LAMB

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Once in a while there will be a film I come across that defies explanation and makes me wonder just what was the director and writer thinking about when he or they decided that making a movie so unsettling and queasy would be a good thing. A prime example is The Human Centipede (and whose sequels I will not watch; I have better things to do than to sit down and endure that kind of debasement). That story everyone knows, and while on the plus side it’s not a badly made movie — at a visual level there are sequences of great dread and beauty, often in the same frame — it’s what the energy coming through from that is attempting to communicate to me. Not that I have an issue with horror movies going that extra mile, but . . . well, if you haven’t seen it, you need to, and then go outside and take a fresh breath of air.

Lamb came out early this year and played in one theatre, one week (maybe two), and I missed it. I wanted to go see it but something held me back. Shortly thereafter it made its way to VOD while traveling across select theatres across the nation, and I didn’t do as much as add it to my queue for later viewing. It sat there and sat there and sat there. And then it finally made its way to the top of my Netflix once it got released proper, and even then, a month on top of my player, untouched. Waiting. Always as I was about to see it and decide if it was good, bad, or meh, another more interesting film came across and demanded attention. A lame excuse it was, but it kept me from it.

Reader, I don’t know what to tell you. Based on the Bonnie Nadzam novel of the same name, Lamb tells you the story of two people of completely different walks of life who have a chance encounter, although a creeping notion that chance is up to question continues to attempt to high-jack my thoughts and present to me some subtext.

You see, the two people in question are a 47 year old man (in the book he’s in his 50s) and a young girl of about 11 whom he spots at a public spot trying to ask him for a light for a cigarette.

Now, let’s do a quick back to the beginning of the story before I get into the real story that transpires in the movie. David Lamb (Ross Partridge) has experienced two losses — his father who livedin filth and died alone, and his wife to divorce. He seems to have caused some situation at work and has a rather casual, sordid of sorts affair with a female colleague (Jess Wexler). The story finds David meeting this young girl sporting the tomboy name of Tommie and thus the cigarette scene plays out, followed by a fake abduction where he sternly lectures her that he could have been a bad guy and done some harm, even murder her. She seems to be not that much fazed by the situation, and when she returns home, her parents (Scoot McNairy and Lindsey Pulsipher) don’t as much as acknowledge her presence.

David and Tommie have another encounter where he informs her he’s going for a trip someplace for a while. Why, we don’t know. Tommie tags along and here is where my creep-o-meter began climbing because I’m thinking, “Okay, this could very well go to a very icky place I’m not prepared or willing to see, and I hope it doesn’t.” As of this moment the movie is competently made (and at least it remained to be), but that’s not the point. Lamb and Tommie venture into open country playing the parts of Gary and his niece Emily while all the while engaging in conversations that seem to be of self-discovery but also go into some subtle manipulation on the part of the older David, who while telling Tommie she’s free to go back any time she wishes, pretty much is implying he’d rather she stay, to which she does.

Now, Tommie is no innocent by any means — she already acts well above her age and has a reply for everything. Oona Laurence as Tommie gives her character a sense of preternatural depth that kept reminding me of Tatum O’Neal. She’s a perfect foil to Ross Partridge’s talky but withholding character. It’s when he continues to repeat that their relation is secret, that he could go to jail because technically what he’s done is illegal. Then the arrival of a third party takes the story into a slightly darker level just shy of ick (especially when it involves a scene where Tommie is watching David from the outside of the house they’ve rented) where my fears of what’s not being said, what’s being kept out of frame really start to materialize.

Is David trying to test his own limits by using a young girl as bait? What can he gain by taking Tommie under his wing and lecturing her constantiy when in reality whatever bond they form — and they do form one — has no future? He seems to be a man on the edge of an abyss, staring at a world without hope, mired in self-temptation that exists just out of mind, but all over the picture. Tommie winds up being cheated, doubly, by an adult who presents himself as a friend and is left hanging.

In a nutshell, there are better ways to where an adult can mentor a child but this is a story that is too problematic for anyone to sit and watch without cringing or grabbing their stomach at the anticipation of what might happen. If there is something artistic to be said, long shots of scenery and a talky plot is not what I’d consider art. Maybe I didn’t get the message; maybe there is something else that’s in the fabric of this story, and while yes, there was a time when Lolita, a more sexually active story also involving an older man and a young girl (albeit a teen), was considered a controversial classic, I doubt Lamb ever will.

BAD HURT

1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

 

Bad Hurt is one of those movies where everything that can possibly befall a family does so, in groups, without a moment of rest in between. In fact, so much misery happens in such a short period of time it almost becomes numbing. You keep expecting the ground opening to swallow them up. Again, why I avoid many TriBeCa Film Festival movies. This is suffering porn.

So, let’s see. There’s this Irish family, the Kendalls living in Staten Island, and by living, I mean going through the motions while chaos, madness, sickness, and never-ending agony dances around them without an end in sight.

Elaine and Ed Kendall (Karen Allen and Michael Harney) head the household and provide 24-hour care to their severely, mentally disabled daughter DeeDee (Iris Gilad) who constantly seems to be on the verge of going deliriously manic and has to be taken out of the special needs school due to her violent tendencies. DeeDee, however, has made a friend in Willy (Calvin Dutton), and that friendship seems to have romantic overtones.

Kent (Johnny Whitworth) is the next son who once served the Gulf War and since then  suffers from crippling PTSD — so much that his capacity to communicate verbally is impaired and he is dependent on pain killers and Elaine’s care to alleviate his crippling pain. And finally, there is Todd (Theo Rossi), the son with the least amount of baggage, whose problems are minuscule compared to the rest of the household. Todd is, as a matter of fact, the one who is the glue keeping the Kendalls from falling to pieces at a moment’s notice.

Kitchen sink events unfold rather quickly, often one on top of the other, and it becomes clear this is a family who needs a lot of healing. However, I’ve seen other movies about dysfunctional families and there is at least some levity in between the stories. Bad Hurt seems to have lumped together every possible combination of human suffering, so much that even a quiet tucking into bed or a funeral scene becomes a battlefield, and a conversation between father and son discloses a secret and unleashes bloody hell. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — catharsis is necessary in order not to end up like the family in the recent Louder than Bombs — but paring it down a little would have been better. Everyone appears to be carrying a massive burden and worse, unable to know when to stop, rest, and continue.

EYE IN THE SKY

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Because let’s face it, sometimes you watch a movie and completely forget to write about it, this is where Eye in the Sky comes into play. I saw this when it came out in March and kept postponing and postponing until it was at the back of my head and other more recent pictures came, played, and went. Sometimes, you can only do so much.

The first thing I noticed when the plot of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky began unfolding itself was its similarity with a 2015 movie called Good Kill starring Ethan Hawke and Zoe Kravitz. In that film, Hawke and Kravitz lead a cast of unknowns as drone operators working for the CIA who keep a watchful eye over a known terrorist while the chilling voice of Peter Coyote dictates their next move. As they perform successful operations called “good kills”, there is a subtle shift in the characters’ psyches as their missions begin to take a toll on them. A secondary story emerges where they must debate how to act when a man under drone surveillance continues to rape women with no compunction.

Eye in the Sky presents the same situation under a larger premise. Helen Mirren plays Colonel Katherine Powell, a woman who’s been after a radicalized British terrorist named Susan Helen Danford and has finally located her hiding out in a safehouse in Kenya. While the initial intent has been to ‘capture’ Danford alive and bring her to British justice, visual intel from various surveillance devices have infiltrated the safehouse and have provided intel of a room filled with weapond geared towards a future terrorist attack on civilians. Powell raises the mission to ‘kill’, and drone operators played by Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are brought in to execute the bombing and eliminate Danford. The problem arises from two ends: the legal advisory team that argues against such an aggressive attack and needs adequate approval, and a random element: the appearance of a young Kenyan girl selling bread a short distance from the house.

Moral conflicts emerge in regards to the necessity of eliminating a target when innocents may be harmed or even killed and provides the entire crux of Eye in the Sky. This is not an easy movie to watch for the sole example of the sole bystander that has nothing to do with forces beyond her knowledge and is simply going throughout the quotidian motions, and Hood ratchets up the tension through the movie’s multiple narration platforms as it moves from Powell’s point of view, to Kenya where both the girl and another operative (Barkhad Abdi) are located to London to the cabin where the drones await for the right moment to act without collateral damage. It’s also, a tremendously sad picture to watch given the necessity to continue the War on Terror.

All of the actors are in their usual form, particularly Alan Rickman in his last screen appearance before passing away, and Aaron Paul as the conflicted drone operator.

A MONSTER OF A THOUSAND HEADS

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

un_monstruo_de_mil_cabezas_Enfilme_09w67

I had the advantage to see Rodrigo Pla’s A Monster of a Thousand Heads almost back to back with Jodie Foster’s Money Monster and while I knew that thematically both movies are practically joined at the hip, both couldn’t be more different. Jodie Foster’s film is pure Hollywood — slick, in-your-face action, some light humor thrown in, rapid-fire delivery of lines, and a somewhat unrealistic third act that almost but not quite diminishes everything that came before it. A Monster of a Thousand Heads also features an angry protagonist — this time, a woman — who goes against the incomprehensible labyrinth that is the red tape of an insurance company in order to save her dying husband’s life.

How would you react if your loved one needed a specific medication and your insurance company kept stonewalling you to the point of ridiculousness, telling you to come back later, call back, no one is available, and so on and so forth? The frustration alone would drive anyone crazy. This precisely is the mounting rage that Sonia Bonet (Jana Raluy) feels when she goes to the company and person after person gives her the runaround while her husband, briefly seen at the start, ails at home. Being put to pasture is not something she is willing to take sitting down, however. Early confrontations with a lethargic receptionist (with whom she gets physical, in an early show of victory), and then the doctor who’s been avoiding Sonia only hint at the  levels she’s willing to go to secure this medication. And while in theory, what follows next might take a dose of suspension in disbelief, the fact of the matter is, the clock is ticking, and Sonia’s fury, contained, is starting to show its ugly teeth.

Sonia follows the doctor to his house and manages to glean information of who can help her get the approval she needs. With her son in tow she then heads out to hunt down the insurance execs who live a life of luxury and could care little of the suffering of others. Each confrontation becomes more and more violent. Initially, while her son Dario expresses embarrassment at her belligerent attitude, he emerges to her defense in a shocking moment of violence when between a kidnapped executive, his attorney, and another man threaten to overpower Sonia.

Here is where the title reveals itself: in Spanish, such a monster would be a Hydra which fits the theme perfectly: every victory, while small, yields more heads she has to battle against, and every layer that takes Sonia deeper into this convoluted mess that is the insurance company peels back levels of corruption she can’t even begin to imagine, but lead to a chilling end: that her husband is worth more dead than alive. If he passes on before he can get the  medication, the company won’t have to pay a dime and thus, it will save money.

Rodrigo Pla is less concerned about the outcome of the story. From the early scene with the unsympathetic receptionist, every run in the ladder comes with a minor character disclosing what they witnessed in what seems to be a trial. It’s clear that Sonia will be punished for her reckless actions, but stylistically, shifting the action from center stage to an oblique point of view sheds more information about those who chose to trip her up rather than help her with her plight. The fact that while she barrels ahead to try to save her husband, she never seems to lose her cool, and by keeping her rage firmly under wraps she comes across as an unwilling heroine in an uphill battle.

A Monster With A Thousand Heads is a cry of outrage against a system that has degenerated into a business where the currency are human lives. Trust me, you will not see the medical system the same way after viewing this brief but exacting movie.

 

MONEY MONSTER

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

I’m not sure what movie film critics were watching when they went and sat down for 98 minutes to see Jodie Foster’s Mone Monster because sort of bringing out the knives, sharpening them hungrily, and filleting the thing until it was brisket, they basically savaged it. Personally? I don’t think I saw the reinvention of the wheel. What I did see was a tense little picture that goes by the route of many other hostage pictures, where an everyman gets pushed to the limit and has no other means to express his pain but to lash out and hope someone will listen.

This is the picture that we don’t like to see, that we’d rather not see. We don’t like to see people trampled and chewed by the system, but it happens, all the time. Just last December The Big Short exposed the fiasco that became the housing bubble which consumed an entire nation of homeowners vying for the American Dream and woke up one morning seeing that it had turned into an impossible nightmare. Countless were left homeless and have still not fully recovered, and who’s been convicted? Not a single person. [Iceland did much better, but then again, that’s another story — you may want to check Michael Moore’s documentary Where to Invade Next.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is that TV personality you love to hate. Modeled after Jim Cramer of Mad Money, his show — Money Monster — is loud, rambunctious, with dancers and a lot of flair. He speaks in aggressive, super-self confident terms and knows what stocks are in, which ones are out. He wants you to buy and buy hard, or sell and sell equally hard. No time to waste, you either can move to the level of his manic energy or just GTFO. He’s self-centered, bossy, and has little to none of our sympathies.

So attuned to the cameras and his own hype is Gates that he doesn’t — and we almost don’t — notice a truck pulling into the TV station. Foster cuts back and forth from this innocuous scene to that of Gates to that of the show’s producer (Julia Roberts) who at first can’t quite identify who’s the guy holding two boxes and advancing onto the set while Gates rattles away. Just before you can blink your eyes, the man, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), is on stage, shots are fired, and a tense situation has commenced.

Even then it shows how divorced we can be from what’s a reality show act to what the real thing is: it takes people a little more to realize what’s happening. In the meantime, Kyle begins demanding that they show a clip from March 6 where Gates had sang the praises of this stock from Ibis Cleap Capital (ICC) that he had said could not go wrong. Turns out, it did, and now Kyle is out 60 grand — his entire life savings — but it becomes a little more complicated than it looks. In asking an ICC representative, Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe) who was also a panelist on the show to explain what is going on, she is unable to produce an explanation . . . or the company’s CEO (Dominic West) who is MIA, along with 800 million dollars.

Foster does a pretty good job in bringing Money Monster to vivid life even though she doesn’t attempt complicated shots to enhance suspense or doesn’t vie for pushing the story over the edge, to its minor detriment. Yes, the story is predictable to a fault as it pays homage to two of the great Sidney Lumet movies from the 1970s, Network and Dog Day Afternoon, but it’s sleek, polished entertainment, and that’s sometimes all that matters.

 

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

love and friendship

When I first saw the promos for Love & Friendship at the Angelika in March I would have never thought that Jane Austen, the authoress of classic novels like Pride and Prejudice, would also have penned something this delightfully wicked and gleefully sociopathic as Lady Susan, the novella on which Whit Stillman’s new movie is based on. If you can think of the most ridiculous characters in any of her books — many of them gratuitous social climbers of the day — and lumped them together into one cohesive screwball comedy, then you have the resulting movie which I was able to see last Friday.

The story goes as follows: Lady Susan Vernon, the recent widow of Lord Vernon (a character referred to on occasion but never seen as he has passed on) seems to sow trouble wherever she goes. As she doesn’t have a house proper, she’s like a vine, setting root wherever the bricks are naked. It seems she’s started some trouble with the Mannering family and has to leave in a hurry to go to Churchill Estate where her relatives live while the rumors of her own reputation as a flirt and a homewrecker simmer down. She isn’t even with her foot in the door when she’s already set her sights on the much younger and soon to be heir to the estate Reginald deCourcy, a matter that needless to say, preoccupies Sir and Lady deCourcy who clearly disapprove. What Lady Susan doesn’t anticipate is that her daughter Frederica also arrives at Churchill and of course, while she’s at it to find herself a husband to secure her position in society she also tries to find Frederica a match. In comes Sir James Martin, a man who really is an absolute idiot, and Lady Susan decides that’s the man for Frederica (while she’s spinning her web around Reginald, who is smitten with her, a thing not tolerated well by his sister Catherine). Sitting in the wings like a spider is Lady Susan’s good friend Lady Alicia Johnson, herself married to a man “too old to govern and too young to die”, who is as immoral as Lady Susan — they might as well be sisters, they are so alike and literally complete each others’ sentences. As Lady Susan plots, Lady Alicia abets and conceals, people suffer left and right, and we wonder how this entire mess will all end, or will it end well for anyone?

https://youtu.be/KhvyupqNhL8

Interestingly enough, Jane Austen must have liked the character enough and had a sense of humor that her novella didn’t go the way of punishing Lady Susan (or Lady Alicia, for that matter), but had them simply appear to stop communication (at least in the movie — I haven’t read the novella). Whit Stillman’s movie is a bubbling mass of comedic energy held up by pitch-perfect performances by Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, two actresses I would have never once considered more than “apt” who make the movie their own and then some, as Lady Susan and Lady Alicia, respectively. For its brief running time Love & Friendship whizzes along and it at times becomes almost a game of playing who’s on first with the sheer volume of participants and what one does to the other, but then again, Austen’s characters are well-written creatures who don’t just sit in the background but have something to add to the plot –or shall I say, multi-level plot. I believe it’s a first, however, to have a woman closer to Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (a novel that wouldn’t hit publication until the mid 19th Century), call the shots here. Either Austen was a visionary or she had some malice within her and decided to have fun for a while, truth of the matter is, this is a story that for the time was ahead of its time. Women — heroines, if one should say so — just didn’t behave in a manner closer to the Marquis de Sade without the attention to pain and sexual depravity. This is closer, much closer, to the epistolary novel by Chorderlos deLaclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, where the main character openly and unabashedly manipulates everyone within her reach to achieve her needs. It’s just lighter in tone . . . and less tragic.

VIVA

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

It may have a Welsh director and Irish budget, but Viva, Paul Breathnach’s movie and Ireland’s submission to the 2015 Best Foreign Language Picture (where it made the December shortlist) is all Cuba. Set in Havana, Viva will transport you, the viewer, to a place that looks and feels as though time stopped when Castro came to power. Havana is alive, crumbling, derelict, but with dripping with an exotic beauty all its own. It’s also where Jesus, the young protagonist, struggles to make a living both as a hairdresser to older ladies who can never pay him full price for his services and as a wig-assistant to Mama, the older drag queen who is the main attraction of a gay club.

When Viva kicks off (and it does so rather quick), Mama learns that one of her performers has run off with all her wigs and is in need of a last-minute replacement for a double act. Enter Jesus who can barely perform and looks unconvincingly female in make-up, wig, and a dress, who chooses the name Viva after a fashion magazine seemingly  modeled after Vogue. The other performers don’t offer much help and it seems as though this will be a retread of a young man trying to prove himself to other more seasoned drag queens (and having to confront a more bitter performer, or the Queen Bee herself once his reputation and marquee value rises. Viva offers a left turn right after Viva’s debut as a “new discovery”, and does so in the most clever of ways. An older man is seen sitting at the bar admiring the drag queens. Because it’s Viva’s turn to go out on stage Mama and the others advise her to be friendly with the customers, to get up close and personal to insure tips (and her own place onstage). Viva agrees, and when she gets up close to the older man at the bar he gets violent, punches Viva in the face, and has to be thrown out.

You see, Viva just met her own father.

Angel is a man who’s been in jail since Jesus was a baby. Jesus always wanted to meet him, just not in this way. Once he returns home Angel is belligerent, aggressive, even confrontational. A thorny relationship starts and stops several times before it finally seems to take a groove of its own. The catch is, Angel doesn’t want Jesus to be performing at a gay club.  He’s okay with Jesus being gay; he just wants him to be masculine. Jesus, wanting to have a relationship with Angel, rejects Mama’s offer to come back to the club and decides to wing it out. Perhaps he will eventually leave, and let Jesus continue with his life.

But Breathnach has several more tricks up his sleeve, and here is where Viva really opens up to the audience. A couple of subplots involving Jesus’ frenemy Cecilia seem tacked on at first but are crucial to the development of the plot: her sexual dalliance with a would-be macho boxer Javier lead Jesus to audition successfully, but once he demands she not use his place as a launchpad for sex she is the one who informs Angel of where he could find Jesus. Jesus himself, stripped of his drag persona, sees himself having to go to extremes to make money since Angel himself can’t find a job and is wallowing in self pity because of a failed life. It’s here where you really feel the sheer isolation Jesus feels, cornered and unable to find any work, and you long for him speak up for himself and take the stage once again.

Viva shines not just in the powerhouse performances of Hector Medina, Jorge Perrugoria, and Luis Alberto Garcia as Jesus, Angel, and Mama, respectively, but also in the emotional impact of the songs themselves, which become the driving focus of Viva’s message. The finale is overwhelming, shattering, and a total triumph of storytelling where everything comes together into one transcendental climax. Finding one’s place in the world and self-acceptance through the medium of art never looked and sounded more raw and compelling. Viva is a watershed LGBT movie that has to be experienced. It can all be summarized in a quote Mama makes late in the movie: “Why is everyone on this island addicted to this goddamn drama?” She should know. To experience drama is to live, and like all drag performers, they channel all the pain and anguish of life itself onto the audience for a couple of dollar bills.

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

 

At first glance The Man Who Knew Infinity would seem an unlikely movie dead on arrival. The very thought of making a biopic about an advanced Indian mathematician whose deep calculations are still being utilized today to calculate black holes doesn’t strike me as a topic that would make the masses rush to the theater, form lines, and eagerly await the opening credits.

But, surprise, surprise, this movie takes such a topic and dresses it in a little Merchant-Ivory and some new age metaphysics. In doing so, The Man Who Knew Infinity manages to create a rather masterful and even suspenseful drama of a man who had “all this in” (as he continues to mention throughout the picture), all these calculations. Srinivasa Ramanujian, a native of Madras, India, had been creating and annotating in notebooks for his own viewing — calculations that were literally begging to be revealed upon the world. Continuously rejected for employment in his own country due to the nation being run by severe Englishmen who looked at Indians as little more than savages, he lands a job as a bookkeeper. His ability to work without an abacus lands him in the eye of his supervisors who see great potential in him. Just as he is starting to form a family with his wife Janaki, Ramanujan finds himself on his way to London — and not just London, but Cambridge — to work under the tutelage of mathematician G. H. Hardy and publish his works.

Ramanujan believes the publishing thing is a cut-and-dry event that would have him back in India in no time. Hardy, while seeing his level of genius, also needs for Ramanujan to form proofs that his calculations work as he’s created them. Ramanujan for a while comes across as a man with an almost insufferable ego — he “sees” the calculations (which land him on the wrong side of a professor with a fragile ego who becomes a thorn on his side. However, the proofs have to materialize; otherwise, even when these calculations can be as revolutionary as stated, they’ll mean little to the math world.

This is a great study in contrasts of characters. Dev Patel as Ramanujan may be infused with an entitlement, but he eventually reveals to Hardy, his polar opposite, that he is attuned to an inner voice, the voice of the gods, and that they come to him in visions holding these pristine calculations in tow for him to materialize onto paper. Hardy, a confirmed atheist, resists for the longest (and Jeremy Irons is his usual good in portraying a stern father-teacher-turned friend). He can’t believe in Ramanujan’s perspective . . . but who is he to deny it?

The Man Who Knew Infinity manages to also expose the rather casual racism that Europeans have had towards people deemed of “an inferior race”. Ramanujan’s position at Cambridge shields him from going to war in 1914 when the story is set and this engenders some animosity from those who are fighting and see him with contempt. Professors sneer at him for being foreign and despite his discoveries deny him a place among the elite. He gets beat up, badly, at one point, and no one notices — again, because he’s “brown”. In short, London becomes more and more an alien place for Ramanujan to exist and it starts to affect his physical and mental health.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is a good debut picture by its director, Matt Brown, a solid biopic that manages to engross and involve you in the plight of this one extraordinary man who, it seems, came for one purpose only — to leave his calculations for future generations. That it’s been playing for a solid two months now speaks volumes to the type of movies that the public wants to see instead of the popcorn  garbage that pollutes multiplexes in late spring. This is the kind of picture that was popular in the times of old Hollywood and I for one am glad that it’s become as successful. I would have wanted that the actor slated to play Ramanujan, R. Madhavan, would have remained as the prime choice, but Dev Patel is excellent in a role that places him onscreen for the entire picture. Devhika Bise, Toby Jones, Stephen Fry, and Jeremy Northam are very good in their respective roles.

A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

Tom Hanks returns to the screen in this rather small, intimate affair as yet another businessman / negotiator having to travel to another country to present an offer to a person in power and hope they bite the bait. This time he’s not in any sort of danger as he was in Bridge of Spies or Captain Philips; if anything, the only thing he might be is sick, and then A Hologram for the King reveals another story underneath the surface, and in that I think, is where it succeeds.

A Hologram for the King starts with a clever scene: Alan steps in for David Byrne and becomes the performer for what seems to be a video for Once in a Lifetime, but is in reality the events of his own life: he’s lost his wife, his house, and is in the middle of a flight to Saudi Arabia where he will attempt to sell a communications system to the reigning king that uses holograms. That actual sales pitch keeps getting postponed due to a series of events that Alan can’t control. His office is located in a hot tent with no food and the bare minimum. No one seems to know where the king is. A Danish analyst (Sidse Babett Knudsen) offers a little breadth of freshness, but can’t really do much else. One morning, when Alan again is told that the king will not be in Alan decides to take the day off from work and alongside Yousef, a taxi driver he befriends (Alexander Black), go get a tumor he’s got in his back checked out at the nearest clinic. There he meets Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), who performs a biopsy. Their meet is pregnant with unspoken promise, but Alan is then seen trekking into Mecca and deep into the country alongside Yousef where he gets into a misunderstanding with a local man who takes a flippant comment very seriously.

Where does this all end? It doesn’t matter; the business pitch is more an excuse for Alan’s prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia, but it all works out for the better. If anything, I believe the true story happens when Alan and Zahra’s storylines come progressively closer, and then it all falls into place as Hologram turns into a romance — restrained due to cultural obligations, yes, but a romance nevertheless.

This is a rather gentle comedy that probably won’t make too much noise (it’s already left theaters in New York City and will probably play for the requisite one-week-only engagement throughout the country). Even so, A Hologram for the King is a subtle little movie about one man’s journey to love.

DARK HORSE

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

Living in a city like New York can turn movie-going into a nail-biting challenge, With over 10 arthouse theaters catering to indies of all shapes and sizes and there being at times as much as 15 new entries in a single weekend it’s truly a  miracle that one can get to see any of them in time, at least before they hit VOD or DVD status (which on occasion in regards to the latter format can take forever). Today was one of those days where I had a small list of films to see and my plan was to finally catch up with the animated April and the Extraordinary World at the IFC. However, logistics outside of this plan threw me off and in a way, what almost became a personal disaster turned into a much needed cathartic blessing in disguise. I found myself at the Angelika almost in a dream-state and choosing a documentary that had never even entered my plans: ireland’s aptly titled Dark Horse.

When you think of horse racing you think of high-bred animals being groomed by people with money to spend. For ages it’s been like that in the UK. But for Janet Vokes, a Welsh woman living a hardscrabble life working in Asda, a chain market equivalent of our Walmart or Target, the idea of grooming such an animal and training him to run races became not just a dream but a reality, one she somehow managed to convince her husband and friends into crowdfunding in order to foot the cost of purchasing such a mare, and then a stallion, in order to breed her winning horse, one the town named Dream Alliance after much pondering.

Louise Osmond’s sweet as can be documentary charts the life of Dream Alliance from the moment of birth into young adulthood when he begins to win his first races. This of course puts Janet and others into a state of euphoria and they decide to see how far they can go. And mind you — none of these people are actually motivated by the money and the glory: they just want to say that they too had a share of a sport geared only for people of a certain privilege. Dark Horse might suffer from being just a teensy bit predictable — after all, this is the classic story of the Little Engine that Could — and its thick Welsh accent may prompt viewers to switch on subtitles. Other than that, the documentary looks gorgeous in lush, almost hyperreal greens and that perpetual fog hovering over the small town where Janet lives, and compounded by footage of the races Dream Alliances participated in as well as tiny bits of reenactment here and there, this should be a perfect crowd pleaser.