Review of: A Hologram for the King

Reviewed by:
On August 19, 2016
Last modified:September 22, 2016


HologramKingYou could call A Hologram for the King (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) a mid-life crisis drama, which is true enough, but it is really a crisis of purpose and identity for an old-school middle-aged businessman trying to remain relevant in the modern world. Tom Hanks is former golden boy executive Alan Clay, whose reputation went down in flames decades ago when outsourced the manufacturing center of an American brand name to China and paved the way for its extinction. Divorced, practically broke, the American Dream now a hazy nightmare (the prologue is a hilarious meta-music video with Hanks wondering “How did I get here?” via the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” as his beautiful wife and beautiful home vaporize around him), he’s now grasping at his last chance for professional redemption (not to mention the college money he is determined to earn for his daughter, who he dotes on). He’s out to sell a high-tech communications system to a Saudi king for his city of the future, a modern ghost town in the desert that seems half-mirage to begin with, especially with its titular king constantly MIA for their scheduled presentations. Jet-lagged, out of his element, and a full hour out of the magic kingdom, he’s stuck in a Groundhog Day-like loop of missed wake-up calls, cancelled appointments, and blithe humiliations until he’s had enough smiling dismissals and strides right past reception to see what’s really behind the curtain. It’s just another step in breaking out of the life that left him adrift and finding a new bearing.

It’s adapted from Dave Eggers’ novel by filmmaker Tom Tykwer, who brings an imagination more sly than spectacular to his direction, along with compassion, understanding, and a sense of humor, and he anchors the entire enterprise on Hanks’ performance as the American every(business)man in a situation that borders on the surreal. Alan is part of an obsolete business culture, the salesman who makes a personal connection as part of the business transaction, and he’s selling the very technology that is making him obsolete. But he’s also warm and funny and genuinely likes to talk to people and make connections: his good-natured driver (Alexander Black), a Danish contractor (Sidse Babett Knudsen), and finally (after a hospital visit to treat a worrying lump) his surgeon (Sarita Choudhury), a professional woman in a culture seesawing between modernity and archaic ideas of sexual roles. They could have easily been cultural stereotypes there to prop up the American’s self-esteem but they have their own lives and issues. Alan enjoys slipping out of his bubble of a world and being welcomed in theirs and Hanks has that seemingly effortless ability not simply to make those connections real, but to slip into their rhythms as he loosens up. Alan has spent so long trying to be what people expect that he’s practically lost himself under his projected image. It’s a real pleasure to see him fumble through those expectations and reconnect with himself.

On Blu-ray and DVD with three featurettes—”The Making of A Hologram for the King,” “From Novel to Screen: The Adaptation of A Hologram for the King,” and “Perfecting the Culture”—plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film (Digital SD for the DVD).

Raiders!Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Drafthouse, Blu-ray+DVD) – In 1982, 12-year-old friends Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb started shooting a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark on a borrowed VHS camcorder in their small Mississippi town. Chris played Indiana Jones, Eric directed and played Belloq, and Jayson manned the camera, edited the footage, and brainstormed the special effects. They spent every summer vacation for seven years completing the film (every scene but one, more on that later), by which time they weren’t even speaking to one another. Completed in 1989, with a single public screening for friends and family, it was practically forgotten until VHS copies started making their way to film buffs and movie collectors in the late 1990s. Filmmaker Eli Roth brought a copy for an unannounced screening at the 2002 Butt-Numb-a-Thon film festival and the underground legend exploded. Even Spielberg is a fan.

You can’t buy or stream a copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. The film was never meant to be seen outside of the friends who made it. Chris and Eric (who have since patched up their differences and reconnected) have screened their fan film in special one-off showings around the county but it can’t be shown commercially. It’s not like the 12-year-old filmmakers thought to get a waiver from the creators of the original film.

So Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016), directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen and inspired by the book by Alan Eisenstock, will be the closest most people will get to that astounding piece of DIY spectacle. As a work of documentary filmmaking it is perfectly adequate to the task. It features interviews with the Chris, Eric, Jayson, their parents (God bless the mothers of these kids who believed in their dreams, even if they worried about their methods), and other members of the cast and crew, who have been tracked down by the filmmakers. Eli Roth and Harry Knowles extoll the film and John Rhys-Davies (the only participant in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark interviewed for the doc) praises the gumption of these kids. And it has a catchy hook. “They completed every scene… except one,” reads the opening credits, and Coon and Skousen document the efforts of Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala to shoot that final scene, which involves a fight under a moving airplane, a machine gun, a spinning propeller, and a decapitation. It turns out to be just as dangerous an undertaking as anything they did as kids.

But what makes the documentary worth seeing is the collection of clips from the original production, and especially the outtakes. Those takes that didn’t make it to the film show not only the spirit of the endeavor but the potentially life-threatening situations the boys put themselves through to get the shot. On the one hand it’s enough to make you wonder where the parents were in all this. On the other, it might remind you a little of your own childhood antics. And for all reckless, dangerous, and ill-considered stuff man of us did before puberty, how much of that was in dedicated to the creation of art?

I interviewed Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala earlier this year for Keyframe. You can read that interview here.

Drafthouse released the films to theaters earlier this year and now delivers a dual Blu-ray and DVD disc release, with two commentary tracks (one by documentary filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen, the other by subjects Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala), deleted scenes from they documentary, outtakes from the original fan film, and a Q&A from the 2003 premiere of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation at Alamo Drafthouse, plus a 16-page booklet with storyboards and a bonus digital copy.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray+DVD) are reviewed on Cinephiled here.

A review of Wild in the Streets (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) will follow in a week or two.

Classics and Cult:Ingrid

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Session 9 (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Elvis (1979) (Shout! Factory Select, Blu-ray)
On Guard / Five Day Lover (Cohen, Blu-ray)
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) (Encore Edition)
The Glory Guys (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Theatre Of Blood (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Tony Rome / Lady In Cement (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)WildStreets
Hardcore (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
La Moglie Piu’ Bella (aka The Most Beautiful Wife) (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Warner Archive, Blu-ray)
Man in the Wilderness (Warner Archive, Blu-ray)
Tell Me You Love Me, Junie Moon (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Wild in the Streets (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Who Slew Auntie Roo? (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Canadian Pacific (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Cariboo Trail (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Basket Case 2 (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)BasketCase2
Basket Case 3: The Progeny (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
The ‘Burbs (Universal, Blu-ray)
The Money Pit (Universal, Blu-ray)
Patch Adams (Universal, Blu-ray)
American Ninja (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Ninja 4: The Annhilation (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Microwave Massacre (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)

TV on disc:SupergirlS1

Supergirl: The Complete First Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
11/22/63 (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Tunnel: The Complete First Season (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Code Black: Season 1 (Paramount, DVD)
Halt and Catch Fire: The Complete Second Season (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Gotham: The Complete Second Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Once Upon a Time: The Complete Fifth Season (Walt Disney, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Seventh Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)GothamS2
Hell on Wheels: Season 5 Volume 1 (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Affair: Season Two (Showtime, DVD)
Murdock Mysteries: Season 9 (Acorn, DVD)
Line of Duty: Series 3 (Acorn, DVD)

More new releases:

The Angry Birds Movie (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
God’s Not Dead 2 (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Addicted to Fresno (FilmRise, Blu-ray, DVD)
Fathers and Daughters (Lionsgate, DVD, VOD)Baskin
Baskin (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Tiger (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
A Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits (Warner, DVD)
Sundown (Lionsgate, DVD)
A Monster With a Thousand Heads (Music Box, DVD)

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