Friday, July 28, 2017


The movie THE CIRCLE was released with little fanfare and not much push resulting in mediocre box office returns. With Emma Watson starring fresh off of her success in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST as well as her fan favorite status from the Harry Potter films and Tom Hanks, a major Hollywood star, one would wonder why that was the case. It was also based on a bestselling novel. So what happened?

The movie stars Watson as Mae, a young woman struggling to get by. She works as at a phone center taking customer complaint calls, drives a beat up old car and helps in taking care of her parents Vinnie and Bonnie (Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly). Vinnie suffers from MS and Bonnie spends most of her time taking care of him. Mae’s fortunes take a turn for the better when she receives a call from her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) telling her she got her an interview for The Circle.

Mae arrives and passes her interview with flying colors and finds herself a new employee there. The Circle is a high tech company that has an involvement in every aspect of their employee’s lives. Think Facebook or Google on steroids. Those who work there live on sight in housing created for them. Concerts, nightclubs, restaurants and more exist on the grounds of the company for them to enjoy.

It goes beyond that as well as we and Mae soon learn. Her job is to handle complaints people have about the services the company offers. Each complaint is measured in how well she handles the call and in getting those complainants to take a survey rating her handling of the situation. Everyone strives for a 100% approval rating. Each person is also to have an online presence as well with an open page for all others to see and comment on. They are encouraged to post as much information there as possible.

At a concert one night Mae meets a young man who is part of the Circle. They meet again later and for some reason he trusts her and takes her down to see something she isn’t supposed to know about. Leaving behind all item provided to her (she wears a bracelet that monitors her physical well-being non-stop) he shows her a vast underground area that he tells her will one day house data collection equipment that will monitor everyone, something he didn’t design the system for. He turns out to be Ty (John Boyega), the designer of the program that started The Circle.

Mae catches the eye of company figurehead and leader Bailey (Tom Hanks). He eventually talks her into introducing the newest item The Circle plans to introduce, taking people into full disclosure and transparency. It’s a small camera he shared during a speech with the employees earlier that can be found located around the world now and the new goal called SeeChange is to have people wear one 24/7 to share their lives. Mae is the first to do so.

She benefits from this, firstly in confidence and popularity. Everyone knows her, everyone sends her comments. Her parents are put on insurance that covers her father’s medical expenses. She is elevated in status in The Circle. But beneath it all something is just not quite right. Is The Circle the be all to end all or is there something more nefarious going on under the surface. Is this an altruistic company set on helping the world or is there an ulterior motive? And will a life changing event that happens with another new project help Mae to make the right decision of where to move forward?

The movie works on a number of levels. Technically it is enjoyable to watch. The sights and sounds of The Circle are appealing and it would be easy to see why anyone would be seduced into working for such a company. They seem to care about your every whim, provide all that you need and help with matters in your life outside as well. Their goals seem to be to create a different and better world where politicians are held accountable and will use their products to prove that. But this tech savvy film also allows that there are almost always worms inside every “apple”.

In a world filled with selfies and automatic status updates on platforms like Facebook and Instagram it’s easy to see where the question of just how much data is collected and used against us would make a great story. How many times have you logged into an account to find some suggestion of what you might enjoy reading or purchasing? That is the world of The Circle but much more intrusive. It should make for a good thriller but the problem I found was that so much time was spent promoting The Circle and setting things up that the thriller end of it doesn’t happen until far too late in the film, almost the last 20 minutes.

The acting by all involved is believable but nothing is outstanding. Hanks seems to glide through effortlessly here. His character seems to have just one emotion. Watson does well but her emotions run to two extremes, overjoyed and upset. She is better than this. Gillan offers the best display of acting here. Boyega is completely wasted in what I would consider a cameo role.

While it’s entertaining enough to spend the time watching in the end THE CIRCLE will most likely be a movie long forgotten in a short period of time. It should have been a movie that got people talking about the abuse of social media. Instead it offers some good questions that most will likely never consider having never seen the movie. On a sad note, this was the last film released for both Paxton and Headley. They deserved bigger and better roles.

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What’s really enjoyable about writing reviews on movies is that it presents you with the opportunity to see some movies that didn’t get either a nationally released theatrical run or that fell under the radar of most people. These films nearly always make it to disc format and can be found either online to order or at the local rental location to be seen. The problem is that no one has heard of them. Which is why I’m always glad to direct people to something good they might have otherwise missed. Such is the case with BLACK BUTTERFLY.

The film opens with the abduction of a mother just after a picnic but quickly changes gears. Antonio Banderas stars as Paul, a reclusive author who has moved on to screenplays and is dealing with major issue of writer’s block. Alone in a rustic cabin several miles from Denver, he drinks constantly and accomplishes little else. He’s trying to sell the house with little success to date.

Meeting with his realtor Laura (Piper Perabo) at a local diner, he’s confronted by a truck driver he passed on the road. Before the driver can do any damage to him he’s manhandled from the diner by a young man sitting at the counter who takes him outside and says something to him to make him leave. Both leave, things settle and Paul ends up making a date with Laura.

Driving home Paul see the young man walking along the road and offers him a ride. Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is hitchhiking to nowhere specific and Paul suggest he at least spend the night at his place as late as it is. The two seem to hit it off and over dinner have a conversation about what it is Paul does and what has happened to him. He explains his early success, his selling out to Hollywood and his inability to write now. He blames all of this on the loss of his wife who left him and took everything she could from him. Jack offers to fix a few things around the house in return for Paul’s hospitality and the meal ends.

The next day Paul wakes to find that Jack has cleaned up the house, made breakfast and is about to start working on repairs. Their relationship changes as Jack suggest to Paul that his problems stem from something other than his wife, they stem from his drinking issues. He offers to stay a few days and makes a bargain with him. He’ll help him find his direction in return for staying there.

What happens then is that the dynamics of this relationship begin to change as Paul slowly finds out more about Jack, finds clippings about various women gone missing in the area and what appear to be some sort of surgical tools in his bag and eventually an eruption between the two where Jack has basically taken Paul prisoner in his own home. All of this will result in several tense moments when people come to the house for everything from grocery delivery to Laura wondering why Paul didn’t show for their date. With Jack in control what will happen each knock on the door becomes a nail biting moment.

All of this is what sets the ball in motion and to give any more away would be ruining it for those who choose to watch this movie. It might not be a blockbuster film but it definitely entertains. Both Banderas and Meyers turn in great performances. Banderas comes off as a bit of a milquetoast, a man who has been beaten down with his lot in life and lost his way. Meyers as the somewhat psychotic muse there to help redirect Paul back to the person he once was is chilling in the most subtle of manners.

There are things I’d love to say about this film but in doing so would ruin it for you if you choose to view it. Even the slightest of warnings with the words “spoiler alert” could demolish what the film sets up between the starting images and ending ones. Suffice to say that it is a solid mystery that will leave you wanting more. The pacing isn’t fast but the story slowly unspools and is quite satisfying by the end. Once more this film feels like an overlooked gem sent straight to DVD. It deserves to be watched and hopefully you’ll choose to do so.
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I saw the trailer for FREE FIRE a while back and thought it looked to be an interesting film. Armie Hammer in one of the lead roles made me think could this be the breakout film for him? The more movies I’ve seen him in the better he has gotten. Well he does a great job here but I finished watching this unsure if I really liked it or not.

The year is 1978, the city Boston and the fight in Ireland still rages between the IRA and the British Army was still raging. The film opens with two low level hoods sitting and waiting to be called in. Bernie and Stevo (Enzo Cilenti and Sam Riley) are talking about their problems and the fight Stevo got into earlier. Beaten badly in the confrontation he says that if he ever runs into the same guy again he’s going to kill him.

The pair are told to come along by the men in charge, Stevo’s brother in law Frank (Michael Smiley), Chris (Cillian Murphy) with Justine (Brie Larson) with them. Members of the IRA they are here to purchase weapons for the fight back home. While there is no love lost between Stevo and Frank, they are related. An addict and womanizer Stevo is only there because of a sense of family. They enter a warehouse and wait for the sellers.

The sellers are led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley), his partner Martin (Babou Ceesay) and hired gunman to make sure things run smoothly Ord (Armie Hammer). Vernon is a talker and mover, a South African expatriate looking to make money. Ord is the cool, calm and collected go between trying to make sure nothing gets out of hand.

The two sides meet, discuss terms they already set and show off the wares brought along. Chris is unhappy because the agreed upon weapons are different than those he ordered. Vernon tells him he’s lucky these were available. After a short discussion and the exchange of money, Vernon calls for the truck to bring in the rest of the guns. And this is where things go wrong.

Harry (Jack Reynor), the man driving the truck, turns out to be the same guy that beat up Stevo. Stevo tries to avoid him but Harry eventually sees who he is and leaps toward him, trying to beat him up once again. It seems Stevo hurt someone close to Harry which is what set the fight in motion. As each group tries to calm down the two, Stevo launches a verbal assault on Harry who pulls out a gun and shoots him. Which leads to all parties pulling out weapons and firing at one another.

No, this is not the entire movie. This is only perhaps the first 20 minutes or so. The remaining 70 minutes is a back and forth wounding of everyone involved with banter being tossed back and forth, accusations made and verbal abuse called from one side to the other. Yes, this is a 70 minute shoot out. But here is where a touch of realism comes in. No one seems able to mortally wound someone on the other side. Yes, they all get shot but only wounded. Which means that rather than the standard run and shoot movie we are used to it becomes more of a crawl to a hiding place and shoot film. And until it ends we have no idea who if any of those involved will survive.

What there is to love about this movie are the characters and the portrayal of those characters by these great actors. All of the side characters are well fleshed out here and given the short time to understand who they are each actor does a great job on making them real. The lead actors are amazing to watch. Copley has become something to see and his fast talking arms dealer just adds to the list of characters he’s played. Murphy as the calm member of his team plays it smooth while at the same time an underlying sense of danger exudes from him. Hammer is fantastic, displaying a sense of humor in his character, perhaps the most deadly of all involved who not only knows his weapons but has a grasp of strategy as well. And Larson as a woman trying to help broker and deal and make money is an equal to the rest.

The question comes can a 70 minute shoot out involving everyone crawling from one spot to another be an interesting film or not? The answer is yes it can. Director Ben Wheatley is considered one of those up and coming directors that everyone talks about. What he’s done here is taken a standard shootout and made it something new. There is a deft combination of action, suspense and twisted humor that works for the most part. But while it works, as you near the end it can become tiresome. Had the film run more than 90 minutes it would have flipped from doable to torture. As it stands it is one worth watching, especially if like me you enjoy your humor dark. Will it stand up to multiple viewings? I’m not sure. But it one you might like at least once.
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