Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller's latest creative outing is one that leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I do love its messages to live for the moment and to not be afraid to take chances. But on the other hand, I really don't dig at all how it uses those messages as a means to promote and support drunk driving.

Now, I'm probably going to be getting into spoilers as I continue to discuss this movie, so heads up on that.

The story is that Life Magazine has been bought out and they're preparing the print the last issue, but Walter Mitty, played by Ben Stiller, has lost the image that was to be used for the cover. And so, after some urging, he goes out on a quest to solve the mystery of the missing picture, all the while finding himself in the process.

Based on the trailers, I was really looking forward to this as an awesome visual treat, what with the way that our main character, Walter Mitty, has a tendency to daydream some pretty elaborate things, which this movie brings to brilliant life. And in that regard, the movie does deliver for the most part, though some of these sequences do tend to get a bit too silly at times, and the best of this aspect is all pretty much shown in the trailers already.

But the purpose of this movie is to encourage you to quit dreaming and start making those dreams a reality, which, sure, it's a message that's been done before, but the way this movie goes about showing this message was pretty neat, and felt like some of my own ideas at times as well. The thing is that this movie at times gives a pretty warped message, and I'm not even sure that it's aware of what it's done.

The scene where Walter needs to board a helicopter in order to catch a ride onto a ship is probably the most powerful in the movie, as well as the most disturbing and offensive. See, prior to this scene, we're introduced to the pilot, as he's getting absolutely wasted in a bar and drunkenly singing karaoke. He's so drunk that he can barely speak or stay awake as he stumbles to the helicopter to make his trip. Initially, Walter wisely declines joining this pilot on his drunken flight, until he begins to daydream about his dream girl, played by Kristen Wiig, singing "Ground Control to Major Tom" to him, motivating him onto the flight. And this is where this scene gets messy. On the one hand, the song and the buildup to him making his decision and chasing down the chopper at the last second is really powerful stuff. On the other hand, this movie just told its audience that to live for the moment, sometimes you gotta take a leap of faith that'll leave you riding shotgun with a drunk driver behind the wheel, but you gotta just push yourself to go with it. And, I'm sorry, but that's just not cool at all.

After that scene, the movie did sorta lose me a bit, though it wasn't a total bust. For the most part, it is still a decent movie, until the ending opens up a world of plot holes. For one, the picture that Walter was searching for that was to be the final cover of Life Magazine is an impossible shot to have been captured, considering all the information given to us during the movie. It doesn't fit the timeline at all, and as a result, it could have never been where he eventually found it. And if it was there, then the people who put it there had to have had the foresight that not only would Walter go out on this big search of his, but that he'd wind up throwing away his wallet in frustration in the process.

Earlier in the movie, Walter goes to visit Kristen Wiig at her home, only to find a man answer the door. A man who calls her "honey", and who we assume is her husband, whom she's apparently gotten back with. But then, at the end, Kristen Wiig says that this man was just the repair man, and nobody she's linked to romantically. So... was the words he was saying just stuff that Walter was hearing in his head? And the same for the man’s weirded out facial expressions? And for that matter, why the hell was the repair man answering her door anyways? Or was she lying about who he was? In which case, wouldn't Walter easily catch her in that lie sooner or later, assuming that they continue to date? You see, these are the kinds of questions that the plot holes presented at the tail end of this movie present, those of the frustrating variety.

But those bothersome issues aside, this movie's intended message does remain a pretty important one. Though I do have a friend who felt like this movie was shoving the whole "Life" thing down our throats enough as it was in the trailer, which I didn't personally take issue with. However, if you felt that this movie was being too forceful with its message from the trailers, then the movie itself is gonna absolutely smother you, because this movie literally spells it out for you all throughout. And yeah, it does tend to get a bit overbearing at times, so some restraint would have really gone a long ways.

And there's more that I can go on about, such as some obnoxious product placement (not Man of Steel obnoxious, mind you), as well as the fact that this movie somehow got away with a surprising amount of swearing for a PG rated movie (holy shit, indeed!). And at this point, I really find myself failing to come up with much good to discuss about the movie. The visuals, certainly, as well as the creativity at times, and the acting was pretty solid throughout as well. But really, the more this sinks in, the more I can't help but feel that Walter Mitty's life might've been better off left a secret after all.

46 comments:

  1. Very much looking forward to this one. But I am worried that the message of the film will be rammed down the throat of the viewers a little bit too much.

    Skimmed over much of your review, for fear of spoilers (thanks for the heads up on those!) - might be one of those films that I just wait for to roll around to Netflix or some such.

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    1. This was one of my more anticipated releases as well, Jaina. I'd say it's still worth a watch if you're interested, though not necessarily worth going out of your way for. And yeah, the movie's message DEFINITELY gets rammed down your throat in this one.

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  2. It was an alright movie. Not perfect, but not terrible either. Stiller proved himself just worthy enough of a movie like this, and hopefully, he continues to direct and choose more ambitious projects like this. Good review Chris.

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    1. Thanks, Dan. I do appreciate the effort on Stiller's part here. It's not a perfect movie, but definitely one he can build from to go on and do better stuff.

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  3. Nice review... I think I enjoyed it more than you, but I did notice the plot holes as well (I just kind of pushed them to the back of my mind lol)

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    1. Yeah, thing is, while watching it, I did enjoy this for the most part. It's mostly an "in hindsight" thing that those positive aspects seem to be overshadowed by the negatives, heh. But eh, ah well. Thanks, Tanner. :)

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  4. I heard some iffy things about this so now I'm still skeptical, but I think I'll give it a shot. Thanks for the info and nice review man!

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    1. Thanks, Whit. Yeah, I was super hyped for this going in, but perhaps some lowered expectations might've yielded better results. :)

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  5. I'm right there with you, Chris. I liked the message, but found some of the plot issues towards the end a little too messy, like with the picture and the Kristen Wiig/repair man thing (which I didn't even consider until I read your review, but you're dead on). Found it enjoyable enough otherwise though.

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    1. Thanks, Erik. Yeah, the movie is still enjoyable enough, certainly, so long as you can look past its flaws. :)

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  6. What makes the missing negative a plot hole? It's not a scene we see in the film, but taken some time before, like the other pictures.

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    1. It's not, though. I considered that for a time, but it makes no sense for it to be a shot taken earlier than that scene from the film. What reason would Walter have to be outside inspecting the shots like that? In any other occasion, he'd have no reason to even take the shots with him outside of the room, and he was only outside on that occasion just to step away from the office and try and wrap his head around this whole mystery, that much felt pretty evident to me at least.

      And even if it WERE a shot taken prior to the scene from the film (which still wouldn't make sense), then as someone else pointed out to me, it still opens up the plot hole of why Sean didn't recognize Walter when they met later on in the movie.

      Besides, the shot was supposed to be symbolic, to show the beginning of Walter's journey just as he set out to finally start living his life. I understood the purpose of it, but that doesn't change the fact that they decided to go through with it despite the world of plot holes it would open up in the process.

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    2. The reason Sean didn't recognize him was because Walter matured over his adventures and Sean only saw the Walter who was scared to try anything new. Sean also didnt recognize him for the simple fact that sean knew walter would never trevel outside his bubble to the himalyas!? He was also wearing winter goggles and a jacket to cover his face that was covered in a bit of snow. The photo that Sean took when Walter was outside examing was taken when Sean visited Walters mom remember? When she took a photo of her piano that was the last photo he hadnt figured out. He was outside because that's where the most light was, remember when was inspecting that photograph of the water, piano, and the thumb.

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    3. Fair enough on explaining Sean not recognizing Walter, I can buy that at least.

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    4. I think its only fair that the picture is taken long before Sean visited Walter's mom but still kept the picture inside his camera (because it was mentioned to be taken together with the piano picture)

      and also, i don't know if its their "continuity faulty" or its really true that Sean took the picture before he visited Walter's mom because Walter was wearing blue stripy tie.. but in the picture he was wearing square patterned tie.. hm.. *confuse

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    5. I figured the repair man was her ex, with the way she explained it. I also thought the final cover was taken years earlier. If someone I met years earlier walked up on me on a mountain looking the way Stiller did...I would be taken back to, and not recognize him.

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  7. It wasn't a random repairman... It was her ex who had come over to fix the fridge for her.

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    1. But didn't she say that it WASN'T her ex? Or did she say that it was the repairman, and leave it ambiguous as to whether the repairman just happened to also be her ex? I honestly don't remember exactly now.

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    2. Unless I misheard or am misremembering, I'm pretty sure that she didn't say it was her ex. And if she did, it clearly wasn't made clear enough, hence my and others' confusion on the matter.

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    3. She said that it was her ex, but he was just over to repair her fridge. It was made pretty clear.

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    4. K, except that it wasn't made all that clear.

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    5. It was made clear. I just saw the movie. She said he was just their to repair it and nothing romantic about it.

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    6. Just about every criticism of this excellent movie seems to be your own confusion. It was very clear by the tone of her voice, her reaction in saying "not my husband" meant her ex. Also it's not surprising that Sean doesn't recognize Walter on the mountain, it's totally out of context and completely unexpected to see him.

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  8. didn't say repair man, "ah phill he was fixing my refrigerator he;s not my husband." so the ex came by to fix the fridge , but they aren't back together, and chances aren't good. he's a bit worried about the weirdo at the door and calls her honey purposely to mark some territory and defend the mother of his son, I can live with this...
    the shot is the biggest puzzle I feel. the quintessence would I very defendingly presume took place like this... the photographer planned the shot to portray the dedication of the employees( specifically mitty's) of life mag by not providing the neg 25 and plans to take a shot with a true story behind it and give it later.. say mitty crying on his desk in frustration, but ends up settling for the shot we see,,

    then later has the neg sent to mittys mother, to be put in his wallet. good thing she saw him dumping the wallet to the trash ( clearly shows this) , she being all convinced that sean ( thats the photo guys name right) can help the son with his zoning out issue , takes the wallet plants the thing and then makes a point to hand it to him.

    alternatively it was a blank all along ( most of the cover is a blanc) and mittys shot outside the mag place is something sean ( that is his name right) sent to the mag later. and the manager guy hearing mitty's speech and realising the blank canvas we must all paint ( the blank negative) drops the jerk suite and hands some credit to the hard working employees.

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    1. Ah, well I think that perhaps clarifies the confusion about the repairman at least. As for the photo, those are certainly some interesting possibilities there. Thanks! :)

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    2. You people are way over thinking this. Photo 25 was taken before the movie started. The scene, of Walter sitting out front, in the movie, has nothing to do with shot 25 other than Walter likes to sit in that spot sometimes to look at the pictures in natural light.

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  9. this has certainly encouraged employees/dreamers to break their boundaries and take risks I see.
    http://www.deadline.com/2014/01/ellen-degeneres-show-the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-leak/

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  10. Reading these entries I can appretiate the effort to review and comment.
    Please keep in mind that this, like many other movies, is a metaphore, a beautiful, enchanted and almost magical way to bring a message across: go out there and live Life, don't just look at the pictures.
    (The girl did say that the guy at the door was her ex; the picture is just a resource to tell you that when you decide to go out there to look for "it" and live, then you discover "it" has been you/within you the whole time; and the druk pilot... please get over the druk pilot and enjoy the song!! He could have been sober and the message would have been the same... not as funny... but you get the idea)

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    1. Heh, thanks Mariana, and I can see this point of view towards the movie. As for the drunk pilot scene, hell, I think the pilot being sober woulda helped tremendously, as I otherwise really did like the scene, outside of that nagging aspect of it. :P

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    2. I totally disagree with you about the pilot. That scene made the movie for me. It's a brilliant scene. If the pilot was sober, a lot of the audience wouldn't connect with Walter's fear. As it stands, everyone can relate to the fear of getting in the helicopter with a pilot that is such a question mark. Not knowing. The uncertainty of the pilot being able to function is a crucial element. If this wasn't an adult movie, if it was clearly a movie for kids, yes, your concern about the message might be valid, but here, really? what are you, my nanny? you really think adults are thinking, yeah, the message here is I should take the risk, I should be willing to let my buddy drive drunk, it could lead to a great experience. Especially, when the pilot is too inebriated to clearly tell him which boat to jump into, and he ends up with the sharks.

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    3. The issue of drunk driving IS a very adult matter. It's a message that doesn't relate to kids, as they're not of an age in which they make those kinds of decisions yet, so yeah, it would be inappropriate were this a film aimed at kids. But, as a film aimed at adults, this movie does an EXTREMELY poor job handling this issue, for reasons that are clearly expressed in your very own retort!

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  11. The ending didnt have any plot holes really. Lemme explain. Image 25 is a pic of Mitty outside studying images, with his loops (the glasses he views small negatives with) in hand. The precedent is set for this earlier in the movie when he does the exact same thing LOOKING for image 25. Stiller and Wiig's character's actualy have a conversation about it there.

    The timeline for this is set when Mitty finds out that Shaun was actually in the city with Mitty's mother. Remember, Mitty's mother claims to have taken a photo of the piano with Shaun's camera. Also, more evidence for Shaun's presence in the city is given earlier in the movie when Sheryl tells Walter that her friend, Pam, has TWO addresses for Shaun that his payment was sent to. One is in Greenland, which started the whole life journey for mitty. The other, and the FIRST address told, is in New Jersey. So Shaun HAD been in town.

    As far as the idea for Image 25, The Quintessence, goes, remember, the note from Shaun said it was the quintessence of life. It's intentionally assumed by the movie, and thus the viewer, that he meant the over-reaching, all around us, "life-is-meant-to-be-lived-through-not-existed-through" concept of life. What if what he meant was, The Quintessence of LIFE, the MAGAZINE. The meaning changes drastically.

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  12. I'm confuse.. everyone said the picture was taken when Sean visited Walter's mom too...

    I think its only fair that the picture is taken long before Sean visited Walter's mom but still kept the picture inside his camera (because it was mentioned to be taken together with the piano picture)

    and also, i don't know if its their "continuity faulty" or its really true that Sean took the picture before he visited Walter's mom because Walter was wearing blue stripy tie.. but in the picture he was wearing square patterned tie.. and also, in the magazine cover Walter was holding his loupes glasses (while before he took it off only when he saw Cheryl came)...hm... *confuse

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    1. Would you guys stop saying it was "kept in cam". Do you know how legacy/film/pre-digital work? You CANNOT leave one pic in cam! And Sean was old-school and Walter was NEG asset...

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  13. I think i can give an answer to the negative's question. Sean took details about walter's routine. In a possibility, Walter by habit used to see the photos below the office building during their lunch break. Hence Sean took the photo long back and then put it up in the wallet. I hope i make myself clear.

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    1. I suppose it's a possibility. Thanks, Aakash.

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    2. Just because we the audience only saw it happen once doesn't mean that was the only time Walter had ever done that, and that is the whole answer to people questioning how #25 happened. It was taken days before Walter got the wallet and images from Sean. Days before Walter and others in the Building knew it was their last issue. But Sean knew and that is what is in his note to Walter, about Life at the end, and that #25 was to him what Life was all about... Life Magazine that is, not the meaning of life in general, Life was the people that worked there, and Walter was one of, if maybe the only one, favorite there in the Life building so of course he took a photo of Walter working on Life while in front of the Life building.

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  14. The whole deal with picture 25 and how could it possibly fit into the timeline bothered me a lot too, so, I went on to re-watch the movie, and yeah, the picture was definitely taken at an earlier time than when the movie happens, at which point it all makes more sense, however, this was all very badly shown in the movie itself, unless one was paying an incredible amount of attention to seemingly irrelevant details. You can see proof of this on the following pictures, with the pics on the left being from the scene early in the movie, and the pics on the right being from the end.

    http://i1111.photobucket.com/albums/h470/SethKyros/WalterMittyPicture25.jpg

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  15. Oh and about the “repair man” deal, she never calls him a repairman and specifically mentions that it was Phil, her ex-husband and that he was just fixing her refrigerator and actually remarks “he’s not my husband” and that they have not gotten back together.

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    1. Cool. The image above didn't work, but thanks for the clarification nonetheless, Seth. :)

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    2. Here you go, fixed link:

      http://i1111.photobucket.com/albums/h470/SethKyros/WalterMittyPicture25_zps74a621b9.jpg

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  16. ummm.... well the guy fixing her refriderator, was a repair man, but it was her ex-husband, helping her do it, I honestly am OBSESSED WITH THIS MOVIE, I think it was an excellent movie and they left a glitch in the timeline to add extra spark and get you thinking
    here's the website I made: http://secretlifeofwaltermitty1.weebly.com/

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  17. Thanks a lot for your post! Incredible feelings after movie! Do u know where can i get in Internet the phote number 25? This phote was on top in last scene.

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    1. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-5eMyrPRncNU/U1TKNbz2pOI/AAAAAAAAB6Y/hY3bU5Dzzto/s1600/vlcsnap-2014-04-21-12h08m22s68.png

      Cover photo, photo #25

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  18. I just watched it last night. #24 was the piano while Sean was visiting Walter's mom. #25 was taken in front of the Life building while Walter was looking at some negs or contact sheet, which was a normal routine thing for him to do and Sean was taking a photo of 'Life' of more to the point life at work at the Life magazine building. #26 and #27 were then taken while in greenland (the pilot's finger) and the water and ship reflection on the ship. The photos were taken a few days before Walter got the package from Sean.

    And the gal said the guy who answered the door and who also called her "honey" (out of habit) was her ex and was just there to fix the refrigerator. It was very clear as she explained to Walter when jumped to the wrong conclusion.... but maybe you were daydreaming and missed it.

    And now I'd like to see the Danny Kaye movie of the same name made in 1947... obviously won't have the special effects and probably the adventure will probably be on one sound stage or another, but hey I like Danny Kaye and didn't realize this Ben Stiller movie was a remake.

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