The Circle


It looks like Tom Hanks is trying to recapture his Cast Away look.

(2017) Thriller (STX) Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan, Beck, Nate Corddry, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt, Mamoudou Athie, Eve Gordon, Poorna Jagannathan, Elvy Yost, Ellen Wong, Lauren Baldwin, Nicola Bertram, Julian Von Nagel, Amie McCarthy-Winn, Regina Saldivar, Amir Tatai, Smith Cho. Directed by James Ponsoldt

 

There’s no doubt that the world is changing. Social media and the presence of cameras nearly everywhere have guaranteed that our concept of privacy will have to change radically. We must learn to live with the reality that everything we do is not only findable online but is subject to the scrutiny of trolls.

Mae (Watson) is a customer service drone in a dead end job she can’t stand. Coming to her rescue is Annie (Gillan) who works in management at The Circle, a sort of cross between Facebook, Google and Big Brother. Like all social media outlets, The Circle seems to be almost an obsession with its users who post the most mundane details of their day so that friends and strangers can pass judgment.

Mae’s dad (Paxton in his final role) has Multiple Sclerosis and her mom (Headly) has been worn ragged caring for him. Her ex-boyfriend Mercer (Coltrane) is suspicious of the ongoing loss of privacy and is retreating from the modern connected world, moving to a rustic artist retreat that is essentially off the grid.

Mae however has picked a grand time to join up with The Circle. Co-founder and CEO Eamon Bailey (Hanks) is releasing a new product – a miniaturized camera that people can wear all day long that utilizes facial recognition software to allow them to find friends nearby and of course post everything they do – literally every moment of their day – online. Mae, after a rough start, has become a convert “Circler” and is selected to be the first person to have total transparency online.

However with total transparency comes collateral damage – not everyone wants their every moment on display and it ends up causing friction with those Mae loves the most and leads to a tragedy nobody could have predicted. This leads her to do some digging and she soon finds out that not everything at the Circle – or everyone – necessarily has benevolent intentions.

This is based on a book by Dan Eggers who gets the Silicon Valley culture nicely. In some ways, the movie pokes fun a bit at the tech culture of “play hard, work harder” with Mae getting a visit from Circlers who are concerned she’s not participating in any groups – or working on weekends. In some ways the big problem with this poorly-reviewed movie is that it really doesn’t know what it wants to be – at times it feels like a corporate espionage thriller, other times a social commentary and still others a sci-fi cautionary tale.

The graphics are nifty and nicely extrapolate what our online experience is going to look like in maybe a decade or less. The film is also blessed with a marvelous cast. You literally can’t go wrong with Hanks who doesn’t play villains often and even this villain is less villainous than Oswalt’s corporate weasel who is more of a traditional villain. Bailey is charming and folksy, a cross between Steve Jobs and Garrison Keillor. And, of course he’s Tom Hanks, the modern Jimmy Stewart.

But then there’s Watson who is a marvelous actress and perhaps one of the most beloved actresses in the world. She was simply flat here, never really gathering my sympathy or attention. I was far more drawn to Hanks’ character which is not unexpected given Hanks ability and screen charm. But as she proved in Beauty and the Beast Watson is thoroughly capable of carrying a movie and here she simply doesn’t.

I liked the social media aspect which the movie seems to be on the cusp of exploring further but it never really does. It feels like the filmmakers were anxious not to offend millennials which they figured would be a large chunk of their target audience; unfortunately what that wound up doing was diluting the message and taking away much of the film’s bite. Overall it feels a bit like cinematic pablum.

That’s not to say that this is a complete waste of time. The movie does accurately portray our society’s obsession with celebrity and the growing importance of internet celebrity; it also makes points about our obsession with connection and the growing loss of privacy. These are all valid and salient points and I would have loved to see more exploration of them. Instead we end up with something of a generic thriller that ends up disappointing more than it excites. Circles, after all, have a tendency to end up where they start out – and so does The Circle.

REASONS TO GO: Hanks is a riveting quasi-villain. The graphics are nicely utilized.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s a wasted opportunity in terms of sociopolitical commentary. Nothing here really impresses.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality, some drug use and a smattering of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Headly and Paxton who play Mae’s parents have both passed away since they filmed their roles.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/19/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 15% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eagle Eye
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Unforgettable

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New Releases for the Week of April 28, 2017


THE CIRCLE

(STX) Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Karen Gillan, Nate Corddry, Mamoudou Athie, Patton Oswalt. Directed by James Ponsoldt

A young woman goes to work for the world’s largest hi-tech social media company. As she rises through the ranks she is mentored by no less than the charismatic founder of the company, but as she takes part in testing a new iteration of the software, she discovers that the program does far more than what it was advertised to do and that her decisions are affecting her friends, family and ultimately the human race as she realizes that the personal freedom of every human being may be at risk.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use)

How to Be a Latin Lover

(Pantelion/Lionsgate) Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell. Maximo wants to be rich; he just doesn’t want to work for it. He figures out that the easiest way to accomplish those things is to marry a rich woman and so he does. After 25 years of an idyllic existence of wealth and privilege his wife unexpectedly dumps him for a younger man. Moving in with his estranged sister, he bonds with his young nephew who has a crush on his schoolmate; Maximo encourages this because it gives him an “in” with the girl’s grandmother, a widowed billionaire. However, Maximo begins to learn slowly that there are things more important than money.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude humor, sexual references and gestures, and for brief nudity)

Sleight

(BH Tilt/WWE) Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid. A savvy street magician is all his little sister has after their parents pass away. Trying to keep a roof over their head and food on their table, he resorts to some illegal activities. He gets pulled in deeper and deeper into a dangerous lifestyle until his beloved baby sister is kidnapped. To get her back, he must use his intelligence, his magic and his street smarts.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout, drug content and some violence)

Don Jon


Can't take my eyes off of you.

Can’t take my eyes off of you.

(2013) Romantic Comedy (Relativity) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Paul Ben-Victor, Italia Ricci, Lindsey Broad, Amanda Perez, Sarah Dumont, Sloane Avery, Loanne Bishop, Arin Babaian, Antoinette Kalaj, Arayna Eison, Becky O’Donohue. Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The nature of romance and sexuality largely remains a mystery for most of us. Men don’t understand the draw of the romantic fantasy to women and women have trouble understanding why men are so obsessed with pornography. Now, while it is true that there are some women who have a porn addiction and some men who are romantics at heart, largely the stereotypes hold.

Jon Martello Jr. (Gordon-Levitt) has a pretty good life. He’s a Jersey boy who knows what he likes and pretty much has things lined up; his apartment, his boys Bobby (Brown) and Danny (Luke), his family – Mom (Headly), Dad (Danza) and his sister Monica (Larson) who is too busy texting and rolling her eyes to get a word in – and his church, his car (a sweet Chevy from the golden age of metal) and girls. His buddies call him “The Don” because he scores a hot looking chick every time he goes out clubbing. Every time, an 8 or above.

But that isn’t enough for Jon. You see, sex is all well and good but what really satisfies him is masturbating to porn. He even has his own method – starting off slow, with still pictures and working his way up to video clips until he finds the right one he can lose himself in. When he gets off to porn, everything else goes away, not to mention that the actresses in the clips will do things for their partners that no real woman will do for Jon.

Then one night in the clubs he meets Barbara Sugarman (Johansson), a blonde Jersey queen who takes most of her cues from Snooki (except for the horrid orange spray tan look). She’s so hot that Jon’s got to have her except she doesn’t put out so easily. So, as Bobby tells him, he needs to get out his long game. Wine and dine her, romance her. Do the kind of things that boyfriends do for their girlfriends.

The problem is that Jon doesn’t just want to get into her pants; he thinks she might just be The One. To show her his commitment, he agrees to take night classes so that he can move up the service industry ladder. Unfortunately, Barbara catches Jon at his obsession one night and makes him agree to not watch porn which she finds disgusting.

At first Jon does his best but he needs the release so he starts doing his porn on the side, even on his smart phone during lectures in class which attracts the notice of Esther (Moore), an older lady that Jon sees crying in the parking lot one night. Soon she seems to be making a move on him which Jon isn’t really interested in – he’s got Barbara after all and she’s at last giving it up for him – but there are cracks in the foundation of paradise and soon Jon will either have to give up his porn or Barbara.

The crux of the movie has to do with expectations and need. Sure there’s a lot of nudity, brief glimpses of porn stars humping and a whole lot of sexuality but that’s not really the point of the film, although quite frankly there are those who won’t be able to get past all that, either in a positive or negative way. All some will see is the sex and they will react to it according to their own morality either as a prurient interest or with prudish disgust. It’s simply an occupational hazard for a film like this.

That said if you look beyond the boobs and the moans you’ll actually find a thoughtful movie that looks at the nature of men and women and the differences between them, as typified by Jon. I think there are a lot of women out there who genuinely cannot understand the fascination that porn has for men and this movie might go a long way towards explaining it. Porn is a fantasy the same way a romantic movie is a fantasy for Barbara. The happy ending for her is a prince of a man who will sacrifice everything for her, be completely devoted to her and adore her 24/7. Jon’s happy ending is, well, a happy ending.

Actually that’s not quite fair. As Jon explains it, he fantasizes about the sexual acts that most women won’t even consider granting him (i.e. oral sex, doggie style) because for the most part they want the missionary position. To him, a woman who is willing to do those things for him is the equivalent of Barbara’s prince. In both cases, the egos of each of them are being catered to by their partner. In some ways both of them are children of our time – completely self-absorbed without a thought of what they are giving to their partner, only receiving from them.

Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote and directed this, looks like he watched a lot of Jersey Shore to get his character down – The Situation, anyone? – and shows as much promise behind the camera as he does confidence in front of it. He wrote the part of Barbara with Johansson specifically in mind and she loses herself into it, becoming a Jersey Shore princess in all her gum-snapping bleached blonde glory. Barbara and Jon are both full to overflowing with that Jersey attitude – Jon screaming in road rage while he drives to church, Barbara telling Jon that he won’t do housework when they’re living together because that kind of thing is beneath her and thus, as an extension of her, beneath him as well.

In many ways Moore steals the picture. She is the conscience of the film and her character Esther is the one that introduces the sense of giving into the film. Certainly she’s one messed-up broad and we only get a glimmer into her personal tragedy. She’s not glammed up for this role; there’s wear and tear on her face but more importantly in her eyes. She ends up teaching Jon – and by extension the audience – the difference between having sex and making love.

It’s nice to see Danza and Headly, both industry veterans, on the big screen again and personally I wouldn’t mind seeing the two of them more often. The rest of the supporting cast is pretty solid with Larson making the most of her single scene of dialogue.

I wouldn’t have minded about ten more minutes of exposition fleshing out some of the main characters a bit and when you leave a film wishing it had been longer you know the filmmakers are doing something right. While those who are offended by depictions and discussion of sex are urged to give this one a wide berth, the rest of you get an enthusiastic recommendation. This is a movie that honestly and with some humor examines sex and love and how easy it is to forget that the sum of those two things is far greater than the total of their parts.

REASONS TO GO: Funny, charming and thought-provoking. Gordon-Levitt, Johansson, Moore, Danza and Headly all have strong performances.

REASONS TO STAY: The porn and sexuality might be off-putting to those sensitive to such things.

FAMILY VALUES:  Lots and lots of sexual content including graphic nudity and simulated sex (as well as simulated porn), plenty of foul language and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gordon-Levitt and Danza previously worked together in Angels in the Outfield when Gordon-Levitt was just 12 years old.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/14/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moonstruck

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Enough Said

The Joneses


The Joneses

David Duchovney is justs a material girl trying to live in a material world.

(2009) Dramedy (Roadside Attractions) David Duchovney, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Chris Williams, Lauren Hutton, Glenne Headly, Christine Evangelista, Rob Pralgo, Tiffany Morgan, Joe Narciso. Directed by Derrick Borte

Our society has devolved into one in which the old truism “whoever dies with the most toys wins” has taken on a new meaning. The crucial signposts of life have become the things we acquire – the shiny new sports car, the state of the art electronics, the high end golf clubs, the designer clothes. Our pursuit of the trappings of success has overcome our pursuit of excellence, making keeping up with the Joneses more than just a spectator sport.

Into a wealthy suburban enclave move in Steve Jones (Duchovney), his impossibly gorgeous wife Kate (Moore), his gorgeous daughter Jenn (Heard) and his handsome son Mick (Hollingsworth). They don’t just have the outer trappings of success – they embody it.

However, what you see on the surface – behind the beautiful home, the flashy car, the nice clothes – is something completely different than what is underneath. There are problems in the perfect family. In fact, they aren’t really a family of all.

What they are is revealed in the trailer, which is another case (see Dream House) of a marketing department robbing a film of its maximum impact. For that reason, I’m leaving the plot description a little thin, other than to say that what the movie is really about is America’s obsession with consumerism and how it robs us of our soul.

Duchovney is perfect for the role of Steve. He has a dry delivery that just hints of the smarmy while remaining acerbic and eventually, empathetic. For a role that could easily descend into self-parody and completely turn off audiences, the very likable Duchovney turns it into a role that audiences will identify with as his character is forced to confront the fall-out of his actions and put his familial loyalty to the test.

Moore has never been one of my favorite actresses, but it has to be said that she can play the driven executive-sort better than nearly anybody and that’s the place she goes for this part. She makes a good foil for Duchovney and I must say the 40-something Moore looks amazing.

That’s neither here nor there though. What I liked is that first-time writer/director Borte takes a terrific concept and uses it to look at an issue that is subtle and seldom explored onscreen, with surprising insight and humor. There is an element of parody to it, but it also hits somewhat uncomfortably close to home.

When it comes right down to it, we tend to be sheep moving from one trend to the other, fickle consumers with an eye to what’s the latest and greatest, not realizing that these things are going to be obsolete in less time than it takes to bring it home from the store. Still, keeping up with the Joneses is as American as apple pie. We just should take a good look at the Joneses and ask why we should aspire to keep up with them.

WHY RENT THIS: A witty, smart commentary on materialism. Duchovney’s dry delivery serves him well here. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie’s plot twist is given away in the trailer. The final reel is a bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some drinking and teenage drug use, a bit of sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Borte is the brother of professional surfer Jason Borte; both were born in Germany but raised in Virginia.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7M on a $10M production budget; the movie was unprofitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Three Musketeers (2011)

The Amateurs


The Amateurs

Jeff Bridges goes on a junk food binge while Patrick Fugit captures it on video for the tabloid shows.

(First Look) Jeff Bridges, Ted Danson, Lauren Graham, Joe Pantoliano, Jeanne Tripplehorn, William Fichtner, Patrick Fugit, Tim Blake Nelson, Glenne Headly, Steven Weber, Brad Garrett, Isaiah Washington, Eileen Brennan. Directed by Michael Traeger

It is a human need to feel like one has accomplished something. Success breeds self-confidence; the lack thereof breeds its opposite.

Andy Sargentee (Bridges) is one of the latter. He has gone through scheme after scheme with a spectacular lack of success. His wife Thelma (Tripplehorn) has divorced him and remarried Howard (Weber), a millionaire. His son is understandably impressed by his new father-in-law but he still loves Andy for who he is. Love is one thing, however; respect is another.

Andy feels like he has to do something to get his son’s respect. But what to do? He ruminates for several days in a local tavern, his friends and neighbors, knowing Andy’s penchant for harebrained schemes, steer well clear as best they can. At last, Andy hits on an idea: porn. Not only that, amateur porn. It generates billions of dollars in revenue on the internet; why can’t the good townsfolk of Butterface Fields grab a slice of that tasty pie?

Of course, talking about it is one thing. Assembling a cast and crew is quite another. Most of Andy’s buddies share a distinct tinge of loser in their make-up, but all are game and are all on board. Some Idiot (Pantoliano) whose name is…well, it’s too much to go into right here but trust me, it’s apt…lobbies for and is made the writer/director of the budding skinflick. Then there’s Otis (Fichtner) who wants to feel a part of the movie but doesn’t want to screw it up is given the executive producer title. And let us not forget Moose (Danson) who is gay and is blissfully unaware that everyone knows, and Barney (Nelson), Andy’s best friend who pines away for Helen (Headly); they are both producers. Their best asset, however, may be Emmett (Fugit), who works at the video store and has taken some filmmaking classes. So deeply has the bug bitten him that he carries a small videocamera wherever he goes, documenting everything.

However, the stumbling block is getting actors – particularly actresses. There is no shortage of willing male participants but there are few women in town who are – ahem – photogenic that are willing to be schtupped on camera in living color for the world to see. Even if they do get enough women to make the epic porno they have in mind, can these lifelong screw-ups pull it together to actually make the film?

First-time director Traeger has assembled an impressive cast, led by the redoubtable Bridges. This is a role that Bridges can play in his sleep and often has; Andy has a great deal in common with characters Bridges has played in The Big Lebowski and The Fisher King. He’s good-hearted and a little bit off the deep end. He is supported with some pretty impressive actors, all of whom ooze charm.

Charm is not what this movie is short on. What it is short on is laughs. I don’t have a problem with a movie relying on quirky characters for its humor but there is a dearth of truly funny moments and jokes, not a good sign for a comedy. Still, there is enough to make it through.

The narration of the movie tends to drag it down. Bridges is a charming enough narrator but the movie relies too heavily on it. I would have preferred less explanation and a little more action, to quote the King.

While the subject matter is certainly titillating, there’s little overt sex. It’s true that most of the film’s actresses, particularly those involved in the porno (Hedley, Melinda Dahl and the veteran Valerie Perrine, too long absent from the big screen) are easy enough on the eyes, there’s no nudity to speak of (except that which is implied).

I have to admit that the film’s charm won me over. I know the small town with the eccentric citizens is a bit of a hoary cliché, but when it is done well – as it is here – it can be a very entertaining conceit. While the movie is far from perfect, I enjoyed my visit to Butterface Fields and wouldn’t mind a return visit.

WHY RENT THIS: Quirky and relentlessly good-natured, the movie handles the sensitive subject matter flawlessly. Bridges is intensely likable in a role he can play in his sleep.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie relies overly much on the narration and some of the humor doesn’t work. Too many characters make for too many subplots.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter is a bit much for kids, even if it is handled humorously. The language, however, is a bit foul.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the characters were named after characters from “The Andy Griffith Show.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Friday the 13th (2009)