Tag Archives: We Bought a Zoo

Favourite Movie Posters of 2011


We Bought a Zoo (2011)

I love Cameron Crowe. He’s one of my favourite directors. Almost Famous is among my top five movies of all time, and I even enjoy his “lesser” films like Elizabethtown and Singles quite a bit. So when I heard that he was releasing a new movie last year, I was excited. Sure, the premise didn’t sound too exciting (a family buys an abandoned zoo and tries to get it back up and running), but anything Crowe is going to grab my interest. My faith waned a little bit thanks to a fairly sappy looking trailer, and the eventual response to the film (lukewarm reviews, and a general lack of interest from the public). But I went out and saw it today, and I’ll go as far as to say that this is a great film.

Okay, first of all, I will say that We Bought a Zoo has its flaws. It’s a family film, and at times, things get a little to precious and predictable. Some jokes fall flat, and some of the minor characters feel more like caricatures. But none of that really mattered to me in the end, because the film has so much heart. The relationship between Matt Damon’s character and his children is very warm, and as an viewer, you’re really rooting for them to make everything work out.

Speaking of Matt Damon, he is great here. It’s a mature, varied performance, and he plays a father very well. He hits the right emotions, and he brings a lot of warmth to the screen. Thomas Hayden Church also stands out as his brother, adding a lot of humour, and also sympathy to the character. The biggest surprise in the cast for me was Colin Ford, who plays Damon’s 14-year-old son. He’s very convincing as a moody, grieving teenager, and he brings the right combination of petulance and pathos to his portrayal. I was unfamiliar with Ford as an actor, but his screen presence here has me convinced that I’ll be seeing a lot more of him. Elle Fanning is also luminous in a smaller role. She’s proven to be highly charismatic and charming in films like Somewhere and Super 8, and she does similarly great work here with more limited screen time here. It’s also worth noting that this is one of Scarlett Johansson’s best performances. Her character is very well-defined by Crowe, and Johansson picks up on the nuances well.

As with all Cameron Crowe films, We Bought a Zoo also has a great soundtrack. Crowe digs out lots of old favourites, including Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but he also uses Bon Iver’s “Holocene” to nice effect. It’s also great to hear Temple of Dog’s “Hunger Strike” pop up, which is a neat little nod to Crowe’s love of 90’s grunge. Sigur Ros’ Jonsi also provides an original score the film, which is fantastic. It’s triumphant and uplifting, and that score adds a lot of emotional heft to several scenes. Crowe is a master of music, and the soundtrack is always one of my favourite elements of his films.

We Bought a Zoo is certainly trying to pull on your heartstrings, and for me, it worked. It’s lovely and simple, and sometimes that’s the best kind of film. A shorter run time could have made the film a bit tighter, yet I never felt bored. I find it very difficult for a film to keep my interest for the whole duration, but We Bought a Zoo did that.


Winter Movie Preview: December

December 2

Limited Release:

  • Ralph Fiennes steps behind the camera for the first time with the modern-day Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus. In the film, Fiennes also takes the leading role as a ruthless Roman general, joining a cast that includes Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Chastain. It’s worth nothing that this is Butler’s second Serious Film of the year, and while this movie and Machine Gun Preacher both look pretty dry to me, they also seem to be his most complex roles, like…ever.
  • One of the winter’s most unexpectedly anticipated films (in film buff circles, anyways) is Shame. The film stars Michael Fassbender as a sex-addicted man whose younger sister (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him. It’s Fassbender’s second collaboration with director Steve McQueen (their previous film, 2008’s Hunger, was a critical favourite that helped to put Fassbender on the map) and he’s already earned glowing reviews from the festival circuit for his performance. The film’s intense subject garnered an NC-17 rating, but if anything, that only seems to be building interest in the film. Oscar buzz has remained steady for Fassbender, but only time will tell if this racy film can pick up any traction with notoriously stuffy Oscar voters.
  • One film that flew under the radar this year, despite playing several film festivals, is the seemingly strange and subversive art film Sleeping Beauty. The film stars Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) as a young woman drawn into some kind of surreal world of prostitution. Reviews have been iffy so far, but if you like slow-burning, arty dramas, then this may be one to check out.

December 9

Wide Release:

  • If you’ve ever wanted to see Robert DeNiro and Lea Michele in the same movie, then be sure to check out New Year’s Eve! Director Gary Marshall is rehashing the concept of last year’s Valentine’s Day (a film that is only barely worth watching for the Julia Roberts/Bradley Cooper segments) for another seasonal multi-storyline rom-com.
  • Remember when David Gordon Green made films like All the Real Girls and Snow Angels? Well, those days are apparently gone, because now we’re getting Green’s third consecutive R-rated comedy with The Sitter. Jonah Hill stars in what appears to be a gender-swapped remake of Adventures in Babysitting, and the trailer promises all kind of hilarious hi-jinks. Plus side: Sam Rockwell!
  • Boasting one of the strongest casts of the year, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finally hits theatres in North America this December. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and John Hurt all star in this Cold War thriller based on the 1974 John Le Carre novel. The trailer paints it as a taught, thoughtful, and stylish thriller, and movies don’t get much better than that.

Limited Release:

  • I Melt With You initially sounded like a typical, earnest indie film about four friends (in this case, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay, and Thomas Jane) who reunite during middle age, but after watching the trailer, it looks kind of crazy. Much darker (and much more drug-addled) than I expected. It got very mixed reviews at Sundance, but I am definitely intrigued about this one now.
  • There was a period of about two months when people online were excited about the Madonna-directed W.E. Then it played at TIFF to notably poor reviews, and all buzz died immediately. However, Abbie Cornish is a great actress (if you haven’t seen Bright Star, please remedy that) and Andrea Riseborough has shown promise (Made in Dagenham, Never Let Me Go, Brighton Rock), so I’m still mildly interested in this one.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin hit big at the festivals earlier this year, and Tilda Swinton earned raves as a mother raising a rather…difficult…son. This movie looks gruelling and often downright hard to watch, but it’s also bound to feature some great acting from Swinton. Up-and-comer Ezra Miller also looks suitably creepy as the disturbed Kevin.
  • Jason Reitman has a pretty great track record for such a short career (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air), and looks like he’s hit again with Young Adult. The film stars Charlize Theron as a self-obsessed woman who returns to her hometown to win back an old flame (Patrick Wilson), and the trailer makes it look like typical Reitman fare – funny, honest, and surprisingly warm. (Expands Dec. 16)

December 16

Wide Release:

  • If you enjoed the first two CGI Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, you should probably check out Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.
  • Tom Cruise may be getting old, but that doesn’t stop him from still kicking ass. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol looks like potentially fun popcorn fare, and it also happens to be the first live-action film from director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). I also like the supporting cast quite a bit, which includes Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Lost‘s Josh Holloway.
  • Continuing with the week of sequels, we’ve got the unnecessary Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Repartee between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is fun (and I really did think that Law was great in the first film), but do we need another two hours of it? The trailer makes it look pretty identical to the first one, and it wasn’t even that great of a film the first time.

Limited Release:

  • Roman Polanski may be a controversial guy, but he knows how to make some pretty great actors agree to work with him. In Carnage,
    Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz play two set of parents attempting to have a civil discussion about a schoolyard incident involving their children, and tempers inevitably flare. The movie is based on a play, and judging by the trailer, that’s not hard to believe. Its appeal will be limited, but Carnage looks like an impressive acting showcase.
  • Luc Besson’s The Lady (Dec. 12) didn’t receive great reviews at the festivals, but it avoided the spring dumping ground fate and instead got a proper Oscar run release. It stars Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis as lovers in a politically tumultuous time.

December 21

Wide Release:

  • You can expect to see a lot of literary adaptations, Steven Spielberg, and Daniel Craig this holiday week at the movies, and The Adventures of Tintin combines all three. This animated flick is of course based on the popular children’s comic book series, and if nothing else, it should be nice to look at. The fact that Edgar Wright is a screenwriter on the project also inspires some hope.
  • Expectations are high for David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and if the trailers are any indication, audiences are in store for a taught, stylish, and gritty thriller. Daniel Craig seems like the perfect choice for the steely Michael Blomkvist, and Rooney Mara is certainly striking as hacker Lisbeth Salander. My most anticipated film for the rest of the year.

December 23

Wide Release:

  • Cameron Crowe’s last film, 2005’s Elizabethtown, was met with a very mixed response (I personally thought it was okay), and now he’s trying to redeem himself with the family-friendly We Bought a Zoo. Matt Damon stars as a man who ends up moving his family to a zoo, and while the film looks to on the sappy side, it also looks like a life-affirming, uplifting holiday movie. And that’s not a bad thing.

Limited Release:

  • If Angelina Jolie wasn’t the director, I feel In the Land of Blood and Honey would get a tiny release. But since it does have the power of Jolie backing it, the film is starting as a limited release, but hoping to gain a wide release in early 2012. The film, which focuses on the Bosnian war, is described as a love story, but I imagine it will still prove to be a challenging film for many viewers (it certainly won’t be your typical holiday movie…)

December 25

Wide Release:

  • Emile Hirsch has been strangely absent from cinemas for a couple years, so I’m happy to see him in anything (and Olivia Thirlby in a big movie). The Darkest Hour looks like it could potentially be interesting, though I can’t tell if they’re just bluffing with the “cerebral” element of how the aliens function. It’ll probably be a pretty standard alien invasion movie, but when done well, that can be effective (I still unabashedly defend Cloverfield).
  • I’ll admit it: I’m so not interested in War Horse. The trailers just look sooo schmaltzy (yes, even more than We Bought a Zoo). But I know a lot of people love horses, so maybe I’m just missing something. But nonetheless, War Horse is directed by Steven Spielberg, and it looks beautiful, in terms of cinematography. It’s based on acclaimed play, too, so the screenplay should be decent.

Limited Release:

  • Speaking of schmaltz, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close also opens on Christmas (it will go wide in January). You can’t argue with the cast, though, which includes Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max Von Sydow, Viola David, and Jeffrey Wright. I can’t decide if I like Stephen Daldry as a director or not (Billy Eliot, The Hours, and The Reader are all good, beautifully shot films, but they all feel a bit on the nose), but I think this one will be a crowd-pleaser.
  • Ah, another feel-good Christmas film! Pariah tells the harrowing story of an outcast African-American teenage lesbian who struggles for identity in Brooklyn. One to bring the whole family to! In all seriousness, though, Pariah is said to be a very important film, and it received strong reviews at TIFF.

December 30

Limited Release:

  • The Iron Lady. It’s Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. If that sounds interesting to you, then you will probably like this film. If not, then you should probably wait for DVD (or just skip it entirely if you don’t care about the Oscars).