‘The 355’ Features Lady Spies Fighting Off a Cyber-MacGuffin

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The 355 (CREDIT: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penélope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez

Director: Simon Kinberg

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Very Loud Guns and Some Torture

Release Date: January 7, 2022 (Theaters)

Like pretty much every other spycraft movie ever, The 355 left me reeling with bewilderment over my lack of understanding about what exactly was going on. About 20 minutes in, I wondered, “Did I miss something while looking down at my phone or taking a swig of water?” That’s pretty par for the course. What’s less par is the fact that this particular spy movie stars a quintet of ladies who have all garnered plenty of awards recognition over the course of their careers. The title, after all, is a reference to a code name used by a female agent during the American Revolution. But ultimately that feminine energy makes hardly any difference whatsoever.

The 355 (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Basically there’s some to-do about some MacGuffin that could apparently destroy the world if it winds up in the wrong hands. So a team of allies and former rivals from all around the world forms on the fly to ensure that this doesn’t happen. There’s also some business about Jessica Chastain’s CIA agent character being betrayed by her partner (Sebastian Stan). I couldn’t figure out what his motivation was. Ultimately I began to entertain the idea that perhaps these actors were just as oblivious as I was about the details of their characters’ mission. They never betrayed any doubt in their performances, but it’s kind of interesting to consider the amount of blindness that could potentially go into pulling off a plot this knotty. Also, Penélope Cruz’s character is a therapist, and it’s clear that she is not used to field work that’s this high-stakes. So I kind of wish the focus had been more on her.

There might be some readers of this review who are shouting at me, “What are you talking about?! This made perfect sense! I know exactly what happened!” But a comprehensible plot is only half the battle here. There also needs to be style and momentum. Alas, though, The 355 for the most part alternates between deafening gun shootouts and frequently whispered conversations. Oh well, that’s January cinema for ya. The nonsense has to go somewhere.

The 355 is Recommended If You Like: The promise of a “Dewey Decimal System for Cyberattacks”

Grade: 2 out of 5 Common Enemies

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Welcome to Marwen’ is an Odd True-Life Story Made Odder by Fitting Into Feel-Good Movie Clichés

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CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, Diane Kruger, Neil Jackson

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Bloody Doll-Based Violence, Neo-Nazi Assault Flashbacks, and a Few Unexpected Sexual References

Release Date: December 21, 2018

Welcome to Marwen is a low-key film whose gentleness belies its supreme oddity. At least it comes by its unusual nature honestly. It’s based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, about the artist Mark Hogancamp, who was beaten nearly to death after he told a group of men that he was a cross-dresser. Then as a kind of therapy, he constructed a miniature Belgian World War II-era village and populated it with dolls representing himself and the people in his life. I haven’t seen Marwencol, so I cannot attest to any historical veracity or lack thereof, but given the premise, Welcome to Marwen was always going to be as tricky to make sense of as it turned out to be. Steve Carell, for his part, plays Hogancamp like the sort of meek, PTSD-afflicted, obsessive, highly impressive individual that corresponds with his story. But then there are ways in which Welcome to Marwen attempts to mold Hogancamp’s world into a traditional cinematic structure, and the movie itself feels like it is rebelling.

The biggest miscalculation is probably the romance storyline, which consists of a series of major miscommunications on the part of everyone involved. The doll version of Mark is typically accompanied by his female companions, and the scenarios he playacts quite clearly reveal the feelings he has for them. Figuring prominently is Mark’s new neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann), which is pronounced just like “Nicole,” but spelled without the “e” for some inexplicable reason. She’s quite forward in her friendliness, which Mark interprets as romantic interest, which he appears to be correct about, until it is unmistakably clear that he is in fact very incorrect, rendering the audience confused by the ways in which Mark’s perspective is favored over everyone else’s.

While Welcome to Marwen has a few clear missteps, I am not sure how this story could have overall been presented much differently. One answer is that it should not have been made at all, leaving the documentary to stand on its own. But I reject that, on the basis of believing that all cinematic ventures, no matter how ill-advised, can theoretically turn out successful. However, while I am fascinated by this elaborate fantasy world created to deal with trauma and the way that director Robert Zemeckis presents it, I wouldn’t point to Marwen as the best example of this maxim.

Welcome to Marwen is Recommended If You Like: Extensive shoe collections, Romantic miscommunications, Playing with dolls and action figures at any age

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Glamonistas