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December 8, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 49
 
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Bits & Bytes
Mel Gibson's savage Apocalypto scores, Mongolian Cave Of Yellow Dog charms, Wicked Xmas opens at Cabaret de Paris
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Rarely has Seattle's entertainment scene had such diverse offerings on its new calendar line up. Traditional programming (Nutcracker at PNB, White Christmas at the 5th Avenue) and counter-programming (the brutal Apocalypto opening "everywhere" today, ballet music at the Symphony last week) adds to the excitement.

As the world celebrates Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas or a zillion other winter celebrations, diversity rules. Bits&Bytes is truly excited about the holiday season-read on:

APOCALYPTO SCORES WITH BRUTAL RECREATION OF MAYAN CIVILIZATION
The week's biggest film news is the opening today of Mel Gibson's epic recreation of the end of the Mayan civilization, Apocalypto.

(But first--a disclaimer. It is next to impossible for a GLBT-themed paper like Seattle Gay News to approach a Mel Gibson film with complete objectivity. Gibson is notoriously anti-Gay-in an infamous Spanish television interview a decade ago, Gibson ranted and raved about homosexuals and their perversions. In a drunken driving arrest earlier this year, Gibson attacked the Jewish community in another hate-fueled sprewing of bile. Gibson, an ultraconservative Catholic, has founded his own church in Los Angeles to return "the church" to its original format-services in Latin, etc. It is obvious that Gibson is no friend of diversity in any format. That said, Apocalypto is the subject here.)

As a film director, Gibson is in first rate form with the exciting, brutal new Apocalypto. Going where no film has gone before, a cliché but a true observation here, Apocalypto captures such an intense feeling of immersion in the jungles of Mayan and other tribal cultures that the film's final images of the arrival of Western Civilization are jarring and breathtaking at the same time.

Like any epic, the story must be told in human details. On a hunt, a basically peace loving jungle tribe encounters a ravaged band of tribal members from another part of the jungle. Explaining that a warring group has decimated their village, they are allowed to pass on to their uncertain future. Characters are established--Jaguar Paw is the son of the peaceful tribe's king. He will be Apocalypto's hero. He is married to a beautiful maiden, they have a charming young son and she is very pregnant with their second child.

Soon, the vicious, warring tribe attack's Jaguar Paw's village. The sadistic son of that tribe's chief delights in uncovering Jaguar Paw's status and nicknames him "Almost." Having hidden his wife and son in a deep, dry well, Jaguar Paw and the men of the village are bound and marched off to serve as slaves to the Mayans-and as human sacrifices on their fabled step pyramids. While all of the plot conventions follow Hollywood formula, Gibson makes it work. Most of the time.

The scenes of the Mayan cities are truly spectacular. The human sacrifices are truly bloody---human hearts ripped from living victims are shown in close up, still beating. The sacrificial victims, including Jaguar Paw, are painted with turquoise as part of the ritual--and bringing historic Mayan murals and tomb paintings vividly to life.

Cutting back and forth to the pregnant wife in the dry well, the film turns melodramatic as the rains come and threaten her, their son and the unborn child.

A mystic child of a ruined village foretells of the end of the world as the Mayans know it. A day the sun will turn black is prophesized, and--wonder of wonders-an eclipse occurs just as Jaguar Paw is to be sacrificed. We've seen it all before-The Egyptian, The Ten Commandments, Cheyenne Autumn-but it all works. Gibson is in total control and makes the unlikely, cliché-ridden tale work.

The film is visually stunning. Filming it in a lost Mayan language with English subtitles gives the film an anthropological distance for the viewer that allows the audience to immerse itself in a long forgotten culture. While the cast is basically unknown Hispanic and Indian actors supplemented by hundreds of extras, all the performances are first rate. The powerful Mayan king and his bloodthirsty priests seem ripped from historical murals.

Apocalypto is a stunning film for a select audience. The decision to release it as a mass-market action film was a major topic of discussion at Monday's press screening. It seems to be a natural film for an art house audience. Bits&Bytes (wrong again!) thought it would open at a single "art" theater and slowly build its audience through word-of-mouth. Opening it "everywhere," as the Seattle publicist described the release pattern, may prove successful. Hollywood and film fans will know all by Monday when the first weekend financial figures are posted. Watch this space for details.

CHILDREN CHARM IN CAVE OF YELLOW DOG
A perfect contrast to Apocalypto, film fans should note the "one week only" run of The Cave Of The Yellow Dog at the Varsity Theatre in the University District. A Mongolian film by the director of The Story Of The Weeping Camel, the charming new film is a delight from start to finish. (Speaking of cultural diversity, the film is a Mongolian/German co-production.)

The tale is simplicity itself. A nomadic Mongolian family lives a simple life. A sheepherder, his wife and their three children are camped for the summer in near-isolation. Wolves are attacking the sheep and the father wonders how long he can continue his rural way of life-he could move to the city and work in a department store.

This conflict of old world and new world is a subtle theme throughout the Mongolian film-as it was in Weeping Camel. The oldest daughter, still a child, goes to school in the city but returns home for the summer. Her baby sister and infant brother need her attention as the mother makes cheese from the sheep milk in a centuries old manner, painstakingly recreated on screen. The father has a motorbike for trips to town. In a wonderfully understated moment, when the family breaks camp to move to a winter pasture, the motorbike is loaded onto a wooden cart pulled by water buffalo-talk about old world and new world contrasts.

The oldest girl finds a puppy in a cave. She-and the audience-immediately falls in love with it. The father suspects it has run with wolves which will track the family when it moves and attack the sheep in the new pasture. Tales or reincarnation abound. Three adorable children, one adorable dog, a simple tale (with "the attack of the killer buzzards" as a climax) all work together to make Rin Tin Tin in Mongolia-excuse me, the title is The Cave Of The Yellow Dog-a charming delight. Recorded film times are available at 781-5755,

WICKED XMAS REVUE STUMBLES AT CREPE
The Cabaret de Paris at downtown's Crepe de Paris is a holiday institution. For nearly 20 years, a Christmas Cabaret at the Crepe has been an entertainment tradition for office parties and family outings.

This year's offering, Wicked Xmas-Dorothy Doesn't Live Here Anymore, sounded like a winner on paper. A send-up of holiday traditions, Wicked Xmas has 42 scenes-reoccurring skits like "Mrs. Claus' Rhyme Time" and "Auditions For Santa." It also has Santa telling fart jokes, numerous bestiality references, some incest jokes, anal sex jokes (from a Gay man looking for a congressman for Christmas), a singing Hitler, a visit from Ethel Merman and an ode to road kill. And that's just Act One.

It also has a lot of real laughs and clever, clever elements-the tongue-in-cheek program uses photos of famous people to represent the real actors. The very talented Angie Louise, the strongest element of the revue, uses a classic shot of Ethel Merman; pianist John Allman uses the famous Judy Garland photo from Wizard Of Oz as his alterego.

Early in Act Two, the show's real stage manager dons a press hat and interrupts, asking, "Who gives you the right to stage such a self-indulgent, crass show?" Bob De Dea, actor and creator of the show, replies in character, "We do it for the money." A tongue-in-cheek reply to be sure, but maybe too close to the truth.

Wicked Xmas continues performances Tuesday through Sunday through Dec. 26. Ticket and reservation information is available at 623-4111. The show is available as a dinner/theater package and on a "show only" basis when seating is available.

Bits&Bytes attended the show when a capacity, overflowing crowd packed the Crepe. Two large groups-an office party of 40 and a family gathering of 20-dominated the room. To be fair to the show, many patrons howled with laughter at the fart jokes and Tennessee incest tales. Another patron, a southern gentleman from birth, reminded a waitress that "They would be shot" in Tennessee. "Merry Christmas to everyone," to quote Tiny Tim.

PORTLAND LURES ARTS FANS WITH RARE RETURN OF ULYSSES
While traditional holiday programming dominates the Emerald City entertainment scene, Portland successfully mixes traditional and counterprogramming for a rich December arts calendar.

Going where Seattle Opera dare not go, Portland Opera has a successful alternative to its traditionally "big" productions at Keller Auditorium, its downtown "opera house."

Monteverdi's rarely staged The Return Of Ulysses, written in 1640, receives nine performances at the Portland Opera Studio at The Hampton Opera Center. The Baroque masterwork continues performances through Dec. 16 including a matinee this Sunday, Dec. 10. Ticket information is available at (503) 241-1802 or toll-free at (866) 739-6737.

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