The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)


Walter Mitty doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd.

Walter Mitty doesn’t exactly stand out in a crowd.

(2013) Adventure (20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Adrian Martinez, Patton Oswalt, Jonathan C. Daly, Terence Bernie Hines, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Gunnar Helgason, Kai Lennox, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Haroon Nawabi, Marcus Antturi, Paul Fitzgerald, Grace Rex. Directed by Ben Stiller

There is a real difference between the lives we lead and the lives we lead in our heads. In our own worlds, we’re beautiful, smart, popular, courageous, daring, heroic and irresistible to our preferred sex. We are saviors of the weak and protectors of the helpless.

For Walter Mitty (Stiller) the disconnect is more than most. He is a shy and somewhat socially clumsy man who works at Life Magazine as a negative assets manager (i.e. he is in charge of the negatives of the photographs for the iconic magazine) and often his daydreams stop him dead in his tracks. His sister (Hahn) calls it zoning out.

Walter crushes on the lovely Cheryl Melhoff (Wiig), recently hired in the accounting department but is too unselfconfident to approach her. What’s worse is that Life is about to be shut down, as announced by the somewhat petty transition manager (Scott) who also says the very last issue will have a cover photo by the magazine’s most famous photographer, Sean O’Connell (Penn). The problem is that the negative for the cover isn’t with the rest of O’Connell’s submissions.

O’Connell, a rootless sort who travels the world looking for that perfect shot isn’t exactly easy to get hold of – he doesn’t even own a cell phone (the teenagers in the audience couldn’t believe their ears). So the only way to get that cover for the last issue is to go out there and fine the reclusive photographer. However that’s easier said than done. The only clues to Sean’s whereabouts lay in the galley sheet of the same set of photos as the missing negative and those clues are pretty vague at best.

While ostensibly based on the beloved James Thurber short story of the same name, the title, the lead character and his daydreaming conceit are basically all that the short story and this movie have in common. Thurber’s short story is much darker in tone and even the Danny Kaye version from 1947 which wasn’t all that much of a match for the short story either was much less uplifting than the Ben Stiller interpretation. It’s all about seizing the day and living life while you still can.

Stiller is a likable enough lead and he has just enough schlubbiness to invest the characters he normally plays with a kind of underdog situation and that is true here as well. Walter is a good-hearted sort who doesn’t have enough go-getter in him to fill a thimble. He is well-liked but not well-respected if you get my drift. People dismiss him as a hopeless dreamer. Stiller fills this role well.

Veteran Shirley MacLaine makes a rare but welcome screen appearance as Walter’s mom but isn’t really given a lot to do – still, she’s always worth the added effort to see her. Comic Patton Oswalt also puts in an appearance as an eHarmony phone representative (mostly we hear his voice in phone conversations) and I’m reminded at how good he can be onscreen as he was in the Charlize Theron black comedy Young Adult.

Stiller the director also makes some interesting moves, nicely going from reality to fantasy and uses graphics within the film to advance the story. It’s a visually clever film. The soundtrack is awfully nice to with Swedish indie artist Jose Gonzalez supplying songs. So why didn’t I like this movie more?

The movie lacked soul, in my opinion, which is a different thing than heart which it has a lot of. I just didn’t get that spark of joy that the film should have produced. Sure one roots for Walter to find Sean and to get the girl but there are too many cliché moves and not enough genuine passion to make the movie more memorable. That’s not to say that it isn’t a pleasant diversion – you can do worse than to spend your entertainment dollar on Walter Mitty. It just let me down a bit so I feel justified in rating it perhaps lower than I would have liked given the source material and the talent involved.

The overall message of doing instead of dreaming is a tricky one to navigate. There is nothing wrong with dreaming big – every action begins as a dream more or less – but it shouldn’t happen at the expense of living life to the fullest. Not all of us can get on a plane to the middle of nowhere and embark on an epic adventure but that doesn’t mean we can’t embark on the epic adventures that are already around us.

REASONS TO GO: Inventive use of graphics and effects. Always a joy to see MacLaine.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks spark.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little bit of crude language and some action violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the fishing boat lands in Iceland, Walter is urged to grab the lone bicycle before a group of “horny Chileans” from a different trawler gets the bike to use to get to the strip club. Those Chileans would be sorely disappointed because strip clubs have been essentially illegal in Iceland since 2010

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bedtime Stories

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Her

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New Releases for the Week of December 27, 2013


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt. Directed by Ben Stiller

Walter, a worker drone at Life Magazine as it gasps its last, is a dreamer who sometimes zones out as he imagines fantastic heroic scenarios starring himself. Yet he never acts on these impulses, never does anything memorable or notable. He yearns for love but does nothing to pursue it. When at last he is pushed into it, the greatest adventure he could imagine awaits.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Adventure Comedy

Rating: PG (for some crude comments, language and action violence)

47 Ronin

(Universal) Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi. After a ruthless warlord betrays and murders their master, 47 now-leaderless samurai (known in Japan as Ronin) vow revenge. Standing in their way are wizards and demons who have their own plans.

See the trailer, clips  and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Tuesday)

Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements)

Grudge Match

(Warner Brothers) Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin. Two out of shape boxers retired for 30 years are pushed into resuming their bitter rivalry with a final match to determine the whole she-bang, but are these two old codgers ready?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Sports Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sports action violence, sexual content and language)

Justin Bieber’s Believe

(Open Road) Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, Usher Raymond, Ludacris. Unaware that his 15 minutes were done about an hour ago, here comes a concert video of Canada’s most shameful export.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some unsettling images) 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

(Weinstein) Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa. The story of the late Nelson Mandela and his struggle to end South Africa’s repressive system of apartheid appears in theaters only a few weeks after the great leader finally passed away. Some studios have all the luck.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG=13 (for some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language)

The Wolf of Wall Street

(Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie. A stockbroker goes from starry-eyed ambition to absolute corruption as he rides the wave that was Wall Street during the 80s. The rise and fall of Jordan Belfort mirrors Wall Street’s own in the eyes of the public. The latest from Martin Scorsese and a huge Oscar contender.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence)  

Four-Warned: December 2013


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (1.0)
2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (1.2)
3. ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (1.3)
4. SAVING MR. BANKS (1.4)
TIE. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1.4)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (1.2)
2. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (1.3)
3. THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (1.4)
4. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

DECEMBER 4, 2013

BREAKFAST WITH CURTIS (BOND 360/Abramorama) Genre: Comedy. The bad blood between an eccentric Bohemian household and the family next door is slowly dissolved by the making of a video. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Although the trailer posted online is more of a clip, looks fairly interesting.
OUT OF THE FURNACE (Relativity) Genre: Thriller. After his brother returns home from Afghanistan and disappears, a blue collar steel worker decides to take justice into his own hands. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening wide December 6). RATING: 1.9 Terrific cast including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson and Forest Whitaker.

DECEMBER 6, 2013

ADVENTURES OF THE PENGUIN KING (Cinedigm) Genre: Documentary. A penguin returns home to find a mate and start a family. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Tim Allen narrates but the unfunny dialogue may make even the little ones cringe.
CRAVE (Phase 4) Genre: Thriller. The dark fantasies of a photographer explode when his relationship with a young woman goes bad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks a little bit on the avant garde side.
EXPECTING (Tribeca) Genre: Dramedy. When a couple trying unsuccessfully to have a baby discover the wife’s single best friend is pregnant, they insist she moves in with them for the duration – but how will their friendship survive? Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.1 I like Michelle Monaghan and Radha Mitchell but this looks somewhat forced.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (CBS) Genre: Drama. A young idealistic folk singer from the Village in the 60s struggles against all odds to try to make it in the music business. Release Strategy: Limited (expands December 20). RATING: 1.3 The latest Coen Brothers opus is already being hailed as a surefire Oscar contender.
KHUMBA (Millennium) Genre: Animated Feature. The animals of the Great Karoo, having rejected a half-striped zebra from the herd, must turn to him to save them all. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Kinda cute but kinda done that already.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (Magnet) Genre: Science Fiction. The potential of a major scientific discovery prompts a member of a manned mission of Mars to undertake a dangerous and unauthorized mission which leads to catastrophe. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Very much along the lines of the original Alien.
LENNY COOKE (Shopkorn/Brigade) Genre: Documentary. He was a high school basketball player ranked ahead of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony but never played a minute in the NBA; this is his story. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 An American cautionary tale.
MERRY CHRISTMAS (Fern) Genre: Comedy. A group of high flying New Yorkers who have watched their fortunes tumble with the stock market spend their holidays at a more modest location complete with a disco-themed murder mystery. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 Could be interesting but never saw a trailer.
SEX ACTS (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A young girl in a new high school tries to become popular by allowing the popular boys to have sex with her but soon finds things spiraling out of control. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Disturbing because it is so realistic.
SWERVE (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Crime Thriller. A good Samaritan’s actions in a terrible car crash have severe repercussions when a crooked cop is involved. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 What looks to be a very good Aussie thriller with lots of twists, turns and betrayals.
TWICE BORN (eOne) Genre: Drama. An Italian professor and her teenage son return to Sarajevo where she met his father. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Has a bit of a Nicholas Sparks vibe to it.
WHITE REINDEER (IFC) Genre: Dramedy. After the death of her husband, a pretty but shy Realtor gets involved in the swingers scene. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Could be the most subversive Christmas movie ever.

DECEMBER 11, 2013

NUCLEAR NATION (First Run) Genre: Documentary. The effects of the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the tsunami on the residents whose homes and lives were irradiated by the event. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 A Japanese cautionary tale.

DECEMBER 13, 2013

AMERICAN HUSTLE (Columbia) Genre: Period Drama. In the 1970s a con artist and his seductive partner are forced to work for a manic FBI agent to take down a Jersey politician with connections to the mob. Release Strategy: Limited (opening wide December 18). RATING: 1.6 Director David O. Russell has had both his last two films nominated for Best Picture Oscars.
THE CRASH REEL (Phase 4) Genre: Documentary. The rivalry between legendary half-pipe snowboarders Shaun White and Kevin Pearce takes a different dimension when Pearce has a life-threatening accident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Saw this on HBO and thought it an inspiring documentary about a subject I’m not madly in love with.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL (Magnet) Genre: Horror. When a couple’s young kids return home after disappearing, they realize that the kids have brought something evil back with them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Unsettling and creepy; the Spanish know their horror.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (New Line) Genre: Fantasy. Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield face the dragon Smaug.. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 I’m still not convinced this trilogy will be as good as The Lord of the Rings but that doesn’t mean I’m not eagerly anticipating the next installment.
HOURS (Pantelion) Genre: Thriller. When Hurricane Katrina hits a New Orleans hospital, a new father and his prematurely delivered baby are cut off from rescue. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Paul Walker’s not my favorite actor but this might be the movie that changes my mind.
THE LAST OF THE UNJUST (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Documentary. Claude Lantzmann who directed the epic holocaust documentary Shoah has one more tale that he waited 40 years to tell. Release Strategy: Limited (opening wide February 7). RATING: 1.2 The story of Theresienstadt, the “model” concentration camp used in Nazi propaganda and the Jewish elder who co-operated directly with Eichmann.
SAVING MR. BANKS (Disney) Genre: Biographical Drama. Walt Disney attempts to persuade recalcitrant author P.L. Travers to allow him to film her beloved children’s book Mary Poppins. Release Strategy: Limited (opening wide December 20). RATING: 1.4 Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson have waltzed with Oscar in the past; they might do so again this year.
SOME VELVET MORNING (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. When a formerly married man tries to rekindle a romance with an old flame, her refusal leads to obsession and the unearthing of old secrets. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 What is it about Stanley Tucci that I’m willing to see him in just about anything?
TRAP FOR CINDERELLA (IFC Midnight) Genre: Thriller. After a woman loses her memory in the fire that killed her close friend, her attempts to regain her life takes some unexpected twists when nothing proves to be as she remembers it – not even herself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 This might be a very intense thriller judging from the trailer.
TYLER PERRY’S A MADEA CHRISTMAS (Lionsgate) Genre: Holiday Comedy. A surprise visit to a friend’s daughter in a small town for the Holidays turns into Madea-sized chaos. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 I’ve never really been able to connect with the Madea series although I recognize that a lot of people do.

DECEMBER 18, 2013

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (Paramount) Genre: Comedy. The iconic newsman Ron Burgundy joins the first 24-hour cable news network with his news team at his back. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 One of the great comedies of the last decade gets a long-awaited sequel.
HER (Warner Brothers) Genre: Sci-Fi Romance. In the near future a heartbroken man falls in love with the voice of an advanced computer operating system. Release Strategy: Limited (opening wide January 10). RATING: 2.5 You can always expect the unexpected from director Spike Jonze.
THE NEW RIJKSMUSEUM (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. The renovation of Amsterdam’s pre-eminent art museum leads to unexpected challenges, a soaring budget and a triumphant finish. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 One of two documentaries on the 10-year process to finish the museum.

DECEMBER 20, 2013

ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY (Factory 25) Genre: Drama. An acclaimed indie actress whose career is being stifled by middle age gets a visit from her niece who also wants to be an actress. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 Another selection from the 2013 Florida Film Festival, you can check out my review of it here.
THE PAST (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. When an Iranian man returns to Paris to finalize his divorce with his estranged wife, his attempts to reconcile her with her teenage daughter lead to painful revelations from their time together. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.0 The director of A Separation and actress Berenice Bejo from The Artist make an intriguing combination.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Family. Dinosaurs will be brought to life in this big screen version of the acclaimed television show. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 2.2 Sort of like Disney’s Dinosaur only without the whole extinction thing.
WRONG COPS (IFC) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. In a future in which crime has been essentially eradicated, bored cops are what decent citizens should fear most. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 From the director of Rubber which I kinda thought was overrated.

DECEMBER 25, 2013

47 RONIN (Universal) Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy. A lone half-breed must lead 47 samurai, betrayed by a treacherous warlord, against deadly warriors, magical creatures and evil wizards. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.9 Looks fun but with Keanu Reeves in the lead role might take itself too seriously.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Weinstein) Genre: Dramedy. Tragedy reunites a group of strong-willed women with the dysfunctional woman who raised them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 An all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Benedict Cumberbatch make this an expected Oscar contender.
GRUDGE MATCH (Warner Brothers) Genre: Drama. Two retired boxers resurrect a long-standing grudge to stage the rubber match of their fights – three decades after their last fight. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 De Niro and Stallone should prove to be an interesting combination.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (Sony Classics) Genre: Biographical Drama. Charles Dickens had a mistress for the last 13 years of his life; this is her story. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 Ralph Fiennes, who also directed this, stars as Dickens.
JUSTIN BIEBER’S BELIEVE (Open Road) Genre: Music Documentary. Biebermania. Still alive? Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Haven’t his 15 minutes expired yet?
LONE SURVIVOR (Universal) Genre: War. Four Navy SEALs on a mission to take out a high level al Qaeda operative are ambushed in the rugged Afghan mountains. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opening wide January 10). RATING: 1.8 Based on an incredible true story.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (20th Century Fox) Genre: Adventure. A dreamer takes on an incredible adventure to impress a girl. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 I’m a big fan of the original James Thurber short story but I understand that this is only loosely based on it.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Paramount) Genre: Drama. The true story of the rise and fall of an ambitious and ruthless securities broker mirrors the changing forces of Wall Street at the end of the 20th century. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 It’s Scorsese and di Caprio so we’re talking Oscar nominations, right?

DECEMBER 27, 2013

ONE CHANCE (Screen Media) Genre: Musical Biography. The true story of Paul Potts, a shop assistant whose incredible performances on a British singing competition show took that country by storm. Release Strategy: Limited (expanding January 10). RATING: 2.9 Think of an operatic Susan Boyle.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Inside Llewyn Davis, Out of the Furnace, American Hustle, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Saving Mr. Banks, Her, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Walking with Dinosaurs, 47 Ronin, August: Osage County, Grudge Match, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street, Lone Survivor, One Chance