The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Only thirty-five years after the fact. This was one of the films shown at the festival, actually, so don't think I'm talking about the upcoming remake with Denzel Washington and John Travolta. The 1974 version features Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw (maybe best known as Quint in Jaws) as a cranky transit cop and a nasty, ruthless crook, respectively.

If you've seen the previews for the new version, you already have a good idea of what happens. A group of heavily armed men hijack a subway train and take a carful of passengers as hostages. When they contact the authorities, they demand one million dollars ransom... which means they'll probably want fifty million at least in the remake, if they want to be able to have the same shocked and appalled reactions to the amount of the ransom. Reluctantly, they give in and arrange for the money to be delivered -- but of course everything goes wrong. There's no such thing as a simple hostage negotiation, not even in 1974.

Beating Reservoir Dogs by eighteen years, the bad guys all have color names, and Mr. Blue is the leader. He's cool, calm and collected -- which must mean something really weird is going on, because while it's relatively easy to hijack a subway car (at least thirty-five years ago), it's a bit trickier to manage any kind of getaway from a subway car, stuck in the middle of a long, dark tunnel. This is where Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber gets to stretch his suspicions and pester the powers that be into being suspicious right along with him. Denzel Washington should be pretty good at that, I'm thinking; and John Travolta is actually getting scarily good at playing psychopaths.

Also on tap this year were the British Television Advertising Awards and the usual collection of short films, which I will again spare us all the effort of attempting to review in any real way. However, one of them is available to watch here, for anyone who's curious.

I also saw a film called Vogelfrei, which looks like German, but is apparently actually Latvian, a hard to translate phrase that means things like free as a bird, and bird hunting season, that sort of thing. There are a lot of birds, but mainly it's the story of one man growing up and growing old, told in four parts by four different directors. Latvian might look like German, but it sounds a lot more like Russian, by the way. Also, apparently the entire country likes to design bathrooms with the light switches on the outside, which as you might have guessed is just asking for all sorts of trouble.

In short, another fun year, in spite of slightly iffy weather. We'll never compete with Cannes, but I like it just fine.

Originally posted 4/2009, as part of the Wisconsin Film Festival for that year.

Image: 
The classic poster. Just think -- once that style of art was all the rage.

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