The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Strong enough for a man, yet gentle enough for a woman, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty almost feels like a chick flick. But it’s not a chick flick. Let’s just say this PG-rated film is light entertainment. You can take your mom (or even your grandma) to see this film and be assured she will walk out happy.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a shy, wimpy guy with an amazing fantasy life. That fantasy life is depicted hilariously in several episodes in the first half of the film. The director of the film, also named Ben Stiller, changes direction in midstream and takes Mitty into outlandish adventures in his real life. (Okay, his on-screen real life.)

Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) is Mitty’s co-worker and romantic interest. She’s involved in Mitty fantasies, as is Mitty’s jerky new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott at his smarmiest). Walter’s mom (Shirley MacLaine) provides her son with support and important guidance. MacLaine, as usual, is excellent and provides another reason to take your mom to this movie.

Maybe the best supporting player is Patton Oswalt as an online dating counselor, whose work as an unseen voice in TSLOWM is as strong as his brief onscreen scene.

Mitty is a photo editor for Life magazine, which is preparing to publish its last issue. Photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) sends Mitty a photo for the cover of that final issue, but Mitty can’t locate the pic anywhere within the package.

The quest to find that photo takes Mitty on a trek to exotic locales, where he does things he’s never imagined. Okay, he has imagined being part of outrageous events, but never thought he’d actually live them.

Stiller is charming as the nerdy nebbish. His adventures, both real and imagined, are fun to watch. Credit goes to director Stiller for giving us a film that looks good and leaves us with a feel good, upbeat ending. Wiig also brings wholesome charm to her role, which is more substantial that the caricature she plays in the current Anchorman film.

To make a solidly entertaining PG-rated movie for a grownup audience is rarely attempted in today’s world of edgy filmmaking and even more rarely achieved. Congrats to Ben Stiller the director and Ben Stiller the actor for delivering a movie that’s fun to watch without all the dirty business.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is sweet and cute. If you can handle that kind of thing, don’t miss it. And take you mother.

Gangster Squad

With classic elements galore, Gangster Squad delivers the goods. Sean Penn turns in a killer performance as a boxer turned mob boss in mid-20th century Los Angeles. His character is almost cartoonish, like a Dick Tracy bad guy. Josh Brolin, as leader of the secret Squad, is not unlike Dick Tracy, with a Tess Trueheart type wife.

With a hint of the colors of retouched picture postcards and the requisite armada of late 40’s automobiles, Gangster Squad is drenched in nostalgia. The wardrobes (including men in hats), the red lipstick, the smoking, comments about WW II, the music all do a nice job of capturing the era. Josh Brolin’s opening and closing narrations echo another staple of this genre.

Penn’s character Mickey Cohen controls not only vice but also the majority of police and political leaders in metro LA. Nick Nolte, looking healthier than in his other recent roles, is the LAPD chief (not been bought off by Cohen) who anoints Brolin’s character John O’Mara as leader of a secret gangster squad.

O’Mara recruits a team of cops to shut down Cohen and his operations. Ryan Gosling is a cool LAPD detective named Jerry Wooters who successfully hits on Cohen’s babe, Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone. He eases his way into the squad and becomes a vital team member.

The squad operates almost like the Mission Impossible teams of prior movies and TV shows. They even have a tech guy, played by the nerdy Giovanni Ribisi, who plants a microphone in Cohen’s digs and listens in from a remote shack.

The Gangster Squad and Cohen’s crooks trade punches throughout the film until the last round, when the knockout blow is finally delivered.

Gangster Squad is an entertainingly violent movie that’s not quite a classic, but has all the LA period piece cops and robbers stuff. One quibble is the casting of Emma Stone as the babe. A more mature, less innocent looking actress may have been more effective in the role.

Word is that the movie was originally slated for a September, 2012, release. But because of its violent content (and one particular sequence) was retooled and held back after the Aurora, Colorado shootings. Nonetheless, Gangster Squad is action-packed with great characters, a strong cast and a good story. I’m already looking forward to seeing it again.