The Secret Life of Walter Mitty- The Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s plot, which concerns the title character travelling the globe to find not only his friend, but primarily himself, is almost comically ironic considering the film’s lack of a real identity. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty drifts through genres in a nonchalant way, switching between feel-good to drama to comedy without any rhyme or reason, desperately trying to find a purpose to why it exists. Ben Stiller directs and stars in this adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, which takes the title from the original text but not much else; Steve Conrad has penned a screenplay that greatly expands and also deviates from the source material, creating a film that really has no resemblance to Thurber’s original work. The ad campaign calling it ‘The new Forrest Gump!”, and the sentimental and overly bright tone screams out to the audience this is directly aimed at getting an Oscar or three. However, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty takes a couple of steps in the right direction, and then meekly falls flat on its face when it should really get going. There are a few redeeming features for Stiller’s latest projectbut overall it looks and feels like a damp squib.

The biggest problem with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is that it’s humourless and unforgivably boring. It drags on, making a few cheap jokes here and there, showing you some gorgeous scenery, but overall the film is a sum of parts, and doesn’t add up to anything of note. Everything the film does is in an effort to make you like it, but sadly it has neither the wit nor the charm to really pull you in. It really is a weird and bizarre little movie, but not in an original way; more in a gimmicky way. There is a strange scene where Kristen Wiig, playing Mitty’s love interest, sings ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie to him in his imagination, leading to an awkward slow-motion running scene in which all I was just wondering was “What were the writers thinking?” In actual fact, Stiller’s direction is unique and extremely interesting, using many top down shots and some stunning scenery, of which cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh should receive a portion of the credit. The film falls down largely through its shoddy and bland writing, stereotypical and two dimensional characters, plus a crucial lack of inspiration and fun, which must surely have been the films purpose.

This skateboarding scene is rich with good direction and great cinematography; its a shame the characters are so boring the rest of the time.

For me, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty felt plastic and fake, as if Stiller and the writers didn’t really believe in what they were preaching, to go out and embrace life. Instead, it all just felt like one big high budget advertisement for E-Harmony, which is the primary focus of an unnecessary and extremely tedious side-plot. When the script is as awkward as this then blatant product placement does the film no favours, except in diverting our attention from a wildly implausible plot. The majority of the film, set in the real world, is just as plausible as the early dreams of Mitty where he occasionally has superpowers; later scenes where he fights a shark, runs away from a Volcano, and gets phone signal on a mountain in the Himalayas, all feel like another one of his dreams, and it never loses the dreamlike quality which prevents the audience from taking it seriously. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is boring, overly sentimental, a failed epic desperately begging for awards. One to avoid.

Best Bit 

Walter Mitty’s imagination at one point brings us to a brilliantly scathing parody of the insufferable film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which succeeded in making me guffaw and invest a bit more in the movie. This is only a glimpse of what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty could have been like in different circumstances. The interesting and funny edge of the movie has clearly been lost in the rubble of too many development and casting changes; it’s a muddle of different unfinished films.

Worst Bit

The sentimental and preachy ending is absolutely laughable for all the wrong reasons. I won’t spoil the final reveal, but the sickly-sweetness of it all is almost vomit-inducing in its predictability and complete overdose of almost brutal sentimentality. To get away with this kind of lazy ending you must first have created three dimensional and interesting characters; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty fails spectacularly.

Overall

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a late Christmas turkey, a huge advertisement for E-Harmony and a cheeky claim for an Oscar that falls flat on its face. Although Stiller boasts some very interesting directorial techniques, and the cinematography is stunning, the ridiculous plot and boring characters make this one extraordinary adventure you’ll want to miss out on. Much like the hero himself, the film is struggling for a real identity, and ultimately never finds it. Stiller’s talents are better used elsewhere.

2/5

apuffofJack’s Top 5 Films of 2013

This was a very hard list to make. Over the course of 2013, especially in the last few months, I have been treated to all manner of brilliant films, all of which in their own way deserve to be regarded as one of the best films of the year. It has been a wonderful year for films, and although we have inevitably had some stinkers like After Earth and the hideous Michael Bay fiasco Pain and Gain, there have been a brilliant choice of exciting, fun, beautiful and scary films in which to sink our teeth into. This list is a matter of personal opinion only, and there will obviously be disagreements from nearly everyone. If you think I’ve missed one of your favourites of the year out, tell me! These choices are not only made on the overall quality of each film, but also the impact they had on me personally, and some films, such as The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle are only released in the UK in 2014, making them ineligible for this list. Vice versa, films like Lincoln and Django Unchained were released here in very early 2013, making them technically available for selection. Here are my top 5 best films of 2013; feel free to tell me yours in the comments section.

5) Frozen

The last-minute addition to this list comes in the form of Disney’s best film since their renaissance era, way back in 1989-1999. Frozen is a re-imagining of the fairytale of the Snow Queen, retelling the story with the twist of portraying the classic villain of the Snow Queen into a misunderstood and tortured hero, who lives her life under the fear of hurting people with her magical powers, and sacrifices her close relationship with her sister and the outside world as a result. When she becomes Queen she cannot hold in her talents and accidentally shows the world what she can do, leading her to flee the kingdom and leaving her sister, Anna, to travel through the mountains to bring her back. Filled with wonderful animation and the best original songs of the year, Frozen is a timeless example of family entertainment that will go down as one of Disney’s best ever films. It can appeal to every age there is, juggling catchy songs with dark themes in a way only Disney can, and it is perfect entertainment for Christmas with the family.

4) Filth

Filth is an extraordinary adaptation of Irvine Walsh’s book of the same name, following dirty copper Bruce Robertson as he descends into insanity by drinking extortionate amounts of whisky, snorting a lot of cocaine and topping it all off with a morsel of adultery. He is vying for a new promotion against his other colleagues at the station, and we watch him as he plays ‘the games’, a cruel and manipulative showing of psychological warfare in order to humiliate them one at a time, not realising how lost he has become in his own obsessions. Special credit for this one must be handed to James McAvoy as Bruce, in what becomes the best male performance of the year. He screams, he grins and he laughs in a way that seems totally psychotic, and his performance drags us deeper into a nightmarish world where the lines between reality and Bruce’s own mad visions are blurred. It’s exciting, it’s controversial and it is also downright one of the best films of the year.

3) Blue Jasmine

One of my favourite film makers of all time, Woody Allen, came back with a bang in 2013 with Blue Jasmine, his best film since 1979’s classic Manhattan. Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine, a once wealthy woman turned broke by the revelation that her husband cheated his way to a fortune, and she is forced to stay with her now distant sister, who is down on her luck too. Jasmine has been brought up in a bubble completely outside the real world, away from real life and real problems. She stumbles through the movie remembering her past life and trying to deal with the present, all while suffering frequent nervous breakdowns due to failing to adapt to not knowing how the world works. Cate Blanchett is astonishing and extraordinary as Jasmine and must surely win an Oscar for the best performance of the year. The performance is so raw and so real; Blanchett will take your breath away with her wonderful performance as a tortured soul alienated from the world around her. Woody Allen is a genius, and in Blue Jasmine he has again created a masterpiece, a harrowing portrayal of one spoiled woman failing to rejoin the rest of humanity.

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2) Django Unchained 

It seems like so long ago that Django Unchained was released, which is partly due to the fact it was actually released in America in 2012, and very early on in the UK in 2013. I’ve been defending it ever since. Tarantino may not be to everyone’s taste (he lost me at Death Proof), but Django Unchained is a wonderful return to form after the disappointingly average Inglorious Bastards (an opinion no one else seems to share). You have to admire Quentin Tarantino’s guts; he broke the long-running cinema taboo of the depiction of slavery by going into the genre with all guns blazing. Many directors were scared and cautious at tackling such a shameful area of America’s history, and yet Tarantino uses his cartoonish characters and Western stereotypes to explore it in a brash and unforgiving way which no one else dared to do. Couple this bravery with a great script and some memorable performances, in particular Samuel L. Jackson as the Uncle Tom figure, and you have Tarantino’s best film since the criminally ignored Jackie Brown. Django Unchained may not be subtle, and it may be too self-indulgent for some, but I found it exhilarating, brash and very brave cinema.

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1) Gravity

Gravity is a very special film. Alfonso Cuarón has created a haunting and unflinchingly beautiful film that captures your imagination and takes you from your seat and into the unmapped wonders and horrors of space. It is almost like watching Kubrick in its delivery and execution, with special effects that will make your jaw drop and sounds to rival the wonder of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the best science fiction film of all time. Alfonso Cuarón hasn’t quite matched Kubrick but he’s damn close; Gravity is one of the best science fiction films of the past 10 years, and stands clear as 2013’s most extraordinary and remarkable achievement. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney put in excellent performances, the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki is constantly amazing and astounding, and a running theme and ending that almost tells the evolution of life, all contribute to an incredible cinematic experience; one that will amaze, stagger and terrify audiences for years to come.

 

Frozen- The Review

What would we do at Christmas without a Disney movie? Frozen, Disney’s follow up to the lovely and under appreciated Tangled, is a glorious and completely wonderful retelling of the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. As always, Disney provides a wonderful breath of fresh air to the generic and predictable blockbusters that are suffocating the film industry; Frozen is a film so utterly full of joy, heart and soul that it would be doing it a huge disservice to label it simply ‘a children’s movie’. Just because children can enjoy it, doesn’t mean that nobody else can. The animation is slick and captivating, the songs are the best since The Lion King back in 1994, and the film is overall the best Disney have sent out since the Disney Renaissance’ which took place between 1989 and 1999 (and included films such as The Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast and Aladdin). It truly is Disney back to their best.

The original tale of the Snow Queen has been adapted into a much different telling, turning the once protagonist of an evil sorcerer into a misunderstood Princess who is fearful of the immense power she holds. In Frozen, the Princess Elza is incredibly afraid by her powers thanks to nearly killing her sister at an early age. Her parents keep her away from her sisters and the rest of the world to protect her, and them from the power she holds, in an attempt to get them under control. When it Elza is given the throne many years later she can no longer hide away from the world, and her parents are revealed in a brief moment of rage. She flees the Kingdom, and an eternal winter is thrust upon it, leaving her sister Anna to go out into the snow and find her. Frozen has been in production for at least ten years now, going through many re-writes and many cancellations and delays. I don’t hasten to say it was worth the wait; Frozen is a marvellous production from a marvellous studio, who have hit top form in a classic family movie about love, family and courage.

This is a new era for Disney. After such misfires like Chicken Little and Bolt, they have regained their magic touch, first through the excellent Tangled, and now after the nice but entirely forgettable Wreck it Ralph we have Frozen, a true return to their best work. This may well be down to the exquisite collection of songs on offer, easily the best Disney musical since The Lion King, matching lovely visual touches with a wonderfully upbeat soundtrack, that has the power to not only uplift but also to really connect to the loveable characters. Songs such as Love Is An Open Door and For The First Time In Forever are brilliantly suited to the tone of the movie, but the show-stopper is the solo by Elza (voiced and sung by Idina Menzel) named Let It Go, which will probably win an Oscar for best original song. It’s a theme of rebellion and freedom from years of imprisonment and suffocation by parents who ultimately misjudged Elza, despite wanting the best for her. We see the shackles of her life being released, we see her untie her hair and explore the full possibilities of her powers; it is watching a grown woman finally discover who she is and what she can do.  

Elza’s sister Anna is the highlight of the film; she is funny, likeable and brilliantly selfless.

Of course, Frozen isn’t entirely perfect. The ending is slightly rushed in its desperation to wrap everything up, and the pace of the movie is uneven as a result. Also, no spoilers, but the film’s primary lack of a villain leads to it choosing to develop a twist that is so brazenly obvious it only comes as a shock when they reveal it far too late. However, like so many films this lovely and this goodhearted, criticising it seems to be a bit pointless. It’s akin to criticising a gorgeous painting for having an ugly frame, it seems pedantic and needless to even bother. Even with its minor faults, Frozen is Disney’s Christmas present to us film-goers, and it could well be one of my favourite films of the year. It’s beautiful.

Best Bit

The sequence that accompanies the sure-to-be-Oscar-winner song Let it Go is not only a musical achievement, but also one of the most brilliantly animated scenes I have ever seen. Elza builds an Ice Palace on the snow she is standing on, building incredible rooms and glorious walls with simple flicks of her wrists. It’s a wonder to behold.

Worst Bit

For most of the movie, the pace is quite slow, and due to this the final twenty minutes feel unbalanced and rather rushed, with too much happening too fast. It’s not a disastrous ending by any means, but it is a problem that needed addressing. It’s a shame such a beautiful movie had to succumb to messiness in the final stretch.

Overall

Frozen is such a delightful gem of a movie, it should be illegal not to give it full marks. Whether its the charming songs, animation or re-imagining of the old Fairy Tale, Disney’s latest effort proves to be their best for about a decade. Yes, it is messy at times, and it does have some less then surprising plot developments, but what did you expect for a movie designed to appeal to any age group? What is remarkable about Frozen is that I think I enjoyed it more then most of the kids in my screening. They enjoyed a pretty little story about family and love, while I saw an incredible blend of both animation and song writing, that marvelled and touched me. This could be a new and fabulous era in the extraordinary history of Walt Disney animation.

5/5

Gravity- The Review

It’s hard to really give Gravity justice with mere words. It is a staggering experience; the empty silence and wonderful beauty of space is brought to the screen by director Alfonso Cuarón, who has given cinema a space opera of the most fascinating kind. As Sandra Bullock’s astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone floats aimlessly through space, you will stop breathing in sheer panic; I had to grip the seats of my chair in an effort not to go spinning away with her. It is beautiful and yet terrifying; not since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has a director encompassed the true wonder of the universe and the unknown, and that example is one of the best films ever made. Gravity is one of the best science fiction films of the last ten years, and is an essential cinema experience for everyone.

Too give away anything of the plot would be spoiling half the fun. Brilliantly, the initial trailers for Gravity were limited in divulging the story, and instead just go see the film before the plot can be named and shamed for you; there are so many secrets and so much wonder to be discovered. The actors play their parts superbly, with Sandra Bullock giving an incredibly heart-stopping performance as Dr. Ryan Stone, desperately fighting against the impossible to get back to Earth. Although I think calls for an Oscar for Bullock for this are slightly premature (goodness knows there have been countless better performances this year), she really makes the role her own, and deserves immense credit for humanising the character completely. In the supporting role, George Clooney is fantastic as the experienced Astronaut by Ryan Stone’s side, but Bullock gets all the screen time and fully justified it is too. It is a typically accomplished performance from her, and a great side-role for George Clooney to maybe, just maybe, get a supporting actor nod. To talk about the performances as the highlight of Gravity would be to totally miss the point however, the real star of the show is the director, Alfonso Cuarón.

The ultimate silence and emptiness of space is beautifully shown in Gravity, but also leads to an often terrifying experience.

Alfonso Cuarón is clearly a genius. His incredible use of CGI in Gravity is the stuff of cinema magic, and endlessly effective and impressive directorial techniques only enhance the quality of the film. Everything, from the impeccable use of 3D to the absolutely jaw-dropping sound design, Cuarón nails his seventh directorial effort right on the head, compounding him as one of the most exciting and visually stunning directors alive today. Everything about Gravity just makes me think it really is the most extraordinary film of the year. Endlessly exciting, jaw-dropping, and heart-rendering, it is not only a near-perfect science fiction movie, but also a near-perfect movie, period. A modern masterpiece.

Best Bit

The opening moment of Gravity is a minute long shot of the Earth, in all its incredible beauty, while also accompanied by a haunting silence, and a perfect sense of both perfection and fear. It is similar to the grace and wonder that you feel when you first see Kubrick’s 2001: they both perfectly capture the bizarre combination of beauty and fear that the universe holds in our minds.

Worst Bit

Although it tries its best, Gravity simply cannot juggle the wonderful visuals with strong, fully developed characters. The visuals are perfect and mind-blowing, but the characters sometimes lose their way through unnecessary story-telling from Earth and a few pretty desperate attempts to get the audience to care when we cared regardless. Sandra Bullock’s overall personality in the face of this horrific danger is enough to tug the heart-strings. Was a sob-story really necessary?

Overall

Gravity is one of the strongest contenders yet for the best film of 2013, and stands tall as one of the best science-fiction films of the past decade. Its staggering beauty coupled with a brilliant director, plus some touching performances, make this a truly unique and ultimately extraordinary cinematic accomplishment. You won’t be able to really comprehend what you are seeing; Gravity will blow you away.

5/5