The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) starring Jessica Chastain & Daniel Bruhl

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in U.S. theaters).

Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book was greatly inspired by the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska and Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. The book was published in 2007. While the real life events occurred in Warsaw, the movie was filmed entirely in Prague (w/ real baby lion cubs). This film also has a woman director (Niki Caro) and woman adapter (Angela Workman). 

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[1] It is still possible to find love and comfort in the darkest of times. Love is all around us. We must be the vessel through which hope and love spreads. Antonina believed this with her whole heart which is why she and Jan did what they did. There are brave people all around us: fighting for our rights, fighting for theirs, their family, their country – bravery comes in so many forms. This film reflects this: there is bravery in combat and ‘silent’ bravery. One is not greater than the other.

[2] One of the key messages seems to come from an early monologue delivered by Antonina where she compares the purity of animals (their eyes tell you everything) with the propensity to deceive and commonplace of ulterior motives in humans.

[3] Caro is able to reflect humanity, sincerity and earnestness in her films, which captivates and entangles the viewer. Caro’s directing prowess brings to mind the ideology of the male gaze vs. the female gaze in films… I feel as though I’m witnessing a life lived, purely, rather than someone’s perspective of that life. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

We first see Antonina (Jessica Chastain) as a happy figure riding her bike through a zoo with a young camel trotting beside her. She helps rescue a newborn elephant, interrupting  a dinner party. But soon German bombs begin dropping on her city (Warsaw) and this zoo she runs w/ her zoologist husband, Jan (Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh). 

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…she is undeniably captivating as the eponymous lead, channeling grit and vulnerability in equal measure as she fleshes out her character’s fears, anxieties and convictions. Among the supporting actors, Bruhl and Haas [the teenaged Israeli actress who plays a pivotal role] are the standouts, the former exercising admirable restraint in what could have been a traditionally villainous act, while the latter surprisingly nuanced in her portrayal…

-Excerpt from IMDB review

The scenes between Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) and Antonina are tense; as he disarms her with his affinity/experience w/ of animals, BUT later scares her (and us) with his unwanted advances and desire to cross-breed animals in hopes of creating a new type of bison/bull (superior beast). 

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Shots Fired (FOX): Starting March 22, 8PM EST

This 10-part series examines the aftermath of racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town. It was produced by the successful/critically-acclaimed husband-wife team of Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees, Love & Basketball) and Reggie Rock Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Notorious). Aside from the timely/controversial topic, the supporting cast could be a big draw (incl. Oscar winners Richard Dreyfuss and Helen Hunt, as well as Law and Order‘s Jill Hennessey). The leads are two black actors- film veteran Sanaa Lathan (who plays investigator Ashe Akino) and up-and-comer Stephan James (federal prosecutor Preston Terry). James hails from Canada and notably played the young John Lewis in Selma. 

First Look: A Murder Myster (FOX)

 

Actors Sanaa Lathan and Mack Wilds on The View (ABC)

 

A Few Thoughts on Kong: Skull Island, Gifted, & Get Out (SPOILER-FREE)

Kong: Skull Island

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I was surprised by HOW MUCH I enjoyed this action/special effects movie! I saw it (in IMAX 3D) at a free pre-screening last WED. You will recognize some of the actors (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly and Toby Kebbell), BUT there are also newcomers. Unlike MOST action films, each minor character gets a moment (or two) to reveal their personality. As for Kong- he’s a BIG creature who is considered “king” of Skull Island (somewhere in the South Seas). However, there are MANY other creatures on the island, BUT I don’t want to give much away. Also, there are SOME twists that you wouldn’t necessarily expect (in this genre). If you want 2 hours of escapist fun, then definitely go check this out!   

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I saw this TERRIFIC drama starring Chris Evans (who I’d never seen before) and McKenna Grace (the child actor) last THURS (free screening). The acting is solid, the writing is smart (and sometimes funny), and the themes are universal. (You can see this film w/ the entire family!) The film centers on a single man, Frank (Evans) raising his 7 y.o. niece, Mary (Grace) in small-town Southern Florida. Their neighbor, Roberta (recent Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer), helps take care of Mary on the weekends; they all share a special bond. Frank has homeschooled Mary, BUT then decides that she needs to be w/ kids her own age. However, Mary is NO ordinary 1st grader- she’s a math prodigy (like her deceased mom). Frank wants Mary to have a normal life (friends, sports, extracurricular activities); his sister missed out on all that b/c she was mostly focused on solving one math problem.  In time, Grandmother Evelyn (British actress Lindsay Duncan), arrives from Boston to seek sole custody of Mary. There is also a nice subplot (romance) in the story which is natural and believable. I wanted to see a BIT more of Roberta’s character (b/c Spencer is such a fine actor).

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I never thought this movie would get made. Honestly! I have been on television for years and I still didn’t feel like this movie was possible.-Jordan Peele, director

I saw this film (directed by Jordan Peele) this afternoon w/ 3 of my gal pals; we ALL liked it!  The theater was packed, esp. w/ viewers in their teens and 20s. This is currently the top grossing movie at the box office. It REALLY makes you think, so be ready for some discussion after it ends. It’s NOT a typical horror genre movie- it’s more of a thriller. 

The film hits you with the scary at choice moments, which is truly some unsettling and blends it with the humor. A running joke that should’ve got more air time was the gaffe about Obama, where the father says, “I would’ve voted for a third term for Obama if I could.” Timely, if anything.  -Excerpt from okayplayer.com

The premise comes from Peele’s own life; he was once dating a young woman who didn’t tell her parents he was a black before introducing him to her (white) parents. (Peele is now married to comedian Chelsea Peretti, one of the ensemble cast on Brooklyn Nine-Nine). The film stars Daniel Kaluuya (a British actor on Season 1 of Black Mirror) and Allison Williams (Girls) as an interracial couple visiting the home (more of an estate) of the her parents (played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) together for the first time. Chris (Kaluuya) is a a photographer who has a reserved personality; Rose is more talkative and assertive.