The Circle (2017)

The Circle poster

The Circle. Released: April 28, 2017. Directed by: James Ponsoldt. Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega. Runtime: 1h 50 min. 

The Circle is a familiar and generic corporate thriller about the dark side of technology, but it’s disappointing because it doesn’t go into enough depth.

Mae (Emma Watson) gets a dream job as part of the customer experience team at a tech company called the Circle which creates one single online identity for users. The work environment looks a lot like Google, which seems obsolete in this near future (we never get a specific year). The campus itself is in the shape of a circle – obviously to remind workers they’re working at the Circle, not the Pentagon. Eventually Mae uncovers a nefarious agenda, but she takes awhile to get to that.

The Circle’s world is working towards transparency, where you can’t have moments alone or private conversations. Everything you do is public and there are cameras everywhere. It’s like everyone’s a celebrity and there are paparazzi at every turn. The lack of privacy is also like the Edward Snowden conspiracy of the government watching, but taken to an extreme and it becomes far-fetched.

It’s a generic sci-fi thriller with an intriguing high-concept. The writing never creates compelling dialogue and its attempts at suspense are predictable. Its themes of the importance of privacy it tries to depict don’t feel significant enough, and the film generally places concept above any substance or in-depth character development.

The Circle itself is led by charismatic CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who’s like Steve Jobs if he were a social media obsessed cult leader. The Circle feels like a cult, especially when people think it’s weird Mae hasn’t connected her social media accounts to the Circle after her first week.

It’s a weird scene as Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talai) tell her that she’s an enigma because people across campus don’t know her. They question why she wasn’t here on the weekend doing activities, and when she says she went kayaking they’re surprised because that’s not on her social media. Matt says, “I love kayaking. We could have gone together.” It’s awkward, drawn-out scenes like these that show everyone’s super weird.

Mae’s initially a breath of fresh air because she likes privacy and she’s a cute little guppy (what newbies are called at the Circle), but she soon gets eaten by the weird piranhas. Like the rest of them – she drank the damn Kool-Aid.

The Circle has a high-tech allure, but it’s not convincing when Mae willingly gives up her privacy because of a dumb reason.  Emma Watson’s great as Mae, but if it any other actress were playing her, she wouldn’t get much sympathy or have the same kind-of magnetism. She commands a crowd in public speaking and brings a natural charisma. Mae isn’t well-developed, and at times it feels like the only thing we know about her is that she likes kayaking when things get too hard.

The Circle movie

Emma Watson in The Circle. (Source

The only time I cared about anything happening is because I feel like it affected Emma Watson. She’s a great actress, even when she plays a poorly developed character whose motivations are hard to understand.  It’s surprising the film manages to create such a good cast, but doesn’t rise to the occasion in any other aspect.

Tom Hanks is fine as Bailey, even though he’s a generic CEO wanting to change the world. He gets less screen time than one might expect. Patton Oswalt is more generic as the company’s Chief Officer of Operations, Tom Stenton.

John Boyega gets a disappointing amount of screen time as his character, but he’s fine when he’s there. Bill Paxton plays Mae’s father with MS in his last theatrical film. His character is a reason Mae is more developed than most, since she wants to help him get better. Karen Gillan’s a good surprise as Annie, too, and she gets to her use her natural Scottish accent here.

I must talk about Mercer. His sub-plot about making deer antler chandeliers and Mae’s parents trying to play matchmaker for him and Mae is silly. His character could be written out entirely and wouldn’t be missed. He’s played by Ellar Coltrane, the kid who grew up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. He plays an everyday worker man who likes privacy, and Coltrane looks incredibly uncomfortable on-screen. He’s so bad and awkward, and it reminds me of how uncomfortable Kristen Stewart looks in the Twilight films.

Director James Ponsoldt doesn’t bring any charm from The Spectacular Now. He and Dave Eggers co-write a screenplay based on Eggers’ own novel that’s a mess. The Circle’s plot wanders around aimlessly and doesn’t find a coherent storyline. It’s like Ponsoldt and Eggers played Hide ‘n Seek with a good story, couldn’t find one, and gave up.

Score: 40/100

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Bernie (2012)

Bernie

Release Date: May 4, 2012

Director: Richard Linklater

Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Runtime: 104 min

Tagline: A story so unbelievable it must be true.

  Oscar nominated writer (Before Sunset) and director Richard Linklater, known for directing such comedies as Dazed and Confused and School of Rock; and such dramas as Before Sunset and Me and Orson Welles. Now, he’s back in the directing chair after a three-year hiatus and back in the writing chair after five years, with this clever dark comedy.

 Meet Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) the nicest [closet] killer you’ll ever know. Bernie’s the local funeral director in a small town in Texas, called Carthage. He’s the nicest guy around town, as he has a great ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. He’s the best at what he does, he has a magnificent singing voice, and is just about the biggest legend around town. After Bernie strikes up an unusual relationship with the town female Scrooge and recent widow, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), and changes her for the better, for a short time. When she turns even bitter to even Bernie; he reaches a breaking point and must put on a whole charade, hilariously, to hide his dark secret from the whole town.

It’s a well-made little comedic docudrama that had me laughing at all the comments of Bernie from the townspeople. I liked the way it was made, it’s a little low-key and the documentary-style of it made it a fairly unique viewing experience.

Before this, Jack Black’s best work was in School of Rock (a project also with Linklater), for his great comedic timing – but Black has proved himself as a great drama actor too; even though this film combines all elements of comedy, drama and crime. The great acting he brings to this film though, is even better than his work in King Kong.

Jack Black is equal parts funny and dramatic. Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine also bring solid acting jobs here. MacLaine’s character isn’t overly hysterical, she does a great job at playing this overly cold woman. McConaughey does get a few laughs here as the District Attorney Danny Buck. The people who get the most laughs are the locals offering some insight and commentary to the situations in the film.

The whole true story of it all is the most interesting aspect of the flick, but it really all is pretty bizarre (making the tagline [A story so unbelievable it must be true] a very accurate statement). It’s funny in the worst of situations, and that is one thing that is admirable about it. Some of it feels quite dragged out, and the morals of it are all a little twisted. You definitely don’t want Bernie going to jail, because he’s just so likeable. It’s one of those films where the main protagonist is a criminal, and then MacLaine’s character and McConaughey’s are the antagonists.

Bernie is a film that may not be for everyone, but is definitely an interesting experience. It’s a pretty controversial (because you may relate to the criminal) witty dark comedy that offers low-key crime entertainment and pretty solid performances by the three main stars.

80/100