So, after Dave’s first perusal last year (click here for a recap) I signed up for the month free trial, and I’ve definitely got my money’s worth! Here’s my latest round-up of some of the films on Amazon Prime right now.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller, 2013)
One of the most extraordinary “development hell” stories of all time. Jim Carrey was originally set to star in around 1994 after the success of The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, and was still the choice of producer Sam Goldmeyer Jr (son of the producer of the 1947 version of the original short story) all the way through to 2005, when Carrey had to step away for scheduling reasons. Then Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, and Sasha Baron Cohen were all announced to star in the film. Directors to have been involved at one point or another include Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Gore Verbinski, and The Mask helmer Chuck Russel, before Ben Stiller (as star and director) finally got the film made.
Until Zoolander 2, Ben Stiller had a really impressive record as a filmmaker – The Cable Guy, Zoolander, and Tropic Thunder are three really good, surprisingly ambitious films. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty continues this trend, as well as giving Stiller a bit more to do than some of its rom-com trappings might suggest.
In this version of the story, Walter Mitty (Stiller) is working as a negative assets manager (basically selecting and developing the best pictures) for Time magazine. We meet him struggling to get a date on eHarmony, to such an extent that he rings the website to ask why he is having no luck. The eHarmony worker tells him he needs to complete his profile, as he has left big sections blank – which actually represent the dull, sheltered life Mitty has led. As he’s on the phone however, he leaps into a burning building to save the dog of a co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) he is pining for. This is soon shown to be a daydream, a trait of Mitty that reappears when he meets his new boss (Park & Rec‘s Adam Scott w/ beard) who has been brought in to shut Time magazine down. Mitty doesn’t make a good impression, but when he receives (and misplaces) the “quintessence of Time magazine” picture for the last issue from renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), he sets off to find the reclusive photojournalist. With nothing left to lose, Mitty travels further and further to recover the negative.
There are problems with the film. There’s some terrible product placement, actually lessening the impact of one of the most important parts of the film for the sake of using a real name of a pizza restaurant. And I know it’s there’s a big chunk of fantasy and wish fulfilment in the film, but being able to talk to an operative of a website, multiple times? That’s a leap too far!
But that is just me nitpicking. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is an incredible looking film. Stiller has a future shooting nature documentaries if the acting work dries up! Also, like Hector and the Search for Happiness (which I reviewed in an Negotiating Netflix here) this has a very uncynical outlook. There’s a story of optimism at the very heart of the film, and even if you don’t end up wrapped up in a globetrotting adventure, it’s taking that first step towards happiness – that’s what’she important.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is a definite thumbs up.
How To Rob A Bank (Andrews Jenkins, 2006)
There are two phrases I seem to end up using a lot: “I don’t read comic books so I have no preconceived ideas about this film…” and “heist movies could be my favourite type of film”. In the course of the last year, I’ve reviewd Doors Open, Gambit, Mortdecai (ugh), Confidence, and How To Rob A Bank is another.
The films opens with Jinx (Nick Stahl, just after his his stints in Terminator 3 and Sin City) recording a video setting out his anger at banks and how their multitude of hidden fees keep the working man down. We then find him locked in a bank vault with a hostage Jessica (Erika Christensen), seemingly in the middle of a bank robbery. We soon find out that the roles aren’t quite as we think. And Gavin Rossdale (yup, the lead singer of Bush) seems to be the mastermind behind the bank robbery, but who is working with whom?
Terry Crewes is the policeman outside trying to make sense of it all, and probably comes out of this film the best in an early role for him. Stahl is decent but he doesn’t have the star power to lead the film. Christensen and him have some back and forth bickering that turns into flirty banter, but the relationship between the two doesn’t ring true and the witty dialogue doesn’t quite zing like it should. The reveals and double-crosses that make heist films work are all pretty early in the film, and we are left with quite a dull exercise of negotiation. There is then the introduction of the “tips to actually get away with it” that are meant to be genre-skewering but are actually very clumsy. Remember all the good stuff that Zombieland does with its rules? Imagine the opposite of that!
If you’re a big fan of the heist, the structure at the beginning of the film is kind of interesting, but there’s not really that much to recommend it.
Runner Runner (Brad Furman, 2013)
Last year, I reviewed The Human Centipede 3. It’s the worst film I’ve ever seen, it’s disgusting, horrible, and badly put together. However, you can write about that. Check out Dan’s excellent reviews of the not-so-excellent Grimsby and The Forest from this week. The film’s I dread are the dull films. The ones that are put together perfectly competently, with a script that moves from A to B, and then leaves you struggling to write about anything – even in one of these lazily short reviews.
Runner Runner has Justin Timberlake in the lead role as a former Wall Street investor who lost his job and is now studying at Princeton. Due to his past lucrative career (that fell apart due to the credit crunch) he cannot receive any financial help, and so he signs fellow students up to an online gambling site, getting a sign-up bonus for each one. The film goes into some specifics to point out that he is not responsible for, and does not profit from, their losses, but when the Dean threatens him with expulsion, he uses his poker skills to go on the website himself to win all of the money he needs for tution.
Timberlake (I’m not going to bother looking up his character’s name) is winning until he loses everything in a series of highly unlikely plays by someone at his table. He gets someone to calculate the odds of the hands that he lost, and when he concludes that it can only be through cheating, he decides to head off to Costa Rica to confront the owner of the website, played by Ben Affleck. Affleck is impressed by his moxy, and so agrees to give him the money back, and gives Timberlake a job. Gemma Arterton is Affleck’s business partner, and also takes a liking to Timberlake.
Apart from the ludicrous premise (like you could go and meet the owner of Pokerstars or 32Red or something), the fact that Affleck turns into a ludicrous Bond villain (he basically feeds someone to his crocodiles), and a ludicrous reveal that the website doesn’t have any money and Affleck is stealing the money for himself (he can’t make enough money from online gambling?), it’s basically a bit dull. Aside from the tedious explanation about Timberlake’s financial position, there are a few more points that almost stop the story while some characters explain some minor plot point or another. The rest of the film is really dull.
There, I guess I got through it. It’s a very sleek looking film, and director Brad Furman has some interesting films in his locker, but don’t bother yourself with this.
The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011)
And after a Ben Affleck, I had to watch a Matt Damon one. Like Runner Runner, we again have an English actress as the main support, and Anthony Mackie in a small but pivotal role. Unlike Runner Runner, we have an entertaining story!
Matt Damon is David Norris, a Brooklyn Congressman, who loses a race to become a Senator when some youthful indiscretions come to light. As he is about to give his concession speech, he meets Elsie Sellas (Emily Blunt) and they share a kiss, before seemingly parting ways forever. Inspired by the meeting, Norris’ goes off-script, turning his concession speech inadvertently into a launch pad for another Senate campaign.
A month later, David meets Elsie on a bus and actually gets her phone number this time. When he arrives at work however, he finds all of his colleagues frozen in time and surrounded by sinister (but well dressed) men, who kidnap him when he tries to escape. The men explain that they are The Adjustment Bureau, and are responsible for ensuring people stick to the plans ascribed to them by The Chairman. Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mickie) was meant to cause David to miss the bus that morning, meaning he would not have met Elsie again, and also would have arrived at work after the Bureau had finished their work. Since David is destined (pre-destined?) for great things, they will not “reset” him, but allow him to continue his life as normal as long as he never speaks to anyone about the Bureau, and also never contacts Elise again.
Three years later however, David sees Elise again – will he heed the warnings? And what will the Bureau do to stop him?
Like I said, this is a very interesting film. Based on a Philip K. Dick story, we obviously have a nicely twisty sci-fi tale, and John Slattery (who plays Harry Mitchell’s boss in the Bureau) and Terence Stamp (a senior official in the Bureau) have a lot of fun with their G-men roles, increasingly exasperated by Norris’s tenacity. Damon, Blunt, and Mackie are all very good, and Elsie is actually a character and has some development, which is welcome, even if it’s disappointing that it stood out as unusual. There’s some satisfyingly silly in-universe mythology (no spoilers, but water and hats were two bits that I liked), although some of the historical explanation was slightly mis-judged I thought. However, the Bureau and the Chairman aren’t over-explained, leaving a nice vagueness for you to draw your own parallels.
If you’re a fan of sci-fi, a definite recommendation, and even if you’re not, it’s still fast paced and entertaining enough to be worth a look.
And that’s is the end of this Perusing Prime. Two definite recommendations, and two to skip. I’ve got a few more films to review on the list, so I will be aback with my next volume soon (hopefully!)
I definitely recommend you sign up for the free 30 day Amazon Prime trial. Even if it’s just to catch up on The Walking Dead or The X-Files, give it a go! You can cancel it after signing up to make sure you don’t pay anything, the 30 day free period still runs as usual.