September 13, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Professor Marston & The Wonder Women” & “In the Fade”


PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (Annapurna – Oct. 13):  In the hothouse of a film festival, movies that are unrelated inevitably begin to collide with each other in the viewer’s mind.  So it’s difficult, in a festival that’s given us the extraordinary Disobedience, to give similar weight to Angela Robinson’s much frothier and thinner PROFESSOR MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN, which also walks a transgressively sexual path.  Professor Marston (Luke Evans) was a real person, and his women were his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a brilliant thinker who chafed under the strictures of 1920s academia, and Olive (Bella Heathcote), who begins as the teaching assistant in Marston’s Psychology class at Radcliffe.  It takes some time, but eventually all three admit that they’re besotted with each other, and they enter into what would now be called a throuple, living together for more than a decade in a life that would be close to utopian if they didn’t have to worry about disapproving eyes.  Along the way, the trio begin practicing S&M, and many of the motifs of that lifestyle (ropes, semi-clad women in combat) find their way into a little comic book Marston has begun writing, the one about the Amazonian super-heroine that, in a blessed coincidence for this low-budget indie, just made her starring motion picture debut to the tune of $816M worldwide.  To be clear, this is not a movie for most comic book fans.  But it doesn’t go very deep as a serious drama, either.  For all their talk about what they truly need and want, the characters are viewed narrowly, and although the Wonder Woman connections are fun, there’s very little here about the beginnings of the comic book franchise era.  (It’s clear that the script was carefully assembled to avoid the wrath of DC/Warner Bros.)  A structural gimmick that intercuts the main story with a hearing conducted by a comic book morality czarina (Connie Britton) goes nowhere.  Even the sex is limited to montages of light role play and bondage.  The actors are all fine, and Professor Marston is on the side of the angels, but with the Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth (based on Marston’s real-life invention of the modern lie detector) tied tightly on, it has to be admitted that the film isn’t all that compelling.

IN THE FADE (Warners/Magnolia – November 23):  Fatih Akin’s drama of violent death and revenge lacks the humor, and more surprisingly the moral complexity, of 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Like 3 Billboards, the German-language film focuses on the loved one left alive after a terrible crime:  Katja (Diane Kruger), whose husband and young son are blown apart by a neo-Nazi terrorist bomb targeted against them because they’re Turkish.  Katja focuses all she has left on justice and revenge, and as in 3 Billboards, the legal system doesn’t deliver what she needs.  In the Fade, though, because it has no real characters other than Katja, feels much more simplistic.  The final section of the story is powerful (and suggests Akin could direct Hollywood thrillers if he were so minded), yet the tragedy it depicts is a straightforward one.  What In the Fade does have is Kruger, in her screw-being-a-glamour-queen, Cannes Film Festival award winning performance.  The trial sequences that take up the central part of the film are mostly played off her face, and she practically burns a hole in the screen.  Akin doesn’t really engage with the politics of the story: if we skip over recent American events and assume that–nearly–everyone can agree that neo-Nazis are bad, and those that toss bombs at children because of their race are irredeemable, the only drama here is what Katja is going to do about it, and that feels more like the subject of a Liam Neeson action movie than a heavy arthouse drama.  In the Fade tries to straddle both, and despite Kruger’s great work, it doesn’t ultimately deliver on either.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."