Tag Archives: Robert Zemeckis

Strings Attached


by George Wolf

I saw a tweet not long ago that suggested Disney should stop with the live-action remakes and instead, re-do their classics with the Muppets.

That logic is sound. Disney now owns the necessary rights, of course, and Muppet treatments would at least ensure creative visions that run deeper than “because we can.”

Heck, Tom Hanks could still star in them, as he does in this new live-action version of Pinocchio. Really, it would be more of a surprise if Hanks didn’t play the kindly Geppetto, and he’s just as fitting as you would expect a GD National Treasure to be.

And since the film mixes Hanks and other live actors with impressive digital animation, seeing the name Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Polar Express, Welcome to Marwen) as director and co-writer gives you confidence the entire project will be well-crafted and satisfactory.

And it is. But if true magic is what your heart desires, keep wishing.

Young Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is in fine voice as the legendary puppet who longs to be a real boy, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt strains for that distinctive Jiminy Cricket phrasing and lands a little too close to South Park‘s Mr. Hankey.

But more importantly, Zemeckis and co-writer Chris Weitz seem too eager to justify their project via modern sensibilities. And in turn, they end up short-changing elements that made Disney’s original such an enduring favorite.

New songs add little beyond pop flavor, while one new character, Sofia the seagull (Lorraine Bracco) exists mainly to over-explain character motivations. Pinocchio’s friendship with Sabina (Jaquita Ta’le), a skilled puppeteer in Stromboli’s (Giuseppe Battiston) show, is well-intentioned but forced. Keegan-Michael Key’s foxy Honest John tempts Pinocchio with fame through references to “influencers” and Chris Pine.

Luke Evans does make a delightfully devilish Coachman, who leads Pinocchio to an effectively realized Pleasure Island that glimpses some darker themes. Exploring more of these layers would have strengthened the fairy tale roots, but it’s the tale of the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) that gets the shortest shrift.

“When You Wish Upon a Star” is not just a song for Disney. By now it’s the bedrock of their entire, world-conquering, fantasy-selling enterprise. And Erivo has a beautiful voice.

Let her let it gooooo! (pun intended). Yes, the song comes early in the film, but go ahead and hit us with an extended mix of full-blown goosebump orchestration while the fairy dust goes to work, then a reprise over the credits. Erivo deserves it.

It could have been a magical moment, and Pinocchio needs more of them. Much more than it needs Chris Pine.

Little Women

Welcome to Marwen

by Cat McAlpine

Mark Hogancamp awoke from a vicious attack with no memory of his former life. He remembers, vaguely, that five men beat him to the brink of death, that they beat him because he drunkenly mentioned he liked to wear women’s shoes, and that one of his assailants had a swastika tattoo. The rest of his life has been left for Mark to piece together.

No longer able to draw as he once did (or even write his name), Mark finds a new art to work through his trauma. He models dolls after himself and women he knows. The dolls awaken in the town of Marwen every morning to fight five Nazis, again and again.

The real life story was the basis for the wonderful documentary Marwecol in 2010, inspiring director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis to craft his own narrative version,

Steve Carell does his level best as Mark, and connects with an impressive range. But he’s better than this film, and he’s better than this script.

Also occupying the town of Marwen is a mysterious Belgian witch whose obsessive grasp on Captain Hogie (Mark) is so obviously a metaphor for his addiction that she literally disappears from scenes by morphing into the pills Mark takes each morning. And yet, half way through the film, when he’s asked what real life woman the witch is based on, Mark says in wonderment “I don’t know. I don’t know where she came from.” Someone in my theatre laughed.

Welcome to Marwen’s greatest struggle is that it cannot commit to what it wants to be. Half of the film takes place with Mark’s dolls in Marwen, fully animated and pursuing comical fits of violence. The other half of the film follows Mark in real life as a lovable weirdo whose addiction to his medication and rampant PTSD don’t allow him to live far beyond the model village built in his yard.

The dissonance in the film comes from a holding back of sorts. It never gets quite as weird or fantastical as it could. The real world plot of Mark’s life is boring and predictable. The whole film feels like a concession between Zemeckis’s vision, and what he thought the audience might want to see. Instead, he ends up with something from an alternate universe Hallmark channel.

Worst of all, is the film’s bizarre commoditization of women. Mark fashions dolls from the hobby shop into sexier, more violent versions of women he knows in real life. None of these women seem upset or worried about their doll counterparts, disturbing though they are. Especially when one of the dolls is molded after his favorite porn star.

The film leads by making a joke of calling the women “dolls”, and then uses this joke to consistently refer to them as such moving forward. Twice Welcome to Marwen milks a joke out of a doll’s shirt being ripped open to expose her chest. Mark says he wears women’s shoes because he loves women so much, it helps him connect with their essence. His G. I. Alter Ego, Captain Hogie, screams in a triumphant moment, “Women are the saviors of the world!”

So. Mark can be celebrated for being brave enough to wear women’s shoes, but women’s clothing reduces them to sexualized objects.
Mark’s life seems to be defined by his failure to find a woman to love. His entire fantasy world is based on the idea that women can and will save him. The idea of women is celebrated, but women themselves are only treated as vehicles for romance or items waiting to be idealized. And there’s more. But a review should only be so long and disappointed.

Women aren’t here to fix you, or to save you. And they certainly couldn’t save Welcome to Marwen.

Spy Versus Spy


by Hope Madden

In turns grand and intimate, Allied blends pulp and melodrama with old Hollywood glamour.

We open on a dashing Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), landing in a North African desert where he’ll be met by a mysterious driver delivering his new identity. Vatan will join French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca on a mission to assassinate a Nazi official.

Director Robert Zemeckis’s vintage spy thriller begins with a bang. Stylish and gorgeous, the first act embraces an old-fashioned dazzle that suits both Pitt and Cotillard.

Problems arise – for Vatan and Beausejour, as well as the film – once the couple relocates to London. Vatan takes a desk job with the Royal Air Force while his new wife and child wait lovingly at home. But when command turns up evidence that Marianne could be a German spy, this ideal life begins to crack.

Both Cotillard and Pitt perform respectably with a script involving tensions that reach toward the ludicrous. Pitt carries himself with a weird stiffness, but his face wears joy, weariness and emotional tumult in a way that the actor has rarely managed.

Cotillard is characteristically excellent, her own demeanor turning the edge of every expression with a hint of something sour. She is effortlessly mysterious, a characteristic required for the part.

Steven Knight’s screenplay loses momentum once the couple settles into their homey London life, and for all Zemeckis’s visual wizardry, the balance of the film never recaptures the thrill of their early adventures.

Instead, we settle for several gloriously shot sequences – a love scene inside a car beset by a sandstorm, a party interrupted by an air raid. But even the tensest late-film moments feel staged, even borrowed.

Knight’s writing tends to play better with grittier, more street-savvy direction (think Eastern Promises or Dirty Pretty Things), but Zemeckis likes a big stage. The result, though often entertaining because of solid performances, is too much of a mishmash to really work.


Walk of Fame

The Walk

by George Wolf

If you’ve seen Man on Wire, the Oscar-winning documentary from 2008, you may wonder if The Walk is even necessary (as if Hollywood cares). James Marsh’s look inside the legendary wire walk across the Twin Towers was as poetic as it was thrilling, and it left any other film on the subject a skyscraper-high hill to climb.

The Walk brings together director Robert Zemeckis, star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and some vertigo-inducing wizardry to give the story an newly polished sheen.

Gordon-Levitt is Philippe Petit, the effervescent Frenchman who pulled off the “artistic crime of the century.” In August of 1974, he successfully rigged a wire from the top of one tower to the other and walked across…and back..and back again.

The high whimsy count in the film’s first half could be expected from the director behind Forrest Gump, but it’s also a clear attempt to create a distinct identity for re-telling the tale. Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the script based on Petit’s book, has Gordon-Levitt in character atop the Statue of Liberty, scaling the “fourth wall” and narrating his journey from naive street performer to international sensation.

The overly fantastical narrative loses its charm pretty quickly, never approaching the emotional connection that drove Man on Wire. Gordon-Levitt, though, is a wonderful choice for Petit, with a performance good enough to make those unfamiliar with Petit’s tireless personality think the portrayal is over the top. No, that’s Petit.

The backstory does seems rushed, and when Petit’s team converges on the WTC to put the illegal scheme in motion, you’re not sure he’s earned the right to try it. But if Zemeckis is in a hurry to get Petit out on that wire, you quickly find out why, as questions about the film’s necessity are rebutted once the moment of truth arrives.

Man on Wire could only provide still photos from, as Petit calls it, “the coup,” but The Walk puts you there. Zemeckis and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus) unveil an array of truly wondrous visuals not for the faint of height. As with the recent Everest, this is a film meant to be seen in all its 3D IMAX eye-popping glory

Zemeckis saves any subtlety for where it counts the most, treating the memory of the WTC towers with a welcome, restrained dignity. That, coupled with the breathtaking recreation of a once-in-a-lifetime feat, makes The Walk a worthy trip.