Film Review: The Circle (dir by James Ponsoldt)


Earlier today, I got off work early and I finally saw The Circle!

The Circle is a film that I’ve been curious about for a while.  It’s based on a novel by Dave Eggers, a book that I absolutely loved when I first read it.  It stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt, and John Boyega.  It’s directed by James Ponsoldt, who may not be a household name but who has previously directed such beloved films as The Spectacular Now and The End of The Tour.  It sounded like a film to which everyone should have been looking forward but instead, even with Watson appearing in the blockbuster Beauty and the Beast at the same time, The Circle opened with very little fanfare.

Then the reviews came out and, with a few notable exceptions, they were all negative.  I did a little research and I discovered that, though filming was initially completed in 2015, The Circle spent a year and a half sitting on the shelf.  In January of this year, 16 months after shooting wrapped, a few scenes were refilmed.  That’s never a good sign.  One gets the feeling that, if not for John Boyega’s role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the excitement over Emma Watson starring in Beauty and the Beast, The Circle probably would have ended up going straight to VOD.

But here’s the thing.  I loved the book.  The book managed to put a new spin on the otherwise tired topic of how social media has changed our way of looking at the world.  The book was an Orwellian masterpiece, an homage to 1984 by a writer who, as opposed to most people who are currently claiming to appreciate the novel’s dark vision, understood what George Orwell was actually saying.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the easier it was for me to assume that most critics probably missed the point of the movie.  It was entirely possible, I decided, that the negative reaction to The Circle had to do with audiences not knowing how to deal with a movie that truly challenged their assumptions.  Naively, I assumed that the story and the themes of the novel had been brought to the screen and the critics couldn’t handle it.

Well, as I said earlier, I finally saw The Circle for myself and it turns out that I was wrong.  The Circle is an absolute mess.  Despite being co-written by Dave Eggers, this film actually has very little in common with the novel that it’s based on.  The novel was a sharply satiric portrait of a world that has become brainwashed by technology and social media.  The movie is a nagging anti-internet screed that would have felt out-of-touch in 2002.  The book ends with a powerful “and he loved Big Brother” moment.  The movie ends on a note that feels so completely false that you just know it was studio mandated.

Emma Watson plays Mae Hubbard, a recent college grad whose degree in Art History is pretty much going to waste.  (Speaking as the proud recipient of an Art History degree, I can verify that the film gets this detail absolutely right.)  Through a college friend named Annie (Karen Gillian, for once not having to disguise her Scottish accent), Mae gets a job working for The Circle, an all-powerful internet company that is pretty obviously based on Google Plus.  Through a series of silly events, Mae becomes the public face of The Circle.  The Circle wants to use technology (cameras everywhere, social media addiction, everyone carries tablet, you must have a credit card to join The Circle, oh my!) to do away with the concept of privacy.  When everyone is a member of the Circle, no one will be a stranger.  No one will have any privacy.  Anyone can be found.  Anyone can be watched.  And, of course, it’ll be easier to tell everyone what to think and who to support…

…and all of this would be shocking if The Circle had been made in a time before Twitter and Facebook.

Anyway!  The Circle was founded by three men.  Two of them (Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt) are totally sinister.  Oswalt glowers in the background.  Hanks appears to channeling Christoph Waltz.  Meanwhile, the third man (John Boyega) has become disillusioned with The Circle.  He shows up occasionally, standing in the background and watching as Mae does stuff.

Throughout the film, Tom Hanks gives lectures to his employees.  They all applaud as he introduced the latest technology from The Circle.  These scenes are fun because it looks like Tom Hanks is appearing in a commercial for The Criterion Collection.

Anyway, Mae loves the brave new world but a few people don’t.  Her parents (Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly) are skeptical.  Though his role is small, Bill Paxton gave a good performance in this, his latest released film.  I got a bit emotional watching him, especially as he was playing a character struggling with his own poor health.  Ellar Coltrane, of Boyhood fame, plays the other voice of skepticism, Mae’s childhood friend who wants to live off the grid.  Coltrane is supposed to be the voice of reason but he gives such a strange and awkward performance that the main thing that comes across is that Luddites are weird.

Actually, with the exception of Bill Paxton and Karen Gillan, it’s hard to think of anyone who actually gives a good performance in The Circle.  (This is especially shocking when you consider that, in the past, Ponsoldt has proven himself to be an excellent director when it comes to getting noteworthy work from his cast.)  Everyone comes across like they were wishing that they were somewhere else.  Emma Watson, in particular, is bad.  That said, in her defense, Watson is also totally miscast.  Mae is meant to be someone searching for an identity in an overly complicated world but Watson plays her as just being dourly earnest.  As played by Watson, Mae’s just the boring person that you dread having to take a class with.  Neither Watson nor the film, as a whole, seems to be sure who exactly Mae is.  (In the novel, the character works because Mae isn’t meant to be likable.  The film, however, tries to have it both ways, making her both a true believer in the Circle and a sympathetic character.  It doesn’t work.)

For that matter, the film also appears to be confused as to just why exactly Hanks and Oswalt are villains.  We know that we’re supposed to distrust them because Hanks is way too quick to smile and Oswalt is always standing in the background and looking like he’s just deliberately killed all of his Sims.  But how evil are they actually supposed to be?  What are the stakes?  The film doesn’t appear to be sure.

Now, I’m not totally trashing The Circle.  There were a few moments that I did like.  I enjoyed the scenes that were meant to illustrate the cult-like atmosphere at the Circle.  There’s a hilarious scene where two enthusiastic Circle employees interrogate Mae as to why she never told them that she enjoys kayaking.  (“I enjoy kayaking!  We could have kayaked together!”)  And there’s another scene where Hanks and Oswalt talk about how, if countries allow The Circle to run their elections, they could then require everyone to join The Circle and then make voting mandatory.  Mandatory Voting is a really terrible idea, the type that is always embraced by people who should know better.  I appreciated seeing the idea exposed for being the ticket to totalitarianism that it truly is.

But, for the most part, The Circle was just a mess.  Like a lot of cautionary tales (especially ones dealing with the internet), The Circle will probably eventually become a bit of a camp classic.  But for now, everyone involved with the film has done better work in the past and, hopefully, will continue to do so in the future.

A Movie A Day #118: Navy SEALs (1990, directed by Lewis Teague)


While rescuing hostages in the Middle East, a team of Navy SEALs discover that terrorist leader Ben Shaheed (Nicholas Kadi) has a warehouse full of stinger missiles.  Hawkins (Charlie Sheen) wants to destroy the missiles but his superior, Curran (Michael Biehn), orders him to concentrate on saving the hostages.  As a result, Shaheed has time to move the missiles to another location.  With the help of a Lebanese-American journalist (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) and the CIA, the SEALs must now track down the new location and destroy the missiles before they are used by Shaheed’s organization.

Navy SEALs is mostly memorable for the amount of James Cameron alumni who appear in its cast.  The cast not only features The Terminator‘s Michael Biehn and Rick Rossovich but Bill Paxton as well.  Of course, the main star is Charlie Sheen, still technically a serious actor at the time, who gives a wide-eyed and histrionic performance that suggests Hawkins may have snorted a little marching powder before reporting for duty.  24‘s Dennis Haysbert plays a SEAL who is engaged to marry Law & Order‘s S. Epatha Merkerson.  Haysbert spends so much time planning his wedding and talking about both the importance of both duty and love that the only shocking thing about his role is that he manages to survive half the movie before getting killed.  Neither Val Kilmer nor Cary Elwes is in the cast, though it seems like they both should be.

Navy SEALs was a box office bust in 1990 but, after the death of Osama Bin Laden, it experienced a sudden upswing in popularity and even appeared on primetime television a few times.  The scene where the SEALs blow off some steam by playing golf is a classic but, otherwise, this is a largely forgettable Top Gun rip off.

20 Horror Icons Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


Though they’ve given some of the best, iconic, and award-worthy performances in horror history, the actors and actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar.

Scarlet Diva

  1. Asia Argento

Perhaps because of charges of nepotism, people are quick to overlook just how good Asia Argento was in those films she made with Dario Argento.  Her work in Trauma especially deserves to be reevaluated.  Outside of her work with Dario, Asia gave great, self-directed performances in Scarlet Diva and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis

“Prom Night!  Everything is all right!”  Did you know that Jamie Lee Curtis received a Genie Nomination for her performance in Prom Night?  That could be because, in 1980, there weren’t that many movies being produced in Canada but still, Jamie was pretty good in that film.  And, of course, there’s a little film called Halloween

3. Peter Cushing

The beloved Hammer horror veteran did wonderful work as both Frankenstein and Van Helsing.  Personally, I love his odd cameo in Shock Waves.

4. Robert Englund

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

5. Lance Henriksen

One of the great character actors, Lance Henriksen gave one of the best vampire performances of all time in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

David Hess, R.I.P.

6. David Hess

In just two films — Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park — Hess defined screen evil.  If nothing else, he deserved an Oscar for composing The Road Leads To Nowhere.

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7. Boris Karloff

As our own Gary Loggins will tell you, it’s a crime that Boris Karloff never received an Oscar nomination.  He may be best remembered for Frankenstein but, for me, Karloff’s best performance was in Targets.

8. Camille Keaton

Yes, Camille Keaton did deserve a Best Actress nomination for I Spit On Your Grave.

Kinski and Butterfly

9. Klaus Kinski

The notorious and talented Klaus Kinski was never nominated for an Oscar.  Perhaps the Academy was scared of what he would do if he won.  But, that said, Kinski gave some of the best performances of all time, in films for everyone from Jess Franco to Werner Herzog.

Christopher Lee Is Dracula

10. Christopher Lee

That the amazing Christopher Lee was never nominated is a shock.  Though he will always be Dracula, Lee gave wonderful performances in films of all genres.  Lee always cited the little-seen Jinnah as being his best performance.

 

11. Bela Lugosi

The original Dracula, Lugosi never escaped typecasting.  Believe it or not, one of his finest performances was in one of the worst (if most enjoyable) films of all time, Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

12. Catriona MacColl

This English actress gave three excellent performances in each chapter of Lucio Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy, with her performance in The House By The Cemetery elevating the entire film.

13. Daria Nicolodi

This Italian actress served as a muse to two of the best directors around, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.  Her award-worthy performances include Deep Red and, especially, Shock.

Near-Dark-Bill-Paxton

14. Bill Paxton

This great Texas actor gave award-worthy performances in everything from Near Dark to Aliens to Frailty.  RIP.

15. Donald Pleasence 

Dr. Loomis!  As good as he was in Halloween, Pleasence also gave excellent performances in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac and a nightmarish Australian film called Wake in Fright.

Roger Corman and Vincent Price

16. Vincent Price

The great Vincent Price never seems to get the respect that he deserves.  He may have overacted at times but nobody went overboard with as much style as Vincent Price.  His most award-worthy performance?  The Witchfinder General.

17. Giovanni Lombardo Radice

The greatest of all the Italian horror stars, Radice is still active, gracious, and beloved by his many fans.  Quentin Tarantino is a self-described fan so it’s time for Tarantino to write him a great role.

HenryPortrait

18. Michael Rooker

To many people, this great character actor will always be Henry.

19. Joe Spinell

This character actor will always be remembered for playing the lead role in the original Maniac but he also appeared in some of the most acclaimed films of all time.  Over the course of a relatively short career, Spinell appeared in everything from The Godfather to Taxi Driver to Rocky to Starcrash.  He was the American Klaus Kinski,

20. Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele has worked with everyone from Mario Bava to Jonathan Demme to David Cronenberg to Federico Fellini.  Among her many excellent performances, her work in Black Sunday and Caged Heat stands out as particularly memorable.

black-sunday

A Movie A Day #25: Next of Kin (1989, directed by John Irvin)


next-of-kinTruman Gates (Patrick Swayze) may have been raised in Appalachia but, now that he lives in Chicago, he’s left the old ways behind.  He has a job working as a cop and his wife (Helen Hunt) is pregnant with their first child.  When Truman’s younger brother, Gerald (Bill Paxton), shows up in town and asks for Truman’s help, Truman gets him a job as a truck driver.  But, on his first night on the job, Gerald’s truck is hijacked by a Sicilian mobster named Joey Rosellini (Adam Baldwin) and Gerald is killed.  Truman’s older brother, Briar (Liam Neeson), soon comes to Chicago and declares a blood feud on the mob.

Of the many action films that Patrick Swayze made between Dirty Dancing and Ghost, Roadhouse may be the best known but Next of Kin is the best.  Next of Kin spends as much examining the family dynamics of Rosellini’s family as it does with Truman’s, suggesting that there is not much of a difference between the two groups.  There’s even a scene where Joey’s uncle (played by Andreas Katsulas) tells Joey that the Sicily was the Appalachia of Italty.  Next of Kin also has a better supporting cast than most of the films that Swayze made during this period.  Along with Paxton and Neeson, the hillbillies are represented by actors like Ted Levine and Michael J. Pollard while Ben Stiller has an early role as Joey’s cousin.  Patrick Swayze gives one of his better performances as Truman but the entire movie is stolen by Liam Neeson, who is a surprisingly believable hillbilly.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #36: Term Life (dir by Peter Billingsley)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Thursday, December 8th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

term_life_poster

I recorded Term Life off one of the Starz channels on November 13th.

Vince Vaughn co-starred in two movies in 2016 and both of them were a little bit different from the fratty comedies for which he is best known.  One of the movies was Hacksaw Ridge, in which Vaughn was cast against type as a tough drill sergeant.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best films of the year and it features Vaughn’s best work since he appeared in 2007’s Into The Wild.  The other film was Term Life, which had a very limited released in April and is now popping up on cable.

In Term Life, Vaughn plays Nick Barrow.  Nick is a thief but he doesn’t actually steal anything.  Instead, he plots heists and then sells his plans to the highest bidder.  However, Nick has somehow managed to get in trouble with the mob, with a corrupt cop (Bill Paxton), and with … well, with everyone.  I say somehow because it wasn’t always clear why everyone was so obsessed with killing Nick.  They just were.

Knowing that his days are probably numbered, Nick takes out a life insurance policy on himself.  He names, as the sole beneficiary, his estranged daughter, Cate (Hailee Steinfeld).  With his reluctant daughter accompanying him, he goes on the run.  While Nick and Cate finally start to bond and repair their damaged relationship, the very bad men searching for Nick kill a lot of people.

So, this is a weird one.  At times, this film is a typical generation gap comedy, with Vaughn playing the former-cool-guy-turned-befuddled-dad who freaks out when he sees Cate’s bra hanging from a shower rod.  This part of the film is actually kinda likable.  Vaughn and Steinfeld are believable as father-and-daughter and their scenes together are sweet if predictable.

But then you’ve got the rest of the film, which is basically Bill Paxton brutally murdering people.  The violence comes on so strong that it feels totally out-of-place when mixed in with scenes of Nick and Cate bonding.  It’s such an abrupt tonal shift that it makes it impossible to get into the film.

Term Life has a cobbled together feel to it and it doesn’t help that it features the type of heavy-handed narration that feels as if it was added at the last minute in a desperate attempt to bring some sort of coherent structure to a messy film.  On the plus side, both Vaughn and Steinfeld are believable and you occasionally care about their father-daughter relationship.  On the negative side, likable characters keep dying.

In other words, see Hacksaw Ridge.

Horror Film Review: Mortuary (dir by Howard Avedis)


Here!  Watch the trailer for the 1983 slasher film, Mortuary!

(It’s the first trailer shown in the video below.  Be sure to stick around for the Humongous trailer.)

OH MY GOD!  That sure was scary, wasn’t it!?  In case you didn’t recognize him, that was beloved horror character actor Michael Berryman getting dragged into that grave.  No matter how bad the film was (or is), Michael Berryman was one of those actors who was always worth watching.  Based on the trailer, Mortuary has got to be some sort of classic, right?

Well…no.

The trailer’s a classic but, unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the film.  This isn’t just a case of scenes from the film being edited into the trailer in such a way that the audience is misled as to what’s actually going on in the movie.  Almost all trailers do that…

No, the trailer for Mortuary contains literally no scenes from the actual film.  Michael Berryman isn’t even in Mortuary!

But you know who is in the film?

BILL PAXTON!

That’s right … a very young Bill Paxton made his film debut in Mortuary.  Even better, he got to play the killer!  Now, I know you probably think that I just spoiled the film for you but seriously, Paxton is so obviously the murderer that it doesn’t really count as a spoiler.  Paxton plays Paul Andrews, the teenage son of mortician, Hank Andrews (Christopher George).  Everyone agrees that Paul is a little bit weird.  Or, as someone says in the film, “Paul’s been so strange since his mother committed suicide.”  Someone else agrees and then adds that it probably doesn’t help that apparently, Hank used to force Paul to sleep in the mortuary.

In the role of Paul, Paxton gives a very odd performance.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a good performance and, if I ever meet Bill Paxton, I’m not going to bring this movie up.  But seriously, Paxton’s performance is so weird that you can’t stop watching him.  There’s a scene where he literally skips through a cemetery.  He seems to be having fun and good for him!

Paul is a little obsessed with Christie (Mary Beth McDonough).  Christie has been having issues since her father’s mysterious drowning.  Everyone keeps telling Christie that her father just had an accident in the pool but the audience knows — via the first scene in the film — that her father was only in that pool because someone hit him with a baseball bat.  Ever since her father’s death, Christie has been sleep walking and having night terrors.  She demands that her boyfriend, Greg (David Wallace), help her find out what really happened to her father.

Greg, however, is still trying to figure out what happened to his best friend, Josh (Denis Mendel).  Earlier, Greg and Josh broke into the mortuary so that they could steal a tire.  Josh went off on his own and ended up getting stabbed to death with an embalming pipe.  Greg never noticed because he was busy spying on what was apparently a black magic ceremony involving Hank and a coven of witches.

And one of the witches was … Christie’s mother, Eve (Lynda Day George)!

When Eve isn’t busy practicing the dark arts, she’s telling her daughter that she needs to get over her father’s death.  Is Eve trying to drive Christie crazy?  Does Hank know that Paul is homicidal?  Will Greg ever figure out that Josh is dead?

And most importantly — will this film feature any disco roller skating!?

YOU BET IT DOES!

I’m probably making Mortuary sound more fun that it actually is.  It’s actually a fairly slow-moving slasher film and neither Greg nor Christie are particularly interesting or likable.  Still, the film features Bill Paxton skipping in a cemetery and that’s worth something.

If you’re willing to look, you can find Mortuary on YouTube, though I’ve been told that the version that was uploaded was the television version so some things have been cut out.

But you know who hasn’t been cut out?

BILL PAXTON, THAT’S WHO!

mortuary-bill-paxton-2

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Apollo 13 (dir by Ron Howard)


Apollo_thirteen_movie

I just finished watching the TCM premiere of the 1995 Best Picture nominee, Apollo 13.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had seen it.  Apollo 13 is one of those films that always seems to be playing somewhere and why not?  It’s a good movie, telling a story that is all the more remarkable and inspiring for being true.  In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight to the moon was interrupted by a sudden explosion, stranding three astronauts in space.  Fighting a desperate battle against, NASA had to figure out how to bring them home.  Apollo 13 tells the story of that accident and that rescue.

There’s a scene that happens about halfway through Apollo 13.  The heavily damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft is orbiting the moon.  Originally the plan was for Apollo 13 to land on the moon but, following that explosion on the craft, those plans have been cancelled.  Inside the spacecraft, three astronauts can only stare down at the lunar surface below them.

As Commander Jim Lovell stares out the craft’s window, we suddenly see him fantasizing about what it would be like if the explosion hadn’t happened and if he actually could fulfill his dream of walking on the moon.  We watch as Lovell (and, while we know the character is Jim Lovell, we are also very much aware that he’s being played by beloved cinematic icon Tom Hanks) leaves his foot print on the lunar surface.  Lovell opens up his visor and, for a few seconds, stands there and takes in the with the vastness of space before him and making the scene all the more poignant is knowing that Tom Hanks, before he became an award-winning actor, wanted to be a astronaut just like Jim Lovell.  Then, suddenly, we snap back to the film’s reality.  Back inside the spacecraft, Lovell takes one final look at the moon and accepts that he will never get to walk upon its surface.  “I’d like to go home,” he announces.

It’s a totally earnest and unabashedly sentimental moment, one that epitomizes the film as a whole.  There is not a hint of cynicism to be found in Apollo 13.  Instead, it’s a big, old-fashioned epic, a story about a crisis and how a bunch of determined, no-nonsense professionals came together to save the day.  “Houston,” Lovell famously says at one point, “we have a problem.”  It’s a celebrated line but Apollo 13 is less about the problem and more about celebrating the men who, through their own ingenuity, solved that problem.

That Apollo 13 is a crowd-pleaser should come as no surprise.  It was directed by Ron Howard and I don’t know that Howard has ever directed a film that wasn’t designed to make audiences break into applause during the end credits.  When Howard fails, the results can be maudlin and heavy-handed.  But when he succeeds, as he does with Apollo 13, he proves that there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned, inspirational entertainment.

Of course, since Apollo 13 is a Ron Howard film, that means that Clint Howard gets a small role.  In Apollo 13, Clint shows up as a bespectacled flight engineer.  When astronaut Jack Swiggert (Kevin Bacon) mentions having forgotten to pay his taxes before going into space, Clint says, “He shouldn’t joke about that, they’ll get him.”  It’s a great line and Clint does a great job delivering it.

Apollo 13 is usually thought of as being a Tom Hanks film but actually, it’s an ensemble piece.  Every role, from the smallest to the biggest, is perfectly cast.  Not surprisingly, Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris all turn in excellent performances.  But, even beyond the marquee names, Apollo 13 is full of memorable performances.  Watching it tonight, I especially noticed an actor named Loren Dean, who played a NASA engineer named John Aaron.  Dean didn’t get many lines but he was totally believable in his role.  You looked at him and you thought, “If I’m ever trapped in space, this is the guy who I want working to bring me home.”

Apollo 13 was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart.  Personally, out of the nominees, I probably would have picked Sense and Sensibility but Apollo 13 more than deserved the nomination.