Review of reviews: Film
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Directed by Osgood Perkins (R)
A dark force haunts an empty girls’ school.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is “the kind of film that follows you home, that makes you scared to enter a dark alley or go in the basement,” said Randall Coburn in ConsequenceOfSound.net. At an isolated all-girls Catholic boarding school blanketed in snow, two students are left behind during winter break when their parents fail to pick them up. Dread builds from the moment the younger girl, played by Kiernan Shipka, begins experiencing disturbing visions, and though the movie’s a slow burn, it’s “never dull.” To me, only the late explosion of violence relieves the “impenetrable tedium” of the early going, said Jordan Hoffman in TheGuardian.com. Shipka and her co-stars Lucy Boynton and Emma Roberts “do their best with the lackluster material,” but having people mope about until a supernatural force emerges is “no way to keep an audience entertained.” Still, the film is “so perfectly acted and gorgeously filmed” that you might not mind its coyness, said Jeannette Catsoulis in The New York Times. More than scares are at stake in this directorial debut from the son of actor Anthony Perkins. The Blackcoat’s Daughter has its share of bloody murder scenes, but “even its most brutal acts pulse with inchoate sadness.”
Ghost in the Shell
Directed by Rupert Sanders (PG-13)
A cyborg reckons with her past life.
Remaking Ghost in the Shell couldn’t have been easy, said Leah Greenblatt in Entertainment Weekly. The Japanese sci-fi franchise that spawned one of anime’s greatest films has a lot of hardcore fans, so it’s a shame that British director Rupert Sanders “doesn’t quite know what to do with the backstory he’s been handed.” Set in a future where the line between humans and robots is blurring, this big-budget reboot is “visually stunning” but doesn’t tackle the 1995 original’s dense mythology and deep moral quandaries. Though casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead instead of a Japanese actress provoked controversy, Johansson “isn’t a liability in Ghost in the Shell,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. “She’s its great strength.” A machine with a human’s brain, her Major Mira Killian leads a counterterrorism unit that takes up pursuit of a shadowy figure called Kuze (Michael Pitt). The android remembers little of her human life, and Johansson mixes steeliness and misty-eyed doubt to convey the resulting identity crisis. In a few emotional moments, this fun action film becomes “something more than a flashy cash-in,” said Stephen Whitty in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. Mostly, “it’s a gorgeous copy of an original, but a safe copy all the same.”
The Zookeeper’s Wife
Directed by Niki Caro (PG-13)
A couple shelters Jews in wartime Warsaw.
A Holocaust movie shouldn’t be this tidy, said Stephanie Merry in The Washington Post. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, a husbandand- wife team at the Warsaw Zoo really did hide Jews in the facility’s underground tunnels and shuttled hundreds of them to safety. But the movie makes the title character “perfect beyond plausibility” and the villains pure evil. Jessica Chastain’s Antonia is presented as such a fairy-tale figure that “you can practically imagine the animals gathering to help her get dressed every morning.” Diane Ackerman’s 2007 book was far better grounded in real details, said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. One change the movie makes proves “flatout foolish”: turning Hitler’s already villainous chief zoologist into a gun-toting creep with an unhealthy interest in Antonia. The dialogue sounds, unfortunately, as if “every last line” were written in highlighter, said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. The movie does have some strengths, like an uncommon focus on the ways women suffer during war. If nothing else, this “well-intentioned and plushly mounted” drama “may send moviegoers back to Ackerman’s book.”