Coco You have to hand it to Disney. They apparently weren't too concerned that their latest Pixar animated feature has strong thematic and aesthetic similarities to 2014's The Book of Life. Heck, they even tried to trademark the name "Dia de Muertos," just to really preserve themselves some market share. The people of Mexico, predictably, were not amused.
So what narrative chess pieces are left to Coco other than the ones Disney was unable to grab off the board? Well, there's a story about a 12-year-old Mexican boy whose yen to become a famous musician takes him into a shadowy netherworld between the living and the dead. (Tell me about it, kid: File sharing has hurt everybody.) And there's a voice cast of genuine Hispanic types, including Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Edward James Olmos ... which leads to my favorite credit line of the season, "Cheech Marin as a corrections officer."
Reaction has been strong in Mexico, where the film has been out since October and has already become the second-highest grossing picture in the country's history. Initial reviews have been likewise positive, identifying the film as a genuine weeper: The Wrap says it affords a great opportunity to help your kids understand the concept of death. (Or you could you show them Madagascar and try to explain to them who David Schwimmer was.)
The film is preceded by Olaf's Frozen Adventure, a 21-minute short that follows the beloved snowman character's attempt to inaugurate a fresh new holiday tradition. Initially intended for TV, the short was ultimately paired instead with Coco in a bid for cross-cultural edification. South of the border, this experiment was met with the traditional Mexican greeting "What the hell is this shit?" from audiences that didn't want to wait 21 minutes to get on with the movie they had paid to see. Olaf's Frozen Adventure was pulled from theaters, and exhibitors made a public apology. Your mileage may vary, amigo. (PG)
Last Flag Flying Lovers of '70s cinema may feel as if this is old home week when they learn the backstory of Last Flag Flying, in which three old Marine buddies reunite to help one of them bury his son. The movie is based on the book of the same name, which was author Darryl Ponicsan's sequel to his novel The Last Detail – the source for Hal Ashby's acclaimed 1973 feature. So why is the new film only described as an "unofficial sequel" to the first one? Dunno. It might have something to do with the three main characters now all having different names, leaving us to do the math and figure out that Jack Nicholson is Bryan Cranston, Randy Quaid is Steve Carell and Otis Young is Laurence Fishburne. Unless one of those stories drops about Nicholson in a day or two like everybody is expecting, and we can just pretend Cranston used to be Michael Moriarty. (R)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Rape and murder: They're just comic gold. At least they are when you're Martin McDonagh, the bravura sicko playwright and filmmaker behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths (not to forget the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter, in which a deceased infant was compared repeatedly to the lead singer of Bronski Beat). In McDonagh's latest, Frances McDormand plays a bereaved mother who tries to intimidate local law enforcement into finally solving the killing of her young daughter. The New Yorker's lovably effete Anthony Lane calls the role McDormand's best since Fargo and Sam Rockwell's supporting turn as a racist cop his best performance since Moon. But he refrains from saying how co-star Peter Dinklage compares to the racist dwarf in In Bruges. Me, I'm not afraid to thank the little people. (R)