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: “PROJECT ALMANAC” (2015) ~ Paramount Pictures

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Oh Project Almanac… I was so hoping for a fun and entertaining teen time-travel thriller. What I got was a film that seemed like it was being filmed by a 12yr old with a hand-held camera. Along with a massive headache within minutes, that camera thing got tiresome… fast. And it’s too bad because I really think this film had potential and if you can handle all that movement, which I’ve never liked and you miss a lot of what’s actually taking place because you’re rolling with someone running with a camera while it’s focused on the ground…or the sky… or someone’s head. It’s a shooting decision that adds very little and ultimately distracts from the pleasures of the script and performances. Yeah, not for me.

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Nonetheless, our nerdy & adorable lead character here “David Raskin”, played with a good dose of wit and charm by relative newcomer Jonny Weston, begins the film between a rock and a hard place. He’s been accepted to MIT but doesn’t get a complete free ride so can’t afford the tuition. While his mom talks about selling the family home to pay it, David starts going through the papers and equipment his now-deceased scientist father left in the attic as his mom wants him to clear out preparing for the sale. He and his sister “Chris” (Virginia Gardner) find an old video camera and after he oddly sees his teenage self in a video from when he was at his 7th birthday party they find, with the help of his child-hood techy friends “Adam” (Allen Evangelista) and the funny “Quinn” (Sam Lerner), a secret set of prototypes and blueprints in the basement, hidden by David’s father. As they begin to build a time-machine on their own, the situation slowly dawns on them and they realize looking at the tape…they’ve already done this. project almanac 5

Much like in a horror film where you just want to scream out at the character walking straight into being killed, Project Almanac suggests it’s not so smart to mess with the way things and they should probably in all good thought be left as is. But if that happened, we wouldn’t have a movie here now would we. Especially after David starts going back in time again and again, first to win the heart of his crush and cool girl, “Jessie” (Sofia Black-D’Elia) who just as in any basic teen movie, drops cool status to hang with the nerds and become a time-traveler.
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It’s here that our group use their new time travel power to leap through time — so they can see Imagine Dragons at Lollapalooza. With VIP passes no less. I will admit, I would probably do the exact same thing, even now. 🙂 And it’s all done with seemly little damage except to win the girl of his dreams he goes back alone against their own rules, but as things aren’t always as they seem…David has to correct all the damage his seemingly minor meddling with time has wreaked on the fragileness of reality and keeps traveling back himself. Bad move.
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Even with all of the vertigo-inducing hand-held camerawork and special effects magic that goes into the film’s time-travel sequences, it’s worth noting that the characters in it all act like real teens and you believe they really are all good friends even as things start to fall apart some. The premise of this film is great…and had the camera work not induced me to have to close my eyes at times just to stop my head and stomach from rolling, it would have been a really good film. As is, and because of this filming fiasco, I am barely recommending it and only if you can handle this type of filming would I suggest going as it doesn’t stop throughout the movie.

Grade: C-
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(See grading scale)