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Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, I Love You, Beth Cooper and four more ...

By October 4, 2009April 6th, 2013No Comments

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 posterOne of the Film Society high­lights in recent years was the spe­cial screen­ing (on lus­trous 35mm) of the 70s clas­sic thrill­er The Taking of Pelham One Two Three about the hijack­ing of a New York sub­way train. It was a won­der­ful exper­i­ence for many dif­fer­ent reas­ons – a cyn­ic­al love let­ter to a decrep­it, bank­rupt and graffiti-covered city; an ordin­ary guy hero that audi­ences these days would nev­er be allowed to accept (played by grizzled old Walter Matthau) and Robert Shaw (from Jaws and The Sting) chew­ing the scenery as the vil­lain hold­ing a city to ransom.

Thus my heart sank when the remake was announced, par­tic­u­larly the choice of styl­ist (over sub­stance) Tony Scott as dir­ect­or. His recent films like Domino and Déjà Vu have been full of music video fan­ci­ness, giv­ing his act­ors no room to breathe – he’s the Scott you get when you can’t have his broth­er Ridley.

As in the ori­gin­al, a train is hijacked (out of Pelham depot leav­ing at 1.23pm). The brains belong to campy ex-con John Travolta and he wants 10 mil­lion dol­lars in one hour to release the host­ages. It doesn’t seem like much money but he knows what he is doing and the grumpy Mayor (James Gandolfini) releases the money to buy some time. On the oth­er end of the inter­com is (fat) Denzel Washington, MTA exec­ut­ive demoted to dis­patch­er on sus­pi­cion of bribery. The back and forth between the two is enter­tain­ing for a while but the rest of the film has plot holes you can drive a train through, Scott’s dir­ec­tion is unbear­ably fussy and the cam­era seems to be per­petu­ally on roller skates. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is full of pro­fan­ity and gave me a head­ache but at least the trains are cool if you’re into that sort of thing.

I Love You, Beth Cooper posterI Love You, Beth Cooper is rated R16 which is going to keep its tar­get audi­ence away until a big broth­er can rent it from the video shop. “Heroes” chirpy cheer­lead­er Hayden Panettiere is Beth Cooper, object of the affec­tion of nerdy Paul Rust, and on the last day of High School he announces that affec­tion to the whole school. Her meat­head, mil­it­ary, ‘roid rage afflic­ted, boy­friend (Shawn Roberts) takes this badly and an overnight chase across the city ensues (with Cooper teach­ing him a few things about girls along the way). Explicitly hon­our­ing the 80s films of John Hughes like Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller, (plus The Graduate and Say Anything) Beth Cooper tries to ride the 21st cen­tury nihil­ist teen zeit­geist but nev­er quite catches fire.

Dance Flick posterThe illus­tri­ous com­edy name of Wayans is ground into the dirt even fur­ther by neph­ew Damien Dante’s feeble effort Dance Flick, a crappy par­ody film that you should avoid as if your life depends upon it. The Readings web site says it is 93 minutes but I found it topped out at about 75 which is its only blessing.

The Burning Season posterIf, like this review­er, you are suf­fer­ing from enviro-doc fatigue and you were temp­ted to give The Burning Season a swerve, allow me to try and change your mind. Fully 20% of the car­bon emit­ted into the atmo­sphere is caused by defor­est­a­tion – equal to annu­al emis­sions by the USA or Europe – and The Burning Season nails the point (missed by so many of these films) that noth­ing is really going to change until big busi­ness dis­cov­ers there’s a quid in it. In one strand of the story we fol­low a new breed of eco-entrepreneur, Australian Dorjee Sun, as he attempts to pro­tect the Indonesian rain­forest by trans­fer­ring the stored car­bon into cred­its, mak­ing the forest more valu­able stand­ing than burning.

Free of tire­some hec­tor­ing, The Burning Season focuses on a few her­oes (sev­er­al with neck­ties) includ­ing Indonesian region­al politi­cians who are des­per­ate to save their envir­on­ment (and their orang-utan) and still feed their people. Recommended.

Sisters from Siberia video coverA couple of years ago the Festival fea­tured a sweet and mov­ing film called The Italian about a child in a Dickensian Russian orphan­age, determ­ined to find his moth­er before his adop­tion. I was reminded of it early on in Russell Campbell’s Sisters from Siberia, a new doc­u­ment­ary about Wellington City Councillor Stephanie Cook’s adop­tion of two young girls from a chil­dren’s home in Siberia (which didn’t look quite as ghastly thank good­ness). Good adop­tions improve so many lives and this would be an inter­est­ing story even if it only focused on their lives in Wellington but Campbell clev­erly takes the oppor­tun­ity to get oth­ers in the Russian émigré com­munity talk­ing about their exper­i­ence, open­ing it out into a fas­cin­at­ing dis­cus­sion about how much ori­gin­al cul­ture is it pos­sible (or desir­able) to keep in a new country.

Campbell’s cam­era work isn’t as sure as his storytelling (he wrote, pro­duced, dir­ec­ted, shot and edited the film) and at 115 minutes the Vanguard Films lack of ruth­less tele­vi­sion edit­ing exper­i­ence is revealed but the kids are gor­geous (and are already won­der­ful Wellingtonians) and Holloway Road seems like the best kind of old-fashioned community.

Is Anybody There? posterFinally, a mod­est little British indie Is Anybody There? 9‑year-old Edward (Bill Milner) has been kicked out of his bed­room as it’s needed for anoth­er res­id­ent of the rest home where he lives. His under­stand­able frus­tra­tion recedes slightly when he dis­cov­ers that the new occu­pant is former stage magi­cian Clarence, played by Michael Caine in full “where’s my trah­s­is” chirpy cock­ney mode. Of course, both of them get a few les­sons before they have to go their sep­ar­ate ways.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 16 September, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: Dance Flick and I Love You, Beth Cooper were com­mer­cial screen­ings on a Thursday night at Readings; The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was at the Empire on a a busy Saturday night; Is Anybody There? was at the Lighthouse on a week­end mat­inée; The Burning Season was a digit­al present­a­tion in the 10 seat Cinema 5 at the Lighthouse, shared with only one oth­er per­son from memory and Sisters from Siberia was viewed from a DVD sup­plied by the director.