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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Apocalypto

04.04.2014

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO!

THE STORY:

A young hunter is captured for ritual sacrifice during the decline of the Mayan empire and must fight for his survival.

THE PLAYERS:  

Written by Mel Gibson and Farhad Safinia, the film starred relatively unknown or first-time actors, including Rudy Youngblood as the lead, Jaguar Paw, Jonathan Brewer as Blunted, Raoul Trujillo as Zero Wolf, Gerardo Taracena as Middle Eye, amongst a host of local extras from Mexico.

THE HISTORY:

Mel Gibson teamed up with Farhad Safinia to write APOCALYPTO after getting the idea to do a chase film based on the image that adorns the last five minutes of the film; a tribesman, bloody and pursued, emerges from the jungle and collapses on the beach, his captors just behind him, ready to finish the tribesman off. But, as they approach, something else catches their eye. Something they’ve never seen before. Ships. Massive and foreign to them, a group of smaller boats approach the beach with a gaggle of European men onboard. Their arrival, which would lead to the very downfall of the regions inhabitants, is the saving grace of the tribesman, who makes his escape, while his pursuers stand in awe of the sight before them.

And so, APOCALYPTO was born. Gibson and Safinia toiled on the script before securing financing and moving to shoot in Vera Cruz for a planned four-month shoot. The cast was made up of Mayan and Spanish speaking cast members, none of them trained or known actors and thousands of extras were enlisted to take part in many of the film’s more elaborate sequences. Weather, budget, animals, and everything in-between ended up extending production for an additional eight months, creating what Gibson would call the toughest production of his life.

The film opened number one on December 8, 2006, pulling in $15 million and a score of 66 percent on RottenTomatoes. But, it dropped almost 50% the following week and slowly disappeared into the ether, making a final tally of $50.8 million, never really finding a large audience once average moviegoers discovered it wasn’t Mel wearing blue face paint and wielding a Claymore or Jesus being beaten to a pulp. Since that time, however, many have discovered the film on video and it has become a widely respected and deeply underappreciated film that serves as a visual spectacle, historical journey, and high-octane chase flick.

“I always start by asking, 'If I went to the cinema, what would I want to see' I'm always looking to do something I have a thirst to see in my heart and mind. There has always been this mystery about the Mayan civilization. I went down to the Mirador Basin and saw the ancient and enormous pyramids; one is the biggest pyramid in the world, bigger than those in Egypt. The Mayans left, but why, that's what intrigued me.” – Mel Gibson

WHY IT’S GREAT:

APOCALYPTO is one of the best non-standard action films you’ll ever see. Disguised as a historical tale, it’s essentially a taut, intricate, violent, and suspenseful chase film. Or, perhaps vice versa. Either way you look at it, APOCALYPTO is a magnificent movie, one that got lost in its release, built on the hype of Mel Gibson’s megahit PASSION OF THE CHRIST and seemingly ignored, potentially for his personal life issues that seemed to sully his public reputation. Or, perhaps average audiences were turned off by the lack of big-name stars and inclusion of subtitles. Regardless, it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be.

It’s such a shame, too, as APOCALYPTO is a marvelous watch and sadly, the last film Gibson has directed. Eight years later, however, the film holds up beautifully and is best enjoyed on blu-ray, where the digital film really pops onscreen. The visual and practical effects are nothing short of outstanding. Coupled with the music (by BRAVEHEART composer James Horner) and sound design, not to mention the amazing performances by a cast of unknown and untrained actors, APOCALYPTO is more of an experience than just a “rumble in the jungle” yarn.

The basis of the film is fairly simple, as we meet Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a young hunter in a forest tribe who is fairly settled in his path in life. Guided by his father, Jaguar Paw knows that he will grow old, teach his own sons to hunt, and then pass on with little incident or fanfare. However, an encounter with a group of displaced tribesman who were pushed off their land instills something in Jaguar Paw that he’s never known; fear.

"You had to be very clear in those things if you're going to use other devices; mythic storytelling is often quite simple and it's about a man or a group of people, about circumstances, about his reaction -- not so much about what he does, what he has to do or he's forced to do, but how he does it. Those are the little things; it's the little things that make it.” – Mel Gibson

And thus, begins the journey of Jaguar Paw, who can’t shake the ominous feeling of impending doom. His instincts prove to be right, however, and his father’s advice to not be afraid are severely tested when a band of marauders attack his village, kidnapping the able bodied men, raping and killing the women, and leaving the children to their own devices. It’s savage, brutal, sickening, and infuriating.

Raoul Trujillo as Zero Wolf, the leader of the marauders (who constantly reminded me of the brilliant Magua in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS) and Gerardo Taracena as Middle Eye, the main henchman of the group, are so malicious and detestable in their portrayals that you absolutely love to hate them, seething for them to get their due. It’s a rare feat these days to have villains that you want to be taken down, as they either steal the show from the protagonist or never live up to being truly infamous enough to care if they live or die. With APOCALYPTO, the hate burns to see these men meet with justice.

The film’s chase doesn’t really take off until the second half, which is kicked off after a particularly mesmerizing and shocking ritual sacrifice sequence. It’s been well documented that during the reign of the Mayan (and Aztec) empire, men were often kidnapped from outlying villages and brought to the giant temples to be sacrificed, under the guise that they were volunteers for such a thing. The concept and method of sacrifice during these times and in this culture were particularly horrifying. Gibson, for his part, actually shows as much restraint as possible when portraying these events, but even then there’s only so much you can shy away from.

"People like scary stories. There's a fascination with fear themes, and we want to face those things in a weird, subconscious way." – Mel Gibson

Jaguar Paw and his fellow tribesmen are led to one of the temples for such a sacrifice and Gibson takes you through the moment with all the fear, anxiety, and tension you could imagine. From the grandstanding high priest who manipulates the crowd with each cutout heart and decapitated head, to the silent King, who watches with an icy stare, you feel every second of the sacrifice scene, which is no doubt the best depiction ever put on film. Visually, it’s captivating; emotionally, it’s a gut punch, and in the end, it stays burned in your brain.

What follows after the sacrifice sequence is the real “chase” of the film. It’s a non-stop, no-holds-barred “run through the jungle” that evokes some of the best imagery from action classics like PREDATOR, APOCALYPSE NOW, or THE MISSION. As Jaguar Paw makes his escape, attempting with all his might to summon the courage to face his would-be captors again, he is symbolically reborn, leading the men into a sort of HOME ALONE esque trap through the jungle. That may sound comical, but it’s insanely clever, featuring poisonous frogs, bees, hunting traps, snakes, and a jaguar…to the face!

“It was just a story that kind of appealed to me. I've been wanting to do a chase movie forever. And that's how it started, just a chase. I thought, "Well, there's all kinds of chases. There's train chases, car chases, horse chases." I thought, "A foot chase. That's a good idea. That's about as minimum and as primal as it gets." – Mel Gibson

What sets APOCALYPTO apart is that there are very few films to compare it to. Sure you could drum up other chase films, but there certainly aren’t many (or any?) that take place in a ritual sacrifice season during the reign of the Mayan empire. Beyond that, this is a film about survival and how it can transcend any time period. There are plenty of parallels to be drawn from this to modern society and while some may feel it’s trying too much to have a message, I have to wonder if they’re the same ones that complain about a movie not having anything to say at all. In the end, you can treat it how you want; awesome chase flick or cautionary tale.

I’ll leave it to the historical scholars to squabble over inaccuracies, which seem to plague the perspective of many who saw the film. Listening to the commentary on the blu-ray (and having studied the time period myself in numerous Anthropology and History courses), , leads me to believe that both Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia did a hell of an amount of research and even address their own creative liberties throughout. In the end, the film isn’t attempting to be a historical film (there’s no “based on a true story” title card anywhere), but rather gasp an entertaining one with something to say.

APOCALYPTO is a true gem; a refined and genuinely great flick. I won’t say it’s flawless, but I will say that it’s a rare find in any genre and an entertaining ride from start to finish. More than anything, it’s a reminder that we need to get Mel Gibson back behind the camera as soon as humanly possible.

“The story is actually very simple, with a very straightforward through line, but the meat that’s attached to the bones of it is quite complex. There are messages about civilizations and we are trying to be true to history as much as possible. We wanted all this to gel with some good theory about why these civilizations went down, why they weakened and crumbled. Because they did, they vanished.” – Mel Gibson

BEST SCENE:

There are many scenes that stand out in APOCALYPTO, which makes it hard to narrow down to just one. The ritual sacrifice scene is perhaps the most popular, followed by the “jaguar scene,” the escape from the city, the waterfall, and of course the final battle. For those that haven’t seen the film, I’m sharing the “jaguar scene” as it encapsulates the tension, gore, music, and masterful aesthetic at work in the film.

SEE IT:

APOCALYPTO is available on Blu-ray/DVD. Get it here!

PARTING SHOT:

"The Mayan culture is shrouded in mystery and myths. I didn't show half the stuff I read about. I read about an orgy of sacrifice: 20,000 people sacrificed in four days. They were also very fond of impaling genitals and torturing people for years on end. For instance, if they captured a king or queen from another place, they would humiliate them for a decade. They would cut off their lips, have their tongues ripped out, they would have no eyes and no ears. Oh, and they would chew their fingers off. The guy would be alive but was just a babbling mass of nerve endings, then they'd roll him up in a ball after nine years of this stuff and roll him down the temple stairs and pulverise him. He'd probably be grateful. So I went easy on people. I think it's less violent than Braveheart or The Passion, but some people say it's a blood bath. It was not designed to be a feelgood movie - it was designed to get your heart pumping." - Mel Gibson

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Extra Tidbit: Got a suggestion for Best Movie You Never Saw? Let's hear it!
Source: JoBlo.com

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+0
3:12PM on 04/06/2014

Amazing Film I just saw

I never saw this film when it was released, but checked it out a couple of months ago for the first time. BREATHtaking!!! Gibson truly is a master storytelling and director. Such a loss he's done so little directing. I didn't find it all that grossly violent. But perhaps that's because of sitting through too much Tarantino. Yes, a box office of $50M was not enough for this quality of film. SUCH a gooooood story, IMO. That photography was amazing, the acting believable, but the story -
I never saw this film when it was released, but checked it out a couple of months ago for the first time. BREATHtaking!!! Gibson truly is a master storytelling and director. Such a loss he's done so little directing. I didn't find it all that grossly violent. But perhaps that's because of sitting through too much Tarantino. Yes, a box office of $50M was not enough for this quality of film. SUCH a gooooood story, IMO. That photography was amazing, the acting believable, but the story - brilliant. And so real! I can't forget the bit during the ritual sacrifice scene when the mom smacks her little kid for being annoying. The juxtaposition of "normalcy" (mom and kid) with the horrificness of the sacrifice spoke volumes of the period. Thanks for reminding people of this great film.
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2:38PM on 04/06/2014
One of the worst movies I've seen in theatres, mainly because it is pretty much the most disgusting and ugly looking film ever created (thanks to the cheap ass digital look which doesn't fit AT ALL). Was really looking forward to it (Since I expected some great epic) but haven't been that disappointed for.. a looong while.
One of the worst movies I've seen in theatres, mainly because it is pretty much the most disgusting and ugly looking film ever created (thanks to the cheap ass digital look which doesn't fit AT ALL). Was really looking forward to it (Since I expected some great epic) but haven't been that disappointed for.. a looong while.
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10:26PM on 04/04/2014

Apocalypto is awesome!

Re: Tidbit...

- Tell No One ("Ne le dis ą personne")
- Brotherhood of the Wolf ("Le pacte des loups")
- 13 Assassins ("Jūsan-nin no shikaku")
- The Thirteenth Floor
- The Others
Re: Tidbit...

- Tell No One ("Ne le dis ą personne")
- Brotherhood of the Wolf ("Le pacte des loups")
- 13 Assassins ("Jūsan-nin no shikaku")
- The Thirteenth Floor
- The Others
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8:34PM on 04/04/2014
Apocalypto is one of the best action films of the 2000s. I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about was how surprising it was. The trailers made it look like a historical drama a tad on the pretentious side. I was surprised in a good way to discover that it was an awesome heart pounding action film!
Apocalypto is one of the best action films of the 2000s. I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about was how surprising it was. The trailers made it look like a historical drama a tad on the pretentious side. I was surprised in a good way to discover that it was an awesome heart pounding action film!
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4:45PM on 04/04/2014

I don't know if this really applies to the topic of best movie you never saw as it seemed pretty notorious when it came out.

That being said I actually just recently watched it. I liked it a lot but god its violent. I mean I was expecting it coming from Gibson and the sacrifice scene really isn't that bad but that chase. One of the only movies I've even seen where the violence was just that cringe inducing. That being said its incredibly well made and Gibson's a natural filmmaker. I just wonder why he chooses to make movies so violent and controversial. I mean he was loved for his acting and for Braveheart and I
That being said I actually just recently watched it. I liked it a lot but god its violent. I mean I was expecting it coming from Gibson and the sacrifice scene really isn't that bad but that chase. One of the only movies I've even seen where the violence was just that cringe inducing. That being said its incredibly well made and Gibson's a natural filmmaker. I just wonder why he chooses to make movies so violent and controversial. I mean he was loved for his acting and for Braveheart and I even get him making Passion of the Christ but why continue to go so sadistic and sort of morbid with his film making?
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6:07PM on 04/04/2014
I think the violence reflected the time and brutality in which they lived.
I think the violence reflected the time and brutality in which they lived.
+2
12:58PM on 04/04/2014
This was a pleasant surprise when it came out back on 2006... I didn't know what to expect from it, but it turned out to be an unforgettable ride... Although I doubt its presence in the column, since I find it to be a popular movie, maybe younger generation need to catch up with it.
- I agree with your selection of the best scene, the "chase scene" was masterly filmed and superbly executed, hope Gibson will direct something new soon !!!
This was a pleasant surprise when it came out back on 2006... I didn't know what to expect from it, but it turned out to be an unforgettable ride... Although I doubt its presence in the column, since I find it to be a popular movie, maybe younger generation need to catch up with it.
- I agree with your selection of the best scene, the "chase scene" was masterly filmed and superbly executed, hope Gibson will direct something new soon !!!
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12:38PM on 04/04/2014

Great movie, and again this column is useless

Seriously, is this column written to get easy ad revenue? I mean so far every iteration of the column has had movies that majority of the visitors are watched and/or fan of. This column would be a great opportunity to really explore and teach of those great films that slip through the cracks but are worth our time. However, this column really hasn't achieved that it.
This column should be renamed to "Great Movies You Need to Watch Again." By the way, I f'in loved this movie from beginning to
Seriously, is this column written to get easy ad revenue? I mean so far every iteration of the column has had movies that majority of the visitors are watched and/or fan of. This column would be a great opportunity to really explore and teach of those great films that slip through the cracks but are worth our time. However, this column really hasn't achieved that it.
This column should be renamed to "Great Movies You Need to Watch Again." By the way, I f'in loved this movie from beginning to end..
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1:33PM on 04/04/2014
"Quaribc" I think it's hard to find a movie that the majority of JOBLO's visitors haven't seen, since you have to understand that most of the visitors in here are "Cinephiles" and it's likely that they have seen a lot of movies. For instance I'd already seen all the movies that have been presented in this column expect "Fantastic Mr. Fox" since I thought it was a movie targeted for younger audience and Body Parts...
Knowing this column objective I found most of the movies presented in here
"Quaribc" I think it's hard to find a movie that the majority of JOBLO's visitors haven't seen, since you have to understand that most of the visitors in here are "Cinephiles" and it's likely that they have seen a lot of movies. For instance I'd already seen all the movies that have been presented in this column expect "Fantastic Mr. Fox" since I thought it was a movie targeted for younger audience and Body Parts...
Knowing this column objective I found most of the movies presented in here suitable for its purpose, even thou not so much Apocalypto..
- Judging from your comment, I'd recommend you to watch: Wim Wenders's The American Friend with Bruno Ganz & Dennis Hopper, Richard Brooks's "In Cold Blood", Martin Ritt's "Hombre" with the great Paul Newman or Sean Penn's "The Indian Runner" with Mortensen & Morse.

Anyway, cheers !!!
1:57PM on 04/04/2014
You're taking the title way too literal. Did you read the description of the column?

The point of this column is to celebrate movies by calling to attention all manner of films in a wide variety of genres. Also, this is a movie news site that is visited by people who have seen much more than the average viewer. I could post any movie on here and someone will have seen it. However, there are plenty of people who may not have seen it, perhaps put off viewing it, forgotten about it, or
You're taking the title way too literal. Did you read the description of the column?

The point of this column is to celebrate movies by calling to attention all manner of films in a wide variety of genres. Also, this is a movie news site that is visited by people who have seen much more than the average viewer. I could post any movie on here and someone will have seen it. However, there are plenty of people who may not have seen it, perhaps put off viewing it, forgotten about it, or possibly never knew it existed. Not everyone who visits the site is the exact same age or even from the same geographic location. You have to take into account all factors.
11:27AM on 04/04/2014
Glad to see this movie getting some love. I think a lot of people like me skipped it in theaters since we weren't sure exactly what it would be like, but I was blown away when I saw it. Gibson is one of my favorite directors, and I really wish he'd direct another film soon.
Extra Tidbit: The Hunter or The East
Glad to see this movie getting some love. I think a lot of people like me skipped it in theaters since we weren't sure exactly what it would be like, but I was blown away when I saw it. Gibson is one of my favorite directors, and I really wish he'd direct another film soon.
Extra Tidbit: The Hunter or The East
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10:24AM on 04/04/2014

Suggestion

The Conversation
The Conversation
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+1
10:23AM on 04/04/2014

Watched it in theaters

Was simply amazing. Not sure how historically accurate it was, but I'd never seen anything like it.

I nominate Detroit Rock City! It probably is well known, but hardly ever hear someone speak of it.
Was simply amazing. Not sure how historically accurate it was, but I'd never seen anything like it.

I nominate Detroit Rock City! It probably is well known, but hardly ever hear someone speak of it.
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8:52AM on 04/04/2014
Tidbit: I made a Watchlist on IMDb of great, lesser-known movies a while back. If anyone is interested:

[link]
Tidbit: I made a Watchlist on IMDb of great, lesser-known movies a while back. If anyone is interested:

[link]
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7:43AM on 04/04/2014

Apocalypto!!

I love this damn movie. Mel did a fantastic job directing the hell out of it and the ending may be one of my favorites ever put to film. I pray that we get his Viking film in the next 5 or so years. The guy needs to be back consistently directing movies and acting in them.
Tidbit: War of the Arrows!! Great South Korean flick
I love this damn movie. Mel did a fantastic job directing the hell out of it and the ending may be one of my favorites ever put to film. I pray that we get his Viking film in the next 5 or so years. The guy needs to be back consistently directing movies and acting in them.
Tidbit: War of the Arrows!! Great South Korean flick
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7:16AM on 04/04/2014

love this movie

A heart pounding action ride all the way. Oh, and i was lucky to watch this WITH subtitles which thankfully didnt distract me from the terse feel of the film.

I didnt mind the 'no-name' cast and i think it was a wise move because it was all about one man's survival against an evil force of doom instead of say, arnie vs the empire of disposables baddies. You truly feel this guy's determination.

Also the gory special makeup fx were awesome and the hardwork into making them
A heart pounding action ride all the way. Oh, and i was lucky to watch this WITH subtitles which thankfully didnt distract me from the terse feel of the film.

I didnt mind the 'no-name' cast and i think it was a wise move because it was all about one man's survival against an evil force of doom instead of say, arnie vs the empire of disposables baddies. You truly feel this guy's determination.

Also the gory special makeup fx were awesome and the hardwork into making them shows.

Definetly an underrated flick.
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6:43AM on 04/04/2014

Maybe it was a bigger hit in the Netherlands

But I don't know anyone who hasn't seen this film. In fact over here Apocalypto! is a popular thing to yell at someone who suddenly starts running(it has basically replaced "run Forrest, run!"). Anyhow great movie!
But I don't know anyone who hasn't seen this film. In fact over here Apocalypto! is a popular thing to yell at someone who suddenly starts running(it has basically replaced "run Forrest, run!"). Anyhow great movie!
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6:21AM on 04/04/2014
Love this movie. I think it was a brilliantly balanced movie with good pacing. Even the introduction to the village was a heart felt window into the humor and lives of the villagers establishing the characters personalities very early on. This in turn made the situation of the film even more emotional. An amazing piece of film making, and I wish Mel would direct more. I think Noah would have benefited from his direction.
Love this movie. I think it was a brilliantly balanced movie with good pacing. Even the introduction to the village was a heart felt window into the humor and lives of the villagers establishing the characters personalities very early on. This in turn made the situation of the film even more emotional. An amazing piece of film making, and I wish Mel would direct more. I think Noah would have benefited from his direction.
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5:18AM on 04/04/2014

Amazing Movie !!!!

Saw it twice in a row at the theater ! IMHO it's not " the best movie you never saw " : 40 million bugbet, 50 million at the US boxoffice, 69 million at the overseas boxoffice = 120 millions worldwilde boxoffice ! C'mon !!!
RE EXTRA TIDBIT :
- avalon (mamoru oshii)
- Joint Security Area (Chan Wook Park)
- timecrimes (les chronocrimenes) (nacho vigalondo)
- Everything is illuminated (Liev Schrierber)
- A perfect Getaway (david Twohy)
- Punishment Park (Peter Watkins)
- The Wages of
Saw it twice in a row at the theater ! IMHO it's not " the best movie you never saw " : 40 million bugbet, 50 million at the US boxoffice, 69 million at the overseas boxoffice = 120 millions worldwilde boxoffice ! C'mon !!!
RE EXTRA TIDBIT :
- avalon (mamoru oshii)
- Joint Security Area (Chan Wook Park)
- timecrimes (les chronocrimenes) (nacho vigalondo)
- Everything is illuminated (Liev Schrierber)
- A perfect Getaway (david Twohy)
- Punishment Park (Peter Watkins)
- The Wages of Fear (HG Clouzot)
- Mar Adentro (Alejandro Amenabar)
- Enter The Void (gaspard Noé)
- Europa Europa ( Agnieszka Holland)
- Come and See (Elem Klimov)
- Primer (Shane Carruth)
- Anonymous (Roland Emmerich, yes !)
- Elite Squad (Jose Padhila)
- The Way Back (Peter Weir)
- I saw the devil (Kim Ji Woon)
- Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring

so many movies to Watch, so little time in a life....
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5:47AM on 04/04/2014
I love Joint Security Area - such an underrated movie.
I love Joint Security Area - such an underrated movie.
9:50AM on 04/04/2014
Everything Is Illuminated, Way Back, and A Perfect Getaway are all good films.
Everything Is Illuminated, Way Back, and A Perfect Getaway are all good films.
4:16AM on 04/04/2014
I think the movie was misunderstood as it wasn't released in English language. But if you give it a chance like I did, you'll really like this movie. It's not your usual action films. Extra tidbit: The Day of the Jackal and Copycat.
I think the movie was misunderstood as it wasn't released in English language. But if you give it a chance like I did, you'll really like this movie. It's not your usual action films. Extra tidbit: The Day of the Jackal and Copycat.
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