The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Our Understated Habit of Daydreaming

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by Ben StillerBy Abe TimlerIn 2008 holiday audiences were delivered David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Five Christmases later, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty parodies a key scene from Benjamin Button’s reverse aging. Without that scene, it’s unlikely these two title characters would be compared. On the surface, both films are adaptations of short stories (by F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Thurber, respectively); and both stories … [Read more...]

Grudge Match Teaches Forgiveness

Review of Grudge Match, Directed by Peter SegalCan you believe it? After thirty years, Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) are back for a final round to settle once and for all who’s the champ. After two fights at the height of their careers, the scorecard read 1-to-1. But in 1983, before they entered the ring for a final tie-breaking match, Razor announced his retirement from boxing, thus ending both their careers. But now, in their old age, t … [Read more...]

Mandela’s Long Walk to Moral Leadership

Review of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Directed by Justin ChadwickWith the passing of Nelson Mandela, the release of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was already going to make a splash. Thankfully, the film is worthy in its own right. Accessible to those who know little about South African history, Mandela lays before us the life of a well-known man, reminds us of his flaws and controversial decisions, and forces us to look at the man who was, as opposed to the man that the popular … [Read more...]

The Wolf of Wall Street and the New American Dream

Review of The Wolf of Wall Street, Directed by Martin Scorsese Martin Scorsese’s newest release, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), is a chilling tale of amorality gone wild that has more to say than drugs, sex, and money. The movie is based on the eponymous memoir of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who was indicted for securities fraud and money laundering in 1998. The movie opens in 1987 when Belfort joins the brokerage L.F. Rothschild and cold calls hundreds a day to solicit in … [Read more...]

City Lights: Seeing Past the Surface

Review of City Lights, Directed by Charlie ChaplinThere are two kinds of great movies. There are really old movies that were great in their day but are today museum relics admired by film snobs and nobody else, and there are the kind that people actually enjoy watching. It is the difference between Birth of a Nation (1915) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). It is a rare film that was great in its day and still holds attention decades later.Is City Lights (1931) one of them? It is, … [Read more...]

Llewyn Davis is Empty and Pointless

Review of Inside Llewyn Davis, Directed by Joel and Ethan CoenThere has always been a bleak strain in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. But more often than not the brothers leaven the blackness with quirky humor: their signature is a hilarious misanthropy, a loving satire of our own human stupidity.  The humor is essential to make their world bearable: take away the humor, and all you have is black.  Which is a pretty good description of Inside Llewyn Davis.  This, alongside No Country for Ol … [Read more...]

The Lion King: Disney’s Almost Christian Tale

Review of The Lion King, Directed by Roger Allers and Rob MinkoffAs my kids continue to grow up, my wife and I continue to revisit our youths and indulge in a little nostalgia by popping in another Disney classic every few weeks. Then I blog about them. I previously found Snow White lacking, Bambi interesting, and Beauty and the Beast weird. The Lion King (1994) stands head and shoulders above the rest. This is probably the best movie in the Disney opus (not counting Pixar).The Lion King … [Read more...]

Touch of Depravity

Review of Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson WellesOrson Welles started strong. His first movie, Citizen Kane (1941; reviewed here) is sometimes hailed as the greatest movie ever made. Welles, only twenty-six years old when Kane was released, could have enjoyed four or five decades of productive work in Hollywood, akin to the careers of John Ford, Howard Hawks, or Steven Spielberg. Instead, Welles did a handful of documentaries and TV movies accompanied by fewer than a dozen full-length, … [Read more...]

Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks: On Loving Imperfect Fathers

Review of Saving Mr. Banks, directed by John Lee Hancock, and Mary Poppins, Directed by Robert StevensonWhen I was a kid we owned the laserdisc of Mary Poppins (1964) and we would watch and rewatch our favorite tunes again and again. The songs are catchy, Dick van Dyke’s energy is infectious, and the movie has just the right amount of magic and whimsy to hold a kid’s attention. But I always got bored and slightly frightened near the end.Rewatching the movie again recently with my kids, I … [Read more...]

The Hobbit: Second Verse, Better Than the First

Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Directed by Peter JacksonYes, the new Hobbit movie is better than the last one. No, it doesn’t compare to Return of the King. But that’s an unfair comparison: few movies in the history of cinema approach the heights of Peter Jackson’s 2003 masterpiece. The Hobbit is a lesser tale; the movies lighter fare. They were always going to suffer by comparison. Jackson was right to try to avoid directorial duties for this trilogy. Alas for the del Toro ve … [Read more...]