Daily Archives: May 2, 2017

Review: The Circle

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I haven’t read Dave Eggers’ book, The Circle, but I’m guessing it’s a satire. If it’s anything like the script of the film adaptation, by James Ponsoldt, it would have to be, or otherwise it should have never been published. The problem is, Ponsoldt’s should have been satire. It is not.

The Circle is supposed to be some kind of warning about how social media is removing our privacy, and I must admit it worked a little bit–I wondered if I should just get off Facebook on the drive home, but I didn’t. Certainly there are privacy issues today. Most everything is on camera, and our information is bought and sold like Pokemon cards. But this film is so simplistic it plays like Paranoia for Dummies.

Emma Watson plays a cubicle drone (the first indication this film is wrong is that she works taking phone calls at the water company but doesn’t have a headset, she uses an actual phone) who through her friend gets an interview at The Circle, which is like Facebook, Google, etc. In her interview she’s asked “Joan Baez or Joan Crawford” and snaps back, “Joan Didion.” (This is what passes for intellectual banter, I guess). She gets the book and works in “Customer Experience.” The campus is like a huge playground, with yoga classes and volleyball courts–it’s a nice send-up of those big Silicon Valley companies (and reminds me of the job Homer Simpson gets that turns out to be with a James Bond villain).

This is all funny but then we are expected to think that there’s a total buy-in at the company. Watson takes the weekend to go kayaking alone in San Francisco Bay and goes to party at her parents’ house (her dad is Bill Paxton, his last role). She’s gently admonished that she didn’t attend any events at The Circle. She is encouraged to be part of a community, and doing things alone seems to be frowned upon. I’ve worked at companies like these, when everybody knows no one wants to have anything to do with work after quitting time except administration. It’s an introvert’s nightmare.

The CEO of The Circle is a Jobsian figure played by Tom Hanks, who thinks knowing everything is the ideal. He’s Big Brother in blue jeans, and his second-in-command is Patton Oswalt, who wears a suit but has the same idea. They want to have all information stored in the same place–The Circle–and the employees clap like seals at the notion.

After Watson has a kayaking accident but is saved by the use of drones, she is recruited to have her life put on display, wearing a camera and putting cameras in her residence (she seems to live on campus). So she is basically a willing Truman Show volunteer, and the whole film falls apart. We are led to believe Watson’s character is intelligent, but she suggests that voting be made mandatory and that people register and vote via The Circle, like a good little fascist. It’s only a tragedy that wakes her up, and we really don’t see the transformation.

The Circle would have been much better if it followed one of two directions–make it so over the top that it’s satire, or make it much more morally slippery, and seduce the audience like Watson is seduced. Instead, her character is made completely stupid while Hanks and Oswalt are obvious villains. The movie is a bowl of mush.

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Films that opened in America on April 28-30, 2017

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How To Be A Latin Lover (imdb rating 6.0) – Comedy about a middle-aged playboy starring Eugenio Derbez, who is apparently hugely popular in his native Mexico. In one of her very rare film appearances of recent decades, Raquel Welch. Film looks broad and obvious with the usual modern ‘comedy’ clichés but it did well at the box office and may see Derbez become a global name in cinema comedy.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (9.2) – This Indian historical film made some waves over the weekend as its box office broke records for an Indian based film there and are perhaps a highlight of the growing value of non-English language cinema in an increasingly diverse and immigrant-based country.

The Circle (5.2) – A tech conspiracy thriller starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks sounds like it has possibilities but the critical and IMDB reviews suggest this is a stinker. Watching the trailer, Hanks as a tech genius who does those solo talks in front of huge stages that Steve Jobs used to do just doesn’t convince. And the trailer makes the film seem small and amateurish.

Sleight (5.9) – Sundance entry from 2016 now getting a release about a street magician. Reviews are fairly lukewarm.

Battle Of Memories (7.0) – Chinese film with an intriguing premise that has echoes of the works of Christopher Nolan and Charlie Kaufman; in the near future a memory manipulation service sees a man caught inside a serial killer’s mind.

The Mayor (6.2) – South Korean film looking at the machinations of a battle for political power. I’ve seen these types of films by the bucketful from America & Britain but it would be interesting to see whether such a film from a different region tackles the subject in a unique way.

Natasha (6.9) Canadian romance made in 2015 gets an American release; 100% on RT

Buster’s Mal Heart (7.1) – Surrealist mystery film which going by the trailer (and indeed title) that feels like a typical American indy film, although this one does look interesting. That it’s fronted by the star of the popular Mr. Robot TV series means that all of the YouTube comments on the trailer clip reference the series.

One Week & A Day (7.0) – Israeli drama

Bang! The Bert Berns Story (7.6) – Doco on acclaimed 1960s pop music writer/producer who died very young 50 years ago. Currently 100% on RT.