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The Timing of “Pelham 1 2 3”

The Timing of “Pelham 1 2 3” (photo)

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I first saw Joseph Sargent’s original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” at Film Forum less than a month before September 11th. The theater’s later revival of the classic 1974 heist movie unspooled two weeks after the blackout of 2003. The coincidental timing of both engagements reinforced what makes Sargent’s film (with a script by Peter Stone, based on John Godey’s 1973 novel) one of the best movies about New York City: a group of disparate Gotham cranks, weirdoes and hotheads come together in the face of disaster. The original “Pelham” may have been made during the era when President Ford told the city, reeling from crime and near-bankruptcy, to “drop dead,” but the passengers aboard that hijacked subway car and the team of negotiators led by Walter Matthau’s grumpy Transit Authority cop proved they weren’t going down without a few up-yours to the quartet of hoods who messed with them.

Tony Scott’s remake, with the slightly altered title “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” completely deracinates the city, turning it into a garishly sleek soundstage where, in typical Scott fashion, cars are chased and blown up, men are pulverized in the middle of Park Avenue in a hail of bullets and the Manhattan skyline is depicted in tedious, tricked-out edits. The moxie of the original characters, major and minor, has been replaced by the sluggish battle between “Pelham”‘s two bloated leads: Scott regular Denzel Washington in the Matthau role and John Travolta as the villain originated by Robert Shaw, whose suave Mr. Blue did crossword puzzles in between negotiating with Matthau on the squawkbox. Travolta’s psychopathic Ryder, who once managed a private-equity fund, checks the price of gold on his laptop in the motorman’s cab of the hijacked southbound 6 train. This broad, toothless vilification of Wall Streeters is scriptwriter Brian Helgeland’s wan attempt to make the “Pelham” update seem timely — a task repeatedly undone by Travolta’s inability to play a convincing bad dude, his enunciation of “motherfucker” sounding more Edna Turnblad than Vinnie Barbarino.

In an article in the New York Times last month, Scott admitted to having never ridden the subway before starting work on “Pelham.” It shows. The passengers — the hippie, the Jew, the pimp, the gay — in the original “Pelham” may occasionally tip over into stereotype, but they are true, recognizable New Yorkers: a tough, irascible, kvetchy group, unlike the cowed, nearly mute bunch in Scott’s film. The Straphangers Campaign — or anyone with a MetroCard — may want to sue for defamation of character.

06102009_FoodInc.jpgAt the end of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” Denzel Washington’s humble transit cop takes the 7 train home, purchasing, as his wife requested, a gallon of milk. No jacked-up-with-growth-hormones leche for Washington and his wife: Inside his shopping bag is Stonyfield organic 2% milk, a purchase that would surely delight many of the talking heads in “Food, Inc.” (especially Gary Hirshberg, the founder of Stonyfield Farms). Robert Kenner’s documentary forcefully indicts big agribusiness and horrendously lax FDA standards. Our food is, quite literally, killing us, whether through E. coli-contaminated hamburger meat or the high-fructose corn syrup that’s the main ingredient in extremely cheap products stocked on grocery shelves and found in fast food restaurants, leading to sky-high rates of morbid obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Kenner believes people have the power, exhorting us to shop at farmers’ markets — certainly a wise suggestion, but one that may prove difficult for families on extremely tight budgets, like the one profiled all too fleetingly (and never named) that has difficulty affording fresh broccoli after Dad’s diabetes medicine has been paid for. And though a cheery self-sustaining farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley boasts of how well his pigs and chickens are treated before they’re slaughtered for human consumption, meat, for many, is still murder (and is killing, not so softly, Mother Earth); why Kenner didn’t talk to any advocates of vegetarianism is puzzling.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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