In the trippy opening sequence of A Hologram for the King, Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) wakes up after having a surreal Talking Heads-infused dream about failure. Professional and personal pressures, including a relentless ex-wife and an abrasive boss who wants immediate results, have driven him into a state of panic. Escape seems like the only option.
Cramped into a small airplane seat, he's bound for Saudi Arabia on behalf of an expanding American technology firm. Clay has been tasked with selling a revolutionary teleconference technology to the royal family who's currently building a megalopolis in the desert.
Director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) immediately establishes the absurdity of Clay's attempts to get business done. Miscommunications and distractions perpetrated by the Saudi bureaucracy turn his stay into an extended quagmire of wasted time. But the delays allow him to meet two important locals that change his perspective on life: a philandering cab driver and an insightful surgeon.
On paper, this wreaks of the sentimental self-discovery found in films like Eat Pray Love where an American becomes inspired to live again thanks to exotic new experiences. A Hologram for the King, which opens Friday, April 22, avoids these traps by exploring the theme of reflection through a number of different shifts in the narrative. The result is not a schizophrenic "many movies in one" but a single film that has the freedom and courage to evolve multiple times over. It's also very funny.
A Hologram for the King has a misleading title. It doesn't begin to capture the emotional subtly and structural flexibility of Tykwer's efforts. While the film definitely flails at times, it rides on the charisma of its three central performances that each link up in a way that's surprisingly organic. Despite the inherent culture class that connects them on the surface, they feel like people first, archetypes second.
A Hologram for the King: Tom Hanks plays a failed businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia in order to close a major technology deal with the local aristocracy.
Casa Grande: When his overprotective parents become too much of a hassle, a teenage boy struggles to escape their grasp. Screens through Thursday, April 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Elvis & Nixon: This behind-the-scenes biopic looks at the meeting between then president Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) and the King of Rock ’n’ Roll (Michael Shannon).
Sing Street: Set in 1980s Dublin, this musical by John Carney (Once) tells the story of a rebellious teenager who decides to start a band and move to London.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War: A band of roughnecks led by Chris Hemsworth’s The Hunstman unite to protect the princess Freya (Emily Blunt) from from the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
The Invitation: A hostess that has been mysteriously out of touch for two years calls a group of old friends together for a dinner party. Screens through Thursday, April 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Messenger: Documentary filmmaker Su Reynard looks at the hazards faced by various songbirds from around the world. Screens through Thursday, April 21, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
Wall-E: The greatest Pixar film about a robot that saves the world from its worst self-destructive tendencies through loyalty and friendship. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
The Revenant: Leo runs, shoots, screams, kills, eats, chews, stabs, falls, loves, dreams, crawls, and cries in this subtle frontier character study about revenge. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Kiki’s Delivery Service: In Hayao Miyazaki’s classic, a young witch finds it difficult to relocate to a new community during her mandatory year of independent life. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, April 23, and 11 a.m. Sunday, April 24 at the Ken Cinema.
Army of Darkness: Badass demon killer Ash (Bruce Campbell) is transported to 1300AD to fight off more evil spirits. Screens at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at the Arclight Cinemas La Jolla.
Office Space: Damn it feels good to be a gangsta. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.