Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, All Is Lost


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Director: Ben Stiller

3 stars

BASED on a story from the 1930s by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed once before, in 1947,with Danny Kaye in the lead.

This sweet, pleasantly entertaining remake bears absolutely no resemblance to either, save for the basic premise of a man who likes to indulge in heroic fantasies about himself rather than confront the real world.

Ben Stiller directs and stars as the pernickety, unadventurous Walter, whom we first meet as he's trying out online dating in a bid to get the attention of his colleague Cheryl (Kristen Wiig).

He's prone to zoning out, and we move seamlessly from reality to Walter's lavish daydreams wherein he's a heroic figure, saving Cheryl's dog from an exploding building or wooing her with his poetry falcon.

He works in the photography department of Life magazine, where its imminent move to online only is threatening the jobs of Walter and his colleagues.

It's stuff like this that marks this out as a relevant, thoroughly modern updating, although this does bring the downside of some quite shameless product placement.

Walter has always wanted to travel, but after his father died when he was a teenager he was forced to find a job. But when a photo sent to the magazine for the final cover by a legendary photographer (Sean Penn) goes missing, Walter takes it upon himself to track him down, wherever in the world that may lead him.

It's a rather curious scenario to set up, and the whole photograph thing seems a little inconsequential. Which is a frustration, because there are moments, several of them in fact, when this plays like a four star film; it's the meat around the bones that lifts it.

The visual zip and imagination that Stiller the director brings to the fantasy sequences, combined with some terrific effects, result in some really stirring moments, even if he does seem to be rather in love with the sight of himself running across the screen in slow motion.

Some are comical, like a hilarious Benjamin Button-style scene which does more in a minute than Fincher's did in two and a half hours.

Then there's an elaborate fight with his boss on the streets of New York that falls somewhere between The Matrix and Peter fighting the giant chicken in Family Guy.

There are some fun seeds sown, but it's all a little hesitant and low key, especially at first. But this actually turns out to work well as a counterpoint to Walter's daydreams when the lines blur and fantasy and reality overlap.

For much of the time this is a really quite engaging fantasy comedy that eventually leaves you wanting more - not of the film itself, but of a satisfying resolution that never really comes.

Stiller the actor and director has done a commendable job, and he can be fairly pleased with what he's come up with. It's just a shame he didn't have a more complete script with which to work.

See it if you liked: Forrest Gump, Stranger Than Fiction, Tropic Thunder

ALL IS LOST (12A, 106 mins)

Director: J.C. Chandor

3 stars

SEVENTEEN hundred miles off Sumatra, Robert Redford's unnamed sailor writes a final letter to his family, saying his goodbyes.

We're then taken back to eight days earlier, when his sailboat has the one-in-million misfortune to collide with a shipping container floating in the expanse of the Indian Ocean.

What follows is a very solidly put together account of one man's survival instinct, told in calm, measured tones that are in no way melodramatic.

With water coming in fast, and his electricity and communications gone, he first tries to repair the damage, and it's in these smaller survival details that the first half of All is Lost flourishes.

It's a one-man film, with Redford the only actor on screen for the entire duration, so he has to be commanding.

He's 77 years old, hoisting himself up masts and throwing himself around like a good 'un, and his increasing desperation is keenly captured.

And mercifully the decision was taken not to have him narrate or explain every little thing he's doing, something that helps immensely with the tension.

But though gripping up to a point, it never quite pushes you back in your seat in the same way the very similar Gravity did, and it eventually becomes more of a gruelling exercise than a thrilling adventure.

See it if you liked: Cast Away, Gravity, Life of Pi

Arts and Entertainment

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