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This Melancholy Movie Season

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

This Melancholy Movie Season

What are the summer movie options when studios hold the good ones back until fall so they will be fresh in the minds of important people at Academy Award time? From April through June we are bombarded with on-screen violence and cheap thrills that are bait from the producers to lure young people. It’s a terrible time for audiences and for reviewers. This is the melancholy movie season.

And so, here comes a recap of a few outstanding ones from this year in case you missed them. Each is better than the current crop and you can find them on Netflix or Amazon. It hurts to recommend watching at home over the fun of immersion in an audience, but here goes.

The Lost City of Z lies in the jungles of Bolivia where men have searched for oil and gold. Not one of them has ever returned alive. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is looking not for oil but for an ancient civilization he believes once existed. Fawcett and his wife (Sienna Miller) agree to his three year absence. Both have inner qualities that set them apart from the stereotypical demands of England in the 1900s and they hand us two of the finest performances of this year.

A United Kingdom is a true story, beautifully told, as racism in reverse. The young king-in-waiting of Botswana is sent to England for education where he falls in love with a white woman who eventually becomes his wife. When his country exiles him to England because of the marriage, she stays behind in his country and endures resentment and anger. Their love story and their intelligence are portrayed with compassion and grace by David Oyelowe and Ruth Williams.

Land of Mine is a Danish film set in 1945 when the Danes forced German prisoners to search for and dismantle mines buried on the beaches of their country. It is a horrific mixture of brutality and bravery that reduces audiences to profound silence. This fine film is a deep study of what happens when men acquire the power of life or death over others, especially when the power shifts from one side to the other. The movie is overwhelming as it asks the crucial question of why men still discuss and use war as a solution to disputes. Credit the Danes with addressing both sides of that question.

For a lovely gentle comedy that you can still see in theaters, go straight to Paris Can Wait, a low key story of a traditional wife and her husband’s close friend who woos her with the beauties of both France and creative meals. Diane Lane is perfect as the middle-aged woman discovering her core while the scenery between Cannes and Paris is a simple immersion in beauty.

If you are desperate, you can hustle off to see Captain Underpants, Pirates of the Caribbean, Baywatch, and Guardians of the Galaxy on current screens. Good luck until September brings more good ones.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : This Melancholy Movie Season
Word Count : 496
Date : June 4, 2017

 

A Hologram for the King

Lost in the Desert

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King is a small scale story set in the vastness of the Saudi Arabian desert. A failing businessman has come to sell his groundbreaking idea to the king. When you drop Tom Hanks into this situation, a quiet movie becomes a character study and Hanks is the master of that situation. Whatever his character does, we believe him. When he drinks too much, he loses his edge but not his mind. When he wakes up from an unpleasant dream, we believe absolutely that he has been sleeping. Hanks creates a lonely American we all root for. Is it enough to draw us to the theater?

A swift and clever opening sequence tells us that Alan Clay (Hanks) has lost his job, his wife, and his home. He is embarking on a thin possibility of redemption with a plan to sell a system of holographic teleconferencing to the king of Saudi Arabia. Alan arrives with a scheduled appointment but no support system whatever until he meets Yousef (Alexander Black) who becomes Alan’s guide through the next weeks of waiting for the appointment that is rescheduled each day with little explanation of the whereabouts of the king.

During this genuinely strange time we watch the lone American wander about killing time and observing – without any guidance – the thoroughly alien environment. Through Alan’s eyes, we see a vast desert landscape marked by pockets of people who have no contact with one another. There seems to be no social interaction outside the self-contained and clearly defined religious sects or social classes.

In the vast desert, an enormous city block of towers and buildings is rising though we see scant evidence of workmen and no sense of who will inhabit this isolated ghost city. Sometimes with Yousef driving him in his dilapidated car, often alone, Alan wanders aimlessly through all this as he waits for the king who never comes. Except for an occasional phone call with the daughter he loves (Tracey Fairaway), this is an insecure man alone in a land where he knows no one. He is accompanied only by thoughts of his professional and personal disasters.

Until, that is, he develops several medical needs that require the services of Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a doctor who steps in to treat him when he hurts his head in a fall from a chair. For reasons never explained, Alan breaks chairs whenever he chooses to sit down. Also unexplained is why Doctor Zahra lives alone in magnificent luxury in a culture that seems unlikely to hand such wealth to a female doctor who seems to know no one. We learn quickly that whatever their cultural differences, she is ready to know a quiet, lonely American businessman.

Though the puzzle of the cultures is left unexplored, the unfamiliar, stark beauty of the desert is a fine reward for audiences. Tom Hanks’ portrait of a decent, discouraged American is your reason to go.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A Hologram for the King
Word count : 497
Studio : Lionsgate
Running time : 1:38
Rating : R
June 2016