Monday, May 21, 2012

The Strangest Zoo Ever Bought

     In this post we take a look at the newest film by perhaps the only film maker who has been around for all of film history, a family friendly drama with animals, and the only serious documentary ever to be concerned primarily with its commercial prospects.  First up, is...

The Strange Case of Anjelica - Portuguese film maker Manoel de Oliviera is perhaps the only working director over a hundred years old in the entire world.  This is the second feature of his that I have seen, and like Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl, I did not particularly care for this picture.  I find the acting in his films overdone and the characters sketchily drawn.  However, he is a national treasure to the Portuguese people so I am certainly willing to concede that there may be some sort of cultural disconnect in my understanding of the man's work.
     Anjelica is about a photographer hired to take death bed photos of a young woman, who then haunts him, either in fact or in his mind, we never quite know.  I'm not sure if the Chaplin era special "ghostly" effects were supposed to be humorous, or nostalgic, or what. Like most of the film, I didn't get it.  Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play.  2 of 5*

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - You know, if I had to pick ten directors who are changing the game in Hollywood to have a luncheon with, I might have to pick Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) to represent the documentarians.  He just commits so totally to each project, using himself as the guinea pig in some weird experiment in search of the truth.  At the same time, he manages to be mischievously entertaining even in the handling of the most serious of topics.  While not his strongest effort, Sold still benefits from all of these strengths and was well worth watching.
     The premise was borderline brilliant and classically Spurlock.  Make a movie about advertising and product placement and learn about the these subjects by funding the film completely through advertising and product placement.  And we DO learn about the process right along with our humble narrator in the most self aware movie I think that I have ever seen.  And the film does get away with poking gentle fun at its subjects, and is very entertaining. 
     I couldn't help but feeling, however, that somewhere along the way, Spurlock's voice was a little muted by contractual obligation to his sponsors.  The experiment seemed to begin to eat its own tail at some point.  Of course, I don't really KNOW what, if anything, was left out of the film to appease who, if anybody, but...  I was left feeling a little bit like I didn't get the full story.  In a doc directed by a man who has made a career out of shameless full disclosure, even the suggestion of such concessions tarnished the shine just a bit for me.  Available on DVD. 4 of 5*

We Bought a Zoo - This film tells the true story of how reporter Benjamin Mee and his children moved into and bought a zoo as part of the process of grieving for their late wife and mother.  It is a perfectly watchable piece of family fare that suffers from a good deal of cheesiness in the script.  The title of the film was actually worked into the dialogue numerous times.  It was hoped that this would be the movie that would see director Cameron Crowe return to form.  It was not a bad effort, but certainly not on a par with past works such as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous.
     The cast is filled with talented actors but there is a lack meat here for them to chew on, resulting in a long string of respectable but mostly forgettable performances.  If there is a stand out in the cast, it would have to be Maggie Elizabeth Jones who plays little bitty Rosie Mee with intelligence, adorableness, and precociousness.  She gets all the best lines and truly makes the most of them.
     When I first heard of PETA's objections to the trailer's assertions that all it took to run a zoo was heart, I thought that maybe this well meaning but often overenthusiastic organization was over reacting a bit.  As I watched We Bought a Zoo, however, I began to think that maybe they were onto something.  I just don't understand why you would work numerous lines asserting mankind's dominion and importance over the animal kingdom into the last thirty minutes of a film that is about an institution of conservation.
    It seemed to me almost as if the film was pandering to the more conservative family friendly audience pool by avoiding any impression of environmentalism in a film about a ZOO.  It's sad that America has come to a point where wanting your great-grandchildren to someday be able to see a living tiger is considered un-family friendly.  For that to be possible, the world is going to have to start choosing the SURVIVAL of the animal over the CONVENIENCE or PROFIT of the people, at least occasionally.  There are 21 officially endangered species of frogs and toads in the US alone, so you'll have to forgive me my soapbox.  Available on DVD.  3 of 5*
(On another note:  My dog, Dakota, watches movies and television.  I'm not talking about reacting when he hears a dog bark, he watches the screen.  Everyone who has ever seen it has been flabbergasted.  Anyway, Dakota LOVED We Bought A Zoo.  Considering that the things that Dakota reacts well to are the things that young kids like (animals, babies, action, and animation), I thought it worth mentioning that while The Movie Frog only gave it a three star rating, his Movie Dog gave it...5 out of 5 paws.

Three more reviews in a day or two including the worst review I have given a film yet.

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