A Hologram for the King (2016)
Tom Hanks has a midlife crisis and is filled with anxiety. He travels to Saudi Arabia as a businessman to present something to the king, but nothing really works out. I read that Hanks loved the book on which this story is based, by Dave Eggers, and so really wanted to play in this film. Hanks is alright, but he plays it safe. He’s not remarkable in any way.
And Saudi Arabia is portrayed as this magical land in the film where he retrieves his self-possession. That’s a very cliché part of the story. There’s this happy-go-lucky taxi driver who helps him out as a comedic relief and he has a short romance with a nurse. There is no interest in portraying Arabia as it is. It’s just there as an other dimension, the belly of the whale where our protagonist is transformed.
It’s a rather bland, boring story really. It isn’t funny enough; it isn’t realistic enough; it isn’t touching enough. And strangely, underneath the sugary fairy tale story, director Tom Tykwer wants to add some elements of symbolism. Hanks develops a hump on his back like a camel, and he keeps breaking chairs, and it’s supposed to symbolize things, but it doesn’t come out right. These moments are just there without imparting anything.
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
I liked this one a lot. I wasn’t around in the early 80s, so I can’t really attest to its realism, but it seems to me that director Linklater did his very best to portray a certain moment in time and space. This moment is the moment of the sex-crazed, macho jocks who just start college in the US. Essentially, Linklater assembled a group of actors and molded them into a macho group of students who play off each other, and it works really well.
It’s an extreme portrayal of a cliché and you’ve got to see the fun in it. Either that, or you’ll despise the film. I admire this one a lot, even though it suffers from aimlessness. In Boyhood, that was part of the point of the film, but in Everybody Wants Some!!, the lack of story is a downside. Still, after you spend about half an hour with these characters and smirk about their antics, their individual characters begin to stand out and I started to sort of feel taken with them.
You don’t have to be intimidated by their machismo; they’re just trying to find an identity for themselves. Near the end, when college life begins and one of the guys starts a romance that actually feels real, I realized that there is personal growth going on, and the whole portrait that Linklater sketches here suddenly feels a bit bittersweet. Their identity is unsustainable, but it was fun while it lasted. Incidentally, this is almost a literal quote from one of the guys.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
I really like how this one starts, because it is so Star Trek. Before throwing all the action and special effects against our eyeballs, director Justin Lin takes a moment to make it all feel grounded. The crew is older, more grown up. Kirk is tired of deep space missions. And there are references to all things Star Trek. Like star dates and captain’s log. Ah, I feel home.
The actual plot and action that come next is regurgitated stuff. The villain, well, is just another bad guy like Nero and Khan, but when a certain revelation came, it got all confusing. Where did he get his fleet and his men? I didn’t really buy all this. And I’m tired of all these villains who want revenge. The original films weren’t like this. There are more stories to tell. The first films were about exploration and the earth’s past and about drama between the three characters and about capture and assassination and politics and hijacks and weird science. These are just examples that there are more stories to tell in the Star Trek universe.
At least the story is not as convoluted as Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s almost like a simple away mission, on a planet filled with styrofoam rocks, just like in the 60s. After three movies, the rebooted series is finally rediscovering aspects of the old TV series that worked, and starts figuring out what to do with it. I just hope that Paramount understands why this film worked better than the previous one.