Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Phil sees WE BOUGHT A ZOO at the Camera 12-January 7, 2011

For the third and final film I saw at the Camera 12 was the new family film WE BOUGHT A ZOO. The film was directed by Cameron Crowe and starred Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning and Patrick Fugit.

Theatrical Movie Poster (2011)
The film is based on the incredible but true story of Benjamin Mee (Damon), a recently widowed husband with two children: rebellious and recently expelled teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) and adorable seven year-old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). To give his family a fresh start, Benjamin buys an run down, dilapidated zoo, against the advice of his older brother Duncan (Church). The zoo is complete with all sorts of animals, including lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my! Helping Benjamin are the unpaid and unsure staff who think 'ol Ben here won't last. The only staff member who believes in him is the head zoo keeper Kelly Foster (Johansson). Soon Ben and the gang spend their every waking moment repairing and updating the zoo for their inspection before their grand reopening to the public.

It's be over six years since Crowe has made a narrative film since the critically panned ELIZABETHTOWN (which this reviewer really enjoyed). While he was busy making the incredible documentary PEARL JAM TWENTY (read my review for that film here), a lot happened to Crowe, mainly his publicized divorce from musician and sometimes collaborator on films Nancy Wilson from the rock group Heart. One has to wonder if he sympathized with Mee, who lost his wife to cancer.

Damon, who put on a couple of pounds to play the role of the grief husband, really gives a fine performance as Benjamin. He's believable, honest, sincere, and really makes the audience care about him. The lovely Johansson tries to downplay her hotness, but it doesn't work, she's still damn hot! But my favorite performance goes to little Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who is just so adorable! She literally makes you smile and laugh every time she's in frame. Also look for the enchanting Elle Fanning as Lily Miska, who helps out at the zoo and falls for Dylan, who is just so angry with his mom's death that Benjamin can't control him. The tension between father and son relatable.

The film starts off a little slow in the first act, but once the second act begins, the films unfolds to reveal numerous zoo keepers, animals and some hilarious sibling squabbling between Benjamin and Church. Also a great love story with Ben and Kelly, Lily and Dylan, and Ben with his kids, who begins to tell stories to kids about their mom. As Benjamin puts it, "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." Great advise that I've ever heard from a movie.

Like all of Crowe's other movies, the film has a awesome soundtrack. It contains some amazing music from Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Wilco, Cat Stevens, Temple of the Dog, The Isley Brothers. Neil Young and Swedish legend jónsi. If you find this soundtrack anywhere, pick it up! It's this winter's best mixed tape!

WE BOUGHT A ZOO is one of Cameron Crowe's best films, involving authentic emotions while simultaneously making you chuckle, and bringing some tears to you eyes. The film is an heartfelt film, which is Crowe's forte. If you're looking for a great afternoon movie that will make you leave the theater with a smile on your face, then this is the film for you.

WE BOUGHT A ZOO is currently playing in theaters nationwide, including at the Camera Cinemas here in the Bay Area. To view showtimes, visit their website at www.cameracinemas.com

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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