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