Archive for May 26th, 2007

26
May
07

Apocalypto: Review

I remember hearing great things about Apocalypto late in 2006. But somehow I just wasn’t moved to check it out. A film following the events of some native tribe? Subtitled? Nah, I’ll pass. And despite continued praise that I would hear, I put the film about as low in my Netflix queue as possible. (Just above the films that I always smash down to the bottom the closer they get to shipping.) Once again, I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. I certainly am not a fan of this type of film, but without question this is one of the most visceral, engrossing, captivating and unpredictable films I’ve seen. Ever.

First of all, if you haven’t seen this film and you have plans on seeing it, you really don’t need to read a review from me to know why you’ll appreciate it. Just get up….go to the video store….or go to your Netflix/Blockbuster queue and put this film as number one. Now. Then read on after you’ve seen it. I don’t plan on spoiling the film, but the film is so good that there’s no need to “sell” it. The one caveat I must emphasize is that the film is incredibly visceral. If you were the least bit bothered by the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, then perhaps you should reconsider.

Giving the most general description possible, Apocalypto is a film about the events of a group of villagers during the end of the Mayan civilization. That’s all you get, because that’s all you need. I went into Apocalypto knowing nothing about the film other than a few unmemorable viewings of the trailer. This ended up making the experience incredibly engrossing for me. This is a ride. And where you think you might be going isn’t necessarily where you are headed.

Apocalypto stars a cast of virtual unknowns. No disrespect intended — I’m trying to emphasize the fact that the film is incredible despite the fact that there are incredible acting performances here without any of these folks having really acted in a film this big. Without checking IMDB I wouldn’t know any of their names. And having briefly checked it before the writing of this review, most of the principal actors have less than two films to their credit.

Regardless of how you may feel about Mel Gibson, this man is truly a talent. Watching Apocalypto is similar to watching two hours of the Discovery Channel as they follow a tribe. It just has the most authentic feel. We’re getting an inside look into the village and you feel almost as if you’re fearful that they’ll notice the Discovery Channel cameraman sneaking in on their lives. Not only do they not notice the Discovery Channel cameraman, but they turn in such terrific and emotional performances that you have to wonder how many takes Mel Gibson had to shoot to get this thing to be this perfect. The choreography of the fighting and crowds makes this one of the truly epic films of this decade.

Few films have been able to evoke the kind of fear that has me literally sitting on the edge of my seat. Saving Private Ryan was one film that just had me holding my heart every time they went into battle. 28 Days Later also had me shaking, after establishing the fact that there was loyalty to no one and that they’d infect who they wanted. Apocalypto has this same sense of true unpredictability. It’s almost more than your heart can take at some points.

The film is done entirely in the native Mayan tongue. Not quite sure if this is the actual language or if this is some modified form of the language made for Hollywood. But the entire film is subtitled. Now, this definitely will cause some people to lose interest. But please — don’t let this bother you. The film is so powerful that seeing it without reading the subtitles, while it would minimize your understanding of the events slightly, would still deliver an experience that was as good as any film released in 2006. Continue reading ‘Apocalypto: Review’

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26
May
07

Hannibal Rising: Review

Perhaps I’m not the best person to review anything connected to the Thomas Harris / Hannibal Lecter saga. It was only after watching for the third time that I was able to appreciate The Silence of the Lambs and I’m not a fan of any of the other films — not Red Dragon, not Hannibal, and let’s not speak of Manhunter. Nonetheless, the intrigue of the first film captured the minds of audiences so much that studio executives almost couldn’t resist the potential to make money on a Hannibal Lecter film that didn’t require the services (or the salary) of Anthony Hopkins. I, for one, think they should have stopped after the first film. This film doesn’t change my opinion much.

For those who might not be familiar with the previous films, Hannibal Lecter is a psychologist, surgeon who also happens to be a cannibal and a serial murderer. The books by Thomas Harris, beginning with Red Dragon were the inspiration for the films. But equally as important to the mythos are the Academy Award-winning performances turned in by both Jodie Foster as young FBI Agent Clarice Starling and particularly the chilling performance of Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Lecter.

Hannibal Rising stars Gaspard Ulliel as a late teens – early twenties Hannibal Lecter. The film begins with a very young Lecter (probably at about age seven) during the end of World War II. Without spoiling the movie, the film attempts to explain the origins of Hannibal’s cannibalistic desires as well as draw sympathy for him to explain the sadistic actions that would occur later in his life. Well, actually, not too much later because he’s pretty sadistic here as well.

First, the good. Gaspard Ulliel plays about as good a Hannibal Lecter as he could. Being somewhat of a closet casting director, I would have probably sought someone a bit shorter and less subtle in their approach. Despite my biased view, the performance is great. He has it all — the walk, the mannerisms, the inquisitive nature, the sense of quiet madness that Anthony Hopkins perfected. At times, Gaspard appears to be a bit too refined for such a young age. He hasn’t even started his career as a psychologist and already he’s breaking down adults with mind tricks. But this is more of a criticism of the screenplay. Which leads me into my issues with the film….

There are quite a few problems with Hannibal Rising — not the least of which is the script. This is basically the film that anyone who saw the other films would expect. It’s very predictable and although it tells us a bit more about the foundation for Dr. Lecter, there isn’t much intrigue here. Perhaps it’s the lack of Anthony Hopkins. Perhaps it’s the lack of a young FBI Agent to play mind games with. Perhaps given a stronger antagonist than the unforgettable random bad guys in this film, it would have been more memorable. Whatever the case, there’s something missing.

When I first heard about the property being turned into a film, I got excited. Though for sure that it would be a blockbuster. And planned on seeing it during the first run. Somehow it just came out like a whisper and before I knew it, I was hearing about a video release. After seeing the film, it’s clear why the film didn’t get too much hype. Save the performance of Gaspard Ulliel, this film could probably have been a direct-to-video release. It’s just that forgettable.

If you’ve see the other films and you’re looking to expand upon your Hannibal Lecter knowledge, check this one out. However, if you’re not that big of a fan of the other films, there really isn’t much to see here.