Epic fail: movie about arms dealers is bigger than Ben-Hur

Toby Kebbell plays Messala Severus (back) and Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur. Photo: Philippe AntonelloOn its opening weekend, the wheels have come off the $US100 million remake of Ben-Hur, the 1959 movie starring Charlton Heston in the title role.

Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s version of the Biblical epic took $US900,000 at the US box office on Thursday, compared to $1.3 million for War Dogs, a comedy based on a true story of two young arms dealers, directed by Todd Phillips. Ben-Hur is predicted to earn about $10 million for its opening weekend, half the $20 million its studios, MGM and Paramount, were hoping to draw. War Dogs is predicted to earn $15 million this weekend.

Starring Jack Huston in the lead, as well as Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell and Nazanin Boniadi, Ben-Hur has been roundly panned by critics.

“Ben-Hur feels like a film made on the cheap, although it looks costly,” said New York Times critic Stephen Holden. “It needed a star like the Russell Crowe of Gladiator to provide dramatic heft. What is Ben-Hur without a platform of moral grandeur? Not much.”

This is in stark contrast to the 1959 version, which was the fastest and highest-grossing film that year and won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for William Wyler, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Heston, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim.

The second-highest-grossing film at the time after Gone with the Wind, it handsomely paid off MGM’s $US15 million budget gamble, bigger than any film made before then. It was famous for its lavish costumes and sets, with 10,000 extras, 200 camels and 2,500 horses, and its exhilarating nine-minute chariot race remains an iconic cinematic achievement. It took a year of planning and five weeks of filming over three months to shoot the sequence.

Similar effort was put into the 2016 race scene, with three months of chariot-driving training for actors Huston and Kebbell then three months of filming.

It’s the third feature film adaptation of the 1880 book, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, written by Lew Wallace. The first was a silent movie version in 1925, directed by Fred Niblo and starring Mexican-American actor Ramon Novarro. It was also the most expensive film to be made of its time, and one of its  assistant directors was William Wyler, who later directed the 1959 version.

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Fell Swoop wins NSW Country Horse of the Year

Canberra trainer Matt Dale. Photo: Melissa Adams Fell Swoop in action. Photo: bradleyphotos苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛

Canberra’s Fell Swoop topped off a break-out year for Matt Dale’s stable, winning the NSW Country Horse of the Year on Thursday night.

Dale was among illustrious company at the awards ceremony at Royal Randwick as superstars Winx and Chautauqua won Horse of the Year and Sprinter of the Year respectively.

“It was a privilege to have a horse nominated,” said Dale. “A good night to be involved with and we’re very honoured to take out one of the awards.”

“Obviously Chautauqua is such a high class sprinter and Winx is probably the current race horse champion of Australia, so it’s a good era to be racing particularly in NSW [and ACT].”

Dale said the successes of Fell Swoop as well as Nick Olive’s Single Gaze, who was also nominated in the same category, help to promote racing in the region.

“A good horse can be trained out of Canberra and I think over the last couple of years that is starting to be recognised, this award further helps to lift that profile of Canberra and Canberra as a training centre.

“Success breeds success in nearly any game but certainly in horse racing. It should only further attract high quality horses to be trained out of Canberra.”

Fell Swoop is on track to resume for a tilt at further success in the Spring.

“He’ll still only have two or three runs in the Spring. We’ll run him in the Schillaci Stakes [Caulfield October 8] and then finalise his plans from there based on how he goes and how he comes through.

“The big sprint races are on the cards and culminate in looking at the Darley sprint up the straight on the final day of the Flemington Carnival.”

Of his next crop of emerging talent, Dale said he was impressed with Yasnat’s recent run of form and is focusing on developing and attracting more juveniles to his stable.

“Yasnat’s gone for a spell, she had a great preparation having won three of her four starts. She raced through the grades so she’s gone for a well deserved break now and should be back in about a month’s time.

“I’m just waiting for my next young horses to progress through the ranks, I’ve got a lot of nice young horses coming through.

“You’re always on the look out for the next above average one, but at this stage Fell Swoop is the only one who is locked in to be heading to the spring.”

Fell Swoop was also nominated for Sprinter of the Year, while Single Gaze was also nominated for Country Horse of the Year as well as Queen of the Autumn.

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Gary Portelli hoping Rebel Dane can share a photo with Winx

There are a couple of things that came to Gary Portelli’s mind as Rebel Dane prepares to take on the mighty Winx in the Warwick Stakes at Randwick on Saturday.

It could be a race that defines his career beyond the track if he can upset the mare, but more likely he will be a part of another winning photo in the Winx collection.

“It is probably a more important race than we would give it credit for if he can win it,” Portelli said. “He is still a stallion and a group 1 winner, so beating Winx might be the difference between seeing five mares a year and 100 mares a year.

“He has been a great horse and probably deserves that, but beating her is a dream. [Winning] would be something that would stand him out from the others.

“In all honesty we are probably running for second if she turns up in the good shape. Winx is the best horse I have seen and just to be in her photo at the post would be good enough to go home happy.

“I think everyone knows they are running for second if she shows up, so you are mindful of that and not going out to beat her but to run his best race. There are proper horses in this race other than her and you will have to be at your top to beat them.”

Portelli said Rebel Dane’s preparation has been faultless and with the run under his belt he takes an advantage in race fitness to Randwick.

The trainer admitted the seven-year-old might be past his peak but he is at his best trip of 1400m and ready to run a great race. Rebel Dane has never been a big, heavy sprinter, but is more athletic than most, so the extra trip from sprints have been his friend.

His group 1 win came at 1400m in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes a few years ago and he has a couple of group 1 fourths at this journey.

“He is still under 500kg, 495kg to be exact, so he’s not overly big and that’s why he has been so sound and is still racing,” Portelli said. “I have always thought 1400m was his best trip because he can use his speed and strength.

“He probably only just gets it [the 1400m], so we will be riding him to be hitting the line. He might have lost his sharpness to sprint but he is still able to hold his speed and never really runs a bad race.”

Winx is a $1.30 favourite to make it 10 wins in a row with Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Lucia Valentina at $6.50 and Rebel Dane at $8.

TAB’s Glenn Munsie said punters are preferring to use Winx to add value to other racing and sports multis during the afternoon.

“She is 90 per cent of the hold on the race but there are no real big bets on her just to win,” Munsie said. “These days punters use a $1.30 chance to make their multis.

“There is actually three times the money on her through multis than actual straight out bets.”

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David Hayes sends flying Derryn to Sydney with Golden Rose ambitions

Up and coming: Regan Bayliss on board Derryn. Photo: Vince CaligiuriDavid Hayes and his team have worked out a way to split their three-year-old riches and decided Derryn is the right option for the Golden Rose in Sydney.

Derryn comes up for Saturday’s Up And Coming Stakes at Randwick looking to earn a shot at the Golden Rose, while Blue Diamond placegetter Zamzam returns at Moonee Valley, along with Dam Ready in the McKenzie Stakes.

“He is the one for the Golden Rose.  Zamzam will probably stay here and target the Thousand Guineas. She was a victim of the big wet in Sydney last time in,” Haynes said.

“Derryn is a very good horse and he is up there for the Golden Rose because he is our best option at that trip [of 1400m]. [Victoria] Sires winner Seaburge will be back next week but he’s my [Caulfield] Guineas horse.

“We have a good team and we just want to get them in their right races.”

Derryn has been doing his fast work the Sydney way since a devastating return to racing on the final Saturday of last season at Caulfield. The clock told a remarkable story from the win over 1000m, where the Hinchinbrook colt came from last.

Daily Sectionals got him running his final 800m more than 1.6 seconds faster than any other horse for the afternoon. His final 600m was more than a second quicker than the others and his final 400m and 200m outshone them all.

“It was a run that rated through the roof,” Hayes said. “It was a starting point and he is only going to get better as he steps up in distance.

“His figures were better than Lord Of The Sky and Fast ‘N’ Rocking on the day and they are very good group sprinters.

“We wanted him to have a look at the Sydney way before the Golden Rose and we chose this race a long way out.

“He needs to get money to make sure he gets a run in the Rose, so he needs to win.”

Caulfield was only Derryn’s second run after he finished down the track on debut before being spelled but Hayes and his training partners Tom Dabernig and son Ben were always confident he would measure up.

“He was shin sore after that first run, so we were patient. You got to see what he can do at Caulfield,” Hayes said. “He has been very comfortable on his Sydney leg when we have worked him on it but you want to see what they do on raceday.”

There will be further interest for team Hayes at Moonee Valley as import Pilote D’Essai is set to start a short priced favourite at the beginning of a preparation toward the big mile races later in the spring.

“He might be a light weight Epsom chance but the Emirates is certainly there for him as well. He is another interesting horse for us on Saturday,” Hayes said.

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