Thursday, December 27, 2018


Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Steve Carrell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Weaver, Diane Kruger, Janelle Monae, Eiza Gonzales, Gwendoline Christie
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
GENRE; Drama/ Fantasy

Mark Hogancamp's story is the stuff that movies are made of. And that brings us to Welcome To Marwen. Mark, an artist in upstate New York, goes out drinking one night at a local bar where he meets some guys who seem friendly. They yuck it up for a while, and then the  tipsy Hogancamp reveals that he is a cross-dresser--he likes to wear women's clothing--with a special fascination for shoes, of which he has a closet full. As he's leaving the bar, he is attacked by the men--who turn out to be neo-Nazis--and beaten to within an inch of  his life. 

When he emerges from a coma, a good chunk of Hogancamp's memory is wiped out. He reverts to an almost childlike emotional state, reacting to his  PTSD by creating a fantasy art installation--a village set in World War 2 Belgium where he is the fighter pilot hero--with a bevy of fetching dolls who are counterparts for some of the real women in his life--played by Leslie Mann, Janelle Monae, Eiza Gonzales, Merritt Weaver and others. Together they set about kicking some Nazi butt. This is his therapy.

Steve Carrell--and you'd be hard-pressed to name a finer thespian today--is Hogancamp in the flesh, and director Robert Zemeckis brings the village and the dolls to life in animated sequences that will blow you (as well as the Nazis) away! Welcome To Marwen has to be commended on its sheer inventiveness alone. The back and forth from Mark's fantasy world to his real life where he is avoiding a court date to face his attackers has come under fire (I'm using a lot of puns here) from critics. They say: it's not quite a comedy and not quite a drama;  gooey dreck;  it's disjointed...  
If there's one thing you can count on from film critics, it's a tendency to over analyze. Because they think that's their job. (I've touched on this in previous reviews.) So they seize upon it and dissect it in a cold and calculating way. As if there were ever a perfect film. (Last Tango In Paris notwithstanding!) 

I operate on a more human level. I like what touches me. Sometimes that's difficult to define. I like scenes where I'm going OH WOW--as in when Mark's dolls are marching in lockstep toward the Nazis...looking seductive...with machine guns tucked behind their the thumping beat of Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love." That's worth the price of admission right there. 

I liked Welcome to Marwen.  Because I so respect the sincere artistic effort and vision that goes into the making of any film, especially one that takes the chances and flat out goes for broke as this one does. But everyone isn't going to look at a painting and see the same thing. And that's the beauty of movies. You read one review. You read another that's totally different. Someone saw something or got something out of it that you didn't, or vice-versa. Just like real life. 

Grade : B +  


Call me just another nasty critic but Welcome To Marwen left me colder than a nazi-killing doll. Aside from those other reviewers' quotes that Tim already mentioned, I'd add 'meandering, even meaningless' – unless you find dolls easier to communicate with than humans. But while I'm on the subject of dolls, I must give tremendous credit to those doll designers and digital artists that made these imaginary figures come to life. (Too many names and categories to mention.)

Still, the story was hard to understand and even harder to relate to. And Steve Carrell's performance often reminded me of the character he played in Dinner For Schmucks. He is such a gifted actor, I'm sorry he chose to appear in this movie. Especially since he was so good in another film out this year called Beautiful Boy. Ironically, both films focused on the destructive effects of alcohol. Only in different ways.

If any of you are Nurse Jackie fans (Showtime) or Godless (Netflix) followers, you will no doubt recognize Merritt Weaver in this film as the owner of the doll boutique. I'm impressed with the range of her acting. But I'd rather watch 20 reruns of Nurse Jackie or Godless than be subjected to visiting Marwen again. Once is one time too many!

Grade: D

Friday, December 21, 2018

THE MULE (2018)

STARS: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
GENRE: Drama/ Dark Comedy

Clint Eastwood is Earl Stone, a 90 year-old (the man himself is 88) horticulturist and Korean war vet who's been estranged from his family for some time. We're not sure why he missed his daughter's wedding in favor of the bottle. Maybe he just likes his space. When he falls on hard times and his business is foreclosed upon, Earl must seek an alternate income. Stepping in to fill the void is a Mexican drug cartel. They see he has a clean driving record and would potentially make a good "mule,"or drug courier. Soon Earl is transporting mega-bucks worth of cocaine in his truck--initially not even aware of what his cargo is, until he gets curious and checks it out in his trunk. 

His naivete about the whole thing is hard for us to buy. But maybe he doesn't want to know. It's a job, and his employers aren't encouraging him to be nosy. The wads of cash he starts raking in may allow him to buy his way back into the good graces of his ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and his daughter and grand daughter, who's impending wedding may give him a chance to redeem himself.

When I walk into a Clint Eastwood film, I'm always wondering how he's going to politicize this one. He does, of course, in The Mule, but he seems to have softened since the likes of his jingoistic American Sniper. He's got a sense of humor, and it's on display in spades, as he pokes playful fun at lesbians, millennials, and minorities, among others.  

Much like Woody Allen, Eastwood is speaking through his characters, but the Jewish humor is replaced by what you'd expect from a curmudgeonly old white guy who leans so far to the right you wonder when he's going to tip over. But he let's his characters throw it right back at him as they grow increasingly frustrated and bewildered by Earl's erratic and unpredictable ways. The one-liners and the zingers fall in all the right places, and the theater audience eats it up. 

Eastwood has learned his lesson since surrounding himself with non-actors in the disastrous Gran Torino, and The 15:17 To Paris (less disastrous). His Latino cartel guys are authentically bad-ass, and the rest of the cast, including Bradley Cooper as a DEA agent who is on Earl's tail, is well-seasoned. Also on board are Andy Garcia, Laurence Fishburne, and Alison Eastwood--Clint's real life daughter--playing his movie daughter. There's some type-casting for you.

The Mule is a breezy ride, in a darkly comedic sort of way--there's even some boobs and gyrating booty thrown in for the younger set. Fun for the whole family! And Eastwood still gets his message across--that the world has taken some pretty strange turns since he and his peers were coming up. On that, I'll have to agree.

Grade:  B


To quote Will Rogers, "A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries." And, boy, do Tim and I differ on this one. Yes, given Mr. Eastwood's advanced age, his acting skills (remembering lines, walking briskly, the nuances of his facial expressions, etc.) is impressive. But so is Christopher Plummer's on screen presence. (And he's 89!)

My main beef with The Mule is its repetitiveness. Do we really need to see old Clint make 12 drug deliveries? And how many singing-in-the-car scenes are necessary? Because this film juggles three separate storylines—drug trafficking, family estrangements and cops chasing after Clint—I got tired of having to switch my focus. Granted the writers Sam Dolnick and Nick Schenk had to stick to the facts presented in the New York Times Magazine Article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-year-old Drug Mule." But it got confusing at times. And annoying.

But Clint Easwood's body of work is nothing to scoff at. Unlike Tim, my favorite old curmudgeon role of his was in Gran Torino. And my all-time favorite role was his portrayal of Dave in the 1971 classic Play Misty For Me. The very fact that everyone has a "favorite Clint Eastwood film" is testament to his overall talent and durability.

Sadly, this one left me wishing I could partake of some of that cocaine so I'd enjoy The Mule more....

Grade: C

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

THE WIFE (2018)

Rated:  R

STARS: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Annie Starke, Harry Lloyd
DIRECTOR: Bjorn Runge
GENRE: Drama

Oh, our films do so reflect the times we live in! Our #MeToo times. And The Wife falls right into politically correct lockstep with all of it.

Renown author Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), his wife Joan (Glenn Close), and their son David (Max Irons), are on their way to Stockholm where Joe will accept the Nobel Prize for literature. Nice happy family on the surface. Except Joe is a womanizer and Joan is the long suffering wife--the "wind beneath his wings" as it were. David, an aspiring writer himself, desperately seeks his father's approval, which Castleman gives only half-heartedly. The son has resentment. The wife has resentment. This is a film about resentment.

Through flashbacks we look in on the younger versions of Joe and Joan (Harry Lloyd/Annie Starke) as a young couple in the mid nineteen-fifties. It turns out that Joan is the more talented writer, and she agrees to help Joe revise the first draft of his first novel. The nature and the scope of this "assistance" is at the crux of The Wife. Let's just say he wouldn't be where he is today without her. 

The reason Joan agrees to sublimate her own literary ambitions and pour herself into all of her husband's subsequent works--essentially becoming his ghost writer--is due to the assumption (that the movie wants us to buy into) that women writers couldn't get published at the time. Old Boy Network domination. And that's the major flaw of the movie...fake news!

Rachel Carson, Flannery O'Conner, Iris Murdoch, Ayn Rand--and the list goes on--were all making names for themselves during the fifties. But let's be generous and agree that the glass ceiling for women existed to a great extent in the literary world as it did in most other occupations. Those damn men.

Glenn Close has an impressive body of work, but here she is guilty of playing her character one-dimensionally. She has seething rage just below the surface, but that opens up more questions about her than it answers. Joan was complicit in her husband's deception for all this time--she benefited from it equally (everything but the recognition), so you may ask yourself is this level of rage justified? Because it makes her a shallow character where a more complex one could have emerged had she appeared a bit more torn emotionally.

And when the poop finally hits the fan, it's shades of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton going toe-to-toe with each other in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.

It's just too much. As is the price of a ticket for this one.

Grade:  C -


For me, The Wife is Big Eyes with a literary twist. Yes, there are differences but the bottom line is the same: the talented one gets used and abused by the untalented one. Unlike Tim, I was impressed with Glenn Close's portrayal of the uber supportive wife. She has such expressive eyes, especially when they're smoldering. And another actor I love, Christian Slater, was appropriately smarmy as a writer eager to pen our philandering prize-winner's biography.

Yes, some of the scenes dragged a bit. The couple's public persona versus their bedroom battles, for example. Still, I found the premise interesting and, as a woman in showbiz myself (songwriter, author, etc.), I could certainly work up some emotional steam over credit not being given where credit was due.

I loved the shots at night of Stockholm, a city I was unfamiliar with. And I had to chuckle inwardly at the idea of Bob Dylan in this very prim and proper setting, bowing to the king as he accepted his Nobel medal!  

Grade: C +