24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Reese Witherspoon

Week in review: 'Ghost Rider's' back; challenges of 'This Means War'

February 17, 2012 |  4:21 pm

It's been five years since 'Ghost Rider' caught fire at the box office, earning $115 million when it opened in February 2007. The sequel debuts today, and the lag time hasn't seemed to dampen audiences' enthusiasm for the Marvel property. And while its star Nic Cage often has a spotty track record, his role as Johnny Blaze seems still to be a winner, enough so to outshine the box office lure of Reese Witherspoon, who appears alongside up-and-coming young actors Chris Pine and Tom Hardy in the McG action-romance "This Means War."

Times reporters Nicole Sperling and Steve Zeitchik discuss the marketing challenges of the Witherspoon comedy and the strange career of Cage.


Movie Projector: 'Ghost Rider' sequel to scorch competition

'This Means War': Hybrid's grueling battle

Photo credit: A scene from "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." (Columbia Pictures-Sony) 

'Water for Elephants' lawsuit is dismissed

December 1, 2011 |  5:29 pm

A suit against the trainers for the elephant in Water for Elephants has been dropped

Shortly after the Robert Pattinson-Reese Witherspoon film  "Water for Elephants" hit theaters in April, a dark cloud appeared over the delicate period romance.

A video purporting to show the film's elephant star, Tai, being trained with electric shock devices and bull hooks began to circulate. The footage was so disturbing that the animal-protection group Animal Defenders International -- which released the surreptitiously recorded video -- had two of its members file a lawsuit against Tai's owners, the Perris, Calif.-based Have Trunk Will Travel.

On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, in which the ADI members, Gail Profant and Leslie Hemstreet, said they purchased tickets to the 20th Century Fox film believing that its animal star had been treated humanely. While the judge did not rule on the facts of how Tai was treated, he said the plaintiffs could not continue with the litigation because they did not allege that "any portion" of the ticket price benefitted Have Trunk Will Travel.

In a statement, Have Trunk Will Travel owners Gary and Kari Johnson said that while they were "thrilled with the result," they still found that having to "defend against these types of allegations is disheartening, especially when the publicity from the movie drew such strong support for elephant conservation and research projects."

After receiving word of the ruling Thursday, Animal Defenders International said its attorneys and the plaintiffs were "reviewing their options." Fox had no comment on the judge's decision. 

In an interview with The Times last year, Witherspoon said she grew so close to Tai on set that she wept on the final day of production.

"The day I had to say goodbye to her, I wept all day," she recalled. "You work with actors and directors, but to have this nonverbal complete relationship with an animal that we were all very connected to was very magical."


2011 Movie Preview: 'Water for Elephants'

Using animals in films leads to a jungle of issues

Animal activists protest elephant rides at San Diego County Fair

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Robert Pattinson with Tai the elephant in a scene from "Water for Elephants." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Around Town: Rock docs, disco tributes, sci-fi favorites and more

July 14, 2011 |  6:00 am


The American Cinematheque screens "Barry Lyndon," Stanley Kubrick's lavish 1975 epic, at the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday evening in Hollywood. The drama, based on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, stars Ryan O'Neal in the title role and won four Academy Awards, including one for John Alcott's cinematography. On Friday, the Egyptian celebrates the 25th anniversary of David Cronenberg's revisionist take on the sci-fi classic "The Fly," starring Jeff Goldblum in the title role, with a screening that's part of a double bill with John Carpenter's 1982 film "The Thing." On Saturday, the Egyptian presents its yearly tiki celebration with a screening of the 1951 South Sea melodrama "Bird of Paradise," starring Debra Paget, Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler, in addition to live music and a fashion show.

The Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica celebrates the 1991 film "Hudson Hawk" on Thursday evening with special guests, including director Michael Lehman and writer Daniel Waters, schedules permitting. On Friday, the Aero kicks off its three-day centenary celebration of Ginger Rogers -- "Backwards and in High Heels" -- with two of her best musicals with Fred Astaire from 1936: "Swing Time" and "Follow the Fleet." On tap for Saturday are 1935's "Top Hat" and 1937's "Shall We Dance"; Sunday's offerings are 1934's "The Gay Divorcee" and 1938's "Carefree." http://www.americancinematheque.com

"The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye," a film about Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV founder Genesis P-Orridge and his unique relationship with his late wife, opens this year's "Don't Knock the Rock" music festival Thursday at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. The festival, founded by filmmaker Allison Anders and her daughter Tiffany Anders, runs through late August. Highlights include the world premiere of "Rhino Resurrected: The Incredibly Strange Story of the World's Most Famous Record Store."

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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."

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

April 21, 2011 | 11:23 am

Robert Pattinson has nothing but love for his recent experience on the set of “Water for Elephants,” director Francis Lawrence's adaptation of the popular novel that's set to open in theaters Friday. It was a far cry from his current job, finishing the grueling six-month shoot for the back-to-back filming of the last two “Twilight” films, based on Stephenie Meyer's final book in her bestselling series of young adult novels, “Breaking Dawn.”

Pattinson Pattinson took a moment for a brief phone interview before he was needed on the set of a night shoot for the vampire mega-hit. He seemed downright exhausted. “I'm just arriving at set, thinking I'm going to work all night,” he said. “I'm kinda losing my mind.”

Question: Sorry to hear you're so exhausted. Can you tell us what your time was like on “Elephants,” with Reese Witherspoon?

Pattinson: It's easily one of the best experiences I've had making a film and it's by far one of the best experiences in my life. It didn't even feel like work and a lot of that had to do with Reese. She makes an effort to make it like that. I think she believes that it's really important to enjoy your work, especially when you have to be there for so many hours every day. I made a great friend out of it.

Question: How did working with the animals impact the environment?

Pattinson: When you have totally unpredictable elements, and there are dangerous elements in every single scene, everyone is in the same boat. If you're trying to herd up a pack of horses, it doesn't matter who you are. There is manure everywhere and everyone was filthy all the time. It was an egalitarian set because of that. It's quite inspiring to be around [the elephant]. It doesn't really matter what your taste is, everyone is going to like being around an elephant. It's not like being around another actor some people may not like.

Question: Reese mentioned that she found the paparazzi attention on you unlike anything she's seen before. What do you think?

Pattinson: She's trying to sound humble about all this but she's in all these magazines every week. It's a circus outside her marriage. Plus, I always see her [in them] buying her sandwiches and going to yoga.... I guess she's kind of accepted it in a lot of ways.... It's just a strange situation to be in if you're a sane person to have that kind of attention put on you.


Robert Pattinson: Career in pictures

'Water for Elephants' premiere photos

Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart kiss at 'Water for Elephants' after party

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in a scene from "Water for Elephants." Credit: David James / Twentieth Century Fox

The cougar makes a comeback

April 1, 2011 |  7:44 pm

The relationships between older women and younger men have been a cinematic fixture since an extravagant Norma Desmond set her sights on a young Joe Gillis. "The Graduate" later rode the archetypes to Oscar perfection; "Harold & Maude" broadened the emotional (and generational) stakes.

In the last few years, we've been given a jungle-themed name for the phenomenon. But the relationships have stayed largely off the screen.

Cougs After attending the premiere Thursday for the  release of a new movie called "Cougars, Inc." (only the most devoted journalism in these parts), we wondered if that might be changing. The movie is about a group of boarding school boys who start an escort service for sex-starved older women, with horror-movie staple Kyle Gallner and "Cold Case" veteran Kathryn Morris the central relationship. (Denise Richards co-stars, if that gives you an idea.)

It's a relatively minor release — Asher Levin's movie will appear on video on-demand beginning today and will probably not evoke the early work of Mike Nichols. But it did call to mind how these types of relationships have started to pop up again. In "Hall Pass," Jason Sudeikis is seduced by the aunt of his friend's nanny. Later this month, another independent, "Cougar Hunting," will follow twentysomething men on the prowl for older women in Aspen. Stacy's mom, she, you know.

Smaller age gaps are also coming into vogue. Reese Witherspoon (in real life, at least) is a decade older than Robert Pattinson, but the two have a relationship at the center of the upcoming period circus-romance "Water for Elephants." Cameron Diaz riffs on age disparity with real life ex-beau Justin Timberlake in this June's "Bad Teacher," in which she stops at nothing to land Timberlake. All this follows ABC's "Cougar Town," which started out about a fortysomething woman dating younger men before morphing into a more traditional dysfunctional-family and relationship show.

 The cougar trend has a tendency to evoke strong feelings — it's either a symbol of feminist empowerment or an insul that age is an issue in the first place. (In some of the movies it's played for titillation, which doesn't exactly help the case.)

Of course it's worth remembering that before it became a buzzword, cougars were the stuff of sturdy drama. And not just in Hollywood's golden age; examples from this century include "Unfaithful," "Tadpole" and "The Good Girl" (2002 was apparently the year of the cougar).

It's also worth noting that with recent hits like "An Education" and the upcoming Hugh Laurie-Leighton Meester romance "The Oranges," the other kind of May-December romance isn't exactly going away. For every cougar out there in the jungle, there are five rhinos.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Cover art for "Cougars, Inc." Credit: Lionsgate

'Water for Elephants': Can Robert Pattinson perform under the big top? [trailer]

December 16, 2010 |  5:19 pm

Robertpattinsonwfetrailer Though Robert Pattinson has slowly begun to carve out his post-"Twilight" acting career, many critics still wonder whether the young star has the acting chops to successfully move past the world of vampires. While it wasn't a flop at the box office, Pattinson's latest non-"Twilight" film, "Remember Me," barely registered with filmgoers.

But next year, it seems the actor will finally have a real chance to show audiences what he's got: he'll star opposite Uma Thurman in "Bel Ami" and with Reese Witherspoon in April's "Water for Elephants," for which a trailer was released Thursday.

Based on a bestselling historical novel released in 2006, "Elephants" centers around a veterinary school student named Jacob (Pattinson) who falls for circus performer Marlena (Witherspoon). Despite their shared affinity for the big top, the pair and their burgeoning romance are threatened by Marlena's husband (Christoph Waltz).

Neither of the romantic leads says much of anything in the trailer. Instead, it's filled with hazy, glowing shots of life in the circus: Jacob peeking in to catch a glimpse of Marlena in the center of the ring, delicately laying her svelte body across a horse; the two together, gently stroking one of animals.

We like the langorous, moody tone, though it's nearly impossible to judge from the trailer if Pattinson has any acting skills beyond that longing gaze thing. It's also mildly difficult to believe the 34-year-old Witherspoon could truly be wooed by a young man a decade her junior, but that's a conceit we think we'd be able to get over.

One definite bright spot in the trailer? Hal Holbrook, who plays an older version of Pattinson's character. [UPDATE, 7:05 PM: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Holbrook's character is a mentor to Pattinson's character.] We loved the 85-year-old's performance in "Into the Wild" a few years ago, and it seems his presence here will add weight to the film beyond the romance at its center.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: "Water for Elephants" poster. Credit: 20th Century Fox.


From a black swan, a tree grows

Preview review: Girls just wanna have fun in 'Friends With Benefits' and 'No Strings Attached.' Or do they?

Can James Cameron gain fans with a movie that isn't 'Avatar'?

Could Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon be shining their cowboy boots?

March 24, 2010 | 12:56 pm

Exclusive:  Could Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon be saddling up for a ride together?

Word in the development community has the A-listers eying the lead roles in "Paper Wings," a love story set in the world of rodeo that's being developed at Sony. Cruise would take the role of a rodeo champ who falls for an up-and-coming country singer, played by Witherspoon.


The actress has taken several rides into country-and-western territory, of course, with her Oscar-winning turn as June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line" and, most recently, signing on for Sony's "The Pioneer Woman," the story of a woman who falls in love with a cowboy while on a cross-country road trip and winds up living on an Oklahoma ranch. Cruise, as far as we know, has never played a cowboy.

The project has been around for some time -- it was set up at New Line before it came to Sony -- but the Cruise and Witherspoon interest could turn it into an arm jerker (yes, we had to look that one up).

Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment is producing the project, which has led producers to talk to Gabriele Muccino  about directing; the Italian film maker and Smith favorite also directed Overbrook's underrated drama "Seven Pounds" and Oscar nominee "The Pursuit of Happyness." Several other directors are also in the mix.

Rodeo-set stories haven't exactly been hugely popular in Hollywood -- one of the most well-known is 1994's "8 Seconds," which starred Luke Perry and Stephen Baldwin, which tells you something. But with "Crazy Heart's" breakout success, unlikely love stories set in the country-and-western world now seem to be in vogue. Or are, um, chasing the cans.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Tom Cruise. Credit: Alberto Rodriguez / Getty Images


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