Mystery

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2013)

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Director: Ben Stiller
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 114 min

Walter can’t think of anything interesting to say on his eHarmony profile that might catch the attention of his creative coworker Cheryl; his life is just too ordinary.  But in his imagination, Walter has incredible adventures—adventures like the ones photographed by the legendary Sean O’Connell for Life magazine.  For over a decade, Walter has worked at Life collecting and developing Sean’s negatives.  But when new management puts an end to the printed Life magazine, Sean sends Walter one last roll of film.  In a telegram to the management, Sean announces that negative 25 is the best photograph he has ever taken and should be used as the cover for Life’s final issue.  The only problem: Walter can’t find negative 25.  It seems to have been left out of the roll.  And Sean O’Connell has no phone and no permanent address.  The only clues to Sean’s whereabouts are the other negatives on the roll.  Inspired by his affection for Cheryl and a desire to live the kind of life he’s been dreaming about, Walter boards a plane to Greenland in search of Sean O’Connell and adventure.

I loved this movie!  I wouldn’t indiscriminately recommend it to everyone (it may be too artsy for some), but I thought it was hilarious and beautiful.  It felt to me like a cross between Office Space (1999) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).  There was a lot of humor (witty, slapstick, and quirky), but the plot focused on Walter’s personal journey of self-discovery.  The filming style deliberately called the viewer’s attention to the camera techniques—which seemed appropriate for a film about photography.  If you enjoy kind of artsy films, but also like the type of humor in films like Office Space, definitely give this one a try!

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

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Director: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (released before MPAA ratings)
Running Time: 136 min.

When two thugs kidnap Roger Thornhill from a business lunch at a fancy hotel, he isn’t sure whether he should be more afraid or outraged.  His captors seem to have mistaken him for someone called “George Kaplan,” and they won’t believe him when he tells them they’ve got the wrong man.  When he refuses to cooperate—for the simple reason that he has no idea what they’re talking about—they try to kill him by staging a drunk driving accident. When he survives and returns with the police to the mansion where he was being held, his captors have carefully covered their tracks, making him seem like a paranoid drunk.  But the last straw comes when the kidnappers frame him for the murder of a United Nations diplomat.  Now Roger is on the run—from the kidnappers and from the police—and the only hope he has of clearing his name is to find the real George Kaplan.

You know a film was made by “the Master of Suspense” when you’ve seen it ten times and it still makes you jump.  As is Hitchcock’s strength, the suspense comes as much from action as from lack of action, mystery, and uncertainty.  Humor and sexual tension is smoothly blended into story, and unlike many thrillers today, Hitchcock does not ignore the visual artistry of his filmmaking when focusing on the action of the plot.  His intentional, deliberate use of color and carefully composed shots make his film attractive as well as exciting.  Yes, you must be tolerant of 1950s special effects and ridiculous (and sexist) flirty banter, but Hitchcock’s masterpiece is a must-see for thriller lovers.  Definitely a favorite of mine.  I highly recommend it!

“ORPHAN BLACK” (2013- )

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Creators: John Fawcett and Graeme Manson

After ten months away living with her abusive, drug-dealing ex-boyfriend, Sarah Manning takes a late subway train back to Toronto, hoping to see her young daughter, Kira.  Unfortunately, Kira’s current guardian (Sarah’s own foster mother) makes it clear on the phone that Sarah can’t see her daughter until she has cleaned up her act.  As she is about to leave the subway, Sarah sees a woman identical to herself commit suicide by jumping in front of the train.  In the commotion that follows, Sarah—enterprising young grifter that she is—steals the dead woman’s purse.  She realizes that she looks so much like the dead woman (who is revealed by her driver’s license to be Beth Childs) that she may be able to make even more money by stealing her identity.  But Sarah’s plan to drain Beth’s bank accounts and then escape with Kira goes awry when she discovers that Beth was actually a cop.  Even worse, Beth (now Sarah) is on trial for having accidentally killed a civilian.  As Sarah tries to think on her feet and keep herself out of prison, she also discovers that Beth may have been caught up in something even more sinister and complicated than she first realized.

This show is awesome!  It is a funny, suspenseful Sci-Fi thriller (though you wouldn’t know it from my description above; the Sci-Fi enters a couple episodes in) and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as you try to untangle the mystery.  If you don’t like shows that make you think, this is not the show for you.  But if you like humorous, fast-paced, suspenseful science fiction, you will love this show.  It is incredibly well-written, and Tatiana Maslany is a phenomenal actress.  She can play more than one role and have you fully convinced that she is two different people.  She even has chemistry with herself.  I cannot recommend it highly enough to Sci-Fi and mystery/thriller fans. It is quickly becoming a favorite of mine!

Orphan Black will probably appeal to viewers who like suspenseful yet humorous Sci-Fi such as “Warehouse 13,” “Doctor Who,” and “Firefly.” It may also appeal to fans of suspenseful shows like “Alias” and “24.”

“SHERLOCK” (2010- )

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In a modern-day reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery stories, consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his retired Army doctor flat-mate, John Watson, work with (or in some cases, behind the backs of) the police to unravel London’s most enigmatic mysteries.  Although Sherlock’s inflated ego, abrasive personality, and very annoying and influential older brother, Mycroft, often make John’s life difficult, he finds that the thrill of investigating dangerous cases and seeing Sherlock’s impressive powers of observation in action provide him with a sense of purpose he has not felt since the war.  

“Sherlock” is Steven Moffat at his best.  Using his own gift for piecing together complicated puzzles, Moffat draws from his detailed knowledge of Doyle’s works to craft new mysteries that allude to original Sherlock Holmes stories yet fit comfortably in the modern setting, twisting the classic tales in interesting and exciting ways.  Sherlock Holmes fans will not be disappointed by Moffat’s careful treatment of the characters and story lines but will love catching the allusions to classic Holmes cases.  If you are not familiar with Doyle’s works, don’t worry!  There is plenty to enjoy in this fast-paced, action-packed mystery series no matter how much you know about Sherlock Holmes.  

Six episodes of the mini-series have been released so far with a third (and possibly final) three-episode season to be aired Fall 2013.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011)

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Director: Tomas Alfredson
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 127 min.

It is the early 1970s and British Intelligence is immersed in the Cold War.  When a top-secret operation in Hungary goes fatally wrong, the head of Intelligence and his right-hand-man, George Smiley, are forced into early retirement.  The remaining members of Intelligence continue business as usual, dealing with a secret source called “Witchcraft” who provides them with significant and seemingly credible Russian secrets.  It is then that the Prime Minister approaches Smiley with the information behind the ill-fated Hungarian mission: a mole has infiltrated the highest levels of British Intelligence.  Smiley is now in the best possible position to uncover the mole’s identity and find out what really happened in Hungary.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  Not an action movie–although it has its share of blood and guts–Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a slow broiled spy thriller.  The mystery is what keeps you in suspense.  The acting was great, and the use of oranges and browns, a smoky atmosphere, and crowded, stationary shots made me believe I was watching a film made in the 70s, not just about them.  I definitely recommend it to mystery lovers, spy lovers, or history lovers who can stomach R-rated violence.  It was great!