Blu Tuesday: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ride Along and The Nut Job

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

WHAT: Daydreaming photo editor Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) has just learned that the magazine where he works is transitioning into a digital-only publication, and to make matters worse, the photo negative that was intended for the final cover has gone missing. With his condescending boss (Adam Scott) breathing down his neck, Walter embarks on an adventure around the world to track down the missing photo before it’s too late.

WHY: Hollywood has been actively trying to remake “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for nearly two decades, so it’s curious 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 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’s 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. The film’s Big Message isn’t as profound as you might expect, but there’s something to really admire about its contagious optimism about the joys of life. It’s sweet without feeling overly saccharine, and that’s due not only to Steve Conrad’s screenplay, but Stiller’s contributions behind and in front of the camera as well. Though the movie is incredibly predictable from start to finish, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” succeeds thanks to the lighthearted story, visually-stunning fantasy sequences and great performances by its cast.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes five production featurettes (covering things like music, casting and shooting on location in Iceland), as well as a host of deleted and extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Ride Along”

WHAT: High school security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) has spent the past few years trying to prove to detective James Payton (Ice Cube) that he’s worthy of dating his sister. So when Ben gets accepted into the police academy, James decides to take him on a ride-along designed to scare him. But James’ little prank suddenly gets very real when they find themselves hot on the trail of the city’s most notorious criminal.

WHY: I’m a firm believer that the best way to get a laugh is by grounding the situation in reality, which is probably why “Ride Along” failed to make me chuckle even once. This is the kind of movie where a supposedly intelligent character (Ice Cube’s undercover cop) is constantly surprised that an unarmed citizen with zero authority (Kevin Hart’s cadet-to-be) is unable to successfully police someone breaking the law. It’s also the kind of movie where firing a shotgun or lighting a gas grill miraculously catapults the person backwards like a cartoon. And it doesn’t help that Hart, one of the most annoyingly over-the-top comedians working today, is the cartoon in question, especially when his incessant screeching makes Chris Tucker seem tolerable by comparison. “Ride Along” is an incredibly by-the-books buddy cop film that’s every bit as predictable as it is short on laughs. This is a movie, after all, that was co-written by the guy behind such bargain bin gems as “Sorority Boys” and “Employee of the Month,” and the only thing more insulting than its childish script is the fact that it managed to make over a $100 million at the domestic box office.

EXTRAS: Universal has gone all out with the Blu-ray release, including an audio commentary by director Tim Story, a host of production featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and an alternate ending.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“The Nut Job”

WHAT: After a self-centered squirrel named Surly (Will Arnett) is exiled from the neighborhood park, he must team up with his fellow animals (including a pair of squirrels voiced by Katherine Heigl and Brendan Fraser) to raid a nut store with enough food to last the entire winter. But they run into trouble with a gang of bank robbers who are using the store as a front for their latest job.

WHY: “The Nut Job” might just be one of the worst animated films ever made, eloquently described by one Letterboxd user as “‘Over the Hedge,’ but shittier.” There’s nothing about this movie that is even remotely entertaining, from its clichéd story, to the out-of-date animation, to its totally miscast voice actors. The latter issue is particularly annoying, because with the exception of Liam Neeson (who could make the phone book sound good), director Peter Lepeniotis seems to have cast the movie solely based on name recognition instead of whether or not they were right for the part. Consequently, the characters sound like soulless versions of their human counterparts (especially Will Arnett and Katherine Heigl), as if they were crammed into a recording booth and held at gunpoint to record their dialogue. And believe it or not, South Korean production company Redrover somehow manages to make things worse by not only forcing Psy’s “Gangnam Style” into the movie, but also an animated version of the chart-topping singer during the end credits that will leave viewers scratching their heads. It doesn’t just smack of desperation, but accentuates the sheer laziness surrounding this film.

EXTRAS: In addition to some deleted scenes, there’s a short featurette, storyboards and the animated shorts “Surly Squirrel” and “Nuts & Robbers.”

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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2013 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

year_end

If you haven’t been to the movie theater over the past few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2013 wasn’t a very good year for film. In fact, my own year-end list was looking pretty suspect before October, but as is usually the case, the awards season blitz was jam-packed with enough great movies to fill more than the customary ten spots. That made compiling this year’s best-of list a little more challenging than in years past, especially with so many popular choices relegated to honorable mentions or missing entirely. With that said, after much deliberating, flip-flopping and even revisiting certain films, the following represents what I believe to be the best of 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

1. “GRAVITY

It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.

gravity

2. “AMERICAN HUSTLE

David O. Russell has always been a quality filmmaker, but he’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with thanks to movies like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and this farcical con-artist caper. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ‘70s, “American Hustle” is immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and features top-notch acting from the entire cast. Forty pounds heavier and rocking the most elaborate comb-over you’ve ever seen, Christian Bale gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as the straight man of the bunch. His co-stars aren’t quite as committed physically, but they’re just as good. Amy Adams oozes sexiness as Bale’s cunning partner in crime, scene stealer Jennifer Lawrence is an absolute riot as his unpredictable wife, and Bradley Cooper is hilarious as the short-tempered FBI agent in charge of the sting. The whole film is a lot funnier than you’d expect due to Russell and Eric Singer’s darkly comic script, and though some have argued that it’s too long, the characters are so richly developed and crackling with personality that I would have gladly spent another hour in their messed-up world.

american_hustle

3. “ABOUT TIME

Richard Curtis has written and directed some of the greatest romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Curtis’ films have always been about much more than the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, and “About Time” is no different, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding than the typical rom-com. Breakout star Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams have some fantastic chemistry, but it’s the relationship between Gleeson and Bill Nighy (playing the world’s coolest dad) that best serves the story’s central themes and leaves a more lasting impression, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a member of their family. Equally charming, funny and touching, “About Time” is classic Richard Curtis, through and through. And if the rumors about it being his directorial swan song are true, Curtis can take comfort in knowing that he went out on top, because this is not only his most mature and personal work to date, but it’s just a really beautiful film.

about_time

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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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to December

december

Winter has officially arrived, and with it comes the final wave of award contenders hoping to leave an impression on critics and Oscar voters. Though 2013 hasn’t exactly been the best year for movies, there’s plenty of quality on display in December, including the second installment of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy, new films from David O. Russell and the Coen brothers, and the latest collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. And for those looking for lighter fare, there’s also the long-awaited sequel to “Anchorman.”

“OUT OF THE FURNACE”

Who: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Zoe Saldana
What: When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement fails to follow through, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.
When: December 4th
Why: Writer/director Scott Cooper burst onto the scene in 2009 with “Crazy Heart,” netting Jeff Bridges the Oscar for Best Actor in the process, so it’s not surprising to see that he’s managed to land some equally impressive talent for his sophomore effort. Though early word for this one has been pretty mixed, the trailers have me intrigued, particularly with such an amazing ensemble cast, which also includes screen veterans like Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. Plus, I’ll watch just about anything starring Christian Bale, because he’s one of this generation’s finest actors with his chameleon-like ability to completely inhabit any role. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t made a dud every now and again, but his résumé speaks for itself, and “Out of the Furnace” looks like another solid addition to an already remarkable career.

“INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS”

Who: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman
What: A week in the life of a young musician as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
When: December 6th
Why: There aren’t many directors that can boast a track record as impressive as the one that Joel and Ethan Coen have enjoyed throughout their 30-year careers, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just another notch on that cinematic belt. Markedly different from a lot of their films in that it’s a much more intimate, character-driven piece, “Inside Llewyn Davis” most closely resembles “A Serious Man” in both tone and execution. But although the movie is a fairly bittersweet portrait of personal failure (a running theme in the Coens’ repertoire), it’s not without their trademark wit and humor. The comedy may not be as pronounced as in their other films, but it’s yet another fine period drama that boasts a superb lead performance from Oscar Isaac and one of the best (and most addictive) soundtracks since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”

Who: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage and Orlando Bloom
What: The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug.
When: December 13th
Why: It’s a little ironic that the villain of this story is an avaricious reptile, because Warner Bros. could be accused of similar behavior following the decision to split “The Hobbit” into three movies. Of course, fans are hardly complaining about spending more time in Middle-earth, and now that the stage has been set with “An Unexpected Journey,” the second installment promises to be even better. Along with introducing important characters like Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), The Necromancer and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch pulling double duty), the movie also marks the return of fan favorite Legolas and newly created female elf Tauriel, neither of whom actually appear in Tolkien’s novel. It wouldn’t be the first time that Peter Jackson has tinkered with the source material, but he hasn’t let us down yet, and that’s more than enough reason to get excited about Part Two.

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