Mel Gibson has done it again. This time he takes that old staple of action films – the chase – and wraps it in the cautionary tale about a dying ancient culture. Told primarily from the viewpoint of one young warrior of a Mayan clan, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), Gibson moves from the idyll of simple village life to the horror of a slaver attack and the captives’ gruesome sacrifice to the gods in “Apocalypto.”
Laura's Review: B+
Mayan civilization threatens the extinction of its simpler living peoples, but one man, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), will introduce them to their end in "Mel Gibson's Apocalypto." Cowriter (with Farhad Safinia)/director Mel Gibson puts all his psychoses on screen and comes out an auteur, a director of distinctive vision if troubled mind. While it is easy to recognize previous films in the director's third work - the torture of blue painted people ("Braveheart"), mythic signs from the heavens ("The Passion of the Christ") - he takes us someplace no filmmaker ever has before. "Apocalypto" is a terrific, brutally violent action film wrapped in Gibson's need for spiritual purging via physical torment, all capped off with an ironic, "Planet of the Apes" style ending. Gibson's love of the Three Stooges is apparent as he introduces his native Mayan hunters, all having a macho laugh at the expense of Blunted (Jonathan Brewer), a gentle giant who has not yet impregnated his wife. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), the son of village chief Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead), tricks Blunted into eating the testicles of the tapir the group has just bagged. In apparent sympathy, Flint Sky advises the young man with even more hilarious and ribald results back at the village. These native Americans speaking in Yucatec are just normal folk, Gibson is telling us, with loved ones and the love of a good story or joke. That night, though, Jaguar Paw has a prophetic dream, seeing the unknown tribesman they ran across earlier telling him to run. As he awakens, he realizes the village is being raided and hides his pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and their young son in a pit. A savage group led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo, "The New World") torches their homes, killing many in the process. A particularly sadistic warrior, Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios), taunts Jaguar Paw by killing his father for sport. Then Paw and other able bodied are shackled together and led away, leaving the helpless children behind. After a long trek towards the city, Jaguar Paw and the others begin to perceive their fate by watching the strange goings on around them. Forced laborers are coated in white dust while those at the opposite strata of society are elaborately made up in shades of green, feathered and heavily bejeweled. Some of their lot are sold at auction, but Jaguar Paw, Blunt and others from their village are painted blue, the sign of sacrifice to the sun god. Atop a Mayan pyramid, a High Priest (Fernando Hernandez, "The Fountain") cuts out the hearts of living blue men before another chops off their heads, which are tossed down the temple steps to the delighted shrieking of the crowd below. But a diseased young girl shunned by Zero Wolf's men outside the city has foretold of blackness during day and a man who brings the jaguar and so when an eclipse cloaks the temple in darkness, Jaguar Paw is spared. He kills Zero Wolf's son making his escape into the jungle and so is hunted himself by the group who enslaved him. Gibson has pulled off an astounding epic with "Apocalypto," from his direction of a cast made up entirely of native Americans, many with little or no acting experience and all speaking a language unknown to them, to the recreation of a civilization only known from ruins. Every aspect of this production is artistically realized, from the elaborate designs of piercings and tattooing to the tonal precision of the madness overtaking a civilization (when Jaguar Paw gets past the city border, he must cross a huge pit of headless corpses - a vision of holocaust by way of Hieronymus Bosch). Action sequences are astounding and magnificently choreographed and photographed - a waterfall leap, a panicked race with a real jaguar. It is also easy to see parallels with Gibson's recreation of the past to the present day, not only in the reflection of a people self-destructing via power, corruption and cruelty but from the arrival of a new threat from distant lands, a people who will force their beliefs, believing they are the proper ones for any man, over those preexisting. Gibson needs to find a new outlet for his predilection for wallowing in gory torture as sanctification of his heroes, but damn if he doesn't find a way to make it work one more time in the spectacularly conceived "Apocalypto."
Robin's Review: B
“A Place…” begins with images of the majestic landscape of America from its thriving cities to its rich, bountiful farmlands and rugged mountains. Then, it gets right to the meat, so to speak, of a problem as seen through the eyes of three people from different parts of the country that have one thing in common – coping with hunger. Barbie is the young, single mother of two in Philadelphia who struggles, daily, to keep her kids fed. Rosie is a second grader living in Colorado who has problems concentrating at school because of hunger and relies on others to feed her. Mississippi grade-schooler Tremonica’s asthma is aggravated by a diet noticeably lacking in nutrition. These three give a face to the problem of hunger in the US and they are joined by an eclectic array of advocates and advisors to hit home the fact that, daily, millions of Americans go hungry. As expected, “A Place at the Table” is awash with statistics about America’s hunger crisis. These stats, though, are not just number crunching but a window into a world that, once upon a time in the 1930s, helped subsidize farmers to make a living income. Now, 70% of all government farm subsidies go to fewer than 10% of the operating farms in the US. It is near guaranteed that this 10% does NOT consist of small, struggling farms but corporations. Documentarians Jacobson and Silverbush delve into the history of hunger in America when President Richard Nixon first declared the War on Hunger and it was eradicated by the end of the 1970s. That changed with Ronal Reagan who was responsible, with his domestic policy, for not just re-introducing the problem of hunger in the US but for making it the epidemic it has become in this country. The question in my mind as all of the evidence of the problem is laid out, is what can be done? The measures taken thus far – food stamps, soup kitchens, food banks and charitable programs – simply are not enough to eliminate hunger. As one of the interviewees, actor Jeff Bridges, puts it (and I paraphrase): We have to wake the people up and demand that government programs be focused on ending hunger in America forever.