Revenge

Revenge. Really liked it. Take some pulpy Kill Bill and cross it with high-contrast Spring Breakers and The Guest-like creepiness and soundtrack. Thematically heavy-handed sometimes, with the fruit and the bugs and the beer cans and tattoos. Contrast the male gaze at the opening with the appreciatigve gaze after the cave scene – one of awe, of power rather than lust. And that leads into one of my favorite shots in a while, with her riding the ATV through the desert with that earring gleaming. Maybe file this one under loincloth chase films?

The Naked Prey

The Naked Prey. Speaking of chase movies stripped down to loincloths… This one was inspired by the true(ish?) story of John Colter’s escape from the Blackfeet in 1809, but it’s set in the African savannah somewhere. A safari trip goes wrong because the financial backer is a jackass and Cornel Wilde, the guide who’s been there enough to pick up a few languages, ends up running from the locals. It’s pulpy popcorn stuff, but there’s an interesting balance in how everything is portrayed. This is not the Africa with the sunsets and acacia trees and newborn knock-kneed giraffes. This is the dusty, thorny one with all the snakes. Neither hunters nor prey are acting all that honorably or dishonorably, they’ve just been reduced and everyone’s running on instinct and resourcefulness. Ebert didn’t like it much, for fair reasons that seem to related to having scene this kind of absurd stuff before, but I think that non-realistic ≠ non-enjoyable. The script could probably fit on a page or two. The soundtrack is almost entirely percussion. Plot aside, there’s some really great nature interludes that reminded me of how much I loved wildlife film when I was a kid.

Apocalypto

Apocalypto. I got a kick out of this one. At its heart, it’s a chase movie, stripped down to loincloths. It did not at all feel like 140 minutes. Many thanks to the Battleship Pretension episode on Mel Gibson’s directing for spurring me to watch it.

If you’ve seen Braveheart or The Passion of the Christ, you’ll be prepared for the frequent, unsubtle graphic violence. I cringed a lot, but that’s okay. Actually, funny thing when I was watching, the violence actually got me curious about psychological health in ancient times. Given that levels of violence, trauma, and death were much higher than today, you have to wonder.

I’m not suggesting that this movie is historically accurate in any way. That’s very much beside the point, I think. Every movie set in the past gets something wrong. It’s just context, people. Not a documentary. I think that some folks have gotten up in arms about the depiction of the Mayans is actually kind of a bonus – it hasn’t really been explored on film, so they’d like to get it right. Understandable. The benefit for the viewer, accuracy aside, is that the novelty forces your attention. It’s all in Yucatec Maya language, so you have to keep your eyes on the screen for subtitles. Clothing and environment are novel. You probably don’t recognize any of the actors, so you can come to watch their performance without any expectations. When I watched Brief Encounter I had a similar reaction to an unknown-to-me cast:

One of the most enjoyable things about old/foreign movies is that I often don’t know the cast. It can feel more immediately immersive to see the characters as characters, rather than recognizing actors and trying to set aside that I know they’re portraying people. There’s no baggage, no expectations, no known quirks or ticks. It all feels very fresh.

Along the same lines, familiar scenes feel less loaded. There’s a slave-trading scene that’s somehow more touching because it’s Mayans selling Mayans, rather than whites selling blacks. Put a familiar, undeniable evil in a different cultural frame, and you feel it more powerfully, I think. You can’t bring your baggage as easily. I feel no hesitation in recommending this one.