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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Zemeckis’

Steve Carell

“WELCOME TO MARWEN” My rating: C-

116 minutes | MPAA rating:PG-13

In 2000 cross-dressing artist Mark Hogancamp suffered a barroom beating that left him in a  coma.  When he awoke he  could remember little of his previous life and could no longer draw.

Unable to afford therapy, he found an artistic and healing outlet by building a 1/6-size World War II Belgian village in his yard, populating it with G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls, and telling elaborate melodramas of Nazis and freedom fighters captured in striking photographic images.

Sounds like a story ripe for cinematic adaptation…and, indeed, Hogancamp was the subject of the excellent 2010 documentary “Marwencol” (that was the name of his miniature town).

Now writer/director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” the “Back to the Future” series) has given us a feature film with Steve Carell as Hogancamp…and it proves one movie too many.

“Welcome to Marwen” has its heart in the right place, but it just doesn’t work.

If Zemeckis and co-writer Caroline Thompson (“Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Corpse Bride”) had simply stuck to Hogancamp’s day-to-day life they might have had something.

Instead they devote half the film to animated fantasy sequences set in Marwen.  Here Hogancamp’s toy alter ego — a downed American pilot named Hogie — and his all-woman crew of resistance fighters take on nasty Germans.

There are violent shootouts and unsettling scenes of torture. Our knowledge that these are dolls being blown apart makes it a bit more  bearable, while their dialogue — thick with Saturday matinee cliches — is initially  amusing.

In the real world the traumatized Hogancamp must deal with all sorts of issues.  He’s expected to attend the sentencing hearing for the five men convicted of beating him. He has a big photographic show planned in NYC, but may be too rocky to attend. And he’s always having to explain his obsession with women’s footwear (he has more than 200 pairs of ladies’ shoes in his closet) and his need to drag behind him a toy jeep containing the Hogie and girl gang dolls (think of them as a sort of service dog).

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Joseph Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit

“THE WALK”  My rating: A-

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Even if it didn’t feature the best 3-D of any film since “Avatar,” Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” would be a winner for its heady blend of gritty reality and light-hearted whimsey, not to mention yet another terrific performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The actor stars as Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who in 1974 stunned the world by slipping into the still-unfinished World Trade Center, stringing a cable between the two towers and giving the island of Manhattan the second most memorable event to ever occur at that location.
Petit’s accomplishment was already chronicled in 2008’s Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire.” But most Americans won’t bother with documentaries, and the story behind the daring walk is so rich, engrossing and suspenseful that it easily adapts to a fictional film.
Still, in most regards “The Walk” admirably adheres to the historical facts.
Director Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”) and screenwriter Christopher Browne (adapting Petit’s memoir “To Reach the Clouds”) grab our attention immediately by introducing Petit, not just as our narrator, but a narrator who delivers his lines from the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Filling the panoramic background is the Manhattan skyline as it looked in ’74. It’s a clever fantastic touch.
Addressing us directly, Petit is like an elf with a big ego, a small man with major charm. He tells us that he never thinks about death, that for him a dangerous stunt is all about living.
The film then flashes back to his boyhood fascination with circus tightrope walkers, his training under the Czech tightrope master “Papa” Rudy Omankowski (Ben Kingsley), his early career as a street performer (where he meets his girlfriend Annie, played by the big-eyed Charlotte Le Bon) and his dream — inspired by a magazine article — of pulling off the greatest aerial walk of all time in the ozone over New York City.
Petit relocates to the Big Apple so as to study the monstrous towers up close, to learn the schedules kept by the construction crews, to take photos and measurements so that he can build a scale model and come to grips with the immense distances and physical forces that will come into play 110 stories up.
He recruits a team of French and American scofflaws (including a bored lawyer with offices in one of the towers) willing to abet him in his daring plan to execute “the most glorious high wire act in history.”
Gordon-Levitt makes Petit more inspired visionary than ego-driven showoff. Throughout the laborious preparations we’re rooting for Petit to do the seemingly impossible.

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