We Bought a Zoo

From the desk of The Movie Snob

We Bought a Zoo  (C+).  This was a nice enough little movie, but not good enough to give a strong recommendation.  Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau) plays Benjamin Mee, a recent widower and father to an angry 14-year-old son and an adorable 6- or 7-year-old girl.  He decides the family needs a change of scenery, so he starts house hunting.  Before you can say “resale value,” he has bought a house some 9 miles outside of town that is attached to, as the title indicates, a small, broken-down old zoo.  A small team of dedicated zoo employees led by the fetching Kelly (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) tries to help Benjamin get the place up to code so the jerkish state inspector (John Michael Higgins, A Mighty Wind) will let them reopen and start making money to keep the place afloat.  A nice concept, but at 2:04 the movie feels long, the relationship between Benjamin and Kelly is left curiously undercooked, and the talented Elle Fanning (Super 8) is wasted as the youngest zookeeper who inexplicably falls in puppy love with Benjamin’s rude son.  And a few curse words hamper the general family-friendliness of it all.  Its heart is in the right place, but you can definitely wait for the DVD.

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Scoop

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Scoop (B). Woody Allen (Manhattan) directed and starred in this 2006 comedy. Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson, Iron Man 2) is an American journalism student in London. She sees a ghost of a recently deceased British journalist, who gives her a lead that an at-large serial killer called the Tarot Card Murderer is none other than Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables), the dashing son of a British aristocrat. Woody Allen plays a stammering stage magician called Splendini who gets drafted into helping Sondra with her investigation. Things get complicated when Sondra and Peter get romantically involved. The mystery aspect is not terribly convincing, but it’s an enjoyable light-hearted comedy. Oh, and I was happy to see Romola Garai, one of my favorites since her performance in I Capture the Castle, in a small role as Sondra’s chum.

Iron Man 2

A second opinion from The Movie Snob

Iron Man 2 (C). I think Movie Man Mike gave this sequel high marks, but I just can’t go there. In fairness, I had a slight headache when I entered the theater, so maybe I wasn’t in the best shape to see a loud action movie. But my head was POUNDING by the time I left. Anyway, if you saw the first Iron Man, this is basically more of the same. Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder) reprises his role as Tony Stark, a zillionaire businessman with a suit that gives him superpowers. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) steals most of his scenes as metal-mouthed villain Ivan Vanko. Scarlett Johansson (He’s Just Not That Into You) has surprisingly little screen time as girl-from-legal/secret-martial-arts-expert Natalie Rushman. Anyhoo, it’s loud, lots of stuff blows up, and the cuts are edited so fast you really never know what’s going on. Stay through the end credits for a scene that I guess hints at the contents of Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 2

Movie Man Mike chimes in on a summer blockbuster

Iron Man 2 (B+). The general rule for sequels is that the second movie is not as good as the first. Not so with Iron Man 2. The sequel is at least as good as the first and probably better. Where the first movie was focused upon introducing the character and the concept, the second movie is able to develop the character further and bring some new challenges to Iron Man. This is a great Summer film because it’s full of high-stakes action scenes. The conflict in this movie comes from the fact that the military sees the Iron Man technology as a potential threat and it wants the technology for its own purposes. Iron Man, played by Robert Downey, Jr., assures the military that the technology is safe in his hands. Little does he know, a Russian villain named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has the technology, and he develops his own super-suit. Add to the mix Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who’s an arms dealer desperate to get the U.S. Government’s business, and you have a recipe for a potential catastrophe. The cast has a lot of surprising big names (also Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson), all of whom play their parts well and add flavor to the mix. If you don’t see this at the theaters, you should at least rent it. And if you haven’t seen the first one, check it out too (although it’s not a prerequisite to understanding and following the second film).

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (C+). Seems to me that Woody Allen has grappled with the same problem in several of his movies, including this one. The problem is, once you decide that there is no God and no afterlife, how do you find meaning in life? All of the characters in this movie who express a point of view share Allen’s atheistic materialism, and they seem to be at a loss as to how to answer this basic question. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) are young American women set loose in Barcelona for a summer, and both come under the spell of a charismatic Spanish artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men). Complicating matters are Vicky’s engagement to a bland but perfectly nice yuppie back home in the States and Juan Antonio’s continuing involvement with his crazy ex-wife Maria Elena (played, convincingly, by Penelope Cruz, Nine). The performances are good, but given the premises of atheistic materialism it is difficult to build any tension into the story. Cristina has fully abandoned bourgeois morality, so it is hard to care how her relationship with Juan Antonio (and Maria Elena) turns out. If the only rule is follow your heart, it’s rather hard to make wrong choices. In short, Cristina is a bore. Vicky, on the other hand, provides at least a little drama, since her getting involved with Juan Antonio would require transgressing the last bourgeois convention standing, that you really ought not cheat on your spouse or probably even your fiance. But if we are merely temporary collections of molecules bouncing around in the void, why should we abide by even this seemingly minimal constraint? In a way, this movie is a perfect counterpoint to Brideshead Revisited, which I reviewed yesterday. Brideshead asks what would happen if you really believed in God and Catholicism and tried to live your life accordingly. Vicky asks what would happen if you really didn’t believe in God at all and tried to live accordingly. It’s an interesting concept — but it makes Allen’s characters less interesting people.

The Nanny Diaries

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Nanny Diaries (B-). I was surprised that this movie did not do better at the box office, considering how popular the book was. (I read and enjoyed the book, way back when, but have long since forgotten most of the details.) The movie is a pleasant-enough way to spend 106 minutes. Annie Braddock (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) is a young woman trying to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. By sheer happenstance, she finds herself hired on as the nanny for a fabulously wealthy family in Manhattan, with Mrs. X (Laura Linney, The Savages) as her exceptionally high-strung boss. She bonds with her charge, a kid by the name of Grayer (Nicholas Art, Syriana), and tries to flirt with the Harvard Hottie (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) who lives in the Xes’ building, all the while knowing that the situation will have to come to an end–probably sooner than later, given Mrs. X’s temper. Linney steals the show, in my opinion, but then she’s always good. Worth a rental.

The Other Boleyn Girl

From the desk of The Movie Snob

The Other Boleyn Girl (B). I never read the novel, and I don’t know the real historical details of the story, so I may have liked this film the better for it. The failure of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana, Troy) to produce a male heir is about to rock England, and when the upper-middle-class Boleyns get the inside scoop that Henry is ready to throw over Catherine of Aragon, weak-willed Sir Thomas Boleyn does not hesitate to throw his daughters at the monarch. Conniving Anne (Natalie Portman, Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace) tries first and fails to impress the king, but her sweet sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson, Eight Legged Freaks) succeeds — for a time. Of course, history demands that Anne win out in the end, and once she elbows Mary aside events move so fast that there’s not even time to mention poor St. Thomas More. Critical reaction has been mixed at best, but I enjoyed it as a good, sudsy Saturday afternoon flick.