This week at the movies we’ve got a big-top romance (Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson); a maternal fixer (Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, starring Loretta Devine and Bow Wow), and familial felines (African Cats, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson). What do the critics have to say?
Nowadays, the word “melodrama” is mostly used pejoratively, but it wasn’t always so: melodramas were the stock-in-trade of great directors like George Cukor and Douglas Sirk. However, we live in more cynical times, and critics say the Depression-set Water for Elephants has an evocative sense of its time and place but lacks the burning passions required to pull off this type of romantic weepie. Robert Pattinson stars as a cash-strapped aspiring veterinary student who gets a job with a travelling circus troupe and falls for the star performer (Reese Witherspoon). The pair bond over their shared love of animals — particularly pachyderms — but our heroine is married to the abusive, manipulative owner of the circus. Will these crazy kids make it — and jerk some tears in the process? The pundits say Water for Elephants is handsomely mounted and occasionally swoony, but it’s not quite passionate or sweeping enough to overcome its predictable script and languid pacing.(Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Witherspoon’s best-reviewed movies)
With the recent exception of last year’s For Colored Girls, Tyler Perry’s directorial efforts tend to hit theaters without screening for critics beforehand, and his latest, Madea’s Big Happy Family, continues the trend. Perry again stars as the no-nonsense, straight-talking titular matron; this time out, her children are each plagued by a variety of problems, and Madea takes it upon herself to set matters right. Kids, let’s play Guess the Tomatometer!
Do you like kitties? Adorable, exotic kitties? If the answer is yes, you’ll probably be in heaven with African Cats, though critics say that while the film captures some awe-inspiring footage of these great felines in the wild, it also has a tendency to anthropomorphize its subjects. Samuel L. Jackson narrates the movie, which follows a lioness raising her cub in a pride, and a cheetah mother raising her litter alone; both moms face plenty of danger and hardship on the savannah. The pundits say that if you can get past the film’s persistence in equating the trials of these creatures to those of their human counterparts, you’ll be treated to a remarkably intimate and visually stunning portrait of survival in wild.
Incendies, a drama about Canadian siblings who learn dark family secrets when they return to Lebanon, is at 93 percent.
Stake Land, a post-apocalyptic indie horror film about vampire hunters, is at 79 percent.
POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a meta documentary about product placement in the movies, is at 74 percent (take a look at director Morgan Spurlock’s Five Favorite Films).
Dumbstruck, a doc that follows several ventriloquists in their search for fame, is at 63 percent.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, starring Donnie Yen as the oft-portrayed martial arts legend, is at 41 percent.
The Bang Bang Club, starring Ryan Phillippe and Malin Akerman in the tale of a group of party hearty photojournalists who documented post-apartheid South Africa, is at 29 percent.