Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Apocalpto Now

It’s hard to know who to trust anymore when it comes to film criticism.

This weekend Dazed and Confused was being shown on the TV so after a quick Google of reviews (all very positive) I bothered to watch it.
It wasn’t so much “crap” as utterly pointless—which is ironically fitting I suppose but when it comes to wasting my own time watching film-makers and actors wasting their time along with mine, I prefer it to be a spontaneous act of lethargy on my part rather than being due to professional persuasion.

I’ve been burned too many times before; the Unbearable Lightness of Being was recommended by Siskel and Ebert basically because at a couple of points legitimate European actresses got naked and simulated horniness wearing floppy couture hats. X-Men II added a second dimension to its characters, Star Wars 27—Revenge of The Lack of Pith was “dark” and explained everything no-one cared about and pretty much already knew.

I realize that the province of critiquing movie dross really belongs to World O’ Crap (MST3K having been long gone) but Scott can’t be everywhere at once and he has a lot of catching up to do, so where might one turn for honest advice and informed opinion on upcoming soon-to-be-released gobs of digitally enhanced celluloid magic?
Why FOX of course!

It happens that Father Jonathan Morris (Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch’s roving religious reporter) is also a movie critic!.
You may have read his resounding and non-partisan approval of “The Passion of The Christ” and it’s uplifting message that the torture and death of a single cult figure that was the fault of a handful of Jews is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago when tens of thousands of Jesus’s devout believers, incapable of overpowering a couple of dozen roman soldiers to crowbar him off a cross simply wandered by and told him to “hang in there.”
he subject of Father Morris’s latest critique (he’s not a biological father—at least as far as he knows, being a Catholic priest and all) is Mel Gibson’s new film Apocalypto.

“Never before had I made an intercontinental flight to see a movie. But that's what I did this month when I accepted Mel Gibson's invitation to preview and critique his new film “Apocalypto,” (scheduled to appear in theaters on December 8th) says this pastor of pop-culture.
I didn't make the trek across the ocean for entertainment value. My work as a consultant on and off the set of Gibson's “Passion of the Christ,” gave me a new appreciation of the power of well-made, serious, and widely-distributed movies. They influence culture. They affect the way we think about the story they tell. Sometimes they warp our view of history or of humanity. Other times they inform, inspire, and challenge. But they always leave a mark.”
Hey, if anyone knows anything about affecting the way people think, the warping of history and humanity and leaving some kind of mark—who better than a Catholic priest?

“That's why I cared to see Gibson's first post-“Passion” production” he goes on (presumably caring more about the product of genius than the all-expenses paid trip that would let him see it). “Yes, movies matter — some more than others. Viewers of the “Passion” know what I mean. Picture for just a second, if you would, Jesus Christ crucified. Remember his face, his bloody face. Look into his eyes, the forgiving and loving ones. What you see is a different image of Jesus. That there is the power of a well-made film! Because I know Mel, his noble intentions and his creative genius, I was eager, though somewhat unconvinced, to see how much his new film would matter.
Mel has done it again! His film matters. That's my critique of “Apocalypto.”

Well, there you go! No ifs, buts, metaphors or subtexts! There’s nothing more Christian than three hours of widescreen bloody sacrifice! But wait, could Apocalypto be more subtle than that?
“Don't get me wrong. This is no sequel to “The Passion of the Christ” writes the Catholic critic, apparently because “Mel just didn't have it in him.”
And I can quite understand that because first of all the sequel to the Passion Of Christ would involve about half an hour of Jesus being taken down from the cross some wailing and gnashing, cave closed, rock rolled away, ascending into heaven and then what? Two hours of clouds and angels and Morgan Freeman in a white suit washing the floors and pretending to be all wise and whatever? Nu-uhh! That would be blasphemous!

“Some of his fervent fans will be disappointed if they were hoping for another religious epic. He doesn't see himself as a prophet, a spiritual director, or a religious role model” opines our dog-collared dogmatist.
Not because most of Mel’s most fervent fans have his occasional buttock shots saved on a continuous loop for posterity (as it were), but because his most fervent fans admire almost everything in his filmography—as a self destructive vengeful psychotic with a death wish in the Mad Max series of films, or as a self destructive vengeful psychotic with a death wish in the Lethal Weapon movies, or as a vengeful psychotic in Hamlet and Braveheart and The Patriot; but not so much as the guilt ridden victim of science in Forever Young or the burn victim in The Man Without a Face, but still—good looking, great buns and mostly vengeful psychotic victim of something or other, so what’s not to love and forgive?

“But he knows how to make movies, and he has been making good and responsible ones for a very long time continues Christ’s critic, coyly failing to highlight the family values and respect for authority so rvident in the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon series—not to mention the success of the very entertaining but utterly pagan Braveheart that bankrolled the Passion of Christ. No indeed, no lucre is filthy once it is put to God’s work!

But enough of the past, what of the immediate future—namely the just in time for Christmas release of Apocalypto?
“Of all of his past films, this one most resembles Braveheart. The only difference is that it takes place in an ancient Mayan jungle, (instead of the Scottish jungle ?) is spoken in the ancient Mayan language (instead of a modern Scottish brogue), and is represented by a bunch of unknown actors who, for the most part, had never acted before” (so I guess it’s like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but with Scotsmen playing pre-Christian Middle-Americans).

“Oh yeah” adds our groovy faith-based film-ologist, ”and the story is not about Scotland's fight for independence from the Brits” (because that was called Braveheart and he died in the end and this is called Apocalypto), “but rather the fight for personal and spiritual independence of a hero who risks his life to free himself from an opulent, but now decaying pre-European Mayan culture.” (a hero who frees himself but no-one else?)

Despite his overall praise Father Morris does find some room for actual criticism:
“Warning: count on a few typical Gibsonian scenes that my sensitivities could have done without (one in particular was unnecessarily vulgar). I suggest you watch it alone before you take your kids.”
I can only assume he is referring to unnecessary buttock-action and whatnot of a heathen sexual implication instead of scenes of bloody torture.
So, though Father Jonathan Morris raves “Mel’s Done It Again!” I frankly still don’t know what the heaven this movie is about or why I should watch it—other than he says I should. As I said at the beginning of this piece I’ve been burned by film critics before so why should I listen to Father Morris? Because he speaks for God, and you know God is an infallible critic-- just read the Old Testament!


Reel Fanatic said...

I've watched the trailers and read quite a bit about Mel's movie by now, and I must say I have absolutely no idea what the hell it's about ... that, however, has only managed to make me more curious, so maybe that was his devious plan all along

Carl said...

Gibson's oeuvre has become repetitive, from what I've gathered:

Apocalypto = Road Warrior

Braveheart = Thunderdome

Passion = Man Without A Face + Gallipoli - What Women Want = Chicken Run

It's really easy! Give a whirl!

betmo said...

i stopped watching mel gibson in movies of any sort after lethal weapon 64 or something. he plays one character in all of his movies- and i am tired of seeing his character hacked to bits, crucfied, or disembowled. the man can't really act; his directing is marginal at best and he produces crap movies- the patriot anyone? not to mention he is a reprehensible human being. how's that for a critique? i tried to be brief in the interest of allowing other folks to weight in- how goes it?

Anonymous said...

If only Father Morris had had some hint that Mel might indulge in unnecessary vulgarity. Given that Morris has no problem with Mel's sadomasochistic wallowing in bloodshed (because, parishioners, it is Your Lord up there on that movie screen, so how could it be in poor taste? It's simply what we know The Son of God underwent, thanks to the incredibly detailed and lingering, drop-by-drop accounts in the Gospels, after all), he must be referring to S-E-X. Which is always unnecessarily vulgar and must be stopped.

sumo said...

I need to know what you mean in regards to pagan in Braveheart.

—not to mention the success of the very entertaining but utterly pagan Braveheart that bankrolled the Passion of Christ.

Just curious. There are so many historical ways I could disect that would make Mellie's head spin and spew pea soup. Such poetic license I have never seen! Making self righteous noises now.

Christopher said...

I'm somewhat of a mesoamerica-phile, so I've been fairly interested in this movie.

Honestly, though, the more I hear about it the less interesting it sounds.

I originally thought it was going to be about the arrival of Spanish conquerors and the way they profoundly changed and damaged Mayan culture; A movie that looked at the intense destruction that came with the arrival of the Europeans while refusing to romanticise away the brutality of native cultures could be an extremely powerful viewing experience, and to boot would be a very fascianting follow-up to The Passion of the Christ, seeing as how Christ's death and the religion that formed around it lead directly to the atrocities in central America.

But now it kinda sounds, well, dull.

It just sounds like it hits on all the Mayan cliches; the decline after the classic period, the brutal human sacrifices.

It's like, yeah, I know about those already.

How about a movie that portrays Mayan culture as not actually particularly horrible for the times?