REVIEW: “BEN-HUR” (2016) Paramount Pictures

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Let’s start by stating the obvious. If you go into this version Ben-Hur with visions of the original classic film, you will be disappointed. It is a very conservative, safe, tale re-told for current audiences. Remember this is being done by none other than Roma Downey & Mark Burnett, sponsors of some of the most cheesy TV shows ever done. And while it’s the ‘cool’ thing to just trash this film because it is a remake blah blah blah.. give it a rest people.
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Opening up on this remake/adaptation of the classic epic of Ben-Hur it has mostly the same plot-line as the original. We move on through the tale of the two brothers, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), is falsely accused of an assassination attempt by his childhood friend and adoptive brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). He survives years of slavery under the Romans and rises from the ranks hoping to one day get his revenge. The storyline is the same predictable one as the 1959 version though some of the dialogue was very modern day, which was a bit distracting, as it took me out of the time-frame of the story on occasion. One of the things that really struck me and stood out, is when they flash the time period it’s set in, you realize just how long people have been killing each other in the name of religion.
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The main positive point is the acting as Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell both do a decent job, again, if you’re expecting Charlton Heston, Don’t. Let it go and just roll with it. Morgan Freeman as Ilderim, does voice over and basically phones in his acting performance also. At one point, it’s so completely ridiculous that he’s yelling instructions that would’ve been impossible to be heard over the noise of the race! Add in one other notable cheesy scene for me, is where Judah Ben-Hur is washed up ashore as the only survivor after the ship he is a slave on is destroyed, and I felt like Wilson the volleyball should just make a quick cameo. But to give credit where credit is due, I must say that I did enjoy the spectacle that was the ending chariot race.
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The women in the film Ester (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer) and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all felt really muted. Esther didn’t really feel like a full character for her being the female lead. Add in Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus with the muted group as he’s barely featured until the end. And while I’m not a fan of religious films, they did need to give the character a little more explanation here.

So continuing on with quite the dismal film year of 2016, I can’t say I hated this film as so many of the people who are trashing it just because they can. I will say that the venture might have fit far more comfortably perhaps on a home screen level. Lastly, though I believe a great movie might be in here somewhere, sadly, only a mediocre one found its way to the screen.

Grade: C-
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Review Screening: Tuesday, August 16, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV meetup
Nationwide Release: Friday, August 19, 2016

REVIEW: “FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS” (2016) Paramount Pictures

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Set up beautifully in 1940’s New York and based on a true story, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of a truly awful singer (Meryl Streep), completely enveloped in her oddly closed world of a 1944 New York hotel. Pampered by her unsuccessful actor/husband St Clair Mayfield (Hugh Grant), a term we find out to use loosely as he is otherwise occupied in a completely different residence with his long-time girlfriend Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson).
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Together with ex-actor Mayfield, the wealthy Florence is the co-star of the show at her self-owned “Verdi Club” where she has a non-speaking role enacting various ‘tableau’ scenes. But in the interests of following her dreams, she recruits the help of famous singing instructor Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and an enthusiastic, personable young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). Carlo becomes aware of what he is in for once she actually starts to “sing”, which is more like a cackling hen than an actual singing voice and starts to see how she has been deceived her entire life by the people who surround her, into thinking she is something she is not.

This film got on my nerves fairly early in the game and gradually got worse as it went along. Meryl Streep seems to just be coasting and going through the motions in her career right now, this being no exception to the rule. And while Hugh Grant is often quite unfairly criticized for playing Hugh Grant in every movie, here he actually turns a somewhat decent performance as once again though, a cad. Simon Helberg’s character is the most funny, for a bit, and gradually the quirkyness you thought funny for the first 20 minutes, grinds on you.
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While the film is not without it’s charm at points, it fell a little short for me on storyline. The acting was adequate, but I felt like we never really got to know or understand why it had gotten to the point it did on her life. I wanted just a touch more backstory. All in all, I can only recommend it to a certain niche of viewers as I’m sure some will find this a somewhat likable film.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening ~ Wednesday, August 10, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In Nationwide Release as of Friday, August 12, 2016

REVIEW: “SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Warner Bros.

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Writer/Director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” starts off strong. With a booming, kick-ass soundtrack taking us through the introductions of characters and giving us a bit of the backstory on each so we know at least who they are. Unless you’re a major DC Comics fan, you probably don’t recognize every single character of the Squad. The new action movie teams up a bunch of bad guys as a last resort to take down an even more evil force. For those of us that don’t read the comic books, I found this not only helpful, but gave us some fun sides of the characters to boot.
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We’ve got Deadshot (Will Smith) the assassin who never misses, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) the aslyum doctor who fell in love with her patient who then gave her shock treatment to make her crazy, Boomerang (Jai Courtney) the Aussie who’s boomerangs are like drones and really doesn’t give a rats ass about anyone but himself, Diablo (Jay Hernandez) in essence a firestarter, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is self-explanatory and lives in the underground sewers, Slipnot (Adam Beach) an escape artist of the highest caliber and whilst not really a ‘Squad’ member, we have Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Archaeologist/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and of course our Joker (Jared Leto). You’ve also got the ‘soldier’ side to it all with Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), Lt. GQ Edwards (Scott Eastwood) and our head honcho who proposes and is responsible for putting the ‘Squad’ together, Amanda Walker (Viola Davis). And yes, along with our bit part from The Batman himself, Ben Affleck, we understand why they are, who they are and where they are.
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Sadly, no one here can save the convuluted mess of a storyline and bad dialague. The characters are so off-balance and poorly acted, most especially I’m looking at you Will Smith & Cara Delevingne. Robbie’s character would have fit much better in a re-make of the 1970’s classic The Warriors (one of my fav. movies btw) and she probably could have made something with it. Here she limps along trying to be funny but falls completely flat. Only the Joker and Boomerang really pull out the stops and make it work for their characters and you know it’s really bad when even Viola Davis strains to pull off her dialogue as even somewhat believable.
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The first 1/3 of this film is definitely worth the watch. Anything after that I can’t guarantee, except of course the ending because it leads us into Suicide Squad Part Deux. I would try to describe the plot, but don’t want to give away how just plain ridiculous it is and really, everyone should just see and judge for themselves anyways as it’s all just CGI.

And just in case you’re really itching to get out of the theatre, you only have to wait until the first set of basic credits is done to get your ending Bat-fix in..not the whole long credit roll. Somewhere in this series is a good movie, so stay, and let’s just hope Part Deux has more to it than this one did.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide Release: Friday, August 5, 2016