<p>Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, who has certainly looked better, share a tender moment in 'Water For Elephants'</p>

Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, who has certainly looked better, share a tender moment in 'Water For Elephants'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: 'Water For Elephants' is effective old-fashioned melodrama

Is Christoph Waltz on his way to being typecast?

I never read Sara Gruen's novel, but having seen the film version of "Water For Elephants," I have a pretty good idea what to expect.  I have no doubt that Richard LaGravenese has crafted the classiest possible version of what feels like a very old-fashioned melodrama, while leaving much of the texture of Gruen's novel intact.  I'm almost curious enough to go read a few chapters now to see if my guess is right.

Almost.  The thing is, what praise I have for "Water For Elephants" isn't really about the story.  Instead, I'm impressed by a few of the performers and, in particular, by the way director Francis Lawrence approached the material.  Especially in the first half of the film, he captures a romantic version of the circus on film that I'm not sure ever really existed.  He makes it feel real, though, and evokes a nostalgia for a time when you could hop the rails in search of some sort of direction when your life was falling apart, and when running away with the circus was this charming possibility.  There's one scene in particular, the first time they're setting up the circus and Jacob (Robert Pattinson) is watching them, that is honestly one of the best versions of that scene I've ever seen done.  It's alluring in all the right ways, and by the end of it, I wanted to run away and join the circus, too, if only for a weekend.

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<p>Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari take up bank robbery the hard way in the new comedy '30 Minutes&nbsp;or Less'</p>

Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari take up bank robbery the hard way in the new comedy '30 Minutes or Less'

Credit: Sony Pictures

'30 Minutes or Less' trailer offers Eisenberg, McBride, and insanity

The director of 'Zombieland' looks to have another hit on his hands

Ruben Fleischer was pretty much offered the world after "Zombieland" came out.  He was given opportunities to choose between several different films, and he eventually chose to direct "30 Minutes Or Less."

Early word from people close to the film is fairly rabid on this one, and with today's release of the first red-band trailer for the film, I'm excited about getting a look at it later in the year.  The script for the film by Michael Diliberti made the Black List a few years ago, and it looks to have been a real draw for some of the funniest people in film right now.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a pizza delivery guy who is abducted by two guys (played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to him and order him to rob a bank.  Now, this actually happened to a guy, and the real story was sort of tragic and insane and bizarre, but it does seem like a great jumping-off point for a truly manic comedy, and the trailer does a nice job of setting things up without ruining the entire movie.

In particular, I like the idea of Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari as friends.  You wanna talk about two totally different types of energy playing off of each other… that seems like it sets up some outstanding opportunities, and even in this little glimpse at the movie, they've got great natural chemistry.

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<p>One can only hope that re-uniting with the cast of the 'Back To The Future' films helped ignite a desire in Robert Zemeckis to return to live-action.</p>

One can only hope that re-uniting with the cast of the 'Back To The Future' films helped ignite a desire in Robert Zemeckis to return to live-action.

Credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew

The Morning Read: Zemeckis flirts with taking 'Flight' in live-action

Plus the Gaga Saga and Tim Hetherington remembered

Welcome to The Morning Read.

I will welcome absolutely any project that gets Robert Zemeckis to direct a live-action film again.  If it turns out to be "Flight," that's fine by me.  The film, written by John Gatins, sounds like a cross between the Dustin Hoffman movie "Hero" and the Zemeckis film version of "Forrest Gump."  Denzel Washington is sorta kinda thinking' about making it, starring as Whip Whitaker, a pilot who manages to land a plane during a mechanical failure, narrowly averting disaster.  He's celebrated as a media hero, while no one realizes that he was drunk and high while he was flying.  Gatins is the screenwriter on "Real Steel," based on a Richard Matheson story that was also adapted into a "Twilight Zone" episode, and he wanted to direct the film.  If Zemeckis ends up making his deal with Paramount, then Gatins is going to have to settle for having written a Robert Zemeckis film.  I'm sure he'll dry his tears with his mountain of $1000 bills.

Jake Johnson is building a nice impressive list of appearances, film after film, and I'm particularly impressed by his work in "Ceremony," Max Winkler's debut feature.  He's signed now, according to Variety, to play the principal in "21 Jump Street," and this can only be a good thing for the film.

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<p>Imagine the disappointment of my monster-loving kids when they realized that this is not, in fact, a two-headed lion, but rather two of the stars of DisneyNature's new 'African Cats'</p>

Imagine the disappointment of my monster-loving kids when they realized that this is not, in fact, a two-headed lion, but rather two of the stars of DisneyNature's new 'African Cats'

Credit: DisneyNature

Review: Disney's 'African Cats' offers engrossing look at life's struggles

Two years of filming results in strong narrative effort for DisneyNature

As long as I've been aware of Walt Disney as a company, nature films have been part of that identity.

I'd even argue that the first documentaries of any type that I saw as a kid were the "True Life-Adventures," a series of short films that ran from the late '40s until 1960, and which were packaged and repackaged as part of the various Disney anthology shows on TV.  As an adult, I'm aware of the awful reputation the "True-Life Adventure" films have in terms of inaccuracies and animal cruelty, but I'm also aware that at the time they were made, many of them won Academy Awards.  I loved the films when they would show up on TV, and when they were released on DVD a few years back, I was thrilled.

In the wake of the almost unbelievable box-office performance of "March Of The Penguins," every studio started thinking about how to get in on that type of business, and Disney remembered that they already had a history in that market, one they could easily build on now with the marketing muscle they have at their disposal.  DisneyNature was born as a distribution label within the larger Disney family, and kicked off with "Earth" in 2009, which was basically just a stripped down feature-length greatest hits version of "Planet Earth," the acclaimed BBC documentary series.  They followed that up last year with "Oceans," a very pretty film that felt fairly innocuous overall.  This year, they're offering up "African Cats," co-directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, and I think it works much better as a piece of narrative than "Oceans" did.  To me, this feels like the 21st century version of the "True-Life Adventures" in a way that absolutely deserves the Disney name on it.

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<p>Astrid Berges-Frisbey plays Syrena the Mermaid in 'Pirates Of The Caribbean:&nbsp;On Stranger Tides,' one of the big Hollywood movies that is playing this year's Cannes Film Festival</p>

Astrid Berges-Frisbey plays Syrena the Mermaid in 'Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,' one of the big Hollywood movies that is playing this year's Cannes Film Festival

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

From 'Pirates 4' to 'Tree of Life,' it's going to be a wild year at Cannes

A dense line-up in and out of competition promises a rewarding fest

I've been holding off announcing this, and I've been crossing my fingers like crazy, but it appears that the process has been completed and I am indeed heading to this year's Cannes Film Festival, the first time I've ever attended, and it feels like if I had to pick a year to go, this is the right one.

Yes, I'm excited about "The Tree Of Life."  After all, it's Terrence Malick, and by my personal estimation, he has yet to make a bad film.  I revere "Days Of Heaven" and "Badlands," and I think "The Thin Red Line" is remarkable.  I have my problems with "The New World," but there's still a lot about that film I find hypnotic and beautiful.  For me to get a chance to see the new Malick film in an environment like Cannes?  That's very exciting.  That sounds like exactly the sort of film I hope to see at a festival like this one.

Now, there are some very big commercial movies playing there this year, as seems to be the standard now.  For example, the photo you see illustrating this story is Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena the Mermaid, one of the two young leads in the sequel "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," and there's quite a bit riding on just how much an audience ends up liking her.  They're also showing "The Beaver," which I saw at SXSW.  Woody Allen's going to kick the festival off with "Midnight In Paris," his latest, and I'm looking forward to it.  With Allen, it's hit or miss, and I'm always willing to at least give his films a try, because the ones I love, I love dearly.  I'd say the last one that I have huge affection for is "Vicki Christina Barcelona," and I'm always hoping the next one will hit me that same way.

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<p>Sure, that's Brooklyn Decker, and sure, that's one tiny yellow bikini, but $30 for a pay-per-view movie you can only watch for two days?&nbsp; That's not good for anybody.</p>

Sure, that's Brooklyn Decker, and sure, that's one tiny yellow bikini, but $30 for a pay-per-view movie you can only watch for two days?  That's not good for anybody.

Credit: Sony Pictures

Is the video-on-demand business bad for Hollywood? An open letter says yes

Some of Hollywood's heavyweights take a stand against a changing landscape

We have reached a very strange moment for our industry, and moving forward, we have some very important decisions to make.

DirecTV, working with Sony, Universal, Warner Bros, and Fox, is getting ready to launch their new premium video-on-demand service this Thursday, and at first glance, it looks fairly awful to me.  The fact that they're launching it with Adam Sandler's miserable "Just Go With It" seems appropriate.  You'll be able to download a different film every two weeks for $29.99, and for that price, you can watch the film for 48 hours.  It'll be in 1080p HD, and available only to customers who have an HD DVR.  The films are going to be movies that are available before the home video window, but after the theatrical, collapsing the release schedule even further than it was already collapsed.

I don't really get this one.  I understand the debate that pops up from time to time regarding a day-and-date pay-per-view window, offering a premium price for a movie that's opening in theaters, and I can honestly say that there are films I'd consider doing that for.  If they offered a chance to see "Pirates Of The Caribbean 4" at home opening weekend for $50, it would make sense for my family to do that.  Two months after release for an Adam Sandler film I hated?  I can't image that.

But when I say I would pay for a day and date release, that's not the same as me saying that I think the industry should move in that direction.  And today, an open letter was published that focuses this debate a bit more.  Here's the full text of it, including the signatures, which I think you'll recognize:

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<p>The boys from 'Attack The Block' are ready to kick another LA audience's ass, and you could be there when it happens</p>

The boys from 'Attack The Block' are ready to kick another LA audience's ass, and you could be there when it happens

Credit: Sony/Screen Gems

Want another chance to see 'Attack The Block' in Los Angeles?

Sony/Screen Gems are giving you a second chance

If you're still upset that you did not make it to the Fan Appreciation Screening of "Attack The Block" that we helped promote a few weeks ago, you're in luck.

At that point, there was no distributor for the US yet, but since then, we've gotten the good news that Sony/Screen Gems will be handling the film here in the United States, and so there's going to be another Fan Appreciation Screening, and another opportunity for you to attend.

Here's the basic details:

Back By Popular Demand! Sony/Screen Gems wants to give the fans another post SXSW chance the Audience Award winner!

Tuesday – April 26th
7:30pm – Landmark Theatre @ Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles

RSVP: attacktheblockrsvp@gmail.com (Spell you and your guest’s name - First and Last)

After that last screening, I got dozens of e-mails and tweets and messages from people who went, flipping out about how much they enjoyed the film.  So far, I've spoken to a grand total of one person who dismissed the movie, and considering how cynical people are about genre fare, that's impressive.

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<p>James Cromwell's Farmer Hoggett is one of the most endearing characters in film history, and introducing my kids to him was one of this month's highlights</p>

James Cromwell's Farmer Hoggett is one of the most endearing characters in film history, and introducing my kids to him was one of this month's highlights

Credit: Universal Home Video

Film Nerd 2.0: 'Babe' vs 'Tron' on Blu-ray

Do the boys prefer disc wars and the MCP or Farmer Hoggett's farm?

It's been a long and frustrating day of dealing with my son's educational future, so it seems appropriate for me to wrap it up with the latest column in the Film Nerd 2.0 series that outlines my efforts to help my kids make sense of the preposterous number of media options available to them.

I love seeing things with fresh eyes, and there is no easier way to do that than having kids and really engaging when you share something with them.  One thing I've learned is that kids make their decisions about what they want to see very quickly, based on the most basic information or impressions, and that it is hard to predict what will affect them and what won't.

Both of my sons were out of town for a stretch of nearly six months at the end of last year, and as a result, when "TRON: Legacy" was released, they weren't here.  Toshi, my five-year-old, had seen the trailers and was interested in the lead-up to release, but by the time they got back, the film was out of theaters.  And knowing there was a Blu-ray release of the original film in the works, I never broke out my old DVD of the film for him.

The entire time they were gone, I stockpiled movies for them, and we've been chipping away at them as we've been catching up.  Finally, as we were putting together our plan for a recent weekend, Toshi decided that it was finally time for the big "TRON" double-feature, while Allen decided he wanted to see "Babe," or, as he referred to it, "PIGGY!"

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<p>The Capitol demands its Tributes, and Lionsgate is happy to throw two more kids into 'The Hunger Games'</p>

The Capitol demands its Tributes, and Lionsgate is happy to throw two more kids into 'The Hunger Games'

Credit: Lionsgate

'Hunger Games' finds unknowns for fan favorites Rue and Thresh

Lionsgate starts a district-by-district countdown on Facebook

I would suspect that many of the tributes cast in "The Hunger Games" are going to be fresh faces, and while that may be a budgetary decision in large part, it's also a choice that could work in the film's favor.

Rue is one of the characters most beloved by readers of "The Hunger Games," and for good reason.  Casting Rue is critically important because the character has to make a major impression on audiences without a ton of screen time, and so first reactions are going to be important with her.

Looking at Amandla Stenberg, my first reaction is that she's too young… and that's exactly right.  She looks like she's half the age of Jennifer Lawrence, who will star in the film as Katniss Everdeen, and watching these characters face each other down in a battle of life and death should be upsetting.  Director Gary Ross has spoken already about how important it is for him to get a PG-13 for his movie, and he can't have it be overtly violent or bloody.  He can, however, play with the empathy of the audience, and casting Rue to be this young… that's a smart decision.  It even pays off the fact that Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson look a little older than some people expected.

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<p>How can you argue with a guy who won an award as 'Best Asskicker' when he gets cast to play Parker?&nbsp; You can't.&nbsp; Because he will break your thigh.</p>

How can you argue with a guy who won an award as 'Best Asskicker' when he gets cast to play Parker?  You can't.  Because he will break your thigh.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

The Morning Read: Jason Statham set to bust heads as 'Parker'

Plus ActionFest tributes, Ernie Kovacs, and one crazy 'Dr. Who' compilation

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Jason Statham as Donald Westlake's Parker, huh
?  If you're not familiar with the author or the character, you still might have seen at least one of the previous films based on the material.  Mel Gibson adapted it with "Payback," John Boorman's "Point Blank" featured Lee Marvin in the role, and the craziest version of the book is Ringo Lam's "Full Contact."  There are a total of 24 books in the Parker series, but for some reason, we keep getting loose adaptations of The Hunter, the first book in the series.  And now, according to Variety, we're getting another one, with Taylor Hackford set to direct, and with Jason Statham set to play the role.  That's pretty good casting, but they're going to have to work hard to wring something new out of this particular piece of material.  In addition to all of the previous film versions, there's also an outstanding comic adaptation by Darwyn Cooke that was published not long ago, so it's definitely a book that has been interpreted and reinterpreted already.  Even so, this looks like the first adaptation that's actually using the character's name, and it makes me wonder… if this first one works, will they move forward with Statham in more films based on other books in the series?

And in the meantime, how about a long-lost Donald Westlake book to tide you over?

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