Video Picks & Passes







Who would dare to remake a film from the Master of Suspense? Seven years ago Gus Van Sant drew jeers for his shot-for-shot recreation of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Now a young Catholic filmmaker named Jonathan Meyers makes his writing-directing debut with Confession, a loose, direct-to-DVD remake of I Confess, a wrong-man crime drama about a priest suspected of murder who is prevented from implicating the real killer by the seal of confession.

Reverent, smartly directed and well acted by a respectable cast, Confession’s weakness is also its promotional gimmick: Meyers directed the film at 24, but wrote the screenplay 10 years earlier as a freshman in a Catholic boarding school.

Unsurprisingly, the screenplay makes all the mistakes you would expect from a 14-year-old. The characters are flat and act out of character or make implausible decisions as required. The priest’s dilemma is undermined by inconsistent treatment of what he can or can’t reveal about the confessions he heard. Most seriously, the killer rather than the priest has become the protagonist, undermining the wrong-man dilemma central to the original film.

That said, as a collaboration across time between Meyers the 24-year-old director and Meyers the 14-year-old high-school freshman, Confession is an intriguing record of the development of a promising talent. Catholics interested in positive portrayals of the Church in film may find it worth their while.

Confession isn’t this week’s only DVD release of a loose 2005 remake that weakens the logic of the classic film it’s based on. Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg does the same on a vastly huger scale in War of the Worlds, an alien-invasion story that finds the aliens coming a lot farther, working a lot harder and being a lot better prepared than their counterparts from the 1953 film and the H.G. Wells original story — all of which makes their downfall less plausible.

Like James Cameron’s Titanic, War of the Worlds highlights the ugly side of human nature under pressure, largely ignoring man’s capacity for heroism. Nor is there any room in this relentless story for any spiritual searching or reflection. Spielberg’s efficient, assured direction makes for consistently gripping, even riveting excitement. Yet it’s grim, joyless excitement, not satisfying in the end.

Like current theatrical release Zathura and 1995 hit Jumanji, Robert Zemekis’ computer-animated The Polar Express is based on the work of writer-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. Like all Van Allsburg’s books, The Polar Express is long on imagination and imagery, but short on plot and characterization. The film version, too, is long on eye candy but short on heart and wonder. Santa’s home is neither magical nor picturesque, only a quaint European-style city with cobblestone streets and canned Christmas muzak. (Alas, even at the North Pole, where everyone celebrates Christmas, only “inoffensive” secular tunes are allowed.)

The sentiment is at the level of a Hallmark card. It probably won’t do youngsters any great harm, but platitudes like, “It doesn’t matter where the train is going; the important thing is to get on board” and, “The meaning of Christmas is in your heart” aren’t lessons I care to reinforce for my children.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Confession contains brief murderous violence and gunplay and brief objectionable language, and is fine for teens and up. War of the Worlds contains intense sci-fi mayhem and carnage, violence and menace, an offscreen killing, and some profanity and crude language, and is mature viewing. The Polar Express contains mild action peril and brief unnerving imagery, and is okay for kids.

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