erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2017 posts

Tuesday October 10, 2017

Movie Review: Wolf Warrior II (2017)


It’s got a great open. I’ll give it that.

In a single shot, we see Somali pirates attack a freighter, the panicked faces of the crew, and then, moving with grace and purpose, there’s our hero from the first “Wolf Warrior,” Leng Feng (Wu Jing), diving into the water, upending the hijackers’ inflatables and fighting and defeating them underwater before he—and this is still one shot, by the way—pulls himself into one of the remaining inflatables, grabs a rifle and picks off the lead hijacker (who’s aiming at him) with a crack shot from a hundred yards away. Cue credits.

Then it gets stupid fast.

I don’t mind the overt nationalism, the literal flag-waving, the Chinese businessman who dismisses his Chinese citizenship only to cling to Leng Feng and that very citizenship once the bullets start flying.

No, it’s the racism, stupid.

Not your typical travelogue
Wolf Warrior II American reviewIn case you haven’t been following Chinese box office receipts (most westerners), or reading this blog (ditto +), “Wolf Warrior II” is the movie phenomenon of the year. Last year, Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid” shattered Chinese box office records by bringing in $526 million, which was a startling, tough-to-beat amount. But this shattered that. In China alone, it grossed $852 million. Add the $20 million it made abroad, and “Wolf Warrior II” is the first Chinese movie—hell, the first non-Hollywood movie—to enter the list of the top 100 movies in terms of worldwide gross. It does for the movie business what Leng Feng does for geopolitics: Makes a stand for China.

The first “Wolf Warrior,” which came out in March 2015 and grossed a respectable-ish $80 mil or so, was all about border security and protecting the homeland. “Don’t even think of going back when you break into China!” Leng tells the movie’s villains. This one is about protecting Chinese nationals abroad. The movie may revel in explosions and violence amid a bloody civil war and an Ebola-like disease in a fictional coastal African nation—things that normally put one off travel—but it ends with a shot of a Chinese passport and this message:

“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China: When you encounter danger in a foreign land, do not give up! Please remember, at your back stands a strong motherland.”

China literally means “center country” (jung guo), as in “the center of the world,” and once upon a time it expected the world to come to it. No longer. Its official message now is the message of “Scarface”: The world is yours.

The last time we saw Leng Feng, he was triumphant and chatting up his superior officer/girlfriend, Long Xiaoyun (Yu Nan). So what’s he doing alone on a freighter off the African coast? The backstory comes sepia-toned.

  • The Wolf Warrior team returns the remains of a fallen comrade to his family, only to find them inches away from death at the hands of a nasty developer—until Leng Feng takes care of that dude. For his troubles, or his temper, he gets three years in prison.
  • During his prison stay, his girlfriend is kidnapped and killed by terrorists. The only clue is a specially designed, striated bullet that did the deed. Oddly, it’s undamaged. More oddly, he wears it on a chain around his neck as a talisman.

That’s why Africa. His search for the killer has led him here. Shame. The Chinese don’t do Africa, or black people, particularly well.

In this fictional country, Feng is godfather to a fat African kid, Tundu (Nwachukwu Kennedy Chukwuebuka, making his film debut), who is both li’l rascal (selling bootleg porn), and pudgy comic relief (forever interested in food). When the bullets fly, and Feng goes above and beyond to get him to the safety of a Chinese warship, Tundu runs down the plank crying for him mom, who’s stuck in an inland city. Feng promises to bring her back, setting in motion the rest of the movie. Later, Tundu sees his mom via Skype, and cries. He cries while eating. He’s got a big bounty in front of him, courtesy of the Chinese, and he’s both crying and stuffing his face.

But that’s not close to the worst of it. Here’s the worst of it. More than halfway through, in the quiet after a battle, Feng and He Jianguo (Wu Gang), an old, wise, former career soldier, watch as the Africans celebrate another day of living by lighting a bonfire and dancing. “Our African friends,” says He. “Once they’re around a bonfire, they can’t help themselves.”

While the movie is obtuse in its racism, it’s concise in its anti-Americanism—although with an odd corresponding need for western approval. Sure, the movie’s villain, Big Daddy (Frank Grillo), goes out in a blaze of racist glory (“People like you will always be beaten by people like me” he says to Leng Feng), but first he has to give grudging admiration: “I guess the Chinese military isn’t as lame as I thought,” he sneers. Ditto Leng Feng with the U.S. military. The female lead, feisty American girl Rachel Prescott Smith (Hong Kong actress Celina Jade), mistakenly thinks the U.S. will come to her rescue. “You think the U.S. Marines are the best in the world?” Leng Feng asks her. “They may be, but where are they now?” The point is we lack spirit. We cut and run. China doesn’t. They steam into port while we flee.

Except ... our Marines may be the best in the world? Under the circumstances, that’s kinda sweet.

Yo, Adrian
If you can get past the racism and the geopolitics, “Wolf Warrior II” is your typical action-adventure, with an indestructible hero, near-indestructible villains (including 6’ 6” Ukrainian martial artist Oleg Prudius), and tons of explosions. The spoiled soldier redeems himself while the hectoring middle manager doesn’t. Leng Feng’s original goal—rescuing Tundu’s mom—keeps growing, as he’s responsible for more and more civilians, in worse locations, even as the bad guys close in. Oh, and it turns out Big Daddy is the one who uses striated bullets. Shocker.

Comparisons to mid-80s Stallone are inevitable. Like Rambo in “Rambo II,” Leng fights for his country’s honor abroad; he rectifies past wrongs and imagines future greatness. Like Rocky in “Rocky IV,” he drapes himself in the flag. Leng literally wears it on his sleeve so his rag-tag group of Chinese nationals and African locals can safely drive through a war zone. “Hold your fire!” the African soldiers shout. “It’s the Chinese!”

So what does it all mean? Why did the ultra-patriotic “Wolf Warrior” do meh box office while this one went gangbusters? Because sequels do better than originals? Because “I” was local and “II” international? Because “I” was released when Obama was president and “II” came out during the first hot, idiot summer of Trump?

Maybe the better question is this: When will Chinese movies begin to do better internationally? They’ve already got the production values, the tropes, and the explosions of Hollywood. What’s missing? A white face? But that doesn’t explain the international popularity of stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Will Smith. Does the movie contain too much nationalism? Or maybe the wrong kind of nationalism? Almost anyone can imagine themselves American, after all, but only the Chinese get to be Chinese.

That’s one of the great ironies about “Wolf Warrior II”: The movie about Chinese power abroad is really only powerful at home. But make no mistake: There’s a lot of power there. 

Wolf Warrior II American review

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Posted at 07:05 AM on Oct 10, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday October 05, 2017

Movie Review: American Made (2017)


“American Made” is a fun, rollickin’ look at the insane juxtaposition of South American drugs, anti-communist rebels and right-wing American politics in the early 1980s. I laughed throughout at the absurdity and hypocrisy of it all.

Pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is a good-ol-boy cog in these machines. At each turn, as things ratchet up and he’s faced with a powerful and dangerous handler giving him a new insane mission, he just tosses up his hands, gives us that Tom Cruise All-American smile, and says, “Whatever you say, boss.” He’s the daredevil trying to thread his way amidst several colliding enterprises. No wonder he gets crushed.

American Made reviewI liked that aspect of the movie. A lot. I also liked that we were getting necessary history here—the Howard Zinn-ish underside of the All-American smile, the cynical wink behind the Reagan-era propaganda.

Until, that is, I looked into the history.

Ellin Stein at Slate goes over some of the discrepancies between fact and fiction here, but it may be enough to know that the movie opens in 1978 with Seal as a straight-laced TWA pilot who gets sucked into the biz by a CIA contact named “Shafer” (Domhnall Gleeson), when Seal wasn’t with TWA in 1978. He was fired in ’72 after being arrested for running plastic explosives. So not exactly straight-laced. He also didn’t look like Tom Cruise, either—more like a ’70s-era Joe Don Baker—but that’s artistic license we’re used to from Hollywood. Hell, that’s the one we demand.

In the movie version, Seal is so bored with his routine that he fakes midnight turbulence to jolt the passengers and can’t be bothered to schtup his hot blonde wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), back in Baton Rouge. Then “Shafer” arrives. Initially Seal is just taking CIA reconnaissance photos—the best anyone in the agency has seen!—but on a runway in Colombia he’s requested at a meeting with the Medellin cartel (Escobar, et al.), and agrees, on his own, to transport their cocaine back to the U.S. Eventually he’s caught up in an Escobar raid and winds up in Colombian prison. Shafer springs him overnight (in reality he spent six months there), and warns him the DEA is descending. So Seal moves his family to the sleepy town of Mena, Arkansas, where the CIA has bought him a home and 2,000 acres—including his own airfield and fleet of planes.

Soon his team is running guns to the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua—portrayed as materialistic dopes, less interested in overthrowing the Sandinistas than in stealing Seal’s sunglasses. The CIA decides they just lack training, and do it on Seal’s property in Arkansas. Half the Contras wind up fleeing into the Arkansas hills, their semi-automatics wind up in the hands of the Medellin cartel, and Seal, still transporting coke, can’t bury the money fast enough. Meanwhile, Pres. and Nancy Reagan are on TV extolling the virtues of the Contras and “Just Say No.” It’s a hilarious mass of hypocritical clusterfuckiness.

But how much of it is true? At one point, to disentangle himself from his various messes, Seal agrees to be a DEA informant and take photos of Escobar, et al., loading drugs with the Sandinistas, which would tie Reagan’s pet causes together: communists = drug runners. Then Reagan shows the photos during an address to the nation. Now the cartel knows Seal betrayed them. Nice going, Reagan!

Except ... Reagan gave that address to the nation in March 1986, a month after Seal was shot to death by the Medellins outside a Salvation Army facility, where he was doing community service work. As for the Contras being trained in Arkansas? There appears to be just one source on that. A shaky one.

Here’s a question I have for writer Gary Spinelli and director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow”): If you’re going to smudge the history, why not at least get the chronology right? Early on, we see Jimmy Carter giving his malaise speech from ’79 and then title graphics tell us it’s 1978. We see Reagan coming into office in 1981 and then title graphics tell us it’s still 1980.

Seriously, doesn’t anyone give a shit about chronology anymore?

Nug pot
Cruise is good in the title role—amoral and care-free and grinning to the very end, a kind of bookend to his 1980s “Top Gun” star turn—and Wright holds her own. Loved Jesse Plemons in a small role as the Mena sheriff who’d rather think the best of people, or look the other way, until Seal’s idiot brother-in-law, JB (Caleb Landry Jones), forces him to act. As for Jones, he does what he did in “Get Out”: adds a shiver of someone so off-kilter that the smooth-running enterprise gets creepy. If you’re looking to make your audience uncomfortable, plop him into your movie.

The movie’s fun. It’s a stew of all the idiot political crap we went through in the ’80s. As history? Take it with the grains of salt on your popcorn. 

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Posted at 11:50 AM on Oct 05, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Tuesday October 03, 2017

Movie Review: Rebel in the Rye (2017)


I so wanted “Rebel in the Rye,” the first biopic of J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), to use this quote as its epigraph:

“The goddamn movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding.”
– Holden Caulfield 

But for that it would need a sense of humor—or confidence in its final product.

The movie doesn’t ruin Salinger’s story (I’m not saying that), it just focuses on the conventional and ignores the oddities that might reveal something. It gets the irony of his trajectory (from unknown author desperate to publish to world-famous author refusing to publish), but it misses out on a greater irony. Which is right there

Rebel in the Rye review“Rebel” begins with Salinger’s teacher, Story editor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey), telling Salinger to focus on story, and it ends—if you know anything about Salinger's arc—with Salinger essentially giving up on story. “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” (published, Nov. 1955) was his last real story-story that wound up in print. After that, he gave us “Zooey” (May ’57), which is self-indulgent but at least resolves beautifully; then “Seymour: An Introduction” (June ’59), which is just Buddy Glass writing about his dead genius of an older brother (and that tries and fails for the epiphany of “Zooey”); and finally “Hapworth 16, 1924” (June ’65), a 100-page letter written by Seymour ... at the age of 6. Then silence. The movie doesn’t comment upon any of this.

Even its title is off: “Rebel in the Rye”? I guess someone wanted “ the Rye” and “Rebel” was alliterative and James Dean-y, but ... nah.

But the movie did take me back.

Salinger: An introduction
Mostly it took me back to the summer of 1987, the year after I graduated from college, when I was living in Minnesota, pining for a girl in Maine, and unable to function, really. I wound up re-reading a lot of Salinger that summer. I felt bruised, other authors only pressed on the sore spots, and Salinger soothed. I needed him so much I sought out the stories he’d published before “The Catcher in the Rye,” and before the stories of “Nine Stories,” and those are some of the stories we see him create here: “The Young Folks”; “Slight Rebellion off Madison.” I liked hearing those titles again. I liked seeing Story magazine and getting some of its backstory.

OK, so here’s the conventional part. We see Salinger getting rejection letter after rejection letter (what writer can’t identify?), and needing the confidence to ignore bad edits and the humility to accept good ones (same). At one point, Salinger finally lands his white whale, The New Yorker, with a Holden Caulfield story (“Slight Rebellion”); but then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the story suddenly seems too frivolous for a nation at war and they don’t publish. Watching, in the near-empty theater, I practically did a doubletake. In early 2003, the L.A. Times accepted a non-fiction piece from me; then the Iraq War broke out and the piece suddenly seemed too frivolous for a nation at war. Happy ending: Both stories eventually saw print.

As for the oddities? His early girlfriend, Oona O’Neill (Zoey Deutch), supposedly liked talented men, and supposedly saw great talent in the author of “The Young Folks.” But how is Jerry even in her orbit? She’s the daughter of Eugene O’Neill, and wound up married to Chaplin. How is he there

After the war, he comes home with PTSD, writer’s block, and a German wife—Sylvia Welter. We don’t see how they meet, why they marry, how they divorce. We’re outsiders to all that. We’re like family—stunned that he’s married and then stunned again that he’s divorced.

As for that writer’s block? Salinger kept publishing throughout the war—stories about the war. But here he’s got the block, and it requires Zen Buddhism to get him going again, and that allows him to finish “The Catcher in the Rye.” And that changes everything.

Except it was all a little less obvious than that. The movie is based on Kenneth Slawenski’s much-recommended biography, “J.D. Salinger: A Life,” and Slawenski ties Salinger’s post-war silence less to a “block” and more to Sylvia. He writes that after the wedding, despite being a lifelong letter writer, Salinger suddenly stopped corresponding with family and friends. And after the divorce, Salinger traveled to Florida (shades of “Bananafish”), where he wrote a friend:

He and Sylvia had made each other miserable, he said, and he was relieved to see the relationship end. He also confessed that he had not written a word in the eight months they were together. In Florida, he managed to complete his first story since early 1945. He considered the piece unusual and named it “The Male Goodbye.”

I like some of the interaction with the various New Yorker editors, particularly Gus Lobrano (James Urbaniak) and William Maxwell (Jefferson Mays)—how they helped with “Bananafish” but actually rejected “Catcher” as unfocused—but not enough of it sticks. There’s Eric Bogosian as Harold Ross, but why not William Shawn, who edited Salinger’s later, more unfocused work, and to whom he dedicated “Franny and Zooey”? Was Wallace Shawn not available?

His main relationship in the movie is with Burnett, who keeps telling him that Holden Caulfield is a novel, and with whom he has a falling out. In the mid-40s, Burnett promises to publish a collection of Salinger’s early short stories but he’s overselling his influence. Burnett’s boss says no, Salinger blames Burnett, and for the rest of the movie Spacey is forced to hold up his hands and trail after Salinger helplessly. It’s a little sad. Not to mention undramatic. Also: Isn't it odd that Salinger keeps exploring spirituality, religion, God, that he concocts the fat lady as Christ, yet remains so hardhearted and unforgiving? You could call him the most unforgiving Buddhist who ever lived. You could, since the movie is silent on the subject.  

Salinger: An exit
Hoult is a fine actor but he’s all wrong as Salinger—too handsome, not long-faced enough, not sad-eyed enough. Plus the New York accent comes and goes.

After “Catcher” is published, Salinger is suddenly the talk of the town but he doesn’t want to be. It’s worse when troubled young men show up on his front stoop wearing red hunting caps, identifying with Holden, prefiguring John Hinckley. Did it happen? I couldn’t find a word of it in Slawenski’s book. I assume it’s Hollywood license; it’s “goddamn movies” stuff.

The rest, to be honest, is a little dull. Salinger meets a girl at a party, Claire Douglas (Lucy Boynton), who’s actually 16 but the movie is mum on this, too. She disses him, he falls in love, or something. They move out to Cornish, N.H., get married, and he slowly closes himself off from the world. Any small betrayal is a final betrayal.

Here's the problem: Is this a tragedy? What he does to himself? What he does to his readers? Cutting himself off verbally, then cutting himself off literarily, to tamp down on his gargantuan ego? To save himself from himself? The movie really doesn’t take a stand. Writer-director Danny Strong just presents it. And, to be fair, maybe that’s all you can do at this point. Maybe we won’t know if it was an act of grace or hubris until we know what Salinger wrote in his—to borrow a phrase—jealously defended privacy. But from out here it sure doesn't feel healthy. 

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Posted at 06:10 AM on Oct 03, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Saturday September 16, 2017

Movie Review: Mother! (2017)


Wouldn’t it have been cheaper for Darren Aronofsky to see a shrink?

The acclaimed writer-director (“Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan”) has often dealt in dreamscapes, and nightmarish scenarios, but “Mother!” is like listening to a friend describe a dream to you. For two fucking hours.

Yes, there are glimmers of meaning. It’s a metaphor for Christianity, or America, or creativity mostly.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) creates, or recreates, the beautiful home where her poet-husband (Javier Bardem) writes his poetry. Except he’s writing nothing. He’s blocked. It’s all too perfect. He can't breathe. So he invites people in and ruins their home and their love and their life. Or her life anyway. He needs the love and structure, but he also needs something else—stories and chaos, fights and death and anarchy—to create.

review of Darren Aronofsky's Mother!Remember “New York Stories” from 1989? Three short films from Francis Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese? My favorite was always the Scorsese one, “Life Lessons,” written by Richard Price, in which Nick Nolte plays a painter who is living with his assistant/former lover Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), who seems to be using him. She’s living off him and giving nothing back; she’s sleeping around; she’s making him insanely jealous. Finally she leaves. And in the art exhibition of the works he created while insanely jealous, he meets another pretty young thing and takes her home; and you realize it was he who was using her; in order to create.

Like that. Except in a horror movie five times as long.

Life lessons
Mother doesn’t want anyone in the home. She seems to have a symbiotic relationship with the home. She feels its heartbeat.

But hubby keeps inviting people in. First, it’s Ed Harris, a doctor at the nearby university, who’s looking for a place to stay. Initially he seems nervous, cautious. Then he’s just an asshole. Against her wishes, he smokes in the house, he drinks too much, he gets sick, he monopolizes hubby’s time. Hubby cares way too much for him.

Then the wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives and she’s even worse: drinking midday, making a mess of the kitchen, and the laundry room, and the toilet.

Then their kids arrive (Brian and Domhnall Gleeson), and they’re fighting over who gets what from dad, who’s dying, and one thing leads to another, and, just like in the Book of Genesis, one brother (Domhnall) kills the other (Brian). Mother is left behind to mop up the blood. But she can’t get it all. And when she fiddles with it, poking at the floorboard, part of that floorboard gives way; and it’s like the blood is acid, seeping through to the basement to the furnace, where bad vibes await.

It was here, J-Law alone in the basement, when the movie was scariest for me.

It was also here, particularly with a few lines from Ed Harris or Michelle Pfeiffer (“We said we’re sorry”), or Javier Bardem (about inviting the parents back with some family and friends for a wake for the dead son), that the movie was funniest to me. But the wake becomes a party, almost a 70s-era party, and people aren’t treating the house correctly, and J-Law stumbles room to room, until things get so bad that she finally kicks everyone out. Then she and hubby argue, then make love, then she wakes up pregnant. And he suddenly has inspiration again. He’s writing.

Eight+ months later, ballooned out, she’s preparing an elaborate dinner for two when, uh oh, fans staring appearing at their door. And he loves it. And this is where it gets really, really weird. For a moment it seems like a metaphor for America. On one side there’s the violence of the fans, or the anarchists, or ... something; on the other it’s the violence of the forces of law and order. The house becomes a battle ground. For a long, fucking time.

And this is exactly where I began to get really, really bored. Before, I was absorbing Mother’s tensions, her anal fixations, which are mine: Don’t sit on the counter; don’t fuck up the house. But once the crazy shit goes down, and she’s just trying to escape the house, well, this tension is gone. And now it’s just silly. Now we’re 90 minutes into Darren Aronofsky telling us his dream from the night before.

Finally she gives birth upstairs. Hubby wants to hold it, but she doesn’t want him to. So he just stands there, with his long Javier Bardem face. (He reminded me of the Grinch a bit here, just as, earlier, Ed and Michelle reminded me of Thing 1 and Thing 2.) But eventually sleep overtakes her, and when she wakes up ... no baby. He’s showing it to the crowd. Then he’s giving it to the crowd. Then its blanket is taken and it’s naked. Then it stops making a noise. Then it’s dead. She looks around and sees they’re all eating it.

So Christian metaphor, right? Or metaphor for creativity? Or both?

I like it when she goes ballistic and starts slicing people. I liked it less when the crowd begins to punch her in the face and tear at her dress and show her tits. Why did Darren have to go there? In the end, she blows up the joint. She works her way into the basement and sets it afire with Ed Harris’ lighter that she hid in the first act. A lighter in the first act goes off in the third.

Aronofsky’s complaint
Oh, right. The big jewel.

There was also a big diamond-like jewel that hubby kept in his office, and which he says is the only thing that survived the fire that destroyed his family home when he was younger. And she, J-Law, helped put it together. But Ed and Michelle broke it.

Well, in the aftermath of the latest fire, which he survives and she doesn’t, he reaches into Mother’s chest and removes her heart; then he smooshes it in his hands like Superman with a piece of coal; and, just like Superman with a piece of coal, we get the big jewel again. And then, as in the beginning, the burnt hull of the house is remade, redone, swoosh, with CGI, as we make our way from room to room and then upstairs to a pretty young thing waking up and wondering about her husband. Except this time it’s not J Law; it’s another pretty young thing; it’s his new wife. And the cycle starts anew.

Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it? Get it?

So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes? 

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Posted at 06:40 AM on Sep 16, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday September 14, 2017

Movie Review: The Circle (2017)


Here’s the biggest problem with this piece of crap. 

We think our hero, Mae (Emma Watson), views The Circle, a Silicon Valley megacompany, with the same cynical eye we do. She even jokes with a savvy insider, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), about people who drink the Kool-Aid. They laugh about it together at a company event.

Then she not only drinks the Kool-Aid, she bathes in it. She becomes the Kool-Aid. She starts out reluctant to update her profile on True You, The Circle’s Facebook, then agrees to have her entire life recorded 24/7 (w/bathroom breaks). It’s called “going transparent.” And in this way she accumulates millions of followers and thus power. During her day, random comments waft around her like perfume. And she seems perfectly happy with it! She doesn’t see the danger! She agrees with CEO/guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) that transparency equals accountability and privacy is for losers!

Basically she becomes LonelyGirl15 2.0.

The Circle, starring Emma WatsonEven inadvertently broadcasting her parents having sex doesn’t make her rethink any of it! No, she doubles down. Eamon is working on a proposal that would allow voter registration through True You, but she goes further: She suggests every person be required to have a True You account. That it would be law. It’s an idiotic, illegal proposal but Bailey and Stenton nod like it’s wisdom, or at least strategy, and she puffs up, proud, at her little foray into petty tyranny and thought control.

Which means our hero is not only stupid, she's horrible.

Sure, she finally sees the light when she causes the death of her longtime friend, and gentle soul, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood”). During one of The Circle’s “all hands” meetings—which are like a mix of pep rally and TED talk—she uses her tens of millions of followers, along with The Circle’s “SeeChange” camera devices stationed all over the world, to track down a British woman who locked her kids in a closet and went on vacation. (They starved to death.) But they do it—they track her down and she's brought to justice. Yay for The Circle! Yay for Mae! Then someone shouts out that they should track down Mercer, too, who sells chandeliers of antlers, and everyone agrees; and though Mae knows it’s wrong she goes along with it. Hey, guess where he is? In a cabin in the wilderness. But he’s found! And he flees from the attention! Into his truck! And onto a highway! And guess what happens? Yeah. Bye-bye, Mercer. And the movie turns somber, and quiet, and montage-y, as Mae rethinks her recent life choices. 

And gradually she begins to see what we saw an hour ago, so she teams up with Ty to get back at The Circle. How? By suggesting that Bailey and Stenton go transparent. All of their emails, their IMs, their VMs, their corporate strategizing. On stage, the two men eye each other warily, then look angry, then Stenton stomps off.

But all I kept thinking was, “No one thought of this before? The hell?”

More, I’m curious what Eamon Bailey’s end-game is. We never really find out. I don’t think it’s particularly malicious, I just think he has a double-standard. He wants his privacy but no one else’s, since everyone else’s gets in the way of the data he wants to record and store and filter, which will get at the heart of, I don’t know, being human or something. But I never did figure out any specific end-game.

But Mae, our horrible, stupid protagonist, wins in the end. Kinda sorta. There’s a weird ambiguity in the final scene. Mae goes kayaking—always her one respite—and she’s surrounded by drones. And she doesn’t seem to mind. Because...? Because she's horrible or because she's smart or because she's a 21st century automaton inured to it all?

I like casting Hanks as the villain, but that’s about the only thing I liked with “The Circle.” Watson, or her character, isn’t particularly likeable even in the early going. And then of course she becomes a Circle jerk.

Here’s advice to anyone in Hollywood making a movie about Silicon Valley tech companies: We don’t like them. We don’t like them because...

  1. ...they have more interesting jobs than we do
  2. ...that pay way, way better
  3. ...and that make products that make us feel stupid

Keep all that in mind if you’re going to do one of these in the future. Oh, and don't turn your heroes into assholes, either. 

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Posted at 05:41 AM on Sep 14, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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