If any other director had made the spellbinding, visceral Mayan epic Apocalypto, the film would be championed and unquestionably be discussed in Oscar worthy terms. -- Bruce Bennett


I found it amusing and perhaps even amazing that so many critics found fault with this latest Mel Gibson effort. It's like when you post things on the internet that users can vote on and you wind up either amused or amazed that the voting many times comes down to the personality of the writer and not the content of the words. I suppose it's human nature, but it's just plain sad, if you ask me. I mean, did you know Günter Grass was a Nazi when you were salivating over Tin Drum? Did you hate Atlas Shrugged just because Ayn Rand thought folks who work harder than others might be allowed to own nicer stuff? Did you dislike On the Road because it was a piece of worthless crap disguised as a novel? Oh, wait. That last one is just a personal reflection on a recent anniversary of the said piece of worthless crap. It's not a good example in this paragraph. Let's just move on to paragraph two.

I didn't watch The Passion of the Christ because I knew how it was going to end and I didn't need to pay my own money to have someone try and convert me to some religious deal. I saw Braveheart out of the corner of my eye when it was on commercial TV one afternoon, and it didn't do much for me. Mel Gibson as an actor always sort of creeped me out. That final scene when he was disemboweled and tortured with lit cigarettes stayed with me for a while. I think it was when the torturer brought out his little bag of tools that he was going to use. Having him carefully choose the tools with that lit Chesterfield hanging out of his mouth was quite disturbing to me.

Anyway, that's all to say that I don't really know much about Mel Gibson as a director. I do know that he's flat fucking nuts, as can be easily ascertained just by a cursory glance at the bonus material in Apocalypto. Thirty seconds of looking at his eyes as he discusses making this movie is enough to let you know that he's lucky to be allowed to walk the streets without a restraining device, and that he will likely end up in some horrible catastrophe of his own making before it's all said and done. However, that could be said about many folks out in Hollywood, so I set myself to wondering why this particular fellow generates so much bad press when he puts out what I thought was a damn good movie.

I won't bore you with a plot summary or a whole lot of details about this film. It's a small story about a big Empire (the Mayan) and its effects on the local natives when it comes time to find some humans to sacrifice to their gods for the Global Warming that was hurting their tobacco production. Although you don't actually see any Native Americans smoking in this movie, you can tell by their bone structure and the looks on their faces that they were all heavy smokers. There's even one creepy shot of a grown man who must not have been bigger than a basketball.

There are a couple of things in the movie that really bothered me, other that this basketball-guy. The overbearing mother-in-law who is about as eager for grandkids as Cathy's mom in the comics was one. She and Cathy's mom should both be painted blue and have their hearts ripped out while they're forced to watch. Those mother-in-law scenes were hard to watch and should have either been toned down or left out completely. Also, later on when a young girl with smallpox (or some "sickness") prophesizes how the rest of the movie is going to go, that is just silly and pointless. That could have been done by some blind old broad in a dark hut with a monkey's head for a crystal ball and it might have been sellable. But everyone knows that Latin American pre-school orphan girls with smallpox can't tell the future. I mean, come on.

Other than these two items, I found Apocalypto to be fascinating. We watched it on DVD on a big-screen TV, and it's one of the few movies we've watched at home like this that I think would have been twice as good in a real theater. I think I might have even puked if I'd seen it on the big screen. I haven't had a movie make me puke since I drank that bottle of 20% California white wine and ate seven or eight mushrooms before going to see A Clockwork Orange. Every time the doorbell rings, I still get a little flashback on that one. "If he's got on a mask with a long nose, don't open it, honey."

But, as Bruce Bennett (some critic featured on Rotten Tomatoes) says, if anyone else had made this film, it would have been nominated for all sorts of Oscars. Seriously. If Werner Herzog had made this movie, they would be sacrificing grizzly bears to him as well as showering him with accolades. I think we need to try and understand why that didn't happen for Mel Gibson.

I realize that Hollywood doesn't like Christians, so making The Passion of the Christ didn't help his cause any, I suppose. That movie made a shitload of money, however. And you have to know that Hollywood likes money. Even so, it appears that Mel had to finance this project out of his own pocket to the tune of around $75M. It's amazing that he couldn't find someone in Hollywood to finance this for him after his last movie made such an outstanding profit. I mean, they financed Waterworld to the tune of $175M back in 1995 when a M really meant something.

If I said, "Israel is run by Jews," that wouldn't be very controversial, would it? How about if I said, "Hollywood is run by Jews." I mean, they are both incontrovertible facts. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry if that blanket statement offends anyone, but I suppose when Mel was pulled over by some of the same police force that recently put Paris Hilton in jail (for not wearing any underpants as she got out of a car, I think) and he apparently said some harsh things about the Tribal Folks, that didn't help him in Hollywood, either. However, with the somewhat recent attitudes in Europe and on college campii concerning the Jewish legitimacy, I would think that bitchslapping the Jews is akin to supporting a Palestinian State, and that alone should have given Mel some street cred with the cognoscenti. After all, isn't it the cognoscenti who write movie reviews and decide who gets Academy Awards, for the most part?

I guess this is all to say that I just don't get it. Mel is fucked up. Hollywood is fucked up. You'd think they'd make such a beautiful pair. But if you want to see a better car chase movie than Ronin, check out Apocalypto. These sumbitches can run. And they've got cool decals, too.

It's a funny thing, but once someone - Mel Gibson, Jerry Falwell, whoever - shows themselved unequivocally to the world as a bigot, more words tend to get spent in denying that one takes that fact seriously than in condemnation of their views. You know what I'm talking about: all that "oh, it's not because Bernard Manning's a racist, I just don't find his jokes funny", or "David Irving is just wrong, it's a point of academic principle". That sort of thing. It's as if calling someone a racist, sexist or whatever is more shameful than actually being one. Few people want to go on the record with such accusations, and those who do tend to reap a whirlwind.

So when this movie came out, after Mel Gibson embarrassed himself and the world by ripping off an anti-semitic rant pretty much directly into the media, I was really hoping it will do well and save everybody the trouble of endlessly discussing the reasons why. Doesn't seem to have worked.

Was this movie popular with audiences?

Not very is the short answer. In its opening weekend it grossed 15 million dollars in the US. Compare this to some other action/adventure movies from the last few years, such as The Last Samurai ($24.2m), Once Upon a Time in Mexico ($23.4m) or Spider Man 3 (a whopping $151m).

To put it in more human terms, at $12 a ticket that means about 1.25 million people chose to go see Apocalypto when it first opened. Ten times as many - more than the population of New York! - were curious about Blockbuster Spidey, and almost twice as many wanted to see the less commercial, cheaper and generally more off-the-wall conclusion to the Mariachi trilogy.

It seems that not many people wanted to go see Apocalypto. But maybe it was still all worth it...

Was this movie a commercial success?

Well, let's see. The aforementioned $15m in first weekend takings represents 37% of the total budget of the movie, estimated by IMDB at $40m (not sure where Mel sank the other $35m of his own personal money that no one would give him cause everyone hates him). Viewed strictly from the myopic vantage point of the bottom line that movie execs are notorious for, that is bad news. They will have to wait for the return on their investment until such a time – if – later ticket sales, international sales and DVD revenues make up the shortfall.

That's not the end of the world, but it is disappointing compared to the release weekend bonanza of Once Upon a Time (80% of a $29m budget), or even a more down-to-earth 58% for Spider Man Goes Emo. Granted, it's a runaway success compared to Tom Cruise's floppalicious 17%-of-budget take on the first weekend of The Last Samurai. But that just goes to show that huge budgets ($140) and huge names (Cruise) don't guarantee you success in the movie business, even before you've jumped on any sofas or abused any ethnic groups.

Did the critics destroy this movie?

I'm not sure where the idea comes from that the critics slated Apocalypto. I read about 20 reviews from different countries, and while most of them made ample mention of the graphic and potentially gratuitous violence of the film, by all means not all were negative. For less anecdotal evidence I turned to Rotten Tomatoes, the website cited above for the rather provocative quote from Bruce Bennett. It shows a rating of "66% Fresh" for this picture. That means that only one third of the online reviews analysed by the website were so bad as to be considered rotten tomatoes.

Two thirds of critics liking your picture ain't bad; in fact, that's only as good as Tom Cruise and Robert Rodrigues got for their respective movies. The hugely successful Spider Man 3 settled in the mid to low sixties on RT. A Scanner Darkly, which gained the same inexplicable reputation for being "critically acclaimed" as Apocalypto did for being "critically panned", is in fact only a couple of percentage points above it on the tomatometer.

Anyway, there is evidence to suggest that critical acclaim is not a necessary condition for commercial success (like we didn’t know that already!). Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End grossed a behemoth $139m in its first weekend with only a 47% tomato rating. More than half the critics thought the movie stank – but the viewing public chose to make up their minds for themselves.

Aha, but it hasn’t won any Oscars – people had it in for the thing!

Oh, come on. You really want to go into the history of movies robbed on the award circuit?

You do. OK then.

Robert Altman – arguably the best native born American director of his generation - never got an Oscar. Martin Scorcese only got his for a remake of a Hong Kong flick. Helen Mirren lost out on the statuette for possibly the best performance of her career to a seven minute cameo by Judy Dench. Denzel Washington was snubbed as The Hurricane, an epochal biopic; the Academy realised its mistake and plonked the bald guy on him for a mediocre performance in a run of the mill bad cops drama the same year that Russel Crowe was nominated for A Beautiful Mind and Sean Penn for I Am Sam, not to mention Will Smith in Ali.

And so it goes. Every year film fans throw peanuts at the television in anger, irate at what they think is the wrong name coming out of the envelope. Not that I think Apocalypto could have been terribly robbed: it lost out on the Sound Mixing award to the operatic Dreamgirls, and just missed out on the Achievements in Makeup nod to Pan’s Labyrinth. The makeup in Apocalypto was impressive, but Pan’s Labyrinth looked absolutely spectacular – unlucky perhaps, but not a glaringly unfair decision.

Hang on, so you’ve shown that Apocalypto hasn’t done very well, but why not?

Disclosure time: I haven’t seen the movie. So I don’t have a personal opinion on its relative merits. All I’m trying to do is show that it fared relatively badly in the entertainment marketplace by using freely available figures. I am prepared to stick my neck out and advance a few theories though.

So, in the language of multiple choice tests, I shall leave you to tell me which of the following reasons was pivotal in making a less than stellar success of Mel Gibson’s latest venture:

  1. The film’s R rating limited its accessibility to the kind of family audience that tends to make the big bucks for sandal epics, historical dramas and fantasy adventures
  2. The subtitled Mayan dialogue put English speaking audiences off; foreign language flicks rarely do well commercially in the States
  3. An anti-Christian Zionist conspiracy
  4. Lack of star power, a solid franchise or popular culture relevance acted as a disincentive to mass audiences
  5. It’s not a very good movie

You decide.

Earlier this week I was in court serving my duty as an American as a trial witness, in this case at the trial of my former friend Dale, who is looking at serving a life sentence for allegedly hiring some guys to kidnap his wife, turn her into a sex slave and then have her killed abroad in a foreign country, all for the purposes of collecting on a $15,000 life insurance policy. Of course, he did not do it, but the courts shall not be wise to this, as I framed him for it and I am not speaking of this openly but only in hushed tones behind closed doors with trusted members of the community.

One of the smartest parts of the whole frame up involves my friends Chopper and The Slow Kid bribing Dale's lawyer to misrepresent him. By this I don't mean he is lying to the courts or committing perjury, but he is merely being as lackadaisical as possible in representing his client without raising suspicions on the part of his client or the judge, which is pretty clever indeed.

This lawyer, a real slick willy type, has become especially demanding of Chopper, The Slow Kid and myself in exacting payment for his work in losing the case. One of the things he is demanding in payment is that we spend time with him. Lawyers usually do not have any friends, especially defense lawyers who represent scummy criminals who instead of hanging themselves waste taxpayer money by pleading not guilty and forcing long, expensive court trials. The day the trial began, we recessed early after Dale had an outburst in which he called me all kinds of names and swore at me, which undermined his efforts to portray himself as a fairly heavy church-goer, a family man and all around good guy. When Dale refused to calm down and repeatedly, and loudly, called me "a lying piece of dog shit!" in front of the court, and would not obey the judge when told to sit down and be quiet, we got a little easter egg called an early dismissal, like kids do in school.

And so, it was time to celebrate. I wanted to go to Faidley's for some crab cakes and cognac, but slick willy insisted we go to the movies. We got into his car, a Porsche he likely paid for with his misgotten lawyer money, and took us to a small, independently owned theatre downtown. My nose immediately did wrinkle as I know these kinds of places are real havens for hippies and commies.

Turns out this theatre was showing Mel Gibson's latest anti-Jewish propaganda piece, Apocalypto and once again I was seen to most immediately wrinkle my nose. This looked like it was going to be a long film and I could not get my mind off of crab cakes.

If you have never seen Mel Gibson, either in a movie or in a still photograph, you may not realize that he is a biological anomaly. It is apparent from gazing at him that he was somehow beheaded in his youth, and we know who it is that does things like this, even though the hippies and liberals and the private armies of Joe Biden like to pretend otherwise. We can also tell that he lived through the beheading because, well, he is walking around and talking and getting drunk and driving automobiles while drunk and making motion pictures. This leads to the only logical conclusion, which is that after the beheading, some sort of witch doctor or voodoo instigator took a watermelon that was rolling around on the streets of someone's beloved homeland, carved it into the likeness of a man's face, then used the same kind of drying and curing process they did in the times of the ancient Mayans and then mounted this ungodly creation upon the neck of Mel Gibson, securely fastening it to the neck moorings and then pushing their unholy creation into a film career.

So many of Mel Gibson's films have carried some kind of anti-Jewish message, from the city in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome that relied on pigs for energy, his remake of Hamlet in which Uncle Claudius is Jewish, and of course that other one there about Jesus. This leads us to the logical conclusion that Mel Gibson's carved watermelon head transplant was done by people actively seeking to not only push him into a film career in order to pay for the operation itself, but to advance their sick and twisted political views. As a middle aged man of mixed races, whose father was German and whose mother was of Palestinian stock, I am quite sensitive to these issues. However, my head is the original one that came out of my mother and has no seeds inside it and I am sensible. Mel Gibson can make no claims as such.

The answer to the long standing questions about who it was that paid for and performed the watermelon head transplant are answered in Mel Gibson's latest film. And now we will see why, as I will explain.

During the previews, I had an urgent need to go to the bathroom, and so I excused myself while Chopper, The Slow Kid and Slick Willy Lawyer remained in their seats, eagerly waiting for the show to start. Then I stopped at the refreshment counter to inquire about some popcorn and a drink. As I was paying for these overpriced items from my very full wallet, filled with money I have because I work hard, invest well and know how to handle finances, and therefore deserve every damned cent of it, I noticed there was a poster asking for donations to some kind of misguided anti-war cause. I immediately sought to dress down, belittle and curse out the pimple-faced refreshment counter worker and when he acted all meek and hippie-like, I reached across the counter and smacked him hard upside his head. Then I came around to the other side of the counter and continued hitting him in the face with closed fists until a manager and other employees appeared and restrained me.

They wanted to either arrest me or make me leave the premises, but I informed them that I had bought a ticket to the film and that I had a lawyer with me, and I emphasized that he was a real Slick Willy type, so they relented and let me go back into the theatre, being wimpy liberal types unwilling to stand up to the kind of threat I was posing. The only problem I had then was that in the scuffle my glasses had gotten broken so that a lens was missing from over one eye while the other was still present. This made it very difficult to watch the film in any kind of clarity because I am blind as a bat without my glasses and it was hard for me to close the one eye and watch with just the other because of how everything looks different when you only have one eye as opposed to when you have two.

What was even worse about the broken glasses issue, which I am currently suing the theatre over for 1.2 million dollars, due to lost business revenues causes, was that the film was in subtitles and the characters were speaking some kind of gibberish that made no sense to me, even though I speak three languages, English, German and Horse. I kept trying to focus, but all I saw were a lot of small brown people running around and yelling all sorts of things that made no sense to me. And one of the characters seemed to look like a basketball, which apparently was some kind of homage to Mel Gibson's watermelon head transplant. All in all, partly due to my spectacles being insufficient for movie going, and partly due to the inadequacies of this director, the film left me unfulfilled.

One of the things I did learn from the film was through the drawing of logical conclusions. Since Mel Gibson's watermelon head was dried and cured in a fashion known to the ancient Mayans, it is obvious that they were somehow involved in the operation that allowed him to have a film career and a normal life. Let's face it, people without heads are either shunned by the community at large or sent out into the deserts or places like Siberia to die like the worthless, cursed, idiots they are for allowing themselves to be beheaded in the first place instead of making a stand, as I did at the refreshment counter. This is what sets us wealthy, industrious people apart from the kind of scum who want government handouts and school vouchers. So, why did Mel Gibson make this movie, which lacks any good looking movie stars or a refreshing dose of ample white girl cleavage?

Mel Gibson sold his soul to the ancient Mayans for a watermelon head. That is what this movie is all about. Am I wrong? You decide.

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