Tag Archives: ritual

Apocalypto – Review

10 Oct

 

Mel Gibson has become a name that is synonymous with controversy. In my opinion, regardless of what Gibson has said or did, it’s important to separate an artist from his work. For this particular film maker, he’s proven himself to be quite a talent with his most well known epic films being the modern classic Braveheart and the meticulously made Passion of the Christ. In 2006, Gibson took epic film making to a new level with his severely underrated film Apocalypto. Movies are a very exciting thing, and when one this huge is made with so much attention to small details along with a captivating and exciting story, I almost lose myself in thinking about it. This movie is a masterpiece.

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Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who along with his father and many friends, is a hunter in the jungles of Central America during the collapse of the Mayan civilization. Jaguar Paw’s village is separate from all that as these people live a peaceful, secluded life. One morning, the village is attacked by a warrior named Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his followers. They kill many villagers, but take many to bring back to the Mayan city either to be sold into slavery or be sacrificed to the gods. Jaguar Paw manages to escape from his Mayan captors and begins a chase through the thick Central American jungle to get back to his wife (Dalia Hernández) and son (Carlos Emilio Báez). With the vengeful Zero hot on his trail, Jaguar Paw has to think like a hunter once again if he’s ever going to see his family again.

From the opening shot of the jungle existing naturally without any interference to the very last shot that bookends the film both visually and thematically, Apocalypto is a gorgeous movie. Shot on location in Mexico, very little computer generated images were used in favor of showing the natural majesty that these jungles have to offer. It makes for exciting chase sequences through the thicket and roaring waters. A lot of credit has to go to the stunt team for making these kind of high speed chases through territory like this possible. When the characters are in the Mayan city about half way through the movie, it’s even harder to believe that most of what is seen is not computer generated. Like the epics of the 1950s, including Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, the towering structures were actually built by a team of set designers. It’s an incredible sight to behold and made me feel like I was looking through a portal to a time long since past.

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I said earlier that the attention to detail is extremely impressive in this movie. Much like with The Passion of the Christ, all of the dialogue in Apocalypto is spoken in an approximation of what language would have been used in that time or place. In this case, the language is Yucatec Maya. It’s a decision that makes it so much easier to immerse yourself in the world that has been created. It’s obvious that this was one of the main intentions of Gibson’s from the very beginning. Other than taking the time to get this language down properly and film all the scenes with it, it’s important to recognize the costume design and make up. It boggles my brain how this movie didn’t get any Oscars for its costuming and make up. There are hundreds of extras in this movie along with the handful of main players, and each one of these people have a unique make up and costume design. This is an enormous undertaking and it’s a cinematic feat that I’ve never seen anything like before.

While the story, itself, isn’t anything too groundbreaking or complex, it’s enough to keep the action and adventure moving at a quick pace. Apocalypto is not a short movie with it’s run time closing in on two and a half hours, but never was I bored throughout the entire movie. There’s a surprising amount of time building up the characters that will be present throughout the movie, and I was surprised by how much I really cared for Jaguar Paw and his family and friends. Once the attack happens the the villagers are taken to the Mayan city, the plot feels like it’s shot out of a cannon and the excitement doesn’t stop until the closing credits.

Apocalypto is one of those movies that reminds me why I love movies so much. It’s kind of a cheesy thing to refer to movies as magic, but sometimes I don’t know what else to call them. Apocalypto is pure movie magic and an achievement that is greatly under appreciated. The fine attention to detail mixed with loads of excitement, action, and adventure makes this a movie that I won’t forget for quite a long time.

Final Grade: A+

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The Serpent and the Rainbow – Review

23 Jul

To fans of horror, Wes Craven is the equivalent of an Olympian god. I would normally say that that previous statement is a bit much, but I really can’t. Just look at his ridiculously influential body of work and compare it to anyone else working in the genre. There are some people who come close, but in my book, he’s the guy. While certainly showing his skill in the maniac killer/slasher format, he also showed his ability to work with fantasy with films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the topic of today’s review, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

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After returning from Haiti and recovering from a near death experience, Harvard anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) is recruited by a pharmaceutical company to return to Haiti after they discovered a potion that seems to bring the dead back to life as zombies (not in the eat your brains kind of way either). Dr. Alan meets with a Haitian psychiatrist, Marielle (Cathy Tyson), and the two begin their investigation to procure this potion. What Alan doesn’t realize is that the captain of the Haitian secret police, Captain Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), is a practitioner in black magic, and will do anything in his power to keep Dr. Alan away from the potion, even if it means forcing him to face one of man’s most basic fears: being buried alive.

So, it’s been established that Wes Craven is a master of horror, but The Serpent and the Rainbow isn’t exactly a horror movie. There are definitely scenes that will freak you out, what with all of the weird voodoo images and the whole idea of being buried alive is enough to make anyone stifle a scream. What the movie is before any of that, though, is a mystery film with a lot of fantasy thrown into the mix. The whole plot is about Dr. Alan figuring out the mystery of the potion that brings people back to life, and his conflict between believing that the potion really is some sort of black magic, or if it just plays on the body’s biochemistry in a way that he doesn’t understand.

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The idea that this movie isn’t really a straight up horror movie may turn some people off to watching it, since that’s what you expect when you watch a Wes Craven movie. The horror aspects of this movie also feel very traditional. The most obvious comparison I can make for this movie is the 1943 film I Walked With a Zombie produced by another icon of horror, Val Lewton. Both have scenes of voodoo rituals and people being brought back to life as zombies, and in that same vein The Serpent and the Rainbow feels like an old fashioned horror film, even though it was produced in 1988.

What I mean by this is that it’s a film that doesn’t rely on scares to tell the story, unlike many horror movies both older and new. Even Craven’s film The Last House on the Left is told through a strictly horror point of view that heavily features rape and brutal violence in order to tell the story. This one has voodoo rituals involved and lots of blood, but it builds its story on suspense, taut pacing, and the curiosity of the mystery of the potion. That being said, another strong point of this movie is the eerie atmosphere which even brings a sociopolitical to the forefront since the story takes place in the midst of a Haitian revolution.

The Serpent and the Rainbow may not be the most effective film in Wes Craven’s filmography, but it is a memorable horror movie to say the least. I respect the way that the story is told through the eyes of mystery and suspense, but I also appreciate the scenes of genuine terror that are appropriately sprinkled throughout the rest of the movie. While I do say that this film is more of a fantasy and a mystery, I will also say that it is a genuine tale of horror that features themes of plot elements that I haven’t seen in a horror movie in years.