Welcome to Marwen (**)

Welcome to Marwen is a prime example of a film with all the right ingredients that nevertheless manages to be a misfire in spite of the best efforts of those involved. For starters, you have Robert Zemekis, the guiding hand behind some of the biggest hits of the last forty years (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, etc.), on board to steer the ship in the right direction. Beyond that the cast is filled with generally likeable presences such as Steve Carrell, Diane Kruger and Leslie Mann and the film is co-written (with Zemeckis) by the author of Edward Scissorhands, Caroline Thompson. As icing on the cake, this is a true story that’s supposed to uplift and is filled with obvious ambition and a certain reverence for its subject matter. Unfortunately, none of this matters and what we’re left with is a genuinely oddball piece of filmmaking that’s likely to alienate and confound movie audiences of every variety this holiday season. At least that’s the effect it had on me.

Steve Carrell in Welcome to Marwen
   The film is the story of Mark Hogancamp who earned a bit of notoriety and renown as an illustrator of war books. Hogancamp’s life was on a pretty good trajectory until one event changed all of that. One night, while in a bar, the artist made the fatal mistake of revealing that he likes to wear women’s shoes. In the right place and at the right time this revelation would probably be brushed aside, but this was neither the place nor the time. Hogancamp was beaten within an inch of his life and left for dead. The beating was, in fact, so severe that Hogancamp’s life was forever altered and as a result he had no memory of his previous adult life.

     How Hogancamp chose to deal with this trauma is really, for lack of a better phrase, the heart of the movie. He deals with it by escaping into a fantasy world where he is able to become a heroic fighter pilot while also wearing his stiletto heels. If that last statement didn’t make you lose interest then I’ll go on and say that’s the least strangest thing you’re likely to encounter in a film where all of the female figures in the man’s life are represented by dolls with whom he arranges regular intervals of play time. Oh, yes, there’s also a witch (Kruger) involved in the proceedings and a neighbor (Mann) for whom Hogancamp harbors romantic yearnings.

    Welcome to Marwen is, to put it mildly, a disjointed mess of a film. It’s not the sort of thing you can actually hate due to its good intentions but, boy, does it ever remind you of the phrase that “the road to hell was paved with good intentions.” This is a prime example of that adage coming to life in the worst possible way.

Vice (***)

     Actor Christian Bale’s performance as former vice president Dick Cheney is astounding, to say the least, in the biopic of Cheney entitled Vice. It isn’t only Bale’s physical transformation in the role, he gained some forty pounds in the process, but he also captures the mannerisms, facial tics and vocal patterns of Cheney perfectly. It’s really quite astounding to watch and you can’t take your eyes off him at any given moment. In fact, it’s such a thing to behold that I had to mentally remind myself at various intervals to pay dynamic attention to what was actually transpiring from a story standpoint instead of merely focusing on the actor’s performance. I suppose that’s a compliment of the highest order that one could pay to an actor and Bale more than deserves it.

    Aside from the aforementioned performance by Christian Bale in the lead role and taken as a revelatory portrait of one of the most polarizing figures of this century, Vice has much else to offer viewers willing to investigate. The film takes us from Cheney’s unhinged college days to his rapid ascent through the political ranks. Both the highs and the lows are touched upon in equal amounts, but the film is more than just a glorified dramatization of Cheney’s Wikipedia page. No, this is a film that’s every bit as complex as its subject and it’s only fitting for a man as complicated as the former vice president has proven to be throughout his public life.

Christian Bale as Cheney in Vice

     Bale is aided greatly by a supporting cast that includes Sam Rockwell as Cheney’s political other half, George W. Bush and Amy Adams as his wife, Lynn. Rockwell’s performance, in particular, sticks with you due to the way that he chooses to play the former president. You never really know whether he’s implementing Cheney’s plans because he believes in them or simply because he doesn’t care.

    Adam McKay, the former director of a lot of dopey Will Ferrell comedies that include Anchorman and Taladega Nights, is responsible for both the scripting and directing chores on Vice. It’s his second political film after The Big Short.  To his credit, he doesn’t hide his distaste for Cheney or his policies but also has the good sense to play it for laughs every now and then. McKay throws lots of things at the wall and it’s almost too much to take in on the first viewing. The only real problem with the film is that you never get a clear sense of Cheney’s reasons for doing what he ultimately did when the power of the world was in his grasp. In that respect I found Vice a little less than satisfactory, although there’s so much to admire. For those looking for a primer on a complicated man this is a good place to start even if, perhaps, it could have gone a little deeper at times.

Both of these movies are playing in Hickory and all around the area.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].