Drama, Reviews

Ben-Hur

ben-hur

Copyright © 2016 by Paramount Pictures

Story
The friendship of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbell) is tested after Messala revisits his home in Jerusalem as a revered Roman officer. It reaches breaking point when Ben-Hur refuses to spy for his adopted brother on the Zealots who are against the oppressive Romans. In a failed assassination on Pontius Pilate’s (Pilou Asbæk) life from a young Zealot, Gestas (Moisés Arias) whom Ben-Hur is harboring, he shoulders the blame and is condemned to enslavement in a galley. After five years of slavery, the galley is wrecked in a naval attack and he journeys back to Jerusalem with Sheik Ilderim’s (Morgan Freeman) support.

Review
“For the right price, they’ll let you do anything”. Monetary motivations aside, consenting a second remake for the 21st century feels judicious and John Ridley polishing the script restores some required faith. As terrific the Oscar juggernaut is (11 wins and stayed victorious for almost four decades until ‘Titanic’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ matched the record), a modern spin could rejuvenate interest.

The 1959 tale of two friends / brothers driven apart by ambition and religion fuels the rage of the wrongly accused Jew with a heartrending finale that is accompanied by impassioned music from Miklós Rózsa. Even after the umpteenth viewing, being dry-eyed is a test I repeatedly flunk gloriously. Big shoes for Timur Bekmambetov and a predominantly unknown cast to fill 57 years later.

From the math, the numbers are disheartening and the film has been dismissed by both secular and religious groups. As it turns out, it is not the calamity that many pundits prophesied before its release. In defense, this re-imagination strives a profounder insight into Ben-Hur and Messala’s relationship before all hell breaks loose. Although fleeting, it maneuvers to a lachrymose conclusion nevertheless.

The chemistry Huston and Kebbell share is adequate and both actors are laudable successors to Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd. Now to address the elephant in the room, is the chariot race any good? A crowning glory for ‘Ben-Hur’, we are enticed ahead of Bekmambetov’s vision with a visceral, furious and raucous affair. It is a valiant bid to upstage William Wyler’s hit but CGI trickery does quell its magnitude. Bummer.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and disturbing images

Standard
Musical, Reviews

Florence Foster Jenkins

florence foster jenkins

Copyright © 2016 by Paramount Pictures

Story
Founder of the Verdi Club, Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) perform plays to their esteemed members. Despite her shortcomings, Jenkins recommences her singing lessons with vocal instructor, Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and accompanied by her newly hired pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg). She arranges an exclusive recital with attendees coming mainly from her club. Unaware of the audiences’ actual reaction to her singing, the New York heiress confidently organises a subsequent appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Review
Lesson number one, if you have dreams, dream big. Specifically, Carnegie Hall big. Would it matter if you are reported in the tabloids as a national joke? Probably not. Should the overriding jeers submerging the cheers be any reason to quit and prove cynics they are right all along? If it did, will we ever be able to relish in Ms Streep’s hilarious impression of the world’s worst singer?

Honouring a celebrated icon, Streep is pitch perfect as the tone deaf soprano. Academy members must already be crusading for her 20th Oscar nomination. She imbues Jenkins with pathos and it transforms the slightness into a sympathetic yet determined disposition. That being said, it is being equipoised by many LOL and ROTFL moments (the latter literally has a spectator on fours, forgoing all formality).

The best actress of her generation has shimmered in ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘Into the Woods’ which only accentuates her commitment to sounding deliberately bad exquisitely. Fervent, I waited with bated breath until her first vocal session is in motion and it left me in tears for laughing so hard. Playing along to the charade is Bayfield, Edwards and later, McMoon.

Serious and sincere, Grant is invigorating as the devoted and protective Bayfield but securing Helberg is a steal to this British production as he offers slyness encased in awestruck bewilderment. McMoon’s increasing fondness for his employers parallels the film’s strongest aspect, thanks to Nicholas Martin’s thorough grasp of Jenkins’ illustrious life turning her more than mere high society.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material

Standard
Drama, Reviews

Imperium

Imperium

Copyright © 2016 by Lionsgate Premiere

Story
Young and eager Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) is appointed by Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) on a covert mission in infiltrating active white supremacist groups to locate some illegally obtained Caesium-137. Possessing an empathetic nature, the FBI agent gains the members’ trust and bonds with Gerry Conway (Sam Trammell), a presumably moderate member in the cult. As they spend more time together, he is torn between his friendship with Conway and duty to the bureau.

Review
Hate to say it but not everything is rainbows and unicorns. If you think that seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses will somehow prevent the vile acts humans inflict on each other, be ready for a rude awakening to reality. Physical violence scars the human body but a verbal assault damages the psyche and spirit that breaks even the strongest of minds.

We keep telling ourselves that it gets better over time. It really does not. Racial and gender discrimination are still at large. We would like to believe that the progress being made by the select few are representing the larger issue but the facts are anything but significant. Politics, hardly at its finest hours are either flubbed by corrupt politicians or are impeded by glacial decision making.

‘Imperium’ validates what is suppurating underneath a guise of tolerance and acceptance. White supremacy fashions an audacious uprising and it ain’t pretty. The young are ‘educated’ early on and we are alerted to the alarming numbers of various factions through Foster’s undercover work. The quick movement from one group to another intensifies the pacing without losing the details of their modus operandi.

Advancing the events from succumbing to mediocrity is Radcliffe, once questioned about his legitimacy as an actor has unquestionably perfected his magnum opus. Collette is ballsy and nurturing while Trammell’s everyman charms effectively strings us along to a malign end which only augments enmity is borne out even with the noblest of intentions.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated R for language throughout

Standard