In Review!: “The Zookeeper’s Wife”

Opening with a patient, glistening beauty The Zookeeper’s Wife meets its World War II subject with an earthy passion. A familiar aesthetic is nevertheless enlivened by director Niki Caro. She quickly captures a sense of awe for the animal kingdom that is particularly attuned to a certain part of our humanity, a holistic eye that carries over to the human story at hand.


At once a star vehicle perfectly suited to Jessica Chastain (if you forgive a few chapters that forget her entirely) and a stately untold true story, the film is more absorbing than its recent biopic contemporaries. Chastain plays Antonina Zabinski, the wife and corunner of the warsaw zoo doing the Nazi invasion of Poland. They devise a plan to smuggle Jews out of the nearby ghettos, using their Nazi-overtaken grounds as a hiding place. Over the ensuing months, the refugees and rescuers develop something of a familial bond. For most of the running time, the Jewish struggles are given as much emotional consideration as Antonina’s terrified caregiving, the scattered focus still coherent thanks to richly composed feeling.

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In Review!: “Miss Sloane”

John Madden’s Miss Sloane is a ferocious star vehicle for Jessica Chastain, both richly enjoyable for the opportunity it affords Chastain and as an antidote to the end of our political year. The actress stars as a cutthroat lobbyist in Washington going up against the gun lobby in one of the most entertaining films of the year, a chicken soup for the angry soul with more nutrition than its soapier moments suggest. As Chastain’s Sloane collects crossed boundaries like trading cards and finds little that isn’t expendable for the sake of the win, the film satisfies in the ways all those current political television dramas are supposed to and rarely do.


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In Review: “Crimson Peak”

Look at so called “Film Twitter” or any of the great sites for film writing and you’ll see the same story being written to death over the past two or three years: we’re just not getting exciting movies, nothing like what made us all passionate about the medium twenty years ago,  and there are no mid-size entertainments anymore. But in the past year or so, I’ve begun to disagree. Trainwreck is the kind of satisfying and confident romantic comedy that has been dead for a decade thanks to our collective cynicism and Jennifer Lopez. Love and Mercy has the modest ambition and simplistic creative spark of something a studio would have produced back then. Beyond the Lights would have been on solid VHS rotation in my house. This, in the roundaboutest of ways, brings me to Crimson Peak.


The minor miracle of this movie is that it comes from a major studio when the genre fare we’re being given is micro-budgeted and promoted cheaply. Make no mistake, you see every damn penny they spent on Peak (and there were obviously quite a few) right up there on screen. True to director Guillermo Del Toro’s distinctive aesthetic, every design element on display is opulent and lurid, as gorgeous as it is unsettling. The film’s not only bold for its content, but by its existence in an unfriendly market.

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