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Mark Palermo reconsiders Mel Gibson.

Nothing in Mel Gibson’s brutal Apocalypto makes a case for the superstar’s now frequently questioned sanity. And the film is better for it. Gibson fashions the year’s most posh, aggressive and, yes, insane action epic—the equivalent of Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog teaming up to make Death Wish VI.

This isn’t a way of letting Apocalypto slip by with a passing grade. Barely a good movie, in its visionary fury it becomes a great one. I’m fond of it.

That statement needs clarification after my pan of The Passion of the Christ—if anything, Apocalypto cements Gibson’s last directing outing as a grisly exploitation feature. By moving beyond the view of moviegoing-punishment as a form of spiritual cleansing, Apocalypto’s violence attains a visceral power. Passion’s, by contrast, was gross and obnoxious.

Gibson steps into the Central American forests of Mayan culture without recognizable stars or dialect, his camera lingering on the natural world. There’s danger lurking around every corner; as viewers, we feel as though we’re on a different planet. It’s a vision of the world’s death, set hundreds of years ago. The thesis that a civilization must be internally ruined before an outside party can destroy it is as head-y as Apocalypto gets. Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel argues instead that technologically developed civilizations will always prevail over those less advanced. But the context of a culture at war with itself allows a fierce and thrilling look at the threat of animal instincts gone wild. When captive brothers Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) and Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) mournfully speak after seeing their father killed, the movie even reaches a poetic quality. Jaguar Paw looks to the night sky as a reach for, and skepticism of, the divine. It’s the kind of contemplative moment Gibson should have provided more frequently. Evoking of Carl Dreyer in facial close-ups of men and women in spiritual crisis offers a needed moral reflex to the relentless action.

Gibson might get off on shocking you, but that response is worth something. There’s a disturbing shift between joy and grief that characters experience, depending on their feelings toward the person killed. It’s how Gibson, despite his excesses, won’t let barbarism look heroic. Comparisons to Malick, Herzog and Dreyer in an Apocalypto review isn’t overselling this achievement. It took him a long time to get here, and he might have lost his mind in the process, but Mel Gibson is a real artist.

The Holiday

The Holiday’s postcard romances exude false modesty, but it’s also a fraudulent Christmas movie. It joins a list of recent seasonal comedies, even the best of which never risk spiritual transcendence. (For that, you need to go back to 1988’s Scrooged.) Take out the Christmas carols and The Holiday is just another whiny Nancy Meyers flick.

Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is a successful LA editor of movie trailers, but she’s unlucky in love and unable to cry. (Double points for guessing her two breakthroughs.) Iris is a journalist living in London, played by Kate Winslet. They discover romantic possibilities when they trade houses for the holidays.

As Amanda falls for Brit Graham (Jude Law), and Iris for American Miles (Jack Black), Meyers doesn’t even engage the new couples with personality clashes. These perfect couples are only inconvenienced by geography. To find this heartwarming is to willfully ignore its tackiness. It’s fast-food merchandising of the heart.

Head to the drive-thru. write:


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