Archive for the ‘Rating – 1 1/2 Stars’ category

Ray (Hackford, 2004)



Just re-watched the last half of this very popular 2004 Ray Charles biopic.  Jamie Foxx, as usual, delivers a good performance as Charles.  My problem with the film as with other Academy favorite biopics of recent years is that if you slap a big star on a popular figure you tend to devolve to basic convention in the film making, which happens here.  It’s a by the book bio (no pun intended) pic.  I would rather have seen it as an actual biography in this case.  The editing corrodes to an exact timeframe in the protagonist’s life.  Ray Charles had a serious problem with Heroin well into his late thirties and for some reason the filmmakers decided to focus on this only.  How original.  Charles had a great future of philanthropy, composing and performing but the filmmakers decided to ignore his last 40 years.

1 1/2* / *****

We Bought A Zoo (Cameron Crowe, 2011)


I really like Matt Damon.  Along with Leo DeCaprio he is among our current living throwbacks to beloved 50’s Hollywood actors (Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart) and I know second hand that the guy is a true gentleman.  I saw this as a good afternoon film for my kids without knowing Cameron Crowe was the director.  Say Anything (1989) and Almost Famous (2000) are really good films where the director’s Kapraesque vision works;  however, when lost to his own devices Crowe deteriorates into empty and sometimes offensive sentiment.

Based loosely (?) on a true story of a man (Benjamin Mee, Damon) that had lost his wife months earlier is left with two young children, his young teenage son just being expelled from school for bad behavior.  Seeking a new start Mee (newspaper writer) looks to new real estate for solace and finds a home in rural Southern California.  Apparently the Title work didn’t list “zoo” as an exception to title in Schedule B.  After purchasing the home, looking for his new start, Mee discovers he has purchased a home AND a zoo with a full staff (lead by a very hesitant Scarlett Johansson) and a good number of other animal species.  Where was the staff when Mee got his home tour?

Within this genre (drama / comedy of family getting over the loss of a loved one) there are good films, one of which is Fly Away Home.  Carroll Ballard’s 1996 film captures the initial darkness and tragedy of the events that lead to catharsis.  Then little Anna Paquin finds solace with her father (a wonderful Jeff Daniels perf) in leading a gaggle of geese back to the coast during the Fall.  That film had its own flaws (under developed environmental storyline) too but is non pretentious in its tale of an estranged father / daughter relationship brought back together by tragedy.

Zoo has moments of true cringe including two 13 year old children exchanging ‘I love you’s’ to an incredibly ill-timed joke involving the recent Chilean miner disaster (will that ever be safe territory?).  Some sweet moments ensue including an ill tiger sub-story but the payoff falls short.  Compounding the problem is the 124 minute cut had me and other dad looking for the toilet and exit.  The obvious proper end to the film has the camera tracking back from a fort with a visual of a successful and completely predictable Zoo re-opening is followed by a tepid sequence involving father telling children how he had first met mom.  I nearly walked out of Crowe’s disastrous 2001 Vanilla Sky and I would have done so here if not for my kiddos that will hopefully look back at this film with the cynicism this film deserves.

If you want to see a great grieving Matt Damon check out Soderburgh’s Contagion.

* 1/2  /  *****

Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004)



Director Terry George (In the Name of the Father, Reservation Road) tries to cram way too much content and detail into this account of such horrible events.  By doing so, and by plugging in way too many scenes with a not up for the task Sophie Okonedo (as Tatiana Rusesabagina), the enormity of the disaster is lost to melodrama.  And what a ridiculous turn by Nick Nolte – I didn’t buy that at all.  This is meant to be the Schindler’s List of the Rwandan genocide but it lacks both the technical and emotional achievement of Spielberg’s film.  Don Cheadle (Paul Rusesabagina) should have been given more of a chance to deliver the Oscar-worthy performance he is surely capable of.

* 1/2  /  *****