If atmosphere was everything, “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” would be some kind of a masterpiece.
Primarily set at a deserted girl’s school in snowy Upstate New York, “Blackcoat’s Daughter” oozes creepiness as a pair of students (Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton) knock around the ancient buildings waiting for their late-arriving parents to pick them up.
Sadly, it’s often difficult to parse what’s actually going on thanks to the flat performances, murky cinematography and jumbled chronology. Accidents, murders and even an exorcism take place and yet none of it makes much of an impression. With just a bit more narrative clarity, this horror outing could have been a keeper. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu.
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Fist Fight: If anyone deserves their own comedy franchise, it’s Jillian Bell who steals every movie she’s in, including “22 Jump Street,” “The Night Before” and this uneven yarn about a mild-mannered teacher (Charlie Day) who runs afoul of another instructor (Ice Cube) and is challenged to a throw-down. Despite imparting a welcome infusion of class consciousness into the comedy, “Fist Fight” starts at a fever pitch and has nowhere to go from there. Day, in particular, screeches nearly every one of his lines. That’s why the deadpan Bell is such a lethal weapon. As a randy guidance counselor who never raises her voice, she supplies one hilarious one-liner after another. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu
XX: More women should direct horror movies. If you need proof, check out this scary-movie sampler which boasts four superb shorts helmed by female filmmakers. The first and last installments are particularly terrific, with Jovanka Vuckovic and Karyn Kusama uncorking riveting stories about the agonies of motherhood. In the Vuckovic segment, a mom (Natalie Brown) watches in distress as her son (Peter DeCunha) stops eating while, in the Kusama segment, a mother (Christina Kirk) comes to believe that her teenage son (Kyle Allen) is morphing into the Devil. Chilling, in all the right ways. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu
The Shack: Following a family tragedy, a man named Mack (Sam Worthington) undergoes a crisis of faith, at least until he receives a note urging him to visit an abandoned shack in the middle of the woods where he discovers God (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Ghost (Sumire Matsubara). While most faith-based films make an effort to impart their message through involving stories, “The Shack” offers up one long sermon. Spencer is such a warm presence that she nearly makes the concept work but, after awhile, God’s endless platitudes start sounding less like the thoughts of a Supreme Being and more like koans cribbed from self-help books. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu
House of Cards: Season 5: Yes, show runner Beau Willimon, who created the series and oversaw the first four seasons, recently stepped down but, if the trailer is any indication, Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and wife Claire (Robin Wright) still have plenty of dirty tricks up their sleeve. Expect a popular character or two to bite the dust while the Underwoods prepare to battle two new adversaries (Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott). Netflix also promises this season will explore the deepening cracks in the relationship between Francis and Claire. Sounds juicy. On Netflix.
Romanzo Criminale - The Complete Series: Based on the true story of Banda della Magliana, the gang which assumed leadership of the Roman underworld in the late 1970s, this Italian series is a must-see for fans of “The Sopranos.” Francesco Montanari stars as Libano, a small-timer who concocts a scheme to partner with a gang of crooks to take over the drug trade in Rome. Over the course of two seasons and 22 episodes, there’s plenty of kidnappings, gunplay and drug deals gone wrong. Stefano Sollima directs all of the episodes of the program, which ran for two seasons from 2008 to 2010. On FilmStruck.
Queen Sugar - The Complete First Season: For this stellar OWN series, Oprah Winfrey collaborated with filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) to adapt Natalie Baszile’s best-selling novel. At the center of the action are a number of estranged siblings, including journalist/activist Nova (Rutina Wesley), NBA manager Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), a formerly incarcerated man in dire need of redemption. Together the brothers and sisters must put their differences aside, in the wake of their father’s death, and help save their family’s ailing sugarcane farm.
American Wrestler - The Wizard: Based on a true story, this sports drama pivots on a 17-year-old Iranian immigrant named Ali Afshar (George Kosturus) who is given the cold shoulder when he arrives to live in a small California town. Rejected by everyone but determined to fit in, he winds up joining the school’s wrestling team and soon becomes the star attraction. Jon Voight and William Fichtner co-star in this underdog saga. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu
Rocktopia: Originally broadcast on PBS, this concert recorded live at the Hungarian State Opera House finds an orchestra, six world-class vocalists, a rock band and a handful of jazz and opera stars joining together to perform “Rocktopia,” a suite of songs that blends together classical music by Mozart and Beethoven with classic rock tunes by the likes of The Who, Elton John, Heart, Journey and Patti Smith. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu
For The Kids
My Life As A Zucchini: Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, this cartoon aims to teach kids about the uplifting power of friendship in the face of adversity. The flick follows the adventures of nine-year-old Zucchini who, after losing his mom, is dispatched to a foster home filled with other orphans his age. He struggles to find his place among all these strangers, eventually making new pals even as he searches for a family of his own. On Amazon, Google, iTunes and Vudu