REVIEW: The Circle

4 08 2017

Dave Eggers’ novel “The Circle” ran 491 pages. The movie adaptation of the book, co-written with director James Ponsoldt, runs a little over 100 minutes (when you exclude the credits). It appears they made the executive decision to tame that imposing length by keeping the events of the plot but dulling the nuances of the Juvenalian satire.

The Circle” maintains so much of the reluctance of the social media era that I found so compelling upon reading two years ago (ironically before I took a job working in social media). Eggers’ eponymous technology company powerhouse combines the compulsive networking capabilities of Facebook, the Big Brother-like tracking of Google and the hardware prowess of Apple into one frightening hydra. Perhaps as a matter of budget (just $18 million), Ponsoldt can never quite translate this behemoth into visual terms. On the page, Eggers can conjure up a compound of fanciful imagination to represent The Circle’s reach. On screen … Ponsoldt shows us a Beck concert for the staffers.

As Emma Watson’s Mae Holland begins her tenure at The Circle as a low-level gopher, she comes to embody a puzzling paradox of the digital age. Even as our awareness grows of the debilitating effect of a life lived online, so does these companies’ ability to keep us trapped. Yet rather than following Eggers’ original line of thought to its logical, terrifying conclusion, the film chickens out at the end. “The Circle” betrays its literary origins, leaving behind a hollow shell of platitudes spouted by characters who act and sound like little more than the function they occupy in the narrative.

This movie could be so much more because the book its based on actually is. If the film were a straight bomb, it might be easier to write off. Yet Ponsoldt’s work arguably does the most damage by being average. It’s not a mistranslation so much as it’s just a half-hearted one. C+

F.I.L.M. of the Week (September 7, 2012)

7 09 2012

It’s football season again, now officially resumed on both the collegiate and the professional level.  And while you may think the sport is only a backdrop for the campiest of film (COUGH…”The Blind Side“), “The Wrestler” scribe Robert Siegel dared to take the popular game and craft a searing small-scale ethical drama that asks some challenging questions.  I’m such a big fan of his “Big Fan” that I’m naming it my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

I’m convinced “Big Fan” had to have been some form of audition for “Young Adult” for Patton Oswalt because these two performances work so well in tandem.  Here, Oswalt bares his dramatic chops as Paul Aufiero, another stalled thirty-something living in his childhood home.  He may be just a lowly parking garage attendant, but Paul has one thing that brightens his life and gives him purpose: the New York Giants.

He’s a reminder that the word fan comes from the word fanatic.  Paul calls into the local sports radio station with intricately pre-fabricated monologues and sees himself as at war with the dreaded Philadelphia Eagles.  And as these types of movies often do, a single event changes everything.  In “Big Fan,” Paul takes a big hit – quite literally, at the fists of his favorite Giants player, Quantrell Bishop.

Beyond just the questions of how it affects the way he obsesses over the team, it also brings up issues of criminal liability for Bishop.  Assaulting Paul could lead to jail time and suspension, thus harming the Giants.  But is he willing to take this hit for the team?  Paul Aufiero the fan and Paul Aufiero the human being can no longer coincide peacefully … one must vanquish the other.  So what will it be?  Oswalt’s starkly meditative performance keeps us on the edge of our seat until Paul takes decisive action.

REVIEW: Young Adult

15 03 2012

You’ll have to pardon my French throughout this review, but there’s no other way to put it.  “Young Adult” is Diablo Cody’s courtroom drama-style comedy that puts the bitch on trial, both the Hollywood archetype and a very peculiar bitch of her own creation.  It’s really a genius work that serves as a genre deconstruction as well as a story of narcissism and self-loathing in the Facebook age that can stand up on its own two feet.  Then factor in the irresistible pathos of Jason Reitman, a director who tells the most authentic emotional narratives of anyone working in Hollywood today, and you’ve got one of the best movies of 2011.

In anyone else’s hands, Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary would be a totally unsympathetic, curmudgeonly home-wrecker.  Her vile acts of shameless selfishness draw first our shock, then our ire.  Every minute longer she lingers on the screen, we hate her all the more.  She’s toxic, knows it, and does nothing to change it.

But dare I say it, I actually related to Mavis – way more than I should have, in fact.  While we can’t deny her agency for all her awful deeds, Cody refuses to let her be totally written off as someone mean-spirited down to her core.  Her story takes Mavis back to the root of her problems, her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota.  We get to see the society that spawns the psychotic ex-prom queen, forcing us to wonder how much of her fate is due to society and circumstance.

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