We Bought a Zoo

Swanner: You know you’re getting old when the first question you have is why the hell would anyone buy a zoo? You have no history with caring for animals or even working with people who do. So why buy a zoo? Director Cameron Crowe tells us the story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) and his family who after a tragedy decide to buy and re-open a struggling zoo. I can understand wanting to make a change but shoveling tiger crap would never cross my mind as something different to do. Is it just me?

Judd: Would I buy a zoo? Absolutely, as long as I could eat the animals that came with it. Lions and tigers and bears, yum yum! If I had to keep the animals, then no, I would not buy a zoo. But then I don’t have two world-weary, city-fied children who need to regain their innocence and joy. We Bought a Zoo is a Hallmark movie about just that. A father and son rebuilding a broken relationship, and a little girl to wise for her years.

Swanner: I know this was based on a true story written by the actual Benjamin Mee, but Cameron Crowe doing this film seemed out of place. Has he had children, or is something making him want to move away from smart romantic comedies to this gooey family stuff? I was also surprised that the script was written by Crowe and one of my favorite romantic comedy writers Aline Brosh McKenna (27 Dresses). There wasn’t anything smart and funny in the script at all. Crowe also usually does a nice job with his supporting casts, but this time the cast seemed overly animated, which I found a bit distracting. Was he channeling Disney? Damon and Scarlett Johansson carried the leads well, but there just wasn’t much to do. I’m really talking myself out of the film.

Judd: We Bought a Zoo is the prime example of why I don’t like these kinds of family films. They’re boring and I’m not instantly charmed by cutsie kids, so the lazy gimmick of a mugging little girl doesn’t blind me to the tepid story. The only scene that felt somewhat genuine was when Benjamin and his son have it out in the hallway. The rest of it was barely better than New Year’s Eve.

Swanner: The last act was the only part of the movie that worked for me. I know families will be charmed by the googly eyed daughter and cute animals so I don’t speak for them. The first two thirds of the film were a bore. As I mentioned, I was pondering why someone would buy a zoo because I didn’t care why Damon did. If you don’t like “family” movies pass this one by and consider yourself lucky and diabetes in hand for another day.

Judd: I agreed. Not only is the movie a bore, it’s a 2 hour and 4 minute bore. I don’t know if the tykes will get restless, but I know I sure did.

Swanner: ½
Judd: ½


Michael Morpurgo children’s book Warhorse has had an amazing past few years. Back in 2007 an adaptation was being created for the London stage. It went on to win a ton of awards and accolades before it came to the New York stage last year where it went on to win the Tony for Best New Play of the year. Now it’s a feature film directed by Oscar winner Steven Spielberg and written by Oscar nominees Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral). With this kind of fanfare there is a lot of hope for this movie to be a major Oscar contender but can it live up to all the hype?

The answer is yes. The story is a pretty simple one of a horse that gets drafted in to World War One from a young man and then goes from one owner to the next till of course he is one day reunited with that young man again. Spielberg take us by the hand as we follow the journey of our main character, without being manipulated we want to see where he goes just as long as the long road leads to home. The technical on the film are amazing and beautiful. There are moments when the cinematography is breathtaking and the editing and music make you breathless. The scene where the Warhorse gets caught in the barbed wire had me in tears both for the character as well as the actor horse but the scene to follows makes the movie something special. One man from each side of this war risk all by coming to a common ground to free the horse proving that when the politics are put a side, kindness is really in the hearts of all men no matter what uniform they wear.

The film runs 2 hours plus and never feels long or forced. As i said before, the story is simple but the emotional impact is heavy and yes you’ll probably cry. It’s just that kind of movie. If you’re an animal lover you will have problems with the devastation these horses endured during this war. The scenes are graphic and knowing the situation was real, i really wanted to believe that it’s fictionalize, be prepared to see things you might not want to see. Warhorse reminded of all those great old animal pictures like National Velvet or The Incredible Journey…Warhorse should find it’s place in history among those films.

Swanner: 1/2

The Adventures of Tin Tin

Swanner: The Adventures of Tin Tin is based on a series of classic comic books created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name of Hergé. The series is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, with translations published in more than 50 languages and more than 200 million copies of the books sold to date. If these comics are so popular it’s surprising that this is the first I’ve really heard about them. Not that i want to take anything away from the movie…i just think it’s odd.

Not knowing the history when i first saw the film i felt it was director Steven Spielberg’s chance to revive The Young Indiana Jones series. The main characters are quite different but the adventure is the same. Tin Tin is the name of our young hero who is a well known detective. His journey in this adventure was to find out why there was so much interest in a model ship he purchased and why someone keeps trying to steal it. The story is very simple and as i said the adventure is quite familiar. We visit exotic places and barely get out of sticky situations at every turn. It’s so Indiana Jones I’m having trouble not making reference to it. I liked the Indiana Jones movies and this is just not up to par. What made those movies work so well was a main character we loved and the great adventures he supplied. Tin Tin just offers animated locations and with a really mediocre story that’s not as exciting or inviting.

Younger kids will love this movie. It offers them a young hero with a cute dog that gets in and out of trouble in two hours but for old guys like me this film fails by comparison. I actually feel bad because on a technical level the film is awesome but a great adventure it wasn’t. If it does well and they continue Tin Tin’s story i just hope they don’t forget there are older kids like me that don’t want to left out.


Sherlock Holmes 2

Swanner: I was always a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries as a kid. It was always fun watching how intricate the plots were and how he’d find clues to solve the mystery and save the day. So while trying to stay awake in the latest version of Sherlock Holmes i ask the age old question…where’s the beef? Since when did Holmes go from being a detective to a superhero trying to save the world on the world stage? I know Holmes was always able to protect himself but this hand to hand combat is just getting silly. I want my mystery back.

Judd: It doesn’t bother me that Holmes knows a couple judo moves. At least Ritchie keeps the moves rudimentary and old-fashioned so it’s not like Sherlock is some sort of super ninja. What bothers me about this second installment of the Sherlock Holmes movies is that Ritchie moves away from the sleuthing and focuses on things blowing up. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows forgets the story and detective work, and turns into your boring, run of the mill action movie, where explosions are substitution for plot.

Swanner: You might as well have cast Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise as the leads. It’s ridiculous wasting the talents of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law on non-stop action with an occasional mediocre quip to the side. I’ll give you that Guy Ritchie keeps things moving, but shouldn’t someone have mentioned the sad, story-less script? Screenwriters Michele & Kieran Mulroney add nothing to this film worth complimenting, but since this is basically their first script you can’t really blame them. But someone had to green light this crap…i want names damn it!

Judd: What surprised me is just how far away from story and all things Holmes-y Game of Shadows went. I liked the first Sherlock Holmes; I liked the way he saw things and put things together whether it was clues or a fight he was about it get into. It was very “Guy Ritchie” but I thought it worked. Shadows never gives Holmes the chance to deduce anything – or rather, if never gives the audience the chance to see how Holmes put together the clues. Something blows up, and suddenly Holmes has the answer.

Swanner: Right, the quick edits of having Holmes deduce the situation takes all of 10 seconds and then someone gets hit or something blows up. I was good with the first installment as well. It still felt like a Sherlock Holmes movie. This could have been called Rush Hour 1890 and no one would have blinked an eye. I know this will do well at the box-office but lets hope the third movie will remember it’s about the mystery and not about the special effects.

Judd: I was sorely disappointed in Game of Shadows. I like Guy Ritchie and I like what he did with the first movie, but this one is a stinker. The plot is paper thin and the characterizations are lacking. Ritchie was definitely resting on the first movie’s laurels.


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Swanner: This time of year, along with the Oscar contender movies we also get the big studio tent pole title movie. This week we have two, both are sequels and both have big name casts. The difference is that one forgot what the movie was supposed to be about (Sherlock Holmes) and the other has rediscovered its roots. Mission Impossible was always good for lots of action but never quite captured what the original story was about ‘til now. The have brought teamwork back to the show and I was thrilled to see it.

Judd: I was dreading this MI:4. I didn’t like the first three, and even though Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) directed this current one, I could not shake my feeling of doom. Within the first 15 minutes, my anxiety lifted and I was completely immersed in the movie. Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is framed for blowing up the Kremlin. IMF is shutdown, and Hunt teams up with the remaining two field agents (Simon Peg and Paula Patton) and an analyst (Jeremy Renner) to track down a crazy who believes world peace can be achieved through nuclear war.

Swanner: We were lucky enough to see it at the IMAX theatre and I was thinking it was going to be too big and active for an action picture of this scope work but it did. That’s not to say the film won’t be great to look at on regular screens but it was a treat seeing it that way. Director Brad Bird kept the film movie nicely to where it’s 2+ hours running time just zoomed by. If you think about The Incredible this movie does feel a bit like it with its pace and excitement. Simon Pegg keeps things funny without being forced so the film just stays very well rounded.

Judd: Given the cost of IMAX movies, I wouldn’t recommend seeing MI:4 at the IMAX. I didn’t think the IMAX scenes added anything to the movie. I thought the movie felt very much like Casino Royale, which I consider one of the most tightly precise action movies of recent times. MI:4 ticks like a watch. Brad Bird directs the movie like an expert jeweler.

Swanner: I think my favorite part of this film was that Tom Cruise wasn’t the “star” of the movie. All four characters had a storyline and a mission of their agenda. The bad guys were all good even though I can’t remember any of their faces. I agree that the expense of the IMAX makes it hard to validate the cost, but most people won’t enjoy the IMAX for their documentaries, so maybe something commercial is a great gateway to a new experience. I had a great time with what seems to be the only “good” popcorn movie of the season.


New Years Eve

Swanner: There are two new trends in movies lately. You have the live action fairytales and movies that take place on the 24 hours of a holiday. Last night we saw New Years Eve. These films are all about finding love or bringing closure to some situation. Anything can happen on New Years Eve is the theme that is repeated to death in the film and for what it’s worth it’s not that bad of a movie. This has an all star cast much like Love Boat did except most of the cast is actually currently working in Hollywood.

Judd: I kept wondering when Anson Williams was going to show up. Taking the same writer and director team as 2010’s Valentine’s Day, Katherine Fugate and Garry Marshall create another Cavalcade of Stars where every couple has their own plot lines that somehow interconnect with each other. Think Crash but instead of racism it’s hokey love stories. The problem with these kinds of movies is that there are too many characters and they never amount to anything more than cardboard archetypes created to illicit broad basic feelings. The worrisome mother, the dying repentant old man, the spinster, the hip youngster that knows New York like the back of his hand. Pick a stock character, and (s)he’s got a feature role.

Swanner: That’s exactly what it is. If you’re looking for light fluffy entertainment, these films are oozing with it. I was really surprised with some of the actors that they got for this film. Some have either won or been nominated for Oscars, while the rest are either TV stars or Up-And-Comers. It’s probably easy work, since the movie is filmed with mostly couples and they probably don’t have to work too many days. Plus, the movies are high profile and it keeps their names out there.

Judd: These kinds of movies are scientifically engineered for maximum “awww”s per minute. Every time there was some new insipid twist, our audience would wet themselves in delight. Only a screen full of puppies wearing red ribbon collars could compete with this gooey mess. We keep mentioning the huge ensemble cast, I suppose I should name them off. Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers, Katherine Heigl, Jon Bon Jovi….

Swanner The first thing i thought of after watching it was it was better than Valentine’s Day…for what that’s worth. Who knows, maybe as they make Mother’s Day, Christmas Eve and Flag Day the writing will get richer and the acting better. For those who love to ring in the New Year with a bottle of Andre…you’ll love the movie, but If watching Ryan Seacrest on December 31st is torture for you then make another selection at the box office.

Judd: … Sofia Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, James Belushi, Cherry Jones, Joey McIntyre, Yeardley Smith, Hillary Swank, Ludacris, Josh Duhamel, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, and Hector Elizondo. Personally, I can’t wait for Arbor Day. Maybe they can bring back The Taylors Lautner & Swift. You can’t get anymore wooden than them. Yuk, yuk, yuk.


Young Adult

Swanner: Young Adult follows Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a fiction writer who returns to her very small town to rekindle a romance with her high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), who is now married with a new born. Mavis has recently divorced and feels that she needs to return to the one true love of her life…it doesn’t matter how he feels. This is the new film from Juno team Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody hoping lightning will shrike twice for them. Brian hated Juno where it has grown on me so I’m interested if he liked this one better?

Judd: I liked Young Adult much, much better than Juno or Jennifer’s Body. One of the reasons I hate Diablo Cody so much is because of her forced and unfunny too-cool-for-school hipster talk. Young Adult had very little of her signature jive talk, and when it was in the script is served a purpose outside of just being “cute”. I liked Young Adult; I liked the story and, unlike Cody’s other films, the characters are more than shallow, quote-spouting wise-asses. Patton Oswalt gives an excellent performance as Matt, a former classmate crippled, physically and emotionally, from a gay bashing — even though he’s not gay.

Swanner: That’s the thing about Young Adult, most of the characters lives are so sad…and it’s a comedy. I felt bad laughing at their sorrow but that’s what they want us to do in this very dark comedy. Oswalt and Theron are the real standouts in the movie. I love their drinking scene…which is all their scenes. The dialog is great and real. The rest of the cast feel like regular people, it never feels like acting. I feels more like you’re watching these people across the room and you’re eavesdropping on their conversations.

Judd: On the way home we talked about the characters; you felt that everyone has a Mavis moment where we go back to our hometowns and realize that maybe our lives aren’t so bad after all, compared to the losers that never left. You looked at it in an optimistic light (of course). I felt that Mavis was a very hopeless and tragic character on the verge of becoming unhinged. Sure, her life was better than the people from her home town, but she’s got a drinking problem, she’s obsessive compulsive, and her book series is coming to an end. For me, her future seemed very bleak. The characters were not only fairly real, but they had depth. Cody has impressed me.

Swanner: It’s true. As awful as some of their lives appeared, most were pretty happy with where they were. I love the fact that Mavis is mean and shallow and she really doesn’t change too much by the end of the movie. She seems happier with her life but she’s still a nasty bitch…I found that refreshing. As I mentioned earlier, Theron and Oswalt are standouts and Oscar worthy. I don’t think Jason Reitman will get a nomination but Cody’s script should. I’m not sure if everyone one will like the film as much as me but I love a good black comedy…and this is a good one.

Judd: I agree. Cody focused on creating good characters instead of “hip” dialogue. The movie has many funny moments but never verges into the zany, which I think may throw some people off. I have a feeling that some people are going to feel that Mavis is too tragic to laugh at. Mavis would tell those people to F themselves.

Swanner: 1/2