Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Hologram for the King

Couldn't get to this earlier because work kept me busy all weekend, which sort of stinks, but that's how I can afford to see movies, right?

It's kind of astonishing just how little notice this got - my sister-in-law who loved the book just wasn't aware of it at all when I mentioned it was good on social media, and I never saw a preview for it. I've seen suggestions that Roadside Attractions is even deliberately fumbling releases, which seems absurd, but I'm not sure how you get a movie with Tom Hanks directed by Tom Tykwer (even if most people don't know his name, they at least know his name should be familiar) to fly so far under the radar is something I don't know.

So, see it if it's near you, check it out (Lara, that would be the Nick - and you can take the girls to see April and the Extraordinary World there, too!). It's grown-up while still being fast-moving and funny, the sort of movie people often grumble about not being able to find in this fantasy-dominated age.

A Hologram for the King

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2016 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

The opening sequence of A Hologram for the King maybe isn't that clever - it's actually a pretty literal take on an on-the-nose pop song - but it hints at Tom Hanks in the sort of broadly comic performance that he mainly brings out for talk shows and the sort of energetic, unconventional filmmaking that got director Tom Tykwer international attention with Run Lola Run. That bit doesn't last, but it pushes the film into a differently odd place that makes for a smart, charming, funny film.

Literally a different place, as American executive Alan Clay (Hanks) is heading for Saudi Arabia to pitch the king on his company providing the new King's Metropolis of Energy and Technology ("KMET") with its IT infrastructure, apparently on the basis of having once met the king's nephew. He's off his game in ways beyond jet-lag, unfortunately, coming off an ugly divorce and not sure what to make of a lump on his back. He keeps missing his shuttle from Jedda to KMET and getting rides from Yousef (Alexander Black), a young man whose ancient car is a stark contrast to the opulent surroundings. Out there, Alan's team is in a tent without wifi or air conditioning, the man who can solve those problems is nowhere to be found, and for all anyone knows, it could be months before the king makes a visit.

I doubt that either this film or the David Eggers novel that Tykwer adapts gives anything close to a true portrait of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - it's too big a place to fit - but it's probably a fair impression of how confounding the place must seem to an American. As seen here, it's a paradoxical mix of rigorous, exclusive tradition and a concerted effort to build a modern nation that is part of a larger world from nothing. Tykwer has a sharp eye for large, empty spaces nested inside one another - the vast desert will surround palatial buildings, which themselves contain vast reception areas or, in a hospital, a blindingly white operating theater with a tiny-seeming bed in the center. The newness of everything else is a sharp contrast to Yousef's beat-up old car, as is the westernized look of much in the cities compared to Yousef's homestead.

Full review on EFC.

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