Delete Your Account

The Circle

by George Wolf

Warning: your uploads could have a downside. The cloud? Might get dark and stormy.

Despite noble intentions of The Circle, it’s often this obvious and cheesy in its quest to alert us to the growing invasion of our privacy.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is thrilled when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) get her a foot in the door at The Circle, the gold standard of tech companies. After the most hip of hipster interviews, Mae joins The Circle in an entry level position and is positively starry-eyed to be so close to Circle guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, GD national treasure) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt).

But, in one of the film’s most painfully forced scenes, two Circle employees stop by to tell Mae that even though her work is fine, their records show she’s not taking advantage of the ‘social” aspects of The Circle, and she won’t be a true member of the “community” until she gets with the super happy program!

Do you think she does?

Director James Ponsoldt has impressed with The End of the Tour and Smashed, while writer Dave Eggars, adapting his own novel with help from Ponsoldt, penned Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go. Those are fine resumes, but The Circle is crafted more like a young adult re-imagining of 1984.

Mae’s specialness is realized right away, and as she rises quickly through the ranks, her previously peppy and pretty friend Annie starts showing up to meetings looking like a zombie in sweats. Subtle. And who’s this new friend Ty (John Boyega)? Apparently all the cameras and data crunchers on campus weren’t alarmed by his constantly suspicious lurking, but one look at Mae, and of course Ty knows he can trust her with his secrets.

Hanks is perfect as the Steve Jobs-like figure Bailey, affably spouting mantras such as “secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft,” with a disarmingly inviting malevolence. Watson, after a solid turn in Beauty and the Beast, is just over-matched to the point where pained faces stand in for real emoting.

While the film takes on a serious and credible subject, it only seems interested in diving surface deep. Altering the book’s original ending doesn’t help, and The Circle feels like a cop out, downplaying any aspect that could have given it more urgency and settling for melodrama that already feels outdated.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Ask the Dishes

Beauty and the Beast

by George Wolf

Word is, the early plan for Disney’s live-action remake of their 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast did not involve a musical production.

Um, that’s crazy.

That soundtrack from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is in the team picture of Disney’s all-time best, and director Bill Condon politely reminded studio bosses that without it…what’s the point? Sanity prevailed, and Condon brings the familiar tale to life again with a lush, layered, often gorgeous vision, celebrating the brilliant songs that helped make the original the first animated film to garner a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Condon’s directing his first musical since the excellent Dreamgirls, and he hasn’t lost the instinct for staging a show-stopper or two. His camera pans and zooms during “Gaston,” revealing a village full of buoyant choreography, while the title song gets an intimate, classic treatment that builds upon a possible decades long investment in these characters.

“Be Our Guest,” the early request from various castle housewares to the captive Belle (Emma Watson), emerges as a joyous Catch-22. We can’t wait for Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and the gang to start singing…but it is a hard act to follow.

Watson delivers a spunky Belle who’s more industrious than the animated version, yet at times bland next to the gregarious Gaston (a scene-stealing Luke Evans) and the often distracting face of the Beast (Dan Stevens). Even as wondrous visuals fill frame after frame (see the 3-D IMAX version if you can), CGI facial features can’t quite keep up, and choosing this tract over makeup artistry feels like an ambitious misstep.

The supporting cast, including Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald and Josh Gad, is delightful at every turn, and shows more welcome diversity from Disney. The brouhaha over the sexuality of LeFou (Gad) proves as inane as expected, though it does add some sly gravity to Gaston’s campaign against the Beast. As he rallies the villagers by exclaiming there is “a threat to our very existence!” Gaston leans in to LeFou and asks, “Do you want to be next?” Well played.

Add to this a diverse array of townspeople, two high-profile mixed-race couples, and LeFou’s partners during the dance finale, and Disney’s path to progress grows more concrete.

Devotees of the original Beauty and the Beast will have their nostalgia rewarded, but Condon’s vision has the flair and substance to earn its own keep. Though not quite as magical, there is something here that wasn’t there before.

Call it maturity, call it pizzazz….or just ask the dishes.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

Love in the Time of Rotary Phones

Colonia

by Cat McAlpine

On the surface, Colonia is a pretty film. The leads are attractive, the period setting lends both nostalgia and an otherworldly quality, and there are some beautiful shots. Despite being based on true and rather horrifying events, however, the film lacks depth.

Florian Gallenberger both directed and co-wrote Colonia, and he seems to shy away from getting too involved with the political details. The story follows two international lovers who find themselves imprisoned at creepy cult camp Colonia Dignidad during the Chilean military coup of 1973. The true events simply serve as a back drop, unfortunately.

Lena (Emma Watson) asks about the crowd holding up her taxi, “Why are they protesting?” Her driver replies vaguely, “Inflation? Food shortages? It is getting very bad now.”

At its open, there is a raw brutality which serves as a painful reminder of what social injustice looked like before the smart phone. Daniel (Daniel Brühl ) is spotted by military police attempting to document their indiscretions with a bulky film camera. This is where both relevancy and homage seem to fade, however. Once Daniel is taken to the colony, the film mostly devolves into a standard thriller featuring an attractive young couple.

Brühl plays Daniel with a sweet subtlety which is not lost in moments of passion or desperation, but rather heightens the reality of his character.

Watson, on the other hand, is wasted as Lena, who lacks both intensity and lines despite immense screen time. There is little to no chemistry between Lena and Daniel, and once they are reunited, they navigate an endless series of near misses with relative ease. There is little doubt that they will survive.

Paul Scäfer (a marvelous Michael Nyqvist) is so mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time, I found myself hoping he’d be in the next scene. He oozes delusion and power. His second in command, Gisela (Richenda Carey) balances positions of power and weakness, and her character becomes more complex as the narrative moves on, a rarity in this film.

Unfortunately, the film does not delve into how Scäfer came to be a god amongst his followers. It also failes to explain exactly how the camp is connected to the military. Lena serves as our eyes for the majority, and we discover along with her. When the film stops being about the camp, it becomes boring and predictable, despite its pacing.

Colonia has beautiful, eerie, and beautifully eerie moments. The cast gives a worthy effort and Emma Watson’s eyebrows look amazing, but none of this star power is enough the raise this film beyond a “meh.” You’re left wondering why a film lacking resolution is two hours long in the first place.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Putting You There Where Things are Hollow

 

By George Wolf

 

THE BLING RING

 

My son has lived in L. A. for almost a year. It took him all of two weeks as a Southern California resident to report, “Everyone here is so phony.”

Imagine growing up in that environment, and you might start to understand the treatment that The Bling Ring gives to some clueless teenage criminals.

In the late 2000s, a group of five Cali teenagers began burglarizing the homes of celebrities they admired, including their favorite “fashion icons” such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. All told, the gang swiped about three million in cash and property before the popo caught up with them.

Writer/director Sofia Coppola, who of course did grow up in this environment, establishes the setting with the ease you would expect. It is a Petri dish of vapidity, so lacking in substance that one teen seems genuinely proud of the depth of thought displayed in his stated ambition to “have my own lifestyle.”

The line that Coppola walks so effectively is one that allows her to keep both sympathy and judgement at arm’s length. The mistake would be to equate the frivolity of the story with a lack of substance in the film itself. Yes its light, but there’s ironic fun to be had, and a pair of fine performances to appreciate.

As Rebecca, the group’s ringleader, Katie Chang perfectly embodies the blinding self-absorption of a young lady who simply cannot imagine anything wrong with always getting what she wants at any given moment.

And Emma Watson, taking a major step toward shedding her image as Hermione from Harry Potter, is fantastic as Nikki, who personifies her fame-obsessed culture by viewing a very public arrest as a springboard to running a major charity organization…”or perhaps a country.”

Though it marks a stylistic shift for Coppola, you can see how this crime story spoke to her. In films such as Lost in Translation and Somewhere, she examined fame introspectively. The kids in The Bling Ring got no time for that, but Coppola makes them oddly fascinating.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars