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Welcome to Marwen

A moving true story gets too schmaltzy and becomes an endurance test for the audience

© Universal Pictures After a brutal attack leaves Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) without his memory and terrified of the world, he creates a world of miniatures with a heroic narrative.
      The victim of a brutal hate crime, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) survives with amnesia, crippling physical delays and PTSD. The once-talented illustrator can barely hold a pen. He’s plagued with nightmares, pops pills and hides at home.
       But in his mind, he lives an adventure. Using dolls customized to look like people he knows, Mark has created an elaborate world. In World War II Belgium, Mark is a dashing flyboy who protects the town of Marwen from sadistic Nazis. He acts out dramas, taking pictures of the scenes to help process his trauma.
      Pictures of his escapades in Marwen amaze the art world, but when Mark’s work earns a gallery showing, he can’t bring himself to attend. In Marwen, he’s brave and he has control; in the outside world, he’s terrified. He can leave the house only with his dolls trailing behind him in their jeep.
      Welcome to Marwen wants to be inspiring and sentimental, but poor writing and terrible direction make it an endurance test for the audience. The true story was brilliantly captured in the documentary Marwencol; not so here.
      Director Robert Zemeckis (Allied) is known for his technical prowess. They’re on full display in Marwen, which uses a complicated motion-capture technique to give life to the dolls. The effects — and only the effects — are impressive.
      Worst is the wildly vacillating tone. Zemeckis swings erratically between kitschy spoof and maudlin drama. Doll scenes repeat the same story with a breezy tone that belies how Mark depends on his fantasy world. In the fraught real world, he is little more than a guy who screams a lot. Characters are no more developed than plastic dolls, with women especially sexualized.
     It feels exploitative, as if Zemeckis interest in Mark’s story was using it only to show off a new CGI process. 
Poor Drama • PG-13 • 116 mins.
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Destroyer
      Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) was a rookie Los Angeles cop assigned to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers. But it all went bad, leaving Erin a broken shell.
      After decades of hard living, she seeks vengeance for the life she lost when the leader of the gang reemerges.
     This time-bending crime thriller’s real draw is Kidman, who performs looking less than gorgeous, a sure sign she’ll be in contention for an award this season. But the material is so thin and the story so shortchanged, it’s worth the ticket only for fans of Kidman or whodunits.
Fair Drama • R • 123 mins. 
 
Holmes & Watson
       When Sherlock Holmes’ (Will Ferrell) nemesis Professor Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) threatens to kill Queen Victoria unless a mystery is solved, the game is afoot. With his sidekick Dr. Watson (John C. Reilly), Holmes tears through Victorian London to unravel the clues.
      John C. Reilly has given two excellent performances this year, in Stan & Ollie and The Sisters Brothers, so perhaps falling back into his partnership with Ferrell can be forgiven.
      This is comedy you will either adore or despise. If you love stupid humor, men shouting and people falling down, Holmes & Watson may be fun. If you’re looking for a movie with something original or funny to say, pass on this mess. 
Prospects: Dim • PG-13 • 99 mins. 
 
On the Basis of Sex
      Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is a wife and mother with a successful lawyer husband. She is a lawyer as well, but her achievements tend to be dismissed or belittled by her legal colleagues. Only husband Marty (Armie Hammer) treats her as an equal. With his help, Ruth takes a case to the appeals court that will change the way the U.S. government treats gender equality.
      Jones is a great actress, and Ginsburg herself has praised the movie. If you’re hoping to inspire younger generations or want a feel-good holiday movie, this should be an excellent choice. If you’d rather stay home, search for the documentary RBG, which offers a look at Justice Ginsburg’s accomplishments as a whole.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 120 mins.