I see a lot of movies. That’s probably not a shocking revelation to anybody. I’ve been writing about film for almost 15 years now. No matter how many columns I pen, there are always movies that don’t get covered. Most of the time, this is a failure or prioritization—or perhaps the movie just didn’t inspire me enough to put fingers to keys and produce something worth reading. The point is: I see a lot more movies than I have the time to write about.
So, this column is dedicated to the movies I saw in January but didn’t write about.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
★ ★ 1/2 (out of five)
Starring Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig
Directed by Ben Stiller • Rated PG
I really was jazzed to see this when the trailer first came out. It had a really quirky vibe and felt like it might be an inspired bit of whimsy. Ben Stiller delivers a very affected and underwhelming examination of a man who dreams of a more exciting life. Walter Mitty (Stiller), a negative asset manager at Life magazine, slips into very lucid daydreams where he’s something more than the meager man who can’t even muster the courage to ask out the cute girl in his office. When a priceless photo doesn’t turn up, he decides to venture out on a worldwide trek after the adventurous photographer (Sean Penn) to find the missing shot.
By no means is “Walter Mitty” a bad movie, but it’s brutally simple message of seizing the day feels half-baked. There’s some great visuals and some beautiful landscapes, but the storybook quality and the sad reality of modern uncertainty never quite mesh. The story has been done before and has become the model for many shy daydreamers looking for thrills in the mundanity of modern society. Kudos to Stiller for trying something grand, but the final product is kind of a snooze.
★ ★ 1/2 (out of five)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
Directed by Peter Burg • Rated R
Movies about the war on terror have been poorly recieved. I once believed that the American public was barely capable of caring about the actual war on terror much less pay $10 a ticket to go see a two-hour movie about it.
“Lone Survivor” is an interesting and at times a thrilling film which details the modern wars we’re fighting half a world a way. It’s also a ridiculous, jingoistic cartoon that paints with very broad strokes for a combat situation that is anything but. There’s a comical bit in the film’s opening where they introduce the villainous terrorist being hunted down by the American army. It’s a scene so hilariously overdone that they might as well have abandoned reality and shown him skeet-shooting live puppies.
“Lone Survivor” wants to be a movie about people in combat, focusing on the camaraderie of brave souls who fight out battles. While the action and the technical aspects of the film are impressive, it’s too afraid of being something more than an action film. The danger of playing with lofty themes is that if a filmmaker tries to tackle something big, like the war on terror, but never deals with the complexities of the issue, the audience might not take it all that seriously. That’s a real disservice to this true story.
Director Peter Berg wanted to make a movie about the bravery of soldiers who fight and sacrifice on the battlefield. Much like “The Life of Walter Mitty,” it’s a reductive approach to something deep, and the film suffers for it. “Lone Survivor” is competent, and at times thrilling action, but it never quite becomes the epic war story it desperately wants to be.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
★ ★ (out of five)
Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
It seems damn near an eternity since Tom Clancy’s most famous literary creation Jack Ryan came to the big screen in the fantastic and still highly watchable “The Hunt for Red October.” Since, Hollywood’s tried a few times to repackage and relaunch the franchise. Two very somber installments came with Harrison Ford—and then a reboot with Ben Affleck in the underrated and marginally entertaining “Sum of All Fears.” Now they’re trying to do it all over again with the charismatic Chris Pine taking the reigns in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” No one has yet to get the character as “right” as Alec Baldwin did all those years ago.
“Shadow Recruit” is an attempt to take a known property and reshape it for modern audiences. It’s a film that only exists because other similar films have racked-up big bucks, like the invigorated James Bond franchise or the Bourne films. They’ve taken the character of Jack Ryan and added elements from all these other espionage franchises. The result is exactly what happens when too many ingredients come to the table: You end up with an overcooked mess.
The great thing about Jack Ryan is that he wasn’t a spy or an action hero. He was an analyst—a smart guy who used his brain to think his way out of tight spots. He didn’t kick ass and take names, per se. This new take on the character feels forced and ultimately strips away all uniqueness. It’s not a total disaster, but the film struggles to be anything other than average. As a fan of espionage films, I found this one a little tepid and bereft of personality.
Here’s hoping February can be a little more interesting on the big screen.