Let me be frank: I am very serious about daydreaming. I daydream to figure out how to solve problems, to rehearse how to get through difficult situations, to motivate myself to work hard, to give myself hope. I also daydream to escape reality when it gets too painful or boring. I spend a large chunk of my mental life daydreaming, and another hefty portion analyzing my own imaginings, trying to puzzle out when my daydreams help me and when they hold me back. So when I saw the first trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty—a re-imagining of the famous 1939 James Thurber short story produced, directed and led by Ben Stiller—I had high hopes for a film that explored both the power and pitfalls of daydreaming. I was disappointed.
First, though, let’s talk about the good stuff. The movie has some really beautiful cinematography, especially as Walter’s real life adventures take him to exotic expanses in Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan. It has some very nice comedic moments, my favorite being an awkward conversation between Walter and a drunk-and-getting-drunker helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). The way text was integrated into the film’s environment (both opening credits and, later, the—fictional—Life motto) was playful and creative. The soundtrack was a standout. Its PG rating makes it a safe choice for an all-family holiday movie outing. Sean Penn is in it. And the film had the beginnings of a compelling visual motif—leaping and falling—that could have been even more thrilling if it had been developed further and backed up thematically.
Before you go see the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy (and Peter Jackson’s fifth epic Tolkien film), you should know a few things, the foremost being that I am very tired. Beth and I have a friend tradition of going to the midnight release of Hobbit movies, so I was up until 4 a.m. getting my now-yearly late-night Tolkien fix. So please forgive typos and lapses in judgement in this short Hobbit run down below.
1. The Desolation of Smaug is some of the best fan fiction you’ll ever experience
Meaning, this ain’t the book you read on the bus as a kid or in book club last year. This is more a celebration of the entire Tolkien universe—and what these particular fans (screenplay writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and consummate fanboy Guillermo del Toro) would do if they were in charge of Middle Earth for a while. There are changes galore, but those changes play with the facts of the story, not the spirit. If you can lay down purist expectations and plug into a super-fan perspective, you’ll probably enjoy this exploration of the reality Tolkien created. Also, settle in. This is a film made by fans for fans, and they want to be in the fantasy for as long as possible. You’ve got 161 minutes of Hobbit-tasticness ahead of you.
The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise is on a lot of people’s Thanksgiving schedule. My sister and I have already planned our Hunger Games night for next weekend, and I’ve talked to quite a few friends who have made it part of their holiday plans as well. I’m glad to report that it’s a solid choice for a post-turkey outing for the 13-and-overs—heck, wild poultry even shows up in the first few minutes of the film. Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen as she tries to live a “normal” life post-games back on District 12. Fallout from her faked-or-was-it-faked romance with Peeta, her Panem-wide celebrity, and the machinations of President Snow all hem her in and threaten her (admittedly depressing) status-quo.
Prisoners, the first studio flick from indie helmer Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is a taut crime thriller that allows for deeper interpretations. The script by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)slithers and twists, solidly satisfying who-done-it genre rules. The film follows the case of two missing girls, the frustrated officer trying to find them (Jake Gyllenhaal), and their increasingly desperate fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard). The deep-bench cast also includes personal favorites Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Maria Bello.
You’ve probably noticed I’ve cut back on posting movie reviews lately. That’s because I’m trying to focus my extra time on actually writing and making movies, not just writing about them. I’m deep into another draft of a weird feminist Western I’ve been working on for years and in pre-production to direct a sci-fi short written by one of my friends. But I promise to keep reviewing long-discussion-provoking films. And in between those reviews, I promise to give you a list of what I’ve been watching just in case you, like me, are nosy about your friends’ movie and TV habits.
Maybe you’re a half of a content pair who believes love should be celebrated every day…without so much emphasis on buying stuff. Maybe you’re currently flying solo and loving your independence…and hating how Heart Day enthusiasts assume you’ll be watching Sleepless in Seattle and sobbing tonight. (I mean Sleepless is great; sobbing, not so much.) Maybe you’re a mysterious stranger with serious stunt driving skills who breaks out of a hermit-ish existence to help his beautiful neighbor…knowing there will be price to pay.
Yep, I’m suggesting you watch Drive today, in celebration of the international day of lovey-dovey-ness. Here’s why the 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn-directed, Gosling-starring wheeled thriller is a great Valentine’s Day choice.
The Valentine’s Day movie-going season is upon us, for worse or for worse. Fortunately, the first lovey-dovey date film I have to announce features brain-eaters. Warm Bodieshas a couple other things going for it, too. First, it’s directed and adapted (from the Isaac Marion novel) by Jonathan Levine, who was behind one of my favorites from 2011, 50/50. Secondly, it stars the charming (and fully grown up) Nicholas Hoult, who I’ve been following sinceAbout a Boy. And, as mentioned, zombies. Can love bridge the undead-notyetdead gap? I am really looking forward to finding out. Rotten Tomatoes has the unique rom-com at 73% right now. The New York Times‘s Manohla Dargis writes, “‘Warm Bodies’ is an improbable romance sweetened with appealing performances and buoyed by one of the better cute meets in recent romantic comedy…”
“Hey girl, are you going to see Gangster Squad this weekend? I’m giving myself cancer for the sake of historical accuracy and everything.”
This star-laden period piece is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) and written by Castle-scribe Will Beall, based on the book by Paul Lieberman. It tells the story of how a small team of LAPD officers fought mob-boss Mickey Cohen for control of Los Angeles.
When faced with tragedy, some of the most comforting words you can hear are “That should’ve never happened.” The assertion of the wrongness of reality is strangely comforting. With Django Unchained, as in Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino takes that righteous anger one step further to “And here’s what should’ve happened instead.”
Tarantino paints a guns-blazing, upside-down world—a Southern-Western that brings bulleted justice to one plantation in an over-too-fast 165 minutes. It’s one of the most alive films I’ve seen since, well, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is an exuberant filmmaker. He uses every trick in the book, from gorgeously framed silhouette still shots to quick zooms to extreme close-ups. Injuries spurt. Smoke curls. Stuff moves. As bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) says of Django (Jamie Foxx), it can be said of Tarantino: “My friend has a flair for the dramatic.” He’s not afraid to highlight the quintessential gesture, as in the trailer-featured moment when Django slo-mo shrugs off his rough slave blanket at the start of his transformation into a bada$$ bounty hunter.