Category Archives: Film

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Directed by: Ben Stiller

Starring:  Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Adam Scott, Shirley Maclaine, Patton Oswalt

“Oscar buzz over Ben Stiller‘s new film”

Various fragmentations of the above sentence will almost certainly be cropping up in various places over the next month, as the great award circus/juggernaut rolls around, right on time. While any recognition for comedic actors has been famously quashed in the past, Jonah Hill (of all people) proved in 2011’s Moneyball that just saying sensible things with a straight face is enough to garner a Best Supporting Actor nomination. With that in mind, let’s see what Ben ‘Tower Heist/Little Fockers/Night at the Museum 2/The Watch‘ Stiller has to offer.

Ben Stiller Oscars 2010

Stiller’s last notable appearance at an Oscars ceremony.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ was originally a short story written by James Thurber, published in The New Yorker in 1939. It follows a thoroughly ineffectual man through his woefully mundane day, with small events becoming the catalyst for his fantastical daydreams. A modern adaptation has been on the cards for a long time, with various directors (Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Gore Verbinski) and actors (Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen). Eventually, Stiller landed both roles, directing his first feature since 2008’s Tropic Thunder.

Walter Mitty (Stiller) is quiet, unassuming and diffident. His expenditures are boring, and his online profiles remains blank. He hasn’t ‘been’ anywhere or ‘done’ anything even vaguely noteworthy. Most of this awkwardness stems from his tendency to drift off at work, even in mid conversation, to his own heroic fantasies. He works at Life magazine, in charge of the photographic archives, and pines after mild colleague Cheryl (Wiig).

Due to the rise in online media, Life is to print its last issue before going digital. For the occasion, adventurer/photographer Sean O’ Connell (Penn) has sent through a selection of negatives, including a fabled ‘Negative 25’, that supposedly contains the quintessence of all human nature. Negative 25 is conspicuously absent however, and under pressure of downsizing from his hideous new boss (Scott), Walter decides to track down O’Connell through Greenland and find the vital last cover photo. Hopefully it won’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that Walter has all sorts of real world adventures, learns a lot of life lessons and achieves a very bendy character arc by the end of the film.

Film is a very pure form of escapism, a vast array of universes we can all place ourselves into, even years after their viewing. Walter Mitty does a sublime job of reflecting these back at the audience in all their camp and chaotic glory, sometimes excessively so. The cinematography is sublime, showcasing the life and scenery in Greenland and Iceland beautifully (though I’m sure many native inhabitants will object to the oblique ‘folksy’ tag placed upon them).

The performances are restrained at least, with Stiller and Wiig managing to find a very natural chemistry. Heavyweights such as Penn, and MacLaine as Mitty’s mother, do not need to expend themselves too much in this piece. The only real hamming comes from Scott, who is forced to take the ‘obnoxious boss’ trope to uncomfortable lengths.

Adam Scott

The one major criticism is the contrast between the film’s implied messages and the unfortunate ways that ambitious projects like this have to get funding. The screenplay says, “Be different. Mindless drones are bad. Find yourself.”, whilst all we experience on screen is “Date with eHarmony. Eat at Papa Johns. Buy our soundtrack.” The usual indie tracks, along with a notable Bowie number, are undoubtedly uplifting songs, but are just as commonplace on any generic ‘life is for living’ commercial, selling the latest high-pixel camera or 4×4 off-roader.

For most of the 2 hour running time, the audience is swept along with the barrage of sight and sound. And it is a hugely cathartic experience, being shown our twenty-something fantasies lived out, that dreams can come true. When the rush ended however, a small part of me felt that the pre-feature advertisements were cut from very similar cloth.

There may be an outside chance of this film gaining major awards nominations, aptly odds of winning should be outside their wildest dreams. For those of you expecting an Affleck-esque transformation on this particular Ben: it’s worth noting that Night at the Museum 3 is currently in production.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is out on 26th December.

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Life in a Day

Last year, Ridley Scott teamed up with Youtube for an extremely special event. A calling was put out to the global Youtube community to record a day in their life, on the 24th July. The uptake was huge. From 91 countries across the world, there were 80,000 submissions which totalled 4,500 hours of footage (or 187.5 continuous days). Other footage was sourced from cameramen sent out to the developing and third world countries. Scott, along with director Kevin McDonald and editor Joe Walker, then spent over 7 weeks sorting and editing the best footage into a 90 minute film (I think those are all the statistics done with). That film became Life in a Day.

The film itself has already had an impressive amount of screening. Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it had limited cinema release, before being uploaded to Youtube at the end of October, free to watch. It has also been transmitted on BBC2 in early November, so it should already have a decent viewership for many people reading this. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I heartily recommend it to be worth a watch, whether you end up enjoying it or not.

Let me just say, this is a film unlike anything else I have ever watched. Many critics claim the film has no focus, that it is rather scattered and has no real linear narrative. Most documentaries, you see, always have a particular focus. For example, you watch a documentary on the life of a penguin, and expect it to fairly penguin-centric. But how do you deal with a documentary covering all aspects of human culture, over 24 hours? Be prepared to wait a little longer, I will make my point.

I live near Oxford, a very academic city with lots of interesting museums. None of these more so, in my opinion, than the Pitt Rivers Collection. This is the largest and most fascinating anthropological collection of items of its kind, covering all of the cultures across the world. How it groups them however, is not into their own separate cultures, but into sections of life. Currency, for example, is all grouped together, so you can best cross examine how different cultures from different ages have used it. This is the way it should be done, and so it is for Life in a Day. Enough preamble, we now come to the film.

We start at in the very early hours of a day. Note that for the purposes of the film, all time zones become aligned as one. We flit from two night-vision green elephants frolicking in an African watering hole, to an early morning Muslim prayer session, to an American taking you on a tour of his favourite elevator. And so it endures, a continuous back and forth across the globe throughout the rest of the morning, these small Youtube clips giving an insight into each life. Do not think that there are not themes however, for the editing is beautifully subtle. We see how a fairly ordinary man collecting his milk bottle from outside cuts to Eastern European farmers herding and milking their goats by hand.

I’m afraid that I might be making this all seem incredibly plain.

But this bit is honestly very good.

The fascination comes from seeing an everyday activity that we all recognise, like reading the morning paper, then being shifted hundreds of miles in less than a second, to an incredibly moving monologue of an Australian man in hospital reading his. The varying shifts in cultures are echoed in a quality of camera work.  The handheld efforts of mundane life in America are a world away from the professional crews, let loose in lands of comparatively exotic chaos and wonder in the East.

This is definitely a piece that gathers momentum, in case you are 13 minutes in, wondering what makes me so excitable about a 15 year old American’s first shave. Frankly, the rather less exciting stuff makes this movie more than you initially realise, but it becomes a real emotional journey through cultures you had never thought to seek in your mind. A tour through Afghanistan by a teenage photographer contrasts excellently with the shenanigans of troops in the Army bases over there. Scenes based around relationships follow proposals, failed courtships, a young man coming out to his grandmother, and various wedding ceremonies. All of these contrast with a young woman’s weekly date with her Afghanistan based boyfriend, a truly heartbreaking piece.

There are criticisms, and I do have to say it is our culture that lets the side down. Give an American or Brit a camera, and a potential audience, and we do seem to enjoy it. Only a few were letting the side down, but hearing someone talk of their love for Walt Whitman and trying desperately to correctly quote it for their infant children, one wonders whether that is truly a daily activity, or a chance to play up for their own camera. That said, I was amazed by the sincerity of the rest of the… (cast? I suppose they are). It is perhaps the greatest strength of Life in a Day that you can see real stories, real lives and real emotions by real people, under their own direction, without any often straying into theatrics.

Some scenes are disturbing, shocking and difficult to watch for some. I suggest that they be watched nevertheless, because the film is better for their inclusion. It is possibly my favourite film of the year so far, and being available for free here, should be worth an attempt to watch by anyone who stumbles across this article, and has made it this far into an extensively thorough article. I heartily apologise, but it was well worth it.

Classic Films: The Godfather

So, we come to the ultimate in supposed ‘must see’ movies. Everyone who hasn’t got this particular monkey off their back is guaranteed to have endured someone who layers every word in the following sentence with incredulity: “You haven’t seen The Godfather?”

Now, its been well over a month since my last review, and I did say that I was going to reel these movies off rather quickly. However, The Godfather seems to have been an exception. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the film is 3 hours long, and it was hard to find the time for it in my busy schedule.

You know, what with all the... stuff.

Secondly, its The freaking Godfather. It ranks second in IMDB’s Top 250 of all time, just ahead of itself Part 2. Its not the film you put on during a lazy weekday between Jeremy Kyle and Pointless, surely? It’s supposed to be an experience to savour at the exact right time. You disable the front doorbell, draw your curtains, and ready yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

And thirdly, once I had gone through all that trouble, I proudly told my dad that I had ticked off another film from his extensive collection, which resembles a cinema purists branch of Blockbusters. He smiled back and said. “Excellent”, before pausing, and delivering a knock-out blow. “Now you’ve got Part I out of the way, you’re in for a real treat.” So, rather deflatedly, I decided to view the first two instalments of The Godfather series before submitting this review.

Sorry, I couldn't be arsed to set aside another 2 and a half hours for what is considered to be cinemas biggest disappointment.

So, I bet you guys want a sort of plot summation, as is the style in film reviews? Right. Marlon Brando plays Vito “Godfather” Corleone, don of an organised crime family. His sons include hot headed Sonny (James Caan), clever adoptee Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and law abiding war hero Michael (Al Pacino). All good so far, you are thinking, so whats it about? What actually happens?

Well, you see, its all very slow burning. The first hour and a half is fairly diplomatic. The Corleones are roughly introduced via a family wedding, Vito shows his rationale dealing with a narcotics investment, and Sonny shows his volatile nature dealing with an abusive brother-in-law. There’s talking and business strategy, punctuated with the occasional whacking and mob war.

From what I have heard, people do complain that the film gets off to a slow start, and only picks up in terms of action towards the end. To those people, I say this: that is how it is supposed to be. What director Francis Ford Coppola does so well is to mirror the emotions in the pace of the movie. While Vito is in charge, the tempo is as calm and measured as he is. But whenever he is out of the picture, the mood and momentum become more impetuous, less considered and what the layperson describes as ‘exciting’.

"Guns! Blood! I hope Diane Keaton goes topless soon too!"

Dare we move onto the sequel? This would be the more critically acclaimed, having scooped more Oscars than its predecessor. It is a movie broken into two storylines. One is a flashback for the genesis of a young Vito Andolini (Robert De Niro) from Corleone, Sicily to 1920’s New York. The second plot follows the current day efforts of his son to expand the business and crush any opposition in his way.

And… that is all I am going to say about the sequel, because there is not much you need to know having not seen the first instalment yet. What I can say, in some attempt to wade in on this battle between the two movies, is that there should be no competition between them. From what I can see, Part II serves as both a sequel and an prequel (obvious statment), but is simply a continuation or a companion movie (contentious statement). It is better to view them as two halves of one great movie (see how I now discount Part III completely?). Therefore, to keep my word count both respectable and at a readable length, I shall review them as one.

The cast is about as good as you’ll get in a movie, as evidenced by the 2 wins and 7 nominations spread over both Academy Awards ceremonies. The pair of wins came for portrayals of the character Vito Corleone, by both Brando and De Niro. Pacino was nominated Best Supporting Actor for both films, while Duvall and Diane Keaton took notable praise for their roles.

The cinematography by Coppola is excellent (and as I said before, beautifully paced), the soundtrack by Nino Rota is thoroughly understated but menacing, and yet the most credit throughout the production goes to writer Mario Puzo. It is after all, ‘Mario Puzo’s The Godfather’, and allowing him to maintain control in adapting the screenplay was a big factor in the main selling point of these films. The dialogue from this film is widely regarded to be part of the teaching that allows man to train for one of the most mature roles of his life.

"You don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me "Godfather."

Alright, so lets come to a definitive outcome outcome on this. Because there may be some people out there who haven’t seen it yet, and wan’t to know if its worth their time. And to those people I say…

What? You haven’t seen The Godfather?

WHATSAMATTAWITYOU?

Classic Films: Apocalypse Now

Next up in the list of ‘Classic films everyone’s bugging me to see’ is Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 2.

The action centres around Captain Benjamin Willard, a US Army officer sent on a special mission to track down and kill rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz. It has one of the most celebrated casts of any movie in history, including Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and a young Laurence Fishburne.

Also Harrison Ford as you've never seen him before.

Let me just say now, that as with Blade Runner, I did not watch the original theatrical release version. What I put into my DVD player was ‘Apocalypse Now Redux’, which allows for a further 49 minutes of footage cut in by Coppola himself. In total, that took the running time up to a whopping 3 hours 15 minutes.

Though, from the initial half an hour, that doesn’t seem too bad at all. After all, the very first scene in the movie is this…

Sit through it, ladies. Like we did when you wanted to watch The Notebook.

Then you have a minute or so of Martin Sheen (as Willard) method acting a breakdown, going to collect his mission, and then… oh yeah, helicopters and Wagner combine to create more explosions.

I mean, I know you girls like romance, but that was just unnecessarily soppy.

At this point in time, despite the explosions and general massacre, the mood is unnervingly upbeat. The Americans, led by Lt. Kilgore (Duvall), are fairly jovial, chatting about surfing and that most delectable smell of napalm in the morning. Then we split off with Willard and his crew on the long journey to find Kurtz (Brando). By this time in the Redux version, we get to see some extra bits added back in by Coppola. And I have to say, it almost ruins the entire film. A couple of scenes (particularly those involving Playboy Playmates and French colonialists), while vaguely interesting from a psychological point of view, kill the pace of the film dead. And its not often you can say that about Playmates.

You’ll also notice that Brando hasn’t appeared as of yet. Nor does he (having pocketed a then whopping $3.5 million fee), for the first 2 hours of this movie. But eventually Willard and Co. make it upstream to meet Kurtz. And we get the epic confrontation we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the film. And it is fantastic… at least I think so. Because throughout the last hour, Coppola likes to obscure the principal characters in darkness. And I mean every scene.

The way I see it, I'm missing out on 50% of Brando's facial acting ability.

I won’t tell you how it goes, but yeah. That takes you up to the end of Apocalypse Now. So, how do I rate it?

Well, the visuals are staggering. From beaches to jungles, the scenery is always compelling. You can even feel the muggy Vietnamese climate on the sweat-drenched faces of the cast. A cast, I might add, that excels. Duvall won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Brando does a superb job as ever. However, for most of the film, Sheen is left to carry scenes on his own merit, which he does expertly.

Again, note the absence of light in the scene.

The narration features his unmistakably husky voice, and helps showcase the film’s strongest point: the script. Aside from the famous napalm line, there are many unheralded gems throughout the script, as well there should be, with the numerous rewrites during filming that Coppola insisted on.

However, as I said earlier, the Redux version has a few flaws. Many of the restored scenes sap the film of its rhythm and direction. And being over 3 hours long, I can only describe it simply as too much of a good thing. So by all means watch it, but get the original. And tell me how it is.

Classic Films: Blade Runner

So, the results are in for the classic movie poll! And as you can clearly see, you suck.

Seriously, 6 votes? Spread thinner than chocolate sauce on Keira Knightley’s midriff (try not to judge me for that thought). So it seems no-one has seen the classic movies so lauded by cinematic hot-heads everywhere. In the lead, with 15.8% of the vote (see how stupid that sounds?), is Apocalypse Now. Four movies (Casablanca, The Godfather, The Good The Bad and The Ugly and Blade Runner) came second with 13.16%. Out of those, I picked The Godfather and Blade Runner to critique. So over the next month, you should receive reviews of all three.

Starting with Blade Runner, mainly as it is the one out of the above my dad has been bugging me to see. And for good reason, having been named as the best ever sci-fi movie by IGN and The Guardian, and 20th in Empire’s Top 500 Films of All Time. So last night, we all sat in anticipation of one of the best science fiction films ever made. Yet, I am under obligation to tell purists just which version I saw. Because it is a movie that has been endlessly tinkered with, to the tune of 7 seperate versions. The one we settled down to was the ‘Final Cut’, also known as The One Version Ridley Scott Was In Control Of. I don’t know how much it differs from the others, and I don’t feel I need to. If it’s the version the director wants, it should be the best version, period.

Anyway, the plot is as follows… The year is 2019. Bio-engineered clones of human life were once commonplace as slave labour on Earth colonies. Yet after sentience-inspired uprisings they have been declared illegal, and to be destroyed upon sight. In light of this, the newest batch of ‘replicants’, Nexus 6, were engineered with a life span of four years, so as to not have time to develop any particular emotional substance. Four of the said newest batch have commandeered a vessel back to Earth in order to meet their maker and gain an extended lifespan. Harrison Ford is the titular ‘Blade Runner’ assigned to track these replicants down and ‘retire’ them. Following so far? I hope so.

Rutger Hauer

To be fair, films usually make it quite easy to work out who the baddie is. Hint: This guy.

First off, the premise doesn’t need much more going into than that. The plot is fairly simple, a cat and mouse game of hunting down the ‘bad guys’. On a deeper level, if you wish to explore them, belongs a discussion on what it is to be human and, more importantly, what it is to live. And the acting all around is superb. Harrison Ford is rarely sub par in any movie, Darryl Hannah juxtaposes humanoid vibrancy and mechanic efficiency to great effect, and Sean Young is possibly the most human character, as a replicant whose implanted memory feels too real for her to come to terms with the realisation that she is an android. However for me, the show is stolen by head replicant Rutger Hauer. He is an exhilarating source of power and suspense throughout, dominating every scene he occupies. It’s a wonder I haven’t seen him in more films.

Rutger Hauer

If you want to catch him this summer in a film release, this is where to go. Seriously.

And yet, if I was to pick anything that was particularly scene stealing, it would be the scenery itself. In this film, Ridley Scott creates a spectacular visual landscape for Earth in 2019. In films I see now, the CGI has made cityscapes look very good. I mean it; very clean, accurate and crisp. But I wouldn’t consider them breathtaking, even in the way that a film from 1982 could do with the creativity of a futuristic landscape.

Wooooah.

It’s not about being vast, or accurate, or even pretty. It’s about having a sense of place, something defining and awe inspiring. That is the kind of thing Blade Runner possesses.

If I were to find a fault with this film, it might be that the lack of a particularly complex plot left certain acts dragging on longer than they needed to, and gave the film a sense of plodding along at a pace of its own. But that is only a criticism because you made me think of one, you bloodthirsty hounds.

Ultimately, the question with all these films, ones that are deemed ‘classics’, is this: Do I need to watch this film, before I expire from an untimely, Kentuck Fried Chicken related death? In the case of Blade Runner, no. You don’t need to see it. But you really, really should.