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‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘Walter Mitty,’ others open Christmas week

Tom Tangney says "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is more of a travelogue than an adventure flick. (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Wilson Webb)

Tom Tangney breaks down a handful of movies to check out over the week of Christmas.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It’s a movie based on a 1938 James Thurber story about a guy (Ben Stiller) who can’t handle reality, so he invents this made up fantasy world where he’s the hero. He’s really just a nebish-loser of a guy. It’s about how he breaks out of that and turns his dreams into reality.

Kristen Wiig is the woman who inspires him to do more with his life.

James Thurber is a writer people adore, but he writes delicately and the move is a little bombastic. It really needs a light touch.

The problem with the movie is that it has a huge budget and it’s a spectacular adventure movie – he flies all around the world – but the basic premise is so lame, it’s really a disappointment.

I credit Ben Stiller for trying to do something original. The overall idea of it is inspirational, but it ends up being kind of bland.

The fantasy components didn’t do much for me. I wouldn’t recommend the movie unless you want to see a travelogue because there’s a lot of spectacular scenery.

And it’s not funny – there’s about 30 minutes of comedy in a two and a half hour movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese once again teams up with Leonardo DiCaprio. I was blown away by how much fun this was. Set in the late 70s and early 80s, ‘Wolf’ is about a guy with no soul – it’s all about the sell. Everything he does is a sham, but he builds a fortune around it. It’s a great story about the greed of Wall Street.

His best friend, who works in the scam, is Jonah Hill – a riot. He was just the funny, fat guy, and now, because of movies like Moneyball and now with The Wolf of Wall Street, he’s becoming a great character actor.

It’s really a rich, funny movie and a nice satire on the era.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill nail the performance. It’s really a big, long movie about the rotten core of Wall Street, but it’s smart and funny, and I highly recommend it.

And no, it won’t be bigger than Titanic.

American Hustle

“American Hustle” is a comedy about, of all things, Abscam, a long-ago political scandal – 1978 to be exact. It was a government sting operation that used a fake sheik to bribe a string of prominent politicians. Since the stings were all caught on surveillance tape, it became a media sensation.

But that was so long ago, hardly anyone remembers much about it. And that’s just perfect for the filmmakers behind “American Hustle,” who announce at the very beginning of this film: “Some of this actually happened.” This movie starts with a pretty outrageous real event and spins an even more outrageous tale out of it.

Read the full review

Saving Mr. Banks

This is a good movie about the making of Disney’s classic 1964 Mary Poppins when Walt Disney tried to win over the heart of P.L. Travers, who wrote Mary Poppins.

She did not like the way Walt Disney ‘Disney-ified’ everything and made it sweet. It’s an interesting battle between the two of them.

Why it’s called Saving Mr. Banks is a great question answered in the movie. It all makes sense after you see the movie. It’s a brilliant title.

Emma Thompson can do no wrong and she’s perfect for P.L. Travers, but Tom Hanks did not do it for Walt Disney. I grew up with Walt Disney, I watched him every week as a kid. He doesn’t convince me he’s Walt Disney – he doesn’t look enough like him.

As great an actor as Tom Hanks is, I don’t think his performance is particularly endearing or impressive and he didn’t make me forget he was Tom Hanks.

I recommend this movie because I think the script is really interesting.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Even with the thinnest of premises – this second Hobbit movie is reportedly based on a mere five chapters of that children’s book – Jackson can spin a nearly three-hour film that’s chock-full of stunning action sequences and extended bits of special effects wizardry.

It may not add up to all that much; in fact, it may not mean much more than an excuse to show off, but wow – when Jackson can do it this well, that may be enough. Maybe.

Jackson has now made five films of Tolkein’s Middle Earth writings (three Lord of the Rings, and two Hobbits), with one more Hobbit movie coming out next Christmas. With all of them clocking in at 2 1/2-to-three hours long, Tolkein may be the best served writer Hollywood, or NewZealandwood, has ever seen. (Ian Fleming’s James Bond may have clocked more hours before the cameras but I doubt many would challenge the claim that Jackson’s Tolkein output is of a higher grade and quality.)

And even though I don’t share Jackson’s utter fascination with Middle Earth, I admit I admire just how seriously he takes the material and its cinematic renderings.

Read the full review

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