At the Movies: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; The Wolf of Wall Street

I don’t understand the tradition of movies opening on Christmas Day. Does anyone really think the Baby Jesus spent today at the Bethlehem Cine 6 watching “The 10 Commandments” with the three wise men and some shepherds?

At any rate, it’s another busy day for movie openings, so let’s get to it.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

If you didn’t get enough Nelson Mandela from the wall-to-wall coverage of his death recently, here’s a 2-hour, 20-minute biography of the South African leader to fill the void.

MV5BMTg1NTQ1NDczNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQyMDU1OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Based on his 1995 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” offers a broad overview of Mandela’s life from childhood to lawyer to activist to prisoner to president. It’s a lot of ground to cover and director  Justin Chadwick does a fair job given the constraints. It’s a decent biography but not a great one.

One problem is that the film assumes the viewer has some knowledge of South African history and so it goes from event to event without providing much context or details. I do not have a lot of knowledge of South African history, and I’m assuming many Americans don’t, so it can be hard to follow along.

Furthermore it’s hard to emotionally connect with the characters when the film breezes through such a long and eventful life. Breaking down 27 years in prison in a half-hour drains the events of their potency.

Still, as a sort of starting point “Long Walk to Freedom” does hold your attention, mainly due to an excellent performance by Idris Elba in the lead role. He does a fine job capturing the late leader’s quiet dignity. Naomie Harris is also impressive as Mandela’s long-suffering wife Winnie, but again I felt the film doesn’t go far enough in showing us the breakdown in their relationship.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 

Billed as the “feel-good” movie of the season, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” certainly has that carefully calculated feel that it was designed to make you feel good. It’s when you think about it later that you wonder if it was just a fantasy.

Based on a short story by James Thurber (and the second film adaptation, the first in 1947 starring Danny Kaye), it’s about a man who dreams of a more exciting life only to find out real life can be as exciting as daydreams. At least if your real life is crafted by a Hollywood screenwriter.

00290065-0000-0000-0000-000000000000_00000065-06d3-0000-0000-000000000000_20130829164043_00290065-0000-0000-0000-000000000000_00000065-06d3-0000-0000-000000000000_20130828214540_mittyIn this version of the tale, Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a nondescript drone working in the negative assets department of Life magazine.  He’s attracted to co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), who naturally doesn’t know he exists. Walter gets through the day by frequently zoning out — entering a fantasy world where he always has the right comeback, the perfect pickup line and comes out the hero in any outrageous adventure.

Harsh reality sets in when new ownership sends in Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) to make changes — changes which mainly mean letting people go.  Walter’s future is dependent on a negative sent to him by photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), which O’Connell claims bears the “quintessence” of Life magazine.” Hendricks wants the photo for the cover but Walter can’t find the negative. This leads to a globe-trotting adventure as Walter goes to great lengths to track down his elusive photographer friend.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is charming and highly predictable. The fantasy sequences are clever and at times visually impressive. The globe-hopping cinematography is attractive. The actors are fine. It’s more cute than clever.

But ultimately it feels like a cheat. A lifelong desk jockey wouldn’t last 10 minutes doing the things Walter does in the last half of the film, especially the mountain climbing at the end. Clearly Walter needs to go on some kind of adventure for the story to progress but it shouldn’t be more outrageous than his fantasy life.

 The Wolf of Wall Street

Who thought it was a good idea to open a 3-hour tribute to selfishness, gluttony, drug abuse and moral and sexual depravity on Christmas Day?

Oh sure, it’s a very well made movie about depravity and etc., but Christmas Day?  One would almost think conservatives are right when they say Hollywood is out of touch with most of America.

 

wolf_of_wall_street_posterThe latest collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort. Determined to become a millionaire, Belfort becomes a Wall Street stockbroker. When things go south he retreats to New Jersey, starts his own company and wheels-and-deals his way up to the top.

 

Belfort is the smug, self-obsessed weasel we assume most of the men on Wall Street to be.  He pops pills, he snorts cocaine, he cheats on his first wife, he cheats on his second wife and he cheats his customers. Sure, he suffers a setback here and there but he’s rich so he’s not going to really suffer.

 

The movie is really an overlong tribute to excess. A few times Belfort tries to explain the financial goings-on, but then he realizes it’s over the heads of most of the audience so it’s back to hookers and blow!

 

The movie looks sharp and is clever for the most part but it just beats the same points over and over. There’s too much speechifying and some terrible over-acting on the part of DiCaprio (He’s inspired by Matthew McConaughey’s brief performance early in the film). Jonah Hill gets by slightly better as Belfort’s partner mainly because he doesn’t give any speeches.

 

 

 

 

 

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