Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

As a writer, going into something knowing you’re going to have to write about it and being presented with a pile of mediocre blandness is terrible. Things you love, easy to write about. Things you hate, easy to write about. Things you just don’t care about either way, not so easy to write about.

Going into the latest Cineworld secret screening, I knew I was facing the world premiere of a movie, and as a pop culture blogger, knew I would be writing about the film I was soon to be watching. Scanning through a list of future releases, I had my fingers crossed for American Hustle, but luck was not on my side and the title card revealed we were seeing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty a month early.

Based loosely on a 1947 original, the 2013 Walter Mitty stars Ben Stiller as a daydreaming magazine photo proofer, and Kristen Wiig as his love interest. The film also stars many other big names; Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Shirley MacLaine, and a person who, thoughout the whole film I thought bore a striking resemblance to Sean Penn (the credits revealed that this person was actually Sean Penn).

Walter Mitty himself is bland and boring, and readily admits to having never been or done anything noteworthy or mentionable. Walter regularly “zones out” and daydreams at inopportune moments throughout the day, filling his day with fantasies and awkward moments with colleagues.

Throughout the course of the film, Walter goes from a day-dreamer to an adventurer as he tries to track down a freelance photographer to find a lost negative needed for the front cover of the final issue of the magazine they work for. Unfortunately, I found the whole film to be a little lacking in plot, and instead found that it relied heavily on the special effects of Walter’s daydreams, and the visual spectacular of the places Walter finds himself during his travels.

I felt I cared little about the fate of the characters, and didn’t really buy into the reality that Walter would just up and leave for Greenland, given that his job is on the line. There was just so much about the film that I wanted to invest in, but couldn’t because the characters didn’t develop fully and the plot didn’t give me enough opportunity to get behind the film.

Walter Mitty is by no means terrible, and probably won’t appear in my list of the ten worst films I’ve seen this year (though the jury is still out on that one), but when you leave a film thinking “Well, it’s not what I wanted to see, but at least it’s out of the way” you can’t help but feel the mark has been missed somewhat by the film-makers.

6.0

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Review: Monsters University

Glastonbury festival is universally known for having something for everyone. As a film lover, I’m always interested in what’s on offer at the Glastonbury cinema, the Pilton Palais. Unfortunately, as most of it clashes with the musical acts, I don’t see many films there; in fact, of the two times I’ve been to Glastonbury, I’ve only seen two films at the Palais, both Pixar offerings.

Historically, Glastonbury has a way of obtaining the rights to early previews of Pixar films. In 2008 they showed Wall-E, and back in 2010, when I went, the Palais hosted a preview screening of Toy Story 3, six months before the film was due for general release. This year it was the turn of Monsters University, Pixar’s first prequel.

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Previous experience with the Toy Story 3 screening had taught me that these previews tend to garner a huge crowd. Not wanting to miss out, we turned up over an hour early for the showing and waited it out in the queue with the daily paper. Sitting in the queue and subsequently the tent, you really soak up the atmosphere; lots of excited children, and plenty more excited adults.

The film got off to a bad start with some technical difficulties (which also occurred later on too), but where a cinema audience might have complained, the festival viewers remained in high spirits with the children keeping themselves entertained making monster noises.

Once the film finally got underway (and later technical difficulties aside), it was much more than I hoped it would be. What could easily have strayed into an unnecessary Cars 2-esque sequel, was actually a charming new exploration of much-loved characters a la Toy Story.

Monsters University creates a real shift into the perception of characters. I’ve never been much of a Mike fan, seeing his character in Monsters, Inc. as a bossy control freak, who frankly, was a bit of a jerk. Monsters University really changed my opinion of Mike, and also Sully who goes from a loveable giant, to the atypical college burnout, who constantly butts heads with Mike.

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As the film and plot unravel, it is interesting to see the dynamic between Mike and Sully change, as the two go from rivals to develop the basis of the true friendship we all know from Monsters, Inc. The viewer is left with a deeper understanding of what drives the characters in the first film, including Randall, though he does not feature heavily in Monsters University.

The film is a great addition to the Pixar catalogue, and got me a lot more interested in the Monsters, Inc. world than I was before. The film is funny in all the right places, and as tense in parts as animated films get. Any reservations I had about the film were quickly dissipated as the film went on, and I have been telling anyone who will listen just how good the film is.

8.0

Review: Now You See Me

Some people love high school slasher films, some people like mall cop films. Myself, I like most films, but I have a real soft spot opening up for that favourite genre “magic films”.

As a Cineworld Unlimited customer, I am invited to the preview screenings the chain hold for upcoming films. Mostly, I let these pass me by as I always think I’ll catch the film at a later date anyway, and as screenings are on a Tuesday, I’m never with my cinema-going partner in crime. This screening was too good to pass up – even my parents went, sucked in by the excitement surrounding the event.

This screening was a tip-top secret. Cineworld invited all us Unlimited customers without telling us what the film was, revealing clues along the line. Tension mounted as the cinema workers remained tight lipped whilst being grilled by customers. Fellow guests fidgeted and whispered through the trailers as they tried to guess what was coming next. Suddenly, Jesse Eisenberg’s giant head filled the screen and he and his cast members introduced our next two hours.

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The film focuses around a newly created magical act, The Four Horsemen comprising of Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco. The Horsemen have been instructed to put on three magical shows across America, whilst dodging the grasp of FBI agent Mark Ruffalo, as their stunts become more daring and less legal.

The group dynamic works well, though at times it feels as if there is not enough focus on the relationships between characters. Certainly, the relationships are alluded to, but it often feels that the story will return and never does. The group has the benefits of each member having specialist skills, and the plot moves along allowing all team members equal screen time, but overall, being overshadowed by Mark Ruffalo who quickly becomes the central character, often stealing the show.

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I thoroughly enjoyed Now You See Me. The film felt fast-paced and the plot moved on with ease. The concept of three magic shows was introduced early on in the film, and this certainly helped with the pacing of the film, as the audience was left waiting to see what the Four Horseman could pull off next. Though some tricks were a little unbelievable, for the most part things were explained as Morgan Freeman’s character sets out to debunk the magic behind the tricks of the most popular magicians.

Now You See Me was a great choice for the secret screening, with the genre and plot of the film adding to the mystery shrouding the whole night. I would recommend the film to anyone looking for an interesting film, with plenty of twists and an exciting new concept.

7.5

Review: The Purge

Cinema trips used to be few and far between, but since taking on the Cineworld unlimited card offer, I can now find myself in up to three screenings each weekend. If I wrote reviews for each film see, I’d be here all week, and let’s face it, there are plenty of reviews around for a lot of the huge blockbusters out there.

I’ve chosen to write a review about The Purge as I feel it’s going under the radar a bit. Prior to entering the screen, I’d never heard of the film, let alone what it was about.

The film is set in America in the near future, where there are strict laws – except on one day of the year. On this day, anything goes, any crime is permitted. This day is when citizens are permitted twelve hours to go on a crime “purge” to cleanse their souls of the anger that may otherwise cause them to commit crime.

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Ethan Hawke is a salesman specialising in security equipment designed to protect families from people participating in the purge. His wife, Lena Headey, is left to deal with the scrutinising stares of neighbours who feel her husband is capitalising on their fears. They live with their two children in their grand house, and all is well.

Until the purge.

The plot of the film centres around the struggle of the family to cope as their purge plans go awry. I don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of entering spoiler territory, but the house doesn’t turn out to be quite the fortress it was designed to be.

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The Purge turned out to be a pleasant cinema experience. I wouldn’t say it was excellent, but it certainly isn’t poor either. The film remains tense throughout, and is well-acted. There are questionable comedic moments which I wasn’t sure were made to be intentionally funny or just missed the mark.

Coming out of the screening, I heard a lot of people grumbling that The Purge hadn’t lived up to their expectations. Having gone into the film with no expectations at all, I found it to be perfectly enjoyable and watchable. I can’t say it’s a film that I would necessarily want to own, or indeed watch again, but as a bit of fun on a Friday night, it was fine.

6.0

Review: Lawless

“If you enjoyed Public Enemies, you’ll love Lawless”. Never has a sentence filled me with so much dread. I can’t bear Public Enemies. I thought it was really awful, and have often cited it as one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I always try to go into the cinema with an open mind, I’ve often been surprised by films that I have previously had low expectation of, but with Lawless I just couldn’t shake off the looming Public Enemies shaped cloud threatening to ruin my evening.

Lawless depicts the true story of the Bondurant brothers, a entrepreneurial trio involved in bootlegging moonshine during the prohibition. Starring Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf as the principle characters, Lawless also boasts an impressive supporting cast, with Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska as love interests, Guy Pearce as the main antagonist, and Gary Oldman as gangster Floyd Banner.

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As Lawless commenced, any fears that I was about to waste another two hours of my life on a true story gangster-esque film were dissipated. One of my main problems with Public Enemies was that not much happened during the whole film, there seemed to be plenty of Christian Bale chasing Johnny Depp around and not a lot else. Lawless couldn’t be further from this. I found the plot of the film to be perfectly paced, with the right amount of romance and comedy moments.

Comedy in a “serious” film is always a minefield, too much and no-one takes the rest of the film seriously, too little and it can be seen as too dry. Lawless does comedy perfectly. Tom Hardy plays his role brilliantly, as the brooding head of the family, and it felt like most of the comedic moments came from him. Hardy proves once again just how great an actor he is by communicating more in single syllables and noises than most people can in a sentence, and often receiving the most laughs.

Whilst the film does have its laughs, it can never be said that it is anything remotely close to a comedy. The comedic interludes between the graphic scenes of violence provide a stark contrast, proving what a difficult era the Bondurants lived in.

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As a whole, I loved the film. The setting was perfect – breathtaking views and authentic Western towns. The film also benefited from being perfectly cast, with the tension really obvious between LaBeouf’s character and his two brothers. I could really empathise with each of the characters, an ode to their development throughout the film. In fact, at one point when Guy Pearce’s Charlie Rakes turns up, there was an almost pantomime audible gasp throughout the cinema – showing just how much fear everyone had for the lives of the Bondurants. I can’t remember the last time I was more pleasantly surprised by a film, 21 Jump Street perhaps.

My only gripes with the film itself lie within the opening scenes – the accent took me a little longer to get used to than I’d like, but that’s my problem rather than the film itself, and I didn’t miss out on any important details and quickly adjusted to it. The biggest problem I have is with the films trailer. I think it’s incredibly unrepresentative of the screen time each actor gets; Gary Oldman being a prime example. However, if the only problem I can pick with a film is that its trailer was misleading, then I think I’ll let it off.

7.5

Review: Ted

This past weekend, I went to see Ted, the feature-length directorial debut of Family Guy and American Dad creator, Seth MacFarlane. Based on what I’d read previously to seeing the film, I was excited. Critics promised the film was funny, that the trailer didn’t do it justice. I hadn’t thought much of the trailer, so I was relieved to hear that the film would surpass it in terms of funniness.

All I knew of the film before seeing it was a loose plot synopsis, and it’s three main stars, so as a huge Community fan, it was a pleasant surprise to see Joel McHale pop up in the role of a sleazy boss to Mila Kunis’ character, Lori. Cameo appearances continued to be a recurring theme throughout the film, and as the comedy failed to live up to expectations, were probably my favourite thing about it.

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As expected from MacFarlane, there are a lot of parallels between Ted and his TV shows. Full of references to American culture, it will be something fans are used to, but the more obscure references will leave non-American fans cold.

As an occasional Family Guy watcher, and an even more occasional American Dad watcher, I feel like I knew what to expect from Ted. Where it could’ve been controversial and edgy, I’d already seen it done before, and better, in MacFarlane’s previous work.

Leaving the cinema, Ted left me with a strange feeling. I laughed at it, sure, but was I laughing at the film, or the girl with the most infectiously amazing laugh who was sat behind me? Usually with comedies, I’ll come out, remembering my favourite jokes for days to come, but this feeling is absent with Ted. I remember the jokes very vaguely, and seem to remember enjoying a particular cameo more than some of them. Even more surprisingly, the things I found wrong with the film haven’t even stuck in my mind. As a strange paradox, this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the film. At no point did I feel like it was dragging, or that I was bored, I just found it to be quite mediocre and entirely forgettable.

5.0