Skip to main content

I’m having a squabble with the chairs in this kingdom.

A Hologram for the King
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Tom Tykwer makes stunning-looking films (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, The International and his sequences for Cloud Atlas among them), even if his – usually self-penned – screenplays aren’t quite on the same level. This is especially the case with his adaptation of David Eggers novel A Hologram for the King, which manages to finish up as disappointingly nothing much of anything, an amiable enough shrug of a movie that delivers Tom Hanks with his most traditionally Hanks – as in comedic – role in many a moon. It certainly isn’t a satire, although there are traces of same in its bureaucratic manoeuvrings, while its romance feels like an element decided upon during a script conference devoted to what the story lacks rather than what it merits. And as for its representation of living in Saudi Arabia, it might almost have been commissioned by their tourist board (albeit it was filmed in Morocco).


As in, there’s nary a whisper here of oppressive regimes and human rights violations; it’s such a jolly fine place for westerners to go, the lead character even takes up residence there at the end. After all, if you want decadent booze and drugs, no problem; you can find them. The only warning you need take note of is not to mention the CIA. The country even allows surreptitious topless bathing, as Hanks’ Alan Clay goes on a date with Sarita Choudhury’s doctor, Zahra. And the vistas! Tykwer’s regular cinematographer Frank Griebe ensures Morocco looks gorgeous.


Indeed, if you want to find someone to point to as a villain, look no further than old favourite China, which not only bought up Alan’s previous firm, but also undercuts his bid to sell holographic teleconferencing to the Saudi king.


If you can get past the absence of moral perspective, then much of what’s on display swims in familiarly appealing fish-out-of-water territory, and Hanks shows that, while his comic chops may have been untested for some time, they’re as versatile as ever. The first we see of Alan is an surprisingly active mime to Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime (one of several vibrantly visualised dream/drunk sequences), and he will run through a number of encounters and characters who leave him suitably, and amusingly, exasperated or at a loss. These include Alexander Black’s comedy cabbie Yousef (a bit like a less-dense Father Dougal), Sidse Babett Knudsen’s frisky expat Hanne, and a nigh-on impenetrable ladder of bureaucracy that prevents him from talking to anyone of importance at the development site (he and his colleagues have been set up in a tent, with no Wi-Fi and a busted air-con).


Alan is also the less-than-proud owner of a rather unsettling lump on his back which, though it fails to erupt into Richard E Grant’s second head, does lead to his first encounter with Zahra. Hanks and Choudry have low-key chemistry, and indeed Mr easy-going Hanks ensures pretty much every scene he’s sharing establishes a well-matched, breezy contrast of performance and pitch (his back-and-forth with Black is particularly rewarding, as Alan grows frustrated over everything, from music, to food, to being driven to Mecca).


A Hologram for the King’s over-the-hill businessman rediscovering his enthusiasm for life is less effective in its through line than the similar but more overtly fantasy-based Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, perhaps because the latter is unapologetic in its oddball plotting and nurtured romance, where this charts an emotionally unpersuasive course. While Tykwer keeps the running time admirably tight, there’s never a feeling that Alan has to do anything very much to right his ship. He comes, he sees, he almost imperceptibly self-discovers, and then his whole new life is miraculously sorted.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.