Dog’s Movie House: “The Circle,” “Sleight”
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
The summer movie season is soon upon us, with “Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2” coming around the corner. In the meantime, there are a couple of new releases this week that are worth checking out before the multiplexes get jammed pack with the hordes of fans of Star Lord and Rocket. One of these films is destined to become a cult hit, while the other stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks and will not be the high point on either of their own resumes.
Let’s go with the last one first, okay? This movie is called “The Circle” and it stars Emma Watson as Mae, a young woman in a dead-end job who is suffering under the weight of taking care of her father who has MS (a wonderful Bill Paxton in his last film role). Just when things seems at their most bleak, Mae’s friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a job at this Google-like company known as The Circle, a tech consortium that is working toward the goal of total transparency. All of their software breakthroughs involve bringing the world together through interconnectivity and benign (mostly) surveillance.
At first Mae is thrilled with the job and the obvious perks that come with it, including a great health plan that helps her mother and father deal with his MS. She’s so enamored with the job that she volunteers to become the ultimate experiment in transparency, recording every waking moment of her life for the consumption of every follower of The Circle. It’s only when she’s confronted by one of the Circle’s inventors, Ty (John Boyega) with some concerns about the Circle’s intentions, that Mae decides to take matters into her own hands and confront the real power behind the Circle, founders Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Stenton (Patton Oswalt).
Now “The Circle” is being marketed as a thriller and I believe it’s doing the actually movie a disservice as it isn’t really all that thrilling. Writer/director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) has no idea how to build tension or create compelling villains. There’s only one chase scene and that turns out to be a big, if tragic, misunderstanding. The pace for a thriller is all wrong and the stakes are murky at best. In short, “The Circle” sucks as a thriller.
However, as a drama with fascinating characters that asks questions about the price of total transparency and what privacy is truly worth, “The Circle” fares much better. Ponsoldt gets solid performances of Watson, who’s engaging and believable as a young woman wanting to believe in the perfect system but knowing better despite the benefits of the new job. Hanks is also very good as Bailey, the benevolent, hipster ruler of the Circle who for the most part wants his company to be as virtuous as advertised. Gillan and Boyega do good work in underwritten roles and Paxton kills it as always. Only Ellar Coltrane as Mercer, Mae’s friend who becomes involved in one of the Circle’s more tragic social experiments, fails to impress. It’s not his fault (just watch him in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” for a more accurate example of his talent), it’s just that the script reduces him to little more than a plot device to augment the decidedly weak thriller element within the narrative.
And that’s the whole problem with “The Circle.” It wants to be a thriller but the script is more interested in philosophical questions than putting forth a compelling narrative. The questions and the performances make the movie watchable, but those expecting an edge-of-your-seat thriller would be best served going elsewhere. The lack of compelling villains, motivation for said villains, and a proper narrative structure means that “The Circle” works only as a philosophical drama and not as the thriller. Still, those philosophical questions are great. 3 ½ Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!
Next we have the movie “Sleight,” a film about a young street magician named Bo (Jacob Latimore) who sells drugs at night to make enough money to support his young sister Tina (Storm Reid). Bo was once a promising engineering student but the sudden death of his mother forced him into a different life. Bo’s a great street magician with one great gimmick that I will leave for you to discover. Things get hairy for Bo when his drug dealing employer Angelo (a great Dule Hill) decides to bring Bo deeper and deeper into the operation. When Bo makes a mistake, he incurs the wrath of Angelo and puts his sister and his girlfriend (played by a radiant Seychelle Gabrielle) in deadly danger. This forces Bo to fight back using his skills as both an illusionist and a budding engineer.
First time feature director J.D. Dillard does a wonderful job adapting his own script to a fairly miniscule budget, creating a gritty superhero film that is as entertaining as any of those multimillion dollar blockbusters. The action scenes are sparse but well done, giving you an idea of Bo’s abilities without going overboard and the central conflict is refreshing in that it doesn’t rely on some out-there end of the world scenario, instead focusing on a more intimate and relatable problem for our hero.
Where “Sleight” really excels in in the performances. Latimore is a star in the making, giving Bo multiple layers and not being afraid to have Bo do terrible things in the name of a greater goal. All the while Latimore gives you a hero worth rooting for and the chemistry between him and Seychelle Gabrielle is terrific, creating a believable romance. Dule Hill is a revelation here as Angelo, the charming yet borderline psychotic drug lord. Most people remember him as the slightly nerdy investigator on the USA series “Psych,” but here Hill is completely believable and charismatic as the film’s chief villain.
Dillard uses these performances and the low budget to build a slow burn of a superhero origin story that moves to an understated yet very satisfying conclusion, generating enough interest that I really can’t wait to see what happens to Bo next. Whether or not that is in the offing is up to you fine folks, so support “Sleight” by seeing it during its theatrical run so we can see further adventures of the street magician turned superhero! 4 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!