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Smack Dab in the Middle of Somewhere: A Hologram For the King and Miles Ahead

Tom Hanks is middle-aged crazy and Don Cheadle is straight-up crazy-talented.


It isn't often that megastar Tom Hanks visits the art house cinema. Following his thaw of the Cold War in last December's underappreciated Bridge of Spies, meeting Christ's ancestors in The Da Vinci Code, playing Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, delivering himself from loneliness in Cast Away, changing history in Forrest Gump and saving Christmas in The Polar Express, everybody's favorite everyman is poised to go for more Oscar gold later this year in Sully, portraying Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed an airliner in the Hudson River in 2009.

Hanks, who calls Idaho his part-time home away from Hollywood, sneaks into the nation's smaller cinemas this week with a lovely film based on Dave Eggers' bestselling novel of the same name, A Hologram For The King

In A Hologram, everything about businessman Alan Clay (Hanks) is in the middle. He's middle-aged; spiraling into a mid-life crisis; and losing his home, wife and possibly his job. So, it comes as no surprise he's due for another spin in life's rinse cycle. What is surprising, though, is seeing Clay's meltdown come about in the blistering heat of Saudi Arabia after he is parachuted into a nearly lose-lose situation: trying to convince a Saudi king to invest millions into a holographic telecommunication system from Clay's employer.

At the heart of A Hologram—and this is a film with a lot of heart—is the 21st century notion that Western culture should be exported into cultures with which we have zero in common. For example, Clay's glassy home base in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is the very-Americanized Hyatt Hotel, right down the street from a mosque where executions take place daily. Each day, Clay treks deep into the desert to the King Abdullah Economic City, aka KAEC (as in "cake"). There is no actual city there, only the royal family's dreams of building a university, shopping malls and a theme park. It's also where Clay and his colleagues spend each day sweating out a promised visit from King Abdullah in hopes of selling their virtual reality wizardry.

Soon, Clay is failing fast both emotionally and physically. After downing some illegal moonshine and piercing a mysterious lump on his back with a steak knife, Clay lands in a Saudi hospital where he meets a gorgeous and elusive physician, played by Sarita Choudhury (Homeland).

With so many competing themes in play, there are multiple reasons A Hologram for the King should not to work. Yet, it does, and is a lovely surprise for the spring cinema season.

Hanks is great. Choudhury is great. The story is great. Hooray for A Hologram. And a note to Mr. Hanks: don't be a stranger.

Unfortunately, the news is not so great for Miles Ahead, the years-in-the-making passion project from writer/director/star Don Cheadle.

The biopic, based on the life and tumultuous times of Miles Davis, had a positive reception at the 2016 Sun Valley Film Festival and is now being released in theaters around the nation, including in Boise.

Miles Ahead is not a great film, in large part because the jazz legend's personality is difficult to embrace. Davis' music was, is and always will be supreme, but his provocative nature leaves the film feeling disjointed and lacking imagination.

See Miles Ahead for the music and certainly for Cheadle's performance, as he once again shows he is one of the best actors of his generation. Unfortunately, his own script lets him down.

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Official Site:

Director: Don Cheadle

Producer: Darryl Porter, Vince Wilburn Jr., Daniel Wagner, Robert Barnum, Don Cheadle, Pamela Hirsch, Lenore Zerman, Mark Amin, Steven Baigelman, Cheryl Davis, Erin Davis and Robert Lewis

Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg, Austin Lyon, Morgan Wolk and Christina Karis

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Cast: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Knudsen, Tracey Fairaway, Jane Perry, Tom Skerritt, Ben Whishaw and David Menkin