Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

Jason_Bourne_Poster_1


Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.

Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.

Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.

Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.

Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

The Martian Review: Life on Mars


Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Drew Goddard (Screenplay), Andy Weir (Novel)

Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor

MartianPoster1


 

Release date: October 2nd, 2015

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 141 minutes


 

4½/5

Review: The Martian

Interstellar Review – The Space-Mind Continuum


Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine


Release date: November 6th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 169 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.

Worst part: The exasperating length.

Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster, Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.

Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.

So, how did Interstellar garner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook  several exponential changes. Working from  brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.

Anne Hathaway.

Interstellar bares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between  apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).

Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.

Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.

Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.

Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.

The Monuments Men Review – Stuck in Trenches


Director: George Clooney 

Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (screenplay), Robert M. Edsel (book)

Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman

monuments_men_xlrg


Release date: February 7th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The dreary pace.

What ever happened to the concept of ‘classic Hollywood’? The Golden Age of Hollywood was defined by artistic efforts created by influential and enviable crusaders…I presume. Having researched this part of entertainment history (I know, I’m a nerd), I’ve come to a predictable yet apt conclusion – Hollywood doesn’t make movies the way it used to. Literally and figuratively, this statement sports several obvious and subtle traits. Modern Hollywood, continually compared to what it was, doesn’t stand up to criticism. So, who better to boost Hollywood’s wavering reputation than national treasure George Clooney? From Tibet to Timbuktu, everyone knows who he is.

Matt Damon & George Clooney.

In fact, Clooney’s latest effort, The Monuments Men, strives to make gigantic and awe-inspiring leaps of faith. Unfortunately, the movie trips and falls more often than not. Tellingly, this movie contains the right ingredients. In particular, not to be overlooked, the movie’s A-list performers have boosted some of the past decade’s greatest works. However, this saccharine docudrama’s reach exceeds its grasp. Embarrassingly, the movie keeps reaching for Clooney’s previous efforts’ level of quality. His immense star power and determination fight to bring classic Hollywood back. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men comes off like an elaborate dress rehearsal. Needing one-or-two final look-overs, this mawkish dramedy fits great assets into awkward places. Admittedly, this is an inspirational and unique story. Based on Robert M. Edsel’s literary account The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (had me at the title alone), this kooky adventure flick can’t decide what it wants to do. Here, multiple characters take this troop’s intentions across harsh lands to all corners of Europe. Set during WWII’s final moments, the movie picks up with the Nazi’s retreating to Berlin. Stealing priceless artefacts and destroying cities and communities, Adolf Hitler’s forces are taking everything to hell with them. Noticing their disgraceful actions’ impact, Lt. Frank Stokes (Clooney, of course) presents his findings to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Cate Blanchett.

Given the all-clear, Stokes recruits representatives from Western Civilisation’s brightest sectors. After throwing Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) back into the action, Stokes invites a gaggle of veteran soldiers to take-on Germany’s fiercest armies. Honestly, I’m trying to make this movie’s intricate plot seem more interesting than it is. Though their names aren’t important, the supporting characters are boosted by a plethora of acclaimed performers. Soon enough, Manhattan architect Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculpter Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman), painter Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), theatre director Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban), and Lt. Donald Jefferies (Hugh Boneville) join Stokes. Gathering intelligence proving Hitler’s Fuhrermuseum to be in development, the group infiltrates  Europe to such retrieve artefacts as the Van Eyck Altarpiece and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Sadly, despite the immense talent dousing each frame, star power and attention to detail don’t distract from The Monuments Men‘s crippling flaws. Obviously, the premise is boosted by these esteemed actors. It’s invigorating seeing these actors collaborate and crackle on screen. Unfortunately, from the twenty-five-minute mark onward, this rambunctious crew splits up to take on different missions. The narrative, separating into several under-utilised and tedious parts, exhaustively plods. Within the first third, the movie’s jarring tonal shifts and underwhelming turns stick out. After their separation, Granger meets up with disgruntled museum curator Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett). With Simone key to the mission’s success, Granger’s intentions become distorted. At least, that’s what I thought his story-line was about. For this subplot highlight’s the movie’s biggest flaw – cluttered with convoluted arcs and under-utilised concepts, the movie’s underdeveloped plot-lines are disjointed and meaningless deviations.

“Stop, stop. Stop. I seem to have stepped on a land mine…of some sort.” (James Granger (Matt Damon), The Monuments Men).

Bill Murray & Bob Balaban.

Beyond Clooney’s hubris blinding his gaze, his and long-time co-writer/producer Grant Heslov’s screenplay lacks depth, charm, and consistency. Steering away from emotional impact, the exposition-and-cliche-driven story-lines lack definitive resolutions. Considering Clooney’s greatest works (Good Night, and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), he should know how to fuse relevant, politically-driven narratives with eclectic, period-piece settings. Unfortunately, The Monuments Men‘s broad, bloated sub-plots distract from Clooney’s grand vision. With plot-strands switching from blissfully lighthearted to disturbingly dark and vice-versa, this homage to classic Hollywood already feels wholly dated. Irritatingly so, Clooney’s influences and viewpoints rest close to his heart. Like with The Ides of March, Clooney uses his democratic, no-nonsense agenda to kick this movie into overdrive. Thanks to the true story’s significant profundities, the movie almost  becomes socially and spiritually involving. Commenting on art’s effect on culture, the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the first world, Clooney’s fiery viewpoints reach breaking point. Amongst Clooney’s feisty attacks, the hit-and-miss gags also distort his intentions. Injecting slapstick humour into heartbreaking sequences, The Monuments Men awkwardly  connects contrasting genres and influences. Beyond the kitsch opening credits sequence (honouring The Dirty Dozen), Clooney’s overt sense of humour hinders this heavy-handed docudrama. Thankfully, Clooney’s visual style elevates this otherwise underwhelming dramedy. Along with the movie’s sumptuous and electrifying mis-en-scene, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is jaw-dropping. Overcoming Clooney’s tonal transitions, the visuals are far more substantial than his overwhelming opinions. 

I hate to criticise Clooney’s work. For an entire generation, his scintillating screen presence and immense talent establish him as one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures. However, The Monuments Men, despite the commendable intentions, is an uninspired, confused, and weightless dramedy. Hampered by Clooney’s agenda and affection for classic Hollywood, his ambitiousness and profile prove costly. Somehow, this WWII docudrama lacks dramatic tension, laughs, and genuine thrills. Despite Clooney and co.’s involvement, its clear why Brad Pitt didn’t show up. 

Verdict: A lively yet disappointing WWII dramedy. 

Elysium Review – Sci-fi Society


Director: Neill Blompkamp

Writer: Neill Blompkamp

Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga


Release date: August 9th, 2013

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time:  109 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Blompkamp’s direction.

Worst part: Jodie Foster.

Imagination can be found in strange and enthralling places. In a time of shlock and awe, Hollywood needs to look at ‘foreign’ cinema to see how story, character, and heart can be masterfully injected into a movie. In 2009, a $30 million (chump change by modern blockbuster standards) South African sci-fi drama obliterated preconceptions regarding the ‘popcorn movie’, CGI’s potential, and apartheid. That movie was the surprise hit goo-fest District 9. Director Neill Blompkamp’s follow-up, Elysium, is the inferior yet entertaining big-budget pseudo-remake.

Matt Damon.

I’m not saying Elysium is a lazy and cynical sci-fi action flick. I’m simply suggesting that Blompkamp could’ve, and maybe should’ve, reached higher to justify his immense popularity. Before I piss anyone off, I’ll state my affection for this enjoyable and enterprising sci-fi smash. It’s an underrated and inventive movie unafraid to discuss major 21st century issues. This movie begins with a young boy being punished for stealing. After developing affection for a female classmate, he believes he’ll become Earth’s most important citizen. The movie then jumps several years into the future (2145, to be exact), and Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has become the furthest possible thing from what his younger self had in mind. At this point in time, Earth has become a decayed and overpopulated mess occupied by disheartened people and expansive favelas. The wealthy few have emigrated to a giant satellite called ‘Elysium’, protected by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Suffering police brutality whilst on parole, this skilled ex-con must adapt to the dangerous skeleton-like labyrinth of Los Angeles. Thanks to a workplace accident, a fatally concentrated exposure to radiation gives De Costa five days to live. Hunted by a creepy and vicious government agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), De Costa’s fight for survival has the potential to change Earth and Elysium for the greater good.

Jodie Foster.

District 9 is essentially a powerful concoction of Independence Day and City of God. It addressed South Africa’s on-going issues with flair, potency, and panache. Elysium may not be as resonant or intriguing, but still contains many important messages and ‘f#ck yeah!’ moments. Here, Blompkamp has arguably established himself as this generation’s James Cameron. Taking on powerful stories and entertaining sci-fi action tropes, he stands above other budding sci-fi filmmakers (no offence, Joseph Kosinski). Unlike Kosinski’s Oblivion, Elysium triumphantly establishes itself when, where, and how it needed to. Thankfully, Elysium isn’t bogged down by slow pacing or a disengaging narrative. Like this year’s other sci-fi/apocalypse action flicks, Blompkamp’s film looks at humanity during a time of chaos, dystopia, and war. Unfortunately, considering the immense talent on display, Elysium doesn’t stand above 2013’s blockbuster crop. Blompkamp needed to bring originality and verve to this heavy-handed premise. This movie, if anything, proves he excels with visual composition and action-direction but should give his scripts more time to gestate. Like Cameron and George Lucas,  Blomkmap’s reach exceeds his grasp during the script-writing stage. His screenwriting, though not terrible, throws too many contrivances and cheesy moments at the audience. Blompkamp’s filmmaking idiosyncrasies, however, are immensely gripping and sophisticated. This story, though blunt, is tangible and enthralling due to his purposeful yet glorious direction.

Sharlto Copley.

In fact, Elysium‘s greatest aspects are found in its dialogue-free moments. The movie opens with immaculate sweeping shots of Earth and Elysium. From a thematic standpoint, these scenic, vertigo inducing vistas are conclusive and thought-provoking. Blompkamp’s intention is, obviously, to draw parallels between Elysium‘s universe and our own. The stark contrast between the broken-down, ‘third-world’ Earth and pristine satellite-based ‘habitat’ is obvious yet momentous. From the first flashback onward, there are are a plethora of metaphors and symbols alluding to important events and current affairs. Discussing such issues as military/government control, the 99% vs. 1% feud, asylum seeking, equality, overpopulation, and Obama-care, Elysium is, somehow, more topical and overblown than Blompkamp’s previous works. One standout scene, in which Da Costa is confronted and beaten by robot policemen, looks into the treatment of minorities by authoritative forces. The problem, however, is that Blompkamp throws messages/conversation starters into the story without following through on them. His agenda is nowhere near as emotionally or thematically deep as it was in District 9. However, the movie’s greatest asset is Blompkamp’s attention to detail. Suited for I-MAX, his visual style is awe-inspiring and meaningful. Combing impressive practical effects with expansive yet efficiently used CGI, Elysium is a jaw-dropping and poignant sensory feast. Blompkamp also brings his affection for gore and advanced weaponry over from District 9. Featuring exploding bodies, creative action choreography, and unique technological devices (including an ailment-curing MRI scanner), Elysium may be 2013’s most imaginative big-budget movie.

“The only thing I can do to help you is leave, I promise you.” (Max (Matt Damon), Elysium).

Interstellar UFC.

This nostalgic yet competent fusion of 80s, 90s, and 00s sci-fi action flicks – specifically Total Recall, Blade RunnerTerminator 2: Judgement Day,  and Children of Men – is bolstered by engaging action set-pieces. Blompkamp keeps the silliness to a minimum as the ‘junkyard meets Apple Store’ aesthetic, shaky-cam, and slo-mo push each sequence along. The shootouts and fistfights, making good use of Da Costa’s peculiar and iconic back-brace device, are thrillingly handled. Shot and edited with precision, the final set-piece becomes a sci-fi version of Mortal Kombat. Despite the explosions and lavish settings, it’s the performances that make Elysium whole. Despite Elysium‘s discomforting lack of wit and depth, the A-list actors, for the most part, elevate their archetypal characters. Able to inject magnetism and sympathy into any role, Damon becomes a likeable screen presence here. Despite his character’s abrasive personality, Damon’s physicality and compelling performance perk up the conventional role. Embodying polar-opposite characters in 2013 thanks to Elysium and Behind the Candelabra, his range and ambitiousness are commendable facets. As a desperate, lonely, and angry ex-government attack dog urgently needing a leash, Kruger is one of Elysium‘s many magnificent creations. His uncontrollable rage and psychotic tendencies liven up this earnest affair. Copley delivers another quirkily dark turn under Blompkamp’s direction. Unfortunately, Foster is under-utilised in a one dimensional and over-the-top role. It doesn’t help that the character’s villainous socio-political motivations are as bafflingly silly as her wavering accent.

Like many of 2013’s low-four-star blockbusters, Elysium has several outstanding concepts and memorable sequences. Making Blomkamp and Copley even bigger names, it pushes boundaries and showcases some talented individuals. Hopefully, Blompkamp will stay behind the camera rather than in front of the keyboard.

Verdict: An ambitious and jaw-dropping follow-up to District 9.

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.