A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Richard Gere in “Norman,” Emma Watson in the cyber thriller “The Circle” and the animated movie “Spark: A Space Tail.”
Check out the Richard Crouse Show on NewsTalk 1010 for April 22, 2017! This week Richard welcomes “American War“ writer and director Omar El Akkad. More on Omar El Akkad: Omar was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Doha, Qatar until he moved to Canada with his family. He is an award-winning journalist and author who has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials at Guantànamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. He is a recipient of Canada’s National Newspaper Award for investigative reporting and the Goff Penny Memorial Prize for Young Canadian Journalists, as well as three National Magazine Award honorable mentions. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Here’s some info on The Richard Crouse Show!: Each week on The Richard Crouse Show, Canada’s most recognized movie critic brings together some of the most interesting and opinionated people from the movies, television and music to put a fresh spin on news from the world of lifestyle and pop-culture. Tune into this show to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of your favorite shows and movies and get a new take on current trends. Richard also lets you know what movies you’ll want to run to see and which movies you’ll want to wait for DVD release. Click HERE to catch up on shows you might have missed! Read Richard NewsTalk 1010 reviews HERE!
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Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, Richard Gere in “Norman,” Emma Watson in the cyber thriller “The Circle” and the animated movie “Spark: A Space Tail.”
The new animated film Spark: A Space Tail boasts an a-list cast, actors who haven’t done a lot of kid’s films. In an e-mail conversation with Susan Sarandon, whose voice appears alongside Patrick Stewart, Jessica Biel and Hilary Swank, the Dead Man Walking star says she took the role because, “I’ve never played a robot before.”
In the Canada-South Korea co-production she plays Bananny, the automaton nanny for the teen chimp Spark. He’s an ape and her name is a play on the word banana, the preferred simian snack. It’s that kind of movie. Once the prince of a planet of the apes called Bana (banana without the “na,” get it?), Spark lives on a tiny slice of his former home, one of many planetary bits blown into space thirteen years ago following a coup by the Napoleon-esque Zhong.
The actress, who recently won raves playing Bette Davis on the decidedly-not-for-children hit television series Feud, says the best kid’s flicks are movies, “both adults and kids can enjoy simultaneously and [ones that don’t] patronize the children. Real emotion. When the kids save the day.”
Without giving away too much, the new film stays close to the Thelma and Louise actress’ ethos. The movie draws from Star Wars, WALL-E and just about every other adolescent-in-space movie where the young’uns are the unexpected heroes.
Spark lives with former royal guard members, Vix and Chunk, warriors whose job is to protect, train and prepare Spark for his destiny—the recapture of the kingdom. He’s an underdog kids will identify with.
As a child the Oscar winner was drawn to movies with strong central characters. Her favourites included The Boy With the Green Hair, an anti-bullying movie starring Dean Stockwell and Bambi, the Disney classic about strength in the face of extreme adversity.
Sarandon, whose previous voice work includes decidedly adult entries like the female outlaw story Cassius and Clay, the comedy Hell and Back, about two friends whop must rescue a friend accidentally dragged to Hades, and kid’s flicks like the fantasy James and the Giant Peach and Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, says the animated films she gets offered differ from live action, particularly in the realm of kid’s entertainment. Children’s animated films more primal, basic, she says. “Animation allows for more fantastical stories without being too real or scary.”
Children’s animation, with no-holds-barred visuals and wild stories, she asserts, are good for kids but ultimately she takes an old school position on the significance of cartoons in the development of a child’s imagination.
“I think books are the most important, but animation tackles a lot of social interaction, so it’s really important to make sure that the moral of the story is a good, positive one.”
One day someone may write about Emma Watson without mentioning the Harry Potter franchise, but today is not that day. Few child stars have faced the glare of the spotlight as acutely as the core Potter cast and the fame that came along with playing Harry, Ron and Hermione will likely follow them around for as long as Potterheads roam the earth.
It’s not like they are crying over spilt potion, however. On screen Daniel Radcliffe takes on demanding roles that give him the chance to distance himself from Harry and, apparently, show his bum at every opportunity. Rupert Grint has kept a lower profile, starring in a few independent films and playing an upper-crust criminal on the television adaptation of Snatch.
Of the three Emma Watson has maintained the highest professional profile. Whether addressing the United Nations or starring opposite a heartbroken furry beast or accepting British GQ’s Woman of the Year Award she has rarely been far from view.
This weekend she follows up her biggest post-Potter hit, starring as Belle in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, with the high-tech thriller The Circle. Appearing opposite Tom Hanks she plays a young woman hired at The Circle, America’s most influential and possibly dangerous tech company.
She says, “I pick movies, not roles,” and has amassed a carefully curated IMDB page—including everything from This is the End’s axe wielding version of herself to Noah’s adopted daughter—designed to challenge an audience used to seeing her as Hermione and showcase strong and independent characters.
A year after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 she surprised fans by playing a wise-beyond-her years free spirit in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “If you had told me that the first movie I was going to do coming out of Harry Potter was an American high school movie,” she told the Hollywood Reporter, “I would have laughed at you.”
Based on a popular junior adult novel, it uses one of the building blocks of teen drama—the friendless teen trying to navigate high school in his freshman year—but layers in equal amounts of teen angst and exuberance before the final class bell rings. Watson is terrific, avoiding the square-peg-in-a-round-hole clichés that could have dogged her character.
Her next starring role silenced Hermione comparisons forever. The Bling Ring plays like a Law & Order episode of The Hills. Based on actual events, it centers on a group of narcissistic Los Angeles teenagers who track the comings and goings of their favourite celebs on the internet. While one-named millennial stars like Paris, and Lindsay are out on the town the Ring “go shopping,” breaking into their homes, helping themselves to jewels, designer clothes and loose cash.
Watson’s performance nails the vapidity that made the robberies possible. Dead eyed, with a bored infliction on every word she mispronounces, her take on Nicki shows there’s more to her than being a wizard’s sidekick.
“I am aware I have a long way to go,” she told Elle UK. “I am not sure I deserve all the respect I get yet, but I’m working on it.”
The twenty-seven-year-old may have a long way to go, but one thing is for sure, if she continues to choose daring and exciting roles, she’s not going anywhere.
There’s an old saying that says a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. “The Circle,” a new Emma Watson, Tom Hanks’ thriller updates the message for the cyber age. “Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better,” is the chilling message.
Based on the Dave Eggers bestseller of the same name, “The Circle” stars Emma Watson as Mae Holland, a young woman who lands a gig at The Circle, a social media company with the influence of Apple and Facebook combined. It’s high tech glamour with a human touch, the chaos of the web made elegant. When Mae’s father falls ill her health coverage is extended to include her extended family. “You are a valued member of the Circle,” says the Zuckerbergesque company head and co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). “We care about everybody you care about.”
As she moves up the ranks Bailey convinces her to take part in a radical test. “Mae,” he asks, “do you think you behave better or worse when you are being watched?” It is a grand social experiment that sees her observed on-line every minute of the day via a new, lightweight, wireless portable camera. On the surface it’s a utopian idea, a way to make people better—“When we are our best selves,” says Bailey, “there isn’t a problem we can’t solve.”—that soon has some unexpected consequences.
When her co-worker Ty (John Boyega) warns her that “all the information, everything broadcast, recorded and seen is stored there and they can use it however they want,” she realizes the possibilities of a surveillance culture.
“The Circle” is a snapshot not of today but of two years ago. It’s almost impossible to tell a dystopian or cautionary cyber tale when Russian hackers are throwing American elections and your laptop is already spying on you and likely has been for years. The film feels as current as it’s musical guest star Beck, a musician old enough to be Watson’s father.
It does raise questions about the usage of personal data for the gain of personal wealth, the role of technology in government—“The government needs us more than we need them,” snarls The Circle’s COO (Patton Oswalt)—and the nature and importance of privacy in the wild west of the internet but it doesn’t add much to the conversation. The messages are earnest, but Watson’s Mae is a passive player, a shallow character too gullible and easily influenced to maintain our interest. The solution to her moral quandary feels better suited to a Facebook post than the climax to a movie.
While it is a pleasure to see Bill Paxton in his last big screen performance, “The Circle” often feels like an Exposition-A-Thon, a message in search of a story.
To play the title character in “Norman,” a strategist, a consultant who sometimes consults with consultants, Richard Gere dimmed his matinee idol looks with a bad haircut and thick glasses. It’s his best role in years, a character study that gives him the chance to go deep in a movie that isn’t as deep as it thinks it is.
Gere is Norman Oppenheimer, a down-at-the-heels New York City wannabe wheeler-dealer. He’s a connector, a facilitator who brings people together. In conversation he repeats, “I’d be very happy to introduce you,” like a mantra, seven words that could unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Everybody who’s anybody knows who he is but nobody knows anything about him. He’s a cipher who lives on his cell phone, has no office but does have nerve and something to prove. He’s so keen to impress Micha Eshelan (Lior Ashkenazi), up-and-coming Israeli politician he buys him a very expensive gift just minutes after meeting him. “I bought him a pair of shoes,” he says. “The most expensive pair of shoes in all of New York. Best investment I ever made.”
His investment pays off years later when Eshelan becomes the Prime Minister of Israel. Norman’s stock rises considerably but is his relationship with the world leader illegal and corrupt? Is Norman simply a delusional name-dropper or is he the one virtuous man in a den of wolves?
When we first meet Norman he is the living, breathing embodiment of disappointment. A man who rides a razors edge of failure every time he picks up his cell phone. He swallows his pride at every turn, trying to maintain dignity even as he is thrown out of a wealthy man’s home. He’s a goodhearted weasel who lies and cheats in his quest to do the right thing and Gere plays him as a man desperate to matter, to experience the kind of recognition that would come with the right connections.
It feels like he has tasted the good life and, as Eshelan says, “once you have been up, way up, you can’t settle for anything less.” Norman wants more but it’s never exactly sure what that means to him. He’s a fascinating, annoying character and Gere brings him to life.
There’s also interesting work from Ashkenazi, Charlotte Gainsbourg as a crusading lawyer and Steve Buscemi as a rabbi but the film feels cluttered, as though director Joseph Cedar was so fascinated by Norman’s ever spreading web of obligations, he couldn’t stop adding to it.
“Norman” is an in-depth look at a superficial man, a movie that works best when it focuses on Gere and not baroque political intrigue.
I hate puns and I especially hate punny titles. Imagine taking the time to read “the Long Quiche Goodbye: A Cheese Shop Mystery” or a thriller called “Doppelgangster.” The mind reels. As such, my expectations for the animated outer space monkey movie “Spark: A Space Tail” were not high. Sadly, my expectations were met.
Once the prince of a planet of the apes called Bana (banana without the “na”), Spark (voice of Jace Norman) is a teenage chimp living on a tiny slice of his former planet, one of many blown into space thirteen years ago following a coup by the Napoleon-esque Zhong (voice of Alan C. Peterson). Spark lives with robot caretaker Bananny (voice of Susan Sarandon) and former royal guard members, Vix (voice of Jessica Biel) and Chunk (voice of Rob deLeeuw), warriors whose job is to protect, train and prepare Spark for his destiny—the recapture of the kingdom. Key to Zhong’s defeat is the Galactic Kraken, a beast whose harnessed power may be the most powerful weapon history has ever known.
An air of déjà vu hangs heavy over “Spark: A Space Tail.” Anyone over the age of four will immediately recognize story elements lightly lifted from “Star Wars,” “WALL-E” and just about any other adolescent in space movie that came before. Most of the borrowed concepts were good ideas the first, second or even third time around but feel a bit been-there-done-that here.
But it’s not just the story that feels shopworn. Space underdog stories will always find some kind of audience but other than a couple of effective scenes of interplanetary dodge ball the animation here is as unattractive as it gets. Not only is “Spark: A Space Tail” saddled with a story that would have been quite at home in an early nineties direct to video release, but it has animation to match. The a-lister cast—including Sarandon, Patrick Stewart and Hilary Swank among others—cannot compensate for visuals that redefine the word generic.
Unfortunately the punny title may be the best thing about “Spark: A Space Tail.”