APOCALYPTO (2006). Mel Gibson may or may not be a sorry excuse for a person, but as has been the case since the first brutish caveman painted a beautiful mural on the cavern wall, it's as important as ever to separate the individual from his artistry. And for the first half of Apocalypto, it looks as if he has succeeded in creating something special. Gibson takes us back in time to the waning period of the Mayan civilization: The story drops us off in a small village in which the peaceful inhabitants are soon attacked by warriors who rape the women, abandon the children, and drag the men back to their city to be served up as either slaves or human sacrifices. Up to this point, Apocalypto has proven to be a compelling yarn marked by charismatic performers (most notably lead Rudy Youngblood, as a tribesman fighting to make it back to his family), splendid production values and Gibson's fluid direction. But anyone who's seen Gibson's previous directorial efforts, Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ (not to mention such starring vehicles as Payback and The Patriot), knows that nothing titillates the filmmaker as much as pain and destruction, and Apocalypto soon turns into an orgy of unrelenting bloodlust wrapped around a straightforward and, eventually, tedious chase picture. Sadistic to a fault, Gibson has become cinema's reigning gore-to guy. DVD extras include audio commentary by Gibson and his co-writer Farhad Safinia, a 38-second deleted scene, and a making-of piece.
THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) / THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961). Although both of these World War II classics have already been available on DVD, these new Collector's Editions are the ones to snag, if for no other reason than the picture and sound enhancements provided on each title.
The Caine Mutiny, based on Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, finds Humphrey Bogart delivering one of his best performances as Captain Queeg, the eccentric and possibly unstable commander of a minesweeper whose ineptitude forces his second-in-command (Van Johnson) to stage a revolt, an action that leads to a military court martial. Fred MacMurray (as a morally shady officer) and Jose Ferrer (as the mutineers' defense attorney) are also superb; indeed, the only factor keeping this exemplary film from a four-star rating is a time-wasting subplot concerning the romantic travails of a greenhorn officer (bland Robert Francis) and his concerned girlfriend (colorless May Wynn). A major box office hit, this snagged seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Bogart).
The Guns of Navarone, the first and best of the numerous adaptations of Alistair MacLean's string of bestsellers, ranks as one of the finest WWII action yarns ever made, as a team of military experts (Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven and others) have only a few days to break into a Nazi fortress and destroy the awesome weapons that are making mincemeat out of Allied vessels. The top moneymaking film of 1961, this earned seven Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and copped the Oscar for Best Special Effects.
DVD extras on The Caine Mutiny include audio commentary with film scholars Richard Pena and Ken Bowser and a retrospective documentary. Extras in the two-disc DVD set for The Guns of Navarone include audio commentaries by director J. Lee Thompson and film historian Stephen J. Rubin, three making-of documentaries, new and vintage featurettes, and a look at the film's glorious restoration.
The Caine Mutiny: ***1/2
The Guns of Navarone: ****
THE PAINTED VEIL (2006). Naomi Watts and Edward Norton are the leads in The Painted Veil, and the fact that they're also credited as two of the film's producers suggests that this adaptation of the 1925 Somerset Maugham novel might be little more than a vanity project squared. Instead, this tale of strangers in a strange land has been fashioned as a poignant love story, with its buried passions forcefully breaking the surface as the film rounds the bend toward its satisfying conclusion. Watts plays Kitty, a socialite who's rushed into marrying Walter (Norton), a doctor who barely raises her pulse. After the couple move to Shanghai, Kitty has an affair with a fellow foreigner (Liev Schreiber); learning about this deception, Walter drags Kitty along with him to the desolate Chinese countryside, where he's assigned to keep a cholera outbreak in check. Watts and Norton are so credible portraying spouses who grow to loathe the sight of each other that it's genuinely stirring to watch as they eventually discover the small spark that allows them to build a real marriage out of the heretofore dying embers. There's some Chinese political intrigue that rears its head every now and then, but Zhang Yimou has nothing to worry about in this department: The focus here is clearly the love story, and on that front, The Painted Veil will keep romantics satisfied. There are no extras on the DVD except for trailers.
VENUS (2006). Peter O'Toole is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in Venus, a movie that seems to exist for no other purpose than to nab its leading man that ever-elusive Oscar. In that respect, it failed: O'Toole snagged his eighth nomination, but he lost to The Last King of Scotland's Forest Whitaker, thus setting a new record among actors for the most noms without a win. Regardless, it's nice to see him shine once more, even if the movie surrounding him largely functions at the level of an accomplished dinner theater production. The 74-year-old O'Toole stars as Maurice, an actor who spends most of his waning years hanging around with his longtime friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). Into his orbit comes Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), the daughter of Ian's niece, and Maurice finds himself developing an offbeat relationship with the young woman who appears to be barely out of her teens. Maurice is one-quarter mentor, three-quarters lecherous old man when it comes to Jessie; for her part, she won't put up with his groping but still finds herself enjoying his company. The May-December pseudo-romance, which brings to mind the coupling between then-55-year-old Richard Burton and 17-year-old Tatum O'Neal in 1980's Circle of Two, is far less interesting than the scenes in which Maurice reflects on his long life and discusses the vagaries of old age with his peers. Look for Vanessa Redgrave in a nice cameo as Maurice's ex-wife. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader, four deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.