About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Implausibility and Amiability

So the implausible first...

The Taking of Pelham 123, seen Saturday afternoon June 20, 2009 at the UA Midway, Auditorium #1.  If you Love NY 1 Slithy Toad.  Else 2.

Talk about finding laughs in all the wrong places. 

The 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 has its virtues.  The lead performances by Denzel Washington and John Travolta are quite pleasant to watch.  That almost goes without saying for Denzel Washington.  With Travolta, you never know quite what you might get.  But here, he's a good foil, playing a subway train hijacker against Denzel Washington's subway dispatcher.  There are some nice turns in the supporting cast, like James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York City.  If you can live with the fact that 2009 is simply not 1974 in any way or shape or form, you can accept that the movie is acceptably updated and remade.  Oh, it goes too far.  The first movie ends in an almost anti-climactic and certainly very subtle kind of way, and the new version goes all the way into loud 21st century movie-making.  Something in-between might have been nicer.  


My oh my but...

for all the money and talent and resources that were spent on this, did it have to treat NYC geography so stupidly, so sillily, so cavalierly, so ineptly? 

Some things, you can give the filmmaker artistic license.  My movie-going companion, editor extraordinaire Moshe Feder (he discovered Brandon Sanderson for Tor), noticed which I did not that some of the Grand Central subway scenes were shot at the #7 train platform instead of the Lexington Ave. #6 platform.  That we can live with.

But here is a movie where:

1.  The midtown HQ for the subway system is located at the tip of lower Manhattan in the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

2.  After the #6 train is hijacked, the authorities continue to run express trains on the adjacent tracks.  Even if they don't stop at Grand Central, this is ludicrous.  The Lexington Ave. line would be shut down in the neighborhood.

3.  The captured train goes south from Grand Central to some secret "Roosevelt" station that goes into the Roosevelt Hotel.  Which is North of Grand Central, and not on Lexington Ave.  Except that this secret Roosevelt station leads into the Waldorf Astoria hotel, which has a private platform for the Metro North commuter rail but not for the the subway system.

4.  The movie invents a Brooklyn Federal Reserve bank.  And then the NYC police that I've seen do incredible street-clearing jobs for things like the UN General Assembly somehow manage not to be able to do a decent job of clearing a route for a motorcade carrying $10M from this fake Federal Reserve bank, solely so that there can be Exciting Illogical Crashes along the motorcade route.

5.  It takes less time to drive from the Waldorf to the Manhattan Bridge than it does for a half dozen policeman to walk 20 yds. along the Manhattan Bridge bike/walkway.  

6.  And of course the police don't stop subway trains going across the Manhattan Bridge even though they know that's where the villain is heading.

7.  The hijacked #6 train is somehow going to head off to Coney Island, even though there is no way that  I know of for a train on the Lex. Ave. IRT lines to switch on to any of the lines that go out to Coney Island.

8.  When the train emerges from underground on its way to Coney Island, it does so where the #7 train emerges from the tunnel leading into Main St. Flushing in Queens, with a brief glimpse of Shea Stadium in the background.  Poor Shea Stadium, perhaps its final screen appearance and it has to be here. 

9.  The Mayor takes a train to 57th or 59th St. in order to go to the Staten Island Ferry terminal 5 miles away.

10.  Neither the Mayor nor his aide have a cell phone while riding the subway, so the only way to alert the mayor to what's happening is to have cops run up to an elevated platform and hop on a train just moments ahead of the doors closing.

You get the idea.  

The filmmakers had the money and the cooperation and everything else they needed to make things right, or at least a reasonable version thereof.  And instead, they make it wrong.

I got a lot more laughs out of this than I think I was supposed to.

After a little bit of a break to visit the Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills, I returned to the Midway and saw...

Hangover.  Seen Sat. evening June 20, 2009 at the UA Midway, Auditorium 4.  3 slithy toads.

The Proposal.  Seen Sat. evening June 20, 2009 at the UA Midway, Auditorium 9.  2.5 slithy toads.

Neither of these movies had as many laughs as Pelham 123, but both had me smiling for pretty much their entire duration.  Hangover gets the edge in my ratings because it doesn't wear out its welcome while I was occasionally checking my watch in The Proposal.  Also, Hangover is kind of ludicrous at every level but intentionally so, and when you buy into it you buy into it.  While The Proposal too often stretches plausibility even within the parameters of its premise.

But I enjoyed both and was glad in both instances to have seen.

Some random observations on both...

I haven't seen this mentioned in the reviews I've seen, but Hangover is a comedic retake on a 1998 movie Very Bad Things, which is a much darker but similarly conceptualized Vegas bachelor party gone bad from director Peter Berg, who later went on to such Much Better Things as Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, and Hancock.  Will Hangover director Todd Phillips (Old School) take a similar turn in his career.

Hangover may be one of the best Vegas travelogues I've ever seen, certainly since James Bond film Diamonds are Forever.  Oh, a lot of movies do Vegas from the standpoint of a casino, but the views from the Caesar's roof in Hangover are a different animal entirely, sexy and vibrant and seductive in a way that the baccarat table is not.  And you see the city from a gritty street level view as well.

The end credit sequence in Hangover is excellent.  Kept the entire audience in its collective seat, and made it hard for me to watch the credits because I kept wanting to look at the other side of the screen.

Ryan Reynolds grows on me as I see him in movies like Definitely Maybe and The Proposal, to the point that I almost regret not seeing Van Wilder.

We don't see enough of Mary Steenburgen.  I've been fond of her from the earliest days of her screen career in Time After Time and Ragtime, thru her excellent turn in Philadelphia.   She did several films with John Sayles, but it was another Mary, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (also not seen enough) who was in Sayles' Limbo and disappears in Alaska.  Yet I feel as if that Mary disappeared to be reincarnated in Alaska as this Mary here.  Does this make any sense to you?

Yet neither Mary Steenburgen nor Sandra Bullock really seem to be aging, which is one of those unfortunate facts of Hollywood life that women are never supposed to age.  The men can and do, but heaven forbid you age as a woman in this business.

The depiction of the publishing business in The Proposal is probably as unrealistic in its way as the depiction of NYC in Pelham, but this movie isn't really about publishing while Pelham is supposed to be living and breathing NYC.   

After my movies I ate at Pizzeria Uno for the first time in an unusually long time, and it was like comfort food to me.  It's 26 years now since I first treated myself to a sit-down meal at an Uno's, and the one in Forest Hills has the Michigan Daily Weekend section "Best of Ann Arbor" thing on Uno's from 1994.  I love walking into an Unos and seeing this hanging on the wall.  It connects me to my youth.  I would have compiled the campus film listings in that same issue of the Weekend section.

Oh, to be young again.

It was a good day.  I'm still smiling about it.

Oh, a quick final note on the Midway.  This movie theatre on Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills was a semi-grand mid-size movie palace in its day with a very nice lobby.  When I first started to see movies there in 1986 or 1987, it was one of those awful hack job quads.  The two downstairs screens were narrow and tunnel-like leading to small screens at the far end.  The balcony theatres had larger screens but like a lot of those theatres the movie projected from the center out while the balcony seats were designed to face toward the center so you kind of had to tilt your head the entire time you were watching the movie.  Some people in the comment section at Cinema Treasures praise the balcony theatres because those old balconies did have stadium seating, and I don't entirely disagree, but I also never entirely liked the geometry of those balcony twin jobs.  In 1997, the theatre was rebuilt from the ground up.  The lobby was kept, but the theatre beyond was demolished and rebuilt into a surprisingly pleasant 9-screen theatre.  The theatres aren't particularly big, but they all have at least a decent-size screen, the sound is usually good, and the nice lobby with its grand staircase is still intact even though there's a certain modern movie-house tawdriness that detracts some.  It compares quite favorably to some of the fully modern theatres in NYC like the smaller screens at the Kips Bay or the dreadful Kaufman Astoria.  Every time I do get out there I think I should get out there more often, except there isn't a truly large screen like at many of the Manhattan houses, and there's more to do heading in to Manhattan than further out into Queens. 


bowler said...

every time Bullock and Reynolds were close to each other in the Proposal i got the feeling that she looks/acts too old to be his fiance/girlfriend

Anonymous said...

I have yet to see the new version of 'Pelham'. I remember enjoying the original immensely.

You mention the ending and I can still see the expression on Walter Matthau's face after Martin Balsam's Green sneezes in the last scene. I think it would be difficult to top that.

Lisa Iriarte said...

Your comments about geographical errors in films remind me of watching CSI Miami and Burn Notice with the hubby. We lived in Miami for many years. These shows are set there, but we suspect they are directed by a California native or even filmed in part in California. The number one mistake is having the characters driving "north" or "south," but the ocean is on the wrong side of the vehicle to be going that direction.

The Brillig Blogger said...

Um, maybe they just reversed the negative?

I once turned down a novel that ended up being published in part because I just got totally thrown off in the opening scene set in the Farragut Metro station in DC. Not Farrugut North, not Farragut West, but Farragut.

Melissa Cunningham said...

I too am a movie buff. Nothing like that sweet smell of buttered popcorn and a dark theater.