Archive for July 5, 2021

Happy 4th (Observed). Here we are at Day 26. Almost to the end. I may even miss all this posting.

Nah, I’m kidding. Duh.

For today’s post about a film adapted from somewhere else, I had a lot to choose from. Seriously, almost every movie is based on something else, or a sequel, or a reboot, or a reimagining. It would have been more of a challenge if they asked for a totally original movie. I honestly can’t remember the last one of those I saw.

For this, I decided to go with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the 2013 version, since I’ve never seen the original, but it’s pretty cool that a 1939 short story from The New Yorker has spawned two films, and apparently the term “Mittyesque” has officially entered the English language, referring to (according to Wikipedia) “an ineffectual person who spends more time in heroic daydreams than paying attention to the real world.”

The cool thing about the Ben Stiller version (and maybe the Danny Kaye one. Who knows?) is that he’s only ineffectual at the beginning, and he daydreams to basically cover up these inadequacies,  but as the story progresses, he becomes, as described by Patton Oswalt’s Todd Mahar from eHarmony, “like Indiana Jones decided to become the lead singer of The Strokes or something.” By the end, he doesn’t have to daydream at all. The movie intertwines this transformation he goes through with the ending of his job at Life magazine and his attempts to woo Kristen Wiig, which, yeah, of course. In actuality, he’s also doing all this because he never really got over his Dad dying when he was 17, which forced him to get a job and be responsible rather than go out and have fun with his buddies. For a movie that is seemingly about a dope who spaces out a lot, that’s pretty deep.

Much deeper, it seems, than the original James Thurber story it is based on, although, again, I never read it. According to good ol’ Wikipedia, it’s about a man who is taking his wife into town so she can get her hair done and they can do their weekly shopping. Each mundane detail about the trip inspires a daydream in Walter’s head. When his wife complains about him driving too fast, he starts to imagine he is a Navy pilot flying a hydroplane. After driving past a hospital and putting on a pair of gloves, Walter envisions himself as a doctor performing a surgery that only he is capable of. This sounds like a pretty interesting short story, and although it is apparently one of Thurber’s “acknowledged masterpieces,” it wouldn’t be very cinematic by today’s standards. So, Stiller and company had to jazz it up a bit.

The story’s Mcguffin is that Walter must find famous photographer Sean O’Connell who has taken an amazing photo that is to be the cover for the final printed issue of Life Magazine, which is going all digital. Trouble is O’Connell doesn’t really stay in one place very long, but Wiig’s Cheryl playfully suggests that Walter “follow the clues” and track him down like a detective would, simply because she’s taking a class on mystery writing and it seems like a fun thing to do. Walter ends up in Iceland, then Greenland and then the Himalayas, and almost gets eaten by sharks and caught in a volcano. He finally finds Sean photographing a rare snow leopard. By the end, Walt has a pretty full resume to bring to his next job interview after Life shuts down. And best of all, he ends up with Kristen Wiig!

No offense to James Thurber, but this is what an adaptation should be. So many movies that are based on books get lambasted by the book’s fans for being too different, sometimes with good reason and sometimes not. In this case, you couldn’t take Thurber’s short story beat for beat and make it into a movie. Or if you did, no one would see it. First of all, I love the modern updates that they put in (eHarmony, Life Magazine, Cinnabon). More importantly, characters in movies have to change, otherwise why would we watch this? Walter becomes a better and cooler person, but not to gain the love of Cheryl, but to resolve his own issues. Not only because he never got over his Dad dying, but because most of his professional life has been spent in the background working at Life as the Negative Asset Manager. Negative Asset. The job title itself says it all.

But the point, as he discovers, is that he did that job so well that Sean O’Connell trusted him to do the right thing with this all-important negative that was to be the final cover, “the quintessence of life,” as Sean puts it. Sean doesn’t tell him what the subject of the photo is, but we find out at the end, along with Walter and Cheryl when they find a copy on a newsstand, that it is a photo of Walter, doing his job looking at photo negatives. Because there are no unimportant jobs. In the end, Walter Mitty done did good.

That’s all I got for today, come back tomorrow for Day 27. And check out the linktree while you’re out here.

11:01 by my clock. But I made it!

So, a movie that doesn’t take place in the current era, I wish I could pick Independence Day, but that probably doesn’t count. I guess in 1996 that was the current era, but what is the current era, anyway? Does a galaxy far, far away count?

Instead, I’m going to pick one of my favorite movies that I was hoping to be able to squeeze into this challenge, which I happened to be watching a little of last night, Saving Private Ryan.

I remember seeing this movie a couple times in the theater in 1998 because I liked the message, I liked the action, and I liked Steven Speilberg. It’s really so well-made that the only flaw I can see was how white Matt Damon’s teeth were, considering he just survived D-Day and probably a few months without access to a toothbrush. But it’s a movie.

I guess my real criticism revolves around Matt Damon’s casting in general. Not the man himself, because he was fine. But in all the hype for the movie, I read that he was in it, and by the time you get into the movie itself, it’s pretty obvious that he will be Private Ryan, since you have met every other character and he ain’t one of them. I wish they had kept it under wraps so the audience would be surprised when they found out who Private Ryan, but Damon was fresh off his Good Will Hunting Oscar, so I get that he would be part of the marketing plan.

So, enough of the criticisms. This is still one of my favorite movies, because the character work and performances and the general feel of the battle scenes, Thankfully, I have never been in any kind of battle, but this seems as real as it gets I remember reading at the time, when this movie unbelievably lost the Best Picture race to Shakespeare in Love, that it was too predictable, and that it was basically two huge battle scenes and not much else. First of all, anyone who went to high school and read Shakespeare in English class should have realized every key point in Shakespeare in Love. Secondly, the stuff sandwiched between the two incredible battle scenes is where the meat of the movie is. That’s where you find out that Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller, who seems like an incredible soldier who was born to be in the military, was a high school teacher back in the States (I wonder if he taught his students Shakespeare.) You find out about the bond that develops between soldiers, and that they really aren’t doing any of this because they feel bad for Private Ryan’s mother, who had already lost all her other sons in the War, but because they were in fact soldiers, and because they hoped that it would earn all of them the right to go home. However, when they do reach Ryan, and he refuses to go home with them, because he wants to stay with his fellow soldiers and see this fight through to the end, they decide to stay and fight with him. Because that’s what heroes do.

There are so many other small moments in this movie that make it so much more than two big battles. Like when the medic played by Giovanni Ribisi tells his fellow soldiers that he used to sometimes pretend he was asleep when his mother would come home from her late shift at the hospital, even though he knew she just wanted to chat to him and see how his day went, and minutes later, he is killed in a skirmish that was seemingly avoidable, and cries for his mother with his dying breath. Or the German soldier that Captain Miller lets go, after the urging of poor Corporal Upham. And it is later that same soldier who fires the fatal shot that kills Miller. And it is then Upham, who had not fired a weapon since basic training and had been rendered so scared during the final battle that he couldn’t even move, costing his fellow soldiers precious ammo, who kills that German soldier, who he had earlier implored his colleagues to set free.

I’m not even sure I’m describing all that happens in this movie very well. Just do yourself the favor of watching it, and pretending that it won Best Picture.

Thanks again, happy 4th, and come back tomorrow.