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Movie Review: Ben-Hur

The Ben-Hur of 1959 starring Charlton Heston is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. A remake of a silent movie, the production took six months to film and six months of postproduction to complete at a cost of just under $15 million. Massive sets, thousands of costumes and long days, it was a colossal undertaking, inspired by The Ten Commandments. Originally, Marlon Brando was set to star but the iconic role eventually found its way to Charlton Heston with the film generating 10 times its budget in returns at the box office.

The story, penned by Lew Wallace, follows a prince falsely accused of treason who returns to his homeland after years at sea to take revenge on the adopted brother, who betrayed him. The new Ben-Hur of 2016 isn't as grandiose as its predecessor, making some drastic changes to the story. The central revenge plot between Judah Ben-Hur and Masala, played by Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell, is still a primary focus, however it seems that the film makers have made more room for Ilderim and Jesus Christ, played by Morgan Freeman and Rodrigo Santoro respectively. The effort seems divided between four characters, when it's really Ben Hur's film.

Jack Huston isn't your typical leading man and seems pretty ordinary when you contrast him with Charlton Heston. Huston pushes off Kebbell as their paths diverge and for a moment you're not too sure who is playing the lead. Huston is likable and goes through a number of transitions in terms of his appearance much like The Count of Monte Cristo. Kebbell has more of an embattled sneer and comparable with Joseph Fiennes's role as Clavius in Risen, a film which makes an interesting contrast in terms of production values and themes.

Ben-Hur 2016 Movie Review

"I feel the need... the need for speed."

The new Ben-Hur tries to elevate itself into the realm of Ben-Hur, Spartacus and Gladiator, which is such a strong influence that it almost becomes an undercurrent. However, it's a lesser film – leaning on CGI to create dazzling effects but failing to capture the same injustice, turmoil and sprawling majesty. Perhaps a stronger lead would have helped raise this historical adventure drama's profile, which seems more in line with the Orlando Bloom film, Kingdom of Heaven.

Timur Bekmambetov is a director best known for Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. These dark fantasy films make it seem strange that he was elected for the remake of Ben-Hur. Although when you look at Darren Aronofsky's Noah, it may help explain the decision. Bekmambetov excels in the darker moments, most particularly his vision of the hellish sea battles. He's also paid special attention to the chariot race, a scene which has left an indelible mark on Hollywood history. While he doesn't trump the original, it still functions as the film's climactic highlight.

Ben-Hur certainly doesn't have the same magic and power as the golden era films its trying to mimic, but it's still entertaining as we journey with a wrongfully accused man on a path to redemption. The quality of the production ranks alongside Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, yet it's restrained by its decision to try and parallel the story of Christ. Ben Hur did have some interactions with Jesus Christ, but the timing of both stories just seem implausible and convoluted rather than coincidental. The ending while touching is cheapened by Ben-Hur's hollow victory and change of heart. This heavy-handed approach just makes this mediocre... at best promising, biblical epic seem a bit cheesy.

The bottom line: So-so

Talking Movies with Spling - Sully, Nine Lives and Regression

Spling reviews Sully, Nine Lives and Regression as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

Movie Review: Sully

Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger will be remembered for his heroic efforts in making an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York after his Airbus A320 lost the use of its engines following a bird strike shortly after take-off. The pilot's quick thinking saved many lives and planted a much-needed aviation miracle in the hearts and minds of the people of New York after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The amazing true story captured the world's imagination as reports flooded in with the good news. There aren't many happy emergency landing stories and this one took our breath away, creating a national hero and testing the mettle of New York's finest policemen, firefighters and rescue teams who responded immediately.

This story was bound to be adapted to film and who better to direct and star than American treasures, Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks. Eastwood's directing credits include war films, sporting triumphs and generally involve some flag-waving patriotism, whether it be the star-spangled banner in American Sniper or South Africa's national flag in Invictus. He's become known for directing stories that inspire and unfurling the tales of everyday heroes.

Sully Movie 2016

"Cabin crew, please stop doing your cross-checks..."

Having a solid, accomplished and patriotic director on-board was half the job done and with Tom Hanks playing Sullenberger, almost making the film sturdy enough to recommend blindly. He played Captain Phillips in a role lauded as something of a comeback and there's a wonderful synergy. Both films involve self-sacrificing captains subjected to a difficult and unusual situation, in which they're forced to make immediate life-threatening decisions, which could impact their passengers and crew.

While Captain Phillips was action-intensive, taut and relentless, Sully is unassuming and reflective when we're not experiencing the rush of emergency. We start in the aftermath of the near-disaster where the media can't get enough of America's new hero. True to Sullenberger's surname, Hanks is playing a character who is somewhat sullen. Solemn might be a better word, downplaying the gravity of the dire situation and the instant fame he's achieved. It's a restrained performance as Hanks balances the emotions of a man overwhelmed and yet determinedly calm in his circumstances, much like his emergency landing.

He's supported by earnest turns by Aaron Eckhart as his second-in-command and Laura Linney as his wife. Eckhart is solid, literally playing his wing man, and sporting an impressive moustache that makes you think pilots wear them because they look like wings. Linney anchors the man's home life, something that remains a bit of a mystery since he's almost never out of uniform.

We get a glimpse into Sullenberger's life, a long-serving pilot turned aviation safety official, who after delivering more than a million passengers to their destinations safely is faced with his greatest challenge yet. Flashbacks to his aviation career underscore a decent and committed man as phone calls between him and his wife remind us of the deep sacrifice he's made.

Sully recreates the emergency landing without much embellishment. It seems like an accurate and authentic rendition of the events, carefully creating the on-board environment with a depiction of aviation that enthusiasts will probably admire. It goes even deeper than simply dramatising the miracle landing, going behind-the-scenes to the legal ramifications of choosing to land on the Hudson instead of turning back to the airport. It also serves as a tribute to the level-headed hero and the scores of emergency personnel who work tirelessly in the name of safety.

The salute to New York's servicemen does seem like an important aspect of the film, an issue that Sullenberger would probably want to highlight, downplaying his own heroics. Despite Hanks's solid performance and firm direction from Eastwood, you're left wanting more from this quietly confident biographical drama. However, it's touching to: see people coming together, watch a man of great integrity stand by his word and witness the events unfold gracefully and without question.

The bottom line: Unassuming

Talking Movies with Spling - Noem My Skollie, Dis Koue Kos Skat and Bad Moms

Spling reviews Noem My Skollie, Dis Koue Kos Skat and Bad Moms as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

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