Thursday 8 December 2016

Ben-Hur remake has gone down like a death at a wedding in the US

* Ben-Hur (12A, 123mins), 2 Stars
* Captain Fantastic (15A, 119mins), 5 Stars
* Anthropoid (15A, 120mins), 3 Stars
* The Blue Room (No Cert, IFI, 76mins), 4 Stars

Paul Whitington

Published 10/09/2016 | 07:00

Classic: the remake of Ben Hur isn't up to scratch
Classic: the remake of Ben Hur isn't up to scratch

Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's noisy remake of Ben-Hur has gone down like a death at a wedding in the US, and seems unlikely to recoup its $100million budget. Despite that sizeable investment, it looks like it was made on the cheap, and has dispensed with large sections of the storyline used by William Wyler's grand and definitive 1959 film. Judah Ben-Hur doesn't revive his fortunes by saving a Roman general, we never see Rome, and Jesus Christ is an annoying footnote.

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Instead of piety and moral redemption, we get violence and plenty of it. Blood and guts flow freely from the start of Mr Bekmambetov's film, a veritable orgy of suffering which drowns a decent story in flashy effects. And English actor Jack Huston looks lost in the role of Ben-Hur, the Jewish prince who loses its all and gets it back again.

Even the famous chariot race is shot too jumpily to really follow. There are pointless remakes, and then there's this thing.

An actor with a refreshing contempt for career paths, Viggo Mortensen has spent the last few years plying his trade in fairly impenetrable south American arthouse films, but with Captain Fantastic he returns to his very best form. Matt Ross's wonderfully eccentric début feature begins in the forests of America's northwest, where Ben (Mr Mortensen) and his wife have been raising their six children in splendid isolation from the modern world.

Ben is both anarchist and atheist, and he and the kids celebrate 'Noam Chomsky Day' instead of Christmas, but his family is forced to reconnect with the wilder world when tragedy strikes. When Ben's wife, who's been receiving treatment for depression, kills herself, he fires up his hippy bus and heads south to her parents' house for the funeral. And along the way his contempt for the bight lights of laissez-faire capitalism will be challenged by his children's wide-eyed attraction to it.

Mr Ross's film is sharp, insightful, and very funny: it's both a comic road movie in the manner of 'Little Miss Sunshine', and a meditation on the aimless affluence of contemporary American society. And Mr Mortensen is brilliant as a frighteningly sincere and spontaneous man who's obnoxious, but oddly likeable.

In the winter of 1941, two agents of the Czech government-in-exile parachuted into their homeland on a nigh-impossible mission. Their task was to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia and among the most hated men in Europe.

The architect of the 'Final Solution' and a prolific murderer, Heydrich was surrounded by SS stooges at all times, and had all but destroyed the Czech resistance. But against all the odds, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis managed to fulfil their mission.

Sean Ellis's British thriller Anthropoid stars Cillian Murphy and Jamie as Gabcik and Kubis. It's solid and well-made rather than exceptional, but tells its wonderful story competently well, and leaves one in awe of the bravery of central Europe's partisans.

Because folks, those Nazis didn't play by the Queensbury Rules.

Best known as an edgy, twitchy actor, Mathieu Amalric is also an accomplished film-maker, and Blue Room is a short but nicely handled claustrophobic thriller based on a short story by Maigret's creator, Georges Simenon. Julian Gahyde has returned to live in his country home town with his wife and daughter when he runs into an old sweetheart, Delphine (Léa Drucker), a languid femme fatale who runs the pharmacy. They begin a torrid affair, which is all very well till those around them start dying.

Mr Amalric's film tells its story retrospectively, with a paranoid flourish, and leaves you guessing until the bitter end.

Irish Independent

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