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Non-Review Review: Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen is a deeply weird film, and not in a good way.

The basic structure of the film is a feel good narrative of a character coming to terms with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Mark Hogancamp was beaten almost to death by a group of Neo-Nazis outside a bar, for nothing more than mentioning that he liked to wear women’s clothes. Mark has retreated into himself, creating a model village called “Marwen”, an anachronistic Belgian village from the Second World War. The town is home to a toyetic doppelgänger for Mark, the heroic “Hoogie”, who finds the courage to fight Nazis despite his losses.

The toast of the town.

The arc of the film is very obvious from that premise, with a number of other details sprinkled into the script to provide stakes and momentum. Nicol, an attractive redhead dealing with the loss of her son and a stalker ex-boyfriend, moves in across the way and connects with Mark. At the same time, the sentencing of the criminals who attacked Mark is fast approaching, and Mark needs to read his “victim impact statement” in open court. There is also a suggestion that Mark is wrestling with addiction, having to careful ration his painkillers.

All of this is fairly standard prestige picture stuff, providing Mark and the audience with a very clear journey across the film and offering a potentially hopeful conclusion to Mark’s journey. This is all very hokey, but it could work. It is a very earnest narrative, but director Robert Zemeckis is the kind of storyteller who knows how to make those sorts of narratives work. Forrest Gump is a beloved classic for a reason, no matter how clumsy and hokey it might be.

Mark his words…

However, Welcome to Marwen chooses to elaborate upon its stock upbeat triumph-over-adversity template in a number of frankly bizarre ways. Welcome to Marwen flails wildly between genres, pivoting from earnest and overwrought melodrama to absurd fantasy to lazy comedy on a dime. The issue is not that Welcome to Marwen doesn’t cohere as a film, the issue is that many of the individual scenes within the film struggle to find a consistent tone from one minute to another.

Zemeckis is a skilled enough craftsman that the film impresses on a purely technical level; the dolls tilt into the uncanny valley on occasion, but there is every indication that this is intentional. However, on a purely narrative level, Welcome to Marwen feels like it was put together by a twelve-year-old who had only read about how movies work.

Hoogie’s heroes.

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88. Back to the Future (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Kieran Gillen, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future.

Marty McFly is just a regular teenager, until he finds himself thrown back in time to the mid-fifties. Accidentally disrupting the first meeting of his parents, Marty must reunite their teenage selves before he is erased from existence.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 44th best movie of all-time on the Internet Movie Database.

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85. Forrest Gump (#12)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump is an unremarkable man who has lived the most remarkable of lives, a feather caught in the breeze of history. From his childhood in Mississippi through the turbulence of the sixties and seventies, Forrest Gump lives a life that intersects repeatedly with the biggest moments of the twentieth century, having a profound and unspoken effect upon the course of history.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 12th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Allied

There is something of the uncanny about Allied, a pervading sense of “not-quite-right-ness” that pervades the film.

In some ways, that vague feeling of uncanniness recalls director Robert Zemeckis’ work in stop-motion computer animation in the earlier years of the century. There was something deeply uncomfortable about the director’s work on films like The Polar Express or A Christmas Carol, a sense of strange lifelessness beneath meticulously and painstakingly crafted exteriors. Zemickis’ computer-generated experiments often felt like they were trying too hard to mimic something organic and spontaneous.

Casa closed.

Marryin’ Marion

There is a similar sentiment to Allied, which plays very much as a love letter to classic Hollywood cinema. Indeed, the opening forty minutes of the film are dedicated to a very stylish couple operating out of “French Morocco.” Inevitably, their clandestine dealings bring them to a version of Casablanca that seems rooted more in Hollywood history than in reality. Unfolding against the backdrop of the Second World War, dealing with themes of love and betrayal, and starring a bona fides movies star, Allied feels very much like an approximation of a classic movie.

However, it never quite gets there.

Marryin' Marion.

Casa closed.

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Non-Review Review: The Walk

“It is not real,” Philippe Petit reflects quite early in The Walk.

Resting his chin against one of the steel supports running the height of the World Trade Centre, Philippe stares upwards into infinity. Up until that moment, the Twin Towers had existed as a conceptual object for the young French tightrope artist; he had only seen them in photographs and sketches, framed in comparison to the Eiffel Tower to afford them a sense of scale. Appreciating the majesty of the World Trade Centre in the flesh is almost too much to process. Making them more real has somehow made them less real.

Walk on the wild side...

Walk on the wild side…

Philippe could just as easily be talking about the film that surrounds him. Director Robert Zemeckis might be best known for his work on Back to the Future, but a lot of his twenty-first century filmography has been fixated upon the unreal; Zemeckis has become known for his fascination with motion-capture and computer-generated imagery, the illusive pursuit of verisimilitude through the uncanny valley. The special effects used to realise The Walk are superb and top of the line, but there remains a feeling of unreality to the whole film.

It would be impossible to film The Walk in a real location using real stunts. The Walk is an ode to New York City, but to a version of New York City that no longer exists. Tourists cannot visit it, although perhaps it might be found on a postcard or trapped in a photo. The Walk cleverly and consciously refuses to downplay that feeling of unreality, feeling almost like a nostalgic memory recalled through the fog of time. Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers was so effective because it was real; The Walk is so effective precisely because it is unreal.

Stepping out...

Stepping out…

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Non-Review Review: Flight

Flight has a lot to recommend it. It has an interesting subject, a fantastic central performance and wonderful supporting cast. As a result, it’s a shame that the movie makes such a mess of all these things. Flight is never less than interesting and Washington is always watchable, but it isn’t quite as compelling as a two-hour drama film needs to be. Director Robert Zemeckis struggles a bit with the tone of the piece, and Flight seems to be a bit all over the place, making it quite difficult to enjoy and hard to engage with.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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Non-Review Review: A Christmas Carol (2009)

I’m yet to be sold on the Robert Zemeckis school of “motion capture.” Don’t worry, I don’t hold a prejudice. I’m just waiting to be convinced, and I worry that Zemeckis – for all his championing of the technology – might not be the one to do it. For, as impressive as the technical merits of his technique might be, I think that Zemeckis has yet to find a story that truly needs to be told in that format, or at least a story that resonates in that format. Much as Pixar have somewhat validated computer-generated animation (a school of filmmaking that met with a ridiculous amount of cynicism in its early years), I think the key to proving the worth of this sort of approach lies in finding a story that connects with audiences, while demonstrating the strengths of the tool being used to tell it.

While it’s an enjoyable enough holiday film, A Christmas Carol simply is not that film.

Totally Scrooged...

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