The Circle spins its wheels

“Knowing is good, knowing everything is better,” gushes Tom Hanks as CEO Eamon Bailey in a TED Talk-like presentation to a cheering crowd of employees in The Circle.

Touted as a thriller, the film centres around a fictitious company known as The Circle, a “Facebook meets Google” social media mega corporation intent on total global domination and transparency.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson – Harry Potter films) thinks she’s found her dream job when she lands an interview at the high-tech company. 

“Sharing is caring,” chant the cult-like workers who live and work at the pristine campus that caters to its employees' every need from hair salons to dog-yoga in the park.

Everything seems too good to be true and it is; The Circle is intent on eradicating personal privacy at all costs.

The premise, based on the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, has potential, but in the hands of Director James Ponsoldt (Smashed), falls flatter than a pancake.

Suffering from the death-knell of cautious politeness, there is no thrill in this thriller, there is no menace, no subterfuge and, unfortunately, no believable characters.

In a film that centres around social connection, this story is grossly lacking in humanity. Realistic, fully fleshed out human beings have been replaced by stereotypes with names:

  • Mae Holland is the unsuspecting heroine
  • Eamon Bailey is the villain
  • Mercer (Ellar Coltrane – Boyhood) is the friend who warns her of danger
  • Annie (Karen Gillan – Guardians of the Galaxy) is the jealous friend
  • Glenne Headly (Mr. Holland’s Opus) and the late Bill Paxton (Titanic) are the worried parents
  • Ty (John Boyega – Star Wars, The Force Awakens) is the romantic interest

Emma Watson is either terribly underutilized in this role or just isn’t the actress she’s been made out to be. Her character is flat and the moments where she is supposed to break down feel forced and unbelievable.

(We actually found ourselves sniggering at some of her scenes – hardly the desired effect I’m sure she, or the director had in mind.)

One of the few highlights in this film is Tom Hanks as the kind and caring CEO of the corporation. True to every role he takes on, Hanks plays the part of the CEO with a likeable sincerity that is convincing.  

This film is supposed to tackle issues of technology and the role it plays in both transparency and privacy and how we are struggling to find that balance.

This movie could have worked if it had ramped up to crazed levels and spun out of control. The problem is, we never learn of any darker motives so the climax of the film fails to make any kind of statement at all.

In the hands of a more daring and creative director, this film could have succeeded as a full-length feature of a Black Mirror episode.

In her job interview, Mae Holland says her greatest fear is “unrealized potential." Unfortunately, these words were prophetic as this film is just that.

I give his movie 1 out of 5 hearts and that’s only for Mr. Hanks (who should really question why he agreed to do it in the first place).

The Lost City of Z

Movies like The Lost City of Zed are few and far between these days.

In this sprawling adventure film, the attention to detail amid the scope of the subject matter is reminiscent of enduring works like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

The film, based on the true story of 1920s British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, follows a man obsessed with what he believed to be a lost city in the Amazon jungle.

It is clear from the beginning that Fawcett is a talented and devoted soldier whose career in the British military has stalled because his aristocratic father was a drunk of loose morals who tarnished his family name.

“He suffers from an unfortunate choice of ancestry," remarks a nobleman who dismisses him as a possible candidate for advancement.

A chance to reinstate his family name comes from an unlikely source, The Royal  Geographical Society, when he is conscripted to go to the Amazon to head off a war between Brazil and Bolivia by ascertaining their true borders and hence securing the valuable rubber trade for Britain.

While on this difficult and dangerous mission where several members of his team are lost to disease and hostile native attacks, Fawcett finds ancient pottery and other artifacts that lead him to believe the native legends of a lost, advanced civilization in the Amazon.

Fawcett returns to England and now must convince a dubious, elitist British society that other civilizations existed beyond what they previously knew and that the area is worthy of further exploration, not for economic exploitation, but for anthropological reasons. 

The film follows Fawcett’s life as he becomes more obsessed with the lost city he has named “Z” and returns numerous times to the Amazon in an attempt to find it.

Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim) plays Percy Fawcett with a measured period-appropriate control.

Brad Pitt originally purchased the rights to the film and was set to play the lead, but backed out and opted to make World War Z instead. It was a lucky turn of events for Hunnam as he is excellent and it may prove to be the best work of his career.

Sienna Miller is heartbreakingly perfect as Fawcett’s devoted and long-suffering wife, Nina. Left alone for years on end with three children to raise, Nina is forced to forgo her own dreams and ambitions to support her husband’s dream.

Miller’s scenes with Hunnam are touching and sensitively played and I predict a possible Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

Filming in a jungle is a nightmare and director Gray was almost talked out of making the film more than once. As it turns out, his tenacity was stretched to the breaking point as this film took nine years to make and endured a litany of obstacles.

Thankfully, his persistence paid off with the result being an opulent journey of the senses, particularly shining when the explorers are in the jungle pursuing their quest.

As a side note, Fawcett was the inspiration for Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones character in the Raiders Of The Lost Ark series.

Unfortunately, we spend entirely too much time in England sorting through class system snobberies and the First World War scenes are unnecessary and unrealistic, serving only to bog down the flow of the film.

The ending of the film is romanticized Hollywood fluff that is a direct contrast to the rather straightforward style that makes up the rest of the movie. An attempt to convey the mysticism of the jungle, the fabricated scene serves as a confusing annoyance to an otherwise lovely film.

If you are in the mood for a thought-provoking, 140-minute adventure, The Lost City of Z should be just the ticket.

I give this film 3.5 out of 5 hearts.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 – Crank Up Your Walkman!

Crank up your Walkman, lace up your Reeboks and buckle your seatbelts for one fast and funny ride through the cosmos.

The much-awaited Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 picks up shortly after the last one ended and does not disappoint (or slow down) for a second of its two hour and 16 minute running time.

The opening scene begins with the motley crew of Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket with Baby Groot in tow defending a highly-valued battery source on another planet from a giant, slug-like creature with razor sharp teeth. 

While the crew works together to fight the beast to the sounds of Mr. Blue Sky by ELO, Baby Groot dances his way amid the action. The result is like watching a child play in a very dangerous, but familiar playground. 

As payment for defeating the creature, the team is not paid with the money they were promised, but rather are presented with the prisoner Nebula, Gamora’s angry half-sister who is determined to kill her. 

Perplexed by this turn of events and their unexpected guest, the team departs to turn Nebula over to the proper authorities. 

As they leave the planet, Rocket reveals to Drax that he helped himself to a few of the precious batteries so the fight was not in vain. They share a laugh, but it is not long before a squadron of vessels are hot on their tail from the planet they just left. 

What saves them is the sudden interference of a mysterious stranger … a stranger who just might be Peter’s father.

There is much to love about this newest installment of Guardians of the Galaxy. Written and directed by James Gunn, the film is built around the theme of family and there are surprising moments of real connection amid the flurry of special effects.

All of the characters we loved in the original Guardians are still here and more fully developed:

  • Rocket is unpredictable and ornery
  • Drax is humourless
  • Peter is cocky
  • Gamora is all business.

With the addition of Baby Groot for cuteness and Nebula as a wild card, the growing family of outlaws is more interesting, but not without its growing pains.

The group finds themselves on a new planet, brought there by Peter’s father, Ego (Kurt Russell), and his underling, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a bug-eyed woman with antennae who will play a pivotal role in the ending scenes of the film.

Russell plays Ego with a calm, likeable assuredness. The CGI flash-back scenes showing a young Kurt Russell with Peter’s mother Meredith (Laura Haddock) are eerily realistic.

While Peter is enjoying getting to know his absentee father (even going so far as to play a game of “energy ball catch” with him), all is not as it seems and it isn’t long before the rest of his team shows up in an attempt to save him from certain doom.

Several previously unresolved character relationships are made clear in this episode including Peter’s perplexing relationship with Yondu.

A surprise cameo by Sylvester Stallone is simply icing on an already delicious cake.

What makes Guardians of the Galaxy work is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Throughout the film, there are quips and references that let us, the audience, know that the filmmakers are in on the joke and that makes the dialogue even more amusing.

Is it great art? No.

Is it a great night of action and real belly laughs? You bet.

It’s what we were all hoping for and just a little bit more. I am groot.

I give this film 4.5 out of 5 hearts.

This beast second best

1991’s Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature nominated for an Oscar and unfortunately, this latest version is destined to remain second best.

Make no mistake, the current live-action version brought to you by director Bill Condon (Dream Girls) is an entirely competent piece of film making, but there is a distinct lack of heart amid the many visual spectacles that is difficult to pinpoint.

Emma Watson (Harry Potter) is a smart and plucky Belle, the no-nonsense book worm who loves her father and isn’t afraid to stand up to the Beast. She is at her best in the opening number when strolling through the town and thwarting the attentions of Gaston.

Once she arrives at the castle, she seems to lose her spark and become much more reactionary to events.

Watson is an intelligent and lovely actress with a surprisingly good singing voice. Her reaction at seeing the library for the first time is convincing, but it would have been nice to see her inventive nature spark some more interaction with the household characters.

There is a great song called Home in Beauty and The Beast, The Musical, which was omitted from this film although an instrumental version was played in the moment where she would have sung it. It would have been better to allow her to sing it as the lyrics reveal a lovely character development in Belle which was then missing.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is convincing as The Beast. We get a glimpse of his former arrogant handsomeness and those blue eyes pierce through our hearts even as he is covered in fur and latex monstrousness.

In this version, they have given Beast a solo after he allows Belle to leave the castle to return to her father. It’s a nice moment that allows us to have a peak into his turmoil.

A scene that doesn’t accomplish its goal is the new convention of allowing Beast and Belle to travel anywhere in the world she wants. She chooses the Paris room where her parents lived when she was an infant and where her mother died. The side-bar story only muddies the water and slows down the action.

It’s a big cast and there are a few outstanding performances of note: Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) is touching as Maurice, Belle’s eccentric father.

Luke Evans (Fast & Furious) is marvellously virile as the bulging, biceped Gaston who turns from wooing heartthrob to leader of a lynch mob.

Gosh Gad (Frozen) is fantastic as LeFou, Disney’s first openly gay character. Much has been made of this in the media but it is so subtly hinted at, one wonders what all the fuss was about.

Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) does a commendable job as Mrs. Potts and the title song Beauty and the Beast stands up to the legendary Angela Landsbury version.

Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge) is excellent as Lumiere and he nails the vocals in the whirlwind production number Be Our Guest.

Audra McDonald is an opera star who shines as Madame Garderobe and whose vocalizing is a real standout in the closing number.

There are a few barriers that this film breaks through from sexual orientation to mixed marriages. It is encouraging to see Disney step so boldly forward in 2017.

The film is opulently beautiful and provides a lovely 129 minutes of escapism, but it ultimately fails to be a “tale as old as time."

I give this film 4 out of 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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