Ben-Hur, 2016

The bar is set high – and why ever not – because if you’re going to remake a film that is American canon, you need a very good reason to do so.  And while it might not be too challenging to explain the failures of this classic motion-picture – that predominantly consist of a somewhat lackluster script and regrettably wooden performances – the real problem is almost spiritual.  Because while the filmmakers of this retelling demonstrate superb technical prowess, they woefully fail at providing a good reason for why this story needs to be retold.  And retold in a way that perhaps rivals if not exceeds the spectacular drama of the original.

For starters, the set-up is laborious and taxing, and I remember turning to my firstborn seated next to me to actually say, “this is taking forever…!”  Imagine that.  But John Huston as Judah is no Charlton Heston, and he unfortunately does not possess the emotional intensity nor the range to pull off the emotional transformation from wealthy Jewish citizen in Roman-governed Jerusalem to galley slave who beats the odds of survival and trains to ride the chariot to beat his nemesis, Messala.

And what of the chariot race, you ask?  Well, it is what you’d expect, I suppose, only, it fails to overwhelm, which is what you’re hoping for.  You’re hoping for the race to leave you breathless and speechless and exhausted, not to mention to propel you from your seats to cheer along with the crowds for Judah.  But, alas, you sit there, waiting for what you know to be the inevitable end just around the corner which couldn’t come a moment sooner.

The only parts that truly moved me were the cameo appearances of Jesus who is true to character in appearing at all the right times to overwhelm and perplex you with his style and words.  What manner of man is this? How can one forgive? What does he mean? Is this what love truly is?

And yet, despite these brief moments of satisfaction, the whole is not always a sum of its parts.  If the casting and the script is lacking, so is the cinematography and the dialog.  And in the overzealousness of the remaking, by altering certain fundamental pieces of the story, the filmmakers have done a disservice to the purist in the likes of yours truly who has read both the book and seen the original movie multiple times to deeply frown upon the license taken in this regard.

Final verdict: nice try, but I’m afraid I can’t give it a full thumbs-up.  I guess you win some, and then you learn some…

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All My Peeps with Me, and Something Else to Go with the Raisinets

All My Peeps with Me, and Something Else to Go with the Raisinets

Star Trek Beyond, 2016

I loved when the Star Trek movie franchise was revived some years back, and I was eager to go see this third one since its release.  And while I am not disappointed, I am certain that I preferred the other two to this one.  I had gotten used to the brilliant dialog, the thoughtful  development of each of the characters, the fine balance of space and time relative to the insatiable spirit of adventure and discovery, and the many perils of exploration.  And while this latest offering had all of the above, it still didn’t completely meet, let alone exceed the bar set by the previous ones.  Capt. Kirk and Spock and Bones and Scottie, and a few newbies were all in fine form, and even whilst traversing through space into other universes, the common qualities of the human condition including joy, pain, sadness, and even ennui were in full display by the crew of the USS Starship Enterprise.

The one complaint that I doubt I shall ever have is find anything wrong at all with Chris Pine’s Capt. Kirk.  So supremely confident and beautiful is he, that he can almost do no wrong.  Well, you know what I mean.  LOLOL.  And I suppose this might be the first time I am incorporating this lofty colloquialism into a serious piece of writing.  Which isn’t all that serious.  But then again, it was never supposed to be.

Bottom line:  not a bad use of your time or money.  A thumbs-up.

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Jason Bourne, 2016

Everyone’s favorite forgetful CIA agent is back. I’m not even sure if this is number four or number five, and it really doesn’t matter. Because this is how a franchise works, I suppose.  If you’ve seen one Bourne film, you might just as well have seen this one too.

Jason Bourne is on the run, again; and he’s struggling to remember details of his murky past, again. There’s a nameless and almost faceless unsavory character on his trail, again. The CIA is developing a shady new espionage program, again.  And of course, there’s a dubious good-guy playing a corrupt CIA chief, again, only this time around Tommy Lee Jones is perfect in this role.

There’s plenty of foot-chases and motor-cycle chases and riot-filled streets in Athens and London.  In fact, there’s so much of all kinds of chases, and for such extended durations, that it all feels like a big blur, and by the time one chase is over, you’ve almost forgotten what it was for in the first place, but you don’t have too much time to reflect on this because the next chase has started up again.

Okay, so, you get the picture.  You’ve basically seen all of this before.  When the franchise first came out, we were all thrilled with the character and the story, but with the passage of time, Jason Bourne, the character, has gotten tired and predictable, and dare I say it, somewhat dreary.  Matt Damon was born for this, we know that for a fact.  And he does not disappoint, only he’s gotten a lot of grays in his hair, and his face is weathered with time.

But when you’re a Bourne fan, you know you have to go see for yourself.  Which is exactly what I did.

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In Hopes of a Better One this Time 

In Hopes of a Better One this Time 

The Infiltrator, 2016

If you’re a fan of Bryan Cranston, you know you have to go see any movie with him in it. But The Infiltrator is an action-packed, gripping ride – and certainly not for the faint-hearted.  In fact, I usually don’t consider myself a member of that category, but I must admit there was more than one time that I had to look away – so disturbingly gory were some scenes.

Based on a true story, the action follows undercover agent and family man who poses as a fraudulent banker cozying up to the big names in the Colombian cartels. The storyline moves faster than what I can only imagine would be a cocaine-high, but Cranston manages to hold the film together, in no small thanks to his robust acting chops. He portrays a man with a double life: a suburban husband and father, but also a federal agent leading a sting operation that threatens not only himself but trusting wife and children.

If you absolutely must see it yourself, I’d recommend a hearty snack that offers both sustenance and flavor.  The snack of choice for me was Raisenets.

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Sultan, 2016

Salman Khan is synonymous with formulaic Bollywood blockbusters, and one doesn’t expect too sophisticated a plot or performance when one goes to see him at the movies.  And yet, this has to be one of Mr. Khan’s most thoughtful performances, notwithstanding the song-and-dance parts sprinkled liberally throughout.

Because this is a story of a once-decorated wrestler from Haryana, whose glory days have come to a sudden halt when personal tragedy strikes and strips his will to fight, and yet at the age of forty, he is determined to shape up and get back into the ring because he knows that in doing so is left his only chance at redemption.  This is a story of a winner – and who doesn’t love a winner who has risen up from the ashes, not just to stand up, but to stand up and stand tall, and in fact, tower over his opponents in the face of all the odds.

I personally did not think that it was too far-fetched of Mr. Khan to have played a role ten years junior to his real age, and it is evident that he must have had to practically whip himself into shape to do just that. As a side bar, it is indeed unfortunate that his comments to the press on just this aspect of his preparation for the role were a poor choice of analogy, perhaps even grossly inappropriate, and yet, one has to witness the great will and effort it must have taken to have rendered so stunning a performance that one can’t help but feel sorry for him, all things considered.  And I may be gullible, but not so very much as to not have noticed any glaring discrepancies, if there were any.  On various counts of acting, directing, and a simple yet powerful story line, I was moved to give it high marks.

Because in the final analysis, not only does the package tug at your heart strings for the themes of love, loyalty, loss, heartbreak, courage, perseverance, relentless optimism, and best of all, a story of reconciliation, it has powerful undertones and themes of social justice and gender equality at its very core.  Especially in a land where the girl-child is considered an apology for an offspring, this is a story that celebrates the girl-child, and in doing so, I will wager that it will have a most lasting impact on the hearts and minds of people across the land.  Just for this, Mr. Khan and company deserve high accolades.

And while Mr. Khan cannot be deprived of the accolades he has rightfully earned for his performance – and this goes beyond the grueling wrestling and boxing sequences – it must also be noted that Anushka Sharma holds her own with much charm and aplomb.

And last but not least, may I remind my gentle reader that this is a commentary on the merits of the movie and the performances of an entertaining story – and must not be construed to be condoning any other situations of reality that Mr. Khan has been negotiating for more than a decade.

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