28 Days Later


Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle

Produced by Andrew Macdonald

Written by Alex Garland

The world of 28 DAYS LATER will be very familiar to those of us who have watched End of the World classics such as “The World, the Flesh and The Devil” and “The Omega Man”.  People are fascinated by the idea of the World As We Know It Coming To An End.  And 28 DAYS LATER does a truly awesome job of not only convincing us of the reality of what we’re watching, it makes us think about the destructiveness of human nature.  There is nothing in the movie that does not occur save through human arrogance and failure.  Arrogance in our stubborn belief that we can control forces best left alone and failure through our refusal to maintain belief in our better instincts.

28 DAYS LATER starts off like that great classic sci-fi film, “The World, The Flesh and The Devil”. Remember that one?  The first 20 minutes or so of that movie had Harry Belafonte wandering through an eerily deserted New York, looking for people and not finding a living soul.  That’s the exact same situation that confronts the main character of this movie.  Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital with no memory of how he got there and after unplugging himself from the various machines he’s been hooked up to and finding clothes, Jim leaves the hospital and wanders into a London that seems devoid of people.  Jim desperately tries to find out what has happened and runs into a pack of red-eyed humans who act like total homicidal maniacs.  He is rescued by Selena (Naomi Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who inform him that 28 days ago, England was consumed by a plague called Rage which turns those Infected by it into murderous maniacs who only want to kill.  There is no cure.  There is no hope that anyone will find a cure.  The only thing left is to survive and slay.

Even in this horrifying situation, there are those with hope.  Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) join up with Jim and Selena (notice I didn’t mention Mark?  Don’t ask what happens to him. Not pretty, yo) and decide to get out of London.  Frank has picked up radio signals from the north from an Army outpost that promises food, shelter and safety from the roving packs of Infected who dominate London.  And they leave London on a road trip to Hope that leads right into Hell.

28 DAYS LATER has been compared to George Romero’s zombie movies and to be honest, there are several scenes and plot elements that appear to have been lifted straight from “DAWN OF THE DEAD”.  I’m thinking of the scene in the supermarket that mirrors the mall-shopping scene in the Romero movie and the whole second half of the movie where our heroes are at odds with the military who they were hoping would keep them safe.  In fact, that’s an entire subplot in itself of the movie: how our reliance on institutions and people we have been programmed to believe will keep us safe turn on us and devour us.  The most frightening monsters in 28 DAYS LATER are not The Infected as we are led to believe. No…the real monsters in this movie are the human beings like us.  As we watch what they are driven to in order to survive, you gradually realize something that is truly scary: it’s the so-called normal humans who are doing the most frightening things to each other.

The movie is filmed with hand held cameras in a realistic, documentary-like fashion that draws you into the reality of what is going on.  Naomie Harris is particularly good as Selena and she demonstrates in one brutally violent scene that she is a sista that is out to survive.  It’s a remarkable scene and you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.  Cillian Murphy is also quite good as Jim and one of the most horrifying things about the movie is watching as he rapidly adapts to this new world he’s woken up to.  In fact, I don’t think there is a bad acting job in this entire movie.  28 DAYS LATER hooks you right from the start and you just sit there and are just assaulted by the raw realism that an unthinkable situation is presented.  Is 28 DAYS LATERworth your time and your money?  Hell, yes.  It’s a brutally intelligent horror movie that in light of our world today doesn’t seem all that all far away from where we are now.

28 DAYS LATER isn’t as gory or as bloody as you might have been led to believe.  In fact, “BAD BOYS II” had more violent scenes that disturbed me than this movie.  The violence in 28 DAYS LATER is quite appropriate to the subject matter and supports the story and characters.  Have a  good time being scared outta your ya-ya.

112 Minutes

Rated R



TriStar Pictures

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Produced by Luc Besson

Screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

It occurred to me about forty-five minutes into COLOMBIANA that when it came to casting, Luc Besson might conceivably have said to the casting director; “just find me the skinniest actress you can, doesn’t matter who she is as long as she’s thin as a broom handle.”  Which I don’t mean to disparage Zoë Saldana in any way whatsoever because I like her a lot.  I’ve seen her in “Drumline” “Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl” ”Star Trek” “Star Trek Into Darkness” ”The Losers” and “Death at a Funeral” and enjoyed her in all of them.  And I enjoyed her performance in COLOMBIANA.  It’s just that considering that most of her screen time is spent crawling through tight places like air ducts, access tunnels and ventilation systems, if Luc Besson had found an actress a size smaller than her, it’s possible that Zoë Saldana would have been out.

The movie opens in 1992 where a young girl named Cataleya Restrepo (Amandla Stenberg) is witness to the murder of her parents by Marco (Jordi Molla) the right hand man of drug warlord Don Luis (Beto Benites) After a dazzlingly daring escape from the clutches of Marco and his hired guns, the girl makes her way to Chicago and the home of her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis).  He assures her that he’ll take care of her as if she were his own daughter.  She informs him that the only thing she wants is for her uncle to teach her how to be a killer.

Cut to fifteen years later.  Cataleya (Zoë Saldana) is now a hitwoman working for her uncle.  But unknown to him, she’s been working her own hits on the side, taking out members of Don Luis’ cartel, hoping to draw him out as he’s deep in hiding and that’s the only way she can hope to get to him.  Cataleya’s starting to make mistakes and leave trails behind her.  One of those trails is picked up by FBI Special Agent Ross (Lennie James) who thinks he’s finally found the assassin responsible for twenty-two mysterious killings in which all the victims had a flower drawn on their chests, the Cataleya, which only grows in a certain region of Colombia.  Only thing now is getting his hands on her.  And Cataleya doesn’t intend to get caught until she’s finally had her revenge.

Usually revenge as a motive in a movie bores me a lot of the time because I think that in the past 10, 15 years  it’s a lazy way for screenplay writers to get the story going.  You need a reason for your protagonist to go around slaughtering everybody in sight?  Kill their loved ones and we’re off to the races.  Kill their loved ones in the first ten minutes of the movie and you’ve got eighty more minutes to wallow in the bloody carnage.

To give COLOMBIANA credit it does go a little more into the psychological damage revenge does when someone sacrifices their life to that pursuit.  There isn’t much to the character of Cataleya but that’s because she doesn’t have a character.  Her every waking moment has been dedicated to the pursuit of revenge and nothing else.  She satisfies her basic needs such as eating, sleeping and sex with her artist boyfriend Danny (Michael Vartan) who has no idea of what or who she actually is and that’s it.

I got a good laugh out of watching Zoë Saldana toting around machine guns and rocket launchers three times her size and weight as she’s so skinny and tiny.  But she does it with total seriousness, I give her credit for that.  More interesting is her methods of sneaking in and out of buildings in Old School Ninja style: she uses no kind of hi-tech at all, just her own strength, speed and skill and whatever she can smuggle into her hair.

So should you see COLOMBIANA?  It’s an okay time-waster on a Friday or Saturday night if there’s nothing else available on Netflix that turns your crank.  It’s professionally done and done quite well, in fact.  The acting is professional, the pacing moves along professionally, the production values are professional…see where I’m going with this?  COLOMBIANA is a professionally made thriller but that’s all it is.  It’s not quirky enough, or violent enough, or crazy/wild enough or bizarre enough to elevate it any higher than the level of a professional, competent product.


107 minutes

3:10 To Yuma


Lionsgate Films

Directed by James Mangold

Produced by Cathy Konrad

Screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas

Based on the short story by Elmore Leonard

Those of you who have been reading these movie reviews for a while know that my favorite genre of movie is The Western.  I love movies, period and I am the type of movie nut that will literally watch anything.  Yes, even chick flicks.  But westerns…man, that’s my huckleberry right there.  Give me a Saturday afternoon, two or three good westerns to watch along with some cheeseburgers, potato chips and plenty of Coca-Cola and leave me alone.  Now some of the recent efforts to make westerns haven’t  been less than blockbuster but thankfully the remake of the classic 3:10 TO YUMA is a terrific movie.  It’s not one of these “Revisionist” Westerns or a Western where the director is really trying to tell an allegory about Our Modern Times.  It’s a horse opera, plain and simple.  Told extremely well with outstanding performances by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a struggling Arizona farmer desperately trying to hold onto his land.  He’s lost a lot already.  Part of his leg was taken from him in The Civil War and he no longer has the respect of his oldest son William (Logan Lerman) or his wife Alice (Gretchen Mol).  Dan is determined to hold onto his farm even though his water has been dammed up and his barn burned down by the local land baron.  His chance to hold onto his land comes when the outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured in the nearby town of Bisbee.  Ben Wade and his gang have robbed the Southern Pacific Railroad 20 times and their representative Grayson Butterfield (Dallas Roberts) offers $200 dollars to any man who will help him take Wade to a town two days ride away where a prison train will take Wade to Yuma.  Dan is eager to sign up along with Doc Potter (Alan Tudyk) the sheriff’s deputy (Kevin Durand) and bounty hunter Byron McElroy (Peter Fonda) who was the only survivor of Wade’s most recent robbery and would rather just as soon put a bullet in his brain than see him hang.

The journey is not going to be an easy one.  Dan and the others are pursued by Wade’s gang, led by the terrifyingly dangerous Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) Wade’s right-hand man who seems to take it as a personal insult that Dan and the other have even dared to presume to think they’re going to take Wade in to hang.  And then Dan and the others have to take a detour through country infested with bloodthirsty Apache renegades.  To make Dan’s situation even worse, his son William has taken it into his head to come along against Dan’s wishes as the 14 year old boy is plainly infatuated with Ben Wade’s legend.

There are a lot of things that makes 3:10 TO YUMA work for me but I’ll give you the main three: One is the story.  It’s a simple story, sure.  But in Westerns it’s the simple stories that work the best.  The motivations of the characters is the grease that makes the engine of the story run smoothly and everybody in this movie has a good reason for where they are and why they do what they do.  Second are the performances.  The actors in this movie all look as if they’re actually inhabiting the period they’re supposed to be living in.  The problem with a lot of recent Westerns I’ve seen is that they’re miscast and the actors look as if they’re playing dress up.  Not here.  And three is the location shooting.  3:10 TO YUMA was filmed in New Mexico and it looks absolutely terrific.  It has the look of vintage 1950’s/1960’s Westerns.

The relationship between Dan Evans and Ben Wade is at the heart of this movie and both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe do splendid jobs of acting.  Russell Crowe doesn’t play Ben Wade as a foaming-at-the-mouth-mad-dog killer.  Wade is surprisingly intelligent, charming, educated, artistic and talented.  In fact, he’s probably the smartest person in the movie and he has a scary insight into human nature.  He can sit down with you for five minutes and tell you things about yourself you’ve kept shut up deep inside yourself for years.  Dan Evans is nowhere near as smart or intelligent or talented.  But he has a soul.  A soul that intrigues Ben Wade and one he comes to respect.  One of the best things about the movie is seeing how the relationship between the two men develops in ways I certainly didn’t see coming.

Christian Bale is an actor that I think one day is going to achieve the status reserved for Brando and Olivier.  He’s just that good.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give a bad performance and I’ve followed his career since “Empire of The Sun”.  I was really interested in seeing how he would handle himself in a Western and I enjoyed his performance a lot.  He takes to the Western like a duck takes to water and I certainly hope he does more of them.  As for Russell Crowe, this isn’t his first Western.  He did a great job in Sam Raimi’s “The Quick And The Dead’ and here he makes his Ben Wade a totally absorbing and interesting character, one that we watch just to see what he’ll do next because this is the type of guy who never does or says what you expect.

The supporting cast does a fine job in the roles and I really liked Peter Fonda here.  Peter has a lot of fun playing a tough-as-horsehide bounty hunter here.  Fans of the TV show “Firefly” will want to keep an eye out for Alan Tudyk who plays a horse doctor who discovers he’s also a man of action.

The action scenes are thrilling and just what I expect from a Western.  There’s gunplay aplenty, especially during the last half hour of the movie where there are a number of plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat.  And I’ve said this about a number of recent movies but I’m going to say it again: much as I love CGI there’s some movies you don’t need it for and The Western is one of them.  Sometimes it’s a pleasure to go see a movie where it’s Real People doing the stunts.

So should you see 3:10 TO YUMA?  If you’re as big a Western fan as me, Hell, yes.  Even if you’re not a Western fan and just want to see a movie with great action, solid acting and stunning cinematography, yes.  If you’re a fan of Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, definitely.  They give wonderfully strong, fully characterized performances here.  3:10 TO YUMA is well worth your time.

120 minutes

Rated R

88 Minutes


TriStar Pictures

Written by Gary Scott Thompson

Produced and Directed by Jon Avnet

When movie fans get together and start discussing the most influential and greatest actors ever, there’s an excellent chance that Al Pacino will be in the top five if not right at the top.  And with good reason.  If Al Pacino had only performed in “The Godfather Trilogy” his place in movie history would be assured.  But he’s assembled a list of classic films that few actors today can match: “Serpico” “…And Justice For All” “Dog Day Afternoon” “Heat” “Scarface” “The Panic In Needle Park” “Dick Tracy” “Looking For Richard” “Carlito’s Way” “Glengarry Glen Ross”…hell, I even like “Bobby Deerfield” “Revolution” and “Author! Author!”  But lately Al Pacino hasn’t been hitting them outta the park the way he used to.  Oh, he played an okay bad guy in “Ocean’s Thirteen” but it was a performance that anybody could have done.  It didn’t have that magic we expect from Al Pacino.  And 88 MINUTES isn’t a movie that’s going to enhance Mr. Pacino’s reputation at all.  Even my wife Patricia who is an Al Pacino fan from way back in the day (we have epic arguments over who’s the better actor: Al Pacino or my boy Robert DeNiro) was highly disappointed with 88 MINUTES.

Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is a popular Seattle college professor who also is a nationally renowned forensic psychologist.   He’s made a sizeable fortune from his work profiling serial killers for the FBI and various police departments around the country.  Gramm’s latest success was in convicting Jon Forster aka “The Seattle Slayer” (Neal McDonough).  Forster maintains that he’s innocent and when one of Gramm’s students turns up murdered in the exact same way as Forster’s alleged victims, there’s some doubt raised.  Gramm maintains that Forster has an accomplice on the outside who committed the murder.  FBI Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe) isn’t so sure.  Y’see, Gramm’s DNA is all over the crime scene.  To complicate matters, Gramm gets a phone call telling him he only has 88 minutes to live.  Why 88 minutes?  Because 88 minutes is related to a specific case in Gramm’s past that has extraordinary personal significance for him.  Gramm must use his skills and training as a forensic psychologist to identify who the killer is before his 88 minutes run out.

Sounds like thrilling stuff, huh?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For a movie hyped as a suspense thriller, 88 MINUTES has no suspense and even fewer thrills.  The movie is being sold on Al Pacino’s performance and even that isn’t as dynamic or exciting as we’ve come to expect from him.  The movie throws far too many potential suspects at us.  Most of who are women.  Given that Gramm is supposed to be a rampant womanizer we shouldn’t be surprised when the identity of the killer is revealed.  In fact, if you elect to watch this, I’m confident you’ll be able to identify who the killer is an hour in.

I have to say that Al Pacino looks great in the movie.  And he tries his best to make the character and the movie work.  Perhaps his best scene in the movie is when he explains to another one of his students (Alicia Witt) what personal meaning 88 minutes has for him.  It’s a scene where we can see the Al Pacino we know and love at work.  Unfortunately you’ve got to sit through a whole chunk of pretty slow scenes in order to get to it.  Amy Brenneman is a standout as Pacino’s assistant and I would have liked to have seen more scenes between them.  Which leads into one or my major peeves with this movie: There are way too many scenes where the actors are talking to each other on cell phones instead of interacting on the screen together.  I haven’t seen cell phones used this much to convey information since“24” was on the air.  Neal McDonough is a fine actor but he’s not given much to do here.  I would have liked to have seen more scenes between William Forsythe and Al Pacino as I enjoyed them both when they were in “Dick Tracy”.  The Seattle locations are nice to look at as is Deborah Kara Unger and Leelee Sobieski.

So should you see 88 MINUTES?  I can’t recommend this movie even if you’re a diehard Al Pacino fan.  I wouldn’t even recommend Netflixing it.  The mystery at the heart of the story isn’t interesting or compelling and there’s never any feeling that the Pacino character is in any real danger.  The amount of suspects thrown at us is ridiculous and when the killer is finally revealed it isn’t surprising and the killer’s motives are laughable.    Much as I love to watch Al Pacino on screen, there isn’t much good I can say about 88 MINUTES.

108 minutes

Rated R for brief nudity, language and violence

Three The Hard Way


Allied Artists

Produced by Harry Bernson

Directed by Gordon Parks, Jr.

Written by Eric Bercovici and Jerrold L. Ludwig

Here’s where we throw anything resembling objective film criticism out of the window, friends.  You see, we’re dealing with THREE THE HARD WAY here, which is a top shelf example of the blaxploitation genre that along with Kung Fu movies populated most of the grindhouse movie theatres on 42end Street during the 70’s.  Theatres that my friends and I practically lived in on Saturdays.  We’d go check out three movies for $3.00 and frequently would leave one theatre and cross the street and go into another and see three more movies.  Ah, good times…with only $10 in my pocket I was in movie heaven.

The plot of THREE THE HARD WAY is as simple and uncomplicated as a peanut butter sandwich: Monroe Feather (Jay Robinson) is the charismatic head of a Neo-Nazi white supremacist organization.  He has bankrolled the research of Dr. Fortrero (Richard Angarola) and the result is a toxin that will only kill African-Americans.  Dr. Fortrero explains that it’s based on sickle cell anemia which as he says with smug Caucasian superiority: “We all know only affects blacks!”

Dr Fortrero has been keeping a large number of black men and women imprisoned in a compound that he’s been using them as guinea pigs.  One of the test subjects breaks away and manages to reach a friend of his, a Los Angeles record producer named Jimmy Lait (Jim Brown) Feather sends men to kill Jimmy’s friend and in the process they kidnap Jimmy’s girlfriend, Wendy Kane (Sheila Frazier). Jimmy’s forced to stop work producing the next hit album of The Impressions (and yes, there was an actual group with that name…go Google it and learn something) as he tries to find Wendy and uncover the conspiracy.

He recruits two friends of his to help: the slick, smooth and totally cool public relations king of Detroit, Jagger Daniels (Fred Williamson) and world famous karate champion/martial arts expert Mister Keyes (Jim Kelly) and as the tag line of the movie boasts: “Action explodes all over the place as the big three unite to save their race!”  They get into a shootout with some of Feather’s hitmen who have been following Jimmy and by questioning one of them find out that Feather is sending squads of heavily armed men to Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Chicago to poison the water supply with the toxin.  The three heroes separate to the three cities to stop Feather’s men and then unite to rescue Wendy and bring down The Man.

Look, I’m not going to try and con you into watching THREE THE HARD WAY by attributing all kinds of socio-political subtexts and psychological levels of Black Awareness to a movie that simply has none.  THREE THE HARD WAY is about one thing: getting together the three hottest black action movie heroes at that time and turning them loose to do what they do best: kick ass.  They don’t even bother with the taking names part.  They’re too cool for that.

Jim Brown and Fred Williamson spend a lot of the movie’s running time just trying to out cool each other (Williamson wins) and surprisingly, Brown has moments where he really tries to act and show he’s not just in the movie to look tough, bark orders and dress pretty.  Fred Williamson is shameless in his rampant scene stealing which he does every time he’s on screen.  He’s clearly the best natural actor out of the three as both Brown and especially Jim Kelly look much more at home during the action scenes.  Sheila Frazier plays Brown’s girlfriend Wendy and quite frankly she’s got all the sex appeal of a broom handle.  Her role is a thankless one as she has little more to do than get slapped around by the bad guys and scream: “You just wait till my man gets here!”

There’s a bunch of fun scenes in this one: The scene where Jimmy goes to Jagger to ask for his help and Jagger turns him down because he just doesn’t believe such a fantastic story.  The two men are ambushed by a hoard of assassins and in a furious shootout at an outdoor arcade kill them all.

Standing knee deep in a pile of bodies, Jimmy asks Jagger: “Do you believe me now?”

Jagger: “Shit, you shoulda explained it like that in the first place.”

When Jimmy, Jagger and Keyes are getting nowhere interrogating one of Feather’s men, Jagger calls in The Duchess, The Countess and The Princess, a trio of women.  One’s black, one Asian and one white.  One dresses in red, one in white and one in blue.  They ride color co-ordinated motorcycles.  And they are bad. Jagger assures his friends that the three women can make the prisoner talk. There’s a terrific scene where Jagger and Keyes are playing chess and listening to the screams coming from upstairs.  The three women tell Jagger and Keyes they can go talk to the guy.  The guy doesn’t have a mark on him but he acts like he’s been dragged through Hell’s bathroom and he spills his guts.

There’s a scene where the cops are harassing Mister Keyes and they ask for his driver’s license.  One cop reads it and smirks: “What kinda first name is ‘Mister’?”

Jim Kelly responds without missing a beat: “My momma wanted to make sure people showed me respect.”

And that’s just a few of them.  THREE THE HARD WAY probably isn’t going to appeal to a lot of movie fans today.  It looks like it was filmed on weekends with a budget of about nine thousand bucks.  The plot holes are big enough to throw a pimpmobile through.  The acting is sometimes embarrassing.  The action sequences look like they were made up on the spot.  Despite having automatic weapons the bad guys seem incapable of hitting anything while the good guys pick them off with one shot apiece from their handguns.

But THREE THE HARD WAY is a helluva lot of fun if you approach it in the right way.  Jim Brown and Fred Williamson have an undeniable magnetism and screen presence.  They know how to keep your attention on what they’re doing while they’re doing it.  Jim Kelly shows his magnificent martial arts skills in several awesome fight scenes.  Back in the day, the only guy better than Jim Kelly was Bruce Lee.  Woefully, this isn’t Kelly’s best movie.  Matter of fact, he’s much better in “Enter The Dragon” or “Black Belt Jones” and he looks downright uncomfortable in a lot of scenes where he just has to stand around and react to the dialog of others but then again, THREE THE HARD WAY isn’t a movie you watch for acting chops.

So should you see THREE THE HARD WAY?  Absolutely.  It’s one of the classics of blaxploitation and notable for it’s teaming of the biggest black action heroes at the time in one movie.  If you’ve got any love at all for the genre, show some love back and the next time you feel funky on a Saturday night, watch THREE THE HARD WAY.

If you want to see THREE THE HARD WAY as well as three other blaxploitation movies of that era: “Black Belt Jones” “Hot Potato” and “Black Samson” next time you hit Target see if you can find the Warner Brothers 4 Film Favorites: Urban Action Collection. I got my copy a few years and paid $9.99 for it. I’m fairly certain you can get it for five bucks now. Even though “Hot Potato” is a big disappointment, it’s still worth your money. Enjoy.

89 minutes

Rated: R

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)


United Artists

Directed by Joseph Sargent

Produced by Gabriel Katzka and Edgar J. Scherick

Screenplay by Peter Stone

Based on the novel by John Godey

There are movies that just have to be made in New York.  There’s no way around it.  Of course you can change the location of a movie with a few taps on a keyboard but somehow when a movie is filmed in New York it gives the story a weight that makes you feel as if “yeah, I can see that happening in a town like New York” and this feeling is demonstrated excellently in the outstanding crime thriller THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE  This is a movie that couldn’t have been made anywhere else.  It’s such a New York movie, full of the energy, vitality and unique qualities that make New York and the people who live and work in it so utterly exciting, baffling and downright enjoyable. It’s a typical New York day…or at least as typical as any day in New York and people are on their way to work, school or play.  And on the Number 6 train leaving Pelham Bay Park at 1:23 in the afternoon it’s a day that is about to get as bad as a day in New York can get.

Four men board the train armed with machine guns and dressed in the same trench coats, wearing the same caps pulled low over their faces, glasses and mustaches.  With military precision they effortlessly take control of the first car of the train with frightening swiftness, separating it from the rest of the train along with all its passengers, essentially hijacking it.  Parking it onto an off section of track they make their demands known: unless the City of New York pays them a ransom of one million dollars they will kill all the passengers in the car.  And the city has only one hour to pay up.  The terms are non-negotiable.  Pay or people start dying from severe lead poisoning of the worst kind.  Now of course this is met with some skepticism.  As one character puts it: “They’re hijacking trains now?  What are they gonna do?  Fly it to Cuba?”  But the hijackers make it known real soon they mean business. Luckily Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) of The Transit Police is on the scene.  He’s been escorting a group of Japanese transit officials through the Command Center (in a scene that is very funny but be warned…it’s also not Politically Correct.  But remember, this movie was made in 1974) and he quickly takes charge of the negotiations with the leader of the hijackers, a British mercenary who only identifies himself as Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw)

In fact, I strongly suspect that Quentin Tarentino got his idea of color naming his gang of thieves in “Reservoir Dogs” from this movie as the other train hijackers are named Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) Mr. Gray (Hector Elizondo) and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) and the movie is just about as much a battle of wits between Garber and Mr. Blue as Garber tries various stratagems as he buys time to save the lives of the hostages as he racks his brains trying to figure out exactly how the hijackers think they’re going to get away with the money when they’re on a train underneath New York. I really can’t recommend this movie enough.  It’s an extremely well made, tight thriller that doesn’t have a slow moment in the entire running time.  It’s not bogged down with unnecessary romances or backstory filling us in as to why these men are doing what they’re doing.  They want money.  It’s as simple as that.  Lt Garber and The New York Police Department have to stop them.  It’s as simple as that.  The movie is what it is: it’s about a daring crime and we watch on the edge of our seats and wonder how the hell this thing is gonna end and we’re highly entertained while doing so. The performances sell the movie and there isn’t a bad one in the whole piece.

Walter Matthau is best known for his comedies but I think I like him even more as a dramatic actor.  In fact, this movie, a spy thriller called “Hopscotch” and a police procedural movie he made with Bruce Dern called ‘The Laughing Policeman” are among my favorite Matthau movies.  His Lt. Garber is a competent professional.  He’s not brilliant at his job but he does it well.  And I liked how the movie shows that his main concern is saving the lives of the hostages, especially in a scene where he grabs hold of a transit supervisor who has been giving him flack and generally being an obstinate pain in the ass through the negotiations.  In that scene Matthau is just as tough as Robert DeNiro or Sean Connery at their best and he sells it.

Robert Shaw plays Mr. Blue and no more needs to be said.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad Robert Shaw performance and if there is one, please tell me.  Here he’s coldly ruthless, calculating and he’s such a master planner that you have no doubt that he’s going to pull this audacious scheme off.  Hector Elizondo does great work as Mr. Gray who we learn is so psychotically bloodthirsty that even The Mafia kicked him out.  Martin Balsam is a standout as Mr. Green, who is more or less the second-in-command of the outfit and he’s essential to the plan since he’s a fired transit motorman whose intimate knowledge of The New York Transit system is necessary to pull the job off.

One of the best things about this movie is how there is such a New York flavor in it.  Even the background characters have small bits that are standouts such as the diverse group of hostages who make up the social strata of the city and the two cops who have to transport the money from the bank to the subway station have wonderful dialog as they ferociously race to try and beat the hijacker’s deadline.  Jerry Stiller does great work as Matthau’s sidekick even though they don’t share a scene until the last ten minutes of the movie. And one of my favorite scenes of the movie is when The Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) is trying to convince his boss (Lee Wallace) to pay up the money.  It’s an insightful scene as to how politicians juggle lives, public opinion and professional gain in making life and death decisions and it’s got such smart dialog it makes me weep in envy.  And take a good look at The Mayor….yep, its same guy who plays The Mayor in Tim Burton’s “Batman”.  You’ve also got James Broderick (Matthew’s Dad) Doris Roberts, Julius Harris, Dick O’Neill, Sal Viscuso, Bill Cobb and Joe Seneca.  It’s a killer cast and they all do excellent work even if they’re on the screen for a couple of minutes.  And the last scene of this movie is absolutely the best any heist movie has ever had.  Even though I hate heist movies where the thieves don’t get away with it, the way the ending is set up is so perfect I forgive.

So should you see THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE ?  Absolutely.  If you’re in the mood for a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners crime thriller that I guarantee will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish then you need to see this one.  It’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s thrilling…it’s a New York movie all the way.  You look at what passes for thrillers that come out of Hollywood nowadays and then you watch THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, a movie made forty years ago and you have to scratch your head and wonder what the hell happened.

P.S.  There was a Made For TV version of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE made in 1998 that should be avoided at all costs since it was filmed in Toronto.  Nothing against Canada, mind you, but THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE depends so much on the New York atmosphere and flavor you really owe it to yourself to see the original.  There was a much better remake made in 2009 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

Rated R: For the language mostly and it does get pretty raw at times.  But there’s no sex and the violence is pretty tame by modern standards.  I would advise those of you who are Politically Correct (I’m not and proud of it) that this movie was made in 1974 and so the portrayals of Blacks and Asians may make you uncomfortable.  I’m Black and I wasn’t offended because hey, we did have some of us who acted and spoke like that back then, whether you wanna believe it or not and I know because I was there.  Asians will have to defend their own selves on this one.

104 minutes

Chilly Scenes Of Winter


United Artists Films

Directed by Joan Micklin Silver

Produced by Mark Metcalf, Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne

Screenplay by Joan Micklin Silver

Based on the novel by Ann Beattie

Even though I’ve seen it for the first time ever in the past couple of days, I’ve had a relationship of sorts with CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER that goes back about 30 years or so.  Let me explain.

Way back in the 1980’s I discovered and fell in love with three fascinating and important books: the “Cult Movies” series written by Danny Peary.  In these three books Mr. Peary wrote the most passionate, informative, entertaining and insightful movie reviews I’ve ever read.  Reading his reviews was like talking about these movies with an old friend, that’s how relaxed and intimate his style was.  It’s thanks to Mr. Peary that I’ve seen just about 90% of the movies he reviewed in those three books.  And I will always be indebted to Mr. Peary as well as Roger Ebert for educating and influencing me in my own reviews.  It’s thanks to the two of them that I stopped regarding movies as just passive entertainment and really started to pay attention as to why I liked certain movies, genres, actors and directors and what went into the craft and art of movie making.

And if you’re any kind of movie fan at all you will make it your mission to find and read the three “Cult Movies” books.  Trust me; you’ll never watch movies the same way again after reading them.

So as the years went on, slowly but surely I’ve been able to check off most of the movies in those three books.  With the advent of DVDs and now Netflix, I’ve been able to whack away at that list as a lot of movies were unavailable on DVD and previous to that on VHS.  And one of those movies was CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER.  For some reason, this movie eluded me for years.  I could never find it on VHS.  And as far as I know it was never shown on broadcast TV.  I figured that once I had cable it would show up there, but nope.  Never did.  It never aired on the Independent Film Channel and they showed all kinds of obscure movies.  Hell, it never even aired on Tuner Classic Movies and TCM has aired the full length “Heaven’s Gate”…what am I saying, TCM has aired “The Apple” for cry yi’s sake.  But they’ve never aired CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER which made me want to see it all the more.  What was it about this movie that I couldn’t get to see it noway nohow?

Well, now we have Netflix and thanks to that I was finally able to see what it was all about for myself.  And I understand.  Nobody knew what to make of CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER back when it was released in 1979.  The story goes that the studio thought it was too depressing and hated the title.  It was released as “Head Over Heels” with a brighter, more cheerful ending and flopped.  The movie was re-released with its original title and ending and did much better business.  And having seen the movie for myself I can understand why.  The relationship at the heart of CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER is doomed from the start.  The other characters in the movie know it.  I knew it ten minutes into the movie.  If you elect to watch you, you’ll know it as well.  The only ones who blissfully don’t know it is the man and woman involved.  They don’t deserve a happy ending and they don’t get one.  But what they do get is an honest ending.  And sometimes that’s the only one we can hope for or expect from this life.

Charles (John Heard) works in the Salt Lake City Department of Development where he writes reports all day long.  He has no idea where his reports go after he finishes with them or what purpose they serve but since he’s had two recent promotions, he really doesn’t care.  One day he runs into Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) who works in the filing department.  He’s immediately smitten and asks her out on a date.  She informs him she’s married but separated.  And later that night he ends up at her new apartment.

Now get your minds out of the gutter.  It don’t go down like that.  Charles is a hopeless romantic and doesn’t want a meaningless cheap affair.  He wants to marry Laura and make her happy.  Good luck.  Laura is the type who isn’t happy now, probably wasn’t happy in the past and in fact, there’s a better than average chance she’ll never be happy, period.  Laura has a long list of things she doesn’t want but ask her what she does want and she’ll give you that deer-in-the-headlights look.

It isn’t long before Laura has moved in with Charles.  And things seem to be going fine with the two of them until one day Laura just ups and goes back to her husband.  Charles is not only heartbroken he goes a little bit nuts.  He has conversations in his car with an imaginary Laura.  He builds a model of her house, complete with miniature furniture.  He parks his car on her street and sits there for hours, just looking at her house, chain smoking cigarettes while watching her and her husband through the window.

Yeah, this sounds pretty creepy, right?  And if it was played completely straight, it would be.  But there is a remarkable amount of humor in the movie.  It’s labeled as a ‘romantic comedy’ but it’s so totally unlike the cookie cutter romcoms infesting our theaters today.  The humor comes naturally and unforced from the quirky personalities of the characters.  And Charles is definitely quirky.  I like how it is never once mentioned that he has a drinking problem but in just about every scene that takes place in his house, Charles always has a pint of vodka within reach and he keeps a bottle in his drawer at work.  He has to deal with a suicidal mother (Gloria Grahame) and his jobless best friend Sam (Peter Riegert) who acts as a one-man Greek chorus, commenting on his friend’s obsessive relationship with a wonderful deadpan delivery.  I like how the script doesn’t take the easy way out and makes Laura’s husband a monster or a sadist.  In fact, he’s a pretty nice guy, making a good living and raising his daughter from a previous marriage.  It’s Laura who has the problem because it’s Laura who has no idea what it is she wants from life or from a relationship.

So should you see CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER?  Definitely yes.  It’s nothing like what passes as a romantic comedy these days.  It’s a movie about people who have lives that started before we eavesdropped on this particular winter in their lives and at the end of the movie, I felt as if those lives were continuing on.  Not a feel good date movie and not for those of you who need an explosion or a ninja vs. pirate fight every five minutes.  But it’s most definitely something different and worth watching.

92 minutes

Rated PG