Despite glossy, high-tech production values and big-name acting talent, “The Circle” is, alas, as shallow as a Facebook friend request from somebody with one obscure person in common.
Ostensibly, it's about a young woman who gets hired to work at a huge internet media conglomerate where technical innovations are rapidly changing our world. But, within this Jobs-Zuckerbergian universe, which on the surface seems like a utopian candy store of things and ideas that are designed to make cyber geeks salivate with envy, there is — not surprisingly — a dark side.
The movie is about as subtle as a train wreck, though, as it tries to present itself as a cautionary tale. And, writer-director James Ponsolt, working from an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel, proceeds as though we’re supposed to blindly accept some truly implausible plot turns. But, in many ways, that’s also what the story is trying to be a warning about. Let’s call it “programmed acquiescence,” the state of being socially indoctrinated to accept something shiny, new and digital without question.
In this case, we learn about protagonist Mae Holland (Emma Watson) through quick scenes that serve as shorthand for character development: She has a dead-end job; her dad (Bill Paxton, in his final role) has multiple sclerosis and needs a drug his insurance company won’t approve; and has a friend named Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), who yearns for the old days when they could just hang out without email and texts between them. Then, out of the blue, another friend named Annie Allerton (Karen Gillan) calls her to say she has arranged an interview at The Circle. Mae jumps at the chance and aces the interview.
Once in, though, Mae discovers The Circle is more cult than just a place to work.
Founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) likes to have big weekly presentations in an auditorium where he and his staff present the latest new and shiny thing. But, as Mae discovers that The Circle is designed to infiltrate, excuse me, share every element of her life and connect her to everyone else in the company, she questions none of it, nor does she resist. She accepts it all in a perfect display of programmed acquiescence, even when she finds out the company has tiny cameras installed almost everywhere to make everything available to all users the world over. Privacy, in this universe, is portrayed as the ultimate lie.
Sure, she appears to be mildly uncomfortable with its implications, but when her life is saved by the very technology that seems to be everywhere monitoring her every move and utterance, suddenly she becomes a true believer, even going so far as to become one of the first completely “transparent” members of The Circle. Transparency in this regard is giving away her right to privacy (except for bathroom time and, presumably, dressing and bathing). Now, instead of just her co-workers, every member of The Circle, all over the world, has access to her life on a 24/7 basis.
The upside to her life is that now her dad is signed onto her company insurance and has the proper medical care he needs, which takes a load off her mom (Glenne Headly). However, because of Mae’s “transparency,” their life is also out there for all to see. This also has an effect on her friend, Mercer, who finds himself being attacked by an army of internet trolls. At one point, she also meets and seems romantically interested in a fellow Circle member (John Boyega), who has a secret that is not that surprising.
Unfortunately, Watson seems much smarter than her character in this movie. Mae’s decisions seem ridiculous at times and against her character’s nature. Worse, the film adaptation simply doesn’t possess the courage to push its “Black Mirror”-ish overtones to their logical extremes. Best to catch an episode of “Westworld” for a more artistically satisfying take on technology and humanity’s basic instincts.
“The Circle” is rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements, including drug use.
It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos
The following was compiled from press materials.
How to Be a Latin Lover
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references and gestures and for brief nudity
Mitchell Storyteller 7
In this comedy from director Ken Marino, a once-handsome gigolo named Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) gets the surprise of his life when his wealthy 80-year-old wife dumps him for a younger car salesman.
Forced out of his mansion, he must now move in with his estranged sister, Sara (Salma Hayek), and her nerdy but adorable son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Anxious to return to the lap of luxury, Maximo hatches a scheme to seduce a widowed billionaire (Raquel Welch) and live the high life once again.
“Irreverent and infectious, with a healthy dash of raciness, this film is wacky fun. Derbez is shameless and often hysterical as a Latin lover gone to seed; he makes the film crackle with energy,” writes critic S. Jhoanna Robledo in Common Sense Media.
This film will be screened daily.
Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Movies at the TCA
Hundreds of thousands of cats have roamed the metropolis of Istanbul freely for thousands of years, wandering in and out of people’s lives, impacting them in ways only an animal who lives between the worlds of the wild and the tamed can. Cats and their kittens bring joy and purpose to those they choose, giving people an opportunity to reflect on life and their place in it. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to ourselves.
In the film’s production notes, director Ceyda Torun says he grew up in Istanbul until he was 11 years old. He says, “I believe my childhood was infinitely less lonesome than it would have been if it weren’t for cats. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Every year that I returned to the city, I saw it change in ways that made it less and less recognizable, except for the cats; they were the one constant element, becoming synonymous with the city itself and ultimately, embodying its soul.”
His film is, in many ways, “a love letter to those cats and the city, both of which are changing in ways that are unpredictable. When we set out to make this film, I had many ideas about what it should be. I hoped to show Istanbul in ways that went beyond tour guides and news headlines. I wanted to explore philosophical themes that would make you, the audience, ponder about our relationship to cats, to nature, to each other. In the end, I hope this film makes you feel like you just had a cat snuggle up on your lap unexpectedly, and purr fervently for a good long time, while allowing you to stroke it gently along its back; forcing you, simply because you can’t move without letting go of that softness and warmth, to think about things that you may not have given yourself time to think about in the busy life you lead, to discuss them with a group of new friends, friends from Istanbul who tell you what the city is really like.”
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (May 7) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (May 8-10).
Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.