Is VR the New 3D? Movies reviewed: Ben Hur, Truman PLUS POP 03
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Does the future of cinema lie in virtual reality? Not yet, but it’s starting to make inroads in all movie forms. VR gives you a more experiential viewing experience than anything we’ve seen so far, expanding the margins to 360 degrees. A pop-up exhibition at TIFF (called POP 03) explores VR in the context of experimental and avant garde short films and experiential games.
Inverse Dollhouse puts you inside a virtual dollhouse. Floating hands move giant tables and enormous couches all around you. It’s terrifying! A Viceland documentary takes you on a ride-along in a pickup truck with Justin Trudeau. He’s visiting Shoal Lake, a First Nation reserve entirely lacking in drinkable water. There’s Food Fight, trippy Exploding Fractals morphing all around you, Guy Maddin’s psychedelic Seances, and lots more. It’s put on by the National Film Board and TIFF, and you can see it through Sunday. I saw it just an hour ago and still digesting it. Amazing stuff.
This week, I’m looking at a 3-D reboot of a sword-and-sandal classic about brotherhood and faith; and a European drama about friendship and loss.
Dir: Timur Bekmambetov
It’s around 30 AD in Jerusalem. They’re under Roman rule, but bands of zealots are trying to drive them out. But oblivious to all these troubles are brothers Judah and Messala. Judah Ben Hur (Jack Huston) is Jewish royalty and lives a life of luxury. His brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebell) was a Roman orphan adopted by Judah’s family as a child, but keeps his Roman name religion and identity. The two of them love escaping to the desert to race on horseback. Messala, who is not of royal blood, feels the need to justify his existence. So he leaves his family to prove his strength on the battlefield, and returns home to Jerusalem triumphant.
He is asked by his commander to ensure safe passage through the city for Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate is the prefect of Judea for Rome, who struts around in foppish fur coats. The Zealots despise him. So when the procession passes the Ben Hur home, a zealot hiding there, shoots an arrow and misses. Ben Hur is blamed for this by his own brother, his family is crucified, and he is turned into a galley slave, rowing Roman warships 24/7. Years later, the ship is sunk and he washes up on shore. He is taken in by a chariot race entrepreneur (Morgan Freeman, in grey dreads!) and made into a charioteer. But so has his brother, Messala Severus, who is the champion Roman chariot driver. A big race is coming soon, and Ben Hur wants revenge. Which of the brothers will triumph and which one will die?
This is a remake (in 3-D) of the 1959 movie, starring Charlton Heston, made during the heyday of sword-and-sandal Roman movies. It’s two hours long, but keep in mind the original was 3½ hours long! This is like the condensed version. Lots of royal politics, family rivalries and revenge. The whole movie is overlaid with a religious story. Jesus of Nazareth regularly appears on the streets of Jerusalem, preaching to the people to love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek… sort of a gospel greatest hits. The third part is the chariot race itself: exciting and gripping – very well done. Ben Hur may feel old fashioned, too long, too religious, and holding few surprises (if you’ve seen the original) but I still liked it.
Dir: Cesc Gay
Julian and Tomas have been best friends since their schooldays in Argentina. Nut now they live continents apart. Julian (Ricardo Darin) is an actor who lives in Madrid now, performing on stage, in wigs and costumes, in plays by Moilere. He’s divorced, with a grown son, with just his enormous dog Truman to keep him company. Tomas (Javier Cámara) is married to a Canadian woman with two small children and lives in Montreal. He works as an engineer specializing in robotics. The two friends have an impromptu reunion — after many years apart – when he shows up, without notice, at Julian’s door, in Spain.
Why did he come from such a distance. Well, he’s heard the news.
The news is Julian is dying of cancer. Julian’s cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi), another Argentinian living in Spain, told him all about it. So Tomas is there to spend a few days with him and help him out – as a friend should do.
Even though they’ve been apart for many years, they’re able to jump right back into their friendship, including the running jokes, wordplay and petty grudges. In the presence of a third person they can pick up on subtle clues and cover for each other. Doesn’t matter that Julian is a habitual liar who finds it hard to face the truth. He wants to tie up loose ends, say goodbye to his family and friends, and find a new home for his dog Truman. And to face his own mortality.
This is a great movie. The story is as simple and straightforward as the performances are nuanced and complex. It’s sad and funny and quite touching. I haven’t seen many movies from Argentina, but it’s funny that I remember all of these actors from previous roles. Great actors leave a lasting impression. Ricardo Darin is one of the best Argentine actors around. From Oscar winning films like The Secret in their Eyes, and Wild Tales. Meanwhile you may have seen Javier Cámara in lots of number of Almadovar movies – a good comic actor. I even remember the beautiful Dolores Fonzi from EL Critico a few years back. Great acting in the main and all the side roles. Even the dog is well-cast. Truman is definitely worth seeing.
Ben Hur and Truman both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. The POP 03 is on this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Go to tiff.net for details.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com