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Mark Palermo looks at all things great and small.

As kids, the first mystique of movies was that they’re something bigger than we are. It’s mandatory to believe in the thrill of giant spectacle to get anything out of Poseidon. At most basic levels of character and drama, it’s a subpar work of fiction. There’s no reason to see it on DVD or in a normal theatre projection. But in the IMAX format, its screenplay deficiencies are muted by the documented disaster. The scope makes it enjoyable.

Wolfgang Petersen’s remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure carries a sensory thrill to its survival scenes. The disappointment is that everything beyond its big screen grandeur is resoundingly dumb. Petersen’s never expands his basic themes beyond, “Teamwork good; alive good; dead bad.” It takes 10 minutes before the rogue wave hits the cruise ship. This doesn’t leave much time for setup; Petersen and screenwriter Mark Protosevich attempt character-development by giving everyone a single, easy-to-remember trait. Kurt Russell is the guy who doesn’t like that his daughter has sex with her fiance. Richard Dreyfuss is gay. Josh Lucas is the selfish, but potentially good, capitalist. Lucinda Barrett is the single mother. Cruise ships don’t carry a wide array of social classes, so the collision of these personalities is uninteresting.

Excitement in Poseidon centres around who will make it, not who will be next to kick it. But there is frequent excitement. Petersen gives a claustrophobic dread to a sequence where the heroes crawl through a flooding air vent. The film’s visual design holds an interesting dynamic in changing the same locations from a vision of paradise to one of hell. Sensing he’s working with thin material, Petersen compensates with how great everything looks. The opening credit shot spans the contour of the entire boat, with a jogger on the deck, for no reason other than that it looks cool. That’s how Poseidon works as an IMAX movie. There’s almost nothing to it, but it still carries the weight of something big.

Art School Confidential

Film snobs who pride themselves on hating big movies never get made fun of in Art School Confidential. The closest that Terry Zwigoff’s take on the Daniel Clowes comic gets to this elitist stance is when an aged, down-and-out former art student disparages the hero for claiming to be inspired by Picasso. Small character-driven films can be great, but being absolutist about them reveals closed-mindedness, not eclectic taste.

Clowes and Zwigoff add a generic murder mystery to Art School Confidential, a way of submitting to the faux pas of “mainstream bullshit” that the art community they skewer is poised against. It’s still a bad idea. There are enough funny observations on the instilled attitudes of pure artistic expression that it’s a cop out when the movie gives up on them after its first act.

Jerome (Max Minghella) is the fresh-out-of-high-school loser who desperately wants art community acceptance. As a classmate puts it, he’s become an artist because it’s the easiest path he can think of to get laid. It sounds promising, but Zwigoff’s comedies never have much bite. The murder story lets Art School Confidential off too easy, especially after displaying an insider knowingness to find the absurdity, and eventual goodness, of the institutions it sends up. Then again, what do I know? I gave a negative review to The Hours and therefore I have no understanding of life.

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Vol 26, No 34
January 17, 2019

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