Flixchatter Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

Ok now, The Taking of Pelham 123 is yet another remake (clearly Hollywood’s long been out of original ideas!) of a subway train being hijacked. It’s a simple premise really, but director Tony Scott managed to inject enough tension and sharp dialogue to keep audience engaged. This is a story of an ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances, played brilliantly by Denzel Washington. The normally dashing Oscar winner was able to convince us he’s just a regular joe in a not-so-regular day at work. Compared to his debonair and opulent look in American Gangster with his sharply-pressed suit, he’s almost entirely transformed here. Most of the time, his character Walter Garber looks perplexed and frazzled, but yet you still gets a sense he’d get the job done and carry the day in the end.

John Travolta’s role offers a strong contrast as the ultimate baddie. A self-described wronged man, Ryder is hell-bent on revenge against the NYC government, Travolta channeled his role as Castor Troy in Face/Off with his sinister laughs and facial ticks. Just like Troy, he’s not an entirely unsympathetic villain—one can’t help feeling sorry for him as much as we despise what he does.

Instead of filling it with non-stop action sequences, the movie consist a large amount of dialogue between Ryder and Garber, mostly over an intercom. I have no problem with that, in fact it makes the action sequences and car crashes all the more effectively jolting.

The one thing I could do without is the crude language and overly excessive amount of @$$ jokes for my taste, which I don’t think is necessary. IHMO, If they take all the profanities out, I don’t think it’d lessen the impact of the whole situation. Someone else might pick on the migrane-inducing shaky camera movement used throughout. It seems to be the technique du jour ever since the Bourne series came about. Doesn’t bother me though, but I feel that it’s not as highly effective as the way it was done in Bourne where it almost enhances the plotline.

In any case, I think the script is a strong one and it’s truly what’s good about this flix. The  enjoyable repartee lets you in on the character’s own dilemmas and predicaments, making their ‘connection’ believable. You enjoy their banter so much that at one point when Garber’s replaced by an official hostage negotiator (played by John Turturro) — a costly move on the part of the hostages — we want Garber back as much as Ryder does. The two finally face off towards the end, and Travolta quips, ‘You’re taller than I imagined you’d be. And good lookin’ too.’ It’s a funny line delivered in the same manner as when Castor Troy visits ‘himself’ in jail in the form of Nicolas Cage (you have to see Face/Off to know what I mean, hmmm now I want to watch it again myself!)

Besides Turturro, James Gandolfini was another solid supporting cast member. When I saw him I thought, ‘What, Tony Soprano? Wow Ryder picked the wrong mayor to deal with today!’  But Gandolfini revealed  his funny side not much seen by the public, which is too bad because his comic timing is spotless. Coming out of his limo, he said ‘I left my Rudy Giulliani suit at home’ in an apparent jab at the former Republican mayor. I actually saw his funny side in this little-seen musical called Romance & Cigarettes, which strangely enough was directed by  John Turturo! I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival back in 2005. It was around 11 AM and the director himself came and introduced the flick. He said “sorry you had to watch a dirty film so early in the morning” or something like that. It was a rather vulgar but hilarious musical where Gandolfini sang and danced along with a terrific cast of Christopher Walken, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet (as his prostitute lover!).

Sorry I digress. Overall, Pelham is a pretty good movie. It won’t win an Oscar, nor would it linger in your memory for days to come. It could’ve been better under a more capable hand at the helm, say Michael Mann. Nevertheless, with Washington and Travolta in top form, it’s a pretty entertaining flix worth your 10 bucks.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels

Have you seen this movie? Well what do you think?

Hollywood’s love affair with ‘swords & sandals’ flix

Clash of the Titans Remake – thrusting into theaters March 2010

Perseus ready for battle!
Perseus ready for battle!

I came across a pic of Gladiator-like Perseus wielding his sword the other day, and it piqued my interest. My hubby Ivan’s a big fan of the original movie with Harry Hamlin, which basically tells the classic Greek mythology of the hero Perseus who defeat Medusa to save Andromeda. Surely you’ve seen all kinds of statues of a naked guy holding the severed head of serpent-haired Medusa. Well, that naked dude is Perseus.

The role now belongs to Aussie actor Sam Worthington (most recently stole scenes from Chris Bale as Marcus in Terminator Salvation). Gone is the Hugh Grant-like flop, replaced by a shaved head a’la Gladiator‘s Maximus. Even the costume & shield look curiously similar – I’m guessing MPAA would slap them with  NC-17 rating if the flix were to follow the statue’s costume or lack there-of. In any case, Worthington could be the next Tinseltown’s ‘It Boy’ if he played his cards right, having also been cast in Jim Cameron’s Avatar (his biggest project a decade after Titanic). From what I’ve seen and read so far, he seems to have the same gravitas and intensity as his fellow Aussie Russell Crowe (minus his temperament I hope) and the tall, brawny physique of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas in 300.

I’m a big fan of historical romans/greek tales, but Hollywood’s ripe with as many misses as there hits. Alexander, The Last Legion, and In the Name of a King are all critical duds and box office flops. But apparently they’re not giving up this genre just yet. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Prince of Persia (based on the popular video game) is promised to be a big blockbuster much like Clash of the Titans, both due out in 2010.

Not a big fan of Gyllenhaal myself, I’d put my money on the latter. Consist mostly of European talents: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Danny Houston, Mads Mikkelsen to name a few, it’ll focus more on Perseus personal life more than the original. Not a bad cast indeed! (Geek sidenote – James Bond connection alert: Mikkelsen was the baddie with the bloody eye in Casino Royale and Arterton played Agent Fields who ended up drowned in petroleum in Quantum of Solace). French native Louis Leterrier is directing the project, whom I thought did a good job re-imagining the Hulk with Ed Norton. Let’s hope this one is more in the same breath as Gladiator and less Troy

With that note, here’s a list of my fave swords & sandals flicks:

1. Ben Hur – Charlton Heston’s born to play the Jewish Prince (albeit he didn’t look Jewish in the slightest) and the production is what you’d call an epic proportion. Sure it’s a bit cheesy and slow at times, but the incredible chariot race scene alone is worth sitting for the 3+ hours running-time. The story of overcoming injustice and finally finding forgiveness through Christ still touch me to this day. They don’t make flix like this anymore. 

2. Gladiator – Russell Crowe in his Oscar-worthy role as Maximus is still the one to beat. He’s one bad-@$$ with a heart wronged by the very kingdom he’s sworn to protect.

3. 300 – I put this on the list more for Zach Snyder’s directing than Mr’s Butler’s role as Leonidas (although his 12-pack certainly didn’t hurt). The stylized, hyper-realistic visuals were shot almost entirely on green screen. I personally think the stunning CGI work helps distinguish this flix from the rest of the flock.

I’d have put Troy on the list if it weren’t for Pitt’s and Orlando Bloom’s involvement as Achilles and Paris. Even Eric Bana’s noble Hector and Brian Cox’s terrific portrayal as Agamemnon couldn’t save this movie.

So what do you think? Are you ready to be entertained?!