Monday, May 08, 2017

7 Days in May | Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 and The Circle

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

I liked it better than the first one. It's just as funny and visually interesting and the music is just as cool, but it has a better villain and some really great (and truly touching) development for at least three characters. And awesome cameos.

The Circle (2017)

I'm going to spoil some things, but you shouldn't watch The Circle, so feel free to keep reading. This movie is so disappointing.

I love the cast and the concept is intriguing, but The Circle does a lousy job of making whatever point it's trying to communicate. There's one good scene that raises worthwhile questions about a) the relationship between truth and transparency, and b) the tension between those things and privacy. But I don't know what the rest of the movie is about.

It's not the thriller that the marketing wants you to think it is. Mae (Emma Watson) is never in any physical danger and the only stakes are that if she leaves her job then she also loses the awesome health insurance that's finally getting her dad (Bill Paxton) some help with his MS. That's okay, though. It's enough to put her in an interesting quandary. Should she stay with an employer that has a ridiculous lack of boundaries when it comes to employees' personal lives (and apparently no HR department at all)? The movie could have explored that more fully and I wouldn't have missed the lack of fights and chases. But it's not really about that, either.

I can't tell if Mae is ever skeptical about the Circle's participation policies. I assumed that she was and that her "yeah, yeah, no problem" attitude towards them was simply an attempt not to make waves in her cool, new job. But she never really puts up a fight; not even when senior employee Ty Kalden (John Boyega) decides to entrust her with some concerning information. And after that she's just one bad evening and a pep talk from Tom Hanks away from completely buying what the Circle is selling.

She says some truly stupid things in that section, too. She calls watching videos of other people's experiences "a basic human right," for instance. And says that it's selfish not to post experiences online for everyone to see. She hasn't just swallowed Eamon Bailey's (Tom Hanks) Kool-Aid; she's swallowed the pitcher itself and the entire soft drink aisle. I kept expecting that at some point she would reveal that she was faking it and was really working with Kalden the whole time, but that moment never came.

There's of course a confrontation between Mae and Bailey by the end, but there are two huge problems with it. First, the movie never reveals what it is exactly that Bailey is doing wrong. He's full of terrible, harmful ideas, but there's no explicit indication that he's actually planning to use his collected data for evil purposes. The potential is certainly there and I wanted to see him stopped, but his final unmasking is nothing more than a revelation that he has secrets just like everyone else. Nor does the movie care about telling what those are. So the climactic showdown between him and Mae doesn't have any punch, because it's never clear what would happen if Bailey won.

The second huge problem with the final confrontation is that Mae's ideas are now just as harmful as Bailey's. She still believes in total transparency. Her problem with Bailey is just that he wants to be exempt from it. So I'm not exactly rooting for her, either.

It's not wrong that the movie ends with no clear answers. What I don't like is the way it phrases the question. It presents two, horrible solutions and asks which is preferable. There's some discussion that can be had around that, but the discussion would be so much richer if the film took its dilemma seriously and offered a couple of actually reasonable perspectives for its viewers to contemplate.

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

I like Warner Oland's Charlie Chan movies, but this is a minor entry. All the detective work is loaded toward the front with as much passion as Law & Order. It's just trying to get through that as quickly as possible so that it can move on to the spy story that it really wants to tell. And sadly, even though it's set at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, it's not at all interested in the political situation at the time. There's never even a mention of Hitler or the Nazi party.

Zorro (1957-61)

A few more episodes into Season 2 and Zorro's still in Monterey. I had to look ahead at descriptions of future episodes to make sure he doesn't permanently relocate there. He doesn't, but it'll be a while before he gets home.

The excuse for now is that he needs to stay and deal with another rebel against oppression. Unlike the original novel and the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks film, the Californian government in the Disney show isn't depicted as completely corrupt. But the governor isn't as wise or careful as he should be either, so his underlings are often able to get away with cruel activities. When that starts to happen in Monterey, a hotheaded local named Joaquin Castenada rises up in defiance. But while Zorro appreciates the young man's passion, he disagrees with the brutality of his methods. It's an interesting conflict, but one that I hope is wrapped up soon.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-93)

The first of the two episodes I watched last week had Indy working as a motorcycle courier, running messages between the French military HQ and the front lines. It's a heavy-handed commentary on the disconnect between the fighting men and the leaders who command them, but it's good in that it puts some cracks in Indy's view of the war. He abandoned the Mexican Revolution when it became complicated, then avoided the Irish Revolution for similar reasons. Both times he set himself resolutely towards Europe to fight the Germans who had ruthlessly invaded Belgium to get to France. Seemed like an uncomplicated bad guy to fight, but as he learns in this episode, the cause of World War I is pitiful and extremely complicated. Unfortunately, it's too late for him to get out now.

In the second episode (written by Carrie Fisher!), Indy is given leave to visit a friend of his father in Paris. The friend is played by Ian McDiarmid, so there's a double Star Wars connection, but the episode is actually about Indy's hooking up with Mata Hari. It's about relationships, so I enjoyed it more than the previous one even though there's not much plot to it. It has some great insights on love and jealousy and the lies we tell early in romances.

Underground (2016-present)

After the big event of an entire episode about Harriet Tubman's speech, the next couple of episodes get back to the main story around Rosalee and Noah's plan to free Rosalee's family. Of course that doesn't go as planned and everything falls apart. But that's just in time for the last couple of episodes (the finale airs this week) to hopefully bring it back around. Hopefully.

I'm very invested in these characters and the way last season ended gives me encouragement that this one will go out on some kind of victory. But the show is nothing if not surprising.

Jam of the Week: "Shout" by Tears for Fears

I love these guys in a way that isn't healthy and I'm finally seeing them live this Thursday, so I've been all about them this past week. They have many excellent songs and I'd love to feature a deeper cut here, but there's no better song than "Shout." Probably by any band.

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