Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), is a pretty average guy – a lonely workaholic for a dying publication, whose only job is to handle incredible photographs from other peoples’ adventures. Enclosed by his self-made isolation, he spends most of his time escaping into incredible fantasies. When it’s announced that Life magazine will be publishing its final issue, Walter discovers that he has lost the photo for the final cover. Walter takes it upon himself to find the elusive traveler to recover the lost negative, no matter where the journey may take him.

Cool montages and great music galore!

Cool montages and great music galore!

From what I’ve googled, this is hardly anything but inspired by the Thurber story, or the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye – and honestly, I’m okay with that. Perhaps a title change would have been in order, considering that he doesn’t refer to his stories as any sort of truth, but hey, I didn’t make the thing. Instead we get a story of a man who dreams of the impossible in order to rekindle with the extraordinary, bit by bit, taking some chances and having an adventure – first for love, then for obligation, then finally himself – realizing his fantasy world has only gotten in the way of his reality, as well as his potential.

I can’t help but take into consideration the constant backlash over Mitty‘s use of blatant product placement, and personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Though various brands were mentioned casually, I think it’s fair to say that the biggest offender was Papa John’s. It’s not like the characters were talking about eating the pizza or discussing how delicious that garlic butter sauce is or anything – it was just the first place Walter worked at a young age, setting the stage for his corporate devotion. It wasn’t even positive product placement – in fact Papa John’s was more of a source of resentment, regardless of being a place of familiarity in a foreign environment. Besides, considering that this is a movie that begins and ends with big brands (i.e. Life), why stop at food? As if you didn’t know that a Cinnabon is just frosting-coated heroin.

Get ready to see this face a lot.

Get ready to see this face a lot.

It can also be argued that Walter as a character isn’t too identifiable. Unlike other characters of such caliber, Walter is not boring – he actually does have ideas and dreams and a family – he’s merely introverted. He’s the little guy, pinned against a corporate douchebag (a detestable Adam Scott) – an  antagonist I only wish was entirely fictional. Personally, I think by making real-world references we can empathize with Mitty’s reality that much easier. This is a man who realizes the only thing holding him back is himself – and like the rest of us, all he needs is a little push.

Walter Mitty may be pining for Oscar-bait a tad, but ultimately this is a sweet little film: it’s stylish, sincere, funny, and at times, even inspiring.

Final Grade: A

Saving Mr. Banks

Despite being one of my favorite childhood movies, there was a lot I didn’t know about Mary Poppins. For instance, it took over 20 years to convince author P.L. Travers to sell the rights – I had no idea! Fortunately, I read a bit about Travers and Poppins before seeing this saccharine er, “treat.” For my sake, let’s pretend that this wasn’t based on the true story of author P.L. Travers, because from what I’ve read about the real lady, a lot of stuff in the movie didn’t happen. Though admittedly, there are some applaudable attempts at homages – Travers not walking out of the premiere but still crying about the animation, for example. Other bits, such as the nanny and Ralph (Paul Giamatti) – though sweeter than a sugar-coated cotton candy teddy bear – appear to be entirely fictional. This aside, let’s get to the real nitty gritty of Saving Mr. Banks.

This photo epitomizes these characters perfectly.

This photo epitomizes these characters perfectly.

When we meet Travers (Emma Thompson), she is pondering about how cherry blossoms look like clams on sticks – a shining light that there’s still some whimsy in this crone. This light is immediately snuffed by scowls and furrowed brows as soon as we learn she is off to Los Angeles to discuss the film rights for the adaptation of Mary Poppins with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) himself, who she is certain will turn her beloved nanny into an animated clown.

In fact, the only evidence we have of her ever experiencing happiness is by means of flashbacks – days of old in Queensland, spending time with her father (Colin Farrell). As these memories reemerge, they grow increasingly darker, and thus we learn why she desires complete control over this project – yearning for redemption for her father as well as herself in the process of immortalizing his memory. So it would seem, anyway.

Despite having such a talented ensemble, everyone seems like they’re trying too hard, maybe with the exception of Colin Farrell. As well as Schwartzman and Novak – I’d watch a movie on the Sherman Bros. Hanks and Giamatti milk that eye-twinkle for all its worth, while Thompson acts like a child who refuses to smile at a joke. Perhaps if she wasn’t so rigid from the get-go, we could get a better grasp at the fact that she’s a human being, not a horrible snow queen with a heart of gold. (Didn’t they just make that movie?)

Sorry to get back to the biographical falsehood, but shame on them for being too busy making Travers a curmudgeon instead of acknowledging that from her childhood spurred a life of many other stories as well as relationships, including an adoption – wait a second, Disney hasn’t featured an LGBT character yet, have they? Of course, I’m sure if they had incorporated that aspect of Travers’ life, there’d be controversy over the fact that not only was this character terribly one-dimensional, but they also had to make the bisexual as cold and bitter toward’s a famously benign man’s advancements as possible. Alas, this is Disney making a Disney movie about Disney and the importance of remembering the good parts of childhood and the power of nostalgia.

*Sniff*  ...I guess I better give Dad a call...

*Sniff*
…I guess I better give Dad a call…

Wouldn’t you know it, somehow this film still manages to tug at your heartstrings, just a little bit. That’s probably because it hits you with every sentimental sucker-punch imaginable: loved Mary Poppins or even some of the songs? BAM Childhood far from perfect? POW Have you grown old and nostalgic? BIFF Are there things left unsaid to your family? KABLAM Mix that with a Sherman-fueled Thomas Newman score and some lovely camerawork and you have yourself a rather uninspired sapfest.

Final Grade: C+

Netfix: Blackfish

MV5BNTkyNTkwMzkxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzAwOTE2OQ@@._V1_SX214_Blackfish the story of the stars of SeaWorld – namely an orca named Tilikum and his dark history with his trainers. Told by whale experts as well as the trainers themselves, Tilikum’s tale is as relentless as it is heartbreaking – unfortunately also in a narrative simply meant to enrage you.

But shouldn’t you be enraged? I only wonder, where are all of the soul crushing documentaries about all the other animals in captivity? I digress – naturally, the ex-trainers speak somberly and with regret. As they say, hindsight’s 20/20. Granted, I can’t blame them for not acting against a massive corporation, but considering how they present themselves, one can only wonder why more noise wasn’t being raised at the time.

Similarly, much of the footage – such as recordings of SeaWorld employees lying about orcas’ expected lifespans – isn’t time-stamped, so we’re unsure as to the current state of the company’s use of misinformation, if there still is any. However, a quick look at SeaWorld’s site shows that they have responded since their initial retort, by pasting an open letter on their front page – notice they do not mention Blackfish, nor do they provide many dates to imply if there was change in protocol.

Regardless, this a very disturbing account of the tragedy between the whales forced into captivity and the trainers who are risking their lives – wonderfully filmed and certain to shake you up.

The Good
Though others felt it too slow, I thought this film was very well-structured. And I cried about five-ten minutes in – it was like watching Dumbo getting taken away from his mom.

The Bad
Sometimes it seems like the ex-trainers’ feels are trying to beat out the whale abuse in a pity-fight. Plus the bit at the end was pretty cheesy.

The Ugly
From wounds to whale dick, this gets pretty gruesome. Seriously though, a guy gets crushed. It’s hard to watch.

Excision

There will be blood.

Oh yes, there will be blood.

Ah yes, high school – a volatile time where adolescents believe they are at the cusp of adulthood, while simultaneously thinking only of the present with little regard to consequence. Unless you’re our protagonist, Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) – she has everything worked out. Pauline doesn’t have many friends and she doesn’t seem to mind. She has better things to do and much to learn, considering all she wants in her life is to become a surgeon. What’s a better way to focus her hematolagniac fantasies?

Excision features a protagonist unlike any other, namely because she is neither male nor a vampire. This is a teenage girl who loves blood, but fortunately she wants to help people, if only her parents would understand. More so, she recognizes that she has some psychosexual delusions and she would like to work them out. Though she begs for psychiatric guidance, her disapproving mother (ex-porn star and John Waters collaborator Traci Lords) simply pushes religion and cotillion – both of which Pauline sadistically exploits.

For once, we have a weird girl protagonist that is legitimately weird. That’s a good thing: Pauline’s not evil by any means, nor is she incredibly annoying or promiscuous in that “geek girl” manner. Okay, so she has retaliation issues, so what? Not all of us can handle awkward situations as well as the next person. And in the end, she decides to put her well, bloodlust, to good use. In a twisted sort of way – but with good intent.

What makes Excision a cult hit in my mind is just what I’ve been going on about: an original character-based story with striking visuals, and that’s just weird enough to make you feel a little uncomfortable while throwing in some humor. And it’s also underrated. Of course, a story like this does not go without fault; considering high tensions are only built between Pauline and her mother, the father and younger sister characters are about as dynamic as a pancake (still thicker than a crepe) at best. Likewise, Excision also suffers from this ongoing fad of the anti-ending. Although this film leaves much to be desired, the ride’s still pretty intense.

WYSHW: Red State

The Westboro Baptist Church has been the subject of much anger and controversy – duly so, considering these pious cretins have gone to the point of brainwashing children in order to protest funerals in the name of “God hates Fags.” This fascinating bunch is also the subject of many-a documentary and exclusive interview, not to mention inspiration for fictional backlash.

Enter chatterbox, filmmaker and all-around groovy cat Kevin Smith, a man not unfamiliar with religious satire. Inspired by leader Fred Phelps’ fanaticism, Smith drafted Red State, a tale in which a group of horny teens get caught up with some dastardly fundamentalists. Shenanigans most brutal ensue as the boys try to escape this backwoods fortress.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Red State is a pretty wicked experience. And an impressive one at that, considering that no one wanted to touch this picture. Of course, with controversial topics comes much well, controversy, so needless to say opinions on this flick were mixed. Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck hailed the film, whereas many-a-critic were felt that they were either bored, grossed out, or didn’t care for being preached at. As for me? Well obviously I think it’s worth at least checking out.

Showtime.

Showtime.

Frankly, I really dug this story. Perhaps I got a little caught up in the topical nature of figuratively attacking groups such as the Westboros (or in this case, the Five Points Trinity Church), but there’s something primally satisfying about a bloodbath of a showdown. And considering we’re dealing with a story of escape and survival – complete with sudden, heat of the moment turns – that just makes the situation all the more captivating.

I think my favorite aspect of this film, other than the concept itself, is the performances. Veteran actor Michael Parks nails this role as Abin Cooper – a man of charisma and tyranny. Personally, my favorite kind of villain is one I can love to hate, and Parks does not disappoint. Likewise, John Goodman and Melissa Leo give solid performances as the good-guy agent and the lady you want to punch in the face, respectively.

Intense, gritty, with a bit of dark humor tossed in there – Red State is worth a go if you’re in the mood for a decent shoot-em-up horror. Personally, I would have liked to see how the original ending would have turned out, but I think what they went with does the job nicely. Next time on What You Should Have Watched ….mmm Tom Hardy.