Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hands of Stone


 
Film Review by Kam Williams


Career of Boxing Legend Roberto Duran Revisited in Revisionist Tale of Redemption


Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) is considered by most fight experts to be, pound-for-pound, one of the greatest boxers of all time. The intimidating icon earned his nickname "Hands of Stone" by virtue of his prodigious displays of punching power. 
 
Born in Panama in 1951, Roberto exhibited promise from the moment he first entered the ring at the age of 8. He turned pro at 16 and assumed the World Lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1972 after Ken Buchanan (John Duddy) failed to answer the bell for the 14th round. Roberto went on to knock out over 50 foes en route to compiling an impressive 62-1 record as a lightweight before moving up in weight class. 
 
By the time he retired in 2002, Roberto would also hold the world welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight titles. But despite that incredible feat, he appears fated to be best remembered for crying "No mas!" before quitting midway through his Welterweight World Championship rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). And although he would eventually return to the ring, that one display of cowardice effectively overshadowed his sizable subsequent achievements. 
 
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express), Hands of Stone is a reverential biopic which humanizes Roberto while putting a positive spin on his indelible stain. This version of his story blames Duran's failing on his parasitic manager, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), as well as on pressure from the big fight's promoter, Don King (Reg E. Cathey).

Here, we're treated to the backstage specter of a burnt-out Roberto bemoaning his being exploited. "I worked all my life. I didn't have any fun, when I was a kid." Truth be told, not only did he begin boxing young, but he married at an early age, too, 17. And his wife Felicidad (Ana de Armas) was only 14 when they tied the knot. FYI, the couple went on to have 8 children and are still together 47 years later. 
 
If the movie has a flaw, it's in the fight scenes which leave a lot to be desired. Anyone expecting cinema verite on the order of Rocky or Raging Bull, for which Robert De Niro won an Academy Award in 1981, is destined to be disappointed. 
 
Speaking of De Niro, he plays the legendary Ray Arcel who came out of retirement over death threats from the Mafia to train a teenaged Duran. Before you can say "Burgess Meredith," he whips the promising protege into fighting shape, and it's just a matter of time before his diamond in the rough's rags-to-riches dream becomes a reality. 
 
A touching, revisionist tale of redemption presenting the sensitive side of a pulverizing pugilist.



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 105 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company


To see a trailer for Hands of Stone, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNzXeY9OBxI

Monday, August 22, 2016

Southside with You


 
Film Review by Kam Williams




Inspirational Biopic Revisits Barack and Michelle Very First Date


Who would ever think of making a movie just about Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Obama's (Tika Sumpter) first date? Richard Tanne would, that's who, and he makes an impressive directorial debut with this inspirational biopic chronicling a very eventful day in the lives of the future President and First Lady. 
 
The story unfolds in Chicago during the summer of 1989 when Michelle was already employed as an attorney and living back home with her parents (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edwad Van Lear). Barack had just finished his first year at Harvard law school and had landed an internship as her assistant at her prestigious, white-shoe firm. 
 
Apparently, he was so instantly smitten with Michelle that he could barely contain himself. So, she had to politely remind him of the the office's strict rule against fraternizing among associates. Nevertheless, when she refused to consider a romantic rendezvous, he pitched her on the idea of attending a business meeting with him. 
 
Once Michelle grudgingly agrees, Barack arrives late, yet is too cocky to be embarrassed about either his tardiness or the gaping hole in the floor of his rusty jalopy. What the skeptical object of his affection doesn't know is that he has added a picnic, a museum and a movie to their planned itinerary. 
 
Again, Michelle balks, but consents only after reminding her self-assured suitor that "This is not a date." Nevertheless, the smooth-talking chain smoker presses on with his own agenda, with the Art Institute of Chicago being their first port-of-call. And while perusing paintings by the legendary Ernie Barnes, Barack began broaching personal subjects. 
 
The two continued to get to know each other over sandwiches in the park, with the discussion touching on everything from family to faith to blackness to the meaning of life. So, Michelle had a decent measure of the man by the time they headed to the South Side rec center where Barack had once worked as a community organizer. 
 
The icing on the cake proves to be an inspirational speech that's nothing short of presidential which he delivers there to the discouraged denizens of the crumbling 'hood. Michelle's floodgates finally open, undoubtedly helped along by one woman's (Deanna Reed Foster) approval of her as the first sister she's ever seen Barack with. Next thing you know, the two lovebirds head to the theater to see Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, before capping off the evening with a little canoodling while sharing an ice cream cone. 
 
Southside with You is a syrupy soap opera readily recommended for ardent Obama admirers. The predictable love story has a tendency to telegraph its punches, since its familiar plotline sticks to what's already public knowledge. Overall, this plausible account of the blossoming of love between Barack and Michelle serves up a pleasant, if sanitized version of their romantic launch en route to an historic rendezvous with destiny!



Very Good (3 stars)

PG-13 for smoking, a violent image, brief profanity and a drug reference
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: Miramax / Roadside Attractions

To see a trailer for Southside with You, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erpUF2ToUls

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jeff Bridges

The “Hell or High Water” Interview
with Kam Williams


Rappin' with "The Dude"

One of Hollywood’s most successful actors and a six-time Academy Award-nominee, Jeff Bridges performance in Crazy Heart as Bad Blake, the down-on-his-luck, alcoholic country music singer at the center of the drama, deservedly garnered the iconic performer an Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. The performance also earned him a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Award.


Jeff earned his first Oscar nomination in 1971 for Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, co-starring Cybill Shepherd. Three years later, he received his second nomination for his role in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. In 1984, he landed more kudos via a Best Actor nomination for Starman. In 2001, he was honored with his fourth Oscar nomination for his work in The Contender, a political thriller co-starring Gary Oldman and Joan Allen in which he played the President of the United States.


In December 2010, his reunion with the Coen Brothers in the critically-acclaimed Western True Grit landed him his sixth Oscar nomination. The same month he was seen in the highly-anticipated 3D action-adventure TRON: Legacy. Jeff reprised his role of video-game developer Kevin Flynn from the classic 1982 film TRON. with the help of state-of-the-art technology. The picture featured him as the first actor in cinematic history to play opposite a younger version of himself.


Prior to Crazy Heart, Jeff was seen in the war comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, playing Bill Django, a free-spirited military intelligence officer, who is the leader of a secret group of warriors in the army. Additionally, he has starred in numerous box-office hits, including Seabiscuit, The Fisher King, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Jagged Edge, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Blown Away, Fearless and American Heart.


In 1983, Jeff founded the End Hunger Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to feeding children around the world. He also produced the End Hunger tel-event, a three-hour live television broadcast focusing on world hunger. The show featured Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Bob Newhart, Kenny Loggins and other leading film, television and music stars in an innovative production to educate and inspire action.


He is currently the national spokesman for the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry campaign that is fighting to end childhood hunger in America. Another of Jeff’s true passions is photography. While on the set of his movies, he takes behind-the-scenes pictures of the actors, crew and locations. After completion of each motion picture, he edits the images into a book and gives copies to everyone involved.


Jeff’s photographs have been featured in several magazines, including Premiere and Aperture, as well as in other publications worldwide. He has also had gallery exhibitions of his work in New York, Los Angeles, London and San Diego. In 2013, he was the recipient of an Infinity Award, presented by the International Center of Photography in Manhattan.


The books, which have become valued by collectors, were never intended for public sale, but in the fall of 2003, powerHouse Books released Pictures: Photographs by Jeff Bridges, a hardcover book containing a compilation of his photographs taken on numerous film locations over the years, to much critical acclaim. Proceeds from the book are donated to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, a nonprofit organization that offers charitable care and support to film-industry workers.


In August of 2011, Jeff released his self-titled major label debut album for Blue Note Records. Multiple-Grammy Award-wining songwriter, musician and producer T Bone Burnett produced the album. It is an organic extension and culmination of his personal, professional and music friendship with Burnett, whom he has known for more than 30 years.


The critically-acclaimed album was a follow up to his first solo effort 'Be Here Soon,' on Ramp Records, the Santa Barbara, California label he co-founded with Michael McDonald and producer/singer/songwriter Chris Pelonis. The CD features guest appearances by vocalist/keyboardist Michael McDonald, Grammy-nominated Amy Holland and rock legend David Crosby. In 2014, he released his first live album 'Jeff Bridges & The Abiders Live' and has been touring off and on when he is not working.


Jeff and his wife Susan divide their time between homes in Santa Barbara and Montana. Here, he talks about his latest outing as wily Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water, a cat-and-mouse crime thriller co-starring Chris Pine and Ben Foster.


Kam Williams: Hey Jeff. I'm honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Jeff Bridges: Why, thank you, Kam. it's good talking to you, too.

KW: I loved Hell or High Water. I don't know why they released it in August instead of just ahead of awards season. Everything about it screams Oscars.
JB: It's an awfully good movie.

KW: Yeah, from the A-list cast to the visually-captivating cinematography to its haunting musical score to its intriguing script featuring an unpredictable cat-and-mouse thriller as well as some decent character development. It all added up to an enchanting cinematic experience.
JB: It was a great experience for me watching it, too, and also making it, of course. It's a good one!

KW: Absolutely! What was it like working with such a talented ensemble. I was already familiar with Ben Foster and Chris Pine, but Gil Birmingham who was new to me did a great job, too.
JB: Yeah, the whole team they assembled, not only the actors, but the crew--the writer, the director, the set designer--all came together. That's a pretty rare phenomenon! It certainly doesn't happen all the time. And such a great screenplay by Taylor Sheridan. That's where it all began.

KW: And how about trusting a British director, David Mackenzie, to make a modern Western set in Texas?
JB: Yeah, he had those fresh eyes. He was so concerned about getting it right, and I think he did a brilliant job.

KW: I agree. How did you come up with your character Marcus Hamilton's persona?
JB: Well, it was definitely on the page. That was one of the things that attracted me to the project in the first place. It just rang so true. It seemed like Taylor Sheridan really knew what he was talking about. I found out that his cousin, Parnell McNamara was a Marshall down in Texas. He was made available to me, and I talked to him quite a bit. We were also very fortunate to have a very famous Texas Ranger, Joaquin Jackson, on the set with us. He died recently, but he was very instrumental, for me anyway, in getting my character right.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: I loved you in True Grit. Is there another remake you'd like to star in?
JB: Nothing really comes to mind, although I understand they're doing a remake of Starman. I know this doesn't exactly answer your question but whenever I see Karen Allen, who was with me in the original, we often ask, "Gee, why don't they make a sequel to Starman?" After all, she was impregnated by the alien guy... He's given her the silver ball... There's a story there! But I guess they're going ahead with a remake instead. That doesn't answer your question. As a matter of fact, when the Coen Brothers came to me with True Grit, I went "Why do you want to remake that? It's already a famous movie?" They asked me, "Well, have you read the novel by Charles Portis?" So, I checked out the book, which read like the Coen Brothers' script. And then I understood what they were up to.

KW: Even though you've had so many great roles, whenever I told someone I was going to interview, invariably the response would be, "The Dude! The Dude! The Dude!" a reference to another Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski. Do you also get more of a fan response about that film than any other?
JB: Oh, absolutely! I just signed a couple of bowling pins moments ago. That sort of thing happens to me just about every day when I'm out and about. It's great! I don't feel any resentment about it. The Big Lebowski's a real masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned. I suppose I'm a bit biased because I'm in it. But even if I weren't, I'd still love that movie, it's so well done.

KW: Yeah, my son always says it's his favorite movie of all time. Which of your roles are you fondest of?
JB: It's like that corny thing actors say about how it's like being asked to pick their favorite kid. Each one is such a different experience.

KW: Is there one that comes to mind?
JB: Lebowski is certainly up there. I couldn't pick one favorite, but I loved working with my brother [Beau] and my father [Lloyd] whenever that happened. I had a wonderful experience making The Fabulous Baker Boys which I felt was a great movie, too. And I got to work with my dad in Tucker and in Blown Away which were also wonderful experiences. Sometimes, it's hard for me to separate the experience from the final product.

KW: What was a film you really enjoyed making that might not have enjoyed box-office success?
JB: The moguls was an obscure movie I had such a good time on. It's also called The Amateurs. It had a great cast and a wonderful director [Michael Traeger], and we had so much fun. It was about the citizens of a small town getting together to make a porno movie. I think it came out great., but it fell apart because the distributor turned out to be a crook, so it never got released. Hardly anybody saw it, but you could probably find it somewhere.

KW: Watching your dad on TV in Sea Hunt, was a big part of my childhood. was the show a big part of yours, too?
JB: Yeah, unlike a lot of people in Hollywood, he loved showbiz so much he encouraged his kids to go into it. If you were a Sea Hunt fan, then you probably saw me on the show as a little kid. He was like, "Hey Jeff, why don't you come to work with your old man. You get to skip school."

KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JB: Sitting in my living room and seeing my mother open the front door. She was wearing a mink stole but had just cut off all of her long beautiful hair. She had a very short kind of bob. It just freaked me out. I just ran and locked myself in the bathroom. I must have been about 3 or 4.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
JB: I'm not much of a cook. Maybe scrambled eggs or something like that.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JB: A stranger, as of late. I sort of don't recognize myself. It's kind of an interesting situation. I went through a very hairy period. I had a movie where I was going to play Walt Whitman that fell through. At the time, I had grown this huge beard and very long hair. But then, the movie got canceled, I had some other parts, and I currently have very short hair. So, when I look in the mirror, I don't know who I am exactly. It's interesting.

KW: When you prepare to play a character, do you take him on mentally as well as physically?
JB: Sure, yeah.

KW: How long does it take you to shake off a character and get him out of your system after a film has wrapped?
JB: That's hard to say. Once, during an interview in front of my wife, I was asked, "Are you one of those actors who brings your character home? Do you stay in character?" I said, "No, not really. I don't do that," and she started laughing. I asked her why. She said, "Well, you might think you don't bring characters home, but you do." So, while I don't feel like a character is lingering, it probably is.

KW: What are you up to musically?
JB: I'm looking at my guitar right now. I play music as much as I can. I have a band called The Abiders. We've put out a couple of albums you can find on iTunes. We tour and all that stuff, so music is very much a part of my life.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
JB: I have my prized possession in my wallet. That's a photograph of the first words I ever uttered to my wife, and her answer to my question when I asked her, "Will you go out with me?"

KW: What was her answer?
JB: "No." I happen to have snapped a photograph of that moment.

KW: Well, it all worked out very well for you in the end. Thanks again for the time, Jeff. I really enjoyed this.
JB: Nice chatting with you, too. Have a good one, Kam.


To order a copy of Jeff Bridges & The Abiders' "Live" CD, visit:

To order a copy of Jeff Bridges' "Be Here Soon" CD,

To order a copy of Jeff Bridges' "Jeff Bridges" CD,


To see a trailer for Hell or High Water, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQoqsKoJVDw

Friday, August 19, 2016

Morris from America


Film Review by Kam Williams




Awkward African-American Teen Adjusts to Germany in Bittersweet Coming-of-Age Dramedy 
 

It's hard being Morris Gentry (Markees Christmas) just now. The lonely 13 year-old is not only mourning the loss of his late mother, but is having a difficult time adjusting to life in Germany. He had to leave his hometown of Richmond and pals behind when his father (Craig Robinson) landed a job in Heidelberg as a professional soccer coach. 
 
Now, the troubled youngster finds himself in the awkward position of being the only black kid in a school where classmates have stereotypical expectations of him as an African-American. For instance, they are surprised that he isn't any good at basketball or dancing. 
 
At least he does consider himself an aspiring gangsta rapper, although the only person he can impress is his father, since he only performs in English. But even his translated words would probably sound out of place so far removed from the ghetto, given how he writes lyrics about, "[F-word]-ing all the bitches two at a time. all you can take for $10.99."

Despite getting daily German lessons from a tutor (Carla Juri), Morris fails to make new friends, and stoically asserts that he doesn't need any in the same macho manner that he spits out his rhymes. Yet, under that tough facade, is a sensitive kid who wants to fit in and even has a crush on a girl a couple years older.

Katrin (Lina Keller) can't help but notice and, flattered by the attention, she invites Morris to hang with her crowd, a rebellious lot that dabbles in drugs and alcohol. He accepts the overture, though he initially doesn't know that the object of his affection already has a boyfriend. That means she's more likely to remain a frustrating fantasy than a conquest he could boast about in his next song. 
 
Written and directed by Chad Hartigan (This Is Martin Bonner), Morris from America is a bittersweet bildungsroman which never hits a false note. The character-driven dramedy revolves mostly around the very-convincing father-son relationship, featuring the talented Markees Christmas' big screen debut opposite funnyman Craig Robinson in his first serious lead role.

The support cast also acquits itself quite admirably, the upshot amounting to a poignant coming-of-age tale which resonates as realistic from its heartbreaking beginning clear through to a satisfying resolution.



Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, brief nudity, teen drug use and partying, and pervasive profanity

In English and German with subtitles
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Beachside Films
Distributor: A24

                   
To see a trailer for Morris from America, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKhFNgFdbDk

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Top Ten DVD List for 8-23-16

by Kam Williams


This Week’s DVD Releases

Roots [New Version of Alexy Haley's Classic American Saga]

Scandal: The Complete Fifth Season

The Nice Guys


Clean Break: Season One


Maggie's Plan


The Man Who Knew Infinity

Der Bunker

Inspector Lewis: Season Eight

Castle: The Complete Eighth and Final Season

Endeavour: Series Three


Honorable Mention

Superstore: Season One

Clown

Narcos: Season One

Wild Kratts: Wild Reptiles

Ash vs.Evil Dead: The Complete First Season

The Duel

The Huntsman: Winter's War


Ratchet & Clank

DC's Legends of Tomorrow: Season One

Kam's Kapsules for Movies Opening 8-26-16

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun 
by Kam Williams

OPENING THIS WEEK


BIG BUDGET FILMS

Don't Breathe (R for terror, violence, profanity, sexual references and disturbing content) Suspense thriller about a gang (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto) that gets more than they bargained after burglarizing the home of a rich blind man (Stephen Lang) they thought would be an easy target. With Emma Bercovici, Franciska Torocsik and Christian Zagia.

Hands of Stone (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity) Reverential biopic chronicling the life and career of welterweight boxer Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez). A-list ensemble cast includes Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro, Ruben Blades, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Usher Raymond.

Mechanic: Resurrection (R for profanity and pervasive violence) Jason Statham reprises title role in this high-octane sequel which finds the retired hit man blackmailed into performing a trio of dangerous hits by the kidnapper who's abducted the love of his life (Jessica Alba) .With Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Yeoh and Sam Hazeldine.

Southside with You (PG-13 for smoking, a violent image, brief profanity and a drug reference) Day-in-the-life retrospective revisiting the summer day in Chicago in 1989 when Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Obama (Tika Sumpter) went on their first date. Supporting cast includes Vanessa Bell Calloway, Donald Paul and Deborah Geffner.


INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Black Songbird (Unrated) Revenge thriller revolving around a rookie journalist (Jenique Bennett) recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a nightclub run by the mobsters who murdered her childhood friends. Support cast includes Felicia White, Brynn Mosley and Antwan Mclaurin.

Blood Father (R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity and brief drug use) Mel Gibson stars in the title role of this action thriller about an ex-con's attempt to protect his estranged, 16 year-old daughter (Erin Moriarty) from the drug cartel that wants her dead. With William H. Macy, Diego Luna and Michael Parks.

Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (Unrated) Reverential biopic about 80 year-old Floyd Norman, the first African-American animator hired by Walt Disney Pictures. Featuring commentary by Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Maltin and Don Hahn.

The Hollars (PG-13 for brief profanity and mature themes) John Krasinski directed and stars in this Prodigal Son dramedy as a struggling, NYC artist who moves back home to the Midwest with his pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) to help care for his ailing mom (Margo Martindale). With Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Randall Park and Josh Groban.

In Order of Disappearance (R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity) Dark comedy revolving around a mild-mannered milquetoast-turned-bloodthirsty vigilante (Stellan Skarsgard) who embarks on a revenge-fueled killing spree after his son is murdered by mobsters. With Bruno Ganz, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen and David Sakurai. (In Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, English, Serbian and German with subtitles)

Is That You? (Unrated) Romance drama revolving an unemployed, 60 year-old, film projectionist (Alon Aboutboul) who moves from Israel to America to search for his long-lost childhood sweetheart. featuring Rani Blair, Patrick Michael Kelly and Naruna Kaplan de Macedo.

Kate Plays Christine (Unrated) Sobering biopic chronicling Kate Lyn Sheil's preparations to portray Christine Chubbuck, the suicidal, TV news anchor who shot herself in the head on the air in 1974.

Mia Madre (R for profanity) Bittersweet dramedy, set in Rome, revolving around a film director's (Margherita Buy) attempt to care for her terminally-ill mother (Giulia Lazzarini) while shooting a movie with a disappointing leading man (John Turturro). With writer/director Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini and Stefano Abbati. (In English, Italian and French with subtitles)

Remember the Goal (PG for mature themes and and drug references) Faith-based drama revolving around the efforts of the cross-country coach (Allee Sutton Hethcoat) at an all-girls, Christian prep school to prepare the team for a big track meet while simultaneously ministering to their personal life issues. Co-starring Quinn Alexis, Sydney Marks and Jayla Palmer.

The Sea of Trees (PG-13 for mature themes, disturbing images and brief profanity) Character-driven drama about two suicidal men (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) who have second thoughts about taking their own lives after making friends in a forest at the base of Mount Fuji. With Naomi Watts, Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)

Ben-Hur


Film Review by Kam Williams


Faithful Remake of Oscar-Winning Classic Revisits Biblical Themes and Breakneck Chariot Race

It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake the Hollywood epic that won the most Academy Awards in history. But that's just what we have in Ben-Hur, a fairly-faithful version of the 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston. 
 
The films are based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel published in 1880 which quickly surpassed Uncle Tom's Cabin as the best-selling American novel of all time. The book's author was Lew Wallace, a Civil War General who had led Union soldiers at the battle of Shiloh. 
 
His inspirational tale of redemption's success was credited to the fact that its timely themes of family, freedom and patriotism helped unify a citizenry torn asunder by years of war and then Reconstruction. Its compassionate tone particularly appealed to Southerners, because of its sympathetic treatment of slave owners, encouraging resolution via reconciliation rather than revenge. 
 
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), this incarnation of Ben-Hur stars Jack Huston as the title character, although the supposed star is easily overshadowed by the film's narrator, Morgan Freeman, who enjoys a very expanded role as Ilderiim, a wealthy Nubian sheik. 
 

The story is set in Jerusalem in the time of Christ (Rodrigo Santoro). As the the film unfolds, we find Prince Judah Ben-Hur living in the lap of luxury with his mother (Ayelet Zurer), sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D'Elia) and adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), an orphan taken in as a child by the altruistic noble clan. Judah also has a love interest, Esther ( Nazanin Boniadi), though her lowly slave status makes their marriage unlikely.

The plot thickens when the fully-grown Messala, by then a Roman soldier, unfairly fingers the Ben-Hur family for an act of treason perpetrated by Gestas (Moises Arias), one of the thieves crucified on Calvary alongside Jesus. Next thing you know, the family is separated and sold into slavery, and Judah ends up in chains, rowing in the galley of a warship. 
 
Eventually, he gains his freedom, and starts searching for Esther, his sister and mom. Along the way, he finds religion and is afforded an opportunity to even the score with Massala in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus. in this regard, he's lucky to have wily old Ilderim in his corner, the best darn horse whisperer/charioteer trainer this side of the Tiber. 
 
Distracting CGI mob scenes and heavy-handed sermonizing aside, Ben-Hur 2016 is nevertheless a very entertaining variation on the original that's well-worth the investment.


Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Running time: 124 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures


To see a trailer for Ben-Hur, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLJdzky63BA