Movie reviews: A Hologram for the King, X-Men: Apocalypse, Departure

A Hologram for the King 3/5

Movie reviews: A Hologram for the King, X-Men: Apocalypse, Departure

ADAPTED by Tom Tykwer from Dave Eggers’ bestselling novel, A Hologram for the King (15A) stars Tom Hanks as Alan, a formerly successful American salesman for the iconic Schwinn bicycle who is dispatched to Saudi Arabia to pitch an IT system — via hologram — for the king’s brainchild, a new city being built in the desert.

Friendly and personable though he is, Alan soon finds his best efforts running into the sand, professionally and personally, as he and his team are marginalised and Alan struggles to get a handle on the cultural nuances (he quickly learns, for example, that it’s a very bad idea to joke about being a freelance operator for the CIA).

Hanks is as watchable as ever here, amiable and charming as he glides through a performance that doesn’t require much more of him than mild befuddlement at the various setbacks he encounters — recently divorced, Alan’s main regret in life, and the reason he is trying to reinvent his life, is that he hasn’t provided for his daughter’s college education.

Tykwer, who also directs, provides a plot that meanders from one semi-humorous scenario to another without ever deciding whether the movie is a comedy of cultural confusion or a more serious attempt to explore the culture clash of East-meets-West.

Perhaps that lack of direction is entirely apposite, however: Alan, as played by the American Everyman Hanks, is America, a once-great corporate giant on the global stage that is now drifting, racked by self-doubt and fatally undermined by an inability to relate to the new world order.

X-Men: Apocalypse (12A) opens in ancient Egypt, as the powerful mutant En Sabah Nur’s (Oscar Isaac) attempt to achieve limitless power is thwarted.

Millennia later, the mutants we now know as X-Men — Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) et al, under the tutelage of Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) — must band together to prevent En Sabah Nur (now known as Apocalypse) from extinguishing the human race.

Directed by X-Men veteran Bryan Singer, X-Men: Apocalypse is a pacy, intensely rendered prequel that almost serves as a reboot of the franchise, introducing as it does Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to supplement already established anti-heroes such as Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

There’s plenty of bang to the buck, then, for fans of the franchise, and some of the scenes are startlingly vivid — Cyclops, he of the flame-thrower eyes, is particularly good value for his screen time, and Singer directs with an eye for the pleasingly flamboyant and lurid.

Unfortunately, the new trend for over-populating movies with too many characters means that watching a host of mutants swarm across the screen makes it very difficult to develop an emotional attachment to any of them, and only Fassbender, as the conflicted Magneto, has the gravitas required to rise above the story’s manic bustle.

The most fascinating character is Apocalypse, the charismatic proto-god plotting to cleanse the planet of the human race for its own good, even if the brilliant Oscar Isaac is largely unrecognisable beneath his layers of make-up.

Written and directed by Andrew Steggall, Departure (15A) opens in the South of France with Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) and her teenage son Elliott (Alex Lawther) closing up the family’s holiday home for the last time.

His parents’ looming divorce isn’t the only thing on the sensitive Elliott’s mind, however; strongly attracted to village boy Clément (Phénix Brossard), Elliott is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.

Beautifully framed by cinematographer Brian Fawcett, who suffuses the story with late summer sunlight and gives proceedings a bittersweet, poignant quality, Departure is a subtle exploration of grief and loss.

All the main players are harbouring a private pain, their personal agonies in stark contrast to the bucolic rural surroundings, and all three respond with strong performances.

Lawther, in particular, is superb in his evocation of bruised innocence, while Brossard copes brilliantly with his more passive role — the unruly Clément represents an untameable force of nature, an opaque presence that allows both Beatrice and Elliott to project their fantasised responses onto the blank slate of his personality.

Stevenson finds engaging nuances in her rather clichéd role and Steggall’s story is engrossing until the final act, when he appears to lose his faith in his characters’ plight and resorts to introducing unnecessary complications and belated backstory courtesy of the arrival of Beatrice’s husband Philip (Finbar Lynch).

Stegall’s feature-length debut is an absorbing drama that marks him out as a talent to watch.

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