Tag Archives: steve carrell

Movie Review: Welcome to Marwen

It’s taken a long time to find the perfect dramatic role for Steve Carell, but this is it. Playing real-life comic book artist Mark Hogancamp dealing with the trauma of a vicious hate crime that left him with brain damage so severe he is unable to draw, Carell brings a heart and comedy to what might otherwise be an incredibly bleak and depressing film.

Welcome to Marwen mixes live action realism with a Secret Life of Walter Mitty-esque fantasy life where the poseable action figures and dolls he uses in his photographs come to life and act out the inner feelings of his mind. Their setting is the fictional town of Marwen, a Belgian villa in World War II, under seige by Nazis who no matter how many times they kill them, they always come back.

The city is guarded by “Hoagie,” an American pilot who is an avatar for Carell, and a cadre of powerful women who represent the real-life women around him. They’re also besieged by a witch, another manifestation of Mark’s psyche, intent on destroying Hoagie’s happiness.

The best thing about this film is the true to life feeling of the animated action figures. Using highly detailed motion-capture similar to what director Robert Zemeckis previously used in The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, the Uncanny-Valley-ness of that technology goes away because they are mapped to action figures rather than real people. The resulting animation is like watching a heartfelt, lifelike Robot Chicken.

It’s good that those portions of the film are so light, funny, sometimes over-the-top violent, and entertaining, because the rest of the story is rather bleak and sad. 

The only real complaint with the film is its lack of a seemingly broader message. While we feel a lot of things, we’re not necessarily left with any sense of what that means. Not every film needs to have a meaning, but it feels like this film should maybe have had one. It’s fine as just a nice character study and fun use of visual effects, but that’s all it ends up being. It just feels like it’s missing something and that leave it on only the cusp of greatness.

The film also has some problematic depictions of its female characters. While they are numerous and diverse, all of them only have an existence around Mark and his trauma. It’s like it would almost pass the Bechdel test, except that every conversation is literally about him. The point of this film is not necessarily to be about the agency and lives of other women, but it is still almost 100% focused on only its singular character.

It feels like somewhat of a waste of people like Janelle Monae to show up and only deliver a few lines in service of a white man’s trauma. Leslie Mann is also incredibly good as his across the street neighbor Nicol. Mann, like Carell, is able to work both the comedy and serious sides of the film to an incredible degree. It is one of the best performances of her career.

But this falls short– when you have other incredibly female forward films in theaters right now like Widows or The Favourite, despite being focused on female leads, they do not present their male co-stars with such short shrift.

Hogancamp is a very broken person still dealing with his trauma. So much of this film is working out his post-traumatic stress and trying to find a normal existence. It’s very heartwarming but also very sad depiction what trauma does to people.

We’re very lucky to have this film so beautifully rendered and have Hoagie looking out for us as a testament to survival.

3 out of 5 stars

PS – There is also a documentary Marwencol that also tells the true story of Mark Hogancamp from 2010. It is available to watch on iTunes and Kanopy, which allows you to stream films through your local library.

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3: Family, Fun, and Hollywood’s Sequel Obsession

The only thing more inevitable in Hollywood than a sequel to a popular franchise is a sequel to a popular children’s franchise. And so we have the fourth movie surrounding supervillain Gru (Steve Carell), his Minions, and his rapidly expanding family. Despicable Me 3 finds Gru fired from his job at the Anti-Villain League for failing in to bring in 80’s obsessed former child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), whose schemes involve him acting out the tv show he starred in as a child as. . . a child supervillain.

Down on his luck, he is contacted by a long-long and mega-rich twin brother Dru (also Carell), who wants him to rejoin the family legacy of supervillainy. Meanwhile, his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiigis trying to bond with their adopted daughters and become as much of a super mom as she is a super spy.

Sibling rivalry, daddy issues, mommy issues. . . they’re all in there. Oh, and plenty of the Minions doing their typical schtick for everyone who loves that.

It’s not a perfect film, or anything really groundbreaking, but it’s enjoyable and will make children squeal with laughter while not annoying or boring parents. Indeed, many of the 80’s throwback jokes seem tailor-made for adults, though broad enough that it doesn’t completely go over kids’ heads.

But where these films have always succeeded is in having a great heart. This has always come from the three little girls who stole Gru’s heart in the first film, and they continue to do the same here. A specific highlight comes from Agnes and her search for a supposed real-life unicorn. Even better comes from the emotional payoff of Lucy finally bonding with her adopted girls. If your heart doesn’t cry just a little bit, you may be a supervillain yourself.

The film all ends with a spectacular action sequence of Balthazar Bratt literally attacking Hollywood in a giant robot in a re-enactment of one of his classic tv episodes. You can’t help but feel there is a little bit of commentary here about Hollywood’s lack of creativity and insistence on recycling and rebooting everything coming to destroy the city, a literal robot covering it in literal sticky-sweet bubble gum. Or maybe it’s just a fun action sequence: one which other big budget directors could take some cues from in terms of pacing, excitement, and–most of all–fun.

There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but given your others choices in theaters right now (shudder. . .  Transformers. And the snoozefest cashgrab that is Cars 3) you could do much worse. And if you liked the previous movies, there is a nearly perfect probability you will enjoy this one, too.

3 out of 5 stars

Gore Verbinski Comments on the Cancellation of the film based on the graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Pyongyang-Journey-In-North-Korea-Gore-Verbinski-CoverAfter theaters, and Sony’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview, ripples flooded out throughout the movie community. One of the casualties is the cancellation of the film based on Guy DeLisle‘s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. The graphic novel chronicles DeLisle’s time spent in the country overseeing an animation project and featured his observations on the elusive country. It was Lost in Translation in the DPRK. I loved the graphic novel, as much for its humor as its insight into a country most of us know little about.

A movie was being worked on based on the graphic novel. It was to star Steve Carell and be directed by Gore Verbinski. The film has been scrapped and Verbinski has put out a statement:

Re: Pyongyang

Getting the facts straight:
Yesterday, I was told by New Regency and Fox that Fox will no longer be distributing the film. Prior to that, the film was green lit and fully funded by New Regency with Fox distributing. I have been told in no uncertain words that based on the situation at Sony, Fox has now decided to not distribute the film. Without a distributor, New Regency was forced to shut the film down.

My thoughts:

I find it ironic that fear is eliminating the possibility to tell stories that depict our ability to overcome fear.

Gore Verbinski