A blog about movies and filmmaking.

The Second “grown up” movie of the summer…

In action on June 15, 2009 at 4:57 am

There seem to be two camps on the release of the new Tony Scott movie, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 – the people that hate the idea of a remake; and seemingly worship the original 1974 movie (with the controversially different title), THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE; and then the other group, who probably haven’t ever heard of, or care about the original and/or weren’t opposed to a remake. (There’s probably another camp, who don’t care about either, or about summer fare at all, but screw them!) Anyway, having only actually ever heard about the original, literally days before hearing news of the remake, I have to say I’m in the camp of people that didn’t mind a remake.

My biggest problem with the idea of a remake, were all the haters who seemingly came out of the woodwork to pronouce their love of this Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw “classic” that no one seemed to have even heard of. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t fans out there, or that the movie could indeed not be one of someone’s favorite movies; it’s just that of the classic movies thrown about as “classics”, I’ve never heard of this one. (And we all know, by now, that I’m the all-knowing OZ…er, Movie God!! Yeah, I like that.)

Anyway, so I saw the original a number of months ago, and I liked it and thought it an above average mid-70’s thriller. It being the movie that Quentin Tarantino nabbed the monikers for his characters in RESERVOIR DOGS – Mr. Grey, Mr. Pink, etc (although, Mr. Pink isn’t in PELHAM) – it features Robert Shaw (JAWS) as Mr. Blue,  a man that takes over a subway car and holds the riders hostage in hopes of being paid his ransom. In his communication with the transit authorities, he’s given over to Walter Matthau’s Zachary Garber; who talks Mr. Blue through the events. Things go wrong; a car accident that’s carrying the money; one of the other hijackers is a little loony and looking for bloodshed (Hector Elizondo in an actually frightening role, as opposed to just looking scary in other movies) and the other major accomplice is Mr. Green, played by Martin Balsam (Psycho) who is the trainman, with a cold. The “good guys” have some interesting actors on their side too; Jerry Stiller plays Rico Patrone, assisting Garber.

With the exception of a few moments where there is some gunplay – shooting at the police; killing a hostage – this is mostly a movie built around guys talking. There’s some fun scenes of seeing how the authorities go about collecting the money to turn over for the ransom; but all the tension and suspense is between the man that’s got to keep to a deadline and the man that’s looking for just a little more time.

The director’s other main directing credit that I found was for the fourth movie in the JAWS franchise; which is reknowned for having paid for Michael Caine’s house. (I kid, he’s got quite a long list of credits, so I’m sure he’s got followers.) And for the time that this movie came out, I can see that it would have been a great escapist kind of action movie. And I can see how it was overshadowed, having come out in the same year as CHINATOWN, THE GODFATHER 2, THE TOWERING INFERNO and two of Mel Brooks’ best movies, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

It’s also worth pointing out that THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (that’s the old one, I spelled out he numbers…see how that works) is making the rounds either on free online sites like Hulu and Fancast; and also on On Demand, in the free movies section. Check it out!

Now, let’s talk a little about the new movie, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123. This movie starring Denzel Washington as Walter Garber (see what they did there), and John Travolta taking on the role of Robert Shaw’s character, although this time he goes by the pun name “Ryder” as opposed to the color-coded names, also with appearances by John Turturro, James Gandolfini and Luis Guzman. The movie reteams the creators of the great action, thriller MAN ON FIRE (also with Denzel) of director Tony Scott and writer Brian Helgeland, and I have to say that they do a great job with what they put on screen.

This movie is a hard R-rated, grown up movie. Even if the characters – in particularly Travolta channeling his villainous turns from FACE/OFF and BROKEN ARROW – are a little immature. He’s throwing swear words around like his name was Samuel L. Jackson, and sporting a balding hair-do, a biker moustache and a large neck tattoo. Along with Guzman, Travolta has a couple of silent, rough-necks with him to assist in holding the new train hostage. On Garber’s side, he’s got Turturro as a Police hostage negotiator – who spends as much time questioning Denzel as he does trying to talk to Travolta; Gandolfini, on the other side of the law for once, playing the mayor.

The action in this movie, has the “to be expected” touch of Tony Scott. Cameras spin around, cross-cutting and loud music all help tell this story and I have to say that it really suits the rush that is New York City. And I would say that what’s presented here is 4/5 of an excellent action-thriller, but it’s in the last few scenes that the movie kind of breaks down. Instead of going with the more low-key, and less action based ending; everything gets amped up and there’s car chases and gun showdowns and bad guys getting filled full of bullets. This is the one moment where I really have to side with the people for the original.

In the original, after the whole crisis has been taken care of, Garber is still working the case – see, there’s an inside man – and there’s a final showdown, that all comes down to a sneeze. And that would have been a better ending than a smiling Denzel Washington with a half gallon of milk.

Overall though, a fun movie; and definitely not the worst way to spend a couple of hours.

And just for the fun of it, here’s the trailer of the original:


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