The Circle

Emma Watson is great in James Ponsoldt’s “The Circle,” which thoughtfully shows how good intentions through technology can still corrupt.

As Emma Watson drives up to the campus of The Circle, the fictional, Google-like, Silicon Valley tech giant in James Ponsoldt’s film of the same name, the exterior is a massive, circular stone wall stretching to infinity on an island unto itself. It looks like a fascist fortress straight out of “The Hunger Games.” Even though the interior is a sort of millennial utopia, it’s not a stretch to ask, “I wonder if these guys turn out to be evil?”

“The Circle,” based on Dave Eggers’s novel, takes aim at the consequences of an overly connected, internet-obsessed digital culture. And like any movie warning of the dangers of technology, it can’t help but be cheesy. When every Bourne and Bond and HBO sitcom has taken on Big Brother, “The Circle” already looks a bit outdated.

Watson however has the idealism and innocent demeanor in her performance that actually makes you believe and embrace the Silicon Valley ideology. In Watson’s real life, she’s grown to resist taking photographs with fans and values her privacy. So she’s interesting casting as Mae, a girl who starts out as a “guppy” in a massive pond, only to become someone who broadcasts her every waking moment to the world. Continue reading “The Circle”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

StarWarsEpisodeVIIPosterI was 9 years old when “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released, and despite all the bile hurled at the prequels, at that age I had no concept of good. All I knew was that there was more. More Star Wars was a good thing, and for the Millennials like me who give the prequels the most hatred, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” is the first Star Wars movie we’ve been able to see for the first time as adults.

“The Force Awakens” doesn’t need to be as great as “A New Hope” or “The Empire Strikes Back” for it to live up to expectations. It needs to be able to fit snugly into the Star Wars canon in a way the prequels never seemed to belong. J.J. Abrams has delivered less than a masterpiece, but “The Force Awakens” is a Star Wars movie.

“The Force Awakens” has the spectacle, the whimsy, the humor, the campy, screwball charm, the romance and the invigorating excitement of the original three films. In channeling the same themes of good and evil and the mythos of the Force, this film has the spirit of a Star Wars classic.

In part, it’s because J.J. Abrams has nearly remade “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” In between films, a new evil entity known as The First Order has risen to power. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the dark lord out to find him and put an end to the rise of the Jedi. A Resistance pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides a map to Luke’s location in a droid called BB-8 and sends it off on a desert planet. The person who finds it is another scavenger, a person without a family and with dreams of becoming a pilot and getting out of this desolate place. Starting to sound familiar? The only difference is that this young person is a woman, Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley). Along the way a Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) will break off from The First Order and even stage a daring, hapless rescue of Poe before meeting Rey, working to protect her and banish his own past demons.

Though “A New Hope” is proud to boast themes of good and evil in the biggest and broadest of space opera, it is a film about growth, finding identity and believing in yourself. Luke makes that spiritual journey and sheds his youthful naiveté, and Rey will go on that same journey, answering the call to believe in the Force and embrace her destiny.

This is what Star Wars is about, and in that spirit Abrams more than delivers. As with the best of the franchise, the film dances between different moments of action on the ground and in the air. There are thrilling lightsaber duels, stunning dogfights, goofy chases and escapes from an amorphous tentacled creature, a scene inside a seedy cantina full of quirky galactic beings, and even something of a new Death Star. Despite the high CGI gloss, Abrams has captured the tempo of these pictures as much as the tone, with cathartic, cheerful action set pieces that avoid chaos and over-stylization in a way that’s classical and tangible.

John Boyega has a lot of uncontained enthusiasm as Finn, Adam Driver has a lot of angsty rage as Kylo Ren, and Daisy Ridley has a lot of scruffy, rugged charm and star power. Yet all three are led by the master, back in character as though he never left: Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Han is one of the great pop culture characters of all time, and he continues to get the best lines, and Chewbacca the best reaction shots. Ford is acting from the seat of his pants, sarcastic and cool yet always in a hurry and thinking on the fly. Finn has brought Han to the new Death Star and reveals he has no plan for taking down its shields, but maybe they can use the Force. “That’s not how the Force works,” Han bellows in his trademark exasperation. This could be Ford’s best performance in nearly two decades.

“The Force Awakens” does at times feel like a reboot, but hearing John Williams’s magical score swell in all the right places reminds us that there’s no harm in not reinventing the wheel. And the film does take one massive risk that will surely be polarizing. But regardless of if the plot has holes or if the twists hold up, this is still Star Wars. More is good.

4 stars

Attack the Block

“Attack the Block” is a clever parable about the English class system. It also happens to be a badass alien invasion comedy.

“Attack the Block” is a clever parable about the English class system. It also happens to be a badass alien invasion comedy.

A movie like this gives you the sense that most people in horror movies simply aren’t having enough fun. The teenage kids that run the show in “Attack the Block” chase down these “wolf gorilla motherf***ers” not with fear but with enthusiasm and casual pleasures, and it’s a thrill to be a part of.

The punk heroes of “Attack the Block” are egotistical, territorial little buggers from a project in East London. A gang of five kids led by Moses (John Boyega) mug a young nurse (Jodie Whitaker) and are then interrupted by the crash landing arrival of what looks like an alien creature. They brutally kill it because they can and hoist it around as a trophy. Continue reading “Attack the Block”