Tag Archives: review

Looper: Fun for a while, but fails to come full circle

courtesy of whatculture.com
courtesy of whatculture.com

So, Looper arrived in SA with a time delay of about 4 months. Time travel, it seems, is not an exact science and it took distributors a while to send this picture through time to Africa. Luckily the film makes up for the wait and shows that while inexact, time travel can still be freakin cool if done right.

Looper opens in Kansas 2044 and a summary, no-apologies gunshot to the chest. This film doesn’t faff around and gets straight into it. And for the first act it’s wonderful to watch as director Rian Johnson mixes exposition in a  fascinating future world with arresting cruelty and style. It really has a marvelous rhythm and is huge fun.

We have looper by profession, Joe, holding our hand and guiding us through this universe with a noirish sensibility. So Johnson first did high-school noir, and now follows it up with future-noir. The man likes it dark. Joe is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who teams up again with pal Johnson and does a very good job in one of the four big top movies he had out this year. He’s basically playing Bruce Willis here, as the two actors play the same character at different stages in time, and it’s great to see how JGL embodies the action veteran. His make-up for the part is awesome too and a true accomplishment by the make-up artists.

“I made a nose piece, an upper lip and lower lip, a vacuum foam plastic piece to pull back Joe’s (Gordon-Levitt’s) ears, a small hairpiece on the eyebrows to change Joe’s eyebrows and contact lenses to change Joe’s eye color,” artist Kazu Tsuji told MTV.com. That’s a lot of work, right, and unusual. Most people would’ve just said they are the same person and that’s all there is to it, okay? Gawd!

Anyway, I won’t explain all the minutiae of the central conceit here, it’s more fun learning as you go along. But what it comes down to is that young Joe has to kill his older self from the future, who’s conveniently sent back to him by his own employers (sort of, I think). But future-Joe, that’s Bruce (try to keep up), is wise to what’s coming and manages to escape.

It’s at this point that, unfortunately the movie slowly starts losing me. For a short while longer it’s fun and exhibits some sweet humour too. And then it falls apart. And it’s not Emily Blunt’s fault for once. I actually liked her tough girl on the range. It’s her kid that stretches suspension of disbelief to its limits. In an acknowledging nod to the great Terminator 2 (Blunt’s character is even called Sarah), we again have a child whose life is in danger from someone sent back from the future due to what he may do in his assailant’s time. It’s a little silly at this point, and the kid is also too intelligent and intolerably cutesy for my taste, clashing with the tone of the movie. It’s not just the little twerp, though, as the earlier balanced touch in action scenes is dispensed with in favour of a crude, heavy-handed shoot-em-up. Meh.

By the end I’ve kinda stopped caring all that much. And thank goodness, because the ending doesn’t really make that much sense to me. You can mind-fuck me all you want, but I’m not gonna fake an orgasm just because you think you’re being confusing and that’s enough. Plus, if they are saying what I think they’re saying, it ultimately turns into Back to the Future but crossing over into the dark side… hmmm. No thanks. (Actually, come to think of it, they’re not saying what I thought they were saying… but the implication is there, the implication dammit…)

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The Wachowski’s offer us happy pills once more

A few nights ago Cloud Atlas blew my mind into smithereens as multitudinous as the stars. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts.

All I know is that, yes it may be a bit messy at times, but it’s a beautiful, glorious mess that you have to lose yourself in. I had this immense, exultant rush after seeing it, like I was on drugs. It’s a bold, ballsy drug by Tom and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, spanning six time periods from 1849 through to Neo Seoul, 2144 and further to 106 winters after “The Fall”. The Wachowski’s took care of the future periods while Tykwer directed the classical parts.

The source material, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, deserves a lot of credit as the ideas of interconnectedness and fate are all his. That’s one half of the puzzle. But committing it to the screen, the attempt alone and then the feat of executing it so well, deserves equal praise if not more. Because the different stories (up to a point) don’t feel all that original, but the sheer scope of it and how it all fits together, along with the actors’ performances, superb make-up and beautiful awe-inspiring visuals, really bring it home. It takes this monumental idea about life, everything, the eternal narrative of humankind, and gives it a physical form. That’s the big achievement, being able to present this idea the way they’ve done.

Watching Cloud Atlas recalled another divisive pop culture phenomenon of the previous decade. Cloud Atlas feels like the movie the creators of Lost would’ve made in their prime. And much like Lost, some of the storylines/flashbacks don’t completely hold up, but the overall result (at least for a lot of seasons where Lost is concerned) is still incredibly satisfying.

Certainly everything does not hold up. For example, I could’ve done without seeing Hugo Weaving as a burly nurse or Halle Berry running around San Francisco as a jive journalist on the trace of something big. And Tom Hanks’ cockney gangster will go down as one of the most ridiculous career choices of his or any of his peers’ career. But then that error is brief, thankfully, and Hanks more than makes up for it in two other powerful performances as the deceitful, unsavoury Doctor Goose and tribesman of the future, Zachry. Each actor plays on average about five or six characters, after all, so they can afford the odd slip-up.

Hanks’ gangster Dermot Hoggins can also be forgiven, because his hot-headedness triggers one of the more unusual plot strands for a film where almost nothing seems out of place. Jim Broadbent is Timothy Cavendish, the publisher of Hoggins’ autobiography. And once the book turns out to be a hit, Hoggins sends his cronies to collect more money that he thinks he’s now owed. This sends Cavendish fleeing into the arms of his brother who, after having had enough of bailing him out, tricks him into booking into an old age home. Here begins a humorous jailbreak plot involving Cavendish and a few other geriatric “inmates” that is completely incongruous in its comedy and levity, but which just works remarkably well. Broadbent is excellent, his face wrung constantly into a crazed look of confusion and dismay. The actor then also balances out this foolish role by turning out a solid performance as the cruel composer Vyvyan Ayrs to boot.

Other stand-outs are Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae and James D’Arcy, who put in great performances all over but especially in the Neo Seoul storyline, another one of the best with some terrific action packed in.

So, it moves quickly and it can be confusing – they even invented a new dialect for the future which is at times quite hard to follow but which should also be saluted – but what ties it all together is the unifying theme of freedom. The movie depicts how our striving for liberty never lessens as new obstacles appear and old ones re-emerge. And simultaneously the film (and book, I suppose) frees up its characters in space and time by letting all the stories flow into each other. Cuts between scenes based in different time-periods are made frequently and flippantly to blur their distinctions. This feels like several movies, but the directors force us to view it as one which just happens to be told over a vast expanse of time. On a whole new cinematic level, space and time are illusions that limit storytelling no more. It might not be your bag of chips, but if you go in for that kind of thing, it’ll free your mind for a little while…

Plus it’s got Hugh Grant looking like this.

Ted keeps R-rated comedy from being, erm, ded.

Seth MacFarlane’s Ted is exactly what you’d expect. A tedious documentary about motivational speaking…

JUST KIDDING!

In his first feature, MacFarlane sticks to what he knows and basically delivers one big live-action Family Guy episode, just without any of the Family Guy characters. The one cartoonish element he keeps is Ted himself, a Christmas present that magically comes to life to provide young John with his only friend. The toy becomes a national sensation but after a while his fame results in him becoming jaded and Teddy grows up into a foul-mouthed, layabout adult. And his friendship with John is also keeping the now going-nowhere 30-something (played by Mark Wahlberg) from reaching his full potential.

As a character, Ted is fully realised. The CGI blends in extremely well and that the character works is a testament to the director’s eminent skill of switching between the absurd and everyday until you don’t know which is which anymore. Voiced by MacFarlane, Ted is hilarious and filthy and so much fun. He gets all the best jokes since he’s the most obvious one to mine laughs from, but Wahlberg is good too, comfortable in this kind of less demanding role where he can just be a regular guy. Without trying too hard as in The Other Guys, he shows that he is actually understatedly funny. Mila Kunis, who plays his girlfriend, Lori, is unfortunately just plot fodder to put pressure on the Ted-John friendship, and she’s grossly underused for someone with her charm. There’s also a sort of unsettling turn from Giovanni Ribisi, which turns to hilarious in the final act as he carries out a dance routine that you won’t be able to look away from, among other things. Also Joel McHale does the job as the sleazy boss trying to steal away Lori from right under John’s nose. Oh, and there’s a terrific cameo by Norah Jones. I would never have guessed she’d be up for that!

MacFarlane really does have a gift for comedy. I mean there’s a lot of inappropriate race stuff and drug humour and all the puerile material that made us fall in love with Family Guy in high school and university. But he has a sharp eye and mixes it up like a pro. There’s a lot of clever stuff too, or at least what you’d call alternative and less one-liney. Unexpected. He can do offbeat as well as the sudden zingers. Like John and Ted’s Flash Gordon obsession, which is great, and the one about a co-worker who might or might not be gay, which is just in the background but genius in a way. Or the Tom Skerritt joke that runs through till the end. Oh, and the trademark violence, which is bewildering but still funny.

Anyway, it’s not just random jokes picked by manatees either. To some extent we are made to care about what happens to John and Ted’s relationship, and if MacFarlane can drop some of the silliness and actually be brave enough to write a more “real” screenplay, something that takes itself just slightly more seriously, he could find himself being a neat complement to Judd Apatow or someone like that. Ted though, as silly as it is, deserves to be rewatched several times, and after none of the myriad jokes elicit more than half-assed chuckles anymore, it’ll still be a pretty pleasant experience all the same.

The Hunger Games: Scrumptious treat that doesn’t quite hit the spot

Wow, so much has been made of this movie already, what is there left to say? I mean, a movie that opens worldwide and in South Africa like this one did doesn’t really need to care about what people have to say about it anyway. And in this case, if the movie makers behind the Hunger Games were to ignore the reviews and reactions and simply run the numbers they’d reach the right conclusion anyway.

It really is an excellent, entertaining blockbuster. But not in the vapid way that we get with so many other ‘busters. The movie operates in a frightening world of inequality and class segregation where the privileged, by virtue of having won the war between the two factions, make generation upon generation of the unfortunate losers’ children battle it out for survival for their entertainment. And to keep them in their place (as ‘penance’, to quote the book). It’s a world that seems frighteningly familiar as well, despite the garish fashion of this new world, which adds a lot of weight to proceedings. The idea of power resting in the hands of a greedy few, who will do whatever it takes to hold on to it, never stops being a fascinating one. And to that end Donald Sutherland’s president Snow, overseeing the games like a puppet master, provides gripping sinister cutaways in between coverage of the games, serving as a reminder of the political importance of the event. Apart from the scary politics, the movie also darkly parodies 21st century concepts of entertainment very effectively.

So that is what the movie does exceedingly well, creating this abjectly perverse universe and giving everything an unsettling tinge. Like the ‘reaping’, for example, where ‘tributes’ from Katniss’ district are selected, which is so dispassionate and morose, it’s chilling. The opening act of the movie on the whole is especially on the money. The wonderfully talented Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen  and her sister in their austere surroundings provide great chemistry, if you can call it that. Their brief scenes together really set up the whole movie so well, providing the emotional centre and purpose for Katniss’ character. None of the other relationships really compare, but then that’s the point. This world doesn’t really have a lot of them. Even Katniss and Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta never really make a believable couple, but then that isn’t the function of their relationship either. What it does is supply titillating  intrigue, as you never know to what extent they’re just playing the game. There’s some nice pathos for Peeta, however, as he’s probably playing it a little less than Katniss. But, as we see, he will do what he has to in order to survive, like everyone else.

Where the movie falls short is with the action. You can never quite shake the feeling that you’re watching a kids’ movie, deeply disturbing, but still made with way too much consideration for kids. And money. And don’t bloody tell me the kids were the primary target market anyway because of the books. Don’t sell me that trash. I don’t care… so the South African Film and Publication board, who wanted a 16 rating, can rest easy. Most of the disturbing elements will go over the little scamps’ heads. Anyway, this movie could’ve been great, truly exceptional, if director Gary Ross could’ve gone all the way in bringing home the horrors of this battle royale. Forgive me for my inner boy coming out, but I wanted to see much, much (much) more blood. As it is, too much impact is lost. The games-section is still a very watchable psychological battle, and there is a scene involving bees that feels as if the movie was for once really pushing its 13 rating, but I left the cinema longing for the Game of Thrones or Quentin Tarantino version. The conclusion to the games is also rushed and sloppy and pandering, disgusting really, but you get over it.

It’s a very interesting movie, very interesting. Lawrence is great. Stanley Tucci is a treat as always. And Woody Harrelson’s hair catches the eye whenever it gets screen time. It’s a little great really, but it just makes me hate those in power, those who can only think about money, so much.

Awesome 21 Jump Street is awesome

Well I said I had a good feeling about this one and I wasn’t let down. I kind of wish I hadn’t watched the trailer, although there wouldn’t then have been that good feeling, but having seen the trailer the first twenty minutes or so of the movie is pretty much just that in extended form. We quickly get a glimpse of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) at high school struggling academically and socially respectively, followed by them both somehow ending up at police academy (even though it would appear a strange choice for Schmidt, but let’s say he has a prevailing sense of justice needing to be done). Then by some act of destiny they form a symbiotic friendship to pull each other through. And it even feels like a trailer, it’s all just laying the foundation for the real movie to start, the annoying set-up that is necessary but largely skimmed over, the greens before dessert. What it also does is establish the movie in a universe where logic isn’t too important and never comes at the expense of comedy.

Picture: hollywood.com
Best of friends, right? But how can you expect to be popular if you're trying to pull of the Slim Shady look? Picture: hollywood.com

Anyway, after a foolish mix-up with an arrest, the two agents are reassigned to the 21 Jump Street programme, where officers are used to infiltrate schools and such to solve youth-related crime. And it just so happens that there’s a new drug on the market that the young ones are really taking to, but which holds great danger for their well-being. So our two youthful looking cops get another shot at high school and almost immediately the movie picks up. For a start, Schmidt’s interaction with his parents is priceless. He almost immediately reverts back to a petulant teen and is great fun to watch. There’s also a picture of him on the wall that is no more than a throwaway gag, but which is hilarious.

And Channing Tatum isn’t far behind. His Jenko is just as enjoyable to follow, as the once streetwise high schooler is thrown back into a world that has shifted beyond recognition and where all the rules are now different. This soon dawns on him as they show up for their first day of school in a very effective scene that includes a cool little nod to hipsters, which I loved personally.

Now while I knew that Hill would be good and pretty much went to see it on the strength of his name alone, Tatum really surprises with his composed comedic abilities. The guy is actually really funny. So it would seem that he took a lot more from that tiny part in The Dilemma than anyone could’ve guessed. I might even go see The Vow now and show the guy some support.

Picture: pajiba.com
Just because you're trying to bring down a drug ring doesn't mean you shouldn't look sharp. Picture: pajiba.com

What also makes Jump Street work is that we’re given enough to care about the characters. It’s the simplest of formulas, but if it works it works. Schmidt and Jenko are confronted with past insecurities like only high school can bring out and their friendship is compromised by high school politics and there’s all the high school “drama” that keeps on compelling people to watch pretty much anything with teens on TV. (The fact that they’re undercover cops is largely forgotten by the audience and the leads themselves, which makes it so much fun and adds to why we like them, but watch out for when Schmidt’s cover is almost blown by a family friend!)  Credit to the actors for pulling off this more demanding aspect of their characters. Hill, that’s Oscar nominated Hill to me and you, is especially good at making it impossible not to like him as he tentatively engages with Brie Larson’s Molly in what is an affecting romance.

As if to reassure everyone in the audience that the comedy fraternity believe in this project, there’s a flurry of support from greats such as the always impeccable Chris Parnell, Nick Offerman in a delicious little scene as the chief, the very talented Rob Riddle, who just manages to stay on the right side of annoying, and a personal favourite of mine, Jake M Johnson, as the principal. There’s also the lovely Ellie Kemper who’s grossly under-used as the lustful Chemistry teacher but still very funny whenever she gets the chance. And, of course, the lovable Dave Franco who is always on form and very watchable no matter what you’re looking for. Also, Ice Cube sort of emulates P Diddy’s character in Get Him To The Greek with similar aplomb and, I almost forgot, there’s a very special, completely unexpected and cleverly executed cameo toward the end. But don’t bother looking for it, you won’t see it coming.

And clever really sums it up for me. It doesn’t reinvent the playbook or anything, but for what it is, 21 Jump Street is very clever. It’s always got its tongue lodged deep in its cheek, making fun of itself and the YouTube generation of teens in a very cool and satisfying manner. And even though I wasn’t LOLing at every single joke, I enjoyed it immensely throughout because there’s some really good comedy to be found – a scene in the bathroom in particular stands out and it’s not the usual gross-out fare, and also the Peter Pan play just has this one very neat, maybe silly, touch in which Schmidt evades Jenko. The house party and the freeway chase scenes work extremely well too in their entirety and are fantastically fun.

Yes, there’s some unnecessary childish stuff too, but then I’m not complaining too much. And the movie does kind of unravel toward the end with a boundless energy of someone on drugs that is probably over the top, but the stuff in the middle between the boring intro and ultra-stimulating outro is gold and I left with a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t quite Superbad 2, but I hope to see Jonah Hill in plenty more bromances and I would definitely come back for the inevitable sequel.

Nothing to laugh at here, just pure quality

Material, headed up by funny man Riaad Moosa, is not a funny movie. Because, as we are told by his movie father Ebrahim (played by Vincent Ebrahim), “life is not a funny business”. And it does well to demonstrate this throughout with a well-told story that is heavy in tone with some fantastic emotional beats.

That’s not to say it’s not funny too. In Moosa Material has a perfect lead – his character Cassim is incredibly sweet and sympathetic and carries the movie perfectly. As a counterpoint to all the drama, Cassim’s stand-up material interspersed in the movie can be average at times, although it’s very culturally specific and may be forgiven by more lenient viewers. However, genuine laughs are abundant with Joey Rasdien on-screen, who is excellent in his supporting role as best friend Yusuf, providing an authentic and heartwarming friendship. Then, of course, there’s Vincent Ebrahim who delivers a big performance as the out-of-touch, stubborn and authoritarian Ebrahim. The granny many will love as well, although I found her to be quite annoying and the one fake character in an otherwise solid cast.

They're on a boat!

It’s almost impossible not to draw comparisons with Judd Apatow’s Funny People, even though the movies are obviously worlds apart. However, like Funny People, Material shows how comedy can become a subject of great dramatic potential and goes looking for real human emotion behind the laughs. Where Funny People exposes the tortured soul of a long-time comedian, Material highlights the torture of getting into the business to begin with. Cassim works at his family’s struggling material store in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, selling fabric to people in their small Muslim community, but what he secretly dreams of is making people laugh. But he has to keep it secret from his overbearing father who would never approve.

It’s incredible, only because we manage to live such culturally insular lives in South Africa, that you can go see a locally made movie such as this and feel like you could be watching a foreign film playing out in drab Delhi or something. And even though Material appears to be performing well at the local box office, I hope the strong Indian flavour of the movie hasn’t discouraged South Africans from other cultural groups to give this a go. It tells a universal story of aspiring to something different in life, facing obstacles on the way and making some very hard choices. And it tells the very South African story of how history and culture can have a very stifling effect on your life. Also to its credit, something that I want to see more in our films, it largely sidesteps the baggage of Apartheid in our cinematic tradition, although it is implicitly there and pivotal in the plot.

It’s not perfect, but for a local effort Material is truly impressive, firstly for its deft storytelling and secondly its slick production value. That depressing track is overdone slightly toward the end, making it feel unbearably sad at times. That being said, you end up missing it when it’s gone, because my biggest and only gripe really is that the ending is way too easily wrapped-up. Nonetheless, this is a really pleasing film as sweet as the character at its centre, and it bodes well for South African cinema.

My one hour and forty-three with Marilyn

Hey all, sorry I skipped a review last week, I know my loyal readership are probably still hurting from that. But worry not, this week I’m back and I’m bringing some class with me. That can only mean it’s British. But don’t worry, it’s not all high and dry, they have the f-word there too.

So, My Week With Marilyn tells the unlikely true story of a young man, Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne) forcing his way into the movie business with sheer determination only to have the world’s biggest star, the inimitable (but wait, I’ll get to that) Marilyn Monroe, arrive in England to shoot a movie with Laurence Olivier as soon as he’s succeeded in doing so.

The movie opens with Michelle Williams acting as Marilyn in a movie and bewitching British audiences with Colin among them. And in the same way she transfixes the boy, Williams proceeds to light up the screen all the way through. As soon as the curtain lifts you are witness to a truly dazzling performance from an extremely talented actress. Of all the Dawson’s Creek kids I guess we should have had our money on her all along. I mean, she was always even more serious than the rest.

Not only is she completely transformed into Marilyn Monroe in appearance and little idiosyncrasies, but once she gets going “on-screen” she has the same exotic, enchanting appeal of the actual Monroe. She is fun and flirtatious in Monroe’s good moments, but she also shines when her pill-addled character doesn’t.

And where Williams spearheads the movie to create a pleasing timewarping feel, the picture follows suit by being presented in a wonderful grainy texture that makes it resemble old film footage of a real Monroe visit. It really is quite lovely to take in.

Then there is the support. Kenneth Branagh, for one, is just fantastic. Much like the weirdo behind me, who once or twice raised his voice during the screening, I wanted to shout out: “More of this, Kenneth, less of Thor!!!” He is tremendously entertaining as serious thespian Laurence Olivier whose patience is tested to the brink by Ms Monroe. Redmayne is sufficiently enthusiastic, overawed, smitten and heartbroken as and when required, while Dame Judy Dench and even Emma Watson do a fine job too, even though they’re just there to colour in the edges.

This movie is about Marilyn and what a complicated, troubled yet incredibly gifted young woman she was. And also how screwed up her idea of love was. I mean, this is no place for someone as “young and innocent” as Colin to get involved in. So subsequently it’s also a bittersweet romance, a little one-sided, a little unrequited, of the besotted boy who would do anything to help someone who is tragically beyond helping. She would peak with her next film, the timeless Some Like It Hot, and after that make only two more movies before passing away from an overdose at age 36.

The whole thing, despite feeling slow at times, is a whirlwind affair and, while having left a lasting impression on the boy, its effect will probably wear off in audience members not long after leaving the cinema. On occasion the romance and the damaged aspect of Monroe can become somewhat cloying, but the movie is a softly handled, sumptuous and charming study of what will forever remain a fascinating figure of the silver-screen. And someone give Williams the Oscar, Meryl already has two.

Paynefully hard to like – The Descendants

Ah crap. This type of movie leaves me in such a dilemma. Such a dilemma. This week I went to see The Descendants, the Hawaii-based drama from Alexander Payne everyone is raving about. So now I feel incredibly left out for feeling almost nothing walking out of the cinema afterwards. It’s like Slumdog all over again. Or About Schmidt, another Payne movie. And it’s not that it isn’t good, it’s just that this low-key picture is so incredibly low-key that it’s sort of hard to go meet or, ahem, descend to its level.

http://the-descendants-movie-trailer.blogspot.com/

The most telling, pointed line is probably where Clooney’s character Matt King compares his family to an archipelago, ‘together but always drifting apart’. So the movie has this tragic undercurrent running through it, which never fully comes to the surface. Things are not well in the house of King, you see. For starters, his wife’s in a coma and is probably not going to make it. And as if to heighten the resentment you would feel for a loved one putting you through such an ordeal, he also has to find out that she was having an affair. More stuff that you can’t really deal with. But the characters all give it a fair go as they thrash it out with the comatose mom, her becoming just the weirdest character/prop who just lies there in close-up during conversations.

Clooney, in going for his miserable unfulfilled guy trilogy, is very good as always, but not great. Not Oscar worthy. He can’t be faulted and shows good variation, occasionally displaying even a bit of O Brother’s almost farcical acting, but his performance is much toned down as his character internalises so much of his emotions. S0 you really have to look for the so-called Oscar-winning performance to see it, but I don’t know, some people will call it nuanced.

I guess he perfectly matches the tone of the movie, so lets commend him for that. But I think I was expecting another Up In the Air, where he gives a similar performance. Only there the material really packed more of a punch, whereas Descendants works the stomach without ever going for the knock-out. The stand-out performance actually comes from young Shailene Woodley, who plays his daughter Alex. She gives such a strong, assured performance of a young woman dealing with all that is going on and really impresses.

It’s a thoughtful, sombre movie about what it means to love someone, all contrasted with horrible Hawaiian shirts and the unusual melancholy of its Hawaiian music soundtrack. It’s subtle, complex and definitely has its moments, with also some decent humour creeping in to alleviate some of the heaviness. So, I’m sure it’s very good, but I don’t think I really liked it that much or at all. To its credit, it did make me think to go out and live my life right to avoid King”s mistakes (even though these things happen), and maybe reconsider the time spent watching slow-burning movies that don’t really pay off in the end.

And oh, hey, Matthew Lillard is in it. And he doesn’t screw it up. So kudos to him.

They bought a zoo!

OK, so guess what this movie is about? We live in an age of stupid literal-lateral titles, it’s just one of those things. A world with snakes on planes, hobos with shotguns and other things with or on yet other things. It could’ve been worse – it could’ve been called Matt Damon Plays a Single Dad Coping With Parenthood and the Loss of his Wife. I think personally I would’ve called it Adventure Park, or Coping with Loss: The Mental Breakdown Story. You know, that way they keep the fact that Damon’s character buys a zoo as an ace to be played later in the movie, and then at least there wouldn’t be the annoying “gawsh isn’t this a hoot!” shtick with the audience. “We bought a zoo!” his daughter shouts several times, and if you belong to the Title Evasion club (whereby you leave when a movie’s title is stated by any character), you’ll have to leave while the movie is still trite and lacklustre.

We Bought a Zoo is kind of like Marley and Me. You know what you’re getting going in. That one took me two viewings to be won over, but I’m glad to say this one did it in less. It’s a great relief as well, since director/writer Cameron Crowe has proven himself to be wizard and quack alike. Say Anything is one of my favourite movies and Almost Famous is just so well done on every level, for example. But then there was Vanilla Sky, which was slammed critically and his last effort 6 years prior to Zoo, Elizabethtown, which very much suited the Crowe treatment but which was just dreadful and charmless. And had Orlando Bloom in it.

So anyway, where was I? Damon’s son Dylan (Colin Ford) is experiencing some issues having lost his mother at a vital age, so we’ll forgive him for acting out. But then Damon’s Benjamin Mee (what a silly surname, right?) looks for a fresh start, running away basically from the memories of his home town and withdrawing from peopled territory, and he drags his kids with him.

And then Elle Fanning shows up. Well, she lives on the zoo land with all the zoo carnies, so she shows up relatively speaking. And she lights up this film like a wonderfully cheerful flare. She has this endearing goofy innocence and ebullience that is incredibly winsome. She was one of the best things in Somewhere, I hear she just bowls you over in Super 8 and again here she’s competing with the little girl, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) for the prize of the best thing in this movie. But then it’s not quite a fair fight – Rosie is ridiculously cute, I mean she’s off the cuteness scale, they should actually measure cuteness in units of Rosies. (I don’t know where Hollywood finds all these adorable kids, but anyway…). She’s so cute to the point where you almost feel manipulated and see her for the cheap ploy she is,  just before she melts your heart yet again.

Now you try and tell me that's not cute.

There’s some decent acting going around. John Michael Higgins does a good job with the comical jerk zoo inspector, and his feud with the equally entertaining Angus McFayden’s MacCready is pretty enjoyable. Scarlett Johannson is perfectly fine as zookeeper Kelly (but how lucky is Benjamin to have this hottie who just happens to live on the zoo-grounds as well?). And let’s not forget Thomas Hayden Church, who provides smooth and funny support.

Damon does the grieving widower who wants to stay positive pretty well, but his character thankfully shows some cracks later on. But nothing too dramatic. Plus I’m just always glad that he’s not reprising his role as Francois Pienaar, anything’s better than that. I also thought to myself during the movie, “Holy crap, man, Damon’s a dad now, man.” It’s weird seeing actors pass onto different stages in their careers and Damo’s going to have to take on more of these older types in movies. He’s in typically embarrassing dad mode here. But he too wins you over, with his good nature and spirit in the face of the seemingly absurd and impossible. And this whole endeavour of actually buying a zoo (They bought a zoo?!!) turns out to be quite inspiring and powerful.

Finally let’s get to the ending. Crowe knows how to do good endings. And while I’d prefer a movie to start strong too, obviously, the trick’s all in the finish. I don’t know, call me sentimental if you will (well, I got there eventually), but the ending is very satisfactory, very sweet, and wraps up a feel-good movie that you’re not ashamed to feel good about. It might also awaken your sense of adventure.