Movie Review: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Starring
Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt, Sean Penn
Director
Ben Stiller

Hollywood has been actively trying to remake “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for nearly two decades, with names like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Gore Verbinski, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers and Sacha Baron Cohen all attached at some point in one capacity or another. It’s curious, then, that the way the movie finally ended up getting made was to not remake it all. Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” doesn’t really resemble James Thurber’s 1939 short story (or the 1947 film version with Danny Kaye) that much apart from its daydreaming title character, although that was probably for the best. While Stiller has retained the core spirit of the original story, he’s produced a more modernized, feel-good road movie that’s got a bit of a “Forrest Gump” vibe to it without quite the same heavy-handedness.

Stiller stars as Walter Mitty, a timid photo editor at Life Magazine who has a tendency to zone out, getting lost in elaborate daydreams where he’s as adventurous and brave as he wishes he could be in real life. Walter can’t even muster up the courage to speak with office crush Cheryl (Kristin Wiig), and he’s running out of time after it’s revealed that the magazine is transitioning from print to a digital-only publication, with layoffs imminent. When a new film roll from renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) arrives at the office one day, Walter discovers that negative #25 – the one intended for the cover of Life’s final issue – is missing. With his condescending boss (Adam Scott) breathing down his neck, Walter embarks on the first adventure of his life to track down Sean, and hopefully, the missing photo too.

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Movie Review: “Despicable Me 2″

Starring
Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, Benjamin Bratt
Directors
Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

When it comes to filmmaking, there are multiple types of chemistry. The one most often discussed is the chemistry between actors; when it’s good, it can make good movies great and even unwatchable movies tolerable (say, Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in “Just Go with It”), but when it’s bad, it will consume all living things on the screen (Jennifer Aniston and every other co-star she’s had in the last 10 years in movies not named “Horrible Bosses”). The other, arguably more important bit of chemistry involves story lines. 2011’s “Despicable Me” was about 45% villain plot, 45% foster parent plot and 10% minions. Now, of course, the minions are stars, so they get more screen time in “Despicable Me 2.” And the movie suffers because of it.

That’s not the only reason the movie suffers, mind you; the villain story isn’t as compelling, they lean really hard on the bathroom jokes (the “dart” gun from the first movie makes multiple appearances here), and for a movie that is supposed to have a mystery angle to it, everyone hides in plain sight.

Gru (Steve Carell) has quit villainy in order to be a good father to adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), but he is soon recruited by the Anti-Villain League, due to his expertise as a bad guy, to track down a new super-villain who has stolen a serum that turns its subjects into indestructible monsters. The AVL tracks the serum to a local mall, and Gru, with the help of AVL agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), go undercover to find out which merchant is hiding the serum. The girls, meanwhile, want a mom, and pressure Gru into dating, while Margo falls for a boy, something Gru is not remotely prepared to handle in a way that doesn’t involve the words “Freeze ray!”

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A chat with the cast and crew of “MacGruber”

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When Universal’s big-screen adaptation of “MacGruber” rolls into theaters on May 21st, it’s going to face some pretty heavy competition. In fact, it’s a bit of an underdog when compared to some of the surefire blockbusters opening around the same time, but you wouldn’t know it from the reception it received at this year’s South by Southwest film festival. Although director Jorma Taccone announced that the movie was still in the later stages of post-production and not quite 100% finished, it brought down the house at the sold-out Paramount theater. The following morning, I was invited along with a few of my fellow movie bloggers to chat with Taccone, co-writer John Solomon, co-writer/star Will Forte, and star Kristen Wiig about making the film. (Warning: minor spoilers ahead.)

As the first “Saturday Night Live” movie since 2000’s “The Ladies Man,” everyone was curious how “MacGruber” was chosen as the next sketch to receive the big screen treatment. Taccone admitted that he didn’t know “how Lorne’s wonderful mind works,” but that “he’s always been a champion of the sketch and thought of it more highly than we did at times.” That doesn’t change the fact that the big joke of the skits is that MacGruber dies at the end of every one, and although Forte agrees that “a lot of people will probably think that’s what the movie will be – just a series of explosions,” Taccone was a little more defensive of the early criticisms:

“That was the comment: ‘What’s it going to be?’ We’re going to make a plot of it. What did you expect? But we did put that one little nod to the original sketch at the end, which is really nice that people seem to get that moment.”

Though Taccone wouldn’t get into any details regarding the recent lawsuit surrounding the film (Forte did say they would have loved Richard Dean Anderson to be a part of it), he was quick to state that the MacGyver character didn’t have any direct influence on the movie. Instead, they looked more to 80s and early 90s action movies for inspiration, and when asked if there was anything specific, Taccone offered up an example:

“I will say that me and John [Solomon] were watching a [Steven] Seagal movie and over an explosion you heard a cougar growl. We were like, ‘What was that? Oh my god, we have to put that in!’ It’s a technique, obviously, but you’re supposed to put it low enough so that it’s just a hint of something. So our sound dude was like, ‘People are going to think I’m bad at my job.’”

In addition to Forte, the film also features Kristen Wiig (reprising her role from the sketches), as well as Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer. Taccone confesses to being really lucky to get both actors, especially for how hard they worked and how little they were paid. Phillippe, in particular, plays an important role in the film according to his co-stars, not only because there are always three characters in the sketches, but because they needed someone who could “ground the craziness with something that we thought would be useful.” As for Kilmer, while he didn’t have a hand in shaping the villainous role of Dietrich von Cunth, Taccone joked that he “certainly made it more Cunthy.”

Everyone on set clearly got along really well, and it shows in the final product. While Forte and Wiig swear that a majority of their soon-to-be-infamous sex scene was scripted, they were more than game to talk about the difficulties of shooting it. When asked how she could possibly keep a straight face as Forte humped and grunted all over her, Wiig was quick to point out that it if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that she’s laughing so much that she had to turn her head ahead away from the camera. Forte, meanwhile, just felt bad for his co-star, who was being “pelted with major drops of sweat” the minute he started moving on top of her.

It’s not the most risqué moment in the film, though. That honor goes to a scene where MacGruber sticks a stalk of celery up his ass as a diversionary tactic. Forte spoke at length about where the idea came from, including a particularly funny anecdote about the day they filmed it:

“I think that was John and Jorma’s, and they pitched it to me, and it was just one of those things where I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll stick some celery in my butt.’ The best part was that my mom was visiting that day, and she was saying, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to go into Santa Fe with my friends,” and I said, ‘Okay, there’s a pretty crazy scene we’re doing, so you could stay for that or got to Santa Fe.’ And I forgot exactly what we were doing, and I’m sitting there naked, cupping my balls, trying to place this celery, and I look over and there’s my mom and there was no judgment on her face. It was just like, ‘This is what my son is doing today…’ The weird thing is, she was with two friends, and they were not having it.”

And just like that, the interview was over, although I couldn’t think of a better place to end it. After all, they had just demonstrated how far they were willing to go in order to get a laugh, and that’s “MacGruber” in a nutshell.

  

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