Trailer Time: Frankenweenie “Homage” Edition

Hi again!

Here’s another great film I’m looking forward to later in the year… Frankenweenie is from director Tim Burton in the same style as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. This homage to all the great horror films of the early days of film is amazing!

–Fitz

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Blu-ray Review: We Bought a Zoo

At my house, if a movie features animals of any kind we’re almost guaranteed to see it at some point. That comes with having a veterinarian for a wife and two animal-loving daughters. (Of course, I’m not an ogre and have to say I like animals too, considering we have always had pets.) And at one time when we were living in Phoenix, we had our own private zoo – two dogs, two cats, a rabbit, two Desert Tortoises and two African tortoises. We’re down to two dogs and three rats now, but you get the idea…

So when We Bought a Zoo came to theaters, we were destined to see it. And everyone but me did see it on the big screen. So when it came out on DVD and Blu-ray, I knew I needed to see it too.

Starring Matt Damon (Contagion, True Grit), Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and Thomas Haden Church (Easy A, Sideways, and TV’s Wings), director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous ,Jerry Maguire) takes us on a journey with a grieving family and a small zoo that’s fallen on hard times.

Benjamin Lee (Damon) is a newspaper writer who is adjusting to being a single father and trying to raise his two kids while finding his own way after his wife’s death to cancer. Deciding that it’s time to start fresh, he looks for a new house from which to start rebuilding their lives. When they finally settle on one, it turns out it comes with a bit of baggage – a zoo named the Rosemoor Animal Park. Dozens of different species live there under the care of head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Johansson) and her dedicated, but eclectic team.

Can Lee, his kids, and the zoo staff pull it together in time to open for the season? Or will the pressure get to be too much?

As this is a “feel good” story, you already know the answer I’m betting. But even though you know the destination, it’s the journey that matters. Damon manages at once to be charming and dedicated to that journey while also showing the human side of the equation. It’s not easy to move on after losing someone you love. It’s not easy to figure out how to put the pieces back together and build something worthwhile. But he and the rest of the cast bring the rest of us along for the ride.

Is this the best movie of 2012? No. Was it fun, heartwarming, and engaging? Heck yes.

The relationships between Damon, Johansson, and Church seem genuine. I could believe Damon and Church as brothers with the inside jokes and jabs that comes with being family. And the push and pull between Damon and Johansson from their initial meeting to the end helps keep the story on the rails.

But for me it was the kids as much as Damon and Johansson that made this film come to life. Mee’s troubled teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford) and cute, bubbly daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) offer different perspectives of the journey – one dark, the other light. And Rosie was truly a bright spot even in tough times and a joy to see on screen. Her smile could brighten any day. Add to that Elle Fanning‘s Lily, the zoo keeper’s cousin, who doubled that bright spot Rosie created. Lily’s babbling enthusiasm was infectious.

And the rest of the eclectic cast – Angus Macfayden as the grumpy zoo exhibit specialist, John Michael Higgins as the jerk zoo inspector Walter Ferris, Carla Gallo (TV’s Bones) as the turncoat accountant Rhonda Blair, and J.B. Smoove as the enthusiastic realtor who introduces the Mee family to the zoo… It took me until watching the extras on the Blu-ray before I figured out where I’d seen Robin Jones who plays animal wrangler Patrick Fugit. Jones was in Crowe’s Almost Famous when he was 16! Ultimately everybody pulls together as parts in the machine to get us where we need to be.

As far as the extras on the Blu-ray go, it’s loaded with nearly 3 hours of special features. There are twenty deleted & extended scenes alone, which offer different takes on some of the aspects of the film. But as with all Cameron Crowe films, the final cut is better without them but they were interesting to explore. Also included are a gag reel that has some very funny outtakes in it; audio commentary from Crowe, Smoove, and editor Mark Livolsi; a long but powerful look behind the scenes offering a glimpse at the real Benjamin Mee all the way through the set construction and movie production; and more.

The picture and sound are top-notch on the Blu-ray. The colors and definition is crisp in 1080p without looking digitally done. Whether sun or shine, indoors or out, there was never a pixel out of focus unless the filmmaker and cinematographer wanted it to be. And with DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound, when the lion roars off screen as the Mee family is checking out the house on the zoo grounds the first time, it really gets your attention.

If you’re looking for engaging, family fare that doesn’t talk down to kids or adults, We Bought a Zoo offers plenty to discuss afterwards. Based on a real story, I think it pulls together all the right elements for a surprisingly engaging couple of hours.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: The Lost Future

Hi there!

Is it just me or is there a swell in the number of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films lately? The Book of Eli, Legion, Vanishing on 7th Street, Battle: Los Angeles, Zombieland… And those are just the ones off the top of my head going back to 2009.

Add one more to the list – The Lost Future. This made-for-tv film aired on Syfy this year starring Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, National Treasure, Game of Thrones, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lighting Thief, Ronin) as Amal, a man dedicated to finding a cure to the degenerative disease making men into beasts. In the realm of the usually badly-produced movies shown on Syfy, this one wasn’t too bad.

In the bleak picture painted by The Lost Future, mankind has been knocked back to stone-age technology and reduced to tribes able to find places to hide from the beasts. If you are bitten by one of the beasts, you will surely become one. And as such, tribe numbers are dwindling.

Uri (Tertius Meintjes, Crusoe, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines) and the other Elders are doing their best to keep the Grey Rock tribe together, with strict laws on where to hunt to avoid entering lands held by beasts and exploring beyond the areas they know as safe. Unfortunately, food has become scarce in the area and Savan (Corey Sevier, Age of the Dragons, the upcoming Immortals), Uri’s son and the tribe’s best hunter, and Kaleb (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Pillars of the Earth), the tribe’s best tracker must leave the safety of Grey Rock lands to hunt for enough meat to feed the tribe. Of course, by doing so they attract the attention of some of the beasts and the safety of Grey Rock is compromised.

The beasts attack and many tribe members find safety in a reinforced cave, but some are trapped outside in the confusion. Savan, Kaleb, and Savan’s girl Dorel (Annabelle Wallis, The Tudors, Pan Am) are left hiding in the trees from the monsters. That’s where Amal saves the day, using a bow and arrow to take out a beast who almost gets them. He escorts the trio to where he and his wife Neenah (Jessica Haines,The Prisoner (2009)) and his son Persk (Sam Schein) have been living between a couple of rivers, which the beasts will not cross.

When Amal discovers that Kaleb can read and was taught by his father, a friend of Amal’s, the search is on for a mysterious medicine that prevents people from getting the beast’s disease. Will Savan and Kaleb help Amal retrieve the medicine from the leaders of a city holding it hostage or will they try to rescue the rest of their tribe? And will they succeed whichever way they choose to go?

The Lost Tribe mixes a bit of the far future of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with modern fears of biological warfare and disease transmission to create an interesting combination. It still suffers from the bane of most Syfy-produced movies with moments of bad dialog, pacing issues, and poor special-effects. But overall it does better overcoming these concerns than most recent made-for-TV movies on the channel (except for Age of Dragons which was actually pretty good).

The DVD also includes a trailer for the film and a collection of “Making Of” featurettes that include interviews with cast and crew as well as behind the scenes footage of set building, stunts, costumes, and visual effects. For a made-for-TV film, there’s actually quite a bit of meat in the “Making of” segments. My favorite segment actually focused on the production meetings and discussions about how nature would reclaim the world without a large population in a post-apocalyptic setting.

This article first appeared at Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

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