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December 2013

Midlife Gap Year

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Wilson Webb/20th Century Fox

Based on the classic James Thurber story of the same name as well as being an update of the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” centers on the title character (Ben Stiller), a middle-aged man who works in the photographic department of Life magazine, but who seems detached from the world around him. Walter is a daydreamer who drifts off on sudden flights of fancy without warning to the amusement and bemusement of those around him, including Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a colleague he yearns for, and a sarcastic corporate representative (Adam Scott) who mocks him.

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Coming of Age on the Scrap Heap

The Selfish Giant (2013)

Agatha A. Nitecka/57th BFI London Film Festival

"The Selfish Giant" claims to be inspired by an Oscar Wilde short story, but only the title appears to be. Arbor (Conner Chapman) is 12 and almost out of control. He lives with his overwhelmed mother (Rebecca Manley) and a drug-dealing older brother (Elliott Tittensor) who cannot be stopped from selling his A.D.H.D. medication. They sleep on the living room sofas, but their house is much nicer than that of Arbor’s best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas), whose parents are settled Travelers (i.e. Gypsies) with no money and far too many children. Swifty is good with horses, which brings the boys to the attention of Kitten (Sean Gilder, well known from the British version of "Shameless"), a scrap dealer who also organizes illegal horse-and-trap races and the significant bets which are placed on them. Both Arbor’s and Swifty’s mothers are desperate for money, and both boys feel that they are useless in school. One thing pretty much leads to another.

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A Roomful of Sugar

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

François Duhamel/Walt Disney Studios

No one's hidden pain may be left undocumented these days, and most creative works end up being skinned so that the inner workings of their makers' tormented minds can be laid out on the operating table for inspection. This urge may throw some new light on the activities of characters in a story like "Mary Poppins," where the internalized pain and regrets of a young Australian girl can be seamlessly projected forward onto the book she wrote in later life, lending resonance to every poignant plot point. But it's a strange modern way to interact with art, which has historically been expected to present a mirror to your own personality, rather than provide a hotline to the one buzzing in the head of P. L. Travers. Plus a lot of immortal literature for young people was written by mature individuals with issues, and what does it matter? Look at Enid Blyton; the definitive film about her would have to be made by Wes Craven.

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