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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Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. BanksReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: John Lee Hancock. Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Annie Rose Buckley. Runtime: 125 min.

Many might fear that a biography film made by Disney might feel too Disney, like the way they handle their sports films – a bit cheesy but still entertaining. (It’s great that director John Lee Hancock didn’t make this as cheesy as he did with “The Rookie.”) With “Saving Mr. Banks,” it never feels like that. This follows the behind  the scenes story of how P.L. Travers’ (portrayed by Emma Thompson) novel “Mary Poppins” was adapted into a film by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She reflects on her difficult childhood while speaking her mind about everything she doesn’t like, much to the writers’, and especially Walt Disney’s dismay.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is an entertaining bio pic featuring some fantastic performances. It also gives Travers’ “Mary Poppins” a lot of layers that I hadn’t previously known, and it makes me want to rewatch it, because I haven’t seen it for a long time. Emma Thompson portrays Travers, an uptight but funny character. She is a realistic thinker who believes children should be prepared for the hardships of life; it makes the viewer question what might have traumatized her. It gets shown throughout in flashback form, but more on that in a bit.

She’s a delicate character who should lighten up a bit, but is very well portrayed by Thompson. I find it interesting how it’s hard for Travers to give up rights to Mary Poppins, because she wants the characters in the film to be portrayed well. It’s more difficult to share something when you care so deeply for it. One more thing on Thompson’s performance: I enjoy that she gets to play the authour of “Mary Poppins”, while she had previously portrayed Nanny McPhee in “Nanny McPhee” and its sequel “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” and McPhee is also a magical nanny – so it’s a similar character to Poppins. She also wrote the screenplays for those two films, so that’s kinda cool. (The first “Nanny McPhee” is the only one worth seeing.)

Travers reflects upon her childhood throughout the film. Little Pamela (a.k.a. Ginty) is portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley, who’s really good. It seems child actresses are much more consistently better than child actors, if you ask me. She is moved to a new town in Australia with her family where her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) has a great imagination and he teaches Ginty to dream big, but he can be a bit too irresponsible with everything else – especially in the workplace; but he’s a good father figure because he’d do anything for his daughter. Farrell’s performance is memorable, especially when occurences happen that he doesn’t have much control over. Ruth Wilson portrays the mother, but she doesn’t have much to do throughout. Pam’s little sister is cute, but there isn’t much of a relationship expressed between the two of them.

Flashbacks in films don’t bother me, but in this film – it makes the plot a complicated in scenes for a bio pic, because of all of its symbolism and all of the parallels that are drawn. This is also more profound than one’s average bio pic, so that makes up for it. It’s thought-provoking because there are themes of forgiveness and the fact that when someone suffers, there are other people in the world going through a similar type of suffering. It teaches to not live in the past, as well. But however Travers has grown up, it’s made her very stubborn. Walt Disney does his best to put up with that. Tom Hanks is quite charming as Disney, a character who doesn’t want to fall back on his promise to his daughters to bring Poppins to the big screen.

He’ll probably still receive the Oscar nomination for his work in “Captain Phillips,” however, because that character showed a bit more emotional range. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (who play the Sherman brothers who work on the music and lyrics), and Bradley Whitford (as co-scripter Don DeGradi) play supporting roles in the writing department. Their singing and dancing is entertaining. There’s one scene where they sing a song, while Colin Farrell rhythmically says a speech, and it skips between the two time periods. It’s very cool. Paul Giamatti also gets a role as Travers’ driver, and he gets some layers a bit later on in the film, in heartwarming ways. Suffice to say, it’s quite the cast and an enjoyable film. It’s a good thing I liked this, too, because I’d like the cool poster on my wall.

Score83/100

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain PhillipsReleased: October 11, 2013. Directed by: Paul Greengrass. Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman. Runtime: 134 min.

“Captain Phillips” just sounds like it’s going to be a good movie, because since it’s a true story and has Tom Hanks, it sounds great on paper. The true story follows the tale of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) finds his crew in jeopardy when a smaller crew of desperate Somolian pirates jumps on the ship, which causes a greater situation than either side anticipated. To expect a good movie from “Captain Phillips” is completely justified, but the real treat is that it just isn’t good, it’s damn fantastic.

The film is filled with edge-of-your-seat suspense and the situation Phillips is placed in is terrifying. It’s the unarmed shipmates vs. armed Somolian pirates that makes for a great movie. Paul Greengrass directs a winner here because it’s never boring and it gets into the action fairly quickly, and it never overstays its welcome. Phillips is an interesting character because he is fairly calm and collected and seems to feel compassion for some of his kidnappers. Tom Hanks delivers his strongest performance in recent years, and his talent is prominent in many scenes. This is notably tense because at times viewers might feel like Phillips’ life is truly in danger, and he might not get out of this alive.

I’ve always enjoyed the economical contrasts between different countries. In Somolia, these pirates have to find a big boat, because if they don’t, their bosses are going to be very angry. And in countries like this, there will never be a shortage of workers – so one can predict what would happen if they went home without a big boat. Lucky for them, and unlucky for the ship, the MV Maersk Alabama is enroute to Kenya to deliver food to starving villages, and they must go through waters occupied by Somolian pirates. The main pirate named Muse (Barkhad Abdi) replies to Phillips saying that kidnapping isn’t the only way to survive, “Maybe in America.” (As seen in the trailer.) There aren’t many job options in Somolia, apparently, so viewers can see how desperate the pirates are.

Tom Hanks isn’t the only one to deliver a great performance here, as Barkhad Abdi delivers a stunning performance here as the intense pirate who is in charge. He has something to overcome in proving himself because he is nicknamed by other Somolians “Skinny Rat.” An unkind nickname, making many around him perceive him as weak because of his size. He is very good; Hanks and he do a lot of the heavylifting for film. He’s one of this movie’s great surprises, he must have just been found on location in Somolia or something. My mom actually thought of that line, but it seems fitting to put in this review because of all the “Where the hell did you come from?” actors lists all over the internet. So, I stole the line – does that make me a pirate? Either way, you should really check out this movie!

Score95/100

The Green Mile (1999)

The Green MileThe Green Mile

Release Date: December 10, 1999

Director: Frank Darabont

Stars: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse

Runtime: 189 min

Tagline: Miracles do happen

Did you knowOriginally set in 1932, the timeframe was bumped to 1935 so the movie Top Hat could be featured.

The lives of guards on Death Row are affected by one of their charges: a black man accused of child murder and rape, yet who has a mysterious gift.

The Green Mile follows one of the most miraculous stories of fantasy and mystery to ever be told. It’s filled with fantastic performances, awesome characters, a great story, great direction and superb writing.

This film is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. It combines crime, drama, mystery and fantasy and makes it one of the best features I’ve ever seen. The good majority of the characters are Death Row inmates, so there is a good helping of crime in this, as each of those inmates did a horrendous crime to get in there. However, a good percentage of the inmates’ fatal sins are never exposed. The purpose of this is for when the inmates take a seat in Old Sparky, the Green Mile’s infamous electric chair, we must get emotional. We wouldn’t get as emotional as we do with a select few characters if we actually knew they were convicted rapists, like one character is revealed as in the source novel. One of the primary characters, John Coffey (“like the drink, only not spelled the same”), is actually accused of child murder and rape. There’s great emotional depth in the feature, and it’s surprising how emotional an audience can get about a few inmates dying for their sins. Both the mystery and the fantasy interlap with each other, because the real mystery is what Coffey’s gift is exactly, and what his purpose is in the dark world.

Stephen King is the one to write the original novel, and he is a great person to analyze the darkness of the world, and the darkness that fill the hearts of some people. This brings in the concept of the world only being a dark home, with people who kill others for joy, or killers who use little girls’ love to kill each other with. This is a story of some inmates who can actually feel remorse, and die for others.

Michael Clarke Duncan is the best he has ever been as John Coffey. He may be a giant, but he is such a tender soul with a heart as big as a semi-truck. The fact that this brute of a man is afraid of the dark reminds me that the world is a scary place, and he is just as vulnerable to the dangers of the universe as much as Mr. Jingles may be. Even though Coffey is in no certain danger of being squashed by Percy Wetmore.

Percy is one of the most despicable characters of the feature, but he is really a fascinating character, who is well-performed by Doug Hutchison. Percy is established as a young, ignorant man who thinks he is the only one in the world with connections, and he doesn’t understand that there are consequences with every action, something he learns the hard way. He is also hungry for power, but power is earned and not given freely. He is a young person who really, for some reason or another, wants to see a death up close. This adds a disturbing aspect to the feature, but a very necessary one. It all goes in the expertly mended mix of genres and concepts.

One of the meanest cats around town, among the prisoners, is Wild Bill (played by Sam Rockwell, who seems like he had a hell of a time). He is a sort-of comic relief, but he is also a character that is critical to the story development. Much like Percy, he is the sort of character that you might hate, but you can’t help but appreciate.

Tom Hanks delivers a solid performance as Paul Edgecomb with the help of others in the cast: David Morse as Brutus, Bonnie Hunt as Paul’s wife, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter as Eduard Delacroix, Sam Rockwell and Doug Hutchison as the despicable Percy Wetmore. However, no one is better than Michael Clarke Duncan. Duncan is in his finest hour with his performance as the tender John Coffey, a giant, uneducated black man who has seen too much darkness in the world.

A vast majority of the film is set in the prison, with only ones’ home life expressed are Paul’s and the warden, Hal Moores’. It actually works for it. There are amazing characters all-around, even Percy, one of the most despicable characters in all of cinema. With fine pacing as well as characters you’ll find yourself so enveloped with, this film is equal parts beautiful, emotional, and extremely engaging.

The direction is great, Darabont wonderfully brings King’s novel to life. He may have left a few things out, but he stayed faithful to the key elements. And, often enough, the reason Darabont left a few things out was to allow us to feel emotional if anything happened to them. Darabont writes in all sorts of hidden elements, even adding onto King’s novel. These changes aren’t nearly as severe as Kubrick’s to King’s The Shining, so it’s great he stayed so faithful to such a mesmerising and spell-binding story.

In a nutshell: The Green Mile is my favourite film. It is profound, disturbing, charming, engaging, sad, and funny. These amazing performers bring the characters of King’s novel to life; characters as small as the little circus mouse, Mr. Jingles, to as big as John Coffey himself.

Oh, my favourite part of my favourite film is very, very hard to choose, but that scene where John is watching his first “flicka show”, Top Hat, is up there because it’s just so charming.

100/100

Also, check out this “brief discussion” of the film I had with Joe over at his blog, Two Dude Review. This discussion really does prove it’s a movie that’s difficult to stop talking about!

Toy Story (1995) A quick review

toy storyToy Story

Release Date: November 22, 1995

Director: John Lasseter

Stars (voices): Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles

Runtime: 81 min

Tagline: Hang on for the comedy that goes to infinity and beyond!

A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

Toy Story introduced us to the magnificent world of Pixar, and its awesome CGI-animation. It’s a very cool concept that these toys come to life when Andy isn’t in the room. It raises that philosophy of: Do your toys really stay still when you’re out of the room, or do they mend relationships? It’s something awesome to believe in for the kids of the 1990s. Both the concept and premise are very fresh, and very entertaining. The toys are awesome and the voices of Woody and Buzz Lightyear have become iconic.

Woody’s jealousy of Buzz cues the start of a great adventure. It also begins a great Pixar trilogy, that is soon to become a saga.

100/100