Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Review: A Hologram for the King

Tom Hanks continues to chug along as America's favorite actor.  Even in movies that have no other major stars such as A Hologram for the King, Hanks keeps delivering the every-man performance time and time again.  Audiences are easily able to relate to him and at the ripe young age of 59,
Hanks single-handedly helps make Hologram a pleasant movie that portrays the fish-out-of-water nature of a global businessman.

Directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas - another Hanks vehicle), Hologram centers on Alan Clay (Hanks), a failed businessman assigned to broker a deal with a rich Saudi king in the Middle East.  Clay represents a fictional IT firm who is planning to pitch a virtual hologram powered method of remote meeting communication software to the Saudis. The film pretty much starts with Clay landing in Saudi Arabia where he must navigate the cultural differences and prepare for a unscheduled upcoming technology demonstration meeting with the king.

This movie does a good job of portraying IT business travel.  As someone who has spent many a week working on-site for a client around the world, I was able to empathize with the perils that Clay had to tackle.  Spotty WiFi, limited food for his staff and both language and climate issues are some of the challenges depicted in the film.  The way that Clay tackles these issues as well as issues with a failed marriage and a relationship with his daughter back in the USA makes up the majority of the key plot points.  Through an unusual bump/cyst that Clay develops, he ends up starting a relationship with a Saudi female doctor (Sarita Choudhury).  (I found it particularly nasty that Tykwer chose to focus on that cyst so much.  There are many sequences that show Clay and other doctors try to cut into the infection and it's all very unnecessary and extremely disgusting to watch.)  The chemistry between Hanks and Choudhury is slow-building but works in the end to help ground the story for Clay.

This movie is not ground breaking and is not even all that interesting at times.  But with Hanks at the wheel we can't help but feel for his Andy character.  The end of this movie is a bit open ended and the supporting acting (especially the team of IT consultants that Hanks manages) is very wooden.  This is worth a rental however if only for a decently realistic look at IT corporate travel.  3 out of 5 JRs for A Hologram for the King, a questionable film choice for Hanks in this stage of his career.  Let's hope he's given a better script and supporting cast next time around.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Movie Reviews: Captain America - Civil War, Green Room

How many more superheroes can we fit into this poster?!??!?

The 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the better ones of the series.  The Russo brothers, fresh off their well-received Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) deliver another action packed Cap story with Captain America: Civil War, a movie chock full of even MORE super heroes fresh from the cels of Marvel comic books.

Things pick up in typical Marvel fashion where we left off with last year's Avengers: Age of Ultron movie.  The US Government (in conjunction with other worldwide governing bodies) is becoming increasingly frustrated with the large amount of collateral damage inflicted across the globe by our favorite band of suited ass-kickers.  The United Nations wants to put a system of regulations and restrictions on the Avengers providing increased accountability.  Tony Stark (Iron Man / Robert Downy Jr.) is OK with these new rules and procedures and he gets half of the Avengers on his side including Black Widow (ScarJo) and War Machine (Don Cheadle).  Captain America (Chris Evans) is against all this government regulation and enlists his super posse, led by Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the Winter Soldier himself aka Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and even Ant-Man (Paul Rudd who I enjoyed seeing bring some needed comic relief).  All in all this is a pretty interesting and timely subplot that turns our heroes against one another.  While this film carries the Captain America title (and don't get me wrong, Chris Evans is a fine action actor), this movie is NOT a Captain America movie.  There are many more interesting characters to focus on in this one.

What really makes this movie stand out and super fun to watch is the performance of Tom Holland as the new (YES another new actor) Spider-Man.  Sony recently sold the rights to Spider-Man to Marvel to have Spidey appear in this cinematic universe.  Thank goodness they did as Mr. Holland simply owns this part.  We see him and Tony Stark banter early on with Holland playing the eager teenager role perfectly.  It really is a breath of fresh air to see such a young actor play the part with such poise after some mixed performances from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.  He comes off as an engaging figure and someone that we instantly relate with as an audience.  Chadwick Boseman (of 42 and the recent James Brown movie) plays yet another hero named Black Panther who sides with Team Iron Man.  His character is easy to root for as well and it will be very interesting to see how the Black Panther arc is told in an upcoming stand-alone film by Creed director Ryan Coogler.

The action in this film is really well choreographed and paced out.  The super-charged 17-minute battle scene outside a world airport towards the end of the middle act of the film is really the showcase of the movie.  It's great fun to see such a dynamic cast of superheros tee-off against one another and the addition of Ant-Man, Spidey and Panther just kicks everything up a notch.  The Russos teeter on overbloat here though.  It's tough keeping up with whom is whom and knowing all their back stories and motives.  Paul Bettany's Vision is kinda just thrown into the mix and I'm not sure we even need this character at all in the crowded cinematic universe.

Captain America: Civil War is essentially the third Avengers film (minus Hulk and Thor).  The new additions of Black Panther and Spider-Man more than offset the gaps left by Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo.  This is a thoroughly entertaining movie from start to finish and one that needs to be seen in the theater.  I thought the film was a little too long and there are a few slow parts at the beginning but it delivers in all aspects where Age of Ultron failed.  The biggest takeaway I had leaving the theater is that I'm not yet sick of all these characters and I'm more than excited for the first stand-alone Spider-Man film with Holland in control of the web slinger.  A very solid 4.5 out of 5 JRs for one of the best movies of the year so-far.

Finally, I would like to give a quick one-paragraph review of Green Room which I saw a couple weeks ago.  This film, directed by Jeremy Saulnier chronicles an ill-fated night for a small-time punk rock band at a rural nightclub infested by skinheads and white supremacists.  Patrick Stewart plays against type as the leader of the neo-nazi group and does a remarkable job of emoting quiet confidence with small spurts of rage mixed in.  There's nothing groundbreaking here and the motivation of key characters are sometimes unclear.  This is only worth a rental and gets a 3 out of 5 JR rating.  Warning, if you are turned off by extreme violence, you should probably skip this one.