Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Film Review

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Based on the James Thurbers’ famous short story of the same name, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tells the tale of a man who escapes the mundanity of his existence through adventurous and heroic daydreams. This iteration, directed by and starring Ben Stiller, places Mitty as an introverted and socially awkward worker at LIFE Magazine, where he is set apart from any of the media glamour in a monochrome basement handling negatives and photographs. Derided by his snazzier colleagues, Mitty secretly yearns for his co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), but can only muster the courage to talk to her in the fantastical daydreams he is prone to lapse into. When the cover shot for the final printissue of LIFE goes missing, he sets out on an extraordinary journey to track it down.

This version of the Walter Mitty story has apparently been on the cards for the past two decades; at one point Spielberg was set to direct with the post-Mask Jim Carrey in the title role. Since then several big names have been almost been Mitty, including Mike Myers, Owen Wilson, and Sacha Baron Cohen. But the role eventually found its way to Stiller, who has used the opportunity to step up his game as both actor and director. There’s a movement away from the straight up comedy we associate with Stiller, instead The Secret Life of Walter Mitty plays out as a comic-drama, dealing with existential themes, and deeply embedded with a life-affirming message.

Mitty is directionless, and at times helpless, seemingly equipped with an integrity but devoid of any ability to enact his will. He is a kind of human flotsam that uses his imagination as a surrogate space to live out his desires. The LIFE magazine motto appears throughout the film as a haunting reminder of his unlived life: ‘To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, that is the purpose of life’. Unfortunately for what is essentially a one character piece, Mitty is not particularly easy to attach to – a problem that stems from the fact that he is not particularly believable. Like the negatives he processes he is black and white, and while the most interesting characters tend to occupy the grey area between, Mitty only exists at the extremes. His oscillation between the implausibly inept and the astonishingly adept proves jarring and not relatable. The lack of character connection leaves an uncomfortable space in a film that otherwise has all the hallmarks of greatness.

Visually beautiful, at times the film reverberates with an almost Middle-Earth feel, taking in some incredible panning shots of Icelandic scenery as we follow Mitty on his quest. The plot never lacks momentum, which keeps things engaging though the comedic writing is hit and miss. These elements try to fill the void left by the lack of character but it’s an impossible task, relying on them to provide emotional connection is like relying on a key change in a song to do the same. It’s a film that admirably reaches out to touch our hearts, but finds itself a few inches short. Without a doubt you’ll enjoy watching Mitty travel around the world on his adventure, but it’s unlikely you’ll experience any movement yourself.

 

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Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 26th Dec 2013.

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The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Film Review

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The first dollop of The Hobbit in 2012 was a schismatic film – staying close to the source material, it was a carefree romp complete with singing dwarves, a pioneering but slightly jarring frame rate, and some overlong scenes that alienated people who expected some of the epic action and grandeur they’d encountered in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In contrast to the infamous dinner party scene that dragged open An Unexpected Journey, this year’s film starts with a cameo from director Peter Jackson hastily chewing a chicken leg. It’s a fitting scene-setter as The Desolation of Smaug is a film that gets straight to the meat of the matter. Continuing on their quest Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves are being pursued by orcs and the diseased Mirkwood forest is just one of the obstacles that stands between them and the Lonely Mountain.

Visually stunning, the frame rate quirks of the last episode have lessened. The action flows smoothly, and while here’s still a high definition starkness, with none of the warmth of film, it quickly becomes normal and in a way it lends itself better to the dark and sodden sets encountered. In general you don’t have as much of a chance to sit and ponder because thankfully there’s an nrelenting momentum to the story.

Tolkien purists may well balk at the introductions of new characters, but they go a long way to creating that momentum. The fiery-haired elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who is torn between Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, and the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner) adds something essential to mix, allowing us to see character development that was sorely lacking from the last helping. As it becomes evident that a greater evil than expected is at play, we see the hitherto omnipotent Gandalf struggle. Martin Freeman again is excellent as Bilbo, particularly compelling in his scenes with Thorin (Richard Armitage) whose character begins to darken as the group draw closer to their goal.

The Ring remains a consistent motif throughout the film, and through Bilbo we see hints of the seductive allure we know it has. But the Arkenstone, the gem that lies guarded by Smaug in the Lonely Mountain, is a more overt representation of the dangers of greed and corruption, and the quest to reclaim it brings about bigger questions of loyalty and motivation.

There’s an epic feel to this instalment, it’s an episodic journey as the group encounters one fascinating character and situation after the next. Stephen Fry plays the wonderfully repulsive leader of Laketown, and Luke Evans is introduced as Bard the Bowman, a hero-in-waiting for the final instalment. It’s Smaug’s eventual appearance that makes the film, Benedict Cumberbatch voices the narcissistic beast obsessed with vanity, wealth, and power. The famous encounter between Bilbo and Smaug is the standout scene of the film, and acts as an interesting mirror to Bilbo and Gollum’s meeting in the first film.

Anyone unconvinced by last year’s offerings should be in for a treat. The film retains some of the carefree spirit of An Unexpected Journey but introduces deeper, darker themes served up with a far more compelling storyline. Despite getting tied up a little toward the end, it maintains an incredible momentum, and it contains what must be the most entertaining scene involving beer barrels in film history. The Desolation of Smaug is the Hobbit film that many people expected to see a year ago and will have you eagerly awaiting December 2014.

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Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 19th Dec 2013.

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Getaway Film Review

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Getaway, starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, has to be the most surprising cinema release of 2013 – not because it defies any film conventions, but rather because it repeats them to the point of complete absurdity.

The story is quickly established, it is Christmas time and Brent Magna (Hawke), a gruff ex-racing car driver who is down on his luck returns home to find his house ransacked and his wife missing. A mysterious caller (Jon Voight, credited as ‘The Voice’) commands him to steal a Mustang car, and then tells him to follow all instructions, failure to do so means Mrs. Magna will die. Selena Gomez (credited as ‘The Kid’), a petulant rich girl who owns the Mustang tries to steal it back from Magna and ends up being dragged along as an unwilling passenger for the film, which for the most part, is composed of connected car chases.

The Voice remains a mystery to both the on-screen characters and the viewer. We are only treated to close shots of his lips curling into a cruel smile, greedily gulping some slick cocktail, or mercilessly devouring olives as he torments Magna in a vaguely germanic drawl, no doubt calling from the untraceable number in the VIP section of one of those high-class and decadent clubs that villains frequent .

Magna has absolutely no character development, he remains trapped in a state of perpetual anxiety and each reckless request that The Voice makes is met with the briefest of resistance before he proceeds to careen the car down steps, through train stations, and across ice rinks in an attempt to keep his wife alive. The Kid eventually uses some of her computer knowledge to try to figure out what the master plan is. Cue some more filler chase scenes, a turning point scene where they briefly step out of the car before getting back in it, and a climactic chase scene. So much focus is given to metal on metal crashing that the only empathy a cinema audience could have with the characters on screen stems from the shared experience of being trapped in a seat while forced to endure something terrible.

There seems to be little CGI used, which is noteworthy, but the elements of the chases that are impressive are drowned out by the sheer inanity of watching so much action that, more often than not, is very clunky. The webcams mounted inside the car by The Voice are spliced into the movie as in-car shots, which is a novel editing approach that completely fails. Hawke and Gomez seem powerless to do anything with the script. Undoubtedly there’s an audience for every film, but this one will struggle in the cinema – even if you’re hungry for a mindless, fun action movie, there’s so many that already do the job better that I’m not sure the traditional ‘leave your brain at the door’ approach would have any beneficial effect. Getaway is one step beyond that, the title needs to be read as a warning.

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Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 12th Dec 2013.

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