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Reel Time

The Zookeeper’s Wife

In the late 1930s, Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) and Antonina (Jessica Chastain) Żabiński live a peaceful life with their son at the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. Antonina has a reputation for assisting the animals when they are under stress. On a visit to the Żabiński's' home, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), who heads the Berlin Zoo, convinces them to send him their best animals for safekeeping during the inevitable war that is looming over Europe.

When Germany invades Poland on September 1, 1939, the family and animals are traumatized. The German soldiers, now headed by the duplicitous Captain Heck, move into the zoo and kill off almost all the remaining animals. The couple hides a Jewish woman in their basement. She is one of over 300 Jews the couple will hide almost in plain sight during the war.

The Zookeeper’s Wife, based on a true story, is taken from the best-selling 2007 book by Diane Ackerman. Parents, take note: this is not a film for young children. The offscreen assault of a young girl by two Nazis is heartbreaking, but provides one of the best performances in the film by the young Shira Haas.

Director Niki Caro, who gave us the exceptional 2002 film Whale Rider, tells an amazing, largely unknown story. Even if the characters lack a certain depth, the actors’ interaction with the animals, especially Chastain’s, is very authentic. Animal lovers should take heart: none were harmed in the making of the film.

A-3, PG-13 ♦ Intense war images, violence, implied sexual assault, racism.


Mckenna Grace shines in her role as the brilliant but sheltered niece of Chris Evans’ character in Gifted. | WILSON WEBB/TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Gifted

Six-year-old Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) doesn’t want to go to school, but her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans), insists. Their neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) scolds Frank when he returns from taking his niece to school. She’s afraid that something might go wrong for Mary, who has never gone to school before. The reason is that Mary is a prodigy in mathematics, as was her mother, who committed suicide when her daughter was only a baby.

In class, Mary cannot resist showing how impatient she is at basic math. Her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), soon realizes that Mary is exceptional. But one morning on the bus, Mary hits a boy who bullies one of her classmates and ends up in the principal’s office. The principal offers Frank a deal: she’ll forget the incident if he will let her arrange a scholarship for Mary at a school
for gifted children. Frank refuses because his sister wanted Mary to grow up with friends.

As the principal puts things into motion, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), Frank’s mother and Mary’s grandmother, sues for custody. Young Mary ends up in foster care. This fictional story showcases the challenges for parents of gifted children and the harsh reality of foster care, as well as dysfunctional and unconventional families that are made up of loving neighbors and teachers.
Mckenna Grace is luminous, and Chris Evans (of Captain America fame) portrays a loving and self-sacrificing father figure—an ordinary superhero. Lindsay Duncan is chilling as the rich, domineering grandmother, who wants to live out her own dreams through her grandchild, no matter the cost.

Not yet rated, PG-13 ♦ Bullying, language, sexual situations.


Loyalties are tested in The Promise, a war drama starring Oscar winner Christian Bale and newcomer Charlotte Le Bon. | JOSE HARO/OPEN ROAD FILMS

The Promise

Armenian Mikael Pogosian (Oscar Isaac), who leaves his rural village for medical school in Constantinople. He leaves behind his mother, Marta (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and his betrothed, Maral (Angela Sarafyan), promising to marry her upon his return. Once in the city, Mikael meets an American reporter, Chris (Christian Bale), and his girlfriend, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Armenian from Paris. The three become friends, but Mikael falls in love with Ana.

When World War I breaks out, the Ottoman Empire is in decline. A new Turkish government decides that Armenians are the cause of their problems, so the regime begins to systematically kill them off. It is the first genocide of the 20th century. Throughout this lush but somewhat slowmoving historical, romantic drama, which is based on real events, Mikael must decide
whether to keep his promises.

The convincing Isaac carries the lead role very well. Themes of racism, intolerance, war, sanctuary for refugees, freedom of the press, and persecution based on religion will resonate with audiences given current events.

Not yet rated, PG-13 ♦ Intense war violence, some sexuality, language.


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