Sunday, April 08, 2012, Jamadi ul Awwal 15, 1433 A.H.
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In the picture
We Bought a Zoo**/12
*ing:  Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Elle Fanning, Angus MacFadyen, Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins, and Carla Gallo
Directed by Cameron Crowe

In 2006, the Mee family bought and relocated to the Dartmoor Wildlife Park in Devon.

In 2008, Benjamin Mee wrote a book about this experience, detailing the many tribulations encountered in the process, including the difficulties of purchasing, financing, renovating, and reopening the venue, while dealing with his wife’s illness and death.

In 2011, Hollywood decided to strip the story of all its nuances, pump it with sap, and release it as a motion picture. The result: a formulaic feel-good flick called We Bought a Zoo.

Our protagonist is journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), a bereaved widower, still grieving over the recent death of his wife. In search of a fresh start for himself and his kids – angsty 14-year-old son, Dylan (Colin Ford), and adorable 7-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) – he moves his family into a house that happens to have a decrepit wildlife park in its backyard. With no prior zoological experience, Benjamin must now try to renovate and reopen the zoo while trying to put his life back together. The menagerie (the action has been moved from England to the Rosemoor Animal Park in Southern California) is run by a crew led by no-nonsense head zookeeper, Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), who is assisted by her teen cousin, Lily (Elle Fanning), both of whom serve as convenient love interests for the Mee father and son respectively.

Clichés abound as the film proceeds, and you’re never in doubt of what the final outcome will be. It is obvious that the characters are operating in a world that was constructed by Cameron Crowe’s imagination, and in which events unfold without even trying to dodge the shackles of predictability and complications are invariably sorted out with relative ease; it is a charming and (ultimately) uplifting world, but it’s hard to mistake it for real life.

Despite the clichés though, it would be unfair to deny the film’s warmth. We Bought a Zoo tugs at your heartstrings as it explores the processes of getting over loss, taking chances, and letting go. Matt Damon is likeable as Benjamin Mee, and tackles whatever is thrown at him – be it a sick animal, a petulant teenager, or a fussy zoo inspector – while maintaining his character’s earnest appeal. Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church (playing Benjamin’s elder brother, Duncan, who appears intermittently to air his concern over his younger sibling’s impractical decisions) both put on solid performances, as does the supporting cast, despite the fact that most of the supporting characters aren’t given a chance to fully develop. Icelandic musician Jónsi (of Sigur Rós fame) adds gentle ambience to the movie through his score, and the proceedings are, as you would expect (what with this being a Cameron Crowe film and all), accompanied by the tunes of artists including Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan.

But in an attempt to give the film an idyllic Hollywood sheen, the filmmaker has veered off the real life course of events. With details ignored, altered, or completely reworked for convenience, the movie is very loosely based on the actual story as presented in Mee’s memoir of the same name. The original account is genuine, intricate, and intriguing, and most of that simply doesn’t translate to the film, which is content with being fairly sterile and painfully formulaic. The characters and relationships portrayed in the movie are stereotypical, the proceedings lack energy, and the various crises and their outcomes seem contrived. As a result, We Bought a Zoo is a well meaning but predictable portrait of coping with loss and moving on with life. It still offers enough warm moments to be touching and conventionally inspirational, and the solid performances from the cast, especially Matt Damon who injects a degree of realism to the otherwise contrived developments, keep the viewers engaged in the movie for the duration of its overlong two hour running time. So while it may not be essential viewing, it is pleasant enough to while away an idle evening.

– Sameen Amer

The Woman in Black ***1/2

*ing: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer and Ciarán Hinds
Directed by: James Watkins

The Harry Potter star is back with his first film after the Harry Potter series and the young lad did well. His fans were really excited to watch this horror movie starring their favourite child star and the actor did justice to their expectations. The movie did not have a very strong story but Radcliffe drew audiences to theatres. The Woman in Black is an old fashioned British horror film where being under 10 years of age is not a good thing.

Radcliffe’s own look worked well for the story, and he carries the film capably.

It might seem that the movie exists simply to polish Radcliffe’s skills and it succeeds. The movie is based on Susan Hill’s 1982 novel and starts off with three sisters, who strangely and abruptly cease teatime with their dolls and walk off their upper floor windows. Then we see the widower Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) who is saying goodbye to his young son Joseph (Misha Handley) and the dad uneasy because he has the feeling that his boy is unsafe. He keeps reminding his son to take care of himself and be careful till they meet at the end of the coming week. The widower was up for another task in the village where he comes across the strange case of children under ten dying under mysterious circumstances.

The village people are devastated by what they call The Black Woman because if any of the kids by any chance escape death utter the words The Woman in Black and die. In a nutshell the movie is about a young lawyer who travels to a village where he discovers the dreadful ghost of a woman who is terrorizing the locals and their kids. The young lawyer takes all possible steps to solve this problem and let the ghost find its way out. During this time the poor lad had to face all the horrors in the movie alone, which made the audience grip their seats in fear.

The Woman in Black who is also known as the ghost has her own story which has to be cracked in order to settle the chaos and to save the remaining kids. Some people might say that without bloodshed there is no horror but at times we need to broaden our horizons as well. The entire time Radcliffe did a tremendous job and kept up the level of the engrossment in the movie.  The director knew what he was doing; the genre has certain requirements and he fulfilled them with sincerity and with style. For Radcliffe it must be said he essayed his character perfectly and it was incredible to see such a young actor playing a father and holding the screen all by himself.

In most horror movies it is shown that the actor is taking all the trouble to fix his own life but no, here he was helping the locals of the village and in return the ghost also does him a kind turn. Basically the movie was not clear to many people because it forces you to look at the story from a different angle. It did really well in the UK since the novel was UK based and it was played before on the TV and radio hence was a  popular story. The best thing about the movie was that the negative aspects were not glamourized - the positives were not exactly clear either but the wise will be able to identify them.

– Faiz Rohani


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