(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) There’s something really weird at play in The Circle, and I’m having a bit of trouble untangling my exact issue with it. I think that it has a lot to do with its unimaginative techno-skepticism, as it follows a young woman who starts working for a (fictional) tech giant and becomes gradually disenchanted by the disconnect between its lofty public ambitions and the less-than-positive impact it has on her life and society at large. It’s not a bad premise on which to base a film, but The Circle does itself no favours by being lazy and trite about it. There is a surprising lack of interest from the film in spelling out what exactly is so awful about the company for which our character works: it seems to rely more on common assumed notions about the evils of Facebook, Google, Apple, et al. There’s a conspiracy angle to the film that never goes farther than two senior executives saying to each other, “Oh no, we’re in trouble now!” when their emails are leaked. Paradoxically, the crutch of using viewer’s anti-tech prejudices also points at why the film feels so useless—so it simply confirms those awful suspicions about the evils of tech giants? That’s it? Nothing more? Why bother watching the film when I can just look at my favourite newspaper and read articles that go far beyond The Circle‘s freshman-level musings? Even the dumb moral at the end of the film feels badly under-thought. It doesn’t help that the film doesn’t have much in terms of energy or paranoia. Writer/director James Ponsoldt has done much better in the past. Poor dull boring featureless generic actress Emma Watson looks annoyed for ninety minutes or however long it takes to make it to the end of this ordeal. Tom Hanks seems to have fun playing the sinister CEO visionary, but there’s—again—nearly nothing of substance behind the vague menace he’s supposed to present. What a dull movie. What a hypocritical movie. What else is on?
(On Cable TV, June 2017) Movies often get a bad reputation as a sub-literate art form, especially when compared to prose fiction. But that narrow-minded view of cinema usually ignores a small but strong subgenre that portrays writers as authentic characters on-screen. Even ignoring films based on Stephen King fiction, there’s enough material out there from Wonder Boys to Stuck in Love to Genius (and others) to hold a writers’ film festival, and one of the newest additions to the corpus is The End of the Tour, which details five days in which Rolling Stone journalist (and envious novelist) David Lipsky interviewed novelist David Foster Wallace at the end of his promotional book tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky is played by Jesse Eisenberg in a likable and very Eisenbergian performance, but it’s Jason Segel who earns most of the attention by playing Wallace: Segel is better known as a goofy comedian, but seeing him in a strongly dramatic performance as Wallace is enough to demolish his usual screen persona. Shot in a very naturalistic fashion (i.e.; grimy, unglamorous, etc.) by director James Ponsoldt, The End of the Tour focuses on the lengthy, literate, eventually contentious conversation between Lipsky and Wallace as they meet, share Wallace’s house, fly to promotional events, spend a day goofing off, compete for two women’s attention and come back home with loathing for each other. It’s not a very dramatic film, but it does have drama, and most importantly it allows the conversation to unspool at an unhurried pace. The portrait of a profile-writer journalist is revelatory as well, giving us uncommon insight into something rarely explored elsewhere. This, in short, is a movie about two writers, two intellects that can’t help but measure themselves to the other. It’s surprisingly compelling, occasionally profound and decently far from the usual formula fed by Hollywood. And it does so while having some Broken Arrow footage thrown in—if it gets better than this, please tell me how. I have a hunch that The End of the Tour will soon earn a place on the film curriculum of novelists and journalists, alongside other celebrated depiction of writers on the big screen.