Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Lost City of Z Review

With "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" having been released this past weekend, Hollywood's summer is officially underway and it's going to be a big one in terms of the number of big releases coming our way. Hopefully the overall quality is a step up from last summer. "The Lost City of Z" is NOT a summer movie, though. It's in fact an April holdover. It was released on April 14 in four theaters to an impressive $110,175. Due to that high per theater average and strong critical reviews it expanded throughout the month and finally hit theaters in my city towards the end of April. With all the other studios avoiding Marvel's latest big release, I took advantage of the empty time to catch up on this film. An independent film with good reviews was enough to get me to theaters, even though I knew close to nothing about the movie. Speaking of April releases, though, there's a lot that I ended up skipping. Thus if you were looking forward to my reviews of "Smurfs: The Lost Village," "How to be a Latin Lover," "The Circle," "The Case for Christ," "Born in China," "Unforgettable," "The Promise," "Free Fire" or "Sleight," well, sorry. They're probably not going to happen. I might catch up on a few of those later in the year, but I don't think reviews will come.

Moving forward with "The Lost City of Z," as I said, this is a movie that I knew practically nothing about. I knew it had good reviews, the box office for a film of its size was good (up to $6.8 million so far) and it probably had something to do with a lost city. But you know, I don't often get the experience of going to a movie completely blind and when an independent film like this comes out of nowhere to get a nationwide expansion after solid reviews, I often like to take that chance. So that's what I did here. If you love seeing all kinds of movies and you want to go in blind like me, then feel free to close this review and head out to the theater because I think this is a good movie worth seeing. I'm assuming, though, that most of you are wondering what in the heck is this movie and you're going to need a bit more description about what this is. And outside the big movie buffs who are fine with seeing everything, I do think this is the type of movie that's worth knowing what you're getting into before you dive in because I don't think it's the type of movie that everyone is going to love, as is shown by it's 88 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to its 63 percent audience score. It's a slow-paced journey through a thick wilderness, both literally and metaphorically.

Long story short, this is a biopic of a man named Percy Fawcett, a British explorer in the early 1900's with a rather fascinating story. In 1906, he was charged by the Royal Geographical Society to go to the jungle in South America around Brazil and Bolivia to map out the area. The society was commissioned to do this as an unbiased third party. On this trip, Fawcett and his team run into some ruins that lead Fawcett to believe that there is an ancient city hidden in the jungle and he gains a life-long fascination to find the ruins of this city that he chooses to call "Z." If you happen to know all about Percy Fawcett and the different stories and myths that his personal story has inspired, you know how this turns out. If you have no idea about Fawcett, but this basic description has you curious to know more, then just be warned that if you look up his Wikipedia page in an effort to learn more and find different articles and books written about him, just know that this movie will probably be spoiled for you within seconds. I looked up his Wikipedia page after seeing the movie because I always like reading up on people's real lives after seeing a biopic to do a comparison of what I saw in the movie and within two sentences, this movie is spoiled. Just take that as a warning.

What's really interesting about this movie is that in general I think we as humans have a fascination towards the unknown. We like mysteries and it's almost better when a mystery is left unsolved because sometimes its anticlimactic when when we learn the answer to the mystery. This movie is definitely shrouded in mystery as it tells the real life story of a man searching for an ancient, mythical city that may or may not actually exist. Atlantis and El Dorado are two rather famous examples in fiction of cities that people are always searching for. In fact, this movie reminded me a lot of a live action version of the 2000 DreamWorks Animation movie "The Road to El Dorado." In fact, El Dorado and Z might actually be the same city. "The Road to El Dorado" is obviously a fictional film about people finding El Dorado and is similar to Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," which came out a year later. But the general premise is the same. Except "The Lost City of Z" is a whole heck of a lot more searching and is about actual events that happened to a guy who got obsessed with finding this city after seeing potential evidence of its existence. Thus I was on the edge of my seat as I was curious to discover the answers that this man spent his life searching for.

As my biggest criticism, I will say that this movie feels really long. It's just under two and half hours at 141 minutes, but it felt like I was in the theater for three hours from when the movie started. There were several moments where I honestly felt like the movie was heading into its final act, but then it kept going and we went on several more adventures through the wilderness after I first thought the movie was going to end. Given the story it was telling, this length was a necessary thing as I think rushing this movie or cutting out some of the adventures would've compromised the overall experience as I imagine there's even more about this man's life that they didn't get to. Thus I imagine a 13-episode Netflix show may have been the best way to do this story complete justice, but they decided to go with the movie version and thus I think they did the best they could in telling this story in their chosen format. If you want to know more, I imagine the book that this movie is based off of might be your cup of tea. But if you go into the movie, just be prepared for what you are getting yourself into. Thus given that I went into this movie completely blind, it was a bit of an unpleasant surprise that we kept going and going with no signs of an end in sight.

I still enjoyed the journey, though. I really, really wanted to discover this lost city with them and thus I was sold. Unlike many summer blockbusters that we are about to all see, this movie is not action-packed and it's not super suspenseful. Yes, there are parts where the suspense is super high, especially when they come in contact with various native Amazonian tribes that they wrongfully refer to as Indians. But most of this is adventure through the wilderness. And the transitions from each phase of the movie to the next are a little too smooth, if that makes any sense. This movie covers 20 years of time. Most movies that do this make it abundantly clear with sharp cuts when they jump into the future. This movie doesn't always do that. We're just pressing forward with our journey and suddenly we're in the future. There were several moments where I thought we were experiencing a flashback, a memory or a dream, but we were actually in the present and had jumped forward a bit of time. This wasn't always bad, but it did catch me off guard and thus I would say this was an interesting stylistic choice that you have to get used to as the movie goes along. The ending also caught me off guard a bit, but I won't dive too much into that. After thinking about it, things made sense.

Overall, this movie comes with an interesting recommendation from me. It's definitely a bit of a non-typical adventure movie, thus I can't necessarily recommend this to everyone. But if you get too bogged down with the slate of summer blockbusters and you need a change of pace, a change of pace is exactly what you're going to get here and it's quite possible that you will find this super refreshing as it's a movie a bit like "National Treasure" or "Indiana Jones" without all the fast-paced action that those movies bring. We're just wandering around in the jungle with this man and his team searching for something mythical and it's kind of fun in its own unique way. Without giving much detail away, I will also quickly throw in there that this is not all about adventure. There's a lot of family themes in the movie as this man tries to balance his adventures with his family life and probably doesn't focus as much on family as he probably should, so there's lessons to be learned there. The movie also stars Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland and I had no idea it was any of them until the end credits informed me, so pleasant surprise there with them disappearing into their roles. Overall, I'm going to give "The Lost City of Z" an 8/10.

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