Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Is That a Joke? The Circle

Sometimes you'll see a movie that pisses you off like Alien Vs Predator: Requiem, which apes the best parts of two franchises without adding anything to the mix. Or one that infuriates you like Whiplash (who stole the folder?!) or makes you want to slam your head on a table like Nocturnal Animals (rich white people are sad too!). Then sometimes you run into a film that is just dumb. That's what happened with The Circle, a would be tech thriller from director James Ponsoldt and co-written by novelist Dave Eggers. You have Emma Watson as Mae, a struggling millennial working at a crappy temp job. Her parents (BILL PAXTON & Dick Tracey's Glenne Headly) are sweet but struggling with illness and she has a not quite realized love with childhood friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane). But that all changes when she gets a job at THE CIRCLE, a bay area tech firm headed by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt that is banking on new portable technology which allows you to watch and listen to anyone/anywhere with minimal fuss. But of course things aren't what they seem as Mae isn't so sure the tech life is for her as the cost of doing business is high.

I figured this would be your typical cinematic thriller where a young, optimistic idealist gets swept up into the machine with an enigmatic mentor who turns out to be a bad guy a la Breach, The Firm, The Devil's Advocate, whatever.  But no, I actually wasn't sure if The Circle was meant to be taken seriously or was some extreme farcical commentary on where we are in the world and where we're headed. Or basically what someone thinks it's like working at a tech company that's never actually visited one. I've been working at tech and social media companies for ten years and I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the over the top depiction and how hollow it all felt. It's kind of like how people think government buildings are all shiny pneumatic doors and top secret this and that but they're actually kinda rundown and people keep walking right up to the White House doors past security.

For all the smart folks that are supposed to work at The Circle, they're shown doing really dumb stuff so you're not exactly invested in their journey. Mae thinks it's a good idea to take a midnight kayak ride out past the breakers, Circle Jerkers despise Mercer for making art from deer antlers (You make that phone, dude? You eat breakfast today, bro? You drive a car or wear shoes, bruh?), John Boyega plays a Circle co-founder who doesn't like what the company is doing and goes off the grid but openly attends every social and company function, etc. Watson, hot off of Beauty and the Beast, has a weird habit of half laughing as she delivers dialog, Tom Hanks doesn't get a ton to do, it would have been more interesting to see him as a menacing or maniacal antagonist and while it's nice to see Bill Paxton one more time, it's also kind of sad because his character is dealing with MS.

The film shot outside my old office at the beautiful Campus at Playa Vista so it was fun to see 90% of exteriors take place at the old stomping grounds. But that quickly wore off as the film drags on and there's no "take down the house of cards" or "pull the plug" ending. Rumor is that the film started production back in 2015 and I must have witnessed reshoots last year. You can definitely feel that in the film as it seems like scenes are missing and we get from A to G without anything in between. Just a waste of talent all around and you wonder what pulled everyone to it in the first place.

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