From extremely nice to excessively nasty, this week’s releases cover every kind of ground. Earlier this week, I walked that very ground, and here are my findings. Welcome to Cinemascape!
We Bought a Zoo (PG)
Quite the nicest film you’ll see all year, this sweet, emotional drama from Jerry Maguire auteur Cameron Crowe tells a tale of family healing, of fresh starts and taking chances. Based on the best-selling memoir by journalist Benjamin Mee, lengthily titled We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Broken-Down Zoo, and the 200 Animals That Changed a Family Forever, it follows struggling widower Ben (Matt Damon), who, in a bid to revitalise his grieving family, impulse-buys a home in the country.
The twist is, as the book’s title plainly reveals, it’s a home that comes complete with a dilapidated zoo packed with demanding birds, beasts and a handful of eccentric human employees. In a phrase, it’s a fixer upper, and if it’s ever going to re-open, it’ll take a mountain of cash, a Herculean degree of physical effort and more emotional healing than you’d find in an entire season of Oprah.
Though unprepared and totally unqualified for the task, Ben’s enthusiasm slowly infects all those around him, and though his wonderful dream borders on grotesque irresponsibility, maybe somehow it’ll help him re-connect with his troubled teenage son (Colin Ford), and cheer up his disheartened seven year-old daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).
Key among the cast is a doughier Damon than usual, in one of his most likeable roles to date, young Ford as Ben’s rebellious problem child, impending Avenger Scarlett Johansson as a hot zookeeper and Thomas Haden Church as Ben’s more realistic and responsible older brother. Beyond that lot, the movie delivers adorable Elle Fanning, burly Angus Macfadyen and familiar face John Michael Higgins as a fussy zoo inspector.
You’d best take your tissues to this one because it’s a weepie, shamelessly emotional and borderline corny with a near-surreal fairy tale quality to it. If it hadn’t actually happened you’d never believe it, but it did, so get over it. Uncommonly good-natured with notes of feelgood energy throughout, though undeniably cheesy it’s also beautiful inside and out, and I liked it very much. If this sounds like your thing, and you’re an animal lover too, I reckon you should go for it.
A routine crime thriller with pockets of interesting surrounded by deep flaps of yawn, Contraband stars charisma-free zone Mark Wahlberg as a former smuggler forced by circumstance to take one more job. Given the current economy, though undeniably risky, it’s kind of annoying that Wahlberg’s character knocks so lucrative a career. It’s not long, though, before he’s up to his old tricks, the greatest smuggler in the business doing his best to adapt to an ever-worsening situation where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and then some. Despite the furious activity however, the endless double-crossing and life-or-death struggling, it’s not terribly gripping.
Based on well-regarded Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband offers the occasional action highlight and as a smuggling procedural, sheds light on a world rarely seen on screen, but there’s a by-the-numbers vibe to it that keeps it from ever becoming compelling. Still, in terms of the supporting cast it’s always fun to watch Giovanni Ribisi play a drug-dealing scumbag, while like-minded actor Ben Foster adds to his growing portfolio of two-faced bastards. In a nutshell, the movie’s alright, perfectly watchable if you’re in a patient and forgiving mood. But I’d sooner have seen it on my sofa, in three months time, with a couple of beers. You might consider doing the same.
Movie adaptations of beloved TV properties rarely work. 21 Jump Street is no exception. For starters, the original Eighties show was only ok at best, a tale of undercover cops busting criminal high schoolers from A-Team producer Stephen J. Cannell. Were it not for the fact that it starred a relatively young Johnny Depp, I doubt anyone would remember it at all. Given that nobody actually cares about the original show, the producers decided to turn this feature length version in to a comedy, and though there are moments of twisted genius, just enough to fill a trailer, it is, like Starsky and Hutch before it, a largely lamentable and hopelessly crass mistake.
Losing weight hasn’t made Jonah Hill any more handsome, and working with Hill hasn’t made a comedian of Channing Tatum. Together, as best buds and partners eager to prove themselves as undercover coppers, they are a chemistry free zone. Particularly Tatum, whose career can only be attributed to a deal with the Devil, and continues to make trees appear less wooden. Ten or fifteen cracking gags and a game supporting cast aside, it’s only maybe 10% as smart as it thinks it is, and that’s not enough.
Also at the Cinema…
A heartbreaking Holocaust drama from Polish director Agnieszka Holland, In Darkness (15) focuses on a group of Jewish refugees hiding out in the sewers beneath the Nazi-occupied Polish city of Lvov. Though technically the film leaves much to be desired and at 2½ hours rather outstays its welcome, it remains a commendable, moving effort… Finally this week, The Devil Inside (15) is a chilling treat for freak-out fans, a smorgasbord of shocks and jumps with exorcisms to spare.