Review: ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,’ starring the voice of Jenny Slate

June 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”

Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the animated/live-action film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Latina) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young male seashell and his grandmother, who are living by themselves in an Airbnb rental house after their other family members have gone missing, have to adjust to a new life when a documentary filmmaker moves into the house.

Culture Audience: “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky films that blend animation with live action.

Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) and Dean Fleischer Camp in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” could have been an excessively cute film about tiny sea shells with human-like characteristics, but this unique movie is an offbeat charmer with an appealing mix of comedy and sentimentality about life and love. The movie has an artistic blend of live action and stop-motion animation that looks organic, not forced. And although there are some parts of the film that get repetitive and not all of the jokes land well, the positive aspects of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” far outnumber any of the movie’s small flaws. “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” had its world premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival and made the rounds at other film festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW), the Seattle International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The origin story of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is self-referenced throughout the movie, which has a plot that’s similar to how the movie’s title character first became an international sensation. In real life, filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp and actress Jenny Slate did a series of short comedy videos called “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” beginning in 2010. In these videos, Slate voiced the character of Marcel, a talkative one-inch sea shell with one eye, human feet and a wryly observant and inquisitive view of life. Based on the way that Marcel talks, he has the intelligence and emotional maturity of a human boy who’s about 9 or 10 years old.

These videos about Marcel became a worldwide hit on the Internet and inspired children’s books written by Slate and Flesicher Camp. And now, there’s an entire movie about Marcel. The feature film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” directed by Fleischer Camp (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Slate and Nick Paley) takes viewers on Marcel’s often-emotional journey to find his missing family members. Marcel lives in a middle-class house somewhere in Los Angeles, where the unmarried human couple named Larissa (played by Rosa Salazar) and Mark (played by Thomas Mann), who previously occupied the house, had a bitter breakup. The house is now being used as an Airbnb rental.

Marcel’s wise and practical grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) is Marcel’s only family member who hasn’t gone missing. Among the those who have gone missing in Marcel’s family (they are all one-eyed small shells with feet) are Marcel’s parents Mario and Connie and Marcel’s brother Justin. What bothers Marcel and Connie the most is that they didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and they have no idea where the other family members went. Marcel and Connie have photos and illustrations of their family members as visual mementos.

Marcel and Connie have a very close relationship. She often teaches Marcel things about life, often in answer to Marcel’s seemingly endless stream of questions. Connie and Marcel also love to watch “60 Minutes” together and are big fans of “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. Marcel describes Connie as very independent and resourceful. For example, Marcel says that Connie taught herself how to farm. Connie also loves to garden and spends a lot of her time in the home’s garden.

At times, Marcel has a childlike wonder and curiosity about the modern world. Other times, he has a simple clarity about how to react to difficulties or problems because he doesn’t have as much emotional baggage or insecurity as someone who is an adult. Throughout the movie, there are whimsical moments and more serious moments where Marcel’s personality and quirks get various reactions to those around him.

In the beginning of the movie, Marcel says that he and Connie are living by themselves in the house, along with their pet lint named Alan. Their solitude ends when an Airbnb renter moves into the house with his white terrier mix dog named Arthur. He’s a mild-mannered filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp (playing a version of himself), who needs a new place to stay because he has recently separated from his wife. In a case of art imitating life, Slate and Fleischer Camp (who used to spell his surname as Fleischer-Camp) got married in 2012 and then got divorced in 2016.

As expected, Marcel is curious about the house’s new human resident, and the feeling is mutual. It takes Marcel much longer to get used to Arthur, Dean’s dog, since Marcel is sometimes annoyed by how the dog smells and keeps interrupting Marcel like a curious and playful dog would do. Marcel shows Dean around the house, including the potted plant where Marcel sleeps on a slice of bread. Marcel describes where he sleeps as his “breadroom.”

Marcel might seem like a precocious child, but he doesn’t know a lot about modern technology. Dean tells Marcel that he’s making an online documentary. Marcel’s response is “Online? You lost me.” Eventually, Dean shows Marcel how the Internet works when Dean begins posting videos of Marcel online. The videos become an international sensation, with Marcel developing a huge fan base. (Sound familiar?)

Marcel is overwhelmed and often flabbergasted by all this newfound attention. However, he thinks it can be put to good use when he asks Dean to help get the word out about Marcel’s missing family members. You can easily predict which TV news show might get involved. Someone who doesn’t really want to get too caught up in the fanfare is Connie, who is very skeptical of the Internet and all modern technology.

The first third of “Marcel the Shell With the Shoes On” seems like a series of skits weaved together, with a lot of wisecracking remarks from Marcel, as he and Dean start to get to know each other and eventually become friends. The other two-thirds of the movie begin to have more substance when the story focuses more on the search for Marcel’s family members. The movie has themes of love, heartbreak and grief that are handled with sensitivity without being mawkish.

For example, Marcel begins to notice after a while that Dean is very curious about Marcel, but Dean is very reluctant to talk about himself. And it’s not just because Dean wants to be an journalistic documentarian. Dean is having difficulty processing the breakup of his marriage. Dean’s preoccupation with Marcel’s problems are a way for him to cope with or avoid his own personal problems.

The movie doesn’t fully show Dean on camera until a pivotal part of the story when he’s essentially forced to talk about himself. It’s a clever way that the movie has Dean “coming out of the shadows” that reflect his own willingness to be open up more about himself and show more vulnerability. Fleischer Camp gives a solid performance, but the character of Dean seems to know that Marcel is the real star of the show.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has terrific voice work from Slate and Rossellini, who make an endearing and believable duo as a grandparent and grandchild. Connie isn’t a new character, but this movie is the first time that Connie gets her own backstory and story arc. Not everything in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is comedic, since the movie has some tearjerking moments that might catch some viewers by surprise. In a cinematic era when animated/live-action hybrid films are so focused on dazzling viewers with big adventures that are visual spectacles, it’s nice to have a movie like “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” that focuses more on everyday emotional connections and appreciating loved ones during life’s ups and downs.

A24 will release “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” in select U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Halloween Kills,’ starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann and Anthony Michael Hall

October 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Judy Greer, Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak in in “Halloween Kills” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Halloween Kills”

Directed by David Gordon Green

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in the fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, the horror flick “Halloween Kills” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Serial killer Michael Myers is on the loose again and will murder anyone who gets in his way.

Culture Audience: “Halloween Kills” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that care more about creating bloody murder scenes than creating any suspense or an interesting story.

Michael Myers (also known as The Shape, pictured at left) in “Halloween Kills” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Halloween Kills” is an apt description for what this boring slog of a horror movie does to further destroy the already damaged “Halloween” franchise. It also commits the unforgivable sin of confining “Halloween” icon Laurie Strode to a hospital for most of the movie. Horror movie aficionados will find nothing scary about this cynical cesspool of lazy filmmaking, because “Halloween Kills” is just a series of gory murders thrown into an incoherent and flimsy plot.

The 2018 “Halloween” movie indicated that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character (the most famous survivor of mask-wearing serial killer Michael Myers) would return to the franchise as an active hero doing battle against Michael Myers, who is also known as The Shape. The movie also introduced Laurie’s estranged daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) and Karen’s daughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak) into the mix, to make this hunt for Michael Myers a multi-generational family mission. At the end of the movie, Laurie and Karen had begun to mend their relationship, with Allyson being somewhat of a bridge between the two.

In “Halloween Kills,” which picks up right after the 2018 “Halloween” movie ended, any expectation that Laurie, Karen and Allyson would join forces is shattered. The three women spend most of the movie apart from each other. And when they are together, they often bicker with each other about who should or shouldn’t go after Michael Myers, who has returned to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to wreak more havoc on Halloween night. (“Halloween Kills” was actually filmed in North Carolina.) Meanwhile, men dominate in the planning of vigilante mob actions that play out in “Halloween Kills” in the most ludicrous ways.

David Gordon Green directed 2018’s “Halloween” and “Halloween Kills,” and he co-wrote both movies with Danny McBride. Jeff Fradley was the third co-writer of 2018’s “Halloween,” while Scott Teems was the third co-writer of “Halloween Kills.” It’s difficult to know if replacing Fradley with Teems is the reason why the quality of the “Halloween Kills” screenplay took a noticeable descent into moronic hell. The 2018 “Halloween” movie is by no means a classic horror flick, but it’s an exceedingly better film than the dreck of “Halloween Kills.” The director is chiefly responsible for how a movie turns out, so it’s disappointing that Green chose to coast off of the success of his “Halloween” movie and churn out such a formulaic and unimaginative dud with “Halloween Kills.”

Simply put: “Halloween Kills” wallows in the worst stereotypes of awful horror flicks. Characters go into a house alone to try and confront the extremely dangerous killer on the loose. When opportunities come to capture or kill the murderer once and for all, characters stand around talking to (or screaming at) the mute psycho killer Michael Myers, as if they think striking up a one-way conversation with him will suddenly turn him to a reasonable, law-abiding citizen. (In “Halloween Kills,” Michael Myers is portrayed by three actors: James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle in the 2018 scenes and Airon Armstrong in the 1978 scenes.)

And even though this serial killer is murdering people all over town, police officers and ambulances are mysteriously absent for most of the mayhem because almost all the imbecile characters in this movie usually don’t call 911. The nonsensical explanation in the movie is that the vigilante citizens think they can take Michael Myers on their own. Many of them think the Haddonfield police are incompetent. But that still doesn’t explain why the police aren’t showing up in force anyway.

And worst of all for a horror movie: There’s almost no suspense and nothing is truly terrifying. Gruesome? Yes. Scary? No. It’s very easy to predict who will die and who will survive in this movie. There’s also the predictable ending scene of someone who might or might not be dead. (It’s the most obvious way for a horror movie to set up a sequel.) The murders are done in such a monotonously routine way, it would be understandable for viewers to think that Michael Myers is sleepwalking. There is absolutely nothing creatively done in this movie when it comes to the plot, dialogue or action sequences.

“Halloween Kills” also squanders a compelling idea of reuniting many of the characters who survived the Michael Myers massacre that took place in the original 1978 “Halloween” movie. Several characters are introduced as having a meaningful connection to “Halloween” lore, but “Halloween Kills” won’t let viewers get to know these characters in a meaningful way. There are flashbacks in “Halloween Kills” that are ultimately a waste of time.

In one such flashback, which takes place in 1978 during Michael Myers’ first massacre in Haddonfield, viewers see a rookie cop in his 20s named Hawkins (played by Thomas Mann) and his older, more experienced partner Pete McCabe (played by Jim Cummings) on the scene. They are among the first cops to respond to this emergency. It’s enough to say that McCabe doesn’t make it out alive, but Hawkins does. In 2018, Hawkins (played by Will Patton) is still a Haddonfield cop, and he’s been wounded in this latest Michael Myers massacre.

Laurie is also wounded, because Michael stabbed her in the abdomen, as shown in 2018’s “Halloween.” She’s first seen in “Halloween Kills” bleeding profusely and in agony in the back of a truck with Karen and Allyson, as the truck speeds to the nearest hospital. It’s at this hospital that Laurie will stay for most of her screen time in “Halloween Kills.” She’s sidelined into being either being unconscious or, when she wakes up, being a cranky grandmother who thinks she knows best when it comes to who should go after Michael Myers.

And what a coincidence: A wounded Hawkins ends up being in the same hospital room as Laurie. There’s an almost laughable backstory put in “Halloween Kills” that Laurie and Hawkins had a flirtation with each other back in 1978. And so, in the midst of all the madness and mayhem with this latest Michael Myers killing spree, Laurie and Hawkins make goo-goo eyes at each other in their hospital beds, as they reminisce about their “could’ve been” near-miss romance. It’s an example of how off-the-rails this movie is in keeping Laurie mostly out of the action.

Besides Laurie and Hawkins, these are the other Haddonfield survivors from the original 1978 massacre who become targets of Michael Myers in the 2018 massacre:

  • Tommy Doyle (played by Anthony Michael Hall): In 1978, Laurie was babysitting Tommy and his sister on the Halloween night when Michael Myers went on his deadly rampage. Tommy’s sister became one of Michael Myers’ murder victims.
  • Lindsey Wallace (played by Kyle Richards): She was also a kid in 1978, and her babysitter was murdered by Michael Myers that night.
  • Marion Chambers (played by Nancy Stephens): She was the nurse of the late Dr. Loomis (played by Donald Pleasance), the psychiatrist who was treating Michael Myers when Michael escaped from the psychiatric institution on that fateful Halloween in 1978. (Stephens reprises her role that she had in 1978’s “Halloween” movie.)
  • Lonnie Elam (played by Robert Longstreet): When he was 9 or 10 years old, he had a near-miss encounter with Michael Myers on a sidewalk on Halloween night 1978. (Tristian Eggerling portrays Lonnie as a child in a flashback scene.)

“Halloween Kills” also has some other characters who encounter Michael Myers on Halloween night in 2018. Lonnie’s son Cameron Elam (played by Dylan Arnold) happens to be Allyson’s boyfriend. Cameron is also the person who finds a wounded Hawkins on the street. It’s one of the few times that someone in this movie has the common sense to call 911 for help. But that’s not what happens later in the movie when Lonnie, Cameron and Allyson foolishly decide to hunt down Michael Myers on their own.

Married couple Marcus (played by Michael Smallwood) and Vanessa (played by Carmela McNeal), who are dressed in Halloween costumes as a doctor and a nurse, meet Tommy at a local bar and quickly befriend him after he gets up on stage and talks about being a Michael Myers survivor. And there’s a gay couple named Big John (played by Scott MacArthur) and Little John (played by Michael McDonald), who work together in real estate. Big John and Little John happen to live in the house that Michael Myers used to live in before Michael was sent to a psychiatric institution in 1963 for killing his 17-year-old sister Judith when he was 6 years old. What are the odds that Michael will go back to his childhood home when Big John and Little John are there?

Michael Myers was supposed to be in his 20s in 1978, which means that he’s getting too old to have the type of superhuman strength that he has in these “Halloween” movies. He’s also been “killed” in several ways in various “Halloween” movies, but he still keeps coming back. All of that is explained in “Halloween Kills” when Laurie gives an absurdly bad monologue about how she’s come to the conclusion that Michael Myers is not human and he feeds off of people’s fear of him.

The “mob justice” aspect of “Halloween Kills” is idiotic and badly mishandled. Expect to see Tommy shout, “Evil dies tonight!” multiple times, as it becomes a rallying cry for the vigilante crowd. Just by coincidence, two psychiatric patients have escaped that night from a psychiatric institution that held Michael Myers. It’s a plot contrivance that’s set up for a silly “mistaken identity” subplot.

Even though the people of Haddonfield should know by now what Michael Myers’ height and general physical build should be (his body type hasn’t changed since 1978), the crazed vigilantes go after one of these escapees who’s considerably shorter and stockier than Michael Myers. Apparently, for this mob, any old psychiatric hospital escapee will do.

Karen is the only one with an iota of common sense to notice that this escapee doesn’t have Michael Myers’ physical characteristics. As the practical-minded Karen, Greer gives the best performance of this movie’s cast members. However, that’s not saying much because everyone’s acting in “Halloween Kills” is mediocre overall.

Oddly, there’s a lone elderly cop in uniform who gets swept up in the vigilante mob. His allegiances are never really clear. One minute, he seems to want to try to stop the mob madness. The next minute, he seems to be going along with the crowd. He doesn’t ask for backup from his fellow police officers. The only thing that’s clear is that he’s a terrible cop who should be fired and can kiss that pension goodbye.

There are many plot holes in “Halloween” that the filmmakers want to cover up with some cringeworthy dialogue and bloody action sequences. “Halloween Kills” has so much arguing and melodrama in a hospital, viewers will be wondering: “Is this a horror movie or a soap opera?” At one point, Laurie rips out her medical tubes and injects herself in the rear end with a painkiller. If you waited your whole life to see Laurie Strode give herself a butt injection, then “Halloween Kills” is the movie for you.

During one of her hospital rants, Laurie says to Karen about why Michael Myers is still on the loose and what Laurie wants to do about it: “The system failed … Let him come for me! Let him take my head as I take his! … You and Allyson shouldn’t have to keep running because of the darkness I created.”

But wait a minute, Laurie. “Halloween Kills” doesn’t want you to take all the credit for Michael Myers going on a rampage. Hawkins thinks Michael Myers is on this killing spree because of Hawkins. He makes a guilt-ridden confession that doesn’t make any sense at all for why Hawkins would be the reason for Michael Myers’ serial killings. There’s a badly written flashback scene involving a cover-up that wouldn’t be plausible in the real world because of autopsy reports and how bullet trajectories would be investigated.

It’s not as if viewers should expect a terrible horror movie like “Halloween Kills” to be realistic. But the movie just doesn’t offer a horrifying mystery, engaging new characters, or even twist-filled “hunt for the killer” chase scenes. It’s all so predictable, hollow and generic. “Halloween Kills” puts too much emphasis on a mindless and forgettable mob of people while sidelining Laurie Strode, the most memorable and iconic hero of the “Halloween” franchise. That’s the real injustice in “Halloween Kills.”

Universal Pictures released “Halloween Kills” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on October 15, 2021.

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