Ben-Hur (2016)


A movie with Morgan Freeman? What could go wrong?

Normally, I will wait until the next day before I write a review. This will not be the case with the remake of Ben-Hur. I must advise all: this is one bad film (even though you can trust the 29% approval rating the film has on I bought an ICEE, and spent much of the film wondering when I should throw it away (I only hesitated on the idea because the seat I was in was so comfy).

For those who have not seen the (much better) film from 1959 (which itself was a remake from a silent film from 1925), or have read the book, the story tells of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Houston). A jewish prince, he grows up with his best friend and adoptive brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). One day, Messala betrays Judah along with his wife Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), his mother Naomi (Ayelet Zurer), and his sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia). Ben-Hur is sentenced to a life of slavery before he is discovered by Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman). In all honesty, I don’t remember Morgan Freeman’s character ever being named, but it is Morgan Freeman, so does anyone really care? Apparently Freeman doesn’t, because there are sometimes where it seemed even he was bored.

It is also important to realize that the film takes place during the time of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is probably the most difficult role to play, and Rodrigo Santoro does do a fine job at it. If only he was given more to work with.

The movie is made by the same people who did the bible miniseries a few years ago (and later made a movie about it). Basically, like all Christian movies (and it pains me to admit this), the hearts of the filmmakers are totally in the right place. It is the thought process that I am failing to discover.

Basically, the action scenes are just by the books. When we finally get to the race scene at the end, we don’t expect much (and don’t get it either).

Parents, there is no swearing or any sexual material (other than kissing). There is action/violence, but not any worse than what can be found in a comic book movie. Middle Schoolers and above would be fine.

Actually, I take that back. I would rather people see the 1959 version with Charlton Heston (one of my favorite things about that movie is you never seen the face of Christ). Sure, that film is long, but it is more engaging and a heck of a lot more entertaining. The new Ben-Hur is proof that, for the most part, remakes are not a good thing.

It is Ben-Hurrible.

Sorry, but I sat through the movie, so I can make that joke.

Overall: One Star *

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Bruno meets The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Bruno meets The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It took me a while to write this review.

That is not to say the film is bad. It is a great film. Like Sophie’s Choice or Schindler’s List (though not as great as those are), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of the hardest films I have ever watched.

The film centers on a German family of four: The parents (David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga), their daughter Maria (Cara Horgan) and their 8-year-old son Bruno (Asa Butterfield, showing his acting talent even before he was the title character in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo). They have to move to the country side, where Bruno will be away from his friends, assigned to a tutor (who teaches what nonsense Hitler wanted taught), and nothing to do but read his adventure books (His sister, though caring, begins to shy away from childhood).

All this changes after two things he notices. The first is when he notices a servant being treated oddly in his house hold. The second is after he goes exploring one day (while his mother is not looking), and meets a boy named Leon (Zac Mattoon O’Brien). As the audience, we know what Leon’s situation is, and it is heartbreaking. The true success of the film is that Bruno begins to learn the true situation he is in during the course of the film, and brings about an ending I would never dream of ruining. All I will say is I was pausing the film many times to make sure I was emotionally ready for the film’s ending. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Parents, the film is obviously not for the faint of heart. The PG-13 rating is rightly asserted here: there is not much violence as you may think, only thematic material (and some swearing). If you have a middle schooler who is learning about this horrible time in human history, this may be a good film to start with. It may not be what actually happened, but it does show that even in the worst of times, friendship and love is never forgotten.

Overall: Four Stars

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning

Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe in Mississippi Burning

“What has four eyes but can’t see? Mississippi!” – Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman)

It is really this joke that becomes the reality of the situation of Mississippi Burning. It tells the story of two FBI men, Rupert Anderson and Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) who are brought to 1964 Mississippi to investigate the 3 young men who went missing (even though we know they are killed right at the beginning of the film).

The more I watched this film, the more I realized I have been missing out on great American Cinema. I was sitting there, thinking “What type of idiot would be so racist that they would even bad mouth the FBI?” As soon as that happened, the house the two FBI men are in is attacked, and we see the flaming cross of the KKK outside their window.

This movie made me realize how much I miss Gene Hackman (who, as of this review, has retired from acting and has not been in a movie in over ten years). He can be sweet, charming, affectionate, as we see with the scenes he plays in with a young Frances McDormand. However, we all know how he was in The French Connection, and he gets tough “SOB” moments in this film as well. Seldom are the number of actors who have that range.

Willem Dafoe, always brilliant, is wonderful here too as Ward. We know right away that he wants to do the investigation the right way, with as little violence as possible. We also get the sense he is someone we would still not want to mess with.

Parents, the movie has a lot of swearing and violence, but that is about it. I would say 13 and above would be fine. They may even find it to be something rare in films: Enjoyable and educational.

Overall: Four Stars ****