Movies Reviews

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Directed by Tony Scott
Review by Tony Sheppard

In the early-mid 70’s, my father subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book series. This was my introduction to “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” “Jaws” and assorted other titles. I remember liking the story and, later, I enjoyed the 1974 film adaptation starring Walther Matthau and Robert Shaw. I don’t recall watching the 1998 TV remake, which, based on web comments, may have been a good thing, but it’s fair to say that this 2009 adaptation had to fill some pretty big shoes from my adolescence.

It’s a different film for a different time – there’s more blatant violence than I remember. John Travolta, as the lead subway hijacker, is unsympathetic and coarse. Denzel Washington, as the subway controller who takes the initial call (changed from a traffic cop in the original), is an overworked civil servant in the wrong seat at the wrong time. And a lot has changed in over three decades. You can’t realistically tell a story about a subway hijacking in New York City, or perhaps anywhere, without the subject of terrorism entering the screenplay, even if only as a source of fear.  

But despite the differences and updates, the movie still works. It’s well-acted and tautly directed in real time, with neat action and solid secondary characters, including John Turturro as a hostage negotiator and James Gandolfini as the mayor.  The basic plot elements remain the same, with the complexity and fears associated with the capture of a subway train under busy city streets being as compelling now as ever. Thirty-plus years later, “Jaws” still scares me when I’m swimming, and “Pelham” still entertains me.

Dinosaurs Alive 3-D
Esquire IMAX
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

I’ve now taken in three recent 3D films at the Esquire IMAX, and I think this one may have the best use of 3D technology I’ve seen. Maybe it’s because my father is an anthropologist and some of my favorite memories of childhood come from peeking around in rooms filled with old bones, including the lab of a colleague who did facial reconstructions for the police. For me, the action of a sea snake or an elephant trunk jumping off the screen can’t compare with seeing huge dinosaur skeletons popping out so close you could touch them.

I’m also fond of anything that makes careers in science look cool. This brisk, 40-minute film certainly did, showing paleontologists heading off Indiana Jones-style into the wilds of Mongolia and New Mexico. In fact, the film pays a major homage to Roy Chapman Andrews, who revolutionized dinosaur bone-hunting with his trips to Gobi Desert in the 1920s—and who is widely seen as the inspiration for Indiana Jones.

It also reviewed scientific concepts pretty clearly, in language that many older kids could understand. This included the much-talked about idea that many dinosaurs had feathers, just like modern birds. A review of the evidence that they were warm-blooded could have gotten more attention, I thought. There was no discussion of the lower oxygen level in the atmosphere at the time, a key reason that dinosaurs with their superior lungs dominated over mammals for so long.

I was also hoping for more of the animations showing how they think dinosaurs actually lived—because they were pretty cool. These included episodes from very different eras of dinosaur’s 150 million years on earth, from lightning quick coelophysis chasing non-dinosaur competitors across the New Mexico highlands when they were an early Triassic rain forest to veloceraptors, many millions of years later stealing eggs in the Gobi, only to be preserved in a sudden mudslide. Sure, there may have been one or two too many “Jurassic Park” type roars, but seeing them moving around ancient environments was still pretty cool.

All in all, it was a fun way to pass part of a Sunday afternoon. And speaking of Sunday afternoons, the Esquire has launched a new summer promotion where you can present a receipt from downtown area restaurants and get half-priced tickets. The promotion runs through August 20, and the receipt must be for at least $20. Also, on Father’s Day—Sunday, June 21—dads get in free.

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