Grae's currently on vacation in an exotic land until the end of April. Subbing for her is fellow MDC writer Alonso Duralde. Follow him on Twitter at @ADuralde.
Who's In It: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
The Basics: When the parents of Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson) die suddenly in a car accident during his veterinary science final exam, he learns that they mortgaged everything to pay for his education. Homeless and diploma-less in the thick of the Depression, he hits the road and winds up hooking up with a traveling circus owned by the charming yet sadistic August (Waltz). Jacob works his way up from shoveling horse poop to taking care of the animals, including an elephant that August buys off a defunct competitor. And while Jacob has a magic touch with the pachyderm, he also attracts the attention of August's beautiful and long-suffering wife Marlena (Witherspoon), the star attraction of the circus.
What's The Deal: This is the kind of old-fashioned sweeping romance that would have played the bottom half of a double-bill in the 1940's -- you can imagine Clark Gable as the haunted young vet, Claude Rains as the charismatic and vicious ringmaster, and Lana Turner as the performer who enchants them both. Pattinson, alas, is no Clark Gable, or even Van Johnson; the story unfolds through his eyes, which means he's required to react to all the new sights and sensations of the circus, but he's such a blank for most of the movie that very little seems to register. But he's the only major misstep of the film: Witherspoon, usually so prim and uptight on camera, feels perfectly convincing as a circus girl with a rough past, and Waltz's signature blend of charm and terror makes him a perfect fit for his role. Add gorgeous, sun-dappled cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain), and you have a delightfully cornball romance that -- in demographic-speak -- females over 35 will adore.
He Who Controls The Narration, Controls The Film: Elephants is bracketed by modern-day sequences in which Jacob (played by Hal Holbrook) talks about his days under the big top with the manager (Paul Schneider) of a visiting circus. (Since the bulk of the film is set 80 years ago in 1931, that would make Holbrook's character 100-plus years old, but never mind that.) Holbrook begins narrating the extended flashback, but then Pattinson takes over the narration in his own voice. I, for one, would have preferred to let Holbrook do it throughout.
Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson: It's a credit to the movie that the central love story unfolds between 24-year-old Pattinson and 35-year-old Witherspoon. Hollywood loves to pair its older leading men with the latest crop of young ingénues, but we rarely get to see a movie where there's real sexual chemistry (Pattinson, to his credit, does mesh well with his co-star) between an older woman and a younger man.
Why Fox Doesn't Know How To Sell This: 20th Century Fox didn't screen this film for critics until two days before opening, which is usually a sign that a studio has a stinker on its hands. In this case, however, it would appear that Hollywood has no idea anymore how to sell movies that aren't aimed at the Comic-Con demographic. Sorry, 15-year-old boys, this movie isn't aimed at you -- you'll have to settle for seeing every other movie currently in release.