Apocalypto. The final chase scene in The Road Warrior remains one of the great action sequences of all time. Mel Gibson, the star of that movie, who has in the years since become a major international movie star, a director, and an all-around crackpot, works backwards from that scene (he has said he wanted to make a car chase that took place on foot). To get to the chase scene, Gibson has us sit through close to two hours of historical fiction about the Mayan civilization, piling up more gore than you’ve likely ever seen a movie before. Imagine if Spielberg had been serious when he had the goofy religious guy pull out people’s hearts in that Indiana Jones movie … Gibson has several such scenes, not meant to get the kid in us to squeal in delight but to make the grownup in us want to vomit. From the much-remarked-upon scene of a man eating the testicles of a just-killed wild boar, to beheadings that end with the remains bouncing down a long stairway while the masses shout their approval, Apocalypto has a kitchen-sink approach to violence that is impressive, if also revolting and essentially stupid. When the chase scene finally arrives, it’s a doozy … Gibson learned a lot from George Miller, there are some very exciting moments in this movie … but it’s all wrapped in a package that promises far more than it can deliver (even the title is overwrought). Whatever Gibson thinks this movie is about, and it’s not clear even he knows, the result is pornographic, for better or worse.
Gigi. There was an interesting mini-discussion of nostalgia in the comments thread for a post last week, and watching this movie felt like an addendum to that conversation. I give Gigi 10 out of 10 … the average rating at the IMDB is 7.0, at MovieLens the average is 3.62 out of 5. Suffice to say, I rate this higher than most people … they like it, I love it. My love is hard to explain, though, without admitting to a feeling of nostalgia, because Gigi was one of my parents’ favorite movies. They owned the soundtrack album and played it often, and while I was grown and out of the house by the time VCRs made their appearance, I believe Gigi was one of the first movies they owned. The movie, of course, has nostalgia built right into it, culminating in Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold singing “I Remember It Well.” Makes sense that the older I get, the more charmed I am by that song, if “more charmed” is possible when I was totally charmed the first time I heard it as a kid. Here’s the thing, though. Gigi came out in 1958, and I assume my parents saw it in a theater … it wouldn’t have been on TV for some years, there was no tape to buy. And they, like everyone, loved “I Remember It Well,” which so perfectly captures old lovers as they look back. Like I say, I liked the song when I was a little kid … you don’t have to be an old lover to appreciate it … but it clearly carries more resonance the older you are. When I was a kid, my parents loved that song a lot more than I did, and I do recall how much it meant to them, how they loved to sing along. But here’s the thing: in 1958, my dad was 34 years old and my mom was 30. That seems pretty young to be already “remembering when.”
Coraline. In the mid-80s, I wrote short fiction for a couple of years as part of a series of creative writing classes. In one story, a hermit-like woman lived in an old house, with no contact with the outside world except for the mail that came each day. Her mail box was a slot in the wall at the front of the house … the mailman would open a flap and drop the mail through the slot onto the floor. One day, a letter got caught in the slot, and as the woman tried to pry it free, she discovered that the mail slot had an opening. She reached in, eventually working her whole body into the crevice. Finally she fell through a hole on some other side, and found a room full of the people whose names appeared on the junk mail she received. The story ended when all of the people filled the room … it became so crowded the woman fell to the ground, where she was trampled to death. In another story, a young boy whose father died found himself in an odd relationship with his widowed mother. She would give him sadomasochistic porn and they would act out the scenes ... she would burn her son with cigarettes, stuff like that. Coraline is arguably a kids’ movie, but if you’re wondering whether to let your own kids watch it, know that the stories I wrote would fit right in to Coraline. It’s an extremely disturbing movie. In the end, I was impressed without really liking it much. It’s quite an achievement, there isn’t much else like it out there, and it’s certainly better than Kung Fu Panda. So I guess I better give it a higher rating than I did for that dud.