“Sorry to Bother You” is an amazing film. It has elements of Terry Gilliam in how the reality that is presented is warped, giving scenes a surreal feel. This is Boots’s first major film and I love how he takes a surreal approach to everything. It follows the feel of a Gilliam film like “Brazil” or “The Fisher King,” where a character down on his luck is put through a warped hell and comes out of it transformed in some way. The pervasive sense of wrongness and fear that is always on the edges is another part of Gilliam’s films that “Sorry to Bother You” has emulated well. These aspects are essentially what happens here, but add analysis of race, class and privilege. It is Boots Riley’s first film (he also wrote as well as directed it) so I’m curious to see what he does in the future. If his other films are anything like this, I’ll be a fan. This is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who takes a job as a telemarketer in order to pay the bills. He soon rises in the job when he adopts a “White Voice.” His bosses take advantage of the fact that his friends and girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) are part of a protest group called “The Left Eye,” leaving him with a choice of joining his activist friends or becoming part of the greater conspiracy, which he soon discovers runs much deeper and is more twisted than he ever expected.
The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Color is used as a theme and from it there are many scenes that feel dreamlike when the colors are bright and vibrant. When there is danger or tension things go dark and the colors become muted or draped in a sickly pale light. This is how it is when Cash is among the wealthy in the WorryFree CEO’s home. The bright colors are muted and darkness covers everything. Doug Emmett did a great job.
Passing and Voice – A major theme of the film is the idea of passing and privilege. Cash moves up when he starts using the “White Voice.” In the film David Cross is dubbed over Lakeith Stanfield. He does this on the phone when telemarketing and the higher ups notice as the whole point of Telemarketing was finding people who could make the calls for war and exploitation on a global scale. The higher ups are nearly all white males illustrating privilege, and the only way Cash and other people of color can pass with the higher ups is speaking with their white voice. The way it is described by one of Cash’s coworker Langston (Danny Glover) is talk like you don’t have a care in the world. All your bills are paid and you don’t need the money, you’ve never been fired, only let go. It expressed privilege so well and the mentality behind the mindset of not having to care about anyone except yourself.
The Characters – The characters are what makes this film work the most. Cash is a guy who hasn’t had a successful job ever, so the temptation of moving up is easy to see him take. He’s in an existentialist crisis questioning what it means to live and who he is, and when the rat race of power is offered, it is easy to see why he would take it. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit is also shown to be more complicated than the revolutionary artist, as during her show she adopts a British “White Voice” among clients as she sells her work. Yeun’s character Squeeze is also amazing as well as the revolutionary who cares about Cash but is also trying to get with his girlfriend showing that his heart might be in the right place with the other Telemarketers and unionizing but he’s still a sleaze. I loved how they all played off each other and the Corporate bosses were fun in their obliviousness or sociopathy. Armie Shammer as the main antagonist and CEO of WorryFree is especially creepy in how he is charismatic and unhinged.
The Degrading Nature of Reality T.V. – One of the running realities of the world of “Sorry to Bother You,” is a show called “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!” The show is in the style of Maury or any of the other countless competition shows where the contest gets humiliated in a physical and degrading way. Cassius goes through the show to reveal the conspiracy behind the corporation WorryFree that tricks people into lifetime contracts where they are provided food and shelter but have to work on site and have their freedom and agency given up. They are being used for more nefarious means that Cash finds when the CEO of the Corporation wants him to be their agent among the protests.
The Exploitation of Labor – Another core message of the film is that those with power and privilege don’t care about the workers, and there are systems in place to keep that it going. From the trap of the golden elevator and being able to “support” protests without ever having to join or speak up. Cash is offered this choice that he takes it. The conspiracy that is revealed is that the workers are being transformed into Horse People (equisapiens) so that they will be stronger more efficient workers. Cash is even turned into one when the CEO wants him to be their MLK and trick the species into following WorryFree’s will. The system doesn’t hold at the end after Cash free’s the equisapiens and the protestors are attacked by the police. At the end, we never see if the telemarketers ever got greater rights, tying the fight to modern day with the seeking of rights for workers and the fight against labor exploitation.
This is a film that I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of the best films of the year. I have a spot for surrealist films and films with a point. “Sorry to Bother You,” accomplishes both and is a beautiful film with complicated characters. I can’t wait to see what else Boots Riley creates, as he truly has an eye for cinema and is an extremely talented writer. I love a film with layers and depth that not only are entertaining but have something meaningful to say. Boots Riley is an activist and that comes out in this story, and he does it in a creative way that elevates the piece beyond more than just entertainment. I really enjoyed the final twist as well, which I will not spoil here. Seriously, check this film out.
Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Only reason it wasn’t perfect (though it gets close) is that the ending kind of tapers off and the transformation that Cash goes through from a man in crisis to high on privilege is a bit fast. If it had been a more gradual transformation the film would have been perfect.
“The Circle” is an unfocused mess full of hack characters and no discernible theme. I hear the book is good so just read the book. I’ll go into why I went from disliking to hating this film in a moment because there is quite a lot to unload on this film, but the biggest parts are that lack of theme, half-formed characters and with all of that, failure to go full ham. If you are going to be cheesy you should bank on it and in doing so create your own form of malformed beauty.
The film was directed by James Ponsoldt who was also one of the producers, written by Dave Eggers who also wrote the book and produced by Anthony Bregman and Gary Goetzman.
The story involves Mae (Emma Watson) getting a job at The Circle (A facebookish tech. company) thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). She soon finds it is not the paradise it seems to be when the public sharing among the circle and constant call for interaction begins to unfold leading to dark consequences.
The Pros: The Concept – The concept is a lot like a “Black Mirror” episode. What happens when social media becomes a society and you are under pressure to reveal your life and what you are doing at all times? I like this concept but this isn’t the focus or the theme of the film, even though the trailers seem to set it up that way.
The Cinematography – The cinematography looks great, there are great uses of shadow and holograms to really illustrate the future. You can tell the director put a lot of love into this film…
The Cons: Hack Characters – Dave Eggars wrote the book, but apparently can’t write screenplays. None of these characters feel fully fleshed out. Mae the main character is almost set up to have a rise to power only to become a reformer…but the reasons with that don’t feel all that explored.
She has an off the grid ex who is the “hero” of the film, which in turn shuts down her becoming a professional within her own life. He also gets harassed for his antler art? What the hell. He is a paranoid guy in the woods whose paranoia ends up being justified but we never get to know him. He is an idealized version of the off the grid blue collar hero. What the ever living hell…He’s not a character and they turn him into a martyr when people stalk him on a new program and he drives off a bridge. We are told they do things together or did things together, but we never see it. It is all tell and now show. Again, he’s an idea not a character.
Her best friend Annie is rising in the company and disappears. I wanted to see her rise and fall arc. But she is barely around…Same Ty Lafitte…John Boyega’s character who is fighting the Circle and invented another giant tech. media company…and finally Hanks’s Eamon, one of the founders whose agenda is never known and who is only around as a vague threat. These aren’t characters, these are concepts in a terrible script.
Social Media and Tech. Paranoia – We are told to fear tech. (her parents telling her not to trust the Circle and her ex being off the Grid) and we see how it turns her and Annie into monsters at times…but that is also contradicted with the ending. This is a vague theme that exists but doesn’t go anywhere and is never fully explored.
A Missed Corruption Arc – This is a hackneyed script in a hammy story…so knowing this, they should have just made Mae a villain. Her life is public, make her a Trump figure who can lampoon people she talks too and win by being horrible…since we see her do this a few times till “noble” ex gets the axe. I wanted her to take out the owners and gain control of the company. That would have made this film a beautiful disaster that is “So bad it’s good.” Sadly this potential is missed. They should have embraced tech and information as power that corrupts…what a waste.
Lack of any Theme – There is no core theme. There is a vague sense of distrusting smart phones and social media…but Mae makes everything public in the end to take out The Circle’s founders. So, what was the ever living point of this film? If you don’t have a purpose, why were you made? The sad thing is the author of the book was the screenwriter…A writer should know the themes they intend to explore.
I don’t recommend this garbage. This was a film that could have been “So Bad it’s Good,” if it had been comfortable in tech. and information as corrupting influences of power theme, or it could have gone full revolution and had Boyega, Gillan and Watson team up early to take on the Founders. That’d be asking too much of this film though. This is a film that doesn’t know what it wants and doesn’t have any real characters, jut half formed ideas in a broken mess. Seriously, save your money and watch “Black Mirror,” you’ll get well focused themes of technology fears that have a clear focus in theme and character. This film is one of the worst I’ve watched in quite some time.
Final Score: 3 / 10
It took a while but I finally got through Season 1 of “BoJack Horseman.” I got to say I’m impressed. It is heavy, depressing and funny and ends up having a great payoff. I look forward to seeing where the future seasons go. This is a show that didn’t seem to know where it was going at first, it just seemed like a day in the life like “Horsing Around” (the sitcom BoJack stars in) but it gave it’s characters arcs which turned it into a very strong and funny show.
The show was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and airs on Netflix.
The story involves the once famous sitcom actor BoJack Horseman from “Horsin’ Around” trying to recapture the glory days and be loved by people again which leads to him taking on a ghost writer named Diane Nguyen. From here things unfold as BoJack’s own demons come back to ruin whatever he touches.
The Pros: The World – The World is full of humans and humanoid animals who have traits similar to the animal they are drawn from. Princess Carolyn is a cat and has a scratchy post, etc, It’s really cool and fits the offness of the world the story takes place in.
The Animation – The animation is great and flows really well. When BoJack does a drug trip near the end of the season it is really shown too as they get super creative with some of the images he sees and the animation (such as erasing the lines around him). It’s very well done.
The Soundtrack – The soundtrack fits the nihilistic feel of the world and the world of Hollywood it draws from. Patrick Carney did a fantastic job. The opening theme is great too for capturing the loneliness of the characters.
The Characters – The main characters are the strongest part and really help capture themes of purpose and loneliness. There are a few side joke characters who I enjoyed too and listed as pros just because they were so funny.
Neal McBeal the Navy Seal – This characters is funny as he gets into a fight on television when BoJack takes his muffins that he had called. He gets justice though and pulls BoJack onto Mr. Peanutbutter’s reality show to get an apology, though it still gets intense as BoJack tries to get him to support his thoughts in regards to war. BoJack and Neal’s fight on television is one of the show’s funniest moments.
Pinky Penguin – Patton Oswalt plays this nervous Penguin who just wants to see his children. He’s a great character as he is extremely anxious and desperate but manages to pull it all off. He is one of the few completely sympathetic characters in the show.
Princess Carolyn – Amy Sedaris is hilarious is Princess Carolyn…BoJack’s agent who is all about her work and has an on and off relationship with him. She’s ruthless and great and at the end of the day truly cares about BoJack. Her arc is becoming top of her game and moving on from BoJack as we see her start dating again after Diane’s book is successful and her and BoJack begin making the “Secretariat” movie.
Todd Chavez – Aaron Paul is great as BoJack’s live-in roommate who is always doing drugs and partying. He has a great mind though and we see that BoJack keeps him down which leads to him leaving BoJack which leads to a somewhat establishing of boundaries when they become friends again. He’s the character who is successful when he tries.
Mr. Peanutbutter – Mr. Peanutbutter is overly positive and can be a bit of a dick like BoJack though he super loyal if he likes you. He is a fun character, though he doesn’t really have an arc beyond marrying Diane after getting over his insecurities of failing in his marriage. I like the character and think is a great contrast to both Diane and BoJack. Paul F. Thompkins does a good job.
Diane Nguyen – Diane is my favorite character on the show. She’s the ghost writer who writers BoJack’s memoir and helps him see all the dark things about himself he denies. She is also a bit of an outcast and comes from a pretty loud and abusive family. Her arc is finishing the book, getting over her fears of failure and commitment and marrying Mr. Peanutbutter and establishing boundaries and friendship again with BoJack after he kisses her. I can’t wait to see where her arc goes next season.
BoJack – BoJack came from an abusive family so became a celebrity because he just wanted to be loved. He’s narcissistic, egotistical and cruel but can also be kind and vulnerable. We see all of this over the course of the season and his arc is being honest with himself and accepting how alone he feels. He gets his dream role though of playing Secretariat, who was his idol as a kid who killed himself when he cheated at racing. Curious where BoJack’s arc is going to go as we see him admit to his mistakes and actually grow a little.
Loneliness – Loneliness is a major theme. All our characters are and deal with it in different ways. Diane with Mr. Peanutbutter, Carolyn with work, BoJack with women, drinks and acting and Todd with drugs. It’s a powerful theme that the show executes really well.
Good People? – One of the main questions of the show is the question of good people existing. The shows answer to that is no as egos get in the way and people are only their base selves. I agree to some degree but also think the show contradicts itself when we get the times of depth from characters like Diane and BoJack who are more than their traumatic childhood and hurt.
Okay: Side Characters – There are a few celebrity side character but I didn’t really see them as characters. They felt like guest appearances rather than characters within the narrative. From Colbert as a Frog and Naomi Watts as herself…they existed for the sake of the plot and that was it.
Sarah Lynn – She the former child star from “Horsin’ Around” gone crazy with drugs and that is the extent of her character. She brings out the worst of BoJack’s tendencies and her character never really goes anywhere. She works within the world at least.
The Cons: Early Show Meandering – Early on the show doesn’t feel like it has focus. It establishes are characters are lonely and self destructive but we don’t really get anything beyond that. The story really doesn’t pick up until Diane and BoJack start developing their relationship and that is where the solid arcs begin.
This was a great show, even though it didn’t really find it’s footing till about a third of the way through. By that point though I was in and wanted to see what happened to the characters and how their relationships would unfold. The characters and themes are really what make this show great and in my Top 3 American Animated Shows currently though I’d still put “Gravity Falls” ahead of it. This shows gets my recommendation and I can’t wait to watch the next season.
Final Score: 9.3 / 10