THE CIRCLE. Where have all the techno-thrillers gone?
I began to wonder this after my disappointing afternoon with The Circle. I claim to be no expert in the subgenre, but the '80s and '90s were rife with paranoid thought experiments about the cyberworld we were creating. Did we peak at The Matrix?
Perhaps 9/11 brought our collective conscious around to far more analog and familiar fears. I'm digressing a bit but technology and its sociopolitical implications are entering a new realm of urgency. It's fertile soil for smart storytelling, and that seems to be what The Circle was striving for. Unfortunately, it fails.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson, who could still pass as a Hogwarts sophomore, despite her 27 years) is bright, independent and frustrated in her go-nowhere role temping as a customer service operator in her nondescript Central Valley hometown. Her dad suffers from MS, she puts up with mom's romantic pressures and she calls on an old friend, Mercer, whenever her hooptie breaks down.
One morning, she gets a call from Annie (Karen Gillan), who's lined up an interview for Mae at the Circle. It's unclear exactly how Mae is best friends with a Scottish woman who's among the Circle's "Gang of 40," the company's most influential leaders — this is just one of the overlooked details that never paint Mae as a solid character. We are introduced to the Circle at the tech company's sprawling campus, where Mae nails a very hip and modern interview ("What are you most scared of?" "Unfulfilled potential," she replies.)
The Circle is a mashup of the real-world tech companies whose products we all interact with daily. It's Silicon Valley on steroids — equal parts the social networking of Facebook, the gadgetry of Apple, the cultural engineering of Google. It's also hip: It's got the game rooms, the open floor plans, the mixers, the health monitoring, the drones flying across the sky, and the cult of personality in its leader Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, who never really gets to flex his promising sinister side). The filmmakers at times seem genuinely proud of the company they've constructed, at other times mildly satirical.
This uncertainty translates to Mae, as well — at times she seems nervous and skeptical of her highly monitored workload and the extremely-recommended-but-not-at-all-required social building exercises the company offers. At other times, she's fully committed to the Circle lifestyle. Her muddled motivations carry throughout the film. I'm not sure if Watson was unable to pull off a role that required such constantly evolving emotions and intentions or if the fault is the disjointed storyline. Probably the shortcoming lies in both parties.
We follow Mae as the company rolls out a series of morally dubious social projects, beginning with a satellite-linked camera the size of an eyeball with which the company envisions covering the globe. Much is made of this and it feels a bit like Chekhov's gun waiting to go off, but the device itself never really comes back into play.
It becomes clear that the Circle's founders are looking for "total participation," and they're willing to buy off and bury lawmakers — and individuals — who stand in their way. Their utopia is lived in the Circle, wherein it's a public utility and "the government needs us more than we need them," Bailey explains. That means sharing everything. Secrets are selfish.
After a near-death experience, Mae fully buys in and becomes the poster child of the Circle, agreeing to broadcast her life 24 hours a day, at the cost of her relationships with her parents, Mercer and Annie. Meanwhile, she meets Ty (an underutilized John Boyega), one of the Circle's founding members who stepped back from his role and is concerned about the direction the company is headed.
Following a thrill-less crescendo, I'm left skeptical of the movie's ultimate message, which implies that the only freedom comes from true transparency. The filmmakers seems to embrace some core tenets of the Circle's philosophies, envisioning utopia as a lack of need for individual privacy.
In some ways, the Circle feels positively archaic. Based on Dave Egger's (who co-wrote the screenplay) 2013 novel, it attempts to collect some of the ominous trappings of our digital age but says nothing new about them. After all, Jennifer Ringley started JenniCam, a 24-hour broadcast of her life, more than 20 years ago. Do a quick mental tally of all the Facebook Live killings you've heard about in the last year.
In fact, the real world is far scarier than anything that shows up in the Circle: Silicon Valley bigwigs suing journalists out of existence, the cruel pranks of YouTuber "Daddyofive," The Red Pill, online comment sections and literally everything about Uber. The Circle's own star had her private nude photos stolen by hackers and broadcast around the world.
Web connected technology — and how it will shape the world — is the most important issue of our time. I look forward to the better stories to come. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
COLOSSAL. I already used up most of this column's space, but maybe it's just as well to not say too much about Colossal. I'll start by mentioning it's easily the best film I've seen this year and maybe stretching back a bit further.
Anne Hathaway is Gloria, an out-of-work writer adrift in a scene of New York partying. When her boyfriend, tired of her drinking, boots her out, she heads home to her upstate hometown to try and sober up and get her life in order. As luck would have it, she immediately runs into a childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis) who owns a bar. She agrees to help out, putting her squarely in front of the bottle she ostensibly came to escape. Oh yeah, it's also a monster movie — as Gloria stumbles toward stability, an enormous creature begins to appear in Seoul, creating a global crisis, and intertwining with Gloria's life in a wholly unexpected way.
Colossal runs the emotional gamut: It's laugh out loud funny, delightfully clever, deeply touching, and will make you cheer at the screen. It's also a terrifying and amazingly complex treatise on abuse, alcoholism, American jingoism, toxic relationships and domestic violence. Writer and director Nacho Vigalondo, the Spaniard behind the nutty and great Timecrimes (2007), displays a remarkable understanding of small-town American psychology. Hathaway is brilliant and her character is compelling, smart, funny and capable. Go see Colossal. R. 109m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE DINNER. Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan and Rebecca Hall play parents who must decide whether to cover up their children's crime. R. 120m. BROADWAY.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. The sequel to the Marvel sci-fi ensemble follows the motley crew as they chase some super batteries and find out who Starlord's (Chris Pratt) dad is. With Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista. NR. 110m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
THE LOST CITY OF Z. Charlie Hunnam stars as a British explorer following clues to an advanced civilization in the Amazonian jungle. PG13. 141m. MINOR.
MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA. An animated comedy about an earthquake shaking a school into the ocean where it drifts and sinks like a ship. With Jason Schwartzman. PG13. 75m. MINIPLEX.
A QUIET PASSION. Cynthia Nixon stars in a biopic about reclusive poet Emily Dickinson, which makes sense because she was such a Miranda. PG13. 125m. MINIPLEX.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The cast, style and scale are impressive, but the moody darkness and slow pacing of this live-action/CG fairytale reboot seems tailored for nostalgic grownups more than kids. Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BORN IN CHINA. Live action documentary follows panda, monkey and snow leopard families in the wild. With John Krasinski, thankfully narrating and not cast as a panda. G. 76m. BROADWAY.
THE BOSS BABY. Fresh from SNL, Alec Baldwin voices another business-minded infant in this animated comedy about corporate intrigue. With Steve Buscemi. PG. 97m. BROADWAY.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS. The juggernaut keeps rolling with explosions, crashes, nutty car chases, submarines and, at last, the action sequence Jason Statham deserves. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez. PG13. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GIFTED. Chris Evans stars as an uncle raising his gifted niece (McKenna Grace) and fighting his own mother for custody. With Jenny Slate and Lindsay Duncan. PG13. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GOING IN STYLE. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin are old, broke, desperate and starting a late life of crime. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY.
THE PROMISE. Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale star in an overly broad story about a love triangle amid the Armenian genocide that loses its impact amid a mish-mash of visual styles. PG13. 132m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
UNCERTAIN. Documentary about a remote town named Uncertain, Texas, its eccentric characters and their checkered pasts. NR. 82m. MINIPLEX.
THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE. Jessica Chastain delivers a fine performance but this stylish drama about a family losing its Eden-like zoo and rescuing Jews from Nazis is diminished by faulty pacing and keeping the horrors of the time off screen. PG13. 126m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill