Suf­fer­ing Mel Gib­son

Mel Gib­son’s Mayan epic is sadis­tic tosh, says Ger­ald Aaron

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS/ -

Apoca­lypto (18)

Watch­ing Mel Gib­son pro­mot­ing his over­done, over­long, overbloody Mayan In­dian epic by play­ing the role of sin­cere his­tor­i­cal chron­i­cler made me re­call Henry Ford’s dic­tum that “his­tory is bunk”.

While co-pro­ducer-di­rec­tor Gib­son and co-writer Farhad Safinia re­port­edly con­sulted “world-renowned ar­chae­ol­o­gist and ex­pert on the Maya” Dr Richard D Han­son, their screen­play and the film it­self owe much more to Hol­ly­wood’s box-of­fice needs than to his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy. And that is de­spite the in­tel­lec­tual ve­neer of sub­ti­tled di­a­logue in an­cient Yu­catec, a cast of Na­tive Amer­i­can un­knowns and all the Mayan civil­i­sa­tion pe­riod de­tail money can buy.

Gib­son out­does all his pre­vi­ous cel­lu­loid sadism — the film takes in ex­plicit dis­em­bow­elling, the rit­ual rip­ping out of hu­man hearts, de­cap­i­ta­tion and gen­eral all-round bru­tal­ity.

This is all in the ser­vice of a sto­ry­line cen­tred on brave jun­gle hunter Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who is taken cap­tive by in­vad­ing war­riors and cru­elly marched through the jun­gle to their hellish city to be sac­ri­ficed by hav­ing his liv­ing heart torn out of his body.

Jaguar Paw man­ages to es­cape and, killing his pur­suers, saves his wife, young son and new-born child

A tribe of South Amer­i­can In­di­ans get into hot wa­ter in “Apoca­lypto” from death by drown­ing. This fi­nal, long, one-damn-thing-af­ter-an­other chase se­quence is un­doubt­edly well di­rected, tense and ex­cit­ing, but for all its lo­ca­tion-set flour­ishes, the set-up and its ex­e­cu­tion hark back to sim­ple-minded Satur­day-morn- ing se­ri­als and an­cient cliffhang­ing melo­dra­mas.

Vis­ually and vis­cer­ally, there is much to ad­mire. “Apoca­lypto” looks im­pres­sive — the re­cre­ation of the an­cient Mayan city is stun­ning and Gib­son han­dles crowds and ac­tion im­pres­sively.

What is con­sid­er­ably less im­pres­sive, though, is the di­rec­tor’s ap­par­ent de­light in pain and suf­fer­ing for its own sake. In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, “Apoca­lypto” is cun­ningly con­trived sadis­tic schlock mas­querad­ing as art. A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion (PG)

Di­rected by the Robert Alt­man, who died last year, it would be nice to say that this fa­ble about the fi­nal broad­cast of cel­e­brated Amer­i­can writer Gar­ri­son Keiller’s long-run­ning ra­dio show is a mas­ter­piece. Sadly, it is not.

The ensem­ble cast, in­clud­ing Meryl Streep, Lily Tom­lin, Kevin Kline, Woody Har­rel­son, Tommy Lee Jones, Lind­say Lo­han and Keiller him­self, is strik­ing. And it is fair to say that Alt­man’s great­est achieve­ment when mak­ing the film back in 2005 was to at­tract so many starry names for such a shal­low project. They cer­tainly give their all (apart from Lo­han, who is out of her depth), but should not re­ally have both­ered. Nor should you. Miss Pot­ter (PG)

This gen­tle, fac­tual (in cin­e­matic terms, at any rate) tale of cel­e­brated chil­dren’s au­thor Beatrix Pot­ter casts Texan Renée Zell­weger as the English cre­ator of such beloved char­ac­ters as Mrs Tig­gy­win­kle, Peter Rab­bit and Squir­rel Nutkin.

Ed­war­dian Lon­don and the Lake Dis­trict are lov­ingly recre­ated as a back­ground for Zell­weger’s at­trac­tively low-key (her English ac­cent is im­pec­ca­ble) por­trait of a vir­ginal wo­man de­ter­mined to break out of her com­fort­able, slightly op­pres­sive life and suc­ceed on her own protofem­i­nist terms.

The slen­der story (well writ­ten by Richard Maltby Jr) co-stars Ewan McGre­gor as Pot­ter’s pub­lisher and ro­man­tic in­ter­est and is ef­fi­ciently di­rected by Christo­pher Noo­nan.

It ex­udes charm, the act­ing is ex­cel­lent (apart from McGre­gor’s wooden con­tri­bu­tion), but it is a slight show that, for all its big-screen flour­ishes, would be at home on television.

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