The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by Ben Stiller

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by Ben Stiller

 

Walter Mitty is a daydreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. But when his job is threatened, he takes action in the real world embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.

I am typically not a fan of Ben Stiller’s comedy – whenever he dons a wig and plays a crazy character, it is one-note and awkward. Stiller fares best when he is a normal person reacting to an awkward situation, instead of being the source of awkwardness and the nebbish Walter Mitty character certainly plays to those strengths. Stiller’s other brand of ‘costume play’ comedy in the fantasy sequences is fortunately reduced to a minimal. Here he is at his most naturally charming and while Zoolander fans may disagree, but this is now officially my favorite thing Ben Stiller has directed and acted in.

Kristin Wiig is also naturally charming as Mitty’s love interest and gets to shine in a musical sequence where she does a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Sean Penn has a funny supporting role as artsy photographer Sean O’Connell, a role that smartly sources Penn’s trademark intensity for laughs.

The production design is impressive, with its visual compositions practically lifted from hardcover graphic design books and nifty editing transitions accompanied by cool looking fonts, which to some extent owes itself to Stranger Than Fiction. Stuart Dryburgh’s photography delivers a true sense of awe for New York’s urban cityscape and Greenland’s natural landscapes. The story reason is to make Walter Mitty look like an ant in a big world, but that overwhelming sense of the environment towering over man seeps over onto the audience.

The reality of the film’s own world is suspect, like the logistics of how an employee is able to leave work and fly off to a foreign country, or how big of a jerk the new corporate supervisor played by Adam Scott is being. None of this matters because the story is a fable after all. The viewer may feel in moments that they need to give the story the benefit of the doubt, and if that moment should occur, go along with it. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is imaginative and humorously made, and even in its weaker illogical moments is ultimately compensated by its charm. The lesson of someone who realizes he is missing out on life by daydreaming is just darn compelling, and it is emotionally cathartic watching Mitty wake up.

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Bad Ass by Craig Moss

Bad Ass by Craig Moss

Decorated Vietnam hero Frank Vega (played by Danny Trejo) returns home only to get shunned by society leaving him without a job or his high school sweetheart. It’s not until forty years later when an incident on a commuter bus (where he protects an elderly black man from a pair of skinheads) makes him a local hero where he’s suddenly celebrated once again. He’s christened as “Bad Ass”. But his good fortune suddenly turns for the worse when his best friend Klondike is murdered and the police aren’t doing anything about it. Bad Ass decides to take action.

This film is pretty conscious of it’s goals and if you are not going along with the kitsch of it, you simply will not enjoy Bad Ass. Danny Trejo is currently 68. So you are not exactly getting well-choreographed fights, and it doesn’t need it. The whole crux of how this film works is seeing dummies mess with Trejo and getting their asses kicked because he has a mean ass looking face and can beat your lunch out of you. These dummies don’t know what they’re messing with till it’s too late. I laughed throughout consistently. It’s funny to know that this story was based on a real incident.

There are a few subplots and sequences that feel inserted to prolong the length of the movie. It could have been a lot shorter. The subplot where Frank romances his neighbor Amber (played by Joyful Drake) is a bit ridiculous but I found myself going along with it. I can’t say any of this was good by any means. There seems to be no point to get mad at it. It’d be like going to The Expendables and walking out feeling mad because it was all about the action. If you’re watching this, you most likely know what you’re in for.

I cannot help but compare this to Robert Rodriguez’s Machete. I enjoyed Bad Ass for the same reason I did not enjoy Machete. One of the major problems I had with was that Machete, while appearing like a bad ass protagonist, had nothing to do in his own movie. Bad Ass as a character is much more likable, the story gives you a lot of reason to empathize and root for him. Frank Vega is actually trying most of the time to avoid a fight, but is very unfortunate because he lives in a bad neighborhood full of people who want start trouble. He beats them up  and then thanks them politely afterwards for their help with a straight face. Yes, Bad Ass has much more to do in his own movie than Machete.

Mainly, Danny Trejo is character actor with an engaging presence and it’s nice to see him play a nice guy with a huge goddamn beard. Charles S. Dutton is also hilarious as the over-the-top villain Panther, I would never have pictured him playing a role like that. See? Everybody seems to be having fun here. I do not see why I shouldn’t. A fun rental for sure.