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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘The Circle,’ ‘The Finest,’ ‘Unforgettable’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

Tackling the “Me-centric” revelatory culture of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., James Ponsoldt’s timely thriller “The Circle” delves into the ubiquitous perils of contemporary technology.

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When Mae Holland (Emily Watson) goes to work for The Circle, a massively powerful social media company in the San Francisco Bay Area, she’s thrilled. Beginning as a ‘guppy,’ she’s assigned to a customer service desk, where she’s expected not only to excel but also to participate in off-hour and weekend events with co-workers.

Run by a management team consisting of charismatic visionary Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and businessman Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), The Circle is touting a new social interface app, TruYou, a single-identity password solution which eliminates anonymity, along with SeeChange, a tiny, inconspicuous webcam that can be attached to any surface to emit constant surveillance.

“Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better,” claims evangelistic Eamon Bailey.

Grateful that she can extend her insurance coverage to include her frail, multiple sclerosis-afflicted father (the late Bill Paxton, in his last screen role) and that the company’s omnipresent monitors saved her from drowning when she foolishly went kayaking alone at night, guileless Mae offers to relinquish all personal privacy and go “fully transparent,” so that everything she does can be seen by Circle members.

Obviously, this leads to more than one embarrassing incident, the most tragic involving Mae’s off-the-grid buddy Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), and alienation of her best friend/mentor Annie (Karen Gillan).

Adapting his own 2014 novel, Dave Eggers and director James Ponsoldt (“The End of the Tour,” “The Spectacular Now”) meanders toward ominous melodrama, subtly reducing the fascistic future’s pivotal, high-tech skeptic Ty (John Boyega) to an enigmatic, incomprehensible cipher.

Comparisons with George Orwell’s prophetic “1984,” Alan J. Pakula’s “The Parallax View,” and Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show” are inevitable.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Circle” is a sleekly sinister, satirical 6, evolving into a cautionary tale.

During World War II, both in England and America, there was a strong sense of purpose. Today, we live in a world that is not only notoriously fractured but also highly ambiguous -— with a breakdown of many traditional virtues and values. Which is why a nostalgic romantic comedy like “Their Finest” resonates with those who remember.

During the savage London Blitz in 1940, advertising copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is recruited by the British Ministry of Information to work with the film division to bring “a woman’s touch” to bolster morale. Britain wants the United States to enter the war and is relying on cinematic propaganda to convince recalcitrant Yanks, particularly women.

Since Caitrin’s injured husband Ellis (Jack Huston) is a frustrated painter, her paycheck comes in handy, even though she’s told “Of course, we can’t pay you as much as the chaps.”

Partnered with screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), Caitrin pitches a purportedly true story about patriotic twin sisters, Rose and Lily Starling (Lily & Francesca Knight), who stole their father’s boat and crossed the English Channel to help evacuate wounded soldiers at Dunkirk.

Problem is: her embellished story doesn’t jibe with what really happened. When there’s a difference between “truth” and “facts,” filmmakers are given the mandate: “authenticity informed by optimism.”

With the help of aging thespian Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the movie-within-the-movie turns out to be great fun, involving Jeremy Irons in a self-satirizing cameo, along with a strong ensemble cast that includes Richard E. Grant, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory and Rachael Stirling.

Adapted by Gabby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’ 2009 novel, it’s helmed by Danish director Lone Scherfig (“An Education,” “Italian for Beginners”), who should have sped up the pace a bit.

On the Granger Gauge, “Their Finest” is a sly, bittersweet 7 — with a tasteful feminist twist.

In “Unforgettable,” when David Connover (Geoff Stults) takes up with Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) after his divorce from Tessa (Katherine Heigl), he opens a mean spirited can of worms.

As this tepid psychosexual thriller begins, battered Julia is being interrogated in the murder of her abusive ex-boyfriend, Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides), against whom she had a restraining order.

Skip back six months to when Julia left San Francisco to begin a new life in Foothill, a (fictional) Southern California suburb, with her fiancé David and his young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice). A former Wall Street hotshot, hunky David has just opened a boutique microbrewery in his hometown.

But when icy, embittered Tessa —- Lily’s possessive mother — sees how happy he is with amiable Julia, she’s devastated. Her intuitive vulnerability is heightened because she has never been able to satisfy the expectations of her own rigid, perfectionist mother, Helen (Cheryl Ladd).

Julia doesn’t use Facebook, which is bizarre since she was an editor for an online literary publication in San Francisco. But that opens a portal so Tessa can cyberstalk her, shrewdly creating a fake FB profile and utilizing it to contact Julia’s ex, as her devious revenge plot takes shape.

“Everyone’s got a weird ex, but this Psycho Barbie is something else,” warns Julia’s best friend (Whitney Cummings). “You need to come back home with me.”

Working from screenwriter Christina Hodson’s implausibly convoluted script, longtime producer/first-time director Denise Di Novi never alludes to skin color or class, cleverly casting blond, beautifully Botox’d Katherine Heigl as the sinister, sadistic, sociopathic villain.

On the Granger Gauge, “Unforgettable” is a flimsy, frustrating 4 — and quite forgettable.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 05/02/17 at 04:21 PM  Permalink



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