Category Archives: Drama

Live by Night

Death by Day

Ben Affleck has had to endure a truck load of bad-mouthing and shit talk throughout his career. Some of this is because it’s trendy to knock him and some is thanks to the emotional range of boiled cabbage shown in some of his films.

In the past few years he’s managed to claw back some kudos from his directorial efforts – particularly the spectacular Argo – and his role in Gone girl and the hero that BvS needed in a film that no-one deserved.

Affleck seems to have cashed in this wave of good sentiment to make a film full of failed promises, terrible costume design and once again: drab fucking acting.

The basic premise of this film is that WW1 vet Joe Coughlin (Affleck) returns home to a fledgling 1920’s Boston. He gets tied up in a life of petty crime and a relationship with a Boston mob boss’s bit of skirt. This forces him to relocate to Florida and start running the rum trade during prohibition.

The very fact that this film is set in Florida already sets it apart from any other gangster film and if you needed any further proof then you only need look as far as Coughlin’s character who is not interested in running drugs or whore houses. This isn’t your typical gangsters drunk on power storyline.

The problem is that the film is now trying to make you care about cops and robbers, lost love, new love interests, revenge plots and prohibition so why it feels the need to weave in even more plot threads such as racism, the KKK and religion is confusing at best.

These are all fantastic topics that are ripe to be explored in more depth but with so much going on Live by Night never stood a chance to get emotionally invested in any of these.

What a shame. All the ingredients are there for a great film but it’s been thrown together with the care of a dog wielding a paintball gun.

That said, the production design is fantastic and really should be at least nominated for an Oscar in this area ahead of Passengers or even, dare I say it, La La Land because it really does look great.

The same can’t be said for the costume design. Go watch Gangster squad. That film had some seriously sharp suits. Affleck on the other hand seems to have been dressed in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hand me downs.

I mean, it’s hard to make suits look bad but it’s even harder to make it look like the main actor has been replaced with a Madame Tussaud wax work but Affleck manages to do just that. The few moments that Affleck gives us a smile looks like an android learning to smirk.

It’s Dion (Chris Messina), Coughlin’s right hand man, who provides the only injection of exuberance but that rarely manages to counteract what seems to be a depiction of “what if: world’s least enigmatic snooker player, Stephen Hendry, became a Gangster?”.

Quite simply, Live by Night dies when scrutinised in the light of day.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Fantastic production design
+ Promises to go places
+ Chris Messina


– Failed to live up to it’s promises
– Ben Affleck’s acting
– Affleck’s suits!

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Silence

Silence on the Set Please

I read somewhere that it took director Martin Scorsese 30 years to make Silence. That shows a commitment to a passion project that most of us don’t have. Given his incredible body of work it’s no wonder that he has been trusted to scratch that itch. Anyone suggesting otherwise is “funny” and I don’t mean haha funny.

Yet again Scorsese has delivered another expertly crafted film I just wish Silence was entertaining to watch.

Ironically it’s in the moments of silence that the film excels. Silence features some truly stunning cinematography. Muted audio and lingering shots serve to enhance the hostility or tranquillity of the surrounding Japanese countryside. If, like me, you are a country bumpkin then it will tug at your heartstrings and feed that yearning to go get lost in nature somewhere.

I also found the moments where Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) were silent to be the most dramatic.

The two are priests who have travelled to Japan to spread the good word of the lord and to find Ferreira (Liam Neeson); a mentor with whom contact had been lost. Their stature in the church makes them close to deities to the downtrodden islanders so the times where they are silently and helplessly watching events unfold seem to test their faith more than any other obstacle.

Questioning faith is one of the core motifs but I never truly believed the internal struggle that the priests were having and again that’s thanks to the silence. With limited dialogue (the priests and faithful taking “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut” to heart) we are not treated to continued inner conflict and that is exactly what’s needed when addressing something as deep and contentious as faith.

You are left, therefore, with the notion that the film is intended to keep as many religions as happy as possible and for that reason I just could not get invested in the film.

That is a big problem when the film is so god damn long. At over 2 and a half hours you really need to find something to latch on to. “Aww… beautiful scenery!” only captivates for so long and certainly less than 150 minutes.

The last 10 of those minutes suddenly changes pace by providing an epilogue that spans about 30 years of events. It’s a sudden and bizarre inclusion in an otherwise long and punishing watch.

If I hadn’t watched it at the cinema I would have either switched off or drifted into playing with phone mode. As a piece of art I’m sure this has critics and theorists shouting from the rooftops – it is really well produced – but as a piece of entertainment most cinema-goers will remain silent.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Beautiful cinematography
+ Moments of silence


– A punishing watch
– Far too long
– Questioning of faith 

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A Monster Calls

Terrifid!!

A Monster Calls is one of those films that is better to go in blind so I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible but blind or not – you should really watch this film!

In general the film deals with a short period of uncertainty in the life of Conor (Lewis MacDougall) and his relations with Mum (Felicity Jones), Dad (Toby Kebbell) and Grandma (Sigourney Weaver).

Very quickly within the film you will understand where the film is going and what it is trying to say but in this case it really isn’t about the destination it’s about the journey and what a journey it is.

My new year’s resolution was to pick up drawing/painting again (I’ll post my first attempt in a comment below) so I was pleasantly surprised to see art playing a key role in the film. Through the use of art the film not only manages to enhance the story but also bind key plot points whilst managing to be consistently enchanting and awe-inspiring.

A simple glance at the monster is enough to understand that the art direction in A Monster Calls is exemplary… even if he does look a lot like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy!

However, once you layer the first class sound design of wood creaking and groaning as well as the haunting voice work of Liam Neeson you can’t help but fall in love with the sensory aspects of the film.

Make no mistake though, this is no Baz Luhrmann or Zach Snyder film where style trumps substance, this is a film which will dig its claws into your soul assuming you have a shred of humanity to you.

I have to admit the film didn’t start off that way and although things happen quickly the start does feel comparatively slow but by the time Conor gets to Grandma’s house and accidentally breaks one of her clocks I had a moment of realisation: “oh shit! I’m hooked”.

The story builds and builds to its finale and manages to be almost unbearably sad and touching yet hopeful and uplifting. It’s a brilliant piece of schadenfreude. Bring your tissues.

The script tries to force in some “natural” lines of dialogue between Conor and the monster but this is no natural relationship so these redundant lines come with some flat delivery. Thankfully they are few and far between and other than that there is very little to dislike about this incredible film.

It’s a film that is reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth due to its fairy tale nature and also of Kubo and the Two Strings due to its exploration of psychologically. In short don’t expect sci-fi horror like The Day of the Triffids but do expect a few hours of terrific.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Beautiful art
+ Liam Neeson
+ Grandma’s house


– I might be Groot!
– Slow start
– A couple of flat bits of dialogue

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Arrival

Cunning Linguist

Arrivée. That is how you would say it in French.

Except for the fact that one of these pod things lands in France that fact has absolutely no relevance to the film. It does, however, hold relevance to my experience and enjoyment of the film so hold on to your chapeaux as I parle au sujet des langues.

As you may have guessed; I’m learning french at the minute. I think that’s one of the reasons why I liked Arrival. It isn’t about alien invasions and star warring – it’s about language and how it affects the way we see the world.

There’s a point in the film where Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) says to Louise Banks (Amy Adams) “do you dream in their language”. As soon as I heard this I was all in because I’ve had two dreams in French.

If this has never happened to you then let me tell you: it’s really, REALLY fucking weird. I knew it was real french because I could understand it, but only parts of it, just like my waking self. Think about it; your subconscious is fully talking to you in a language that you don’t properly know. In a way it’s haunting and, in a way, that’s what this film tries to portray.

Imagine how hard and terrifying it must be to be forced to learn a language from scratch, especially with a backdrop of potential extinction level events. No Google translate. No bilingual guy at work to steal a few free lessons from.

Arrivals slow aesthetics and scenes of isolation echoes the feeling when you are trying to understand what you are seeing and hearing, at times switching realities without you realising.

Adams and Renner reflects the audience’s struggle for comprehension and, whilst it helps that they are both captivating in their roles, I wonder if this will be lost on those who have no interest in learning another language? Then again, perhaps I’m projecting too much of myself on the film?

In any case, lasers going pew pew because this is a deliberate film. It knows what and how it want’s to deliver it’s message. At points this works in its favour such as the moment that they all enter the pod because you are left in suspense but at others you wish it would pick up the pace just a little and get to the point.

Weirdly though the key concept to the film is only mentioned in passing, making it incredibly easy to miss. Maybe those who are more intelligent people got it instantly, maybe some knuckle-draggers were just thinking “show me da boobs ‘n’ explosion!”. For myself I was half way to the car before it finally clicked.

I didn’t need that long to identify my biggest dislike though. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). The urgency at which he speaks to Banks seems to be completely independent of the journey that Banks and Donnelly are on. We see too little of the global crisis to understand his motivation so he comes across as a one dimensional a-hole.

Regardless of whether languages interest you the alien heptapod’s language should. It looks as modern and radical like graffiti yet combines meaning and inference into a single word similar to how German combines a million words into a single one such as “Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften”. Yes, that’s an actual, single, word.

Unfortunately Arrival isn’t as refreshing as the language it portrays but I found it deeply fascinating, if a little confusing, because of exactly that: language.

Fin.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ If languages fascinate you
+ Cool graffiti looking circle language (technical term)
+ Deliberate and thoughtful


– At times, too slow
– Blink and you miss it reveal
– Forest Whitaker

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A Street Cat Named Bob

One Big Issue

Cats. You have to love them right? Not a day that goes past in my office without someone uttering the words “ah fuck it, I’m just going to watch some lol-cat videos”. Who can blame them.

Even if you don’t like cats you have admit that seeing these regal looking animals with buckets of self-assurance get stuck in between blinds or terrified by cucumbers that it is hilarious. If you don’t laugh at lol-cat videos then inside you are dead… or a dog.

Unfortunately A Street Cat Named Bob is not a lol-cat video. Instead it’s the true story of James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) who was a homeless drug addict who found a stray cat. The cat gave him something to live for and helped turn his life around and even led to a book about his life.

The film positions itself as a feel good film and manages to achieve that target with relative ease although I do not believe that this is thanks to any particular craftsmanship from director Roger Spottiswoode.

$8m was the budget for this film which is really cheap. That’s not necessarily a problem. I mean look at Desperado ($7m) or Moon ($5m), both great films shot on low budgets. The problem is that A Street Cat Named Bob is noticeably low budget.

The cinematography is uninspired at best and doesn’t emphasise some of the emotions that the viewer should be feeling throughout James’ journey, whether it be hope at getting himself back on his feet, despair at living on the street or joy because of… well cats!

I’m not sure you would want to watch this as a family film though, I mean it does deal with drug addiction and the withdrawal symptoms of coming off heroine as well as homelessness. If you take your kids to see it then you might have to explain how we, as a people, are complicit in homelessness and also what it means to get high as shit and what the hell an ‘OD’ is.

Probably quite awkward subjects to talk the little ones through yet it’s not particularly aimed at adults either because there is little dramatisation to the events. What you are left with is a middle of the road film that is akin to the X-Factor. Sort of family friendly, non-offensive.

That’s actually unfair because I’d watch this over the X-Factor any day. Treadaway is easily likeable in his portrayal of Bowen and (assuming it really is his voice) provides a touching soundtrack thanks to his daily busking activities. Then there is Bob. He wears a scarf. It’s very cute!

I liked A Street Cat Named Bob but it’s not a must-see film. The story arc is a literal rags to riches true tale that also features a cat – of course this will be a feel good film. This feeling hasn’t been crafted through any particular cinematic skill or vision and for me; that is the film’s Big Issue.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Feel good film
+ Nice soundtrack
+ Cats!


– Not really a family film – not really for adults
– Low budget
– Poor cinematography

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The Accountant

Something Doesn’t Add Up

I think whatever you believe this film is… It’s probably not that.

I went in with expectations of an autistic kid who is excellent with numbers being used by the mob to make their operations look as legit Lehman Brothers financial services… or at least pre-2008 Lehman Brothers.

Obviously the social ineptitude that comes part and parcel with autism would provide reason for him to use violence without feeling remorse and along the way we would explore autism, we would learn something about the condition and about ourselves, we would grow and become better human beings.

None of that happened.

To be honest I don’t actually know what we got. It was sort of part action film, part crime thriller and part family drama. The Accountant’s biggest failing is its lack of commitment to any one genre.

The bonkers plot is straight out an action film. If you don’t really want an accounting problem solved then I’d suggest you hire someone who graduated at Billy Ballbag’s school of shoddy accounting… don’t just jump in at the deep end and hire the love child of Albert Einstein and Stephen freaking Hawkins.

Then again, the action scenes are quite good and Ben Affleck plays the role with relative conviction. I’ve always thought that he is best when he is playing the social outcast or someone who life has on the back foot. This is exactly the case here.

However, this type of verbally challenged character doesn’t particularly make for good interactions with other characters.

The result of this is that the moments that Affleck is communicating with his brother Brax (Jon Bernthal) or his boss Lamar Black (John Lithgow) are as empty as my dad’s promises to do the washing. You just sit there waiting for something interesting to happen.

The same is obviously true of his co-worker Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) which is a shame because Kendrick’s character is actually an enjoyable one to watch. Perhaps if the film had decided what it wanted to be then maybe there would have been room to further develop the relationship between Kendrick and Affleck.

Perhaps it could have also truly explored what it would be like to live with Autism rather than just use it as a mechanism to further the convoluted array of subplots. If, like me, you were expecting to learn anything from The Accountant then it’s simply this: autistic people don’t like social interactions but love ceiling mounted miniguns.

Ordinarily you could add up all of these parts and it would equal a truly impressive turd of a film yet there is something really watchable about The Accountant. Give it a watch. Just don’t hold me accountable if you don’t like it.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Some decent action
+ Anna Kendrick
+ It’s actually surprisingly watchable


– Confused genre
– Nothing really to do with Autism
– Bonkers plot with too many subplots

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Inferno

Dante Look Now

In the immortal words of Red Dwarf “There’s loads of things I’ve never done! I’ve never read………………. a book!”. I feel like that sometimes.

One of the books I have read is Cloud Atlas which I can only describe as the long lost book from William Shakespeare about multiple personality disorder whilst a group of people encircled me and chanted that I was stupid. It’s a really difficult read.

The only other book I can recall completing in recent times is The Da Vinci Code. I really enjoyed it. There’s a great blend of history, religion and fiction… or history and fiction as it’s also known.

The Da Vinci Code was also a difficult to read thanks to the multiple layers of symbolism and plot threads and that makes it incredibly difficult to make into a coherent film. Angels and Demons improved upon the original film but Inferno is the X-Men: Last Stand, the problem child, the awkward third instalment.

In fact it’s a scorching, lava pit of nonsensical fucking garbage.

Even Tom Hanks looks like he’s given up on the franchise during this film with many scenes being over-dramatised presumably to make up for the barrage of crap script that is just read at you like the shipping forecast or like your mum telling you about her day: “..and then I met Jane, Jane’s been on holiday, do you remember her son, he’s moved to Italy now, I got a new recipe but then the bus was late”.

It’s the same core issue as the first two films only amplified to the point at which it becomes farcical. Even from the very start we see Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) injured and suffering from amnesia with nothing but a treasure map in the form of the famous Dante’s inferno painting on him is being treated by a nurse who may as well be a leading authority on Dante and a fan of Langdon’s work. Well that’s fucking convenient!

What then follows is a series of running from one art gallery to another and asking the only one question that get’s them to the next clue. By the time the plot twist was revealed I was expecting Marlon Wayans to appear. Surely this is a spoof? It’s so bad, it HAS to be a spoof.

Marlon Wayans didn’t appear. In his place is Irrfan Khan who plays Harry Sims and is the only real saving grace of the film. Not only does is he effortlessly cool but he injects some much needed humour.

Khan’s moments on screen also slow the pace of a film that is just desperate to tell you how clever it is by pointing out the next clue hidden in yet forgetting to provide any convincing plot as to why and how it’s all linked and even why we are on this wild goose chase in the first place.

The best analogy I can think of is this: Inferno is the infamous 90’s UK TV show supermarket sweep, only someone has replaced the supermarket with various art galleries and the sense of fun with obtuse references to even more art galleries.

It’s the sort of film that makes you think “Man, I wish I had just read………………. the book!”.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Irrfan Khan

– Trashfire script
– Bad acting
– Nonsensical plot

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Deepwater Horizon

True Lies

Remember the millennium? Loads of weird shit happened. One thing that happened was that BP changed their logo to be a green and yellow geometric symbol. I realise that’s not weird in itself but it was meant to represent green energy, plant life and the sun; mother natures all powerful life-giver.

Remember 2010? That massive oil spill in the gulf of Mexico? One of the biggest man made ecological disasters and one that destroyed acres of marine life was dismissed as an accident at first. Only after an official inquiry did it become fully apparent that it was actually crude negligence and the ever expanding chase for profits by highly flammable cockwombles at BP that caused this all powerful life-taker.

Suddenly their logo seems weird right?!

Deepwater Horizon is the origin story of this disaster focusing on the moments leading up to when it all went sideways.. and upside down… and generally very, very explodey!!

I actually met someone who worked on an oil rig and he showed me a picture of the view from his office window which was “some sort of outlet” but really it looked like the flamethrower scene from True Lies.

Deepwater horizon makes that picture look like a tealight because these flames go big. Really big. So big that it makes me thankful that the biggest hazard in my job is bad posture and RSI. It’s really quite spectacular and makes you realise that being in the middle of such of an event would be unfathomably scary. A nightmare of epic proportions.

I guess it’s lucky then that the people on the rig had Hercules on board to save everyone. Sorry, that was meant to be Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) not Hercules. It is a bit weird that the film is so Mike-centric because it seems highly unlikely that this one electrical engineer could preempt disaster, search for missing people switch on backup generators and be the last person to leave the rig… by jumping from the helipad.

It all seems highly dramatised and like it wasn’t corroborated by anyone else: “yeah, then I  totally tore a door off the wall with my bare hands and err… I surfed down the lava fields to safety! Oh and I totally shot all the bad guys on the way”.

I dunno. I wasn’t there. Maybe the film is actually highly accurate. Maybe it wasn’t. In the end it didn’t really matter because Marky Mark is as entertaining to watch as ever but adds to overall Hollywood gloss.

On the flip side is Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and Vidrine (John Malkovich. Russell nails his role as the loveable but grizzled safety officer and Malkovich competently plays the voice of the corporation and help keep the film at least partly grounded.

I guess there is always a trade off though in this sort of film. Either you aim for entertainment by impressive visuals and maybe bend the truth here or there or you expose the lies of the real life even in a scathing critique of big oil and capitalism. Deepwater opts for the former and does a competent job of it but part of me still wishes they stuck more of a finger up at BP.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Explodey bits
+ Kurt Russell
+ Overall very entertaining


– Wahlberg’s character
– Seems overly dramatised
– Could have stuck up another finger to BP

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The Infiltrator

Narcolepsy

You would have thought that a story about the downfall of the worlds most notorious drug peddler would be a home run for a movie. Add in someone who has been an acting powerhouse in a role that is incredibly similar to the lead character and you have a potential Oscar winner and a license to print money and then swim in it.

The film focuses around Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) who is a decent family man who is forced to do unsavoury things thanks to circumstances outside of his control… a bit like Breaking Bad right? Mazur works with Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) in order to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s money laundering regime.

Sounds exciting.

Unfortunately it’s not. The film is actually really boring. Maybe it should have been called The Dream Infiltrator because it’s a good film to fall asleep to. I know it’s not just me either, the people following me out of the cinema emoted similar thoughts.

The main problem is that not a lot really happens in the film. Mazur has the idea to follow the money rather than the drugs and then we spend the entire film with him trying to get closer to Escobar’s inner circle by setting up his own fake laundering company. At some point the feds decide to shut everything down and that’s it. Film ended.

It reminds me of that guy who made a sandwich from scratch. He grew wheat and lettuce and conjured up yeast from the netherworld or however it’s produced and even raised animals for the meat and dairy. After 6 months of work the results were “It’s not bad. That’s about it”. Lots of setup. Minimal pay off. Fucking pointless in the end.

The only moments of excitement, such as a drive by or a visit to a shaman in Colombia, are isolated from the rest of the plot and I questioned why these scenes were needed or if they were then why weren’t they integrated better.

Come to think of it, THAT is the real issue. I still don’t actually know who most of the people were in the story and more importantly how they relate to Escobar himself.

I don’t really know anything about Escobar apart from that Nas once rapped about him and Netflix made a series called Narcos. However, I do know that he is the main reason I wanted to see the film so to have precious little correlation with his wider drug cartel is as meaningful to me as if they had told a story about trying to shut down Escobar’s favourite brand of aguardiente.

If I take a step back the film is fairly well produced. The script is solid even if the story isn’t and it’s consistently well delivered. Also, Leguizamo is particularly excellent as a cop who is fiercely loyal to his job but enjoys the partying that his undercover work affords him.

None of this is enough to stop you from constantly nodding off so I can’t recommend The Infiltrator but I hear Narcos is pretty good. Maybe give that a try!?

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Decent script
+ Leguizamo was great


– Not much happens
– Relationship to Escobar is not really explained
– Boring

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Ben-Hur


Been Hur Before

When I was a kid I was constantly amazed at how my brother was able to buy some sweets and not just empty the whole pack into his face in one go. Me? Well, if I could avoid breathing difficulties and that feeling of your heart trying to escape by smashing through your rib cage then well done me and my self control.

The same was true with media. I wanted something big bright and colourful, I wanted it quickly and I wanted to move to the next one. Not my brother. One of his favourite films was Ben Hur; a three hour epic to end all epics but to me three hours was too much time not eating cola cubes.

Today is quite different. For a start our drug addicted world probably would have prescribed Ritalin to combat ADHD but also the idea of a three hour film is not that uncommon.

I still haven’t seen the original but my brother always went on about the chariot scene and legend has it that a billion stuntmen died in this scene… something like that… so this seems like a good place to jump in.

The chariot scene is the most entertaining part of the film but it also has two striking problems. There are some rather obvious moments of CGI and whilst you can get away with it in Super Space Voyage 3000 you can’t really get away with it when the height of technology is hot water. Without top notch CGI you are removed from the gritty, unforgiving world the characters are meant to inhabit.

The second problem is the pillar of expectation. You either have to have the chariot scene be more spectacular than the original (I refer you to literally the last thing I just wrote) or you try to do something different with the scene which is not even attempted.

You can argue that this is true for the whole film; it’s not very original. I mean even if you haven’t seen the original you will have no problem thinking “I’ve been here before” especially if you have seen Gladiator.

The story follows Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) a Jewish prince and Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell) his adopted brother. As the adopted brother Messala joins the Roman army to prove his worth but when his army rolls through town like some pompous dressage parade Judah is wrongly incarcerated, forced to work on a Roman galley and has to win back his freedom.

I actually enjoyed most of the story, especially the relationship between the two brothers, the motivations and values of whom are surprisingly well balanced by director Timur Beckimov. I found myself relating to aspects of both and neither siblings at the same time, questioning who is right and wrong.

A rather sloppy and obvious inclusion of God’s favourite carpenter was one of the few aspects I didn’t enjoy. Maybe it made sense in 1959 but this plot line goes nowhere and is a clear candidate for being crossed off the storyboard. Pun intended.

The only thing more pointless was Morgan Freeman in dreadlocks who simply didn’t suit his role. Presumably he’s there to add star power.

There isn’t anything about Ben-Hur that is essential viewing but as a straight remake it’s not the complete shit show I thought it might be. I’m secretly disappointed about that because I was ready to go to town on it like it was a big bag of pick and mix!

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ The chariot scene
+ Enjoyable story
+ Interesting relationship between brothers


– CGI during the chariot scene
– Jesus
– Morgan Freeman with dreads!?

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