By Cooper Aspegren:
We Bought a Zoo
“We Bought a Zoo” serves as innocent, feel-good family fare, succeeding as a crowd pleaser in the same vein of director Cameron Crowe’s previous efforts. Matt Damon portrays Benjamin Mee, a widowed journalist who moves with his two children to a zoo in disrepair, inhabited by 47 different animal species and a few loyal workers. Movies with similar subject matter often try too hard to be cute, resulting in a diminished visceral impact on the viewer. While this kind of emotional overreaching seems present in “We Bought a Zoo” to a certain extent, the witty, idiosyncratic script concoct- ed by Crowe and screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna avoids pitfalls and reaches greater depths. Damon, with a role similar to his part in Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” delivers a performance of surprising weight, al- lowing the film to function further as a family drama. One scene towards the middle is particularly wrought with poignancy, accentuated by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s use of a hand-held camera to reveal the rift that results from the death of a family member. Despite the presence of a few flaws, “We Bought a Zoo” hits all the right notes, working as a film to mark for this holiday season.
—Rated PG for language and some thematic elements.
In “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese conveys a child-like fas- cination with cinema, utilizing his knowledge of the techniques developed since the beginning of motion pictures to galvanize emotional response. His enchantment with films distinguishes every one of his fea- tures; in this respect, his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” for a young audience seems fitting. Asa Butterfield stars as the eponymous Hugo, a young clock-keeper determined to finish the uncompleted automaton belonging to his deceased father (Jude Law). Butterfield successfully emulates silent film star Buster Keaton in both facial expressions and movement while dodging the hapless Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen, with a performance both amusing and heartbreaking), who tries over the course of the film to bring Hugo to the orphanage. While the 3-D format seems distracting at times, it works for the most part, especially when cinematographer Robert Richardson keeps both the foreground and background of the image in focus. With countless homages, an abundance of well drawn characters, and lots of fun throughout, “Hugo’s” charm matches that of Pixar films and exceeds expectations as a movie for all ages.
—Rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking.
“The Descendants” deserves all the accolades it will inevitably garner over the course of the coming awards season, but that merely serves as an irrelevant corollary to the film’s intelligence, impeccability and depth. Director Alexander Payne’s first film since the widely acclaimed “Sideways” stands on its own as a parable for familial involvement and forgiveness. George Clooney delivers a subtle tour de force of a performance, portraying a wealthy, royal-blooded Hawaiian lawyer who bonds with his two daughters after his wife suffers a debilitating injury. “The Descendants” features strong performances from almost the entire cast, but the technical aspects also deserve credit. Young filmmakers should take notice of editor Kevin Tent’s use of transitions, including the immaculately configured cross dissolves and a single screen wipe that adds adrenaline and reveals the psychology of the characters. “The Descendants” serves as a more quiet alternative to most contemporary pictures, using a more methodical approach to the action and characters on screen. In this feature, Payne demonstrates himself once again as a cinematic architect standing among the best in the industry.
—Rated R for language including some sexual references.