Embrace of the Serpent

In 1909, Theodor von Mauritius (Jan Bijvoet, "The Broken Circle Breakdown," "Borgman") fell ill while on a botanical expedition deep in Amazonia. His native hired man, Manduca (Yauenkü Migue), rows to the shore where shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) stands alone. Told that they are going to find the Cohiuano, Karamakate replies that they no longer exist and that he is not interested in helping the white man. Forty years later, Karamakate's (Antonio Bolivar) eventual friendship with Theo makes him more accepting when he is approached by Evan (Brionne Davis), who is seeking the same yakruna plant, Theo's books guiding him in "Embrace of the Serpent."

Laura's Review: A

Cowriter (with Jacques Toulemonde Vidal)/director Ciro Guerra has accomplished something quite remarkable with the first film to shoot on location in the Columbian Amazon in over thirty years. Unlike Werner Herzog's Peruvian set "Fitzcarraldo," Guerra's film is told from the mystical perspective of Karamakate, a man who has witnessed the decimation of his tribe by Western rubber barons. Through his eyes we experience the world in a spiritual way in which man and nature are harmonious and time is fluid. Enhanced by stunning black and white 35mm cinematography by David Gallego, "Embrace of the Serpent" is a dreamlike, humanistic history of an indigenous people more civilized in their profound relationship with their world than those from the industrialized lands who exploited them. Colombia's Foreign Language Film nominee is a filmmaking achievement of the highest order. Based on the journals of the real life explorers Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes, Guerra shifts his story back and forth between their two time periods. We see the young Karamakate aid Theo with blasts of botanical powder that keep the man alive as they journey deeper into the jungle. Cultural clashes prove learning experiences, culminating at a stop Chorrera, a Capuchin mission where a plaque commemorates the 'bravery' of rubber pioneers who overcame 'cannibal savages' where Theo discovers the cruelty continues. Later, at the same place, Evan will experience a bizarre evolution of religious fervor, madness akin to Russell's "The Devils." Moments of great beauty (Torres's naturally acquired physique being one) are juxtaposed with horrors, a snake giving birth at once repulsive and erotic. "Embrace of the Serpent" is a masterful ode to the loss of an enlightened culture more truly spiritual than the men of organized religions who destroyed it. Grade:

Robin's Review: C+

It has been nearly five years since Neill Blomkamp made his stellar feature film debut with the wild “District 9.” Anticipation has been running high for his sophomore effort and the wait is finally over. Unfortunately, “Elysium” is not the film I have been waiting for. Director Blomkamp also wrote the screenplay for “Elysium” and that is where the problems with “Elysium” lie. What could have been a good sci-fi flick where the have nots want what the haves have and are willing to fight to the death for it is, instead, a convolution of plots. Max (Matt Damon) is one of the inmates on the dying planet Earth and works at the Armadyne Corporation. That company manufactures the robotic cops that protect Elysium and patrol the earth looking for any signs of rebellion among the proletariat. When such discontent is discovered, the ‘bots put a stop to it by any means and it seems that murderous violence is the only means they have. One day, working on the line, Max’s machine malfunctions and he is forced, by his overseer boss, to squeeze inside to clear the problem. Things go drastically wrong and Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. He soon learns that he has just five days to live. At this point, Max goes renegade in order to get to Elysium and his only chance to be cured. He submits to the surgical implant of an exoskeleton that will give him super strength. The way you expect this to go is to have Max lead the vanguard of rebels, overthrow their rulers and bring the good life to everyone on Earth. Instead, things get overly complicated with one subplot that has Max and company trying to kidnap the CEO of Armadyne, Carlyle (William Fitchner), and extract the means to overthrow Elysium from his brain with Max brain as the recipient of that information. Of course, things go wrong and Max races the clock in order to survive and free the world. That seems like enough for one movie but Blomkamp has to tack on an additional plotline about a nurse, Frey (Alice Braga), who did Max a kindness and he takes it upon himself to save her and her child. The story keeps jumping around from Max’s quest for a cure, fighting the robots sent to kill him, protecting Fray and saving mankind. It is a tall order and not always met. Most of the characters that populate “Elysium” are mainly two-dimensional, especially second-billed Jody Foster as the power hungry executive, Delacourt, who has designs on the presidency of Elysium. This brings in yet another plot of court intrigue and Foster does nothing to give life to her not-as-bad-as-she-thinks bad guy. Sharlto Copley (star of “District 9”), on the other hand, does a good job as the evil human henchman who does not necessarily follow Delacourt’s orders. Diego Luna, as Max’s best friend Julio, is one of the few characters that you actually care about. Techs show “Elysium’s” estimated $100,000,000 and the sci-fi effects look good. Maybe, if Blomkamp had another writer to tight up the story, lose unnecessary story lines and simply had the battle between the 99% and the 1% (where the 99%, of course, triumph over the greedy 1%), things might have worked better.