Established May 2010.

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Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS: The Iron Lady, We Bought a Zoo

Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Coleman

An elderly Margaret Thatcher (Streep) spends three days packing up her late husband Denis' (Broadbent) belongings as she tries to move on from his passing. This very conventional setting is the catalyst for delving into the life of Thatcher. Throughout this process Thatcher envisions Denis around her and reminisces over various memories. These memories flash back and forth all too briefly recounting the days she met and fell in love with Denis, joining the Tory party, and her time as Prime Minister. Thatcher seemed to fight the fight to gain her seat and voice in a very male dominated party.

One has to wonder why they made this movie? What story of Margaret Thatcher were they trying to tell? The movie has a whole is one big mess. I don't feel like I got any information about Thatcher that I didn't already know. When I go see a biopic, I love the history aspect of it. I want more information about the subject that I didn't know previous to the movie. I barely know anything about the life of Thatcher, which makes the movie all the more disappointing. It is partly a story about the relationship between her and her husband. It is partly about her run as prime minister. Unfortunately, both of these parts don't equal a whole. Even though the script is weak, the performances are the only thing that capture the movie. Jim Broadbent is a fantastic character actor. While he's good here, it's a wasted performance as those scenes don't quite often work. The ghost like visions of Denis to Margaret seem phony. Meryl Streep can do no wrong in my book. She is a goddess and it shows in every performance. Some of her movies are pretty perfect, while others can fall flat. She always delivers at 110% even if others do not. The Iron Lady is in the latter category unfortunately. Like the chameleon that she is, she fully embodies the voice and physical life of Thatcher. Playing an aged character can be a challenge but that is precisely when Streep shines even more. The best moments of her performance come when she is playing the older version of Thatcher. Streep could easily win her third Oscar for this performance. It will be rightly deserved, but I just wish it would have been for a better movie.

RATING: ** (2 out of 5 stars)


Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit

"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."

Cameron Crowe is back after six years with a true story that is far more family friendly than most of his movies. Benjamin Mee (Damon) is at a cross-roads in his life. His wife has passed away leaving him with their children, seven-year-old Rosie and fourteen-year-old Dylan. Dylan has now been expelled from school for the fourth time and faces expulsion. Benjamin has a sweet and playful relationship with Rosie but seems to struggle with his relationship with Dylan. He quits his job and decides that a new house and a new beginning are in order to bring his family back together. Like many Crowe characters from before, Benjamin takes a giant leap of faith. After seeing Rosie's joyful appearance, he decides to buy a house that has a zoo as part of the purchase. The zoo is technically closed but a group of workers (Scarlett Johansson, Patrick Fugit) spends their days and nights caring for the property and animals. Without any knowledge of zoology or wild animals, Benjamin promises to get the zoo up and running again for the community.

Sometimes the best movies are the ones that come at a total surprise. You watch the trailer, see the TV spots, read some reviews, and you think you have a good idea about what the movie will be. I have always been a fan of Cameron Crowe. He was long overdue for a new movie. His last few movies were not hugely successful, so I was really rooting for this one to be a knock-out. It's a family friendly feel-good story. The trailers promote and rely on this to try to sell the movie. However, there is more here than a story about a man and his zoo. The relationship between Benjamin and his children is where the heart of the movie sit, especially the back and forth struggle between Benjamin and Dylan. Crowe typically pulls double duty serving as director and screenwriter. His script based on the book written by the real Benjamin Mee doesn't have the sharp style his screenplays normally have. He normally writes great supporting characters, but the characters here seem more generic. Patrick Fugit is a terrific actor but isn't really given anything here to let him shine. Damon is always a strong actor. There is an honesty and yearning for his characters that he is always able to pull off. We Bought a Zoo really struck a huge chord with me. Yes, it can be sappy and predictable. There are no surprise moments or twists to the story, but it provided an emotional connection that I did not see coming.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

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