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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

 

The Lobster

A Surreal World

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Lobster

The Lobster has drawn a wide range of response from critics – most of it positive – for Yorgos Lanthinos’ profoundly disturbing story. Viewers expecting the ordinary may find it a profoundly unpleasant experience. Others may see it as a clever comment on traditional values. The otherwise silent atmosphere on the night I saw it was punctured periodically by sudden, piercing howls of laughter from single individuals that sounded like the appropriate reaction for anyone struck in the heart by the dagger of something too close for comfort.

Billed accurately, if with ludicrous understatement, as “an unconventional love story”, the premise holds that our present culture mandates that every human being be part of a couple. Toward that end, single people must turn themselves in to a hotel where they may stay for 45 days while looking for a mate. Anyone who fails will be turned into the animal of his choice. David chooses to become a lobster if he fails to find a woman.

Residents can earn extra days by joining teams that prowl the surrounding woods to shoot escapees – called Loners – with tranquilizing darts. Requirement for coupling: the pair must have some disability in common – two limpers, two lispers, two nose bleeders.

Olivia Colman is excellent as the hotel manager who sets the grim tone. John C. Reilly earns our sympathy as he searches in vain for a fellow lisper. David (Colin Farrell), who falls for Rachel Weisz, the short sighted tough resident, can find little in common with the woman he now loves. Prepare to suffer as he tries to qualify for her affection.

The system is devoid of warmth, understanding, humor, or the slightest whiff of humanity. Actors are walking robots, searching for partners who will qualify them to live as humans. We have plunged into the surreal with a director who loves what he’s doing.

If you can accept the downside, you may be able to see it as a humorous comment on the rigidity of the societal demands that govern us today. Get married, stay married, have at least one major quality in common – or be sentenced to being ignored forever by the society in which you live. Verdict: people are better off dead than alone. Not much fun, but it’s clever.

Some see this movie as a dive into a surreal world of gestures and words, a brilliant satirical comment on how we all live without knowing it – a social comment deserving of the highest praise made with imagination and skill by a man who has the respect of the industry. The movie was filmed entirely in Ireland by an army of people who made it with great care. Love it if you can, along with many critics.

It can easily be said that I am too unsophisticated to appreciate the metaphors of Mr. Lanthinos’ surreal vision. I just can’t. I didn’t like a minute of it. It turned me cold.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Lobster
Word count : 496
Running time : 1:59
Rating : R
Date : June 2016