Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Water For Elephants

If you like beautiful, feel good movies, go see WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, based on the 2006 novel by Sara Gruen.

The movie is eye candy, set against the backdrop of a traveling circus trying to not fold during the 1930. The vibrant colors of the circus tent and performers contrasting with the dirt and dust of the Great Depression.

The story is a flashback, told by an aged Jacob, played by Hal Holbrook. Pattinson takes over the narration and the world of the Great Depression open up in front of your eyes. . This is a movie you are glad you are in a dark room looking up at a gainormous screen.

The cinematography is beautiful, credit to the director- Francis Lawrence, who has directed more TV (KINGS) than movies, but he does have to his credit I AM LEGEND...

which did have a certain softness to it, now that I think about an Armageddon sort of way.

The director of Photography for WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was Rodrigo Prieto whose English language films have included BROKE BACK MOUTAIN...


and one of this year's Telluride Film Festival showings starring Javier Bardem, BIUTIFUL.

Though most of these movies stories are somewhat on the gritty side- the cinematography is breathtaking, as it is for WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.

Reese Witherspoon, plays the beautiful center ring act of the small time circus and the wife of the sadistic and dangerous circus owner played successfully well by Christoph Waltz, ( INGLORIOUS BASTARDS).

Witherspoon certainly is part of the visually appealing backdrop. Her hair bleach blonde and perfectly coiffed in 1930 hair pin waves. Unfortunately, I can't say she added more to the performance though. I think she played it a little bit too stiff.

I can say Robert Pattinson did all he could do to separate himself from his vampire chilly reputation. He is spot on in his portrayal of Jacob, a gentle hearted veterinary student who joins the circus after his loving parents are killed in a car accident.

The forth main character has to be Rosie, the aged and Polish elephant, her rough, multi colored skin shown off so well with Prieto's photography, utilizing the cracks of light coming through train cars sliding door.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is a love story. I was certain it would end dark, seems to be the tone as of late. Not to give the ending away, but let's just say, I didn't walk out of the theater miffed.

Ohhhh, to run away to Hollywood and become a costume designer and make the costumes and dress the actors and actresses in a movie about a circus. In one of the scenes, Witherspoon sits in the dining tent and stitches away on a layered square of black fabric and in the next scene we find out it is to be an ornate beaded headpiece, part of her exquisite circus costume.

Everyone I have talked about this movie with has said the same thing, "You got to read the book!" I am sure the book is wonderful- it has to be to make such a fantastic movie. Most people seem to think the movie is never as good as the book. I, I confess, always seem to be the opposite. Novels, rarely hold my attention long enough to get through them, while I might watch a really good movie a dozen times over the years.

For me, a book rarely moves fast enough in its pacing and what is at stake seems to as at risk as it is in a two hour, 120 page script.

I came to this conclusion studying the few books I have read that have been made into movies.

Pride and Prejudice-
I apologize greatly to Miss Austin- whose many of her stories have been turned into movies and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing , but Mr. Darcy, ( my favorite played by Matthew MacFadyen, across from Keira Knightley's Elizabeth), walking across a field in the morning sun, with the birds chirping and a full on orchestra playing to claim his love is more satisfying to me than having to read three pages of a proper chaperoned walk in the garden and an agreement at the top of a hill.


Novel by Charles Frazie. The movie directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger,was also a highly successful and romantic novel turned into a successful movie. I saw the movie first, I know, backwards, but loved it so much, tried to read the book.

Got through the part of Enim, calmly describing what shrapnel he pulled out of neck wound including part of a peach pit. Again sorry- but I apparently need the excitement of the sound of blood gurgling from the wound and the sight of him dragging him back to the women he loves on Cold Mountain, watching him meet all the interesting people he does along the way.

Oh to think of the sounds of the singing in the church. I think that is it- I need the sights and sounds of a movie. The visual action and love scenes all accompanied by carefully orchestrated background music.

I think that is what it is for me- the sights and sounds a movie can offer. The chance to be engulfed in another time and place. To see the fabrics and decor of the civil war or a Depression era circus with my own eyes. Movie's are a story almost in 360 degrees- is not for that darn 4th wall and no one yet inventing "smell-o-vision"

I have so many stories in my head- that I debate writing as novels, for the sheer truth that the odds are slightly better to getting a screenplay sold which will make it to the big screen. Okay, the odds are a lot better.

But then I see a movie like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, and I tell myself the odds don't matter- oh for the chance to run away to Hollywood to make magic.