How's the summer movie season treating you so far?
Not so hot, I'd imagine.
You had the promise of the spectacle of Terminator Salvation (hardly) and X-men Origins: Wolverine, and both of those pretty much sucked.
Were it not for Star Trek and Up, the summer movies scene would be a total bust for me. You can't really call The Hangover a summer movie for the studio could've released that at any point of the year and done as well. That said, The Taking of Pelham 123 isn't too bad a way to spend a summer afternoon (or date).
But we'll get to that. First, the more pertinent question: why all the suck?
Those in the know keep blaming it on the writers' strike of 2007/08.
What I could see as a plausible result of the writers' strike is an increase in the number of remakes we get in theaters. That I could believe.
I'm not sure about the ownership of scripts for films. I assume that if a studio made a particular movie, they own the rights to that film's script.
So then there's a writer's strike and the studio is looking at a summer movie season with no movies because they can't get any scripts written. Why not just pull one out of the mothballs and remake it? Let the actors adlib their dialogue if the original's sounds outdated so that no one's actually writing anything... viola. Strike avoided.
I don't know that that actually happened.
I do know that Transformers 2 began shooting without a script because, well, hell, why bother with a script anyway? It's a movie about giant effing robots. I know that they knocked out Star Trek in a hurry and that reports from the Wolverine shoot were that the script for that flick was in shambles and they shot it anyway.
Maybe all that leaves us with 2009 -- the summer of mediocrity.
It could've just as well have been the summer of remakes. After all, The Taking of Pelham 123 is a remake of a 1974 Walter Matthau.
I didn't know that ahead of time. I didn't know that until I logged onto IMDb.com and started digging for info on it.
Matthau played Denzel Washington's character. Imagine that. Matthau and Washington. The Matthau I remember was the grumpy old guy in Dennis the Menace and, well, Grumpy Old Men. I just can't imagine that he was a suave leading man.
Was that old movie good enough to remake?
Were movie's better back then?
I have this sneaking feeling that movies have never been any better or any worse than they are now. I think we live under the delusion that there was ever a golden age of movies. I think they've always been sort of average as a form of entertainment.
Certainly, like any kind of "art," they have the power to transcend, but for the most part, I think they're not any better than television, which is mostly ephemeral.
You know what I really think? I think we're starting to not really give a damn about the movies anymore. Too much cinematic mediocrity and too many other options.
Hollywood, once again, try making fewer better films. Or don't. Keep using your antiquated operations manual.
Anyway, so the remake.
I've said this before, but I love Tony Scott movies.
Listen to this list of flicks... Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Crimson Tide, The Fan, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Man on Fire, Domino and Déjà Vu (a fantastic underappreciated sci-fi flick). I wouldn't call any of those films "great" movies, but that's a whole lot of fun.
They never suck and are always beautiful to look at, especially if you love slick production design and manic, stylish editing. Tony Scott movies look like Tony Scott movies, and though his style is imitated, there aren't a whole lot of directors who can pull it off.
Hell, most directors don't have a "style." They change from picture to picture, or worse, don't seem to put any sort of stamp on the "look" of their pictures at all.
Maybe it's because Tony's directed so many commercials. Maybe it's because he's in his mid-60s and knows more than everyone else.
I don't know the man's secret, and I don't care. Give me any random Saturday night or day and I'll take a mediocre Tony Scott movie, like The Taking of Pelham 123, over just about anyone else's flick.
Then there's the Denzel thing. If you back up to that list of movies, you can see Tony likes working with Denzel. This new one brings their collaborations to four and they're already scheduled to work together again on a flick called Unstoppable.
I can see why he likes working with Denzel. The man's a proven commodity, and I think he treats the work like work. Denzel strikes me as a sort of blue-collar movie star. You don't read about the guy in the tabloids. You don't hear about his lavish lifestyle.
He just makes movies, apparently. Just shows up on the set and lends his particular brand of gravitas to the project and it's a hit. He's charismatic as hell and pretty good at his job. What's not to like?
Take It Already
Walter Garber (Denzel) appears to be having a pretty normal day working for the NYC subway authority. He sits there at his desk, surrounded by computer monitors, a giant room-spanning screen hanging out in front of him depicting all the trains in town and their locations at any time. It looks sort of like air traffic controlling without any of the actual stress.
Until one of his trains, Pelham 123 stops moving, anyway.
He's eventually informed by a guy calling himself Ryder (John Travolta) that hostages have been taken and that if $10 million isn't delivered to the subway car in an hour, people will be killed. After that, you're treated to witty banter between Garber and Ryder. Verbal jousting of a sort, and a lot of it is actually clever.
Don't worry. Things happen to keep ratcheting up the tension. That's the way of these types of films. It's not an action movie, per se, and not exactly a thriller. I'm not sure what the genre is for this. Crime drama? Doesn't matter, really. It's short and sweet and makes for a good popcorn eating milieu.
The film works (insomuch as it does work) because our two principals -- Garber and Ryder -- are actual characters instead of caricatures. Especially Garber. He's flawed but likeable guy. It's not just a dude being played by Denzel Washington.
Same with Ryder, though I think Travolta's a little over the top most the time in this one. I like Travolta when he's not in a crappy project. I think the guy almost doesn't care what he's in. Some movies, like Wild Hogs, I think he's just phoning it in. Some flicks, I think he does a damn good job. He's awesome in Get Shorty and Pulp Fiction. This isn't that, but he's not bad. A little too much at times, but not bad.
The end of the flick is a bit uninspired. Kinda lame. But not terrible.
I feel like I'm apologizing for the movie. I'm not. It's a good popcorn flick. Nothing more. Nothing original here. Nothing that'll make it endure. But it'll sell on DVD. It's good enough.
The real yardstick here is all the other crappy movies that come out like this one that make it look like a diamond in a pig pen.
The Taking of Pelham 123 is akin to a pulp novel. Sure, you've seen the plot before, but it was cheap at the airport bookstore and is easy to put down and pick back up. Easy fun.
Same thing here, excepting that it would be cheaper and more rewarding if you'd just gone and bought the book. But, you know, that would require an attention span. So just thank uncle Tony for the summer entertainment, then go out for drinks and forget you saw the whole thing.
See you next week.
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