Movie reviews: 'Ghost in the Shell,' 'The Zookeeper's Wife' and 'Boss Baby' hit theaters, March 31
Paramount Pictures, 2017.

"Beauty and the Beast" is continuing to smash records and make boat-loads of money, but one "major" release this week hopes to break the spell they've cast over the box office. "Ghost in the Shell" starring Scarlett Johansson is this weekend's biggest release, but is it its best? A horror movie, an animated family film and a World War II drama all open this weekend as well, but which films deserve the attention of your hard-earned bucks?

Here are reviews of all of the films opening in theaters on Friday, March 31, 2017:



“Ghost in the Shell”



Controversy has followed the production of the long-awaited "Ghost in the Shell," after the studio received backlash and was accused of whitewashing, by casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. The character she plays, Major, is the central character of the vastly popular "Ghost in the Shell" comic books and Anime, and has always been Japanese. That aside, this big-screen adaptation is largely a disappointment and carries a feel like too many studio execs may have had their hands on it. In the distant future, Major is a soldier created by the Japanese government, in a world where "cyber-enhancements" are all the rage. After a bad accident, her brain (or "spirit" or "ghost") was saved and put into the "shell" of a hot female killing machine. While many of the effects are stunning, many are not...there are some scenes towards the end that look like unfinished CG creations from the 1990s. The film's "major" problem (pun intended) is that it feels too much like too many other movies we've seen: There are more than just hints of "Blade Runner," "The Bourne Identity" and even "Total Recall" for this film to stand out in any way. It is a film that is all surface and not enough magic, or put another way, it could have benefited from more "ghost" and less "shell." Grade: C.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama. Run Time: 1 hours 47 minutes. Rated PG-13. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Peter Ferdinando. Directed by Rupert Sanders ("Snow White and the Huntsman").




“The Boss Baby”



"The Boss Baby" is the sort of animated film aimed at adolescents, and nobody else...as if it was overlooked that adults would have to sit through it as well. Alec Baldwin voices the title role, a newborn who joins a family and who joins forces with his new over-imaginative brother to stop a dastardly Pet corporation from...sigh...it doesn't really matter, does it? Even for an animated family film, the plot is absurd and you won't give a damn about any of the characters. Baldwin's voice doesn't even seem to fit the baby he's playing, and the sad attempts at adult humor are just, well, sad ("Cookies are for closers" Baldwin tells another infant in one scene, echoing his famous monologue from "Glengarry Glen Ross"). This is the sort of film you put on in the background to try to get your child to stop crying, and if that's the measure of what a family film should be, then just shoot me now. It's an unimaginative film about a kid with an endless imagination. If this film was a diaper, it would be...well, you get the point. Grade: D.

Genre: Animation, Family, Comedy. Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes. Rated PG. Starring (voices of): Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Tobey Maguire. Directed by Tom McGrath (“Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," "Megamind," "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," "Madagascar").



“The Zookeeper's Wife”



"The Zookeeper's Wife" could have been released during awards season, as it is surprisingly impactful, especially for a film released this time of year. Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh (who is fantastic in the role) play real-life married couple Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who run the Warsaw Zoo in Poland, on the brink of WWII. Not only do they work to save the exotic animals at their zoo safe from the German invasion, but they secretly create an underground haven for escaped Jews, right under the nose of German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl). There have been so many stories about the Holocaust, and WWII, but this movie gives us a different perspective in what is ultimately a very personal story. Heck's relationship with Zabinski is complex, and the sacrifices she makes to keep others safe is nothing short of heroic. "The Zookeeper's Wife" is easily the best film opening this weekend, and one of the better films to have come out so far in 2017. Grade: B+.

Genre: Biography, Drama, History. Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes. Rated PG-13. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Bruhl. Directed by Niki Caro (“McFarland, USA," "North Country," "Whale Rider").



“The Blackcoat's Daughter”



Horror films work so well as independent films, because sometimes, the low budget makes the filmmaker a bit more inventive. Recent films like "It Follows" and "Don't Breathe" work so well by what they sometimes don't show, as opposed to what actually makes it on the screen. The Blackcoat's Daughter" is made in this vein, and first-time director Oz Perkins (who is also the son of "Psycho" actor Anthony Perkins), shows a great skill in creating an eery mood and a nervous tension throughout. When two girls (Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton) are left at their boarding school over their winter break (both of their parents mysteriously don't show up to get them), strange things begin to happen. In an inter-cut story, Joan (Emma Roberts) looks to be an escaped mental patient who is desperately trying to get to this same boarding school. She is taken in by an older couple (Lauren Holly and Kevin Kline look-alike, James Remar), but the girl's intentions become murky. You might be let down if you are hoping for a "monster" movie, as there is little payoff in that regard and you're left wondering just what the heck was happening. But the break-out performance here by the young Kiernan Shipka makes the film worth watching all on her own. It is a creepy, dark film - beautifully shot in the shadows - that dabbles in the Satanic. Late in the film, some cinematic license is taken that may throw you out of the story, and while it may not work on the same level as "It Follows" or "Don't Breathe," it does just enough to leave you squirming in your seat. Grade: B-.

Genre: Horror, Thriller. Run Time: 1 hours 33 minutes. Rated R. Starring: Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, Lucy Boynton, James Remar. Written and Directed by Oz Perkins (feature-film directorial debut).




All of these movies open locally on Friday, March 31, 2017 (check for showtimes).

Next week movies include: "Going in Style" and "Smurfs: The Lost Village."