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Directed by Mel Gibson.
Written by Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia.
Starring...well, a bunch of rookies.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  12/19/06


I won't lie--I was nervous about "Apocalypto", not because of bad Mel Gibson press or any bad reviews or one of the worst movie titles of our, I was worried because the entire movie was done in some old Mayan dialect and had a trailer that just screamed "not so much, not so much" (using the Borat voice).  So, even though Mel has made a couple of pretty powerful movies ("Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ"), this one looked like a mistake.

But, I was so curious about the movie that I had to see it...and, I'll tell you what, the man has some pretty serious talent!  Set in a time long ago, the story follows Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) as he and his village members are living a quiet, peaceful life in the middle of nowhere when a group of fanatical savages shows up one day, burns Jag's entire village to the group, leaves a number of children to die on their own, kills a number of Jag's family members and others who get in the savages' way, and then take about 30 of the surviving villagers hostage and walk them like slaves all the way back to their home temple, at which point a lot of people get it bad on a sacrificial altar before Jaguar just up and says enough is enough!

There's more to it than this, but that is the basic plot overview.  And, even though it sounds really simple, Gibson gives the film a feel of timelessness that wasn't lost on me even as I watched guys get stabbed, burned, beheaded, de-hearted, maimed and mentally abused all movie long.  The film's violence certainly is worth noting, but the simple trek nature of the movie (about half the film is Jaguar's slavery) is fantastic and, once Jaguar figures out a way to take on his captors, the action/"Rambo: First Blood, Part II" elements of the final half-hour are just plain fun to watch, because there's not much surprise in watching Jag dismantle the baddies one by one.  We also get to watch Jag's wife and little boy struggle all movie long in a deep pit, since they were hiding when the whole freakin' village was torched by Evil.

Using actors that you've never heard of is quite helpful in "Apocalypto"; it speaks further to the point that it doesn't really matter who these people are, just to know that they are the oppressed and that the oppressors could give two shits about the peaceful villagers' well being.  It's a classic story of The Man vs. The People, and even with superior numbers you know that The Man is goin' down, baby!  But, I loved whoever the guy was that played the leader of the savages; he's cut like a fucking rock but he has that gentle giant/don't fuck with me dichotomy which works brilliantly in this movie.  When he admonishes an underling for not following his orders, all you have to do is look at the veins popping in his neck to know that if you fuck with this guy, it's lights out.  Alternate, the underlings are just distinct enough to tell that they are different, and because movies like this require a second-in-command baddie, the one we get here is a ruthless bastard who--by killing Jag's father in the opening minutes of the film--you just know has his shit coming to him late in this puppy.

The scenery is lush and "Apocalypto" is a very good-looking film; special effects look great and chase sequences and fight scenes are very well done.  I still think that with "The Passion" and this film, Mel could use a better editor, but what is here is still mostly relevant to what's happening and at least this film is better paced than Mel's most recent directorial effort.  There is almost too little dialogue in this film; I felt there could have been more dramatic buildup to the sacrificial sequence by giving us more bits of conversation between the enslaved members of the village gang.  Some of the bad guys characters are too one-note (hell, those that actually seem to be running the beheadings are actually no-note characters) and even a little backstory would have been nice for a layman like myself.

But, no matter.  What's here is great and "Apocalypto" is a well-conceived curiosity worth investigating.  That is, IF you are cool with watching guys having their hearts pulled out while they are still alive.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09