Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review – Specific Spywork


Director: Thomas Alfredson

Writers: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)

Stars: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth


Release date: September 16th, 2012

Distributor: StudioCanal UK

Country: UK, France, Germany

Running time: 127 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The engaging visuals.

Worst part: The egregious pace.

Those expecting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to be a fun, retro, fast paced spy flick will be sorely disappointed. The film, based on infamous crime novelist John Le Carre’s book of the same name, is actually a tense yet confusing tale of betrayal, regret and corruption within the head of British Intelligence. It buries its head in the sand for the longest time as it becomes increasingly difficult to detect either the pivotal antagonist or any sense of an emotional connection.

Gary Oldman.

Right from the beginning, The shooting of Jim Pridieux (Mark Strong) sparks a chain reaction in the life of senior spy George smiley (Gary Oldman) as he is forced to retire due to the outrage surrounding Pridieux’s failure. Too soon, however, is Smiley forced back into the field, as an out of touch informant gives up information leading to the assumption of a mole high up in ‘the circus’. Smiley, feeling shame and regret for the death of his boss ‘Control’ (John Hurt) and the separation between him and his wife, narrows the list of suspects down to four. They comprise of ‘Tinker’; ambitious new head of the organisation Percy Alleline (Toby  Jones), ‘Tailor’; arrogant womaniser Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), ‘Poorman’; Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and ’Sailor’; Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds). His investigation soon turns into a game of cat and mouse as everyone involved is suddenly forced to look over their shoulders at both each other and the reluctant Smiley.

Benedict Cumberbatch.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is filled with stellar yet stoic performances from everyone in its A-list cast. The chemistry between some of Britain’s elite actors is constantly engaging. Hanging evidence on each other in many of sound proof meetings  is fascinating as the snappy dialogue continually bounces off them. Gary Oldman delivers in his very repressed role; conveying a very quiet, damaged representation of a professional constantly on the edge. Subtle touches in both his actions and facial expressions deliver traits of a character who is forced into a life he will never be comfortable with. Another stand out is Tom Hardy as the disgraced rogue spy turned informant Ricki Tarr. Hardy gives yet another captivating and sensitive turn as the gritty secret agent who broke the first rule of being a spy. Unfortunately, many of the supporting characters  lack depth or emotional attachment. Firth, Jones, and Hinds are barely focused on, taking all the intensity out of the reveal in the third act. This tale of corruption within British intelligence soon becomes tangled in its own web of conspiracy and espionage. The large list of characters together with the intertwining story lines and lack of clear exposition make the film difficult to deduce.

“He’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.” (George Smiley (Gary Oldman), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).

Mark Strong.

The pacing also suffers due to the complex story. Despite building a strong sense of tension throughout the film, culminating in a brutal and satisfying conclusion, many scenes carry out longer than required, constantly losing focus and quickly becoming dull. The direction by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) is used to terrific effect in creating the world surrounding high class 70’s agents living in a gritty urban landscape. The graphic violence and realistic sex scenes create an authentic and disturbing depiction of their high flying lifestyles and blood soaked situations. The mis en scene is Drenched in bold and contrasting colours and settings, representing the 70’s retro era of exaggerated costume and interior designs. The film has a smooth, straight edged style that perfectly displays Alfredson’s creation of atmosphere and intriguing experiments with cinematography. The use of soft lighting, experiments with depth of field and framing with patterns, and tight camera work deliver a unique pallet that distinguishes Alfredson’s subtle and stylish direction from other European arthouse directors.

Boiling over well beyond necessity, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a meticulously studious spy-thriller adaptation. Despite the overwhelming flaws, this mesmerising narrative is bolstered by its stellar cast and unique visuals. Next time, hire a editor.

Verdict: A cloying and overlong spy-thriller.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review – Fincher’s Finesse


Director: David Fincher

Writer: Steve Zaillian (screenplay), Steig Larsson (novels)

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard


Release date: December 20th, 2011

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA, Sweden

Running time: 158 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The atmospheric direction.

Worst part: The twists.

Having only been two years since the release of the acclaimed Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) has used his gritty, low grade visual style and themes describing decaying humanity, to create an even more affecting and alluring version than the original.

Daniel Craig.

In a case of journalistic integrity gone awry, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has been shamed, charged and fined after losing a libel case to a corrupt businessman. Trying desperately to clear his name while ignoring his recent downfall, he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), retired CEO of Vanger Industries, to investigate the missing persons case of Vanger’s niece Harriet, who disappeared almost 40 years ago. With Henrik convinced that one of his extended family is responsible and with the possibility of incest and ritualistic murder, Blomkvist must use everything at his disposal to solve this case. Hot on his tail is the gothic yet vulnerable Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), hired to run detailed  background  check on Blomkvist. After discovering her intrusive behaviour, and unbeatable investigative and computer hacking abilities, he hires her to help solve the case and cases of other women murdered in the area. Tensions are raised between the two of them as both the investigation and their emotions reach boiling point.

Rooney Mara.

In this quick-fire American remake of the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Fincher injects his themes and visual style into this story of graphic depictions and emotional explorations. His decayed look at murder from a psychological perspective and the world of investigative journalism is reminiscent of his earlier work; in making the viewer both disgusted and intrigued at the same time. The sparse lighting, bleak colour pallet; featuring a particular use of green, and the grungy opening credit sequence accompanied  by Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song make this recently adapted story a strong statement of Fincher’s creativity. Fincher directs the violence and rape scenes with a greater intensity than in the original. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo delves deeper into the method behind the madness as we see the depths of the human psyche and its sometimes severe descent into hell. Fincher’s focus on the reactions of these atrocities delivers a greater emotional impact. The rape scene involving Salander and her handler is both thought provoking and disgusting based on its constant documentation of the emotions displayed. During the ordeal, the camera focuses to certain extent on Salander’s face, showing her as both a deeply scarred and tough personality. Despite some of the plot-twists becoming slightly anti-climactic towards the end, Fincher’s adaptation benefits from strong pacing, a gritty, creepy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also scored Fincher’s The Social Network), the beautiful cinematography capturing the cold, inhumane conditions of both the murders and the snow covered Swedish setting, and an extraordinary level of character depth.

“Hold still. I’ve never done this before, and there will be blood.” (Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Christopher Plummer.

Unlike the original, in which both lead characters were interesting but still could have been defined to a greater extent, Fincher delves deeper into the state of affairs surrounding Blomkvist and his struggle to fit into present society after the trial, and Salander’s disturbed personality and anti hero status. Daniel Craig delivers another great performance, adding a lot of emotion through his facial expressions as well as his convincing delivery. While Rooney Mara delivers an oscar calibre performance that will be remembered as both a symbol of female empowerment and an individual going against the system in almost every way. Her frail physical structure covered in changing hair styles, bleached eyebrows, piercings, tattoos and black eye liner creates a distressing, alien look for Salander, adding to her lack of both normality and socially acceptable attributes more so than Noomi Rapace’s portrayal in the original. Her scene of physical torture upon her cantankerous handler is the focal point, showing a vengeance and lack of humanity reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Her revenge-fuelled fantasies and feminine charms, highlighted at the end of film, deliver a very damaged yet human portrayal. Her physicality and experimentation with sexual desires defining her inner angst makes Mara’s performance an absolute stand out.

Fincher having his chance to adapt this bleak and brutal material has worked. Despite copying many scenes from the original, he has still created an impressive work of art that rivals his other films. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the blackened world of conspiracy and malice has seen his characters conform to their own set of rules through their frightening actions.

Verdict: A visceral and enthralling american remake. 

Midnight in Paris Review – Moonage Daydream


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll


Release date: May 20th, 2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Countries: USA, Spain

Running time: 94 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The kinetic visuals.

Worst part: McAdams’ annoying character.

Woody Allen has found his home away from home with Midnight in Paris, a film about finding your imagination hiding in the city of love. Reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, Allen illuminates the historical and famous locales of Paris, turning the city into a charming and expressive work of art. Allowing us to view both the past and present through his eyes illustrates his love of Paris, and is reminiscent of his representations of his native Manhattan.

Owen Wilson & Marion Cotillard.

The story centres around Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a thirty-something writer struggling to find a worthwhile ending for his first novel. Unable to fit into the life his obnoxious fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) has picked out for him, including expensive belongings and pedantic friends, Gil feels a special connection to Paris that no one around him understands. One night while walking through the streets of Paris, he stumbles across an antique 1920’s car. After accompanying the people inside, he travels back in time and meets his literary and artistic idols, including Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. His love for their work, and new-found friendship with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), creates a desire to continually return to this world at the stroke of midnight.

Wilson, Corey Stoll & Kathy Bates.

Allen’s direction and screenplay make Midnight in Paris a smart, witty and charming adventure. The beginning of the film, featuring continuous wide shots of the city, details 24 hours in Paris and develops the feeling of a wonderful fantasy. A bold visual style featuring elaborate 1920’s era fashion and nightclub settings, and a smooth guitar and jazz based score, delivers a quaint and comfortable representation of the past. Both artistic and literary references and discussions, based on the work of his role models, spark delightful scenes of dialogue that Allen is known for. The chemistry between every character is electric and the desire to learn more about, but not spending too much time on, each icon leaves a surprise around every turn and keeps the film consistently exciting. Despite the historical and literary discourses becoming alienating at points,  the appearance of every icon keeps the viewer interested in both their work and their reactions and connections to a fan like Gil. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald respectively, and Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway deliver standout performances in their small but dignified roles.

“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.” (Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Midnight in Paris).

Adrien Brody.

Owen Wilson’s standout performance becomes the most beguiling aspect of Midnight in Paris. Not only does Wilson portray a representation of Allen perfectly but he also becomes the avatar for the audience. Gil’s writer’s block and desperate search for creativity post screenwriting are defined by his entrapment of simple ideas. His inability to fit into Inez’s life of material things, and his increasingly different views to others around him on the art life of Paris, make him a likeable, funny and dynamic character. He feels a true sense of belonging when confronted with his heroes in the same place and when entwined with their overarching stories. Gil’s feeling towards his situation contains many signs of Allen’s theories of film-making and creating a true piece of art. Allen’s ode to a “Golden Age” of creativity is both a homage to the art and literature history of Paris and a representation of his struggle to fit into the present Hollywood system.

Allen, from Annie Hall to Match Point, has gone out of his way to boost Hollywood cinema above the norm. Midnight in Paris, tapping into his long-lost optimism and light-heartedness, is a fun and frivolous romantic comedy.

Verdict: A witty and sumptuous dramedy. 

The Descendants Review – Cloying Clooney


Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne, Mat Faxon, Jim Rash (screenplay), Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel)

Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Robert Forster


Release date: November 18, 2011

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The charismatic performances.

Worst part: The laboured pace.

George Clooney seems to enjoy playing the common working man; appearing perfectly fine on the outside but damaged and wanting more on the inside. He once again visits this character’s journey of self discovery and change in The Descendants, a film about letting your personal life spiral out of control when focusing on professional but less important matters.

George Clooney.

Clooney Plays Matt King, a Lawyer facing several major problems at once. His wife is in a deep coma after a boating accident and has a problem letting her go before their marital problems are resolved. He must also finalise a deal for the sale of 25, 000 acres of Hawaiian land owned by his ancestors. This disrupts the already troubled relationship between him and his two rebellious daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley), who continually ignore his every rule and request. Thankfully the film never steers into largely corny or depressing territory.

Shailene Woodley & Nick Krause.

Based on a book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, director Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) creates a very charming, funny, yet sentimental view of a family in crisis. The very human drama and characters propel this film above others of its type. The awkward situations and conversations are directed delicately, leading to a hilarious response from more than one party every time. Clooney plays its straight as a down to Earth guy struggling to keep his head above water. The desperation to balance all of his conflicts makes you forget about Clooney’s real life cool cat persona. His relationship with his daughters and Alex’s dopey friend Sid (Nick Krause) is the strongest element as the clash of duelling personalities defines the importance of family connections. Much like Payne’s earlier films, The Descendants‘ characters place their personalities in full view, making them both sympathetic and detestable at the same time. Woodley delivers a stand out debut performance as Alex, succinctly expressing anger for her parent’s  mistakes. The relationship between Matt and Alex develops throughout the film as they try to find the answers to multiple problems while repairing the shattered state of their family.

“Hey, I’m doing you a favour. I could go out there and fuck you up, so get a better attitude!” (Matt King (George Clooney), The Descendants).

Clooney & Beau Bridges.

The beautifully filmed Hawaiian locations provide an emotional contrast to The Descendants‘ story. Matt King’s honest narration in the first act, telling the vision of Hawaii as a ‘paradise’ where it should go, provides a strong foundation of how his mind works in these situations. King’s painfully harsh speech to his comatose wife after finding out her biggest secret illustrates the extent of his agonising situation. Leaving him, meant Matt had to do everything himself instead of just being the ‘back-up parent’. At the same time he tries to be a nice guy but is given nothing but  abuse by everyone around him. Characters such as cousin Hugh (Beau Bridges), a witty and spiritual hippy-surfer strongly in favour of selling the land, Elizabeth’s angry, ageing father Scott Thorson (Robert Forster) and real estate mogul Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) are both like-able and unlike-able, making them incredibly realistic. Payne’s direction never allows you to dislike the characters despite the uncomfortable emotions directed by them towards Clooney’s determined and blunt character.

Payne, being on of Hollywood’s most interesting and prolific dramedy filmmakers, isn’t afraid to take things personally. His latest effort is a game changer in many respects, making all think a little differently about love, loss, Clooney, and paradise.

Verdict: A blunt and clever dramedy.

Hugo Review – Scorsese’s Cinemascope


Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: John Logan (screenplay), Brian Selznick (novel)

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen


Release date: November 23rd, 2011

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Scorsese’s direction.

Worst part: The distracting side stories.

With the laundry list of classic films to his credit, Martin Scorsese would seem like a perfect choice to direct both a charming kids film and a subtle homage to the origin of cinema. He has pulled this off with Hugo, a slapstick filled, heart-warming adventure perfect for the family.

sa Butterfield & Chloe Grace Moretz.

The adventures of Hugo Cabaret (Asa Butterfield) start out in Montparnasse Railway Station in Paris. Using the station as his home, he navigates his way around in perfect precision; dodging the wacky but vicious handicapped station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), stealing from shop owners and changing the clocks in the station everyday. After being caught stealing by miserable toy shop owner George (Ben Kingsley), he not only forms an uneasy truce with him but creates a bond with his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Their bond is brought together by their love of storytelling and the longing for excitement. In their discoveries, involving the history of film, they find that there is more to the grumpy George than they ever could have imagined.

Ben Kingsley.

Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabaret by Brian Sleznik, the film perfectly captures the imagination of a child exploring this world. A comfortable look of 1930’s Paris created by constant panning and tracking shots of the station, its zany companions, a mostly up beat piano and accordion based score and a fun assortment of slapstick gags and supporting characters create a living, breathing setting to Hugo. Despite the consistently funny gags and an ever charming cast, some of the characters, such as Hugo’s father (Jude Law), kind book store owner Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee) and Hugo’s caretaker Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) sadly get short shrift. The short stories involving the supporting characters tend to slow the film down and fail to end with a satisfying payoff. The story of Hugo and Isabelle discovering film history is the most beguiling aspect of the story. Despite the film’s slow first half, describing Hugo’s love for an automaton left to him after the death of his father, the second half picks up, subtly cross cutting classic film references together with their discoveries as we follow a race through a time in film history. Hugo is a delight for film buffs and the wider audience alike. Scorsese’s style, of consistently immersive 3D effects and CGI backgrounds mixed in with simple overlapping editing effects and stop motion animation, illustrates the importance of technological achievements throughout film history.

“My life has taught me one lesson, Hugo Cabret, and not the one I thought it would. Happy endings only happen in the movies.” (Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), Hugo).

Sacha Baron Cohen.

References are consistent as we see the first films and how they captured the imaginations of the early film going audiences. Scenes describing the effect of Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat and the clock hand sequence from Safety Last!, delicately illustrate the origin and illusion of cinema to a modern audience. References to Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, the Lumiere Brothers and to a greater extent George Melies are also peppered throughout this film as modern technology and Hugo’s love of cinema explain their significance in film history. The second half of the film is a delight as we see the rise and fall story of the first formalist director, George Melies. Scorsese’s re-creations of Melies’ efficient editing techniques and extravagant set and costume designs light up the screen. Scorsese’s vision is on show in every frame. From the brown and blue colour palette made famous by Scorsese in The Aviator, to the explained and unexplained references and the uplifting story of two bright kids on a whirlwind adventure in a bustling train station. Just like Hugo spying on others through holes in walls and clocks, the audience plays the part of Scorsese in being able to peer into his vision of both a Jean Pierre Jeunet like Paris and a homage to his childhood fantasies brought to life by the earliest films.

Despite the long-lasting thirst for power and blood, Scorsese’s filmography is chock-a-block with game-changers and out-of-the-box surprises. Diving into new territory, Hugo is a fun, rousing assault on the senses.

Verdict: An intelligent and heartfelt family flick.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows Review – A Clueless Mystery


Director: Guy Ritchie

Writers: Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney (screenplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (novels)

Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jarred Harris


Release date: December 16th, 2011

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 129 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Downey, Jr. and Law’s chemistry.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

The massive success of 2009’s Sherlock Holmes brought an energetic mix of convincing detective story, boisterous action adventure and witty buddy comedy. This perfect mix sadly doesn’t cross over into the sequel; Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Jude Law.

Having said that their are still several elements that make this instalment an adequately entertaining thrill ride. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows starts with a bang as tensions mount between France and Germany over the threat of annihilation. Bombings in both countries lead Holmes to the investigate the infamous and psychopathic Professor James Moriarty (Jarred Harris). With Watson (Jude Law) forced to his side once again, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) must stop Moriarty from continuing his assault on Europe and promises of global destruction. With a successful first film under his belt, director Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch) directs with an increasing level of excess.

Noomi Rapace.

Failing to capture the charm of the original, Richie over uses his visual style to the point of irritation. With every twist and turn in this steampunk crime story, every few moments is cluttered with inconsistent editing techniques, over-used slo-mo/speed up and constant zooming camera movements. Holmes’ detection of one clue after another soon becomes tiresome as we are forced to watch one confusing effect after another in quick succession. Where Richie’s techniques do work however is in several of the action sequences. Particularly in the beginning as Holmes, in an old Chinese man costume, is confronted, by several thugs. the quick cuts and swerving camera movements create the look of an 18th century Bourne film. The slo-mo also works in small doses in these scenes. The very artistic and climactic chase through the woods at the dodge of cannon and gun fire is fascinating to watch. Like many sequels, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows struggles trying to find its point; leading to it becoming instantly forgettable.

Jarred Harris.

The story itself is largely incomprehensible and grinds to a deafening halt in the second act. In sticking too close to the comedy and character relationships for the most part, there is a noticeable loss of purpose and urgency in their journey. The relationships thankfully work as well as they did in the original. Downey Jr. and Law still work very effectively together as Holmes and Watson. Playing it a little too comedic at points, Downey jr.’s consistent charisma creates an ever enlightening interpretation of Holmes. Jarred Harris as Moriarty, Noomi Rapace as Sim, a card reader thrown into their travels, and Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s Brother Mycroft all deliver dynamic performances, yet suffer at the hands of their small and to some extent thankless roles. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows benefits greatly from a stellar cast, well filmed Kung Fu fights and chases, explosions aplenty and convincing performances. However its problems in pacing, gimmicky visual style and story inconsistency sadly keep it from matching the explosive innovation and quick wit of the original.

Obviously, thanks to his recent professional and personal turnarounds, Downey, Jr. can make anything on Earth seem even remotely exciting. In fact, despite the momentous problems festering in this drab sequel, he, Law, and everyone else involved, at the very least, make an effort to piece this mystifying puzzle together. Third time’s a charm, I guess!

Verdict: An underwhelming and convoluted sequel. 

We Bought A Zoo Review – Animal House!


Director: Cameron Crowe

Writers: Aline Brosh McKenna, Cameron Crowe (screenplay), Benjamin Mee (book)

Stars: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Elle Fanning


Release date: December 23rd, 2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The kooky supporting characters.

Director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) has once again created an in- depth account of the troubles surrounding the average Joe. We Bought a Zoo is a touching and sweet retelling of the book of the same name; based on the story of Benjamin Mee, a family man who found a fresh start by buying and maintaining a Zoological Park.

Matt Damon & Scarlett Johansson.

Matt Damon, delivering his natural likeability as a widower on the verge of leaving everything behind, plays Mee in the film. After buying the house connected to the zoo, a sale aided by an enthusiastic realtor (J. B. Smoove), he goes about making the best of a bizarre situation. He soon meets the gaggle of volunteer zookeepers, led by Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), and things start looking up. Over the course of a few months, our lead, his family, and his new friends go on a insatiably invigorating journey through think and thin with creatures great and small. Mee, his two children and the collection of unique personalities making up the volunteers must then band together to re-open the park in time for the summer. Along the way, they must defend the park from the clutches of notorious zoo/national park inspector Walter Ferris (John Michael Higgins).

Elle Fanning & Colin Ford.

Despite its slow beginning, formulaic approach, and consistent cheesiness, We Bought a Zoo succeeds in the realism of the characters and the strong performances all around from both human and animal alike. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson stand above and beyond, making you believe every second in their strong determination towards their extraordinary plans for the zoo. Damon sells you on the struggle of Benjamin’s position. His constant bickering with his son, along with the very humorous relationship with his quirky brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), sells you on the sentimental connections of this story. Along the way, we come to grips with the Mee family’s saddening scenario. Recollecting on the life they shared with their lost wife/mother, the drama, for all its sappiness, occasionally tugs the right strings throughout its taut run-time. Aided by flashbacks, Crowe has no shortage of love in his heart for this real-life family unit. Like with previous efforts, this controversial director

“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.” (Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), We Bought a Zoo).

Our colourful characters.

Much like Almost famous, the chemistry between the child and teen actors is We Bought a Zoo‘s most charming element. Mee’s kids Dylan and Rosie (Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones) fit perfectly into the story due to their differing emotional adventures. Elizabeth Jones’ character Rosie not only gets some of the funniest dialogue but also delivers some of the cutest reaction shots seen in quite some time. Meanwhile, tows the line perfectly between sullen and enthusiastic. Grasping a pitch-perfect version of childhood, his is a wholly recognisable and empathetic character. Elle Fanning (Super 8) is also a stand out as Lily, a peppy young 13-year-old working at the zoo. Her growing sense of excitement when confronted with a boy her age is a delight to watch as their cute relationship plays out. Crowe manages to provide a glimpse into his sense of style particularly familiar to fans of Almost Famous. The pseudo-hippy personalities of some of the supporting characters along with the frequent rock guitar score and artistically edited flashback sequences lend a fun and retro sense of style to this extraordinary and heartfelt story.

Throughout We Bought a Zoo, the “awws” and “oohs” echoed across the crowd like a cutesy Mexican Wave. Thanks to the starry cast and charming direction on offer, this dramedy is the perfect for distraction for life’s many obstacles. It makes an animal out of us all!

Verdict: A sweet and charming family film. 

The Top 11 Movies of 2011


2011 illustrated the triumph of the superhero period piece, the unique capabilities of motion capture technology and that the great Steven Spielberg is still able to capture our hearts the way he used to. My picks for the best films in 2011 do not come lightly. Fast Five and Real Steel for example, though not making it on this list, still managed to enthral mass audiences and catch me completely off guard. My list is comprised of the films that I saw as going out of their way to create original visuals, beautiful action set pieces, and compelling drama. I hope this flourish of brilliant cinema will lead to an even better collection of films in 2012.

No. 11  The Adjustment Bureau

Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind meets Dark City in this film as we see the many enrapturing ways in which fate brings people together. Matt Damon plays a senator running for congress, while Emily Blunt plays a ballet dancer. They cutely meet in an awkward situation and from then on he cant stop thinking about her. The subtly handled religious themes of the film kick in at this point as Damon’s character is torn away form her by something he was never meant to know existed. The concepts brought to the attention in this film are smartly handled by the direction. George Nolfi (Screenwriter of Ocean’s 12) chooses to focus most of his attention on the romantic sparks flying between Damon and Blunt, with small messages of fate and connection becoming apparent throughout. Clever and witty scenes, such as John Slattery (Mad Men) stopping them from reaching romantic peaks, constantly keep the film moving in a light hearted fashion.

No. 10  Contagion

Steven Soderberg (Ocean’s trilogy, Erin Brokovich) is notoriously known for being able to control a large, big name cast. This trend continues with Contagion, the best viral thriller since I am Legend. His cast is used to communicate different threads of a much larger story. The main point of the film is an important message about how we would handle an issue affecting the entire world. Matt Damon plays suburban man whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) suddenly dies from the mystery virus, Jude Law plays a blogger obsessed with finding an easy cure, while Lawrence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard play scientists desperately seeking answers. The film is a tense and uncomfortable journey of a search for hope. The slow, building soundtrack complete with brisk editing, detailing the vicious spread of the virus across the globe, build up to the desire to see these characters find a breakthrough. As usual for a Soderbergh film, the performances are top notch. Notable mentions include Jude Law playing it nastier and slimier than he did in Road To Perdition and Kate Winslet as an American doctor investigating the disease’s origin.

No. 9  Limitless

Another pleasant surprise of the year was the Neil Burger(The Illusionist)-directed film Limitless. With a simple premise, the film uses many visual techniques to create a work of art. It follows Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer. After losing his girlfriend, he comes across the solution to his failures in the form of a brand new drug designed to access every part of the human brain. His character achieves everything he has ever set out to do, but not without attracting attention from some powerful and potentially dangerous people. The film uses many elements of European art house cinema to create a original look to a contemporary Hollywood film. These include distinctly bright colours used to illustrate the drug’s powerful affect. Shots of a rollercoaster-esque point of view detail the effects of someone speeding through life without looking back. Bradley Cooper, having already proved himself in ensemble casts with both the Hangover films and the A-Team, is a charismatic leading man. Scenes between him and Robert De Niro are directed with intensity and confirm Cooper’s status as the actor to watch in these types of roles.

No. 8  Super 8

Super 8 is a perfect call back to the early films of Steven Spielberg that are seen as the inspiration for many aspiring film makers of the time. The story revolves around a group of kids filming a zombie film (a small call back to the work of George A. Romero). One night while filming a night scene at the train line, a military train is forced off the tracks in a fiery crash. Something then breaks out of the train and soon causes chaos in the town. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) uses this film to represent his childhood, making genre films on Super 8 cameras in the vein of Spielberg. This is represented primarily in the main characters. Using the kids as the main characters not only reflects the many sides of Abram’s passion for film-making at that age, but is also a staple of classic 80’s adventure films such as Stand By Me and The Goonies.

No. 7  Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Taking the concept of a chimpocalyse seriously, Rise of the Planet of the Apes benefits from the poignant story of struggle over a dominant species and the advancements of film technology. With the forced death of an escaped chimp from scientific testing, head scientist Wil (James Franco) finds the reason for its anger, a newborn chimp hiding in its enclosure. Wil discovers significant human- like brain function in the baby chimp, named Caesar (Andy Serkis). Years Later, Caesar’s actions force him to live in an ape sanctuary under malign conditions. Caesar’s hand is forced, beginning his revolt on humankind.  The fascinating creation of Caesar along with the amazingly expressive and Oscar-calibre performance of Andy Serkis will forever be the symbol of motion capture technology, more so than the creation of Gollum or even the recent films of Robert Zemeckis (A Christmas Carol, Beowulf). The connection between both the human and ape characters, including the fight for Wil to save his father and Caesar’s relationships between the other apes in the sanctuary, define the heart of this story. The in depth analysis of both Franco and Serkis characters make their motivations completely believable.

No. 6  Captain America: The First Avenger

Bringing influences in from both Steven Spielberg’s early films and the classic era of comics in the 1940s and 50s, Captain America is both an in depth character study and a cheerful popcorn action flick. It carries over Joe Johnston’s dramatic and action styles to deliver a familiar yet exciting superhero origin story. Johnston uses many elements of the smooth 1940’s look of his first film, The Rocketeer, to bring the most popular symbol of American patriotism to life. Chris Evans portrays both Captain America and Steve Rogers with a powerful presence. Learning about the boy before he becomes the man is vital to this story of having to evolve in superhuman ways. The positively over the top score by Alan Silvestri and the bombastic action sequences keep the film at a tight pace, heading towards the emotionally charged and unique final 10 minutes.

No. 5  X-Men First Class

X-Men First Class is a welcome change to the modern superhero film. Bringing the X- Men characters into a swinging 60’s setting made famous by the Sean Connery James Bond films, gives the film a refreshing and colour charged look. The stylish direction by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick Ass) in being able to sell the 60’s style mis-en-scene to a new audience makes him an action director to watch out for in the near future. The film excels in both the performances form its lead actors and the story of good and evil in the time of nuclear war between Russia and the United States. James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto are incredible as the saints and sinners in this time of war and mutant revelation. Their dynamic performances deliver on every level, McAvoy as the ladies man and professor, and Fassbender as the cold blooded Nazi Hunter. Their chemistry when together works with the tight direction to create intensifying scenes of dialogue that question the moral boundaries on both sides of the mutant ‘issue’.

No. 4  Thor

Capping off the successful superhero films this year is Thor. This story of characters from two different worlds works through the film’s light hearted tone. The film is perfectly balanced to provide an entertaining mix of both fantasy action film and fish out of water story. The action and special effects scenes are filmed to create the sense of sucking the audience into every gigantic set piece. Right from the beginning, everything about the world of Asgard is explained to the viewer, delivering in both the level of detail put into every effect and how these mythical worlds fit into this story of heroism and humanity. Chris Hemsworth creates both an arrogant, strong and sympathetic hero in his first Hollywood leading man role. His chemistry with both the warriors three and Natalie Portman’s character is fun to watch as a god from another realm slowly becomes human. This was also one of the funniest films of the year. The slapstick and fish out of water humour is abundant but never over the top.

No. 3  The Adventures of Tintin

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the famous Tintin comic books is a fun rollicking adventure, showing his passion for playful and original film making techniques. One of these is the ever increasingly developed style created through motion capture technology. This film is head-and-shoulders above others of its type. The facial expressions and body language perfectly extends to guessing which actor is playing which character, particularly Daniel Craig as the evil Sakarine. Of course, this motion capture film also stars Andy Serkis, lending his wild gestures and Scottish drawl as the frolicking and drunken Captain Haddock. The witty dialogue and characterisations by screenwriters Stephen Moffat (BBC’s Sherlock), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) consistently deliver through out this roller-coaster, particularly from Tintin himself. Jamie Bell as Tintin also works in bringing the titular character to life as he brings sweetness to the already likeable adventurous Journalist. The film of course involves one inspiring action set piece after another, sequences of a foot chase through foggy London streets and an enormous motor cycle chase through Morocco showcase Spielberg’s talent for thrilling camera movement. With long tracking shots staying close to the characters during these chases, you see their ever-changing movements and reactions to each tiny situational change through out each set piece. This, along with small winking nods here and there to classic Spielberg films such as Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Make this an instant classic among action and animation fans.

No. 2  Warrior

This story of two underdogs competing for the same prize is easily the most emotionally affecting film any man would agree to watch. With friends of mine telling me of their emotional connections to this film, I was able to agree with them whole-heartedly, Mostly due to the poignant relationships between fathers, sons and struggling families. The direction by Gavin O Connor (Miracle) keeps the story focused on the fighting spirit of the main two characters. Joel Edgerton as Brendan Conlon, a physics teacher on the verge of losing everything and Tom Hardy as Tommy, a war hero finding a home and a way to cope with his father Paddy (Nick Nolte), deliver fantastic performances, both showing different and sensitive sides to their somewhat generic characters. Both underdog stories are given equal screen time, not allowing the audience to support one underdog over another. The emotional tare of this family at the hands of Nolte’s character Paddy, makes the climactic and inevitable fight between the two lost brothers even more painful. The MMA fight scenes also deliver a sense of pain due to the grittiness of the choreography and camera work. The camera gets right into each fight scene, delivering every blow straight into your face.

No. 1  Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

My favourite film of the year is also my favourite brutally honest action film of the last five years. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) brings an array of cinematography and mise-en-scene techniques to create a beautiful and enrapturing thrill ride. Though it is almost entirely action set pieces and a simple action based story, the pacing and camera work in set pieces such as the skyscraper climb in Dubai and the Car park jumping fight between Tom Cruise and the villain bring a strong level of inspiration and strength to the many fights and stunts through out. The film also delivers on the affecting chemistry between the main characters. Bringing the aspect of the team into this instalment works best for this film as each personality lends a level of attachment to the unbelievable story. Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner work best as the comic relief and shady spy respectively, while the back-stories of the main characters, lend a surprising level of emotional impact.