Archive for May, 2006

Poseidon (2006)


Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Mark Protosevich (screenplay)
Paul Gallico (novel)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, and Emmy Rossum

“Have you seen Poseidon yet?” This was the first thing out of a friend’s mouth about a week ago. “I looked through all your reviews, but I didn’t see one for it.”

I told her, “No, I didn’t get a chance to see it, but I saw the original.”

She looked puzzled. “Original? There was an original?”

The Poseidon Adventure,” I told her. “It was a 1972 film. Poseidon is a remake of it.”

“1972?” She rolled her eyes. “That’s before my time!”

And then it occurred to me that she was in her early twenties and had not yet been born when The Poseidon Adventure first flooded the silver screen. Ask any Hollywood mogul why they want to go and remake classic films like PsychoThe Omen, and War of the Worlds, and they will probably tell you it is to expose these stories to a new generation that is either unaware of the original version, or will not watch it because it is “old.” What a pity. Instead of watching a thrilling fight for survival with people who we grow to know and care about, this new generation is offered a hollow shell of a special effects movie. It’s no wonder they dropped Adventure from the title.


Both films tell the story of a grand ocean liner, Poseidon, that is struck by a tidal wave on New Year’s Eve and turned upside down. Some are killed instantly as they fall and have things fall on them, others survive the initial catastrophe and must now climb their way to the top…er, bottom of the ship to escape. In between the ships Grand Ballroom and safety lies flooded passages, fires, and explosions. It’s a race against time as the ship takes on more water and slowly sinks.

And that’s really it. Simple enough, right? No way to really screw something like that up, is there?



The first film stayed afloat because it spent close to an hour letting you get to know its characters. For example, there was the priest (Gene Hackman) who had lost his faith, the pig-headed cop (Ernest Borgnine), and an overweight woman (Shelley Winters) who used to be an award winning swimmer. We know their hopes and dreams, and we know who to cheer for, who we want to see live through this night of terror. Poseidon sinks because there is almost no character development. We have less that fifteen minutes to learn who everyone is and why we should care before the wave hits. The problem is, we just don’t care.

I don’t know which was more horrifying, seeing people burned alive in the flash fires that rock the ship, or watching great actors like Richard Dreyfuss and Andre Braugher drown in the horrid dialogue and laughable situations of Mark Protosevich’s screenplay. When they aren’t stating the obvious (“We’ve got water in here” and “Looks like a hallway.”), they’re spouting the most cliched lines imaginable. And a drunken jerk named “Lucky Larry” (Kevin Dillon) should go down in movie history as one of the worst characters ever conceived.


That’s not to say everything in Poseidon deserves to be scuttled. The special effects work is marvelous to behold, and Wolfgang Petersen’s underwater photography is top notch. Petersen knows a thing or two about boats and waves, having directed both Das Boot and The Perfect Storm. Here, he shows us every detail of the disaster: the ship rolls in the waves, tiny people and debris fall overboard and sink, windows shatter and water rushes in to flood whole compartments. Huge engine parts drop through floors, spilling burning geysers of fuel that threaten these people who are supposed to mean something to us. It all looks like it should be very exciting, but unlike his earlier seascapes, it just isn’t.

And what of this younger generation? The ones who had never seen the original?–the ones this film was aimed at? They sat in the row in front of me, laughing at lines of dialogue that were intended to be dramatic, checking their watches and cell phone messages, and when it was over, they even staged a round of mock applause, leaving the theater complaining about the impossibility of people holding their breath long enough to break world records (and yet able to function perfectly well in the very next scene).

Well, I can now tell my friend that I saw this new Poseidon. Perhaps I can save her from doing the same.

2 out of 5 stars.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)


Directed by: Brett Ratner
Screenplay by: Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, and Kelsey Grammer

“Why can’t you, just for once, be normal?”

My wife will sometimes say this. It’s usually followed by a laugh or a grin, sometimes even a resigned shake of the head and a look to the sky, as if she were asking God why He has cursed her with such a strange husband with odd tastes in books, music, movies, and humor. It happened just the other night, while I was watching a Japanese horror anthology.

“This is so weird!” she said. “Why can’t you do anything normal?”

What if we could all just be normal?–like everyone else? Normal.

That’s the question that fuels this third (and by all accounts final) installment in Fox and Marvel’s X-Men saga, X-Men: The Last Stand.


A lot has changed in the world since we left our heroes. There is a new president in office (Josef Sommer) who supports the rights of mutants. He has even gone so far as to create a new Department of Mutant Affairs, run by the blue haired Dr. Henry “Hank” McCoy (Kelsey Grammer). Yes, it looks as if the long-held dream of Prof. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), human and mutant co-existence, is now becoming a reality. But as much as society says it will accept mutants, deep down, it still thinks of them as weird…as people with a disease needing to be cured.

Enter little Jimmy (Cameron Bright). He can take away a mutant’s powers through close contact. Billionaire Warren Worthington II (Michael Murphy), ashamed of his own freak son (Ben Foster with digital wings), takes Jimmy’s blood and uses it to create a serum–a cure for mutation. Now every mutant can give up their powers and their “deformities” and be just like everyone else. Everyone can be normal.


Magneto (Ian McKellen) sees this for what it is: a way for “regular” people to cleanse the world of undesirables. He has seen this all before, and he has the concentration camp tattoos to prove it. Gathering other mutants to his cause, he builds an army to go after the source of the serum, bringing the film to a climactic showdown where he actually throws the Golden Gate Bridge at Alcatraz.


In the hands of the craftsmen who forged the first two films (director Bryan Singer, composer and editor John Ottman, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, writers Mike Dougherty and Dan Harris, and production designer Guy Dyas), X-Men: The Last Stand could have been a different (and dare I say, smarter) film, with allegorical issues explored more deeply and the existing characters further developed, but like the cure their movie depicts, replacement director Brett Ratner and writers Zak Penn and Simon Kinberg have taken away most of what made the previous films so unique, turning this installment into a run-of-the-mill action movie that races like a speeding juggernaut from one special-effects filled scene to another, ignoring opportunities for real drama. At one point, Worthington is rescued by the son he has so loathed. Does he say thanks?–tell his son that he loves him?–that he was wrong to try to change him? No. The two fly past the camera and the fight scene moves on without them. The two fly past the camera and the fight scene moves on without them. The climax also features one of the most obvious film flubs in recent memory as it turns from bright sunny day to midnight in the space of a few seconds. There are so many plots and subplots from various comics at work here (Jean Grey’s [Famke Janssen] resurrection as The Phoenix could have been a film unto itself) that, like a car in Magneto’s grip, the narrative is nearly crushed under the weight.

And yet, despite its flaws, I must admit that I liked The Last Stand. The special effects are spectacular, and there are plenty of genuine surprises and inspired moments to shock and delight fans of both films and the comics that birthed them.


Is this really the last flight of the Blackbird? It might be scheduling conflicts and not box office returns that ultimately decides, but there are now fewer stars for producers to deal with. I will not reveal any spoilers here as to who lives and who dies (why ruin the fun?), but I will say one thing: If you’re one of these people who have to be first out the door when the credits start to roll, you need to just have a seat. There’s a final scene that is well worth the wait.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Silent Hill (2006)


Directed by: Christophe Gans
Written by: Roger Avary
Based on a video game by Konami
Produced by: Victor Hadida
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Alice Krige, and Jodelle Ferland

How many times have you run downstairs Christmas morning and found a huge, beautifully wrapped present sitting there under your tree? You turn it over in your hands (or if it’sreally big, you might walk around it a few times), admiring the exquisite look of the paper, the detail. Then, when you can wait no longer, you rip it open (or in the case of my Grandmother, you carefully untape it and fold the paper neatly in your lap), and inside you find…nothing. This incredible looking box is totally empty!

Okay, it’s never happened to me either. But if it had, the experience would be like watching Silent Hill.

The film opens with Rose’s (Radha Mitchell) adopted daughter Sharon (Jodell Ferland) walking across a busy highway in her sleep, then standing on the edge of a very high cliff, screaming “Silent Hill” over and over again. Rose’s husband (Sean Bean) thinks the girl needs professional help. How could he be so foolish? Obviously, the logical course of action is for Rose to kidnap her daughter and drive her across country to find this abandoned ghost town.


And find it they do. Raging coal fires are still belching ash after thirty years, shrouding the town in gray fog, turning a sunny summer day into nuclear winter. And when it gets dark…all hell breaks loose.

Director Christophe Gans, cinematographer Dan Laustsen, production designer Carol Spier, costumer Wendy Partridge, and creature creator Patrick Tatopoulos have conspired to construct a vivid, disturbing, and awe-inspiring nightmare. Burned zombies stalk chain-link mazes. Limbless blobs belch acid. Living barbed wire lifts people into the air and tears them apart. And deformed nurses practice their own brutal form of surgery in a hospital basement.


But the real horror at work in Silent Hill is the writing of Roger Avary. We have yet to reach the half-way mark of 2006, but I think it will be impossible to find a worse screenplay this year. When a butcher in a huge metal mask takes a six-foot-long knife, cuts a hole through a door, and sends bugs with screaming faces scurrying into the room, Rose says, “Everything is going to be okay.” What an optimist! And then there’s this exchange, from the very next scene: a police officer (Laurie Holden) says, “They used to say this place was haunted.” To which Rose replies, “I think they were right.” And following the discovery of a burned out room, the same officer states, “It looks like there was a fire.” Somebody get this woman on CSI!

When the film was over, a girl sitting behind me actually smacked her boyfriend on the shoulder. “You’re never picking the movie again,” she told him.

That’s not the reaction you want from a gift.

For visual effects, production design, creature and make-up effects, direction, and acting the film earns 5 out of 5 stars.

However, the screenplay can only scare up 1 out of 5 stars.