Ben-Hur Review

They remade Ben-Hur? Sure, why not? With all the other bloody films being remade let’s just do whatever film studios still have the rights to. Disclaimer; I haven’t seen the original (apart from the chariot sequence), but it is usually seen as one of the biggest films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Let’s see though, maybe the remake could be good.

Ben-Hur stars Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell, and Nazanin Bonaidi and is directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Based on the book from 1880, the film follows Judah Ben-Hur (Huston) who is betrayed by his Roman Soldier brother (Kebbell) and forced into slavery during the time of Jesus Christ.

I’ll start with what I did like. The film is split between several built sets and real-life wilderness. While it is very easy to spot the former I really enjoyed the latter. Near the beginning we see a montage of Ben-Hur’s adoptive brother Messala’s army career with him fighting in Germania and Gaul through wheat-fields and falling snow. It reminded me of the opening of Gladiator, but sadly it is only in the film for a limited amount of time. I also mostly enjoyed the chariot sequence. While it can’t hold a candle to the original (famous for the alarmingly high amount of injuries and near-death experiences on set) the destruction throughout has a nice crunch to it.

I’m also glad that a lot of the horse and chariot racing was done for real. Sure, horses being tripped and riders being thrown off or trampled are computer generated, but there are many scenes where Ben-Hur is learning to tilt his chariot onto one wheel or another where he jumps onto runaway horses, and it is all done for real. Director Timur Bekmambetov stated he wanted to not rely on CGI unless it was heavily needed so I applaud him for using it correctly rather than splashing out.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been used and quite terribly. During Ben-Hur’s time as a galley slave, rowing ships for the Roman Navy, he looks out the portholes and sees some truly awful looking ships. The previously mentioned chariot sequence (when it isn’t the real riders) is full of rubbery looking models unfit for the early 2000s. It is a little sad when something goes from real-life stunts to bad stand-ins.

The acting is mixed pot as well. Most of the cast is English or American (odd, since the film is meant to be set in Jerusalem). Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur as a gruff, wooden character, breathing every other word like Kristen Stewart used to do back in Twilight. Toby Kebbell isn’t as charismatic as he was in Warcraft earlier this year (he was honestly the best part of that film), but his character is meant to be a nigh-emotionless killer so I’ll let it pass. The person I was most confused by was Morgan Freeman. While he is really good in the film I was pulled out the experience by his inclusion. Everyone else is either relatively unknown or coming into their careers so to have this huge actor in the film creates a divide. Bekmamtebov said he wanted the film to be global hence his inclusion of Freeman. Alright, I’ll let it go. Morgan Freeman does draw in the crowds since remaking a classic film is not usually a winner of box offices (the film is reportedly making a loss of $120 million).

The bit I found both unintentionally hilarious and odd was the inclusion of Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the original story (the subtitle is A Tale Of The Christ), but in the 1959 version he’s usually off-screen, a higher presence that is alluded to but never truly shown. There is a line in the updated version which basically is, “This Jesus fellow is rather great, he’s just wonderful.” I’m all for including whatever you want in a film, but it was just so funny how the line was presented in the film, it felt really out of place. That being said, Rodrigo Santoro, the actor who plays Jesus (who also played Xerxes from 300 and Karl from Love Actually, interesting fact), is actually giving a good performance and an interesting addition to the film.

In the end Ben-Hur wasn’t as bad as I was thinking it was going to be. Its an odd mix of Gladiator, Passion Of The Christ, and Ben-Hur, but sadly with nothing really standout to warrant it being remade.

Score: 5/10 There are better movies to spend two and half hours with.

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London Has Fallen Review

Finally, it’s March. We’re going to be having some great films this month, Hail Caesar!, Anomalisa and even though I’m not looking forward to it, many film-goers are eagerly anticipating Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. But, before we can enjoy those, I have to clean house one last time for London Has Fallen.

London Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Alon Moni Aboutboul and is directed by Babak Najafi. The films follows secret service agent Mike Bannng (Butler) who must protect US President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) after terrorists attack London.

I’ll start by saying that I haven’t seen Olympus Has Fallen. I’m much more of a White House Down kind of guy, but due to the former being a box office success and the latter flopping, we get an unnecessary sequel. But anyway, how does London Has Fallen stand as a film?

The answer is poorly. Very poorly.

The action scenes are passable. Most are just confusing jump-cut affairs, apart from one pretty good long take of a firefight in the London streets. Several explosions open the terrorist attack and it seems every single object in London has been doused in petrol and is a hair away from catching fire. Everything that can explode does explode, it starts to become almost comical. Director Babak Najafi seems to be giving Michael Bay a run for his money in the unnecessary explosions department, as we have around seven explosions delivered in a montage.

As the set-up for the film is the state funeral for the British Prime Minister, several heads of state are present in the film. Just in case we get confused between them, each one has a lapel pin of the flag of their nation attached to them, it’s like the film is holding your hand in case you get confused. The leaders on screen are thinly disguised versions of each the real life version, with Merkel, Berlusconi and Holland in all but name on screen. But as nearly all of them get wiped out in the opening ten minutes it falls to Gerard Butler as the world’s most Scottish American to save the day. He makes the British police and army look like bumbling fools, but that might be because Banning himself seems to be like a video game character in comparison, with the unlimited ammo and auto-aim cheats turned on.

The London displayed in the film was designed by someone who used tourist books as their research. The capital of England (not the capital of Britain, something the movie keeps getting wrong) is just made up of famous landmarks and tube stations. I guess this is to cater to the American audience, who only recognise London from Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

While the first film had rogue elements of North Korea attacking the United States, for the sequel the bad guys are rogue elements of Pakistan. The films tries to put some motive into why the bad guys are staging a terrorist attack but it never really comes together. It tries to make the audience see their side of the conflict, with drone strikes killing their families, but then the film just turns around and becomes pro-US again, instead of staying with what could have been a good theme of the context of war. What we get is another modern action film that ends up painting all people from the Middle East as terrorists. For the finale it goes overboard, with Gerard Butler torturing the second-in-command bad guy while explaining why America is the best country in the world. I was half expecting to see an eagle fly overhead with the US flag in its talons and it screeching “‘MURICA!” for the end credits.

In conclusion, London Has Fallen is just a mindless action film with not much to recommend. If you want something as dumb as this to work, get Roland Emmerich to direct it. At least he knows how to make this stuff entertaining.

Score: 3/10 I can’t remember a single scene composition from the film…and I watched it yesterday. That should tell you all you need to know.

Ruth And Alex Review

Senior viewings are a fun little diversion from usual screenings. I do get some odd looks and questioned “You know this screening is for Seniors?” whenever I go to the cinema intent on seeing the film, but going to certain screenings has allowed me to see some great films. For example, 2014’s The Two Faces of January was, in my opinion one of the most underrated films of the year. But now for the review of the new release aimed at seniors, Ruth And Alex.

Ruth And Alex (Renamed 5 Flights Up in other countries) stars Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman and Cynthia Nixon and the director is Richard Loncraine. Over one hectic weekend, married couple Ruth (Keaton) and Alex (Freeman) look into trying to sell their now-trendy Brooklyn apartment as they downsize their lives after retirement.

When I first went into Ruth And Alex I thought it was going to come down to a live action version of the first ten minutes from Up. The film does flit between the past and the present with the same rose tinted fondness that that famous ten-minute montage did, and this is where the film excels. It’s nice to see two people falling in love, even if it doesn’t raise any of the serious questions about the prejudice that would have occured at the time over a mixed race couple, nigh one line of dialogue. The only problem with these scenes is that they are too few and far between, with only around four, each lasting under a minute in the whole film. I wanted to see more of these scenes, to see the blossoming relationship that would turn into a long marriage between the two older actors.

Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton are both on form, doing roles they could both do in their sleep. Freeman’s lines are accentuated by his dry humour/sarcastic delivery, while Keaton usually just seems to roll her eyes at his interjections, with a look of “You loveable rogue” on her face. Morgan Freeman as well does some opening and closing voiceover work, using that almost legendary voice to draw the audience in. In relation to the time jumping narrative, praise must also be given to Claire Van De Boom and Korey Jackson who play the young Ruth and Alex respectively, even if Van De Boom sometimes goes a bit over the top with her acting.

After seeing Ruth And Alex I can see why it was tapped for a senior release. Freeman’s opening monologue is laced with dry wit and disdain at Brooklyn becoming a haven for “Hipsters…A Wholefoods and…An Apple Store.” It’s full of scenes of children pushing past our older actors without much care and has some scumbag buyers trying to get Ruth and Alex’s apartment for less than it’s worth. It’s a film that rolls it’s eyes at the audience while saying, “Young people, Imma right?”

All Ruth and Alex comes down to is ninety minutes of apartment hunting through the boroughs of New York, but the writers knew that wouldn’t fill an entire film so there are two subplots, both coming out of nowhere and feeling totally incongruous. One involves a possible terrorist plot to blow up Brooklyn Bridge that is always jarring the sense of tone from romcom to…I don’t know, a thriller? The film almost touches on a few ideas later in the film, (through another soliloquy by Freeman, although nowhere near as good as his Shawshank days) about the demonization of minorities and trial by media, but again, these ideas aren’t for the type of film Ruth And Alex is.

The other is a small story about the couples old pet dog Dorothy, which is stumbled upon pretty early in the film and never really goes anywhere apart from to the vets and back. These odd diversions are also told in the various flashback sequences, with certain character details and family relationships of Ruth and Alex being subtly explored, each giving our lead characters shade but no depth.

In summary, Ruth And Alex is a mixed bag. While the small sections of the falling in love story are nice to see, the dual storylines of house-hunting and bizarre subplots feel out of place. It really should have been a story about the characters, rather than their retirement plans.

Score: 3/10 It could have, and should been so much better