‘Wel­come to Mar­wen’ brings off­beat true story to life

The Dundalk Eagle - - SOLUTIONS - By RAFER GUZMÁN News­day (TNS)

If Robert Ze­meckis’ “Wel­come to Mar­wen” were a work of fic­tion, it might be dis­missed as wildly in­ven­tive, ex­ceed­ingly odd and a lit­tle un­fo­cused. “Wel­come to Mar­wen” fea­tures Steve Carell as Mark Ho­gan­camp, a man whose near-death beat­ing out­side a bar led him to build doll-sized World War II dio­ra­mas full of Nazi vil­lains, buxom women and a brave pi­lot-ver­sion of him­self. It’s a pretty idio­syn­cratic story — and that’s not even in­clud­ing the fact that Ho­gan­camp was beaten for drunk­enly re­veal­ing that he wears women’s shoes.

Ho­gan­camp is a real per­son, the sub­ject of Jeff Malm­berg’s fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­men­tary “Mar­wen­col” (2010). The de­tails of his story, and the in­ex­pli­ca­ble art­work he cre­ated — stun­ningly de­tailed pho­to­graphs of dolls in var­i­ous poses of wartime ac­tion and romance — are all real. “Wel­come to Mar­wen’ is Ze­meckis’ at­tempt to turn the ec­cen­tric Ho­gan­camp into the hero of a Hol­ly­wood film and use state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy to bring his artis­tic fan­tasies to life.

By and large, it works. Carell per­fectly cap­tures Ho­gan­camp’s awk­ward­ness and child­like in­no­cence (the beat­ing erased vir­tu­ally all his mem­o­ries). Les­lie Mann is charm­ing as Ni­col, a new ar­rival to up­state Kingston, where Ho­gan­camp lives. Smit­ten, he cre­ates a doll ver­sion of Ni­col (with al­lur­ing heels) to live in his made-up town, Mar­wen. She joins ver­sions of his care­taker, Anna (Gwen­do­line Christie); his phys­i­cal ther­a­pist, Julie (Janelle Monae); a lo­cal wait­ress, Car­lala (Eiza Gon­za­lez); and a hob­byshop owner, Roberta (an achingly good Mer­ritt Wever), all equally sexed-up and well­shod.

There’s one more doll to men­tion: Deja Tho­ris (Diane Kruger), a jeal­ous witch who has no ana­logue in the real world. Ze­meckis and his cowriter, Caro­line Thompson (“Edward Scis­sorhands”), clev­erly turn Ho­gan­camp’s most mys­te­ri­ous cre­ation into the film’s most pow­er­ful sym­bol, a tal­is­man that traps him in Mar­wen.

The mo­tion-cap­ture tech­nol­ogy and an­i­ma­tion tech­niques that turn the ac­tors into dolls are marvelous. Shoul­ders and knees have ball-and-socket joints, faces have the stiff­ness of plas­tic, yet the dolls move and emote un­can­nily like their ac­tor-coun­ter­parts. Though the fan­tasy se­quences can feel repet­i­tive — Nazis at­tack Ho­gan­camp, the women res­cue him in a hail of bul­lets — there is deep emo­tional mean­ing run­ning through­out this movie. “Wel­come to Mar­wen” is the story of a man who has es­caped from re­al­ity into fan­tasy and now must learn to do the re­verse. In heels. ———

‘Wel­come to Mar­wen’

3 stars

Cast: Steve Carell, Les­lie Mann, Mer­ritt Wever

Rated PG-13 (sug­ges­tive con­tent, lan­guage and vi­o­lent im­agery)

Run­ning time: 1:56


This im­age re­leased by Univer­sal Pic­tures shows Cap’n Ho­gie, voiced by Steve Carell, in “Wel­come to Mar­wen.”

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