Sean K. Cureton

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

We Bought A Zoo: Review

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on January 21, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Theatrical Poster

We Bought a Zoo
3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Cameron Crowe

Cameron Crowe is probably one of the best American directors working in Hollywood today, primarily because he is also one of the most accessible directors, whose films seem to be made exclusively for the average American moviegoer. Most American moviegoers will probably remember quite fondly Crowe’s 1996 film Jerry Maguire, which was the film where Tom Cruise played a loveable sports agent who, rather naively, decides to become a free agent and build up his own list of clients with the help of another fairly naïve character played by Renee Zellweger, with whom he starts a romantic relationship. While Maguire certainly helped to make Crowe a household name, it was his other films, like his 1989 debut Say Anything or 2000’s auto-biographical release of Almost Famous that showed Crowe to be a great film maker with a true ability to craft great narratives through the medium of film.

Crowe’s newest release, We Bought a Zoo, falls somewhere between the aforementioned categories. Zoo is certainly well-made, and it shows how good Crowe has become over the years at crafting great cinematic stories about relatable characters to an American audience, but at the same time it does seem to fall into the category of Maguire, in that the protagonist, played by Matt Damon, takes on a task naively and falls into a relationship with another character in the film, played by Scarlett Johansson. Like Maguire, Zoo is a very predictable Romantic Comedy that fails to challenge either the audience or Crowe’s abilities as an artist.

Yet, at the same time, Zoo is definitely just as gripping as something like Say Anything, since Damon’s character, named Benjamin Mee, engages with the other characters in the film in a way that is both moving and believable. Like Lloyd Doppler, Benjamin Mee is smart, sweet, and just innocent enough so that his actions don’t feel too scripted, or obviously thought-out by a writer. Thus, Benjamin Mee comes off like someone honestly engaging with the world around him and stumbling along the way.

However, Mee’s stumbles do feel at times to be too easy and archaic. While the film progresses, one can not help but guess what will happen at every step, and for the most part one’s guesses will be completely right. At times in the movie, one wonders whether Crowe knew how to really end the film, or whether he was simply using endings from other films from over the course of his career to help him end this one quickly and cleanly.

Yet, We Bought a Zoo ultimately overcomes its rather tedious plot, if only because of how well written each of the characters are, and how well the characters are acted. Damon exudes warmth as a recent widower trying to reconnect with his kids and the world, Johansson seems more human in this film than ever before, and less like a super beautiful goddess, and Thomas Haden Church is hysterical as Damon’s older brother, providing a performance on par with his equally wonderful performance in Alexander Payne’s Sideways. Even newcomer Maggie Elizabeth Jones is wonderful in this film as Damon’s young daughter, whose cute quips seem to outmatch Maguire’s “cute kid,” played at the time by a young Jonathan Lipnicki.

Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo is a good film, even if it is more on par with something like Jerry Maguire as opposed to his more interesting films like Say Anything and Almost Famous. Yet, Crowe has made more challenging films in the past, which, while being more interesting, are definitely not better than this film, such as 2005’s Elizabethtown. We Bought a Zoo is a good movie, and is one of this reviewer’s favorite films of 2011, even if though it is not one of the best films released this year, or within Crowe’s entire career.


A Revue of Feminism and Violence

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on January 1, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Directed by David Fincher

After last year’s The Social Network, one would think that the Academy award nominated director David Fincher might want to take a year or two off before delivering his next feature film. Instead, Fincher decided to immediately delve into his next project, the eagerly anticipated US adaptation of the Steig Larsson novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in the Millenium trilogy.

Fincher’s adaptation of Larsson’s novel delivers on every level where the Swedish adaptation, released in 2009, did not. Where the Swedish film was slow, amateurish, and lifeless, Fincher’s film is fast paced, expertly shot and edited together, and has been given the best cast possible. Where the 2009 Swedish film contained only one truly notable performance, given by actress Noomi Rapace as the heroin protagonist Lisbeth Salander, Fincher has put together a cast that is filled with great actors all assigned to a part perfect for each of them to play.

Most notably, casting Daniel Craig as the male protagonist Mikael Blomkvist was a perfect decision, as he breathes humanity into Blomkvist in Fincher’s film, where Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist was dull and questionably breathing at all. Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, taking over for Rapace, and fills the bill perfectly, while also making the role her own. Where Rapace was considerably older than Mara, and thus played a slightly less innocent looking Lisbeth, Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth is slightly younger, which makes her character’s tormented and violent personality all the more powerful and shocking when the most distressing scenes in the film arrive.

In addition to the protagonists, Fincher also captured a great performance from Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger, the man who hires Blomkvist to solve a murder case that much of the film revolves around. Plummer was a pitch perfect choice for this role, as was casting Stellan Skarsgard as one of the film’s villains, Martin Vanger. Skarsgard’s portrayal of Martin Vanger is menacing and absolutely frightening, which is exactly what the character calls for.

However, Fincher’s adaptation of Larsson’s novel does not evade one problem that the Swedish film shares with it, being the difficulty of translating the fairly complicated plot into a film under three hours. In the novel, there are two plots, or issues, that are separate from each other in their subjects and goals, but intertwine together due to the involvement of individuals from both plots with one another. In Fincher’s film, the attempt to address both of these plots is a little confusing for the average viewer, as Fincher is forced to explain the complexities of how each plot is resolved in accordance with the other plot in a fairly fast paced, and slightly dizzying final twenty minutes of the film. In the end, one of these plots is given more importance, and time, than the other in Fincher’s film, despite the fact that the other plot is given just as much attention over the course of the entire film.

In conclusion, David Fincher’s US adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo lives up to every bit of the anticipation that has been attributed to it leading up to its release. Fincher’s film adaptation of the best selling novel of the same name is satisfying for fans of the book, and delivers a great thriller that will also satisfy viewers unfamiliar with the Millennium trilogy at all. Despite being encumbered by a story that can get confusing at times, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a great adaptation of one of the best-written murder mysteries of the twenty first century.