The Alphabet Killer – The Killer Inside Me week

This is The Killer Inside Me week. The Alphabet Killer is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: The Alphabet Killer (2008) – Rated R for some language and violence.

“In this psychological thriller inspired by true events, Eliza Dushku (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) stars as Megan Paige, a dogged police investigator obsessed with capturing a demented serial killer targeting young girls in Rochester, N.Y. Haunted by the grisly rape and murder of a 10-year-old victim, Paige begins to suffer hallucinations that culminate in a suspense-filled climax. Cary Elwes and Timothy Hutton co-star.”

“Mostly the job is to ask questions. The frustrating part, the part that drives you crazy, is that the people you really want to talk to are dead.”

Poor Eliza Dushku. She just cannot seem to find the right role. She was fantastic as the “bad” vampire slayer Faith in 20 episodes of Buffy and a half dozen of Angel. Realizing her potential, especially in the genre market, executives cast her as the lead in Tru Calling.

Tru Calling did not work out – two seasons and it was not very good. Joss Whedon then cast her as the sexy lead in Dollhouse. Fox executives, perhaps learning from the debacle of canceling Firefly early… and Family Guy… and Futurama…you get the picture, extended Dollhouse for a second season but ratings got worse.

In between series, Eliza gets roles in various movies. Here she has the starring role as Megan Paige, a homicide detective who does not so much do detective work as hallucinate what the victim went through. Poor Eliza even breaks her cardinal rule of no nudity here and is briefly topless.

Eliza gets backup here from a few other actors who did not quite make it. Cary Elwes plays her boyfriend and boss. Cary has gone from being Westley (/sigh) in The Princess Bride to being the victim Dr. Gordon in Saw, a role he will apparently reprise in (ugh) Saw VII.

Timothy Hutton, in spite of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ordinary People, also bounces back and forth between movie roles (mostly supporting) and starring television roles. He plays Richard Ledge here and is currently Nathan Ford on Leverage.

Genre actors Tom Noonan and Michael Ironside provide good support as fellow police officers and Bill Moseley appears as a suspect. The writer Tom Malloy also puts in an appearance as Officer Steven Harper.

Unfortunately the writing is not very good. Megan keeps acting more and more insane solely in order to set up the ending. That anyone would let her near an investigation twitching like a junkie in need of a heroin fix is beyond ridiculous.

MINOR SPOILER: One of the main problems is that if you watch a lot of movies, you will realize exactly who the killer is within minutes of their appearance. There are actually three easy to spot reasons why this person is the killer so the script is actually full of overkill in this regard.

Also do not even get me started on the whole Based on a True Story fiasco. If you trace things far enough back most are based on a true  story – that is why stories resonate emotionally – because they are grounded in reality in some fashion. Of course this story has almost nothing in common with the events that inspired it.

The actual ending is pretty (unintentionally) hilarious.

The film as a whole is not bad but neither is it good. Give this one a pass.

People Watch: Carl Lumbly plays Dr. Ellis Parks here but you may remember him best as Marcus Dixon on Alias.

Lazy Weekend Musings – R.I.P. Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) passed away today at the age of 74. He left behind a wild and wide body of work, much of which is available on instant Netflix.

There are 28 different movie and TV appearances by Dennis Hopper currently available on instant Netflix.

Sadly the movie that propelled him to stardom, Easy Rider is not one of those.

WATCH: Mad Dog Morgan (1976) – Rated R.

“Ruthless bounty hunters scour Australias harsh outback for infamous outlaw Mad Dog Morgan (Dennis Hopper) in this thriller based on the life of the Irishman who immigrated during the 1800s gold rush. Morgan is caught for stealing horses and endures years of torture behind bars. He continues his outlaw ways after his release, and soon he is wanted … dead or alive.”

Dennis Hopper has the rare starring role here. He is wonderfully intense and his portrayal of Mad Dog Morgan is one of the best that he has ever done. The film is not without flaws but the scenery is gorgeous and David Gulpilil gives a good performance as well.

WATCH: Speed (1994) – Rated R.

“Finding out there is a bomb on your bus (which will explode if the driver goes slower than 50 miles per hour, no less) is never a good thing — but if your demolitions-expert-in-shining armor turns out to be Keanu Reeves, at least you will have a fun ride. Jan De Bonts “Die Hard on a bus” thrill-fest has all the stunts, explosions and edge-of-your-seat moments an action fan could want — plus Sandra Bullock in her breakthrough role.”

While Dennis Hopper had played villains before, this is his iconic one. After this Hopper was pretty consistently the heavy but he always seemed to have fun with the roles. All three leads in Speed are clearly having a blast and the movie is quite fun.

Some of my favorite Hopper roles that are not on instant are: True Romance, Apocalypse Now, Land of the Dead, and Red Rock West.

Rest in Peace Dennis Hopper

Red Planet Mars – Seeing Red week

Clearly this should have been my pick for Better Dead than Red. This is Seeing Red week and Red Planet Mars is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: Red Planet Mars (1952) – Not rated.

“A scientist (Peter Graves) attempts to contact life forms on Mars and receives a response that changes the world in this Cold War-era sci-fi film. The message, claiming a utopian society exists on Mars, causes a panic in the United States as fears of the aliens presumed advanced technology result in a collapsing economy. But is the message really from outer space, or is there a communist plot brewing?”

“Its the Sermon on the Mount…from Mars.”

“That will silence their hymns. What do these superstitious peasants think? They cannot compete against our guns.”

Okay I feel a little ripped off. I went into this thinking that this was a typical 50s science fiction schlockfest like say The Angry Red Planet or another Peter Graves one Killers from Space. The first clue that I was mistaken was that the opening credits indicate this was based on a play.

Peter Graves plays Chris Cronyn, our hero. He is the stock earnest scientist from many sci-fi films of this period. Remember when scientists could be heroes in a movie? Now if you have a scientist, they are inevitably misguided, delusional or the outright villain.

On the other hand many 1950s movie scientists are really computer technicians, hobbyists, communications & electronics specialists, etc.

Andrea King plays his wife and fellow scientist, Linda Cronyn. She delivers almost every line as if it is the most important line in the movie. While she seems over the top, her character is written to essentially speechify (as is the movie itself).

Of course we do have an evil scientist. Herbert Berghof plays Franz Calder, a German scientist who had been in prison for many years. As this is 1952, the assumption must be made that he worked for the Nazis and was jailed at the end of World War II. Of course now he works for the Russkies.

When the Cronyns reveal that they are in contact with Mars, media circus is given a whole new meaning. Not only do reporters camp out in front but so do people selling Mars photos, buttons and balloons.

It is pretty hysterical that when this happens Cronyn (the man of course :P) wins a Nobel Prize and our economy practically collapses. Mars can feed 1,000 people per half acre so food prices collapse. They use cosmic energy so when we hear of that the coal market collapses followed by the steel industry. Next up is a run on the banks.

Never mind that there is no indication that Mars is going to share this with us. On the other hand is it really any more far-fetched than the “complex derivatives” and other chicanery that drive our stock market?

Those darn Russkies are gloating until we find out that the Martians are Christians! No I am not kidding.

There are no special effects and almost no action at all. The movie just consists of people talking in a house then talking in a lab then a government building then back to the house and repeat.

The Netflix reviews seem pretty polarized. Either people love it for the pro-faith message (but do not kid yourself – it is very strictly pro-Christian faith) or hate it.

I found many of the ideas to be interesting but the film itself is too boring and the plot so full of holes that it is almost laughable. I liked the Franz Calder story arc as well as the ending but it does not make up for the rest of the film.

I did like that the film was not afraid to be anti-war when we were in the middle of the Korean “police action”. The pro-Christian faith message though is so pedantic and laughable that while I do not hate the film, I can certainly see why others would.

There is no real reason to recommend this. Similar to yesterday, this film would have been better as a Twilight Zone episode.

People Watch: Peter Graves went on of course to lead the Mission Impossible team. Andrea King went on to play in Blackenstein – I swear I am not making this up.

Red Dwarf – Seeing Red week

This is Seeing Red week. Red Dwarf is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Red Dwarf (1988) – NR – Not rated.

“This notoriously irreverent sci-fi series that first appeared in the 1980s on British television gleefully mixes jokes about excessive curry consumption with affectionate parodies of classic sci-fi. It is a weird and wonderful mélange of Neil Simons “The Odd Couple,” John Carpenters Dark Star and A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”

“Where is everybody Hol?” – “They are dead Dave” – “Who is?” – “Everybody Dave” – “What, Captain Hollister?” – “Everybody is dead Dave” – “What, Tod Hunter?” – “Everybody is dead Dave” – “What, Selby?” – “They are all dead. Everybody is dead Dave” – “Peterson isnt is he?” – “Everybody is dead Dave” – I think you get the idea.

What other sitcom begins by killing off all of the cast save one? The cast is absolutely perfect.

Craig Charles plays Lister, the only survivor of the human race. He is a complete and utterly disgusting slob. All he wants to do is retire to Fiji and raise horses.

Chris Barrie is a complete by-the-rules pompous git named Rimmer who dies and is brought back as a hologram. Chris originally auditioned for the role of Lister but is amazing as Rimmer.

Danny John-Jules is a humanoid lifeform descended from a pet cat. Cat is absolutely wonderfully self-centered (as any cat owner knows), very charismatic, and a snappy dresser.

Norman Lovett plays Holly, the ship computer, for the first two seasons and is later replaced by Hattie Hayridge. The part of Holly is later eliminated as the creators realized that Kryten provided all the exposition needed.

Robert LLewellyn plays Kryten, the ultimate service robot starting in the second season. He also played Kryten in an unaired pilot for an American version of the show.

The show is absolutely hilarious for several seasons. The budget is small though Netflix appears to be broadcasting the version where special effects were added later (after the VHS releases made them a bunch of money).

Unfortunately creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor eventually had a huge falling out and Rob Grant left the show. New writers were hired for seasons 7 and 8 and it REALLY shows. Seasons 7 and 8 are absolutely terrible.

Red Dwarf is definitely a show that went on too long. It probably should have ended after 4 or 5 seasons. All 8 seasons are available on instant play so keep going until you do not enjoy it anymore.

The cast was recently reunited for a reunion type show. Red Dwarf: Back to Earth is available through Netflix on DVD. Word is that it is not very good either.

I highly recommend the first several seasons especially those who really enjoyed the BBC production of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (which is also available on instant Netflix).

People Watch: More of a what movies have I seen them in this time.

Danny John-Jules appeared as Asad in Blade II and Barfly Jack in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Chris Barrie was Hillary in both of the Tomb Raider movies.

Craig Charles has not really been in movies but has done 400 episodes of Coronation Street.

Robert LLewellyn played Gryphon in the Dave McKean/Neil Gaiman adaptation MirrorMask.

Return in Red – Seeing Red week

Better Dead than Red! This is Seeing red week. Return in Red is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: Return in Red (2005) – NR – Not rated.

“A small towns population dwindles to dangerously low levels when the residents unknowingly become guinea pigs in an unethical science experiment designed to test the effect of electromagnetic frequencies on the human brain. Michael Ray Reed, Becky Niccum, Linda McCormick, Keelan Rushing, Amy Paliganoff and J.J. Huckin co-star in this eerie blend of science fiction and horror, a film directed by Tyler Tharpe”

“Scream all you want. No one will hear.” – Tagline for the movie that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie except perhaps as a meta-comment on viewing it.

Okay as anyone who knows me knows, horror is my absolute favorite genre and science fiction horror is my favorite subgenre. This means that I really wanted to like this.

Not only is this directed by Tyler Tharpe but he also wrote, produced and edited it. His last and only other feature film, Freak was eight years prior, which he wrote, produced, directed, edited, did sound work on and acted in. I admire these jacks of all trades ever since Robert Rodriguez pulled it off in El Mariachi.

Like Rodriguez in El Mariachi, it is clear that Tharpe is working with a microbudget here. Heck the bad guys are unseen people in an old minivan with a satellite dish.

I understand Tharpe wants to show what poor small town life is like. Still it seems like a huge chunk of the running time is taken up with who is giving a ride to whom. This is exactly as riveting as you might think.

Dialogue is realistic but not interesting. I half expected two of the characters to break out with the quintessential “What do you want to do tonight?” – “I dont know – what do you want to do?” conversation.

As a micro-budgeted independent film, acting runs the gamut from okay to not so okay.

One of the main problems is that the film is boring. There is no action at all until well past the halfway mark. After that the action is somewhat herky-jerky.

There is one big set piece where clearly someone had a love of cheap gore effects. The problem with that is that it is very jarring and does not seem to fit at all with the rest of the movie.

Ultimately the movie does not end so much as stop as if the actors had caught up with the scriptwriter as he was writing.

Some of the ideas here are interesting but would clearly have fit better in an X-Files episode. Ideas do not equal plot. Ideas + dialogue = run-time but that is about it.

Definitely take a pass on this as the ideas do not pan out and the film is twice as long as it needs to be.

Red – Seeing Red week

I am not now nor have I ever been a communist but this is Seeing Red week. Red is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Red (2007) – Rated R for violence and language.

“When it becomes apparent that the three teenage miscreants who murdered his dearly loved dog, Red, wont be held accountable for their senseless deed, the normally reclusive and affable Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) resolves to take matters into his own hands. Trygve Diesen and Lucky McKee direct this disquieting thriller that also stars Tom Sizemore, Robert Englund, Richard Riehle, Noel Fisher and Amanda Plummer.”

“I learned one thing during the war: that you fight with whatever you have got, whatever you can lay your hands on… and you never stop. The minute you do, that is the minute the world rolls right over you.”

First let me say that I have not read any of the Jack Ketchum novels. From what I have seen of the movie versions of The Lost and The Girl Next Door, Ketchum seems to specialize in all the ugliness of the world. Cannibalism, child abuse, rape – everything that makes me feel uncomfortable.

I can certainly see the market in this. These are topics that are way scarier than the Stephen King stories I love because they can really happen. On the other hand a huge part of why I love horror, fantasy, and science fiction so much is because it is not possible (or not possible yet for science fiction). This is much the same as how you can enjoy a rollercoaster (the illusion of danger without actual danger) but not a runaway car with no brakes.

The advantage of the Ketchum tales is that they seem firmly rooted in realism. Suspension of disbelief is not hard because the background to the stories is true. The Girl Next Door is a good film but it is not a pleasant one.

Lucky McKee was originally hired to film this adaptation but was fired after a few weeks (reason not given) and replaced with Trygve Allister Diesen. At the same time Angela Bettis was replaced as Carrie with Kim Dickens. Both Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen are given credit as director. Trygve is also a producer on Red.

Red works so well because of Brian Cox. He is a great character actor but almost always only has small parts (X-Men 2, The Ring, The Bourne movies). Here he has to carry the whole film on his shoulders. He does a marvelous job. He has to convey determination, fear, anguish, bravery, and bewilderment and manages all of them.

Robert Englund and Amanda Plummer are excellent in very straight roles. They do a very admirable job of avoiding the camp that is usually present in their roles. It is actually a shame that their roles are so brief.

Tom Sizemore does a fine job as Mr. McCormack but it is his normal role. He can sleepwalk through a sleazy role so well that that seems like all he is given any more. His real life antics often amusingly reflect those of some of his characters.

I recommend this grim little revenge thriller for both the realism and the leading performance by Brian Cox. The climax is a little anti-climactic and rushed but overall the film is well done and the portion of the denouement that is not telegraphed is very well-handled.

People Watch: Mrs. McCormack is played by Ashley Laurence. Ashley was Kirsty in Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and the more recent straight-to-video Hellraiser: Hellseeker.

People Watch 2: Did you know that Brian Cox played Dr. Hannibal Lecter/Lecktor long before Anthony Hopkins? Cox has a supporting role as Lecter in Manhunter.

The Red Balloon – Seeing Red week

Not that I am angry but this is Seeing Red week. The Red Balloon is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge – 1956) – NR – Not rated.

“A young Parisian boy (Pascal Lamorisse) finds a balloon — or does the balloon find him? Together, boy and balloon wander the streets of Montmartre and the adjacent neighborhoods, encountering adults and gangs of local kids as the balloon becomes the boys inseparable companion. Directed by Albert Lamorisse (who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar), the fanciful 34-minute film also won a special BAFTA Award.”

Albert Lamorisse won the 1957 Best Writing – Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the Red Balloon. He beat out Julie, La Strada, The Bold and the Brave, and the Ladykillers. What is particularly unusual is that this film is only 34 minutes long and has precious little dialogue. This is the only short film to have won a non-short film Oscar.

The Red Balloon is also a test of how old you are. Other than this most recent viewing, I had not seen this movie in 30 years or more. I remember it being shown many times in school when I was a kid. 34 minutes is the perfect length – by the time you start the projector (another indicator of age – nowadays schools have computers and DVD players and prior to that VCRs, my school had actual film projectors) and play the film, you have just enough time to finish before the period ends.

As one would expect with a movie that has almost no dialogue, it is extremely visual. I enjoyed the film as a child but I did not find it especially memorable – all you had to do for me as a child was to have a monster in the film.

The architecture on display here is amazing as is the slice of Parisian life in the 1950s. Almost the entire film was made in the Belleville section of Paris. Montmartre, The Eiffel Tower, and the Seine can be glimpsed in various scenes.

Watching the film today I found it both thrilling and absolutely haunting.

It is superbly thrilling as an allegory about the power of love and friendship, non-conformity and disillusionment, despair and imagination. On these levels alone I would wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful film.

It appears to have accomplished everything that writer/director/producer Albert Lamorisse could have hoped for and strangely much much more.

Now it is time for the much much more and the haunting part. The Red Balloon was made in 1956 and as noted presents a wonderful slice of Parisian life. In the late 60s, Belleville was “renovated”. By renovated, I mean that all the historic buildings were torn down and new ones put up.

Thus The Red Balloon is also a haunting reminder of a bygone era. I have to say that I think this is the best film I have seen this year. I cannot recommend it highly enough even if there are not any monsters in it.

For those with set top boxes, The Red Balloon is presented in a gorgeous high-definition transfer.

Nerd note: Yes in my school I was often the one operating the film projector. Barely a teen, I threaded the film, made sure no debris had gotten in the track, and spliced the film when we had an inevitable break. Today I cannot even take a picture with my cellphone. What happened?

People Watch: Pascal the boy is played by Pascal Lamorisse, son of the director Albert.

Lazy Weekend Musings – Lost & Asheville Film Society

I am beginning to feel like a shill for Carolina Cinemas. Previously I have plugged for them on Actionfest many times and also for their FREE Thursday night horror movie (this Thursday – 1931s Frankenstein!). This plug is a little mixed however.

Carolina Cinemas has been playing Lost for FREE (FREE is such an important word that it should always be in all caps) on Tuesday nights in their cinema lounge. With the Lost finale occurring on Sunday, I was concerned that the cinema lounge might have been reserved for something else.

I called Sunday afternoon to verify that Lost would be playing that evening at 7. I was told yes – not no or even maybe. My long-suffering wife drove all of us into Asheville. When we arrived the cinema lounge was being used by a private group. We arrived early (6:15) and asked at the concession stand if Lost would be playing at 7 and were assured that it would be. When the group was still going strong at ten minutes until 7, my wife went back downstairs and asked again.

Bizarrely this time she was told no. With no time remaining to get home and watch it (Carolina Cinemas is in Asheville and we do not live in Asheville), we were quite naturally very annoyed. We found some members of management and voiced that annoyance in what I hope was a respectful manner.

Management was quite receptive. They comped us three movie tickets even though Lost was a FREE feature and were properly apologetic. They also went to the extra trouble to find out that Lost was playing at Cinebarre – a movie theater on the West end of Asheville. In my mind, this stellar handling of a bad situation really redeemed them.

We hustled over to Cinebarre and enjoyed Popcorn and French Fries while watching the marathon four and a half hour conclusion to Lost. We enjoyed it though took some issue with how they ended it – not surprising as this is Lost we are talking about.

The Asheville Film Society

Bill Banowsky, owner of Carolina Cinemas is setting up the Asheville Film Society as a nonprofit organization and Ken (Cranky) Hanke will be serving as artistic director. Lost will be replaced by Asheville Film Society movies every Tuesday at 8 in the Cinema Lounge. The first film being shown is the classic neo-noir Blood Simple from the Coen brothers. As with Thursday night horror, the Tuesday night films will be FREE and open to the public.

Upcoming Tuesday Asheville Film Society films – FREE at Carolina Cinemas 8 pm

May 24th – Blood Simple (1984)

June 1st – Rushmore (1998)

June 8th – The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) –  The documentary not the biopic Milk

June 15th – Manhattan (1979)

June 22nd – Twentieth Century (1934)

June 29th – Tetro (2009)

Upcoming Thursday horror – FREE at Carolina Cinemas 8 pm

May 27th – Frankenstein (1931)

June 3rd – The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

June 10th – The Gorgon (1964) – Woohoo! One of my favorite Hammer films starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

June 17th – The Sentinel (1977)

Terror Train – Do Not Get on That Train week

Sorry for the late post ending Do Not Get on That Train week. Terror Train is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Terror Train (1980) – Rated R.

“A fraternity prank goes wrong and lands one student in a mental institution. Four years later, when his frat brothers host a costume party on a train to celebrate their graduation, the student sees this as his opportunity to exact revenge. He sneaks on the train and begins killing the partygoers one at a time, masking himself in the costumes of his victims. Will anyone make it off the train alive?”

Hrrrm. While the slasher genre is not known for originality, Terror Train is overly formulaic.

The most important facet of a slasher is to have a strong female heroine. The quintessential final girl is Laurie Strode in Halloween. Naturally they hired Jamie Lee Curtis to play our heroine here. Jamie Lee filmed this back-to-back with Prom Night and just before she reprised her role of Laurie Strode in Halloween II.

Over a four-year period Jamie defined the phrase Scream Queen. She does have a great scream by the way and it is on display here. From 1978 to 1981 she played the strong female lead in Halloween, The Fog (with her mother Psycho victim Janet Leigh), Prom Night, Terror Train, and Halloween II. Other than coming back as Laurie Strode for the surprisingly entertaining Halloween H20 and the why oh why Halloween Resurrection, she pretty much retired from horror after 1981.

Next you need to have a recognizable actor – usually in a wise do-gooder role. Again our quintessential role model is from Halloween – Donald Pleasance portraying Dr. Loomis. Here we have the venerable Ben Johnson as the train conductor. In the aforementioned Prom Night you have Leslie Nielsen.

An interesting setting helps. Halloween starts with babysitting and segues into a hospital setting for Halloween II. Friday the 13th and The Burning have summer camp, Prom Night has umm well prom night, and Terror Train has a train.

The train setting really helps Terror Train and is well used from private cars to sleeping berths. Writer Daniel Grodnik claims to have gotten the setting from a dream after viewing both Halloween and Silver Streak. My favorite train horror would have to be Horror Express with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Normally slasher films have to hide who the killer is. This can be done by awkward angles and obscured views but is more often done through a mask. Friday the 13th ends up several ways – the original laboriously obscures the killer, part 2 has potato sack Jason and finally in part 3 we get hockey mask Jason. In Terror Train, we have a big masquerade party so the killer is able to assume more than one identity.

During the draggy midsection, Terror Train helps divert us with a magic performance by Ken the Magician. Ken is played by none other than uber performer David Copperfield.

The last necessary staple of a slasher is that we have to have a character that we hate and want to die. Hart Bochner (Zach McNeill on The Starter Wife) plays Doc Manley who not only plays the terrible practical joke that starts our movie but also learns no lesson from the tragic outcome. He continually harasses and plays jokes on the other characters.

This is the directorial debut for Roger Spottiswoode. He does a good job of keeping things moving briskly and filming in the confined quarters of a train. He would go on to make Tomorrow Never Dies and The 6th Day.

While extremely formulaic, the formula works. This is an entertaining early 80s slasher. It is not even remotely as good as Halloween but Jamie Lee Curtis and Ben Johnson are both quite good. I recommend this to anyone wanting to see Jamie Lee in her prime or to see a fun 80s slasher. It is by no means a “good” or “important” film but it is enjoyable on its own merits.

People Watch: D.D. Winters has a brief role here as Merry. What is that you say? Who is D.D. Winters? Oh well maybe you know her better as Vanity, the Prince protege.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 – Do Not Get on That Train week

This is Do Not Get on That Train week. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is currently available on instant Netflix.

AVOID: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) – Rated R for graphic language and violence.

“When a group of hijackers led by criminal mastermind Ryder (John Travolta) take the passengers aboard a New York subway train hostage and demand a kings ransom, it is up to subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) to bring them down. Directed by Tony Scott (Man on Fire), this action thriller — an update of the 1974 film from Joseph Sargent — also stars James Gandolfini, John Turturro, Luis Guzmán and Michael Rispoli.”

“Life is simple now. They just have to do what I say.” – one of the few printable lines in the movie

Well I wanted to like this movie but I simply cannot. I also feel somewhat of a hypocrite for recommending a Steven Seagal film yesterday and panning a Denzel Washington film today.

Denzel Washington is a wonderful everyman. To me he represents a more recent Tom Hanks, Jimmy Stewart, or Gregory Peck (or for those of you who are color conscious a modern Sidney Poitier). He handles serious roles with dignity while managing a lighter touch on the material where it is required.

While normally playing the hero, his tour de force performance in Training Day won him his second Oscar. He had previously won a Best Supporting Actor nod for Glory as well as nominations for The Hurricane, Malcolm X, and Freedom.

Why oh why then does he keep working with director Tony Scott?

The Scott brothers are one of my cinematic love-hate relationships. Ridley Scott, in my opinion, is one of the best directors working today. He has directed four of my all-time favorite movies (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down and many other wonderful yet flawed films (The Duellists, Thelma & Louise, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Rain).

His brother Tony consistently takes good material and good actors and trashes both with his signature visual stylings. It is not that most of his films are awful – they actually are not – it is that while watching them you cannot help but think how much better the movie would be if someone else had made it.

Hysterically most of what is wrong with a Tony Scott film occurs literally within the first minute here. We approach the Columbia logo as through a tunnel and then we have a panoramic view of New York while a nice subway motif sets up the credits. Not content with that good start, Scott abandons it seconds later (seriously Scott has THE worst case of ADD of any Hollywood director) for a frenetic time-lapse montage of people swarming over the city streets with no shot lasting longer than a few seconds.

The first words heard are from a song and they are “got 99 problems but a b@tch  aint one” as we pan over Travolta with a cheesy moustache, cross earring and neck tattoo of a gun and the words “from my cold dead hands”. Is that supposed to be ironic? Apparently at that point the camera was just too steady so then we get some extra blurry and juddery camerawork, again with no shot lasting longer than a few seconds.

The F bomb – practically a Tony Scott trademark – is dropped in the song before the credits are done and still we are only in the first minute of the movie. The first line in the movie is “So” and the second line contains four F bombs. How old is Tony Scott? 12? Or did writer Brian Helgeland actually write that second line.

Please understand that I have nothing against profanity in films. South Park is one of the most profane films of all time and is absolutely hysterical. Where would John McClane (Bruce Willis) be without the ending to Yippie-Kai-yay? There are tons of places where profanity can appropriately be applied but using it because you cannot actually think of anything better to say just makes you look like an idiot.

I think it is hysterical that now that PG-13 films are allowed to throw in one non-sexual reference F-bomb that almost all of them do. Why? Because it is part of the business formula.

The 1974 original was a classic urban thriller. Walter Matthau was excellent as the beleaguered Garber and Robert Shaw was ice cool as Blue (Ryder in the remake). Blue had to deal with a worried cohort and keep a psychopathic one in check in addition to Garber. The bad guys were all color coded so that their real names were not used. Tarantino found this so cool that he borrowed it for Reservoir Dogs.

This remake jettisons the color names of course. Not only that but in the original, all of the perpetrators are disguised. None of the perpetrators in the remake are disguised

John Travolta plays Ryder, our hijacker. Unfortunately he has only one speed – full bore – so instead of a man with a plan, he just comes across as a complete psychopath. He has given so many good nuanced performances in the past but lately he has delved into the realm of self-parody.

Tony Scott also throws in two very good character actors, Luis Guzman and James Gandolfini, in pretty substantial parts. They do well though the part for Guzman is woefully underwritten. Though Guzman should not complain as the other two hijackers are complete ciphers.

At one point Garber (Denzel) says out loud to himself  “Jerry Pollard. I know Jerry Pollard. I went to Motormans school with Jerry Pollard”. Really does anyone actually talk that way? Was there no better way to convey this information?

The modern updates to the script are a mixed bag. One of the hostages having a laptop is certainly reasonable, though the way it is used becomes a bit laughable. They do have a clever stock market subplot that ultimately goes nowhere.

If you must watch this film, I highly recommend some dramamine. Scott loves to pan the camera for a few seconds and then jump to another character, pan for a few seconds and then jump back. I swear some of the later subway scenes were made for an anti-drug video.

The original script sets up a wonderful, tight ending and a great epilogue. Tony Scott and Brian Helgeland jettison this in favor of a bombastic over-the-top ending.

In the original the mayor has to make a few decisions such as approving the ransom – quite reasonable. Here the mayor actually talks to Ryder. When was the last time that you heard of a mayor being involved directly in hostage negotiations?

Scott continuously updates us on how much time is left but it quickly becomes comical, particularly as we are not advancing in time at all. I did like how one of the characters mentioned that they should have used a helicopter to deliver the money – thus sort of covering a plothole.

The part that really gets me is that every single good point in this movie (with the exception of Turturro below) was done better in the original and every change (except the stock market subplot sort of) that Scott and Helgeland made in the story made it worse.

The worst change is towards the end where Ryder does something completely and utterly nonsensical. I will not mention what it was to avoid spoilers but from that point on the movie went from being annoying to being monumentally stupid.

Avoid this movie and if you do not mind 70s films, put the original in your Netflix queue.

People Watch: John Turturro does a stellar job playing Camonetti, a hostage negotiator. He does a good job here but his performances for the Coen brothers are much better, particularly Jesus in the Big Lebowski and Bernie Bernbaum in Millers Crossing.