Two popular (albeit, very different) titles to consider for a Christmas Day screening.

“We Bought A Zoo”

19843719.jpg-r_760_x-f_jpg-q_x-20111107_012529-450x600Chalk me up as a Cameron Crowe fan. I loved the irreverence and sense of place of “Almost Famous” and the melodrama of “Jerry Maguire.” Hell, I even kinda liked “Elizabethtown,” in a car crash sort of way. With the a Sigur Ros track pumping up the sentiment in the trailer for his newest effort, “We Bought A Zoo” I had my heart set on an uplifting, heartfelt romp, complete with a rousing pop music backdrop.

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) has recently lost his wife and is coping with an awful case of writer’s block. He sought adventure in his earlier years, looking for ways to satisfy his thirst for adrenaline. This leads to some amusing asides in the film”s prologue. Craving a fresh start, Mee sells his home in the city and begins to look elsewhere. I’ll give you 11 guesses as to what happens next.

At this point, Crowe and co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna turn the script into a schmaltz parade, pouring easy to digest life lessons into every backlit, sun-soaked frame. Crowe seems to think we’ll forget this family bought a zoo, so he reminds us at every turn.

Matt Damon can easily handle this sort of dialogue and has no problem carrying the film. His children (played by Dylan Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones) provide some sweet moments and Scarlett Johansson appears as the zookeeper and The first stripe represented has reverse parity with the deleted file recovery contiguously laid out from Disk 0 to Disk 2. — you guessed it — Benjamin”s love interest. It”s a charming role that allows her to display the subtle charms of her earlier work in movies like  “Lost in Translation.”

“Zoo” hits all the necessary beats of a Crowe film, even (cue perfectly timed Tom Petty song) tugging at the heartstrings. It’s not that he is out of his element — he’s just teetering dangerously close to self-parody. You could do far worst finding a family film this holiday season but as a Crowe fan (and apologist) I hope he rediscovers the voice again made him great — or, at the very least, he can make me a mix tape.

“We Bought A Zoo” opens today at several Seattle theaters.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

The_Girl_with_the_Dragon_Tattoo_movie_poster_official_THIS.525w_700h-450x600David Fincher’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” suffers from a serious case of been there, done that syndrome. It’s not that the film isn’t handsomely crafted (it is) or perfectly cast (check). The new American version simply struggles in the shadow of its recent Swedish predecessor. The film is not a carbon copy, and the story is still dense and crowd-pleasing without straying too far from the source material.

Daniel Craig plays disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is sued for libel by a billionaire CEO and left nearly penniless. He is hired by the mysterious Henrik Vanger (the great Christopher Plummer) to investigate the murder of Vanger”s niece in the late 1960s. Henrik is convinced it was committed by one of his family members, many of whom were members of the Nazi regime.

Blomkvist”s story is paralleled by that of Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant hacker and private investigator played by Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”). She spends her days slinking through the streets of Stockholm and nights behind an illuminated computer screen. It’s clear she’s been abused in her life and men continue to prey on that vulnerability in two horrifying scenes. Salander is hired by Blomkvist to assist in the investigation.

Mara’s performance as the film’s titular character is a brave one. She is slithery in the role — almost reptilian in her movements — to convey the character’s sense of loss and loneliness in Fincher’s barren landscapes. However, I struggled with Craig’s performance. He is a fine actor, but here he struggles to convey Blomkvist’s vulnerability. Too often, I was reminded that he is indeed 007.

The film could not be in more capable hands than Fincher’s, although I couldn’t help but feel his steady hand wavering under the weight of the source material. The world of “Tattoo” is a heavily drawn, Nazi madhouse — even a master like Fincher (who made coding a website riveting in ‘The Social Network”) struggles to contain such bloated exposition. Still, with the help of a moody, industrial score by Trent Reznor, he keeps the pace brisk enough to be watchable — even if the journey is ultimately underwhelming.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is currently playing at several Seattle area theaters.