Showing posts with label Memoris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memoris. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2017

"The Circle" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Circle" as well as DVDs "Fireworks Wednesday" and "Masterminds."  The book of the week is actor Alan Arkin's memoir "An Improvised Life."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Fellini's Satyricon."]

The Circle

Emma Watson doffs her "Beauty and the Beast" petticoats and eschews singing to take on the role of a young woman who lands a dream job in a huge tech company called The Circle only to find herself at the center of a nefarious plot to take over the world. 

How much of our privacy are we willing to give up for the so-called greater good and to feel safe? Benjamin Franklin once said: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." 

This film explores privacy.  How much are we willing to give up to feel safe?

Mae Holland (Watson) is not from a family of means.  She drives an old car, works unpleasant temp jobs and is trying to help her Mom (Glenne Headly) and Dad (Bill Paxton in his last screen role before his untimely death).  Her parents are struggling because her Dad has MS and they have no insurance. When Mae's friend, Annie (Karen Gillen), who has a good job at The Circle calls to tell her she has secured her an interview there, Mae is ecstatic.

The Circle could be likened to Google, Amazon or Facebook, one of those Internet companies where a mysterious word association is a major part of the job interview and where the company does everything it can to make its young employees happy.  The company shuttles them from home to work, serves them gourmet meals, provides all kinds of activities on site, promotes a fun atmosphere and has rousing "Dream Fridays" where Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), the CEO, talks in platitudes and tells homespun anecdotes about the good they are all doing. 

All of this is designed to create a workplace esprit de corps and a place that these wide-eyed young millennials never want to leave.  The price?  They give up their privacy and they are all working so that the rest of us will give up our privacy too.

 "Knowing is good but knowing everything is better." So says Eamon Bailey at one of his Dream Fridays.

That's a bit scary when it's coming out of the mouth of a huge corporation's CEO, right?

But in this world where we all share everything about ourselves anyway on social media, do we really care?  I think this movie is trying to tell us we should care, but sadly, it's slow to get to the point.

Mae is by nature solitary.  Her idea of fun is kayaking by herself, so she is not prepared for the onslaught of social responsibilities she is confronted with at her new job.  Her job is customer experience where she gets a rating on just how good that customer experience is. Everyone is cheerful and friendly, and it is not long before it becomes clear that not only is she expected to interact with her co-workers, she is expected to do everything with them too. This place is starting to look like a cult.

At a "Dream Friday," Bailey introduces a new product: the See Change, a tiny camera that can go everywhere, see everything and be practically undetectable because it's so small and can be easily camouflaged.  When Mae stupidly goes kayaking out into San Francisco Bay AT NIGHT BY HERSELF - never explained why she would do such a thing - she is almost run over by a boat but is rescued thanks to The Circle's surveillance which is everywhere.  That rescue convinces Mae that The Circle's knowing and seeing everything is a good thing and that everyone should be totally transparent. She is all-in to The Circle and even volunteers for an experiment to be totally transparent, as in wearing the See Change camera everywhere and exposing every detail of her life 24/7 (except when she has to use the toilet - she gets three minutes of off camera time for that)!

Mae becomes an Internet darling and rises quickly up through the company, but she soon realizes that everyone knowing and seeing everything and The Circle having access to everyone's information is not necessarily a good thing for humanity after all. 

This movie did not do well at the box office. It was billed as a sci fi thriller but there were few thrills, so perhaps that's why. 

Tom Hanks may be considered one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, but I guess being a nice guy is not enough, because this hasn't been a very good few years for Tom Hanks' movies.  Except for "Sully," the other movies he has made since 2016 ("Hologram for the King," "Inferno" and now this one) have been disappointing at the box office.

And Emma Watson?  She has certainly come a long way since "Harry Potter," and she was wonderful as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast."  She can certainly carry a romantic fantasy like that, but I didn't find her particularly believable here and wonder if she is really ready to carry a big dramatic film like this one.  This film might have done better at the box office with a bigger name.

Ellar Coltrane, who so thrilled us in "Boyhood," is surprisingly wooden as Mae's friend Mercer, who unwittingly gets caught up in The Circle's web which in turn helps to open Mae's eyes to what really might be going on behind the scenes at The Circle.  But I will give him a pass because the lines he was given were really pretty bad.

However, John Boyega as Ty Lafitte, a wunderkind programmer/engineer who exposes the dark side of The Circle to Mae, was a stand-out in a small role.  I couldn't get over how much he resembled a young Denzel Washington, overbite and all.  He played Finn in the last "Star Wars" movie and is scheduled to reprise that role in at least one more, but I would like to see him in more dramas like this one or as a romantic lead.

Written and directed by James Ponsoldt and based on the 2013 book by David Eggers (Eggers co-wrote the screenplay), this plot is very similar to last year's film "Now You See Me 2," where a shady computer CEO wanted to use technology to access every computer in the world, thus hijacking everyone's personal information.  It's a compelling topic in this age where everyone shares everything on social media and no one seems to care that some great big computer in the sky is probably keeping track of everything they do and say.  Do we care about privacy anymore?  Are we willing to give up our privacy to feel safe?  It's a topic that should be explored and a concept that should scare the crap out of us, but this movie just wasn't compelling enough to get anyone to care. 

The story centers mostly on Mae and her family issues and her becoming an Internet sensation as people watch her every move on their computers and smart phones and then comment as people do.  That part of the movie was kind of fun and interesting and who wouldn't want to become a famous Internet personality?  It happens all of the time and many people have profited from it.  So if this film was supposed to scare the crap out of us regarding our loss of privacy and what the government or some nefarious corporation could do with all of that information they have on us (and I think we should be worried about that), this movie didn't make that point fast enough or strong enough.  It only hinted at how bad that could be and Mae's revelation that something bad might be going on behind the scenes and her conversion from all-in acolyte to all-in leader ready to bring down the company was so late in the film and so fast that it didn't make sense.

Rosy the Reviewer interesting concept that we should care about but that sadly falls flat.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Fireworks Wednesday (2006)

On the Wednesday before the Persian New Year, it's customary to celebrate with fireworks, but when new housekeeper, Rouhi, starts her new job she encounters fireworks of a completely different kind.

Mozhde (Hediyeh Tahrani) and Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) are an Iranian married couple in turmoil.  They are preparing for a trip to Dubai and have hired young Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) to clean and help prepare for their trip. Rouhi is soon-to-be married and looking forward to her new life. When she arrives at her new employer's home, she is immediately thrown into the drama that is Mozhde's's and Morteza's marriage, which is in extreme contrast to the married life that Rouhi is looking forward to. 

Morteza and Mozhde are arguing and it becomes clear that Mozhde suspects Morteza of having an affair with Simin (Pantea Bahram), a divorced woman who lives in a neighboring apartment and who has set up a hair salon there much to the consternation of her neighbors. Morteza is indignant and tells Mozhde that she is crazy. Roohi gets caught up in this domestic drama when Mozhdeh asks her to make an appointment with Simin to spy on her and try to get some information. Meanwhile, Mozhde takes Rouhi's chador and follows Morteza, who when he sees her, publicly beats her up.

When Rouhi discovers that Simin knows more about Mozhde's and Morteza's marriage than she should, Rouhi is suspicious, and later, when Morteza offers Rouhi a ride home in exchange for accompanying him and his son to see the fireworks, he leaves the two for a while and meets with Simin in private so, see?  Despite his trying to gaslight Mozhde and drive her crazy, he IS having an affair. When he comes back, Rouhi can smell Simin's perfume on Morteza.  How?  Well, when she was in the salon she was snooping around and had sprayed some of Simin's perfume on her hand.  Rouhi is a bit of a scamp.

So will Rouhi tell Mozhde about her suspicions?

This was director Asghar Farhadi's third film and, since then, he has had two directorial Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film ("A Separation") in 2012 and again in 2017 ("The Salesman").  You can see Farhadi's burgeoning brilliance here that he would display in those future award-winning films.  His films are small films centering on the every day lives of Iranians and they are mesmerizing.

I am fascinated by films that show the everyday lives of people in the Middle East, because we are so focused on that region and so fearful of its people and, yet, seeing a film like this we are reminded that despite our differences in religion, dress and social mores, we as humans are more alike than we are different.  Most of us hope for happy marriages, many of us fear betrayal, we have all experienced heartache and this is a story of a young girl dreaming of a happy marriage confronted by a marriage of betrayal and heartache.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the seeds of Farhadi's brilliance were already being sown in this earlier work.  Do yourself a favor and see his films.
(In Farsi with English subtitles)

Masterminds (2016)

A humorous take on the real life October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, the biggest bank heist in American history.

Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a Loomis security guard who, how can I say this?  He's not very smart.  Kelly (Kristen Wiig) is his partner, and David has a bit of a crush on her, despite the fact that he is engaged to Jandice (Kate McKinnon), who is a bit of a control freak and a Bridezilla of major proportions.

Kelly gets fired from Loomis, and we soon realize that she is hanging out with some bad guys, one of whom is Steve (Owen Wilson), who decides that it would be a good idea to rob the Loomis bank vault.  Kelly remembers that David had a crush on her and thinks she can get him to join them. 

David is not smart.  In fact, he is dumb.  How dumb is he?  David is so dumb he can't even ride a bike.  David is so dumb that when Kelly gets a cut on her bosom, David wonders why milk isn't coming out.  OK, you get the idea that David is dumb and, from that, you also get the idea that this movie is kind of dumb too, right?

So, ok, they get David involved and there is a heist and they all get away with it despite the fact that David is so dumb that he forgets to take out one of the security cameras and thus is easily fingered as the robber.  He also manages to lock himself inside the back of the van and has to drive it through a small opening from behind the seat using a makeshift pole out of the money. Are you thinking that this movie is funny yet?

But this film is not so much about the heist itself as about the aftermath of the heist.

Since David was the only one seen in the robbery, Kelly gives David $20,000 and tells him to go to Mexico, hardly a good deal for David considering the take was 17 million. But like I said, David is dumb.  Kelly has been David's main contact and he has never seen Steve.  When Steve has interacted with David, he has worn a mask. David puts the money in his shorts and somehow gets through security and into Mexico with the money.  The gang starts spending the money which calls a great deal of attention to them.  They aren't very smart either, and when Steve discovers that David knows who he is and can link him to the robbery, he hires a hit man (Jason Sudeikis) to kill David.  When the hit man finds David in Mexico and sees from his fake ID that they both have the same birthday, they bond.  Like I said, everyone in this film is a moron.

As you have probably figured out by now, the title is ironic.  Directed by Jared Hess, this is a heist movie except with morons. And there is so much far-fetched stuff in this film that you not only have to suspend disbelief, you have to suspend ALL belief in the existence of reality and life itself.  But I will give it some credit for some moments that made me shake my head and chuckle.

I stopped being a Galifianakis fan a while ago. I liked him in the first "Hangover" movie, but now his schtick as the hapless schmoe has gotten old, especially now that he has lost weight and seems to take himself more seriously. I have never forgiven him for the interview with Hillary Clinton on his talk show "Between Two Ferns." But I have to give him some props here. Though David is really dumb and naïve, Galifianakis plays it straight and gives David a sweetness and charm that I almost enjoyed. 

The rest of the cast is like an SNL reunion, with Wiig, McKinnon and Sudeikis joined by Leslie Jones as one of the cops after the gang, and that figures since this film was produced by Lorne Michaels.  Sudeikis is always good.  He is one of those actors who fully commits and goes all in with his character, which is why he is always funny (though see him in "Colossal," which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago and you will see a decidedly different side of him). Wiig is her usual quirky,charming self and McKinnon and Jones are their usual goofy selves.  And Owen Wilson?  I couldn't figure out what he was doing here.

Rosy the Reviewer I always say, good comedies are hard to come by these days. There are some laughs to be had but not enough to save this film.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

204 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Fellini's Satyricon (1969)

Federico Fellini's liberal take on Petronius's work, "Satyricon," which was written during Nero's reign in Imperial Rome.

Written and directed by Fellini, the film consists of a series of tales that follow the scholar Encolpio (Martin Potter) and his friend Ascilto (Hiram Keller) as they try to win the heart of the young slave boy Gitóne (Max Born), whom they both love.  Set in the time of Nero, Fellini has created a surreal dreamscape and he loved this film so much that he put his name on it.

The film opens with Encolpio lamenting the loss of his lover Gitóne to Ascilto. Vowing to win him back, he embarks on a series of adventures where he is faced with disaster and death but always manages to escape. Encolpio's friendship with Ascilto and their joint attraction to Gitone is the main theme running through the film, but otherwise, it's a surreal and disjointed film where people pursue only their own pleasure and satisfaction. Surreal and disjointed is my shorthand for saying that basically this film made no sense and is filled with all kinds of images that are meant to be shocking.

But it was 1969, another time, a time when movies were exploring sexuality and pushing the limits.  So hang onto your knickers, this is one of those "Yikes" movies.

There are orgies, farting, naked fat women, animal sacrifice, nymphomania, sex of all kinds, torture, death, slavery, decadence and cannibalism.  If that sounds like fun to you, then you will love this movie.  However, I'm not big on farting, torture, animal sacrifice and cannibalism, so this was a struggle for me, but I hung on for the orgies.

I have always had a bit of a problem with Fellini.  I loved "La Dolce Vita," though even with that one I wasn't sure I got it.  But then "Juliet of the Spirits" came along and I thought, "Huh?" And this one was no better. Though the film was beautiful to look at, there was almost too much strange stuff, even for me. Sometimes too much debauchery can actually be boring. I fast-forwarded through some of it.

Seriously, though, despite the fact that Fellini was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for this film, I don't think this film has held up very well.  I can see that it was arty and shocking in 1969 and was trying to use the decadence of Nero's time to show that the world had become a very me-me-me kind of place. But so much has come and gone since then, it just seemed like a cartoon.  We have our own Neros to deal with these days.  However, one of my very good friends was an older gay man and he LOVED this film.  Now I know why.

Why it's a Must See: "A comment, perhaps, on the hedonism and unrepentant materialism of modern society, the film is more memorable as a feast of surprising, even shocking images, with visual themes and repeated motifs imposing a kind of unity on the continuing flow."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

In 1970, Roger Ebert said..."Fellini Satyricon" is a masterpiece...and films that dare everything cannot please everybody....This time, Fellini invites us into his own mind. He makes no attempt to tell a story, although he succeeds in telling several. He makes no attempt to be lucid, or philosophical, or to make is the nightmare shared by all of the haunted characters from his previous films..."

It is interesting to note that by 2001, Ebert wasn't so sure this film was a masterpiece, which validates what I said about films from the 60's.  The 60's era was a time of excess in all things, and this film was very representative of that.  But like I said, it doesn't hold up well today.

But in 1970, Ebert was partly right. This film did not tell a story nor did it make sense and it was a nightmare.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I don't think that I am particularly hard to please but a film that makes no attempt to tell a story, makes no attempt to be lucid or to make sense, makes no sense.
(In Italian with English subtitles) 


***Book of the Week***

An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin (2011)

Actor Alan Arkin shares his life, his craft and himself in this heartfelt memoir.
Alan Arkin knew he was going to be an actor from the age of five:
"Every film I saw, every play, every piece of music fed an unquenchable need to turn myself into something other than what I was."
I think many people become actors for that very reason.  I know I wanted to be an actress when I was five after I saw "Gone With the Wind."  Arkin actually did become an actor, one of our best character actors, and this book shows how and why.
If you are looking for lots of celebrity gossip, you won't find it here.  Arkin is a very serious guy and deep.  Though he shares some highs and lows of his life and career, this book is not a behind-the-scenes anecdotal kind of memoir, but more of a cathartic exercise.  He wants you to know what he has learned about life and about acting and he shares it here.
Arkin struggled to become an actor, and it wasn't until Second City in Chicago discovered him that he was able to get his footing as an actor and learned the art of improvisation. Though he had success on the stage, he felt he really found himself when he became a film actor.  I first remember him in "Wait Until Dark," where he terrorized a blind Audrey Hepburn, but it was "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" where I became a big Alan Arkin fan.  At the end of that film, I literally screamed out.  He has been a working film actor in major films for over 50 years and is still going strong with his most recent film, "Going in Style" with Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.
But like I said, he doesn't regale the reader with one of those "And then I starred in..." kind of book.  This one is personal, and I have to say, one of the most candid and open memoirs I have ever read.  He admits to being judgmental, moody and a difficult guy to get along with until he discovered therapy and the joys of some of the tenets of Eastern religion and he was able to lighten up a bit.
Actors and wannabe actors will gain insight into the craft as Arkin shares what he has learned, especially using the art of improvisation, but the rest of us can also benefit from the authenticity Arkin seems to bring to his roles and to his own life.
"In the final analysis, it's all improvisation.  We're all tap dancing on a rubber raft.  We like to think otherwise so we plan our lives, we plot, we figure, we find careers that will guarantee us an early retirement, we look for relationships that are permanent, we fill out forms, we do scientific experiments, we write rules -- all in an attempt to solidify, concretize, and control this universe of ours that refuses to be pigeon-holed, to be understood, pinned down, categorized, or even named...This is what kills us, robs us of our spontaneity, our ability to improvise, which, as Webster's says, is to create something on the spur of the moment with whatever material is at hand. That's what we are all doing, all the time, whether we know it or not.  Whether we like it or not. Creating something on the spur of the moment with the materials at hand.  We might just as well let the rest of it go, join the party, and dance our hearts out."
I told you he was deep.
Rosy the Reviewer of the most honest and real celebrity memoirs I have ever read.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of

"The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years"


The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 

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