Poseidon, Art School Confidential

Poseidon, Art School Confidential


Poseidon
PG-13, 98 minutes
Now playing at Carmike Cinema 6
For times call 817-FILM

What’s the rush?
That’s the thought that crossed my mind as Poseidon, a mere 15 minutes in, began to take on water—lots of water. One minute I’m sitting there, getting to know the passengers who, like rats, will spend most of the movie trying to escape from a sinking ship. Then, all of a sudden, the first mate (or maybe it’s the chief petty officer), says to someone or other, “Do you feel that? Something’s off.” Something’s off, all right. Director Wolfgang Petersen was given $160 million to rebuild that great slab of cheese, 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, and he’s already blowing his wad. Heck, the whole thing’s over in 98 minutes. At that point in King Kong, Peter Jackson hadn’t even shown us the monkey.
Of course, King Kong was a complete bore for the first hour or so. Petersen, who knows his water—he battened down the hatches in Das Boot and documented the fishing expedition from hell in The Perfect Storm—may have wanted to run a tighter ship than Ronald Neame did in the original. With all those Oscar-winners aboard, The Poseidon Adventure was something of a beached whale, groaning with disaster-film clichés. And you can’t blame Petersen for wanting to speed things along. But he’s in such a hurry to get to the end that you wind up wondering why he took the job. Why not linger over the deaths, since that’s presumably why we’re there in the first place?
Or at least linger over the lives, since watching the outrageous deaths is otherwise about as much fun as reading the obituary page. Kurt Russell, determined to earn his paycheck, does what he can with Robert Ramsay, a former firefighter and former mayor of New York City (rather gilding the 9/11 lily, wouldn’t you say?) whose sole aim in life is to protect his daughter’s virginity. And Richard Dreyfuss is quietly effective (you heard me, quietly effective) as a gay man with an extraordinarily large earring who’s just been short-timed by his longtime companion. But that’s it for characterization—and these are the fleshed-out ones. Where’s Shelley Winters’ Mama Rosen when you need her?
A finely cured ham, Winters was god-awful in The Poseidon Adventure (though she picked up an Oscar nomination for her trouble), but still, you can’t help but wish that somebody in the current cast had been encouraged to take things similarly over the top. Kevin Dillon comes the closest as (irony alert) “Lucky” Larry, a tuxedo-shirt version of the cad he plays on “Entourage.” But Josh Lucas, as a reluctant Moses leading his people to the (above-water) promised land, is a pale imitation of Gene Hackman’s church-of-what’s-happening-now preacher man in the original, whose liberation theology included using the Lord’s name in vain. And you may miss the rivalry that Hackman got going with Ernest Borgnine, who added a heaping side of bacon to Winter’s cured ham. Compared to them, Russell and Lucas are like childhood sweethearts.
I know, I know: Other than that, how was the tsunami? I found it rather cartoonish—a 150-foot-high wall of roiling pixels. At least the ship itself has some weight, and even some grandeur—the lobby’s glass-enclosed elevators evokes a Hyatt Regency. And Petersen gives it the requisite hey-look-me-over treatment in an opening heli-cam shot (computerized, of course) that promises more than the movie can deliver. But after flipping the thing over—wonderful tagline for the 1972 version: “Hell, Upside Down!”—he doesn’t know what to do except scratch people off the passenger list. Some are crushed to death. Some are electrocuted. Some turn a little crispy on the outside, thanks to flash-fires. As a result, there are a lot of dead bodies lying around and floating by…
…and more where those came from. Like the original, the remake turns into a watery labyrinth as a small group of survivors, disobeying the captain’s orders, tries to find a way out of this leaky coffin. As for the message embedded in who makes it and who doesn’t—well, I can only say this: Don’t even step on a boat if you’re Latino. Also, don’t expect an easy time of it just because you’re a kid. Poseidon combines two of our favorite phobias: fear of drowning and fear of tight spaces. And Petersen knows how to exploit both of them, often at the same time. What he lacks is James Cameron’s feeling for the esthetics of destruction—the sublime terror that Titanic invoked at its best.
Shipwrecks aren’t exactly at the top of our things-to-worry-about list these days. (The Towering Inferno, anyone?) So it isn’t clear why Petersen didn’t try to have a little more fun. The last time out, Stella Stevens, as a former prostitute, had me choking on my Milk Duds with a quip about suppositories. And the ‘70s hairstyles alone are enough to guarantee irony-fueled DVD rentals for years to come. But Petersen plays it straight. He’s in too big a hurry to stop and tell a joke—he’s going to sink that ship, come hell or high water. But we’re not just there to see a ship go down, we’re there to see the captain go down with the ship. We want dead people, not just dead bodies.

Art School Confidential
R, 102 minutes
Now playing at Vinegar Hill Theater
For times call 817-FILM

A spitball that clings to the blackboard longer than I would have expected, Art School Confidential blows the lid off what scriptwriter Daniel Clowes (an art-school grad himself), has called “the biggest scam of the century.” Clowes—who apparently spent his “draw Blinky” years in a morose funk, quietly recording his classmates’ various peccadilloes—would go on to pen-and-ink the underground comics that have made him a worthy successor to R. Crumb. And after the success of Ghost World, which was also derived from his work, he and director Terry Zwigoff have teamed up again to transfer his four-page exposé to the big screen. Set in one of those toxic environments where, if the paint fumes don’t get you, the French-based theory will, it’s a middle-finger salute to the posers and losers, misfits and dimwits who engage in the academic pursuit of art.
And as long as it sticks to Clowes’ syllabus, nailing the various archetypes—Vegan Holy Man, Boring Blowhard, Angry Lesbian, Kiss-Ass—to the wall, it’s on solid ground. But actual characters and an actual plot had to be added, and Clowes ended up throwing in an unfortunate subplot about a serial killer, the Strathmore Strangler, who may consider his victims part of his artistic oeuvre. Less an exposé than a once-over-lightly satire, Art School Confidential is now mostly about Jerome (Max Minghella), a budding artiste with sensitive eyebrows who’s entered the Strathmore Institute both to meet women and to become the next Pablo Picasso. That he actually knows how to draw would seem to disqualify Jerome from a place in the contemporary art world, but not in this Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on the Move. With his sensual lips, Jerome was meant for the cover of Art News.
But why do Zwigoff and Clowes pull for him? Compared to Thora Birch’s Enid in Ghost World, Minghella’s Jerome is a bowl of vanilla ice cream. And Minghella apparently doesn’t know how to add any other flavors. Nor does Zwigoff: Art School Confidential is almost devoid of technique. The screen seems numb, narcotized. And the exterior scenes are like outtakes from someone’s old home movies. Unable to capture the mock-outrage tone of Clowes’ comic, Zwigoff might have at least come up with one of his own. And yet, somehow, this doesn’t sink the movie altogether. The subject matter—that ultra-fine line between art for the ages and utter bullshit—is just too promising. Tom Wolfe went after this phenomenon years ago in his own art-world exposé, The Painted Word. But that’s one of the great things about art school: there’s a fresh crop of bullshit artists every year.

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