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LAST JEDI: Yes, I'm another of those critics who liked it a lot

I have two important things to say about the new “Star Wars” movie: 1) Daisy. 2) Ridley. Actually, I have other stuff to rave about as well; but I just had to get that off my chest. Ridley, who burst onto the Star Wars scene in 2015’s “Force Awakens,” anchors the new film with mesmerizing humanity and conviction; for me, she’s the strongest performer this long-running franchise has given us. Ridley plays Rey, whose relationship to the Force was only hinted at in the previous film. Since everyone seems worried about spoilers on this eighth entry, I will explain only that here, Rey seeks help from the much-missed Luke Skywalker -- to aid a woefully outmatched group of rebels fighting for contr

DOWNSIZING: What were they thinking??

Picture a near-future world so strapped for resources that large portions of the population are shrunk to five inches, thereby consuming less space, air, food and water. Picture a struggling middle-class couple who decide to undergo this process, after which they will live in a hermetically sealed but supposedly idyllic community called “Leisureland,” where the value of their money has been multiplied by ten. Now picture Leisureland with undiscovered slums, where hundreds live in squalor, forcing attentive “small people” (like the couple) to come to terms with philanthropy and self-sacrifice. That’s the premise of “Downsizing” -- and none of it works. Few other recent films more clearly beg

JUST GETTING STARTED never gets started

According to Dictionary.com, “slumming it” means “suffering conditions below those to which one is accustomed.” This definition applies to nearly everyone in “Just Getting Started” -- including the viewer. Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, Jane Seymour, Joe Pantoliano, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Elizabeth Ashley and Glenne Headley all flail and flounder in this hapless dud about low-rent shenanigans at a retirement home run by the carefree Duke Diver (Freeman). Diver’s icky wrastlings with three amorous females are threatened by the arrival of Jones’ handsome, cowboy-hatted he-man, while his loose-handed business practices come under the scrutiny of a corporate watchdog played by Rene Russo. It’s toug

COCO in another innovative crowd-pleaser from Pixar

“Coco” is not named for its protagonist. Nor is it named for the bad guy. Nor for the central plot device, in which a Mexican lad, on the feast of Dia de los Muertos, is suddenly whisked off to the land of the dead. Coco, rather, is a tertiary character -- extremely aged and virtually immobile, with only a handful of scenes and lines. Is that counterintuitive, or what? Yes, “Coco” is another innovative triumph for Pixar -- a winsome blend of solid story-telling, knock-out visuals and buoyant Latin music. Its main character, Miguel, yearns to pursue singing and guitar; but his entire family hates music -- due to a long-ago fiasco that left Coco (the current matriarch) without a father when sh

MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS honors both Dickens and his beloved holiday classic

For fans of “Christmas Carol,” “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a must. One could scarcely ask for a fonder tribute to the holiday favorite than this wonderfully engaging tale of how Charles Dickens struggled to write the novel way back in 1843. Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey,” “Beauty and the Beast”) plays the author, and Christopher Plummer plays Ebenezer Scrooge -- with excellent support from Justin Edwards as Dickens’ friend Forster; Jonathan Pryce as the author’s impecunious father, John; and the winsome Valeria Bandino as a young housekeeper named Tart. While the latter was fabricated for this story, screenwriter Susan Coyne handles other details of Dickens’ life with reverence and wis

TRIUMPH on the ORIENT EXPRESS

“Murder on the Orient Express” seems an odd choice for a remake. Emerging from the mid-seventies golden age that gave us gems like “Chinatown,” “Network” and “The Godfather,” the original film boasted a cast to die for, including Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, John Gielgud and Albert Finney. And thanks to that film’s popularity, many viewers already know the nifty solution to Agatha Christie’s beloved whodunit. Yet this new version succeeds, with a snappy, literate script and a bevy of fine performances. Let’s face it, Kenneth Branagh doesn’t make bad movies. The veteran behind such triumphs as “Thor,” “Cinderella” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” Branagh not only directs this r

AMERICAN MADE: Another winner from Cruise

“American Made” is a textbook case of expert movie-making. With top-notch direction, acting, dialog, story, editing, music and production design, the film fires firmly on all cylinders. Thematically, however, it will leave you in a state of near-despair about America’s apparent “ends-justify-the-means” approach to foreign policy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing -- unless maybe they tinkered with the facts. Tom Cruise plays real-life pilot Barry Seal, who in the late 1970s left TWA to run drugs for the Medellin Cartel. Eventually nabbed by the DEA, Seal plea-bargained by offering to return to Central America for incriminating photos that would impugn the Sandinista government -- which the

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