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Why the 'Ben-Hur' remake doesn't give me that old-time religion

There are a number of things missing from the new movie “Ben-Hur” — Quintus Arrius, functioning tripods, a discernible point — but nothing perhaps so notable as the words “A Tale of the Christ.” That subtitle graced Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel and many of the film and television adaptations that have...

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  • Fede Alvarez and Sam Raimi plumb new depths of horror in 'Don't Breathe'

    Fede Alvarez and Sam Raimi plumb new depths of horror in 'Don't Breathe'

    Two small objects were stacked on a worktable in the East Hollywood office of filmmaker Fede Alvarez on a recent morning, one prop each from his first two features. From his feature debut, 2013’s “Evil Dead,” was a midsized book, crafted and distressed to look like the mystical ancient tome known...

  • ‘My King’ wrestles passionately with complicated issues of attraction and love

    ‘My King’ wrestles passionately with complicated issues of attraction and love

    Filmmaker Maïwenn has an eye for messy behavior and emotional blind spots. Where her ensemble piece “Polisse” explored the interplay of work and home life — and their disconnect — her new feature zeros in on romance. From tantalizing seduction to fraught legal negotiations, “My King” is a Rorschach-test...

  • Gus Van Sant's maligned 'Sea of Trees' is a deeply reflective experience

    Gus Van Sant's maligned 'Sea of Trees' is a deeply reflective experience

    Given that it was booed after screening at 2015’s Cannes Film Festival and is opening against a tide of poor advance reviews, Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees” proves a stronger movie experience than one might expect. It’s anchored by a fine, understated performance by Matthew McConaughey and a...

  • Director Andrew Ahn and actor Joe Seo make impressive debuts in Koreatown drama 'Spa Night'

    Director Andrew Ahn and actor Joe Seo make impressive debuts in Koreatown drama 'Spa Night'

    Set in L.A.’s Koreatown, “Spa Night” is a classic American story of immigrant parents and assimilated children. The assured feature debut by Andrew Ahn is also the story of a young gay man’s sexual awakening, and its sensitive lead performance affectingly expresses the tension between tradition...

  • A filmmaker juggles life and work in the richly rewarding 'Mia Madre'

    A filmmaker juggles life and work in the richly rewarding 'Mia Madre'

    While concerned cineastes bemoan the lack of women behind the camera, Italian writer/director Nanni Moretti makes one his autobiographical avatar in “Mia Madre,” about an emotionally fraying filmmaker (Margherita Buy) dealing with crises professional and personal, namely a problem-beset movie shoot...

  • Plenty to recommend in ensemble indie 'The Intervention'

    Plenty to recommend in ensemble indie 'The Intervention'

    The weekend-away-with-friends indie has become a safe testing ground for first-time feature directors: one (typically pretty) location reduces certain production stresses, while a large cast allows plenty of room to discover what works and what doesn’t. In the case of actress Clea DuVall’s debut...

  • Director-star John Krasinski works hard at making 'The Hollars' likable

    Director-star John Krasinski works hard at making 'The Hollars' likable

    It’s tough to dislike “The Hollars,” which is something director-star John Krasinski and writer Jim Strouse work overtime to ensure. That’s hardly a bad thing, though, when a film is as warm, funny and truthful as this one. But it’s the movie’s endearingly wacky approach that most sets it apart...

  • Korean thriller 'Tunnel' may make you rethink your commute

    Korean thriller 'Tunnel' may make you rethink your commute

    What “Psycho” did for showers and “Jaws” did for the ocean, the Korean disaster flick “Tunnel” won’t likely do for, well, tunnels. But after watching this often gripping, humanistic thriller, you may just think twice before driving into one. On a typical day’s ride home from his job selling Kias,...

  • Animated sequel 'Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon' feels earthbound

    Animated sequel 'Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon' feels earthbound

    There’s so much quality children’s entertainment on TV and at the movies these days that there’s no real reason to take your kids to see a dog — or, more specifically, “Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon.” The sequel to 2010’s “Space Dogs” follows the son of a canine cosmonaut as he stows away on...

  • Christian drama 'Natural Selection' is no subtle offering

    Christian drama 'Natural Selection' is no subtle offering

    There’s little that comes off as “natural” in “Natural Selection,” a stiffly heavy-handed, drawn-out, faith-based drama about a Christ-like teen struggling to find his true path. Arriving in a new town, soft-spoken Tyler (Mason Dye) and his alcoholic mother (“Bluebloods” regular Amy Carlson) have...

  • Cinecon brings dozens of classic gems back to Hollywood

    Cinecon brings dozens of classic gems back to Hollywood

    Los Angeles is rife with film festivals of all sorts, but if the city has an underappreciated gem, it’s the Cinecon Classic Film Festival, a beloved event whose 52nd edition runs Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-5, at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Passionately dedicated to rarely screened films...

  • How the love African Americans have for the Obamas emboldens 'Southside With You'

    How the love African Americans have for the Obamas emboldens 'Southside With You'

    When President Obama was first elected on the night of Nov. 4, 2008, and took the stage in Grant Park in his hometown of Chicago, black people saw what all of America and the world saw. But what many of them felt was very different. Though the words “pride” and “respect” may come to mind, ultimately,...

  • 'In Search of the American Dream' is both sincere and a clunker of an immigration drama

    'In Search of the American Dream' is both sincere and a clunker of an immigration drama

    Although the thunderous opening score makes it clear from the outset that understatement won’t be a major component of “In Search of the American Dream,” it still does not prepare you for just how amateurishly over-the-top this bloated, laughably melodramatic saga about a Mexican family on the...

  • Skate doc 'Made in Venice" celebrates the house that Z-Boys built

    Skate doc 'Made in Venice" celebrates the house that Z-Boys built

    If the 2001 documentary “Dog Town and Z-Boys” engagingly gave Southern California’s skateboard culture its influential due, then “Made in Venice” comes across as its scrappy, but no less lovable, kid brother. While he profiles many of the boarders who also figured into the Stacy Peralta film, director...

  • Retro-horror mashup 'I Am Not a Serial Killer' has an unexpectedly warm and fuzzy side

    Retro-horror mashup 'I Am Not a Serial Killer' has an unexpectedly warm and fuzzy side

    It takes one to know one, apparently, despite the titular protestations of “I Am Not a Serial Killer,” Irish horror filmmaker Billy O’Brien’s adaptation (with co-writer Christopher Hyde) of Dan Wells’ young adult novel. The surprisingly warm and fuzzy horror-dramedy wonders “can serial killers...

  • Football drama 'Greater' is an appealing underdog saga

    Football drama 'Greater' is an appealing underdog saga

    The true story of the late Arkansas Razorbacks football hero Brandon Burlsworth is an underdog saga to rival “Rudy,” and while the modest Burlsworth biopic “Greater” doesn’t have that film’s inspirational spark, the indie drama is just sweet enough and slick enough to appeal to pigskin fans and...

  • Crime looks gorgeous in the Hollywood Hills-set thriller 'Blood in the Water'

    Crime looks gorgeous in the Hollywood Hills-set thriller 'Blood in the Water'

    Filmmaking brothers Ben and Orson Cummings deliver a compact, cleverly constructed L.A. noir with “Blood in the Water,” their third film as a writer-director team. Though its story and character-development aren’t up to the standards of the genre classics it’s aping, the movie sports an attractively...

  • 'Ben-Hur' losing box office chariot race to 'Suicide Squad'

    'Ben-Hur' losing box office chariot race to 'Suicide Squad'

    The new big-budget reimagining of Lew Wallace’s 19th century novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” isn’t exactly enchanting moviegoers.  The Oscar-winning 1959 film starring Charlton Heston may be regarded as a cinema classic, but the Paramount and MGM “Ben-Hur” update released this weekend pulled...

  • Classic Hollywood: Looks like we remade it

    Classic Hollywood: Looks like we remade it

    Welcome to a special edition of the Classic Hollywood newsletter. I’m Scott Sandell, and for much of my 23-year career at The Times I worked in entertainment alongside Susan King, our longtime guardian of the Golden Age of Hollywood galaxy. Hopefully a little of her knowledge rubbed off before...

  • 'The People vs. Fritz Bauer' brings a largely unknown Nazi hunter to light

    'The People vs. Fritz Bauer' brings a largely unknown Nazi hunter to light

    It's called “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” but this involving, based-on-fact German drama is really about Fritz Bauer versus everybody else, not the other way around. All but unknown in this country, Bauer was a major crusader against Nazi influence in post-World War II Germany and the key player...

  • Natalie Portman makes her directorial debut with the touching Israeli memoir 'A Tale of Love and Darkness'

    Natalie Portman makes her directorial debut with the touching Israeli memoir 'A Tale of Love and Darkness'

    Actors gravitate toward passion projects, films they care deeply, even obsessively about, but the end result is hardly ever as convincing as "A Tale of Love and Darkness" a film of beautiful melancholy written, directed by and starring Natalie Portman. A Hebrew-language film based on the celebrated...

  • The updated 'Ben-Hur' has little to offer besides chariot thrills

    The updated 'Ben-Hur' has little to offer besides chariot thrills

    "Ben-Hur" is quite the sitting duck. What, after all, makes a more inviting target than an attempt to refurbish a film that won a then-record 11 Oscars, including best picture, and earned a ton of money to boot? Yet, on the other hand, that 1959 "Ben-Hur" was hardly a sacred text but rather a remake...

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