. 59.
Lady Bird (****) Funny, touching coming-of-age story about a Sacramento high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) who quarrels with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) about her determination to leave California for a more sophisticated life at an Eastern college. Written and directed with great affection, wisdom, and skill by Greta Gerwig. With Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein. R 1 hr. 33. (language, sexuality)
Last Flag Flying (**½) Three Vietnam War buddies (Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, and Bryan Cranston) reunite to bury one man's son, killed in the line of duty in Iraq. The performances of the leads are uneven, but supporting players, including Cicely Tyson, help the movie build to a strong conclusion. Directed by Richard Linklater. R 2 hrs. 5. (language)
Murder on the Orient Express (***) Kenneth Branagh's appropriately hammy adaptation of the classic 1930s Agatha Christie mystery about a murder aboard a snowbound train in Yugoslavia under the nose of master detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh), who finds himself inundated with likely suspects — the all-star cast includes Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, and Daisy Ridley. PG-13 1 hr. 54.
The Star Animated feature about the first Christmas told from the perspective of a brave donkey and his animal friends. This version of the story is a whole lot wilder and rollicking than the one we've heard before. Among notable voices: King Herods' sassy camels — Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, and Oprah Winfrey. PG 1 hr. 26.
Thor: Ragnarok Mercifully funny diversion into a quirky corner of the Marvel universe, with Cate Blanchett as the vengeful and power-mad sister of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) ascending the throne, banishing her brother to a prison planet, where he recruits the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to his cause. With Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston. PG-13 2 hrs. 10.