“The Circle” movie review

Tries for a perfect circle, but winds up more like an oval. Full of endless circular logic and irony, director James Ponsoldt’s The Circle depicts the story of a not-so-distant future, or perhaps an alternative present, in which one company dominates digital media, data gathering, and surveillance services. Based upon the four-year-old novel by author Dave Eggers, you’ll notice some stark similarities between this motion picture narrative and the smash hit TV series Black Mirror. The biggest difference between the two is that The Circle is fast-faced and poorly written whereas Black Mirror is a slow-burning but well-written anthology series. In addition to the similarities between the aforementioned, there are certainly elements of The Truman Show in this movie as well. With a powerhouse cast, brilliant composer (Danny Elfman), and excellent editing, The Circle appears to have what a blockbuster needs; however, the hollow characters, poor character development, fractured subplots, and overall diegesis hold the film back from reaching the impact that it could have had. Having taken a digital media and privacy class in graduate school, and published a few articles, this is a film that I was looking forward to in order to analyze how the social commentary or commentary on the human condition regarding reasonable expectations of privacy and big data were integrated into the plot. Sadly, the screenplay was not strong or developed significantly enough to provide big data and privacy discussions.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) hates her job at the water company, so she is incredibly excited when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) lands Mae an interview at The Circle, the world’s most powerful technology and social media company. Mae’s fear of unfulfilled potential impresses the recruiters at The Circle and she lands the opportunity of a lifetime. After Mae puts herself into harm’s way but rescued, thanks to The Circle’s newest surveillance and data gathering system, she is encouraged by the company founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) to take a more active role in technology development by participating in an experiment that puts Mae’s life on display for the world (in the vein of The Truman Show) to see. Once Mae turns on that camera, she has more “friends” than she ever imagined and becomes an instant online celebrity. Unfortunately, this decision will affect those closest to Mae and the negative ramifications will reach far beyond her inner circle and begin to impact humanity at large. Sometimes, people just don’t want to be found or be “social.”

For all The Circle has going for it, the weak screenplay keeps it from being the blockbuster that it so desperately wants to be. A great movie typically begins with solid writing, and that is what’s missing here. After five minutes (or so it seems) of opening title logos, perhaps that is indirect evidence that there were just too many hands in the pot, each trying to take the movie’s narrative in a different direction. Much like Frozen plays off like two different movies crudely sewn together, The Circle appears to be one movie for the first two acts, but takes an unexpected and unfulfilling turn in the third. A couple of conspicuous unanswered questions come after Mae meets TrueYou designer and founder Ty (John Boyega). He designed the platform that launched The Circle. At one point he asks Mae to meet him in a secret tunnel (where all the servers are stored) and tells her that “it’s worse than I thought.” Great opportunity to introduce intrigue, suspense, and more. The problem is that the audience is never told what Ty finds or what happens with what he found. You can remove that whole subplot and the movie remains the same. There are other subplots that are nicely introduced, but never carried out as well. Any or all of them can be removed and the film proceeds the same. Not good. If you can remove several subplots or unfulfilled turning points and the film’s diegesis remain largely untouched, then you have poor writing. The third act in and of itself leaves audiences with a hurried ending that does little to provide closure to the narrative; however, it does support the film’s circular logic and irony. Hardly satisfying.

In terms of the allegory here, The Circle is a Google-like company with Apple’s technology. Eamon Bailey is a Steve Jobs type innovator with characteristics of Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Thankfully, The Circle does not represent any one company, but rather combines all the most notable innovations and technological achievements of Google, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, and more into one globally dominating company. Antitrust issues are introduced early on, but again, that’s never fully developed. The movie highlights many issues faced by private citizens, governments, and digital data driven companies today; therefore, it sets the foundation for a movie that could have been thought-provoking, but the writing hinders that ability. The irony in the movie is for every digital answer to streamlining services or bolstering conveniences, a little privacy is eroded each time. Pretty soon, if one shares enough information, the idea of privacy is extinct. Privacy was central to the plot, but it just wasn’t handled in the most effective way. Concepts such as “off the grid,” self-proclaimed “celebrity,” and “calls to action” are displayed and discussed in the film, connecting this augmented reality to real-world issues each of us encounter or think about. One particularly interesting theme in the movie is deep friendship. Unfortunately, this was not fully fleshed as is the case with most of the movie; but still, it does get touched upon.

Exploring digital media and privacy is something I have written on within the last couple years. More specifically, I explore how entertainment media companies collect big data, and the privacy issues faced therein. In 2016, I published a short series of articles on the Walt Disney World Magic Bands entitled “Magical Data Collection.” You can read those articles by clicking HERE.

If you were hoping for another film like the brilliant Social Network, then you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Films such as The Circle should be memorable, but unfortunately this one is very much forgettable. Coincidentally, the movie itself is as hollow as the plot and characters.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

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“Steve Jobs” movie review

SteveJobsA mesmerizing and controversial bio-pic. This seems to be the year for the biographical motion picture. Universal Pictures and Legendary’s Steve Jobs takes you on a journey through the most signifiant product launches of the late co-founder of Apple’s career. Despite the fact that Jobs is revered as a genius and one of the most influential men in American history, this movie does not shy away from painting an accurate portrait of his personal and professional life. Although he is loved and admired by so many people, his character is one that you will most likely dislike through most of the narrative. From open to close, you will be glued to your seat in awe and surprise. This is definitely one of the most intriguing and intense bio-pics I have seen in a long time. Throughout the narrative, there is a constant theme of control and design. Complete with a brilliant cast and impeccable writing, this is definitely one to watch out for at the next Academy Awards.

Steve Jobs is about the early career of the co-founder of Apple. You will go on a journey through the most important product launch successes and failures of Jobs’ (Fassbender) career. From being fired from the very company that he co-founded to the love-hate relationship he has with his daughter and the hatred for her mother, you will learn what prompted Jobs to make the decisions he did and how each decision affected his relationships with friends and colleagues. Discover why “end to end control” was so important to the designs of the MacIntosh and Apple computers.

Michael Fassbender truly shines as the genius behind Apple’s phoenix-like return from the ashes of its darkest days. Not only does he resemble Jobs in appearance, but he also captures the very essence of what made Jobs tick and why he became the success he was professionally. Fassbender also delivers powerful performances in his altercations with colleagues and his presumed family. The intenseness of his conflicts and triumphs transcends the screen and compels your attention through the entire film. Often in movies, you either want to love or love to hate the protagonist; and that element rings very true in this film. For nearly the entire movie, I hated Steve Jobs. Funny, because I use all Apple products. But, during the end of the third act, I made a radical shift and saw the glimmer of hope that has caused millions of Apple fans to adore him so much during the latter years of his career. More than anyone else, he believed in his designs and methods of product launches. Only his director of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) seemed to be the one he confided in most or could control the man who was insistent on “end to end control” throughout his dynamic career. Winslet also delivers a commanding performance as Hoffman who stuck by Jobs from product to product, advising him when he wouldn’t hear of anyone else’s opinions. She is the single person who held helped the public not to despise him as much as most everyone else did behind the scenes.

So often I find that bio-pics can tend to romanticize the protagonist by glossing over the more negative events of his or her life. Not so with Steve Jobs. The remarkable element of the writing is the commitment to reality and just laying all the positive and negative events and encounters out there for the audience. Highlighting the more negative events is extremely important to this film because that is where the very dynamic character arc comes from. If you loved or hated Jobs the entire time, it would not be nearly as impactful. But because you will likely hate him for most of the movie until the end and then quickly turn a 180, that is where the magic of this movie lies. There are times that you think that he will budge from his stances on design teams and products, but then he is just as stubborn or relentless as he is throughout the story. Oddly enough, his penchant for complete control is what tanks and then resurrects the tech company. The story is gripping and whether you are an Apple product fan or not, this movie is an excellent example of how a completely candid bio-pic can still prompt the adoration of the public despite the dark elements and poor decisions in relationships with friends and lovers.

If you are an Apple product fan, this is definitely a film to catch because it takes you behind the sleek product displays and technology launches. Learning about Steve Jobs the man actually gives a new-found appreciation for the company he helped start, got fired from, and rehired again. The amazing cast and brilliant writing enables this film to be admired for its commitment to the art of biographical motion pictures.