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 *

God’s Not Dead 2 (2016)

God's Not Dead 2

Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) is put on trial for her response to a question about Jesus…

I was not a big fan of the first God’s Not Dead film. While I liked what it  had to say, I did not agree with the way the film said it (it had far too many characters and story lines that did not mesh together well). That being said, I gave it three stars, the same rating I am giving to the sequel.

Yet the sequel is better. Sure, it has some of the same flaws as the first, but it did what I wished the first one did: it stuck to one story (for the most part: there were some character arcs that were superflous). The main character is  History Teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart, doing a good job of acting). She is a single woman who still lives at home with her Grandpa (Pat Boone), still giving her extra faith every morning with breakfast.

One day, Brooke Thawley (Haley Orrantia), one of her students, asks a question about Jesus during their lesson on non violence. Brooke herself had just discovered the bible from her recently deceased brother (we learn he died in a car crash). During Grace’s answer to the question, an unseen student is shown texting home, letting his parents know what had happened. Eventually, she is brought to trial, and is appointed a lawyer, Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe). He is not a christian, but he says that will help the case.

There are some characters from the original in the film, mainly Rev. Dave (David A.R. White), Rev. Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango), and Martin Yip (Paul Kwo). Kwo has talent as an actor, but there is really no reason for his character to be here. There are also appearances by Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson as Brooke’s best friend Marlene, Fred Dalton Thompson (in his last film role before his 2015 death) as the Senior Pastor, and Mike Huckabee as himself.

There is also a lot of legal talk in this film. Personally, I do not go into a movie wanting to make sure it is entirely accurate, and I know nothing about the legal precedings in a court room. I am sure there are some holes here and there, but not enough to make me dislike what happens.

Parents, like the first movie, this one is fine for kids.

As I stated in my review for the first film, Christian Cinema can be done right (the Kendrick Brothers are a good example, as their movies get better with each release). Those behind God’s Not Dead and the sequel still have some work to do, but they are getting there.

Overall: Three Stars ***