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|June 18 - June 24, 2009
• 3 2 1 … Action!
by Dave Taylor
• Imagination is funny
by Gary Goldstein
3 2 1… Action!
by Dave Taylor
I loved the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw as the protagonist and antagonist, respectively. It ranks as one of the best crime dramas of the mid ’70s, with an ingenious escape for the subway kidnappers, and a beautiful denouement that ends the film.
The Tony Scott-directed remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 features two big Hollywood stars, Denzel Washington (as MTA transit controller Walter Garbe) and John Travolta (as the criminal mastermind Ryder). Unfortunately, both walk through their roles with precious little engagement, leaving the entire film a bit flat.
In fact, there’s a curious lack of emotional engagement and acting on the part of everyone in this film, most notably the hostages,
who seem oddly blasé about being held hostage by a crazed kidnapper who demonstrates more than once his willingness to kill innocent people in cold blood.
The story’s exciting: a New York subway train that’s hijacked en route from Pelham Parkway station to Coney Island. Like other hijacking situations, we’re puzzled by the logic of the criminals because how the heck do they think they’re going to get away? On a plane it’s tricky, but stuck underground in a subway tunnel? It’s insane. Or is it?
Tony Scott has a signature style that you’re familiar with if you’ve seen the film Deja Vu (which also featured Denzel Washington and also had a story line that broke down as the film progressed), Spy Game (one of his best films) or Enemy of the State (which was an entertaining sequel/remake of another splendid ’70s crime film, The Conversation). They’re all characterized by blurry camera-in-motion action that never lets us get comfortable in the scene and that eventually proves tiring in the same way that the “cameraphone” POV gimmick in Cloverfield got old really, really fast.
At its most fundamental, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a three-shot film, alternating between Washington in the control room, Travolta on the hostage train and various police driving as fast as they can through crowded Manhattan streets, crashing into things, flipping over, and creating tension for us as the viewers. At times it’s wonderfully effective and the film is genuinely exciting.
Within this structural framework are stupid variations, however. In one situation the police are able to assure the mayor that they can “cover every subway stop between here and Coney Island” and in other scenes it’s all up to a half-dozen motorcycle cops to ensure that a key vehicle makes it from one end of the city to another. In a third scene, lo and behold, they finally use a helicopter so they can avoid all the traffic.
There’s a major difference in the police force too. In the original, the police investigation that transpires simultaneous to the hostage crisis is key to the identification of the criminals. In the new film, the police are either pointless (as exemplified by John Tarturo, who plays NYPD hostage negotiator Camonetti, one of the few interesting roles in the film) or are able to perform police work so quickly and efficiently that they aren’t important to the storyline. In a hostage drama?
Finally, throughout The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Walter Matthau is an earnest New Yorker, transit employee and regular guy. He never steps out of role and is thereby quite believable and a splendid protagonist. In the new film, Denzel Washington turns into supercop during the last 10 minutes of the movie in a way that probably sounded great when he read the script, but doesn’t play well on screen at all.
I loved the original film and I enjoyed the remake. I enjoy both Denzel Washington and John Travolta as actors, and certainly have liked many of Tony Scott’s recent films. But all of them together just didn’t add up to a great film — or even a great thriller — in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember and sees at least 500 films a year. You can find his longer, more detailed reviews at www.DaveOnFilm.com/ or follow his movie updates on Twitter as @FilmBuzz.
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Imagination is funny
by Gary Goldstein
It must have taken a lot of imagination for the makers of Imagine That to believe there was actually a full-fledged movie behind its limited, decidedly low-tech concept. No matter, the shiny, family-friendly trifle cobbled together by writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and director Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge) proves funny and charming, at least until the “is-that-all-there-is?” of it kicks in.
Fortunately, the picture’s not-so-secret weapon, star Eddie Murphy, gives this uneven effort a reason for being. And, as is often the case with his lesser comedies — not to mention his better ones — he’s the most entertaining thing in it. As Evan Danielson, a divorced workaholic who bonds with his 7-year-old daughter Olivia (adorably played by Yara Shahidi) when her imaginary friends become his invisible business advisers, Murphy is his usual creative self. True, he sometimes mugs and steps completely out of Evan’s supposedly tightly wound character. But when he’s on top of his game, particularly during several virtuoso comic sequences, you remember why Murphy earns the big bucks.
However, while Imagine That is clearly intended for kid audiences, the film’s focus on financial adviser Evan’s high-rolling job and its related investment-speak seems like an odd choice to engage the tykes. And did anyone really think youngsters would be tickled by Evan’s Native American-lite company rival, Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), whose pompous, pseudo-mystical blatherings are given a confounding amount of attention?
In addition, though children may relate to Olivia’s obsession with her purple security blanket (whose nickname, the “Goo-Gaa,” inspires some of the film’s bigger laughs), as well as to her earnest, one-sided chats with three pretend princesses and their queen, the fact that we’re never literally taken into her fantasy world — she only tells Evan what she “sees” — feels like a rather large and curious cheat. Don’t be fooled by that fairy dust on the movie’s poster; it stays on the poster.
Despite an overly broad third act, one can’t fault the film’s message of family unity, underscored by a memorable use of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” After hearing Yara’s smile-inducing rendition, you may never sing it the same way again.
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