Every movie involves two realities, the one onscreen and the one in the theater, and the interplay between the two is sometimes dynamic. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 has all the usual virtues of a good action suspense drama, but it lacks that extra something — that context, that vital interchange — that made the original The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 such a memorable experience in 1974.
So, an evil mastermind decides to hijack a subway train and hold up the city of New York for an enormous ransom. Today, we watch and think, sure, that could happen. There are bad people in the world, and anybody could become the victim of some random, senseless act of violence.
But in 1974, this premise was received in a much different way, not as an outlandish scenario that could happen, but as a variety of madness that probably would happen, sooner or later, because everything was falling apart. You know the litany: Vietnam. Then Watergate. New York City was going broke. Just getting into a subway car was dangerous, even without kidnapers or hostage takers. Back then, civilization seemed to be heading off a cliff, and New York, always on the cutting edge of fashion, looked destined to hit bottom first. Thus, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was more than a suspense drama in 1974; it was a vision of urban apocalypse.
Today we have our own visions of the apocalypse — terrorism, civic catastrophe, economic collapse — and this new Pelham might have gotten some extra juice had it tapped into those. But the remake eschews the social context that made the original so compelling. Instead of a terrorist for a villain, or someone equally mysterious, the movie gives us a lone nut and his small band of thugs.
Still, despite some odd choices on the part of the filmmakers, this remake works out better than one might expect. For example, picture John Travolta playing a mentally unbalanced, emotionally erratic homicidal maniac. Then go to The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and be surprised. Travolta does not go into his charming bag of tricks. He doesn’t smile or laugh (or even scowl like the guy in Pulp Fiction.) In fact, on three occasions watching him I had to remind myself that this was Travolta. He takes a baseline pretty-good movie and, through sheer conviction, makes it a little better than that.
So does Denzel Washington. He plays the transit officer manning the controls for that sector of the New York subway system, who’s the first to make contact with the hijacker (Travolta). Washington lends the character a specifically New York type of working man’s diffidence — he’s a regular guy in way over his head, forced to improvise — and we watch him grow, not in confidence but in moral authority. This is strong, convincing character work.
Credit some of that to Tony Scott. He’s a director known for his bombast, and rightly so, but unlike the overbearing generation of Tony Scott imitators that have taken root in the past 20 years, this director never forgets the human element.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123
DIRECTED BY: TONY SCOTT
STARRING: DENZEL WASHINGTON (WALTER GARBER), JOHN TRAVOLTA (RYDER), LUIS GUZMAN (PHIL RAMOS), VICTOR GOJCAJ (BASHKIM), JOHN TURTURRO (CAMONETTI)
RUNNING TIME: 106 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Chen Zhiwu (陳志武) says that the COVID-19 crisis puts into sharp focus that we are in a new cold war, with China and the US being the two protagonists. “It’s almost literally in front of us,” says Chen, Director of Asia Global Institute and Chair Professor of Finance at the University of Hong Kong. Political observers were hesitant, Chen says, even up to the beginning of this year, to confirm a new cold war was underway. “But ... the coronavirus has made clear the clash in values and way of life between what China would like to pursue, and what
For tourists visiting Hualien, Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) is the first order of business. But if you find yourself in the city with half a day to spare — your train back to Taipei will leave mid-afternoon, say — it’s hardly worth busing out to Taroko Gorge. Instead, borrow or rent a bicycle or a scooter, or hail a cab, and set out for one of these attractions. At only one of these places is there an admission charge. CISINGTAN SCENIC AREA A literal translation of Cisingtan (七星潭) would be “Seven Stars Pond,” but there’s no pond here, just the vast Pacific
To bring sustainability and prosperity to their farms, some agriculturalists in southern Taiwan have embraced innovative types of companion planting. In contrast to the monoculture that dominates much of the rich world’s farmland, companion planting is the cultivation of different crops in proximity, usually to optimize the space, for pest control or to enhance pollination. The symbiotic relationship between cacao trees and betel nut, which may be unique to Pingtung County, is striking when one visits the cacao plantations maintained by Choose Chius (邱氏可可) and Wugawan (牛角灣) in Neipu (內埔). The history of growing cacao in Taiwan goes back to Japanese colonial
I had really hoped that this film would be a Taiwanese answer to the American camp classic Snakes on a Plane, but Spiders on a Ship — er, Abyssal Spider (海霧) — takes itself way too seriously. One major gripe about Taiwanese commercial features is that they are prone to being unnecessarily over the top, but that’s the one element that could have made Abyssal more watchable. The lack of camp is especially disappointing since director Joe Chien (錢人豪) first made his mark with the intentionally trashy horror movie Zombie 108 (棄城Z-108). Released in 2012, it is considered Taiwan’s earliest