Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Water for Elephants

I don’t want to badmouth Twilight because this is neither the time nor the place but I must mentioned that I have several problems with the franchise ranging from story elements, characters and marketing for the movies but for better or for worse Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are the public faces of the franchise.  So if you hate Twilight its really easy to hate those two.  Yeah it’s not exactly fair but someone has to take the hit and I don’t know what Stephanie Meyer looks like.  The best way to escape that trap is to prove you’re a talented actor outside of whatever crap generated all that wrongly blamed animosity.  With Stewart I’ve seen a few of her flicks, The Runaways (Which she was pretty good in but certainly better than co-star Dakota Fanning) and The Cake Eaters (Which she was pretty goddamn good in, despite the title making no freaking sense).  While her performances didn’t redefine my views of what it is to be a thespian or anything she did show me that’s she’s a versatile actress who deserves a bit more credit.  If locked in a room with one of my other Hollywood punching bags (Like, let’s say, Megan Fox) and forced to fight to the death armed only with their acting ability I’d wager that she’d go all “Sub-Zero” on them and emerge victorious.  Also I’m oddly soothed by her voice and I’m not sure why.

Kristen Stewart Wins!
 However I have never seen a movie starring Robert Pattinson and, as he’s a “pretty boy” far richer and more successful than I’m likely to ever be, I have a much more serious frothing anger towards him.  Now this is where Water for Elephants comes in.  Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Sara Gruen it was directed by Francis Lawrence.   This film is mostly about being in a circus but I know next to nothing about such things save for the gut feeling that those who live that life, as well as professional wrestlers and possibly magicians, look down at me and mine with their secrets and lies.  CURSE YOU ALL!   Anyway this film and a lot of positives going in but I hesitated because Pattinson makes me hate myself but I’m nothing if not a sucker for punishment, so here we are.

Full review after the jump.


Before we get into the review proper I want to briefly mention the differences found in this movie from its source material. I’ve never read the original novel but as I understand it mostly sticks to the book with certain scenes altered and certain story points removed, probably for time. The biggest difference was that the film merges the characters of Big Al, the abusive owner of the circus and August, the abusive head animal trainer and Marlena’s husband. I understand the reasoning for this change (Two villains would have lily felt clunky and eaten up a lot of time) but since I didn’t read the book its impossible for me to know how crucial those to characters would have been. If you read the book do you have any thoughts on this?

I bring this up mostly due to the fact that director Francis Lawrence has directed three movies during his career including this one (He mainly directs music videos). His first was Constantine based on DC ComicsHellblazer which was the adventures of a blond English magic user adapted into a story featuring a black haired American robot (Because he was played by real life robot Keanu Reeves). The movie was not very good but it wasn’t so awful that it was unwatchable. His other film was I Am Legend with Will Smith based off a book of the same name. Now that film drastically altered the ending completely changing the theme from “Who are the real monsters in this new world?” to “WILL SMITH F**KING SAVES THE WORLD AGAIN! F**K YEAH!!!!” 

Child exploitation?  What's that?
(Wooo!  Haha!)



[To be fair the original ending of the film was closer to the book but was changed due to producers freaking out over negative reaction from test audiences.  So once again Hollywood says “Screw you, artistic integrity. WE GOTTA MAKE THAT CASH MONEY”].

It’s safe to say that Lawrence tends to play fast and loose with his adaptations, but I’d say that this is this film is better than is previous ones.

An old man has just wandered to the closed front gates of a circus on a rainy night.  The manager/owner (I’m actually not sure which) finds him, informs him that the show ended hours ago and invites the disappointed old timer to his office so he can contact his retirement home to come pick him up.  Once there the old guy notices several pictures of old timey circuses, particularly of the Benzini Brothers which ended tragically in 1931 and reveals that he had in fact worked for the group and was indeed present for the disaster.  Intrigued and curious the manager asks the old man to relate the story of the long dead circus.

The Moral: Stealing someone's wife is A-OKAY
While I don’t know much about the circus I have to say that the atmosphere in the film was very engaging.   I loved the costumes and the sets; this is a fun looking movie.  It felt like I was indeed watching behind the scenes of an old school circus coming to town…not a very interesting circus, mind you, but a circus nonetheless.  The horrible abuse dished out not only to the animals but the workers was a very interesting touch as well, not because I enjoy the suffering of others (Well, not just because of that) but that it’s a raw look of what things were like back in the times were the human rights weren’t as well defined and animal rights were basically non-existent.

I really liked the elephant Rosie and her connection to both the main characters Jacob and Marlena. Looking back I don’t think the trailers or commercials were very clear about Rosie’s role in the film (Which is odd considering the name of the movie) but she is basically responsible for about 70% of the plot moving forward and is more or less the fourth main character of the film.  My favorite scenes of the film all involved her.

Christoph Waltz is excellent as August.  I barely remembered him in The Green Hornet but here I think it’s safe to say that his is the most memorable performance in this flick.  August isn’t exactly pure evil; he’s a complex man.  He’s cruel, ruthless, paranoid and more than a little bit insane in the membrane but he can also be charming, romantic, and even deeply remorseful for his actions.  The best villains are similarly composed of good and bad and Waltzs is the perfect choice to play such a character.  Now granted August has a lot going on mainly because he’s supposed to be two people but the result worked for me so I ain’t complaining.

Reese Witherspoon stars opposite Pattinson as Marlena.  I really like Witherspoon and have for a long while.  I think she’s a terrific actress who is also gorgeous, a combination that Hollywood seems increasingly unwilling to bother trying to find.  She plays a lot of different characters and pretty much always delivers when it’s time to go to work.  From Pleasantville to Election to Sweet Home Alabama to Walk the Line; I don’t think I’ve ever disliked her in any role.  In fact I feel a wave of “sexism” coming on so it’s time to show what a pig I am and update my "Hottest Women in Hollywood" list.

#7: Amanda Seyfried
#6: Natalie Portman
#5: Amy Acker
#4: Reese Witherspoon
#3: Kat Dennings
#2: Anne Hathaway
#1: Michelle Trachtenberg

Actually has three first names
This list is getting pretty goddamn racist. This isn’t my intent; I just need to actually review some movies featuring my favorite actresses of color. Trust me; Beta likes ‘em all.

Anyway Witherspoon isn’t at her best her. She’s pretty good and it’s a very solid performance however ultimately her character is forgettable, but for this I don’t blame her I blame the script. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Basically she’s good, not great, but if she had been another actor it likely would have been much worse.  Truthful the thing that struck me the most, and I know this is going to sound bad but stay with me, was Witherspoon’s age. Now she’s over ten years older than Pattinson and I was surprised that Hollywood cast her. Often they seem to prefer casting pretty 21 or so year olds (Acting skills optional) and attempt to tell me that their character is thirty-five (See: Superman Returns). As far as I recall they never acknowledge a noticeable age difference between the two leads in the movie.  This isn’t bad thing it’s just something to take note of.  Perhaps it’s a sign of things changing in Hollywood for the better…or maybe it’s a sign that they wanted a big name in the film and didn’t care whether they fit in or not so they can squeeze a few extra asses in the seats (Wow, that got really cynical really fast).  Seeing much of the advertisement depicted Witherspoon as the main character of the story over Pattinson, much like what happened in True Grit, I’d say there’s at least a possibility of the latter.

Anyway speaking of Pattinson I’d like to either go off on a rant about how awful he is or report my surprise of how talented he is but the fact is that this film left me no real new opinion over him.  He’s alright here as Jacob Black Jankowski but he was very much rather dull.  First of all the character is pretty boring but this is mostly the script’s fault.  However Pattinson does seem t have a problem with emoting properly most of the time but he’s clearly not as bad as many other actors under 40 and does seem capable of expressing something other than Dull Surprise…he just mostly plays this role with Dull Surprise.  Other than that the character seemed pretty dumb, making a ton of rather idiotic decisions that made me almost cheer for August (Except August is still kind of a monster).  Weirdly despite the fact that the whole story is being told by 93 year old Jacob in the present, played by Hal Holbrook, it’s Pattinson who does the film’s narration.   Dude, seriously?   This makes no sense and it took me out of the film really early on.  I was far more annoyed at this than anything regarding Pattison’s actual performance.  Although in a romance story you’d think the two leads would have better chemistry.

Actually I thought they both had better chemistry with Rosie
The script isn’t super great.  The dialogue is often pretty unrealistic, the plot is completely dependent of the characters being stupid and illogical, and it’s extremely melodramatic and cheesy.  This is especially true toward the end where, at the risk of revealing massive spoilers, everything wraps up in a way that made me raise an eyebrow and double check to see if this film was produced by Disney.  Now that I’m looking back on it I think that the main thing that saves the script is the acting.  I also found the film to be somewhat pretentious as it seem to think itself to be more dramatic and important than it ends up being.  Watching this movie is like talking to a hipster in a coffee shop; they have their good points but you really just want them to stop talking down to you.

At the end of the day I enjoyed this flick.  It’s not the most fun film in the world and it takes itself extremely seriously but I left it with more positives than negatives.  Honestly though this movie has some problems that keep it far away from my top film list.   In fact I was incredibly bored with the film until they actually introduced August and Marlena; take that for my opinion of the acting in this film if you like.  Robert Pattinson as an actor doesn’t do anything here to make me want to check out more of his films, nor does he anger me with his performance.  Since one can’t judge an actor on one film (Unless it’s Dragon Ball Evolution) than I guess the question of his actual talent go unanswered.   In any event if you haven’t checked this movie out give it a shot.  It’s not bad but I doubt we’ll be talking too much about it after a few months.

I give Water for Elephants 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


Pros

-Christoph Waltz is awesome

-The setting and costumes are great

-Yay Elephant!

Cons

-It overly melodramatic and pretty dang cheesy at times

-The lead character doesn’t do much for me

-Why isn’t the old man telling the story actually narrating the story? What’s wrong with you?

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