Film Review: WELCOME TO MARWEN (USA 2018) ***

Welcome to Marwen Poster

A victim of a brutal attack finds a unique and beautiful therapeutic outlet to help him through his recovery process.


Robert Zemeckis


Robert Zemeckis (screenplay by), Caroline Thompson (screenplay by)

WELCOME TO MARWEN is based on the 2010 widely acclaimed documentary, Jeff Malmberg’s  MARWENCOL.  The doc follows the crucial event of April 8, 2000, when Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside of a bar by five men who beat him nearly to death after he told them he was a cross-dresser.  After nine days in a coma and 40 days in the hospital, Hogancamp was discharged with brain damage that left him little memory of his previous life.  Unable to afford therapy, he created his own by building a 1/6-scale World War II–era Belgian town in his yard and populating it with dolls representing himself, his friends, and even his attackers.  He calls that town Marwencol, blending the names Mark, Wendy, and Colleen.

Robert Zemeckis’ film is however treats the material quite differently.  WELCOME TO MARWEN is a fantasy drama.  The film begins with a doll figure looking like Steve Carell flying an aircraft during WWII, shot down from the skies in Belgium where he is saved from Germans by a troop of beautiful girls.  This fantasy world of dolls eventually dissolves into the

true story of Mark Hogancamp (Carell), a man struggling with PTSD.  After having his memory erased from being physically assaulted, by five men beat him up and left him for dead, all because he told them that he liked wearing ladies’ shoes.   Following the attack, Mark was left with little to no memory of his previous life due to brain damage inflicted by his attackers. In a desperate attempt to regain his memory, Mark constructs a miniature World War II village, called Marwen in his yard to help in his recovery.  Unfortunately, Mark’s demons come back to haunt him when he’s asked to testify against the five men responsible for ruining his life.  Mark’s PTSD is shown in the ilm to be caused by an overdose in taking his medication raster that the trauma itself.

One might argue that director Zemeckis is trivializing Mark’s personal tragedy.  There are reasons many would think this way.  In the script by Caroline Thompson, Mark falls in love with his new neighbour, Nicol (Leslie Mann in a dead serious role).  It is this love for her that helps him recover and for him the strength to attend court and to pursue his doll show.   The chance encounter with photographer, David Naugle, which afforded Hogancamp the opportunity to show his works is totally omitted in the movie.  Nothing is shown of the hard work that went into the creation of the village of Marwen.  When Nicol does not return Mark’s love, there is another, Roberta (Merritt Wever), who works in the toy store, in the waiting line.

The fantasy animation has the look of one of Zemeckis’ previous films POLAR EXPRESS.  The sequences, though well-done is not shown convincingly to serve any purpose but to fuel Mark’s obsessions which in the film, is not shown to be a good thing.  The dolls, a few topless are disturbing, especially when used as play things for a man who is not all there.  

It is assumed that Mark finally gets it all together when he attends his court hearing.  But by showing the culprits looking sorry of themselves, Zemeckis seems to have brought down what he has been building up throughout the film, that the guilty should pay for their bad deeds.

What ends up is a well-intentioned film that has lost its way from its storytelling.  What could be a gut-wrenching real life recovery drama ends up as Hollywood feel-good fluff.



Film Review: ALLIED (UK/USA 2016) ****

allied_movie_poster.jpgDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Steven Knight

Stars: Brad Pitt, Vincent Ebrahim, Xavier De Guillebon, Marion Cotillard

Review by Gilbert Seah

The World War II romance thriller, ALLIED feels like the old Hollywood war romances like CASABLANCA, the kind that featured top Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Part of the reason is at the film’s start, the hero, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachutes down to the Moroccan desert only to land make way to Casablanca where he meets his mission-assigned wife, Mairanne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard).

The story is set in 1942 North Africa. Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) meets French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) on a secret mission behind enemy lines. The couple reunites in London and get married, eventually having a daughter together. Their relationship is strong and normal but becomes threatened by the brink of war, as Vatan is presented with the possibility that Beausejour is a sleeper spy working for the Germans. Vatan is then placed under considerable pressure to kill Beausejour himself or to be executed for failing to obey orders. Convinced of her innocence, he sets out on a very dangerous mission to clear her name.

Zemeckis creates and maintains a solid tense atmosphere throughout the film. The few action sequences (the assassination of the German ambassador; the prison break) are executed efficiently without much ado, keeping in line that ALLIED is a suspense thriller and not an action flick. The romance between Pitt and Cotillard works. The love scene is executed with finesse and taste with the sexiness intact. The couple make love in the car, the scene ending with the sand storm outside the vehicle blurring the windows of the vehicle.

ALLIED is a star movie, no doubt about that. The film would be so much less effective if Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard were replaced with lesser known actors, just as CASABLANCA cannot be envisioned without Bogart and Bergman. British actor, handsome Matthew Goode is hardly recognizable in the role of Guy Sangster, whose face is scarred by the war. The film has a gay slant with the addition of Max’s lesbian sister, Bridget (Lizzy Caplan) who in one ironic scene is asked by soldiers as a request to kiss her female companion.

For all the film’s seriousness, Zemeckis adds in some very wry humour, especially in the scene where Max is confronted with orders to kill Beausejour.

Zemickis makes sure these questions remains on the mind of every member of the audience: Is Beausejour really a German spy? If she is, would Max complete his duty and kill her? Despite the obvious answers to the two questions, Zemeckis pulls a good twist to the story at the end.

ALLIED proves once again the talent of director Zemeckis. He has proven his mettle with films of different genres like the BACK TO THE FUTURE films, THE POLAR EXPRESS, WHO FARMED ROGER RABBIT and of course, FORREST GUMP. Allied adds another success to his list.


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Happy Birthday: Robert Zemeckis

robertzemeckis.jpgHappy Birthday director Robert Zemeckis

Born: Robert Lee Zemeckis
May 14, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Married to: Leslie Zemeckis (4 December 2001 – present) (2 children)

Mary Ellen Trainor (26 July 1980 – 2000) (divorced) (1 child)

Read reviews of the best of the director:

Back to the FutureBack to the Future
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Who Framed Roger Rabbit
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Back to the FutureBack to the Future II
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movie posterFORREST GUMP
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Meryl Streep
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Goldie Hawn

Cast Away
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Angelina Jolie
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A Christmas Carol Movie PosterA Christmas Carol
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Jim Carrey
Gary Oldman
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