Movie reviews: A Hologram for the King, The Silent Storm, Heart of a Dog, Journey to the Shore
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases.
So subtle and unobtrusive you sometimes barely notice him, Tom Hanks is one of the finest screen actors there's ever been, as good in his way as the likes of Spencer Tracy, and just as versatile. He single-handedly saves A Hologram for the King (3*, 15A, 98mins) from drifting into aimless travelogue banality, playing the kind of put upon Everyman that's become his speciality.
Alan Clay arrives in Saudi Arabia in a right old state. It's 2010, he's recently divorced, on his uppers in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and has come to the royal kingdom in a desperate bid to revive his fortunes. He's here to sell a sophisticated video conferencing system to the king, but when he reaches his team's base in a half-constructed desert city, Alan realises things are not going to plan.
They're stuck in a sweaty tent without broadband, the local authorities are evasive, and the king is nowhere to be seen. And so Clay's quest becomes a kind of waiting game: every day he's driven from his Riad hotel to the desert by a jovial taxi driver (Alexander Black), and comes home disappointed. Things get worse when Clay finds a large lump on his back, but when he visits a local doctor called Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), Alan's thoughts shift from money to love.
Based on a novel by Dave Eggers, Tom Twyker's film is nicely photographed and alive to the beauty, absurdity and hidden dangers of Saudi life. Its plot, though, is rarely credible, and only Mr Hanks' gurning, sweating businessman holds this flabby production together. It ends just as it's getting interesting, and the ex-pat American begins to succumb to the lure of the desert.
The high winds of hamminess roar through the rafters in Corinna McFarlane's The Silent Storm (2*, 16, 102mins), a po-faced drama set on a remote Scottish island just after the Second World War. Damian Lewis is Balor, the local preacher, a bible-bashing, puritanical maniac who's on the constant lookout for sin. He is unhappily married to Aislin (Andrea Riseborough), a blow-in of uncertain origins who appears to be a covert pantheist, even a witch.
She mixes potions in her shed in the dead of night, and meanwhile Balor is about to lose his entire congregation as a local mining business moves to the mainland. This tragedy is agglomerated by the arrival of Fionn (Ross Anderson), a Glasgow delinquent who proves an inadvertent agent of chaos.
Ms McFarlane's film feels like a bad stage play from the 1950s: it's stiff, overblown, hollow. Worse still, it squanders the exceptional talents of its leads, leaving Mr Lewis in particular with nowhere to go but melodrama, though the brilliant Andrea Riseborough manages to find something credible to cling to.
A kind of home movie with hidden depths, Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog (5*, No Cert, IFI, 75mins) is discursive, whimsical, jokey, profound: it will infuriate some, but I loved it.
Ms Anderson uses beautiful and eerie video imagery to recount the rich and eventful life of her late rat terrier Lolabelle. But Lolabelle's story is a Trojan Horse carrying other tales, other deaths: her mother's, and her long-time partner, Lou Reed's. It's a delightful film, very funny and heartbreakingly sad.
Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa specialises in horror, and his haunting love story Journey to the Shore (4*, No Cert, IFI, 128mins) is suffused with the bleak atmospheres of that genre: one waits for a blood-letting shock that never really happens.
Eri Fukatsu is Mizuki, a lonely young woman whose husband disappeared three years before and is presumed dead. She's shocked and overjoyed when he turns up in her apartment, but he's a ghost, and together they embark on a journey through his and their pasts on the way to a kind of enlightenment.
It's kind, moving, and nicely done.
Honey Monster (George Clooney, Julia Roberts); Alice Through the Looking Glass (Mia Wasikowska); Love and Friendship (Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny).