Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

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Movie review: Fantastic Four

Movie reviews

Hello!

So, the time has come to review the last comic book movie of this summer and probably the most disappointing one. Let’s go meet the not so fantastic Fantastic Four.

To begin with, Fantastic Four is actually the first comic book that I have ever read. I also loved the animated series when I was a kid. Even though comic books were not popular in Eastern Europe when I was little, everybody seemed to know who the Fantastic Four were. Lastly, back then I even thought that the 2005 and 2007 movie editions were not that bad. Of course, I changed my mind when I re-watched them only recently. Because of that,  I had really high hopes for the reboot. I was hoping that they would get it right this time or that I at least would like it with only a singular watch. Let’s be real – a lot of movie crumble on a closer inspection. But this one doesn’t even need a closer look to come across as really really bad. Let’s get on with my angry rant.

IMDb summary: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

To begin with, this movie is based on the Ultimate version of the Fantastic Four, so the origin story is a bit different. Also, the movie tries to make the story as realistic as possible by relying on scientific explanations. I was really excited that they decided to adapt the Ultimate version because I always enjoy seeing something fresh and unique. Moreover, science fiction has been one of my favorite genre of films since childhood, so I was down for some extraordinary science mambo-jumbo. The thing I wasn’t down for – the Fox studios getting my hopes up after the X-Men Days of Future Past (review) and then crushing my trust in them completely once more. Deadpool please be good. I am begging you.

Directing and Writing

The film is directed by Josh Trank and written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg and Trank himself. Although, it seems like Fox executives were also involved in the production a lot and their fingerprints are defintely showing. And when the money-driven studio gets in a way of the actual creators, nothing good ever happens.

The movie had tremendous potential and it wasted all of it. The story was okay during the first half, but the ending was terrible. The time jumps made zero sense. The dialogue was cheese and uninspiring as well as full of cliches. The only scene with some interesting dialogue was the one right before they decided to travel to the other dimension and were all drinking in the circle. The Neil Armstrong argument was the best line in the whole film. Sadly, it was short and lasted for just a minute. After that, you had to sit through 100 minutes of awfulness.

In addition, all the character were undeveloped, they never picked a clear main protagonist and tried to develop all of them, but just failed completely. It felt like the movie was missing half the scenes, which probably contained the backstory. Plus, the villain was the most awful of all the characters. They completely ruined Doctor Doom. Also, they didn’t include Sue Storm in the actual experiment that gave them powers but she still got hers anyway. You have one female character, only ONE, and you mess her story up? How is that even possible??

Moving on to the action scenes – there was only like 2 of them. One of them is okay, the other makes no sense. And the CGI…oh God. With the movie that cost this much money and is being made in 2015, you would expect at least the computer effect to look great, but they don’t. It looked like this film was made in the late 90s or early 2000s by some kid in a garage. Basically, it was a cheap looking animation. The only effects that looked quite good were the actual powers of the Fantastic Four. The Thing’s design was okay, but Johnny’s flaming body was the coolest one for me. However, Reed’s stretching abilities were enhanced by allowing him to change his appearance and that scene looked awful. Furthermore, when Sue Storm was flying in her force field bubble, you could clearly spot the places where the cables were attached to her back.

Acting

This movie had an extremely talented cast, who kinda lost their talent while filming. I’m guessing the terrible script made them loose all inspiration to perform.

  • Miles Teller as Reed Richards / Mr. Fantastic. I am a huge Miles Teller fan. I praised him in a separate blog post. But here, he was not that great. He definitely portrayed the nerdy aspect of the character perfectly as well as was a great half-of-a-friendship with Ben, but he was awful as a team leader. His inspiring monologue was so corny and so bad.
  • Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm / Human Torch. I have no idea why the fans got angry when they changed the race of Johnny Storm. It looks like we are still living in the 19th century with all the racism and discrimination that is going on. I never look at a skin color of the character or an actor. I look at their work and the way they present themselves. I really loved Michael B. Jordan in That Awkward Moment and enjoyed his performance here. He was probably my favorite character and, to my mind, did the best job out of all of the cast.
  • Kate Mara as Susan “Sue” Storm / Invisible Woman. I have already complained about the creators decision to not include Sue in the actual experiment. Also, once again they made her into an unlikable and not fun mommy type character. It’s not the 1940s!! If you are changing the backstory and the personality of the character, change it for the better and not for worse.
  • Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm / Thing was quite good. He definitely portrayed the sadness and inner anger of the character well. However, he lacked developed and closure to his story like the others.
  • Toby Kebbell as Victor von Doom / Doctor Doom……Don’t even want to talk about him. This was not Doctor Doom. He looked weird, his power were weirder and his intentions and actions – weirdest of it all.
  • Reg E. Cathey as Dr. Franklin Storm. Fox tried to turn the daddy Storm into Professor Xavier of the X-Men or Nick Furry of the MCU. Not surprisingly, Fox failed. Moreover, the supposedly inspiring monologues were terrible.
  • Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Harvey Allen. He was as suppose to be the unlikable antagonist of the Fantastic Four. However, since you didn’t really care for the heroes, you didn’t hate the anti-hero either. The government story-line and the militaristic ideas, introduced through this character, were interesting, but the movie never followed up on them.

References

This move didn’t even had a Stan Lee cameo. Seeing Stan always makes the movie better for me, but Fantastic Four didn’t even have that. The only reference which I’ve enjoyed was the Star Trek’s ‘Beam me up, Scotty‘, when the kid Reed Richards was talking about teleportation in the class. That, I though, was clever.

To sum up, the Fantastic Four film took itself way too seriously, it never found a clear direction or a tone. It was way to uneven and a few good performances and interesting lines only reminded us, how good the movie could have been but wasn’t. I don’t believe it will get a sequel. I’m hoping it won’t.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Fantastic Four trailer

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