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Critical Mass: 'Water for Elephants' fails to please all of the critics, all of the time

April 22, 2011 |  1:22 pm

Water-elephants1 "Old-fashioned" is the phrase critics are using most often to describe "Water for Elephants," the big-screen adaptation of Sara Gruen's bestselling novel starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. Because film critics are notorious for constantly bemoaning the current state of cinema, you'd think this would mean they'd be lapping up this "Water" like a herd of thirsty elephants. Instead, they're lukewarm about the adult romance and are even more skeptical about heartthrob Pattinson's chops outside his "Twilight" vampire franchise machine.

The Times' Kenneth Turan, who helpfully spells out the changes between the novel and the film adaptation, was particularly enchanted by the setting. He writes, "The romance of the carnival is strong in this film, and it's not too much to say that it's the element viewers will come away remembering most." He takes a less starry-eyed view of the supposed romance at the heart of the movie: "Director Francis Lawrence, who works in music videos as well as features, has an unmistakable gift for bravura spectacle, but the absence of convincing romantic chemistry means that the emotional connection that should be this film's birthright is not really there."

Richard Corliss really wanted to like the movie. He seems to be actively rooting for the film, which he calls "a flashback to Hollywood's midcentury." But beyond the carnival barker's call and the smell of midway sawdust, there's one essential flaw he can't overlook. "A love story has a major flaw if it doesn't convey that the two main characters are really in love.... Though her character echoes Dietrich's name and is outfitted in Jean Harlow's blond mane and white gowns, Witherspoon offers no hint of the sultry or sensual; she's the nice soccer mom somebody stuck on top of an elephant. I watched her and thought of Amy Poehler."

Roger Ebert seemed more patient with the film, which he calls "endearingly old fashioned." But it's not the romance that seems to have lassoed Ebert's thumb as much as the threat represented by the jealous, abusive circus owner played by Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He writes, "Shorter than Pattinson, indeed hardly taller than Witherspoon, he rules over everyone as a hard-bitten taskmaster whose easy charm conceals a cold inner core; it's the same dynamic he used as the merciless Nazi in 'Inglourious Basterds.' He's much given to offering champagne toasts with a knife hidden inside."

But that's just the guys talking. As a romance, starring the world's most lusted-after part-time vampire, "Water for Elephants" should play better with female critics, right? Right?

Don't tell that to Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams. She watched the film to see if Pattinson could still charm the ladies now that he's moving beyond his adolescent appeal. The answer, she finds, is a resounding no. She writes, "But the problem isn't just miscasting or the cheesiness of the material. It's Pattinson's increasingly predictable, dour persona." She then goes on to compare Pattinson to his former "Harry Potter" castmaste Daniel Radcliffe. "Pattinson may have the male model good looks and the serious new movie, but it's Radcliffe, bravely flailing around in a bow tie, who seems the more evolved performer."

Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum isn't charmed either. She writes, "Actually made to resemble a good old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing movie, this cinematic 'Water for Elephants' droops and lumbers like Rosie the elephant herself."

Elizabeth Weitzman, writing in the New York Daily News, says that Waltz makes his co-stars look like "hesitant kids," but he recommends the movie anyway. "Fortunately, there's enough going on at the edges to distract us from the main event. Lawrence takes great care to convey the 1930s feel, and does capture some of the book's poignant vision of a tattered era."

And what about that elephant? According to Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells, "the elephant (called Rosie in the film) is definitely the best thing about it."

Seems like it's a good weekend to visit the zoo.


Reese Witherspoon gets a little disordered

Photos from the 'Water for Elephants' premiere

Robert Pattinson: 'Water for Elephants' the perfect antidote to the 'Twilight' grind

--Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in "Water for Elephants." Credit: David James / 20th Century Fox

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JUst saw Water For Elephants and I loved it, it was great, I will see it at least twice more.
Critics are insane, never listen to them.

Oh here we go again ,more of "Waldo Lydecker's students.  "I'm not kind, I'm vicious. It's the secret of my charm." From the Movie: Laura.

WFE is a beautiful old classic movie and entire cast is just simply awesome. From first to last WFE is a great movie and I hope they make more of them :)

The critics seem to be 50/50. There are a lot out there that seem to like it and think that Pattinson did a fine job. Check out rotten tomatoes. Personally as a movie goer I think he did a great job. Love Rob, the book, and the movie

A lazy synopsis. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine wrote that Robert Pattinson "radiates a slow magnetism that locks the viewer's eyes on him" and that he reminded him of Gary Cooper and Montgomery Clift. That's powerful stuff. Why would you overlook it?

The movie's reviews are 50/50 but most of them didn't like pattinson perfomance. 30% seem to think he did an OK job. The others didn't like it , even critics who loved the movie said he was not good at all , total miscast laughable perfomance, trying too hard to look intense with only 2 expressions on his face.Christoph waltz 's perfomance was loved by reviews .

I said this before Robert pattinson has no instinct as an actor and this is the main reason why he will never critically acclaimed .

Just saw the movie and LOVED LOVED LOVED it. We are so used to seeing the sizzle of Rob and Kristen's teen angst and yearning in Twilight etc., that some people forget that not every relationship has such heat. The characters of Jacob and Marlena in the time period of the piece were well played and very believable. Remember, Jacob was essentially a VIRGIN in the on-screen sex scene. What do some reviewers expect and is that expectation realistic or even appropriate? I think not. Some reviewers have lost touch with reality in the world outside of Hollywood. I also don't know what movie the Rob Pattinson detractors were watching, but I don't get it. He left me wanting (much) more once again. Love him. This movie was a breath of fresh air from the same old same old of our usual fare of boring uncreative sameness.

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I really liked the movie if only because of the production design. It could have been better, yes, but so could most movies. This was about as good as we can expect given the corporate oversight movies have these days.

Here's a very funny review from Finnish reviewer trying to review the movie in English.


I made the mistake of reading a few reviews before seeing the film yesterday. The writer neglected or perhaps was kind enough not to mention that some reviewers were downright cruel and savage in their assessment of Pattinson's acting abilities (or lack thereof). Those reviewers would have been helpful if they had actually critiqued Pattinson's performance and not his fake, sparkly vampire alter-ego. As it was, the only thing I got out of their "reviews" was their jealousy over his looks and his loyal fanbase.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, although the scenes of animal cruelty were difficult to stomach (I found myself flinching through those.). Christoph Waltz was brilliant and I found that Robert and Reese portrayed a credible romance. Although I always considered Marlena to be older than Jacob, I wished that the producers/director had gone with someone a little closer to Rob's age (say someone closer to 30 than 35). Other than that, I enjoyed the quiet passion of their love affair and that look of pure adoration that Rob gives Reese at the end of the film was damn near perfect. He grows as an actor with each film he completes and I will follow his career eagerly as long as he continues to act in films. The nearly capacity crowd I saw the movie with seemed to agree and there was enthusiastic applause at the end of the film.

So suck on that, "critics"! And continue to be jealous of Mr. Pattinson because this movie proves that even his feet are beautiful! He has a long and successful film career ahead of him, should he decide to go that route, and he surely does not need your "critiques" to please his legions of admirers.

Such a spectacular book with many themes couldn't possibly be put to screen with the overrated Pattinson or career lucky Witherspoon. Waltz is not what I imagined as the circus owner either. Too bad. The melancholy of the 90 year old in the nursing home whose family doesn't show up which gave way to the enthralling and magic look back at his life will certainly not be portrayed in the film. After all, it's for 16 year olds who can't be bothered with the concept of an old man who isn't the butt of jokes or derisive, fart-driven remarks.

Ok, I just came from watching WFE just to see for myself how horrible Robert Pattinson supposedly is - because no reviewer/critic seems to be able to watch him in anything and give him a fair shake. The film was good and very watchable - there is a flaw in the romance aspect of things, but I'm not so sure that it's the actor's fault. It's almost like the two characters don't have enough time to go from "we're falling in love" to "we're in love" - they just suddenly are. It could have used a few more (or maybe just different) love scenes to make that part more believable. Don't believe all the critics who are saying there is no chemistry between Robert & Reeses - it's there! But like I said, it never really "gets hot" (although in my opinion, it gets hot enough). DEFINITELY worth a trip to the movie house (as opposed to waiting for it on DVD). If you're a Robert Pattinson fan, you'll end up with a few tears at the sweet, tearjerker ending and come out with a big smile like I did. :)

“A beautiful story” was my first reaction when WFE ended, and I recall audible gasps of awe in the theater as I left. For many reasons, this movie was truly captivating; its authentic and mesmerizing set design and costumes, an enchanting story not to mention the superb musicical score which was especially moving when the tent was raised. Most impressive were Tai and the actors. Robert Pattinson was phenomenal. Yes, he can damn well act, and he's the main reason I’m going to see it again.
I thought Reese and Rob had great chemistry! Perhaps I would have preferred an R-rated romance, but think it was a wise decision to make this a family PG13 movie. Though I saw mostly an older female audience, I'm sure teens will go too. My male and female friends loved it.
Rob had a strong presence as a leading man and nailed Jacob perfectly - a handsome young man, shy, just coming into his own, and with a recent memory of his parents’death! (Ahem ... A little brooding was quite appropriate here!) I'm glad Reese was a strong yet still soft and attractive female, not a hardened woman. Christoph and Hal also gave convincing performances.
If an R rating would have meant more violence, no thanks. I would have left depressed as would all of the other animal lovers out there. … I loved Rosie and the animals! ... and I loved that Rob got to throw a good punch that sounded like "thunk" not "tap" as his character, Jacob, got stronger.
So … for a clean and wholesome, old-fashioned movie, it was magnificent indeed, and in my opinion, award worthy on many levels! Kudos to Rob, Reese, Christoph, Hal, Francis Lawerence and everyone involved. ... also, let's not forget Tai's trainer!


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