While trying to finish up lots of odds and ends before Christmas, I saw one of the most controversial films of the year – Apocalypto. It’s Mel Gibson’s latest blood-soaked opus that finally answers the question – how violent was pre-Conquistador Central America? The answer, at least according to Mel?
Pretty damn violent.
The verdict? Actually, surprisingly positive. While it’s hard to separate Mel Gibson the man from Mel Gibson the filmmaker nowadays, and it’s tempting to call his movie-making a grotesque cross between early Peter Jackson gore-fests and historical revisionism on par with D.W. Griffith (does anyone remember The Passion of the Christ? Of course you do, what with the cat-o-nine-tails whipping and nasty anti-Semitism), Apocalypto is actually worth seeing. It’s actually pretty awesome.
First off, the good. Mel deserves a lot of credit for making a film that features entirely First Nations actors and is almost fanatically obsessed with authenticity. The film looks incredible, right down to the details of the Mayan civilization and the use of ancient Mayan in the film’s dialects. This is cinematic realism at its most intense and visceral; Mel pushes the boundaries so far with this film that you wonder, especially during the scenes in the Mayan capital, if this is as close as you can get to the real thing.
Now, the bad. Mel – hardly a filmmaker known for subtle, nuanced portraits of characters – once again falls into the trap of the black-and-white motif. All the captured villagers, led by Jaguar Paw, are innocents, while the Mayans (in an eerie and obvious nod to today’s decadent, post-Classical America) are evil incarnate, their ways of ritual sacrifice sick, twisted and naive. While a civilization rots, the aristocracy feed off the blood of innocents while the desperate masses, terrified of the future, beg for deliverance on the backs of the dead. Sound vaguely familiar?
Note on the violence part: the film’s not as violent as Braveheart (does anyone remember the battle of Stirling scene? Hello knifes to the eyes!), but be warned. The ritual sacrifice scene is pretty horrendous, although it pales in comparison to the pit of bodies Jaguar Paw ends up falling into (not for the faint of heart).
Overall, it’s worth seeing. Just don’t get too caught up in the violence.
SPORTS CHALLENGE: The Globe’s Stephen Brunt this weekend talked about who’s up for the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s sports athlete of the year. This year, as 2006 comes to an end, has been a great year for Canadian athletes, one of the best in a long time (if not the best ever). And, as the Globe rightly pointed out, there’s no shortage of contenders. The Globe put four principal contenders out there: Cindy Klassen, Steve Nash, Justin Morneau and Joe Thornton.
Thornton has no chance in this field in spite of his NHL MVP award and the Art Ross Trophy last year (I mean, Canadian and good at hockey, damn that’s a stretch…). Justin Morneau may have pulled off the American League MVP and had a fantastic year for a small-market squad like the Minnesota Twins (thereby assuring he will likely defect to the Red Sox, or worse, Yankees, in a few years), but he’s not the first Canadian to win a baseball MVP award. No, the two greatest of them all this year were easily Klassen and Nash.
So who’s worthy here of the prize?
On paper, it’s easy to give this to Nash. Two straight MVP awards in the ego-driven, sometimes-insufferable NBA (hey, I live in Toronto, I call it as I see it), a great person and true team player whom has turned the Phoenix Suns into one of the league’s best.
Still, it shouldn’t go to Nash.
Cindy Klassen became Canada’s most successful Olympian ever this year. Winning five medals at Turin was an amazing accomplishment to watch (and believe me, I watched, did I ever, covering the Games was made all the better because of her) and she really was the big feel-good story of the Turin Winter Olympics. She did something remarkable, broke new ground in speed skating and Canadian sport in general and did it all with grace and humility. She deserves this entirely.