“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (PG): Kids 10 and older, especially if they can enjoy quieter films, will find great pleasure in director/star Ben Stiller’s gentle update of James Thurber’s classic story. Practically nothing of the 1939 original (or of the 1947 film) makes it into Stiller’s version (adapted by Steve Conrad), but that’s OK. They’ve taken Thurber’s idea about a perpetual daydreamer and reimagined it.
Stiller’s Walter Mitty is a 40-something drone who keeps track of photographic negatives in the bowels of Life Magazine’s New York office. His co-workers chuckle at Walter’s tendency to zone out. He adores a new employee, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), and becomes tentative friends with Cheryl and her son Rich (Marcus Antturi), but he can’t summon the nerve to ask her out. Instead, he imagines himself as an action hero, rescuing her and sweeping her off her feet.
Word comes down that Life is downsizing to an online publication. It is Walter’s job to provide the negative for the final print cover, sent in and specified by the intrepid photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). But Walter can’t find the negative. He needs to find O’Connell, but the man is notoriously elusive. A snarky new boss (Adam Scott) keeps asking Walter about the negative, and Walter puts him off. Desperate, he decides to go after the traveling O’Connell.
His impromptu trip takes him to Greenland, Iceland, and the Afghan Himalayas. Somehow, Walter gains new confidence along the way. It’s a scenic and sweet adventure.
In Walter’s early fantasies of action-movie style explosions and chase scenes, we never see people dead or injured. The film includes adult bullying – Walter’s new boss belittles him and flicks paper clips at his head. In the way Walter is portrayed early on, the film touches gently on depression. Walter goes up with a very drunk helicopter pilot, outruns a potential volcanic eruption, and skateboards sans helmet down an empty highway. He also climbs with Sherpas in the Himalayas. The script includes mildly crude expressions and very mild sexual innuendo.
“Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” (PG-13): A strong emotional core and a lot of information are packed into this film, based on Nelson Mandela’s memoir. It may, however, depict too much realistic violence for middle schoolers.
For high schoolers who lack much prior knowledge of South Africa and the policy of racial segregation and white supremacy – apartheid – that Mandela and his fellow dissidents fought to end, this film could be a revelation. Actor Idris Elba brings his powerful presence to a convincing and nuanced portrait of Mandela. The movie traces the man’s life from his early days as a lawyer to his work with the anti-apartheid movement and the African National Congress to his decision to go underground and support certain acts of violent protest to his arrest and 27-year imprisonment, his 1990 release, his plea for peace and forgiveness, and his 1994 election to the presidency. Though sometimes rather plodding in its docudrama structure, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is never less than absorbing – a perfect film to see in the wake of his recent passing.
Re-enactments of violence, such as the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre by police, later shootings and riots in Soweto, and terror bombings are all depicted with restraint, but they are still upsetting. We see bodies in the streets with dead children among them.
The PG-13 also reflects a couple of sexual situations that are steamy, but not graphic, though they show brief groping and partial undress. The film shows police treating his second wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela (Naomie Harris) very roughly and holding her incommunicado.