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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Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm BodiesWarm Bodies

Release Date: February 1, 2013

Director: Jonathan Levine

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Cold body. Warm heart.

Finally, this gives both Zombieland and Twilight fans a chance to come together and watch a movie in peace!

Warm Bodies is told from the fresh point of view of a zombie, the highly unusual R (Nicholas Hoult), who goes around an airport, occasionally having almost conversations with his best zombie bud, M (Rob Corddry). Their zombie group runs into a human group ran by Perry (Dave Franco), boyfriend of the main girl, Julie (Teresa Palmer). After Perry gets killed, R is immediately attracted to Julie, and he brings her to his home in an abandoned airplane. They soon form a bond, R wants to become human again, Julie begins to change his heart for the better, and their relationship might just rattle the whole lifeless world as they know it.

One of the only similarities between this and Twilight is they are both Young Adult novels. The girl is also attracted to a supernatural sort-of being, even though zombies are the norm in the post-apocalyptic world they are living in. One thing that is hard to comprehend of this human-supernatural being relationships: Are these girls that desperate that they have to resort to the basically dead? As soon as one guy sparkles in the sunlight or puts on a little make-up, do they seriously immediately develop tendencies of a strange branch of necrophilia?

Anyway, the film is also romantic, and the similarities to Twilight basically stop there. This is a testament of human connection. Julie begins to teach R how to actually live, and because of this, he opens up to her and learns how not to be dead. He learns how to talk, and he learns how to feel and dream, something that is extremely unorthodox for a zombie. One thing that helps him be more human is this: In this specific world, when a zombie eats a victim’s brain (R keeps Perry’s as a snack food), they absorb their feelings and their memories; the little slide show of memories in their head is as close as they get to dreaming.

Speaking of those memory flashbacks, they give a chance to show visuals in the film. They aren’t very good, they come off as hypnotic and fairly headache-inducing. They’re a cool attempt, sure, but they’re hard to admire when one has to squint at the screen. One other thing that is irritating about the feature is that zombies only grunt, and cannot form words… So any huge fan of zombie flicks may be wanting to scream: “OH! THE HORROR! THIS ISN’T RIGHT! THE DEAD DON’T TALK!” The film may be altogether unrealistic, but it doesn’t stop it from being fun.

Other than Twilight, this film has similarities to over zombie flicks, like Zombieland. They are both quite funny, and this could be seen as the next best zombie date movie. One thing that is similar to TV’s The Walking Dead is the hiding the human scent trick, where zombie blood is smeared on humans. Also, this has many similarities to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, something that is evident in the characters’ names themselves. There is a balcony scene that mirrors that of the play, and that is the biggest similarity. The love is forbidden, even when R hopes it to be true. The two things getting in their way: Julie’s father, a military leader of the world named Grigio (John Malkovich); and Boneys, a skeleton being that all zombies eventually become. These are the two main conflicts, and, fortunately enough, they don’t make the film crowded or really distract from the story at hand. The Boneys actually add some real intensity to the feature, and they get one good scare, but they’re so CGI’d to a point of no scary return. If one of these guys came up to me in alley, I’d just look for a computer to unplug.

This isn’t a perfect feature because it doesn’t take full advantage of its fresh premise. It piles on a few predictable moments, but it still does an admirable job. If Jonathan Levine wasn’t behind this with directing and adapting the novel by Isaac Marion, it might not be the surprise hit turns out to be. I cannot compare the book to the film, but the laughs Jonathan Levine manages to generate are great. If you can find humour in R’s unique commentary of gaining human attributes and becoming a real boy, you’ll enjoy this a lot. If this zombie staring awkwardly at others is your type of comedy, you’ll be smiling like crazy. However, while Hoult generates a many yuks, and Palmer proves sexy enough to get this guy’s heart beating again, and Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) generates a few laughs, Corddry gets the biggest laughs with hilarious one-liners.

In a nutshell: Warm Bodies proves to be 2013’s zombie date movie. It gives a fresh spin on the genre with it being narrated by the zombie (who comments things like, “Boy we move slow, this is going to take a while*”).Without a lot of solid competition, it also proves to be the one of the best films of the year. With a fine use of an ultra cool premise, this is a solid flick that could have been a little better. Maybe more Malkovich would make this astounding instead of just really good…

*They run when they attack, so I must ask… Why can’t they just fast-walk everywhere?

80/100

Dark Shadows (2012)

Dark Shadows

Release Date: May 11, 2012

Director: Tim Burton

Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: Every family has its demons

It’s the year 1752, and Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) and his family had just set sail to America, in search of a greater life. Though, they could not escape the mysterious curse that was placed upon his family. Skip two decades, to where Barnabas is the head of Collinwood Manor, but he makes the mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a maid who’s really a witch. When Barnabas would not love her in return, she placed a curse upon him to turn into a vampire when he dies, so he will have to live for eternity, knowing that his one true love is dead. Skip two centuries, and Barnabas is just waking up from his dirt nap after being trapped inside of a coffin. He makes his way back to Collinwood Manor, and he offers a little support to his descendants, while Angelique still roams the earth…

Dark Shadows is based on a late 60s to early 70s TV show of the same name. This is also the eighth Tim Burton-Johnny Depp vehicle, and it isn’t very good. The Burton-Depp team has brought us great films like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd; but they have also brought us bad films like the just okay Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the apparently disappointing Alice in Wonderland. Can you figure out which side it belongs on? It belongs on the bad side. If Shadows were to stand on its own two feet, it isn’t impressive or groundbreaking at all, and if it were to stand with the seven other Burton-Depp vehicles, it would just be awful. Burton has been known for his dark material in films and that signature over-the-topness, and this one is certainly over-the-top, but not in a very good way.

It tries to be funny, and fails. It tries to be fantastic, and fails. There are only one or two pretty good jokes, but the majority of them are big misses. There are some scenes that were meant to be action packed, but they felt really quite boring. They were over the top, but not in the great way we want Burton’s flicks to be. It feels more like a newcomer to the directing game who is experimenting with his options.

The whole vampire love story is getting so old, it’s just about been sucked to death (and brought back to life five times) by the Twilight series. It’s certainly better than the Twilight series, but not by a whole lot. There are some pleasant twists thrown at the audience, that some viewers will like, but most may say, “That’s so ridiculous, I should have saw that one coming.” The story is just a bit too uninteresting to carry itself well enough throughout the entire 113 minutes. It was a giant chore to watch. The acting is okay, and really the only interesting characters are Barnabas (Depp), David (Gulliver McGrath) and Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). The cast is certainly attractive, but some of them don’t offer their usual chops to the table (excluding Depp and Moretz, the rest are just average).

Dark Shadows has a pretty uninteresting plot and a vampire premise that has highly been worn out, only a few likeable characters that can be counted on one hand, and a generally boring endeavour from the Burton/Depp union.

40/100

30 Days of Night – A decent vampire horror flick. (Short review)

30 Days of Night

Release Date: October 19, 2007

Director: David Slade

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: They’re coming!

The vampire horror genre has seen greats, like Dracula, Fright Night, the Swedish Let the Right One in (and its American remake Let Me In), and the teen romance adaptation Twilight (just kidding about that one), to name a few. This isn’t exactly one of them, but it’s still pretty good.

For a small Alaskan town, it is the time of the year where a big fraction of its population goes on vacation because they don’t want to endure the thirty days of darkness. When a mysterious stranger wanders into town and stars to vandalize the small town, he brings along a warning of some sort of a larger danger is coming. That danger is a gang of bloodthirsty vampires.

It has enough scares to make it enjoyable enough for a horror lover, but I don’t think it brought anything special to cinema or the horror genre, well except a vampire language.  It’s good enough for a watch, but for those who really don’t like vampire flicks, don’t need to necessarily check it out.

I didn’t really care for the ending, but it was pretty well-paced, and good enough horror entertainment to get you through the south of two-hour runtime.

It stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston as the vampire gang leader, Ben Foster (he really stole the scenes he was in), Mark Boone Junior and Mark Rendall.

The plot was a little average, it’s decent enough but it isn’t a must-see or anything for non-horror fans.

63/100

The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Director: Gary Ross

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Runtime: 143 min

Tagline: The World Will Be Watching.

 

I favor the book.

The film is set in an America which, after a war, has been renamed Panem in the future.  As a cruel reminder to the people of Panem for a past rebellion, two representatives from each district, one male and one female, are chosen to for an annual lottery (where no one in the lower districts will want to win) called the Hunger Games. The Games are a fight to the death, where twenty-three of the twenty-four young teens die, with one lone victor. The Hunger Games is an annual propaganda-based reality TV show favourite, for the people of the Capitol at least. This 74th Annual Hunger Games marks history for District 12, as it got its first volunteer, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss took her sister’s place and it was a noble act, indeed. She must use her hunting skills/wilderness experience and sense of direction to stand a fighting chance to survive.

It’s a really interesting film that uses propaganda as a main theme, and just shows how corrupt the government has really gotten. For the young adult audience, it’s a very fresh idea; but I have heard that this film feels like a big rip-off of the Japanese film that was released in 2000, Battle Royale. I haven’t seen that one, so it won’t taint my view of this film at all, so it felt like a fresh experience.

A lot of it feels like just a youth spin of Gladiator (which I still have to find the time to watch), and the film sort of reminded me of an old Roman thing, bread and circus. The bread means food which the emperor would give to the people of Rome, and the circus meant entertainment.

In this case, the President would give food the people, and that’s what going on here, as the tributes have the option to put their name in numerous times in the raffle as a way to get more food (even though they should be getting more food in the first place, as it is revealed in the second book [I don’t think it’s a really large spoiler] that the people of the Capitol drink this fluid that makes them vomit, so they can stuff their faces even more). The entertainment is most obviously the Hunger Games, which is a reality television show put on for the people of the Capitol, which is really a heinous occurrence which would be pretty bad if it happened in this day and age (granted, it does make for a pretty interesting film [or book] idea).

The film really is quite entertaining and an interesting experience and has a really great ensemble, with a few great characters (that the writers actually want you to connect in any way with) and very intense sequences. There’s some really memorable action sequences, but don’t expect a full-throttle action thriller. Expect a nice adventure flick with a great heroine (push over, Bella!) with some solid action sequences, and lots of adventure and a bit of dramatic science fiction futuristic material.

Okay, some stuff I didn’t like about it. The first is a spoiler and the second is pretty spoiler, but expected.

                                        *SORT OF SPOILER ALERT*         

I didn’t feel there was enough bonding time with Rue to be shared here. Not solid enough character development for her, as in the book.

I don’t see why Collins, like Stephenie Meyer, just had to add in a love triangle. It seems to be that it can’t be a young adult phenomenon without it. It’s very expected, so I didn’t really care for it; but at the same time is effective.

*END OF SPOILERS*

Okay guys, it’s pretty safe to read here. Some other stuff I didn’t dig about the film is that some of the material is a little unclear for those audience members who haven’t read the book, and I didn’t like that aspect of it. I would have thought that the loose ends of the background information would have been better connected with the actual author of the book (Suzanne Collins) having a writing credit for the film.

I feel that the film just needed a bit more violence to be better appreciated; readers could easily handle the violence portrayed in the book, so why couldn’t there be a lot more of it in the actual film? Sometimes young adult’s imaginations can be even more violent than what is portrayed on film, so I just didn’t care for it in that aspect. It couldn’t have even gone for a 14A rating? Or like a really strong 14A rating that could have been secured without going too far as to get an 18A rating? I know it’s a young adult audience, but seriously; more than half of the tributes were killed off screen.

In some ways it’s not an incredible adaptation, it isn’t quite on the same great caliber as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but outshines (or should I say… out-sparkles? I’m calling you out, Edward) Twilight by great lengths.

I guess this film review, that’s turning into a bit of an essay, should reach its conclusion soon.

It’s a film with a great heroine, great performances (by Jennifer Lawrence especially, who I wish the Academy will be so bold to nominate her for Best Actress; which I doubt will happen), great action/adventure sequences, and a story that offers a fresh enough cinematic experience. The film is a bit lengthy (with the Games starting about 65 minutes into the film), but of course there must be some background  information to be shared here, which could have been better-developed at that. For Oscars, I think the film should get Academy recognition (or at least large award recognition) for its Costume Design, Make-Up jobs especially, and its Cinematography, and even maybe a Best Picture nomination.

The film has a dynamite cast with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead spot, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks (nearly recognizable, except for her voice, as Effie), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Alexander Ludwig (Cato) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove; whom I know as the little psychopath from Orphan).

It’s a film with slow pacing at the beginning but gets great when it heats up, has many entertaining sequences, and could have been a better adaptation, as there’s a lot of room for improvement, but is a great experience for both young adults and even some adults can enjoy; and should be enjoyed by those who are willing to accept it for the quite unique adapted experience it offers.

80/100