December 23, 2011, - 3:49 pm

Wknd Box Office: The Artist, War Horse, We Bought a Zoo

By Debbie Schlussel

It’s a FOUR REAGAN movie two-fer at the box office, this weekend.


*  “The Artist“:  This is among my top picks for best movie of the year (a list I’ll be posting next week, G-d-willing).  It’s absolutely terrific.  It’s got glamor.  It’s got style.  And it harkens back to the olden days of movies when movies were great and class exuded from every frame.  It’s a mostly silent movie with music as its dialogue.  The only talking is at the very end, in the last scene.  Instead, in addition to the music, there are a few frames with subtitles of what the characters are saying.  Given that, I thought I’d hate it or fall asleep.  But, just the opposite, I was charmed and enjoyed every minute of it.  It moves quickly and has a tight, well-told story.  Although it’s rated PG-13 (I’m not sure why), you can take even your youngest kids to see it, though younger kids might not understand what is going on (you can explain it to them).

Set in 1927 Hollywood, Jean Dujardin plays silent film star George Valentin.  While he is rich and famous and at the height of his career, he bumps into Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo), a pretty young woman who desperately wants to become an actress.  She mugs for the cameras and gets on the front page of the newspapers.  The next day, she goes to a movie studio (run by John Goodman) for an audition and eventually charms her way to getting hired.  Talking films are not just on the horizon, they are the latest technological advancement, and silent film is about to die.  Dujardin tells Goodman he refuses to talk and will remain a silent film actor.  As his career and fortunes fall, Bejo has signed a multi-picture talking film deal.  Her star has risen.  She harbors feelings and nostalgia for the fallen silent film star.  And the movie shows us their interactions as his career ends and he loses everything, while she becomes rich and famous.


This is a love story, but a not a chick flick.  In fact, it’s mostly told from the male actor’s point of view.  While it may sound sad, it has a happy ending and is a charming, fun, cute movie, with a cute dog who gets a lot of screentime to boot.  Like I said, it’s an absolutely terrific movie and something you really should see on the big screen as opposed to home video.  As a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society, I voted for  Dujardin and Bejo as my respective Best Actor and Best Actress picks.  (I plan to tell you more about those picks and how I voted, next week.)  Many of you, my smart readers, predicted this was one of my FOUR REAGAN movies, and you know me well.

FOUR REAGANS
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Watch the trailer . . .

*  “War Horse“:  This opens on Sunday, Christmas Day.  Despite my anger at Steven Spielberg for his “Munich” BS (read my review), I gotta give credit where it is due.  And in this, he directed a fantastic movie.  Although it takes place during World War I and there is some killing on the battlefield,  it’s not graphic, and I think it’s fine to take kids to see, if you explain to them what is going on.  It’s just such a great and touching movie. And it promotes the values of commitment, hard work, and doing what’s right in the face of evil.

I generally hate horse movies.  But this is an exception.  Spielberg managed to tell you a story using many different people and how they all interact with a spirited horse during the war.  It’s got charm, and it also has heart, even if some of the World War I scenes of the British interacting with the Germans across the battlefield seem kind of ripped off from the terrific “Joyeux Noel” (read my review).

The movie begins with the Narracott Family of England.  They are poor farmers and behind on their rent.  Yet, Mr. Narracott spends the rent money on a horse, whom their son, Albert, names “Joey.”  Albert teaches the horse how to plow their field, and soon enough crops grow to pay the rent, but tragedy strikes and Joey must be sold, against Albert’s wishes.  Joey is bought by a young British soldier going off to fight in World War I, and it follows Joey’s journey from an English soldier’s horse to a German Army horse, to the treasure of a French orphan girl and her grandfather.  We also see Albert eventually join World War I, fighting for England and how everything comes full circle.

Well told, touching, and enjoyable.  I recommend this film highly.  It’s the kind of movies we need more of from Hollywood.

FOUR REAGANS
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Watch the trailer . . .

*  “We Bought a Zoo“:  I absolutely loathed this cheesy movie for kids.  It stars Noam Chomsky/Howard Zinn superfan, Matt Damon, as a widower father trying to raise his melodramatic, troubled young son and his way-too-saccharine-sweet-cute daughter on his inheritance.  He blows it on a zoo in the country, where they work to get it ready to open to visitors, all while Damon uses up his remaining funds.  On the staff of the zoo is a very de-glammed Scarlett Johansson. The predictable, inevitable “romance” between Damon and Johansson is lackluster, boring, and not believable. There’s no chemistry between them.

While this is very distantly-based on a true story (the zoo is in England, I believe), that’s irrelevant.  The story was long, boring, and tiresome.  I didn’t care about any of these people.  The father, Damon, was dull.  The son was not believable as a drama queen.  While it shows a father who cares about his kids (something rare in Hollywood fare), that’s not enough to make me like this amateurish movie.  The daughter was way too cute and precocious to the point of vomit-inducement.  She said things a kid that young would never say . . . or shouldn’t.  I mean, do you really take your kids to a Christmas weekend movie in which the young girl calls a state zoo inspector, “a dick.”  Great if you want your young kids talking like that, too.

The inspector, by the way, is an extreme stickler for regulations who tries to keep the zoo closed, and that was the only other good part of the movie–showing how a statist government worker can ruin your business and your life.  But I didn’t need this movie to show me that, nor to you.  Aside from the inspector, there are several characters that are ridiculous, but not funny.  Just silly and stupid, like a lot of this movie.

The actual zoo in the movie is dull, unimaginative, dated, and not something I or a parent would drive miles and miles and pay a ton of money to see.  And yet, in this movie, people line up by the carful, eventually, to see this schlocky place.  I didn’t believe it, nor did I believe all the product plugs that this movie seemed to be about.  Target, Home Depot, Mayflower (moving company), Coca-Cola, Apple.  Those were just a few of the companies constantly in-your-face in this uninteresting movie.  Oh, and by the way, in case you forget the title of the movie, the sentence, “We bought a zoo!” is uttered at least three times during this movie.  Yaaaawn.

Save your ten bucks and two hours from this waste of time and take your kids to see “The Artist,” “War Horse,” “Hugo” (read my review), or any of the other far superior movies I’ve reviewed on this site in the last month.  You’ll thank me. This movie’s a dud.

ONE MARX
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Watch the trailer . . .

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20 Responses

Nice. I was hoping when you said the other day that there were two upcoming Four Reagan movies that War Horse would be one of them. The whole story has such potential and I’m glad to see that Spielberg managed not to screw it up. I also like David Thewlis as an actor, so I’m glad to see he has a part in a winner here.

Brian R. on December 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm

What I enjoy most with reading your review is your heartfelt honesty. Thumbs up. I am going to watch “The Artist” for sure. And when you said, “…the olden days of movies when movies were great and class exuded from every frame,” I couldn’t agree more. Moreover, I feel the statement is applicable to many other areas of life as well. Replace the word “movies” with “manhood,” “femininity,” “relationship,” “politics,” “faith,” and your statement holds true.

Chanuka Erdita on December 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I agree about “The Artist.” Well told “period” film. Reminds me of the better Merchant Ivory productions. That’s the kind of movie people want to see.

NormanF on December 23, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Read an interview with Kingsley in which he was discussing being in “species” and being upset that people thought he was humiliated by the role—he takes all roles “seriously,” he said.

Asshole. Paul Newman used to invite friends over to laugh at him in his first role in the wretched film “The Silver Chalice.”

Ben, you’re an actor. Your profession isn’t serious. Please. Amusingly, he doesn’t believe he’s antisemitic—and the asshat is going to play Moses, now!

Occam's Tool on December 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm

You hate horse movies? Does this mean you hated ‘The Ring’? too?

you are breaking Wilbur’s heart

AnusPresley on December 23, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Thanks Deb. I really appreciate you’re having to sit through so much junk to find us these gems.

bjr118 on December 24, 2011 at 9:51 am

I absolutely refuse to see anything with the awful matt demon in it.

Dave Koffer on December 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

Glad to hear you liked War Horse. With Spielberg I don’t
always expect a good movie and I don’t much like supporting
him. I trust your reviews much more than I do Medved’s.
Sorry you have to sit through so much trash reviewing these.
Happy Hannakah.

Daniel K on December 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I’m with you Dave, Damon is on my auto no see list, along with Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Julie Roberts, and a few others.

To me, there is something so phony and manipulative about lefties like Damon being in these types of movies. They spend their whole lives speaking against the decent American lifestyle, but then for some reason want to occasionally appear in one of these movies to show they care or something. Just another example how psycho lefties are.

I whiffed on Deb’s faovrite, though. I thought The Artist would have been a pretentious “look at us, we are in Black & White & a silent film, too!!!!” movie. Glad to hear I am wrong. As with most of La Deb’s movie recommendations, I’ll try to catch this one.

If I recall, I think I thought that TinTin movie would have been Debbie’s favorite.

Jeff_W on December 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm

The inspector, by the way, is an extreme stickler for regulations who tries to keep the zoo closed, and that was the only other good part of the movie–showing how a statist government worker can ruin your business and your life.

Dear Debbie: If the “statist government worler” was enforcing regulations against cruelty to animals, the business should have been ruined.

Merry Christmas to everyone on this website who celebrates i8t.

Miranda Rose Smith on December 25, 2011 at 4:35 am

    Merry Christmas to everyone on this website who celebrates it.

    Miranda Rose Smith on December 25, 2011 at 4:35 am

    Miranda Rose Smith on December 25, 2011 at 4:36 am

I saw “We Bought a Zoo.” As is typical, your review was excellent. I had to chuckle when I read your observation that the movie demonstrated the way that statist regulations and inspectors make it difficult for business owners to operate. It did seem oddly contradictory for this obviously liberal film to make the government worker a comic villain–aren’t government workers enforcing rules of compassion part of the new utopia? (No offense here to your own perspective, Miranda.) That the film was targeted to liberals I have no doubt. A definite giveaway was bad language used by the kids (another example besides the “dick” one you gave was the fourteen-year-old son who shouted “B–it!” at the father, this supposedly indicating a turning point in their relationship for the better because it was so honest and real. Other examples include the Neil Young songs in the background, the moody teen who turns out to be a highly-talented-even-while-unconventional artist, the fact that Matt Damon plays a plucky political journalist filling a liberal niche similar to the crusading hero in Dragon Tattoo, the kindly and wise newspaper editor who has a clip of “Nixon Quits!” on his wall as evidence of his political correctness, the deglammed and brusquely authentic Johansson, and most important of all in my mind, the whole undercurrent in the film of the need for people to be better connected with animals, which I personally view as an important part of the mythology of liberals wanting to return to or evolve into Natural Man.)

I also saw “War Horse” and I’m sorry to admit that I wouldn’t personally award it a four-star rating as you would, Debbie. It wasn’t offensive, but I guess it also just wasn’t my favorite. I like to learn things from movies, and in this movie, I didn’t learn much, since I already knew German Nazis were overly disciplined and evil, that skinflint landlords are greedy fiends who lech after pretty wives, that war entails graphic bloodshed (I learned about this from Private Ryan), and that the French are avid collectors of specialized cooking pots who only pretended to surrender to the Germans so that they could then mount a brave and ingenious resistance effort. Probably I’m not a fair judge of movies with lots of sentiment and comfortingly familiar tropes, though, since I didn’t even especially like “Old Yeller.” (If I had my way, incidentally, Spielberg would restrict himself to nothing but sci fi films like “A.I.” and “Minority Report.”)

Speaking of science fiction, “The Darkest Hour” opened today on Christmas, and I’m wondering if you’ll see it. If you do, be prepared for the lamest, cheapest, most tritely uninspiring end-of-the-world-monster movie in recent memory. I regret that instead of walking out after twenty minutes as I was tempted to do, I waited and waited to get a peek at the aliens, but none ever appeared. Something interesting in the way of aliens would have been a minor solace (as it was in the otherwise disappointing “Skyline”). But since none ever appeared, and the story went from bad to worse, and since stories about foolishly shallow teens annoy me in the first place–all this added up to a big, fat disappointment.

Burke on December 26, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Pretty sure there weren’t Nazis during World Ward I…

    maatkare on December 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      Maatkare: True.

      Burke on December 28, 2011 at 9:17 am

    The accepted wisdom is that WW1 created the mindset that led to ‘national socialism’ and WW2.

    And Hi Debbie – there’s something about fake documents from ‘anon’ that doesn’t belong on this tread.

    Nir Leiu on December 28, 2011 at 2:45 am

leticia olalia morales of 15501 pasadena ave #h tustin ca 92780 submitted fake documents and 5000 dollars to a person name sandman at the US embassy in manila. she also submitted fake employment records to obtain a work visa. Her husband carlos b. morales also submitted fake documents (land titles and bank statements) to obtain a tourist visa. Her son carlo iii also used such and helped 2 other people to obtain a US tourist visa.

anon on December 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm

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