Week IV of Sunday Club and Ashley in his infinite pissed up wisdom is taking the reins (yeah that’s a horse pun) of the sinking Sunday Club ship (yeah that’s a nauctical pun that directly clashes with the previous horse pun) and has selected Ben Hur 2KXVI for a drunken review session. May God have mercy.
This week’s Sunday Club special was a remake nobody ever asked for. Despite being remade six times now no other version should have been permitted after the epic 1959 version of ‘Ben-Hur’. I am trying to go into this with an open mind (it will be firmly shut unfortunately) and I know Jack Huston is not going to be even close to as good a Judah as Charlton Heston but I’ll give it a go anyway.
The first 45 minutes tells Judah’s story in the MOST boring way possible: Judah and Messala (Toby Kebbell) are brothers, they got along, Messala joined Caesar’s army, then double crosses Judah. Done. Now, bring on the horses, why did this have to take so long? – I’m regretting the decision to start watching this at midnight now as this back-story is apparently the cure for insomnia.
Seriously, an hour has gone by and still no horses, what’s happening here? People are only coming to see this film for the horses, not the star-studded line-up. There’s been a really awkward, tree-hugging Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) flailing about after Judah falls over, pumping him full of water that he’s hopefully just turned into wine so he gets totally bladdered before his first shift on the slave ship. That might also explain why the slave work was so shoddy in the opening hour; it’s certainly no surprise Judah got whipped so much. Pisshead. He’s also starting to look a lot like a poor man’s Jared Leto.
The two actual good things in this movie make eventually make their appearance but we had to wait a long time for them: Ilderim (Morgan Freeman) and his harem of white horses (played by a harem of white horses) looking like they just came from Boomtown and a Puff Daddy White Party respectively.
Let’s skip all the nonsense build up which is like watching a Roman soap opera and gloss over the bit where Judah cuts his own hair with a pair of rusty pliers, then in the next scene has a hair-style looking like an Italian footballer in an East London barbershop-come-record-store-come-artisan-bakery. Let’s get to the good bit: the chariot race.
So, Huston really ain’t got shit on Heston here. You’d be cheering Heston on in that version, firing pistol rounds in the air like an NRA gun nut. In this 2016 bag of sand-blast jeans, the computerised horses make the race look comedic and are only in here to make up for the lack of originality and good story-telling. There are even some Romans in the crowd playing the Milton Bradley classic game of Buckaroo! with one of the horses which flew into the stands somehow. The races ends with Messala being shit at trying to look hard with one leg.
It feels wrong wanting Jesus to die in this remake, but he’s busying himself acting like Bono in a bunch of two minute skits and doing very little carpentry so what else are we, the audience, left to do?
What’s up with the seasons in this film? It can easily change from spring to winter to summer to autumn all in one scene, it’s annoyingly distracting.
I’ve never understood why Romans in cinema are always played by actors who were destined to play a suspect in ‘The Bill’ and talk as though everything they say is important, like asking if the horses are clean or if they know why Jesus is three winters late on making that chest-of-draws. The acting is incredibly stale apart from Morgan Freeman who resurrects his 1991 performance as Azeem in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’.
This movie lacks a few things but new ideas is the main suspect; the only bit of originality is adding more Jesus. The main problem is Jesus is completely unlikable in this and we’re meant to like him without question because he’s Jesus but I really, really dislike Jesus in this.
Though I was very closed minded going in I was hoping it would be a little enjoyable but it really wasn’t; the lack of a big named actor is being used to excuse why this wasn’t a hit at the box-office but the truth is, it just wasn’t any good.
My final point on this is, what is up with that closing song? Sounds like the song was made with entering the top-40 in mind but would never have a hope in reaching the top-100 and it doesn’t fit in the theme of this film at all.
Regrettably, this movie is one for the 8th page of recommendations on your Netflix / bootleg DVD account this year.
By all accounts 2016 was a complete bag of shit of a year. In straight hell for leather, fire and brimstone, holy rapture levels of bag of shitness it’s faecal sack was nestled somewhere warm and damp between the Winter Of Discontent and Piper Alpha disasters. We lost a myriad of important artists, actors and musicians, Britain decided to act like an ignorant, pissed up, semi-racist pensioner supping Smith’s in a Spoons at 11am toward the European Union and worst of all KFC stopped doing the Double Bucket meal… It was, by all intents and purposes (including past battles with depression, anorexia and losing my prized Foot Clan action figure from Turtles whilst camping circa 1997) the worst year of my life.
And that was before I had to watch Ben Hur 2kXVI.
We open (of course) with some exposition by numbers narration courtesy of Morgan Freeman. After a brief and horrifying flashback to Sunday Club 001 (London Has Fallen) I stopped to ponder who, aside from the sort of film “fan” who relentlessly buys the most recent Bruce Willis straight to DVD action clunkers at full-price, still thinks Morgan Freeman has even a shred of respectability, nay shame, left attached to his name. I swiftly decided I no longer give a fuck and that Unforgiven was a long, long, long time ago.
I couldn’t help but chuckle when he then succinctly summarised both my personal feelings and his rambling intro with the line “they will leave you with bitterness and desire for nothing but revenge.”
I had no idea how right he would prove to be.
For about the first forty five minutes Ben Hur 2kXVI tirelessly pontificates around Judah Ben-Hur (a balsa wood Jack Huston, grandson of John Huston, apparently working that industrial grade nepotism to the point of critical mass) and his step-bro Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell, who was phenomenal in Dead Man Shoe’s but shit in this) horsing around and generally being the best of friends.
Obviously its no spoiler to say that the purpose of over-stating this relationship is to raise the stakes for their inevitable break up later, but frankly the dialogue is so stiff and the acting so Billy Bear Sausage you barely care what their names are, let alone what breeze they are actually chatting in their stiff-Brit accents… In fact that’s basically all act one of this film is: loads of rich white people bickering in clipped RP.
It’s essentially Made In Chelsea: Rome Edition.
Throughout the first half I was more or less totally distracted by an endless barrage of questions: Why does Jack Huston keep doing an impression of Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I? More importantly how the fuck is he more wooden? Are we at the chariot race yet? Why is Jesus white? Why is everyone white? Wait is Jack Huston also playing Jesus? Where does Jesus get his eyebrows threaded? In fact where does every white person in ancient Rome get their eyebrows threaded? Does Jack Huston really have a voice that husky or has he just been doing shots of Cuprinol before each take? Are we at the chariot race yet? Huston was quite good as the soldier with half a prosthetic face in Boardwalk Empire; why is he struggling to emote now he has access to a whole face?
For fucksake… why?
Still after sitting through a turgid half film set up we’re getting to the epic story arc now surely? Ben Hur has been wanking about being a royally rich Jewish white kid for a few years and Severus has been out and about slaughtering people in the name of Rome (in scenes which tease epic excitement but then stick to a few hastily edited close ups).
The tension between the Roman Empire and the Jewish people (we are told) is at boiling point and there’s been literally the most clunky and on the nose plot driver of a reunion between Ben Hur and Severus… Big family bust up and chariot race time now?
Sort of. That long awaited bust up finally goes down and considering the entire film pivots on the aforementioned splintering of these two plywood brethren it is both completely rushed and entirely unconvincing.
Anyway five years later and Jack Huston is now a slave to the Empire yet still shredded to fuck whilst rowing a galleon and being whipped… Forgot they had that protein shake bar at the end of the slave quarters. In another sudden time spasm this boat then immediately gets attacked by the Greeks.
What promises to be an epic and sweeping battle twixt the Roman fleet and some Grecian roustabouts winds up being Jack Huston swimming about a bit on his own underwater, sleeping on some driftwood and then washing up on a beach. I think herein is where Ben Hur 2kXVI’s main problem (other than a shit script and shitter cast) is found: from crusades atop windswept mountain passes to Roman & Greek galleons crashing into each other on stormy seas the scale is kept remarkably small. No sweeping vistas, no charging legions, no money spent. The scope feels remarkably restricted throughout… Assumedly we’re keeping the powder dry for the chariot race bit but in an age of Game Of Thrones and pound-a-pop CGI it makes proceedings feel extremely anaemic given the nature of this particular beast.
When is the chariot race? Are we there yet?
Apparently not. What follows from Huston’s escape is another almost hour long trail of exposition in which Freeman turfs up (this time in physical form) wearing basically his old costume from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and John Travolta’s shit dreads from Battlefield Earth. I have no idea why Freeman still does this shit… I’m guessing the patio needed re-laying at his Spanish fortress or some bollocks. He’s certainly not about the craft anymore cough Has Fallen franchise cough
More questions ensue: Where the fuck has Jack Huston got a pair of leather trousers from and why the fuck is he wearing them in the fucking desert? Is he modelling for Zara menswear now? What’s this hurried subplot about lepers all about? Has Jack Huston given himself a salon quality haircut to express how done he is with working for Zara Spring / Summer ‘16 and well ready to model for Fatface Autumn / Winter ’16 instead? Why am I still watching this?
AND FINALLY THE CHARIOT RACE!!!
Or so we thought… In classic modern lazy direction style there’s absolutely no physicality or sense of weight to what should be spectacular crashes; just tons of edited to fuck close ups and ropey CGI to give the impression of kinetic energy. There’s a bit where a horse runs up a flight of stairs that literally looks like a Nintendo64 cutscene. Heston would have had someone shot by now for this level of laziness.
But I suppose in fairness Chariot Race 2kXVI is sort of damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t: there’s zero tension because you know Ben-Hur is going to win but if they did flip the (wafer thin) script and have Ben Hur lose the world would shit their Zara sandals and no one would pay to see this crap… What a predicament. One Hollywood perhaps wouldn’t be in if they actually tried to make original content instead of endless “reboots” (which would subsequently give them free agency to make bolder decisions.)
But never mind. The well disappointing CGI race is over now and we’ve veered off into Cbeebies certificate Passion Of The Christ territory albeit with everyone’s teeth veneered to fuck. I literally hope the whole cast and crew gets crucified.
Unlike the massively overwrought previous two hours of the film where nothing went anywhere everything now wraps up neatly in under ten minutes… The 1959 version was genuinely about forty eight hours long but this drags like a fortnight. What a complete non-event.
It also concludes with a credit sequence featuring loads of CGI horses in statuesque pile ups scored by some bizarre attempt at a modern electronic pop ballad. It’s literally like a Lloyds Bank sponsored music video and is a fairly deft analogy of this film’s attempt to mesh classicist ambitions with contemporary audiences / profit making. No wonder this thing sunk like a Warren Beatty passion project at the box office.
Now let’s get something straight; as much as all these endless Hollywood remakes, reboots and retweets are unnecessary, cynical and the death of art this was one probably the most reasonable suggestion. Ben Hur has been around as a narrative as long as the moving image and has been hashed and rehashed eleventy million times so one more isn’t really a big deal. What is a big deal is the fact that this film is in no way a big deal… or even a medium deal. It’s completely average in every way. At least previous Sunday Club bilge like USS Indianapolis was noble in its low-budget, over-ambitious total shitness. This is big budget, beige and totally lacking scope or ambition.
And that’s just the worst.
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