Thursday, January 02, 2014

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and of Ben Stiller: great looking volcanic scenery, at least

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, the second adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 story, is rather distant, and gives Ben Stiller a chance for some rather cute, manipulative but still entertaining comedy.  Visually, the film is quite striking.
Mitty (Stiller) is the photographic negatives manager at Life Magazine.  Leading a humdrum life, he’s trying Internet dating sites (like “eHarmony”).  When he tries to send a wink (computer eye contact) to a prospective girlfriend, the website balks, because he hasn’t done enough in "real life".  While waiting on the outdoor platform if the 125th St. station in Harlem on the IRT line (where the tunnel starts, shown quite well) he converses with the site's support (Patton Oswalt) who advises him that he needs the profile of an American Military University professor who has “been there, done that”.
At work, Mitty learns that Life is being bought out by a company that will make it all online, and that the next issue is the last.  A new manager (Adam Scott) regards Mitty as a bit slow and is determined to humiliate him.  (In a more serious film, we could get into discrimination and hostile workplace legal issues.)  Mitty has a bit of a crush on Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), but gets nowhere.  He is given to daydreaming (although not bookishness), and the film shows many imaginary rescues and adventures.  He would really like to become a hero.

He has promised a famous negative from explorer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and decides to go on a real trip to find him.  In Greenland, Iceland, and then the Himalaya in Nepal he goes on some real misadventures, barely escaping a pyroclastic volcanic eruption in Iceland, which is quite spectacular (looking like a small Mount St. Helens, which I did visit in 1990).  The Greenland segment reminded me of “Smila’s Sense of Snow” (1997), a captivating mystery from Fox with some sci-fi and one of my favorite films from the 90s.  He finally finds O’Connell after walking on a “knife edge” which looked like Mt. Katahdin (Maine).  The credits say this portion was filmed in British Columbia.  Mitty seems quite proficient physically, in bicycling and skateboarding in the Iceland sequence, and seems strong enough to hike and camp at high altitude.  
The film was produced by the Samuel Goldwyn Company, which usually distributes family-oriented independent films.  New Line and Fox joined in and 20th century Fox is the first distributor of record (but not Fox Searchlight).  Goldwyn’s production participation is interesting.  Did the Weinstein brothers take a look at this project, too? 

 The official site is here.
The film posts many of its opening credits on New York City buildings in the opening sequence.

I saw the film New Years Night at the Angelika Mosaic before a nearly empty auditorium, late. 

Wikipedia link for picture of Takakkaw Falls, near site of filming, BC. 

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