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April 20, 2012

Screen Savor:
W.E. bought a zoo


W.E. bought a zoo
The latest in a string of well-intentioned but dissatisfying films by journalist turned filmmaker Cameron Crowe ("Say Anything," "Almost Famous") "We Bought A Zoo" is an adaptation of the Benjamin Mee book of the same name. Taking more than a few liberties with the story, including relocating the titular zoo and "we" to the US from the UK, it is essentially the story of widowed single father and self-described "adventure addict" Benjamin (Matt Damon) struggling to hold his family and himself together following the death of his wife.

His solution? To start over by quitting his journalist job and buying a home on the grounds of a rundown zoo. With the aid of young daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who steals every scene in which she appears) he sorts through clothes (and memories) and packs up the house. Sullen teenage son Dylan (Colin Ford), who fills the hours following his expulsion from school drawing violent pictures, isn't thrilled about his new home. But once he meets Lily (Elle Fanning), a relative of head zookeeper Kelly (a surprisingly butch Scarlett Johansson), it's obvious that she will have a positive influence on him.

Meanwhile, Benjamin has to deal with the other motley zoo crew members, his discouraging naysayer brother older Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), the twisted whims of live animal maintenance inspector Ferris (John Michael Higgins) and the unimaginable and escalating expense of getting the zoo in working and presentable order for opening day.

Predictable and borderline manipulative, "We Bought A Zoo" uses all of the dramatic and comedic devices that we've seen before. Lazy, dull and uninspiring, "We Bought A Zoo" plays it safer than necessary in every possible way. Special features on the Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo set includes a gag reel, extended and deleted scenes, Crowe's commentary, a handful of featurettes and more.

W.E. bought a zoo
Leave it to Madonna, an immaterial girl from Michigan, to idolize and romanticize the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, described in her movie "W.E." (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment/Anchor Bay), as "the world's most celebrated parasites." In Madonna's muddled and 30 minutes too long version, their romantic legend, like the equally abysmal "The Iron Lady," is haunted by ghosts. In this case, the one doing the haunting is royalty-wrecker Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough, the only reason to watch the movie).

Slithering back and forth in time, from 1998 Manhattan, where Wally (Abbie Cornish doing her best Nicole Kidman), wife of unstable shrink William (Richard Coyle) is obsessed with a Sotheby's auction of Wallis and Edward's (James D'Arcy) belongings, to a past inhabited by the despised pair. In its own clunky way, "W.E." attempts to draw parallels between Wallis and Wally (who was named for Simpson), right down to their common reproductive issues. Their troubled relationships with men also play a part. Both women suffer at the hands of physically abusive men before finding true love – Wallis with Edward, Wally with Russian security guard Evgeni (Oscar Isaac).

Overly ambitious and distracting, Madonna and co-screenwriter would have been better off focusing their energy on one story, that of Wallis and Edward, the one that is obviously of most interest to them, giving it the attention it deserved. Even at his worst, Madonna's ex Guy Ritchie remains a better filmmaker than she is. Apparently Madonna couldn't be bothered to learn anything from him while she was sucking the life force from his soul. The lone Special Feature included on the DVD/Blu-ray/digital copy of "W.E.", is a "making of" featurette.

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