+ "Apocalypto": On the pro side â€” Scott Foundas at LA Weekly declares the film "a virtuosic piece of action cinema," and beyond that, "while there has been no shortage of recent films that decry the horrors of war and manâ€™s inhumanity to his fellow man, I know of none other quite this sickeningly powerful." Armond White at the New York Press is rapturous, writing:
Apocalypto runs second to the yearâ€™s most extraordinary example of silent film art, JuliÃ¡n HernÃ¡ndezâ€™s Broken Sky, where clueless critics complained about the lack of dialogue. Gibson transcends that cultural barrier by insisting on linguistic realism (Yucatec with English subtitles), and this rigor compliments the integrity of his vivid imagery (photographed by Dean Semler). Scenes of Jaguar Paw chased by a jaguar or lying between tall tree branches bring to mind John Boormanâ€™s anthropological vistas in The Emerald Forest. But the way Gibson connects Jaguar Pawâ€™s agony and release to a sense of the world and the amazement of natural phenomena resurrects ancient movie virtues.
[This is the second "Broken Sky" mention White drops in this issue alone â€” it’s at least the fourth one since he actually reviewed the film three months ago. Not that we’re counting.]
Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly thinks that "the Mel Gibson part of the marquee is crucial to the full…appreciation of this astonishing, id-soaked work. And if astonishing, id-soaked’ ends up in the ads, then marketers have simplified my meaning." Still, she thinks it’s worthwhile viewing, even is "there’s so much dark material jammed into this complicated, conflicted, challenging, and charismatic man’s own noggin that sometimes he knows not, I think, what he’s done."
Not-so-pro: A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who praises Gibson’s technical skill and serious aspirations, while allowing that this "is not to say that ‘Apocalypto’ is a great film, or even that it can be taken quite as seriously as it wants to be." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon suggests the title should actually have been "APOCALYPTO!" â€” he writes that "Mel Gibson has serious issues with violence and masculinity, and if there’s really ‘Oscar buzz"’around this picture, then everyone in Hollywood really is an idiot. There are about 10 truly amazing minutes in ‘Apocalypto’… And that’s about it."
At Slate, Dana Stevens finds that "You don’t leave Apocalypto thinking of the decline of civilizations or the power of myth or anything much except, wow, that is one sick son of a bitch." Despite (or because of) this, she admits that "Apocalypto does have a weird and undeniable power." And over at the Village Voice, in a uncharacteristically sassy review, J. Hoberman cuts loose with his summary:
[T]his lavishly punishing picture is the third panel in Gibson’s "Ordeal" triptych. The Martyrdom of the Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ have nothing on The Misadventures of the Jaguar Paw, junior citizen of a generally jovial, practical-joke-loving 16th-century Central American social unit. Given the absence of any identification, and with regard to their good looks and family values (that is, keeping pet monkeys and having babies), these noble savages might be called the Sugar Tit tribe.
Needless to say, he’s not a fan.
+ "Off the Black": James Ponsoldt‘s slight directorial debut stars Nick Nolte playing extra-disheveled, if that’s possible, and has gotten decent to "meh" reviews. Stephen Holden at the New York Times writes that
This modest film could easily have skidded into the mawkish marshland where countless mentor-protege, father-son dramas have suffocated. But for the most part it steers away from the worst clichÃ©s of that tear-drenched genre.
He also notes of Nolte (who seems to be the main reason for seeing the film) that in his recent wreck roles "you often have the sense of this wonderful actor casting a pitiless, smirking gaze into the mirror as he contemplates his own decaying magnificence."
Rob Nelson at the Village Voice
goes as far as to suggest that "Off the Black belongs on the shelf beside
recent peers Spring Forward and Old Joy; it’s not as deep or resonant
as those two, but despite extraneous supporting characters (i.e.,
women), it’s likewise concerned with lamenting, and dare we say
expanding the limitations of men’s communication skills."
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon finds that the film is "so restrained, and holds back so much on conventional plot and characterization, that its emotional impact is severely blunted. Nolte is excellent, I suppose, but we’ve seen this damaged-American-dude shtick from him before." And at indieWIRE, Nick Pinkerton adores Nolte but concludes that "Ponsoldt’s gentleness with his cast is promising, but there’s still a long way to go."
+ "Family Law": This comedic drama from Argentine director Daniel Burman is also getting decent to "meh" reviews (well, where it is reviewed â€” tough time of year for the truly small indies). Ella Taylor at the Village Voice quite likes the film, writing that
Like his equally father-fixated, and equally wonderful, 2003 film Lost Embrace, Burman’s beguiling tribute to his Jewish fatherâ€”or, for all I know, the one he wishes he hadâ€”is warm and deep enough to give humanism a good name.
Andrew O’Hehir at Salon labels that film "an alternately charming and frustrating comic entertainment," while Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly sighs that "Family Law is well acted, but if Antoine Doinel had been nearly this serene, Truffaut‘s career would have petered out after three films." Stephen Holden at the New York Times writes that "this likable, if undramatic film â€” the antithesis of Hollywood movies in which father-son Oedipal conflicts are resolved in embarrassing, teary-eyed clinches â€” makes a case for reticence." And Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE amusingly semi-praises that "I don’t go to the movies looking for modest intentions any more than your average baseball fan goes to the stadium hoping to see some well laid-down bunts, but Daniel Burman’s ‘Family Law’ is cause for exception," a sentiment that seems particularly relevant this year.