Cineast Movie Previews: ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Wolf of Wall Street opened on Christmas. Which will you see this weekend? Check out our Cineast previews:

The Wolf of Wall Street

As befits the U.S.’s love/hate relationship with the financial industry and the people who work in it, there’s an almost endless flow of movies either demonizing or glorifying Wall Street, or sometimes trying to do both.  Luckily, there’s also a seemingly endless supply of true stories of greed, fraud and corruption to base these movies on: it’s always better if the sleazeballs on the screen are based on actual people, because otherwise their antics would seem to be simply drawn out of a hat.  In The Wolf of Wall Street, for example, a plot point revolves around trying to smuggle cash to Switzerland by taping it to women’s bodies under their clothes—which would seem an arbitrary story decision were the film not based on actual events in the career of Jordan Belfort.  Played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film, Belfort was a Long Island penny stockbroker who eventually wound up doing time.  I guess you know you’re not playing by the rules if you find yourself taping cash to the brassiere of a blonde model so she can smuggle your cash to Switzerland, but Belfort was enjoying the ride while it lasted.  The film also features the always-welcome Jonah Hill, and was directed by Martin Scorcese.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

James Thurber, as he comes to us in his writings and cartoons, was a misanthrope of the first order.  The conventional Hollywood ending of “happily ever after” made him sick.  A new adaptation of James Thurber’s classic story, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, stars Ben Stiller in the title role of Walter Mitty, a man whose frequent, vivid daydreams of heroism and mastery are belied by his timid, ineffectual reality.  But the film lays waste to Thurber’s gloomy vision.  In the original story, Mitty, like many of Thurber’s male characters, is married, hen-pecked and a pathetic figure. Thurber’s story was previously turned into a film in the 40s starring Danny Kaye, and this new version incorporates some of the plot elements from the earlier adaptation: Stiller’s Mitty, like Danny Kaye’s, now works at a magazine.  Also unlike Thurber’s original, in the new film Mitty is unmarried and in love with a coworker, played by Kristen Wiig, and so unlike Thurber’s Mitty, who daydreams about ESCAPING from his humdrum married life, Stiller’s Mitty daydreams about heroic ways of making himself exciting and attractive to the object of his desires.  The new film proceeds to really jump the shark (quite literally) when it sends the unlikely Mitty on a real-life, death-defying adventure, which he undertakes so that, you guessed it, he can win the woman of his dreams and live “happily ever after.”  Thurber is rolling in his grave.

Also see our previews of Anchorman 2 and Her.

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