The Circle

Posted on April 27, 2017 at 11:25 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use
Profanity: Very brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, mention of drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, car accident, sad death, illness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 28, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2017

Copyright 2017 STX
Copyright 2017 STX
Show of hands: how many of you listed nine concerts you’ve attended and one you didn’t on Facebook this week? Those lists were as inescapable in April of 2017 as they will be forgotten in May of 2017, except by the clever little bots who now, thanks to new legislation can not only collect all of the information you make available online — they can sell it. So, every bill you pay, app you buy, search you make and much much more will be used to make it possible for corporations to monitor and target you. Those who listed Motley Crue on their concert list will get different ads from those who listed Adele. And maybe that information will be made available to employers or insurers or the IRS or your spouse’s divorce attorney as well. The online world is always a balancing act between super-cool and time-saving functionality and super-creepy intrusiveness.

So “The Circle,” based on the book by Dave Eggers and adapted by Eggers and director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now,” “The End of the Tour”), imagines a corporation that is like a combination of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon filtered through the dystopian dreams of Edward Snowden and the cultish appeal of, well, pick your favorite charlatan-led cult. Unfortunately, the corporation is more interestingly portrayed here than the characters, and not in a good way. Our heroine is Mae (Emma Watson), a good girl who loves her family and is thrilled to leave her temp job in a drab utility company cubicle to work in the most exciting company in the world, The Circle, on a beautiful and self-contained campus that is part prestige liberal arts college and part Pepperland. She is initially assigned to “customer experience,” where every transaction is immediately rated with either a smile or frown and a numerical score, both instantly transmitted to her supervisor and analyzed by algorithms. The company’s goal is to “make the chaos of the web simple and elegant,” to give customers (some 83 percent of the population) one place for all their needs. That is even more true for the employees, who are not exactly required to rely on the company for all of their personal and social interactions, from support groups (there are two for those like Mae who have a parent with multiple sclerosis) to parties — with live music by Beck — and health care. Those services may be free, but all your data, including biodata are belong to them.

This seems blissful for a while, especially when The Circle generously puts Mae’s parents on the company health plan. But there are VERY CLUNKY harbingers of complications, then problems, then danger. And if by some chance you do not pick up on them, the cardboard-like characters will explain them to you, including one who not only has no reason to be there but has many reasons not to be but is nonetheless there just in case you need someone to warn you about the intrusiveness of this technology. In other words, “The Circle” goes nowhere.

You will probably not need much explanation when Mae agrees to become The Circle’s first fully transparent employee, wearing a webcam (it is on her shirt facing out but somehow is able to broadcast images of her face, a technological challenge even The Circle probably cannot master) 24/7, with timed bathroom breaks, that this is not going to turn out well and that she will carelessly humiliate people she cares about.

The questions posed are important and urgent, and Tom Hanks is superb as the big boss who has mastered Silicon Valley’s faux “don’t be evil,” we just want to make the world a better place post-corporate demeanor and rhetoric. But the last forty minutes it becomes clear that the people behind it have not thought very deeply about those questions, much less the answers, and its complete denial of a character’s moral responsibility for a tragic outcome just makes it all more disconnected and hollow.

Parents should know that this film has very brief strong language, non-explicit sexual situation, some peril including a fatal car accident, illness, alcohol and a reference to drug use.

Family discussion: Would you be willing to be transparent? Does this film change your mind about what you share online?

If you like this, try: “Disconnect” and “Snowden”

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray

Where You’ve Seen Them Before: Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s enchanting live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” features a magnificent cast. Here’s where you’ve seen or heard them before:

Emma Watson (Belle): We watched her grow up as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, but she has also appeared in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Bling Ring.”

Dan Stevens (Beast/Prince): He is best known as handsome (and tragically killed) Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey,” but he also played Colin in the web series “High Maintenance” and stars as David Haller in the superhero series “Legion.”  We’ll see him next week with Anne Hathaway in the unusual monster movie, “Colossal.”

Kevin Kline (Belle’s father Maurice): An Oscar-winner for “A Fish Called Wanda,” Kline also starred in “Pirates of Penzance,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Ice Storm,” “Grand Canyon,” and “The Big Chill.”  I loved seeing his reunion with Meryl Streep in “Ricki and the Flash.”

Josh Gad (LeFou):He  starred in “Book of Mormon” on Broadway and is best known as Olaf in “Frozen.”  We recently heard him as the voice of the main character in “A Dog’s Purpose,” and I recommend his underrated film with Emma Stone and Rainn Wilson, “The Rocker.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette): The star of “Belle” and “Beyond the Lights” will appear in the eagerly anticipated “A Wrinkle in Time,” due next year.

Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe): McDonald is a stage actress and singer who has won five Tony Awards (so far), for both musical and dramatic roles.  She also appeared in “Ricki and the Flash,” as Kline’s second wife.

Ewan McGregor (Lumiere): This versatile actor has played Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” a drug addict in “Trainspotting,” a fairy tale soldier in “Jack the Giant Slayer,” and Jesus in “Last Days in the Desert.”

Ian McKellen (Cogsworth): He played Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” movies and Magneto in the “X-Men” movies.  He is a classically trained British actor who has played Richard III and King Lear.

Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts): An Oscar-winner for both writing and acting, Thompson starred in “Love Actually,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “The Remains of the Day.”

Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza): His voice can be heard in commercials for Verizon, and he has played Meryl Streep’s husband (“Julie & Julia”), “Hunger Games'” flamboyant emcee Caesar Flickerman, and a restaurant owner in “Big Night.”

Luke Evans (Gaston): This Welsh actor has extensive stage experience and onscreen has played two Greek gods, Apollo in Clash of the Titans (2010) and Zeus in Immortals (2011).

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Actors Where You’ve Seen Them Before

Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fairy tale peril and violence, wolves, mob, guns
Diversity Issues: Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2017
Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.

In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.

Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.

Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.

Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.

The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.

The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.

Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?

If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”

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Based on a book Date movie Fantasy For the Whole Family Movies -- format Musical Remake Romance
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