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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It’s hard to watch a movie with a lot of pretense. When you watch one that has really fooled itself into thinking it’s something special when you know full well that it’s not, it brings forth a peculiar kind of embarrassment. You start to feel bad for the filmmakers because their expected feedback is not going to match the feedback they actually receive. Such is the case with Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” an adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name (which was previously adapted to film in 1947 with better results). It’s still a movie that is easy to enjoy, but it’s far from the poignant tale Stiller undoubtedly wanted to tell.

The film follows our titular protagonist, Walter Mitty (Stiller), a man who lives many different lives: the one that is real and the ones in his head. He’s a fantasizer and is known to zone out at random points in his days, heading off on grand adventures that allow him to life and feel how he wants to. In real life, his day-to-day is decidedly humdrum working as a negative asset manager for Life magazine that the new management is going to turn into an online exclusive publication. This means many folks are going to be losing their jobs, though they don’t know who. His job is already up in the air, but when he can’t find one photo that renowned photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), sends in, the one he claims is the absolute best photo he’s ever taken and should be the cover for the final issue, Walter decides to take action. He doesn’t know where Sean is, but he nevertheless hops on a plane and follows his only lead to find him.

Of course, in true Hollywood storytelling fashion, his motivation stems not from his desire to keep his job, but from his pretty co-worker crush, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who urges him to become more adventurous. Their relationship is smooth and easy to watch, if a bit frustrating. Cheryl clearly has an affection for Walter, so his timidity comes off as forced, which is a criticism that is indicative of the film as a whole. The film isn’t as funny as it thinks it is nor as imaginative as it wants to be, as laughs come infrequently and the imagination on display fails to captivate.

Nevertheless, part of the fun of the film comes from the mind game it plays: are these grand adventures we’re witnessing real or are they simply something that is playing out in Walter’s mind? When Walter brings home a longboard he got in Iceland to give to Cheryl’s kid, is there a chance that it’s really just something he bought down the street at a local skate shop? The problem is that if it’s real, it’s a bit bland and if it’s in his head, it’s lacking the excitement and imagination that was so prevalent in the film’s opening moments.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has an inspiring message of living your life and simply going for it, whatever that “it” may be, but it’s surprisingly thin for a movie so singularly focused on it. Furthermore, the blatant product placement does everything it can to obscure that message. When Walter calls Cheryl from Iceland and he tells her he’s in a Papa John’s, she doesn’t express her disbelief that he actually took the initiative to do something spontaneous. She just talks about her amazement that they have a Papa John’s in Iceland. “They have those there?” she says. Moments like these are distracting and insulting inclusions that detract a significant amount of charm from the overall product.

But even with all the complaints, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” isn’t a bad movie. It’s merely a lackluster one, one that receives more criticisms than praises only because the final result is such a letdown from the promising idea. It still has a good amount of heart to it, particularly from the delightful Wiig who somehow manages to create an interesting and empathetic character out of thin material, but “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is just missing that extra, unexplainable quality that real special movies have.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty receives 3/5


Fair Game

Politics are a funny thing. Those who are passionate about government will argue policy until they have lost their voices. But let’s face it. People are stubborn. You could place mounds and mounds of evidence supporting your side in front of your opponent and it wouldn’t change their mind because everybody always thinks they are right. It’s a natural type of narcissism with which we are all born. I could type out countless instances where an otherwise innocent discussion has led to disbelief because of the ignorance of the people I’m talking to, whose simplistic mindset has caused them to disregard the facts on a range of topics. The funny thing is that those people would say they could do the same for me. It’s with this in mind that I begin this review of Fair Game. For those who disagree with the political stance of the movie (and who are less likely to give it a fair chance), there’s not much here you'll enjoy. But for all of my compatriots who represent themselves with the logo of the donkey, you’re going to find this movie mighty interesting.

The movie is based on the true story of Valerie Plame, a now ex-CIA covert agent who was outed by members of the Bush administration (namely Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney) to push their own agenda in support of the impending Iraq war, which effectively ended her career and placed her in the public scrutiny, damaging her reputation and endangering her life.

While it will be easy for conservatives to dismiss Fair Game for being merely another “liberal propaganda” film, the fact of the matter is that the evidence is there. There were undoubtedly some artistic liberties taken with the story, but this movie is based on fact and you need look no further than Google to confirm that. The CIA, who was studying the possible threat of nuclear weapons in post 9/11 Iraq, found little reason to believe that the country was a threat. Plame and her husband Joseph, played by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, respectively, were two of the people studying that possibility and argued against an invasion, but the White House went forward with one anyway. When Joseph saw the blatant misappropriation of the facts in Bush’s State of the Union address, he did something about it and wrote a damning piece for the New York Times, which set off a maddening chain of events. It was the speculation, not proof, of WMD’s in Iraq that took us to war and Plame unwittingly played a part in it.

What Bush, or rather his cohorts, did was use the population’s fear after the tragedy of 9/11 to justify an invasion of Iraq, taking raw data and purporting them into so called “facts.” This effect can be seen clearly now. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and there was no correlation between that country and 9/11, a fact even Dick Cheney admitted on Fox News in 2009, though the delusion still rages on. One brilliant, but maddening scene midway through the movie shows how easily the population was duped into believing the falsity. As Plame and her husband sit around the dining room table with their friends prior to landing in hot water, they listen as those around them echo the backwards speeches they heard on the news from Cheney. While Joseph and Valerie know the truth, their friends have become puppets to the aggrandizing effect of the lies.

While this may sound more like a political rant than a movie review, all of this matters if you are to find entertainment in it. If you find what I’ve written here disagreeable, you probably stopped reading a long time ago, but if you’ve been shaking your head in approving satisfaction, Fair Game will hook you like no other. It’s a finely tuned political drama with top notch performances and if you aren’t pissed off by the end of it, you’re probably associating yourself with the wrong party.

Fair Game receives 4.5/5