Non-Spoiler @R eview | The Circle (film)

When it was first published, I weighed in on Dave Eggers’ book, The Circle, as I found a lot of the reaction to the book seemed defensive by those who mainline social media Kool-Aid. (You can read the review of the book for the TL;DR version of what I’m about to say about the film.)

I’m not a fan of those who judge a film by how closely it follows the book on which it is based. But I will note there are some backstories that would have been helpful to include, like how did a company emerge that would crush and replace Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google? (Non-spoiler answer: The founder of the company developed a non-hackable, secure way for everyone to have a digital identity (called TruYou). TruYou is mentioned a lot, but the disappearance of the current incumbent players is treated merely as a suspension of disbelief — that or the fictional device used when fictional companies, say Stark Industries, or cities, say Gotham City, are used to suggest a real version.

One of the criticisms of the book was Eggers’ boasting in interviews that he didn’t spend a lot of time researching the technology. The film feels the same way (unlike, say, something written by William Gibson). However, the film is more of a satire (not the funny SNL kind, but the literary device) than a techno-thriller, sci-fi drama. Eggers gets the technology “close enough” to make the points he’s trying to make.

Moreover, the past three years of the real-life march of technology has helped prove that Eggers didn’t need to know the workings of technology to predict the outcome that occurs when we start believing that any new announcement by Google or Facebook will lead to a greater good for mankind.

Downside: Unfortunately, the movie is boring at times.

But despite that, the movie is worth seeing for two reasons: Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. They are allowed to develop as characters and they both have the acting skills to make us believe they are those characters and not the cardboard cutouts seen in most internet-tech films.

Only one other actor rises to his task in the film: the late Bill Paxton as the father of Emma Watson’s character.

Bottomline: The movie, like the book, does point out the unintended consequences of new technology. (Would we be better off today if Twitter was never created?) But it’s not a great movie — it’s not compelling and convincing beyond the two principals.

Recommendation: For people who think Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have taken over the world in evil ways, go see it.

Another Recommendation: Last fall (2016), I wrote a brief review of one episode of in the second season of Black Mirror called Nosedive. It, too, is a satire (the Jonathon Swift kind) of social-reputation gone amoke. While it differs in direction, it displays a lot more intensity by using sci-fi techniques that place it in the “near future” rather than the now future.

@R eview | STown

More masterful work from the folks at This American Life.

If you visit the website of the podcast STown, you’ll notice that the seven-part series is divided into “chapters.” After binge-listening seven hours during the past weekend (kept doing yard work so I could listen guilt-free), I agree that “chapters” is more appropriate than “episodes” as STown flows like a well-crafted story, masterfully told.

First a word of caution. If cussing (and I mean cussing, not cursing) offends you, please stop here and forget the podcast. Okay. You’ve been warned. STown stands for Shit Town, the name given to his hometown by John B. McLemore. The town he’s grown to hate is in Bibb County, Ala., about midway between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. John (or John B) is one of those people who has grown angry with the world, an iconoclast who can’t believe what idiots human beings have become. Unfortunately, he’s smart enough to know it’s true. He’s brilliant on a wide range of topics and is one of the world’s most talented restorers of antique mechanical clocks. But he’s also crazy as a loon and a world class cusser. Read more “@R eview | STown”

Review | Nosedive (Black Mirror, Season 3, Episode 1)

An uncomfortable watch.

Nosedive, the first episode of the third season of Black Mirror, pushed (shipped?) last night by Netflix, fits into an emerging science fiction genre one might call, “dystopian social media fiction.” While it’s billed as a satire, it’s not “the Onion” parody type of satire, but the Jonathan Swift stinging satire that’s uncomfortable to watch.

You can easily connect the dots from Cory Doctorow’s 2003 novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (with its reputation-based currency, whuffie) to Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel, The Circle (my review) to Nosedive.

While I’ll skip any possible spoilers, I do recommend watching Nosedive. A bit long and didactic (as this genre can easily slide into), there’s a discomforting truth captured in the episode.

(Update: I have now seen all of the episodes and can’t recommend the others.)

Jason Bourne Spoiler Alert

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Saw the new Jason Bourne movie. I can’t recall the name, but I think it’s “Now Playing.”

Can’t really explain what happens except people look at computer screens while eerie music plays. I get stressed out looking at computer screens every day, so I know how that feels.

In the movie, Jason Bourne no longer has amnesia. Or maybe he does. I’ve forgotten already.

If you go see the movie, within ten minutes of its ending, you’ll also have amnesia about anything in it that is remotely plot-like.

As I can’t recall the plot, here is one I just made up: In the movie, Jason Bourne is now a rogue killer assassin who is a travel writer on the side.

Fortunately, the creators of the movie knew people would forget everything about the movie so they named it Jason Bourne. If they had named it anything else, people would forget that also. Now, people just have to say, “the new Jason Bourne movie” assuming they had forgotten the movie name, but actually they haven’t.

Can’t wait to complain about the next sequel titled, “Latest Jason Bourne.”

An Epic Binge Watch You Can’t Refuse

Next time you’re looking for a binge classic, this is it.

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of The Godfather 1902-1959: The Complete Epic. Apparently neither has Rotten Tomatoes, as it has no reviews. First released in 1981, Epic is a re-edited seven-hour version of The Godfather and Godfather II, remixed into a “chronological” narrative instead of Coppola’s masterful flashbacks in the original films. Epic also added some scenes that didn’t make it into the original theatrical versions.

I vaguely recall there was a version of I & II re-edited into a TV mini-series called The Godfather Saga, but that version stuck to the original story sequence and edited out what Emily Litella used to call “violins on television” and dirty words.

Epic aired on HBO last Sunday (Jan. 24, 2016) and this link (at least, temporarily) has information about more showings and the film’s on-demand options (HBO Go, HBO Now, Cable company apps, etc.) and future air dates.

The Godfather for the Binge-watch Era

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While I was not able to “binge watch” it at one stretch (it took me most of a week), I can’t imagine there being a greater example of how to remix two classic films into the perfect binge whole. Epic successfully appropriates and changes an existing work of art to create something completely new and completely different, and, in its own way, completely great. However…

Two things to note about Epic:

1 | It wisely doesn’t appropriate anything from the god-awful Godfather III. In fact, I think it was released even before there was a Godfather III.

2 | If you have never seen Godfather I & II, don’t watch Epic first. Here’s a quote from The AV Club’ review of Epic that explains why:

While this sequential edit is an interesting way to rewatch the films after you’ve already seen them a half dozen times, it does lose some of the cinematic magic that made these films the classics they are today. The tragedy of Michael’s missteps as the Corleone patriarch is diminished somewhat when no longer juxtaposed with his father’s rise to power.”

That said, the reviewer goes on to admit:

…”(such) trifling criticisms are mitigated by glimpses at reinstated scenes like a conversation between Michael and his father about the need to avenge the murder of the eldest Corleone son, Santino (Sonny).”

Next time you’re looking for a binge classic, this is it.