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***, Tom Hanks

Alexander Black, Tom Hanks

“A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING” My rating: B+ 

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Tom Tykwer’s “A Hologram for the King” begins with what appears to be a music video.

Tom Hanks, in suit and tie, is moving through a suburban neighborhood singing the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” As he cover the song’s lyrics — “You may find yourself looking for your large automobile; you may find yourself without a beautiful house, without a beautiful wife…” –those objects of middle-class American happiness and stability vanish in clouds of garish purple smoke.

What the hell kind of movie is this, anyway?

Well, it’s a pretty great one, actually, although its charms are slow in developing.

That musical interlude, it turns out, is a dream that businessman Alan Clay (Hanks) is having while napping on a jet bound for Saudi Arabia. He awakens to find himself in the middle of an Islamic religious ceremony. He’s the only person on board not dressed in white and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Alan, whose career and marriage both have hit rock bottom, is trying to start over. He’s landed a job with a huge American telecommunications firm and is en route to Saudi Arabia to make a presentation of his firm’s latest technical innovation, a communications system that allows callers to converse with a life-size, three-dimensional hologram of the person on the other end of the line. The Saudi king will personally choose the winning bid; the job will be worth millions.

Being a can-do sort of guy and a born salesman, Alan hopes to reverse his business fortunes. Things aren’t so easily fixed in the marriage department. His ex wife  hates his guts. Mostly Alan feels guilty because he can no longer pay for college for his adoring daughter (Tracey Fairaway), who has dropped out and taken a job waitressing.

From the minute he touches down, things start going wrong. Alan has a killer case of jet lag and keeps missing the shuttle to the city of the future out in the desert where he’s to make his presentation. The Saudi bigwigs with whom he is supposed to meet have made themselves scarce and the three American technicians already on site are working out of a huge tent where there’s no wi-fi, inadequate air conditioning, and nothing to eat.

It’s going to be a disaster. Except that it also may be the greatest experience of Alan Clay’s life.

(more…)

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