Friday, August 12, 2016


(US/Germany/France/Switzerland/Mexico - 2016)

There isn't much of a sense of urgency in this occasionally obvious and heavy-handed midlife crisis/culture clash drama based on the 2012 novel by Dave Eggers. It's a rare instance of a Tom Hanks movie not getting much of a push, with Lionsgate getting it on just 520 screens at its widest release. Hanks' durable, everyman persona makes him perfectly cast in this fish-out-of-water story centering on a skidding sales rep who's seen better days, being offered One Last Chance to Close the Sale of His Life. Alan Clay (Hanks) hasn't really liked himself much since selling out an American Schwin plant to China, a deal that put several hundred people--including his dad (Tom Skerritt)--out of work. His marriage fell apart and though he feels like a failure, his relationship with 21-year-old daughter Kit (Tracey Fairaway) remains strong thanks to her dislike of her mother. Now working for a tech company, Alan's been handed the plum contract of setting up IT service for Saudi Arabia's royal family. Once on site, he's constantly given the runaround, the wi-fi doesn't work, and he's so bogged down by jet lag that he repeatedly oversleeps and misses his shuttle to the work site. He forms a tentative friendship with Yousef (Alexander Black), a buddy of the hotel concierge, who drives him to the palace grounds every day in his beat-up clunker. A rapidly growing cyst sends Alan to a local doctor, Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), for whom an attraction is mutual, but societal customs initially prevent any moves from being made.

And that's about it. There's a health scare and Alan starts drinking to excess in an attempt to counter his malaise, and in his interactions with both Yousef and Zahra, he learns to appreciate life and pull himself together, while doing what he can to help his new friends in their assorted plights (Yousef's involvement with a married woman and Zahra's pending divorce and a life lived as a second class citizen, even though she's a brilliant doctor). A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING is an unusual project for director Tom Tykwer, normally a more rambunctious filmmaker best known for the innovative 1999 cult classic RUN LOLA RUN. Tykwer directed Hanks in 2012's underappreciated CLOUD ATLAS, and Hanks, a huge fan of the Eggers novel, was likely instrumental in ensuring Tykwer could make this film at all. But even Hanks' involvement didn't generate any Hollywood interest, as the film was an independently-financed, five-country co-production, with extensive location work done in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco. It's easily Tykwer's most low-key film to date, and somewhat European in its pacing and style, probably why Lionsgate didn't see much potential for it at US multiplexes, instead relegating it to its Roadside Attractions arthouse division. It really only starts gaining momentum very late, when Alan and Zahra start to admit their feelings for one another, after the symbolic removal of the cyst on Alan's back is the literal weight lifted off of his back. Tykwer more or less abandons Yousef, who's such a prominent character that you expect him to be there by the end, and a potential love interest for Alan in Danish contractor Hanne (THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY's Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a subplot that goes absolutely nowhere. Skerritt's brief performance looks phoned-in from his living room, and Ben Whishaw, a Tykwer semi-regular since 2006's underrated and insane PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, has even less screen time as the titular hologram, designed as a long-distance meeting facilitator for the Saudi king. It's got some expectedly rock-solid work by Hanks, who gets strong support from Choudhury and a very likable performance by Black, but A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING is a harmless trifle that just never really catches fire. (R, 98 mins)

(US/Italy - 2016)

The warning signs are all there if you look closely: a movie you've heard nothing about, featuring a star-studded cast with several Oscar wins and nominations between them, debuting on VOD in 2016 courtesy of the Redbox-ready B-movie genre outfit Vertical Entertainment with no fanfare, still sporting its 2014 copyright. Yes, FATHERS & DAUGHTERS has spent some time gathering dust on a shelf, a bad movie that's so earnest and self-serious that is occasionally feels like an act of cruelty to be bagging on it. A maudlin, overwrought tearjerker that will have even the most easy weepers rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and calling bullshit, FATHERS & DAUGHTERS is directed by Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino, who had some success in Hollywood several years back with a pair of Will Smith dramas, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006) and SEVEN POUNDS (2008), before tanking with the instantly forgotten Gerard Butler flop PLAYING FOR KEEPS (2012). Muccino fashions FATHERS & DAUGHTERS as a shameless weepie, telling two intercutting, parallel stories taking place in 1989 and 2014. In 1989, blocked Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jake Davis (Russell Crowe, also one of the producers) is behind the wheel when a tragic car accident takes the life of his wife, leaving him to raise their seven-year-old daughter Katie (Kylie Rogers) alone. Jake's grief is overwhelming and, coupled with a head injury he sustained in the accident that causes random seizures that threaten a psychotic break, he's institutionalized for several months while Katie stays with his late wife's wealthy sister Elizabeth (Diane Kruger) and her high-powered lawyer husband William (Bruce Greenwood). Once Jake is out, Elizabeth, still bitter over her sister's death, wants custody of Katie. Jake's latest book becomes a critical laughingstock and commercial bomb, and he's running out of money to fight the impending court battle. In 2014, adult Katie (Amanda Seyfried) is a grad student and social worker attempting to break through to a troubled girl (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Oscar-nominee Quvenzhane Wallis) when she isn't trying to LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR her way through her daddy and abandonment issues, frequently picking up random men at bars for public quickies (Jake isn't around in 2014, so it's obvious he's died at some point in the 25-year interim). She meets an aspiring writer, Jake Davis superfan, and all-around good guy in Cameron (Aaron Paul), and their tender lovemaking is a stark contrast to numerous scenes of Katie getting drilled from behind in the backseat of a car or in a men's room shitter at a bar. Of course, nice-guy Cameron is exactly like her father and therefore, the film posits, exactly what she needs, so she repeatedly tries to sabotage a potentially good thing with her inability to commit and face all the trauma in her past with her mother's death and her father's breakdown.

Never mind the cliche of a woman resorting to promiscuity over unresolved parental issues--Muccino and debuting screenwriter Brad Desch have no notion of the concept of storytelling subtlety. They floridly hammer everything home in an overbaked fashion both in dialogue and filmmaking techniques, with one Katie/Cameron argument pointlessly played out in a long, dizzying single take down a NYC street, into a cab, and back out on the street again for no reason other than Muccino trying to make something out of nothing. Or there's clumsy exposition drops like our first look at adult Katie, when one of her fellow grad students runs up to her and exclaims "I can't believe you're about to get a graduate degree in Psychology!" It just grows more laughable as it goes on, in the 1989 scenes with an increasingly distracted Jake repeatedly trying to make amends with young Katie by referring to her nickname "Potato Chip," the two of them singing along to a Michael Bolton cover of Burt Bacharach's "(They Long to Be) Close to You," and Jake being hit by seizures at all the predictable times, like a major book signing (he has pills for this condition--why doesn't he take them?). In the 2014 scenes, FATHERS & DAUGHTERS turns into an all-out howler by the end, with Katie about to leave a bar to partake in an orgy with some strangers when the Bolton cover of the Bacharach song comes on the jukebox, prompting a total meltdown. This is a non-descript little dive bar in NYC that's playing alternative music at the beginning of the scene. Not even the most insufferable Williamsburg hipster douchebag would play a Michael Bolton song. And why is that song even a choice on a jukebox in this bar? And when a night out is ruined by the drunken appearance of one of Katie's one-nighters from a year ago ("I fucked you on your kitchen floor!" he yells), she tries to explain her past to Cameron, a guy so nice and sensitive that a never-played acoustic guitar is visible on a rocking chair in his apartment, with "You thought you were getting Potato Chip, and you ended up with some cheap piece of ass." What else?  Oh, during an argument between Jake and William over the looming custody fight, a sneering Greenwood is actually required to bark the line "I've got more money than God!" The film completely strands its capable actors with unplayable roles, whether it's Crowe slipping in and out of a broad Noo Yawk accent or Kruger delivering a shrill, wine-swilling performance as the boozy, bitchy control freak Elizabeth. Younger actors Wallis and Rogers manage to escape unharmed, but there's also nothing supporting roles for Octavia Spencer (an Oscar winner for THE HELP) as Katie's boss, two-time Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer, wasted in one brief scene as Katie's therapist, and Jane Fonda in a small role as Jake's caring agent who can't bring herself to tell him he's washed up. Ludicrous, manipulative, and completely over-the-top, FATHERS & DAUGHTERS definitely has some potential to be an audience participation camp classic down the road. (R, 116 mins)

1 comment:

  1. Hmm interesting, Aaron Paul and Amanda Seyfried played a couple earlier on "Big Love"...