Ben-Hur (2016)

Remaking a movie can be a tricky endeavor. Remaking an Academy Award winning movie can be an even trickier endeavor. Remaking a movie that won 11 of those Academy Awards and is listed as #197 on IMDB’s best movie list seems like a nearly impossible task. This movie had a steep mountain to climb before I stepped into the theater and needless to say I did not have very high expectations for it.

This version does not deviate too much from the story we all know. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a Jewish prince who is very close with his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). As they grow older, Messala is longing to make a name for himself and joins the Roman army. Upon Messala’s return to Jerusalem, he betrays Judah and falsely accuses him of treason against Pontius Pilate. Judah is sent away to slave in the bowels of a ship as a rower for many years. He lets himself become consumed by revenge and anger, and eventually returns to challenge Messala at chariot racing in the arena. Most of that information is known without seeing those movies but if anyone has not seen Ben-Hur from 1959 or this version of Ben-Hur I won’t give away too much else related to the story.

The actors in this version are all respectable in their individual roles but lets be honest, no one is taking home an Oscar. Judah, played by Jack Huston, is leading the way with a strong performance. He shows a wide range of emotion throughout the film and is easily the standout in the film. Toby Kebbell is no slouch in his interpretation of Messala, but I think he is outdone by Huston. The lead actresses all turn in quality roles as well. Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer), and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all delivered acceptable performances for secondary characters. I can’t recall seeing them in many other roles but they definitely impressed with what they were given to work with. The most well known actor, Morgan Freeman, turns in a pretty standard role as Ilderim, who mentors Judah in the art of chariot racing. Now even though I did call his role standard, that doesn’t mean he was bad. It just means he does the traditional quality job we expect from Morgan Freeman without pushing the envelope too much. Another aspect that was mostly enjoyable about this movie were the special effects and the set design. Almost the entire movie looked gorgeous and the action sequences appeared real enough to cause Mrs. Apologist to squirm on a few occasions.

There is not an abundance of negatives about this film, but the ones it has do manage to hurt the overall rating quite a bit. There are several scenes of what should have been very cool action/battle scenes that just seem wasted with incredibly overused “shaky cam”. The camera moves around so wildly, jumps between extreme zoom ins, and odd angles so many times as the action continues that we begin to lose interest. As good as the actors and actresses mentioned earlier were, there were some very forgettable characters turned in as well. Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek) was a very subdued role for someone that I imagined as much more lively. There were also some minor characters that were badly outperformed and seemed out of place.

Overall I was surprised with the quality in this retelling of Ben-Hur. I headed into the viewing with very low expectations and this movie proved to be better than I would have guessed. A serviceable story, a few  actors, and some entertaining action pieces led to another happy trip to the theater. But for me the drawbacks of the “shaky cam” along with some bland characters dropped this movie down to 5 Apologies, which is a higher rating than I was thinking when the previews were airing.

-Movie Apologist

Sausage Party (Spoiler Free)

I was pretty excited to see this movie after first noticing the previews. It fits into a genre that doesn’t often have many options for us grown up movie goers, since mostly kid and family friendly films dominate the box office. When viewing the uncensored preview for this movie it was easy to see what we were getting ourselves into: foul language, crude humor, sexual innuendos, and animated food violence.

There are many strengths within Sausage Party. The cast is one of the main selling points with very solid comedy minds coming together: Michael Cera, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Selma Hayek, Edward Norton, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and Kristen Wiig make up the majority of the characters with some playing multiple roles. I really got a kick out of the voice acting and despite being an animated film, it was easy to appreciate the talent on display. In addition to the strong voices, there is some surprising humor packed into this party. I was not expecting to see many, if any, intelligent jokes during the 89 minute run time but I was proven wrong. There are plethora of jokes and jabs thrown into this script that some people may miss but they fit right in and help balance out the vulgarity of the rest of the movie. Obviously there is plenty of juvenile, dirty, sexual, “toilet humor” if you will, but even the majority of that is delivered well and I found myself laughing with the rest of the crowd. Anytime you give Seth Rogen the green light on an R rated movie about talking food, you should know there will be plenty of lowbrow comedy. Another thing I was not sure of heading into the showing was the plot. I really didn’t think they could write enough story to last for an entire movie. Once again, I was suprised by Rogen and company. I don’t want to spoil too much for those who have not seen the movie. The story follows Frank the sausage (Seth Rogen) and Brenda the bun (Kristen Wiig) on their lives within the grocery store where they live and the desire of all the food to reach “the great beyond” with the “gods” (humans). I won’t divulge any more information about the adventure but it was unanticipated with how well the story kept me interested.

While I was impressed with the various strengths, this movie does have several weaknesses and they are glaring. There is an opening musical number which starts out strong and funny but seemed to carry on too long and I began to lose hope in the movie as a whole. Even though majority of the humor is strong, there are plenty of parts that try too hard to be funny through shock value. These scenes push past the boundary of joyful tomfoolery and into vulgar buffoonery. Again I do not want to spoil anything but when you see the movie maybe you will understand. If you happen to disagree, leave a comment with your thoughts and discuss! With all the strengths in the story line, the ending was among the weak points. I thought the movie was going to end with an acceptable movie ending but the writers had other ideas it seems and the movie extended for several minutes that didn’t add any value.

Overall this movie presents a mixed bag. It has laughable moments mixed in with some cringe worthy moments. It has a fairly solid story that sometimes gets a little wayward. If your desire is to have a relatively quick (well under 2 hours) laugh with minimal thinking involved then Sausage Party may be for you. If you are easily offended then you probably aren’t interested anyway and should stay away. Sausage Party had some potential to distinguish itself as a higher quality juvenile humor animated film but didn’t quite deliver on all fronts. I will give it 5 Apologies but the filmmakers offer none of their own.

Leave your thoughts on the movie below!

-Movie Apologist