“2 GUNS” (2013) Review

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“2 GUNS” (2013) Review

I have been a major fan of both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg for years. But when I first learned that the pair would be starring in one of those “cop buddy” action flicks called “2 GUNS”, I did not greet the news with any real enthusiams. And I had a few reasons for my lack of enthusiasm.

As much as I admired the two, I could not envision the both of them as an effective screen team. I thought they would either cancel each other out or simply lack any real screen chemistry. There have been less and less “cop buddy” movies in the past decade. The genre is not as popular as it used to be during its heyday from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. Also, the movie was released during the month of August, which the Hollywood studios use as a dumping ground for their second-rate summer fare or for movies they are uncertain of any success. And if I must be brutally honest, the movie’s title – “2 GUNS” – did not particularly ring with any originality or zing. I did the math and concluded that this movie would be, at best, a sample of cinematic mediocrity. But . . . this was a movie with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg and decided to see it anyway.

“2 GUNS” began in the middle of the story with the two main characters – criminals Robert Trench and Michael Stigman – plotting the robbery of a local Texas bank that holds the money of Mexican drug lord named Papi Greco. The story rewinds back a few days to Trench and Stigman’s meeting with Greco in Mexico, where the latter fails to give Trench the cocaine that he wanted. As it turned out during a stop at the U.S.-Mexico border, Trench is an undercover D.E.A. agent who needs the cocaine as evidence to convict Greco. Trench decides to continue his cover and assist Stigman in robbing Greco’s $3 million dollars from a Texas bank. Unbeknownst to Trench, Stigman is an undercover U.S. Navy Intelligence agent who is ordered by his commanding officer, Harold Quince, to kill Trench and take the $3 million so that the Navy can use it to finance covert operations. Upon robbing the bank, both Trench and Stigman discover that Greco had $43 million dollars in the bank. Even worse, the money actually belongs to a C.I.A. official named Earl, who has been using the money given to him by Greco for C.I.A. black operations. Stigman finds himself in trouble with Quince for failing to kill Trench. And before the latter is framed by Earl for his superior’s murder, he is instructed to get the money back or face prison. Trench and Stigman team up to find the money.

Just as I had expected, “2 GUNS” proved to be a typical “cop buddy” movie that was prevalent during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. However, I was surprised how complex it proved to be. Instead of two police officers already established as partners or being forced to become partners, “2 GUNS” featured two intelligence agents unaware of each other’s profession and mission, and forced to become partners when they find themselves ostracized. I was also surprised to discover that both Washington and Wahlberg managed to produce a first-rate screen chemistry. Not only did they work well together as an action team, but also proved to be quite funny. And thanks to Blake Masters’ screenplay, the movie featured some top-notch action scenes that included the actual bank robbery, Trench and Stigman’s encounter with Quince’s shooters at Trench’s apartment, and an encounter with Grego’s men at the home of Trench’s fellow DEA colleague, Deb Reese. Apparently, Masters and director Baltasar Kormákur saved the best for the last in a blazing shoot-out between the pair, Quince’s shooters, Earl’s killers and Greco’s men at the latter’s ranch in Mexico. Despite my observation that the movie evolved into a complex story, both Masters and Kormákur made it clear for me – aside from one or two scenes.

One of those scenes that confused me centered around Trench’s DEA colleague and former lover, Deb Reese. I understood that she was involved in a scheme to get her hands on Greco’s money with Quince. But after she found herself a hostage by Greco, she immediately gave up on the idea of Trench and Stigman finding the $43 million she had hidden, despite giving Trench a clue to its location. It seemed as if her character seemed to be in some kind of conflict over the issue . . . and an unnecessary one at that. Another scene – or I should say plot line – that confused me concerned Stigman’s position with the U.S. Navy. He managed to infiltrate a naval base in Corpus Christi and informed an Admiral Tulway about the mission, Quince and the missing $43 million dollars. Although Tulway declared Quince a wanted man, he also disavowed Stigman to prevent the scandal from tarnishing the Navy’s reputation, which would have required Stigman’s arrest if he ever set foot on another U.S. Navy base. Did that mean by the end of the money, Stigman remained wanted by the Navy, while he helped Trench take down the C.I.A.’s other bank stashes at the end of the film? Why did screenwriter Blake Masters end Stigman’s career with the Navy on such a tenuous note? And why would Trench even bother to go after the other C.I.A. money stashes? Were they connected to Greco’s drug operations? If so, the screenplay failed to make the issue clear.

The cast gave first-rate performances. This is not surprising, considering the names in the cast. Both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg were not only excellent as the two leads, but also seemed to be having a lot of fun. Paula Patton made a rather subtle femme fatale as Trench’s double-crossing colleague, Deb Rees. Bill Paxton proved to be a very scary adversary as the malevolent C.I.A. official, “Earl”, trying to get his money back. Edward James Olmos proved to be equally effective as the ruthless, yet soft-spoken drug dealer, Manny Greco. And I was surprised to see James Marsden portray such an unsympathetic role as the ruthless Harold Quince, whose scheming got the two leads in trouble. And he was damn good.

I might as well say it. Aside from a rather complex plot, “2 GUNS” is not exactly a memorable action movie that will rock your world. It is also marred by some vague writing in its second half. It is entertaining, funny and has plenty of exciting action scenes, thanks to director Baltasar Kormákur. But the best thing about this film proved to be its cast led by the dynamic duo of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.

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Favorite Films Set in the 1940s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1940s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1940s

1-Inglourious Basterds-a

1. “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this Oscar nominated alternate history tale about two simultaneous plots to assassinate the Nazi High Command at a film premiere in German-occupied Paris. The movie starred Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

2-Captain America the First Avenger

2. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – Chris Evans made his first appearance in this exciting Marvel Cinematic Universe installment as the World War II comic book hero, Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who battles the Nazi-origin terrorist organization, HYDRA. Joe Johnston directed.

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3. “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995) – Denzel Washington starred in this excellent adaptation of Walter Mosley’s 1990 novel about a laid off factory worker who becomes a private detective, after he is hired to find a missing woman with connection to a local politician in post-World War II Los Angeles. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Don Cheadle, Jennifer Beals and Tom Siezmore.

3-Bedknobs and Broomsticks

4. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomilinson starred in this excellent Disney adaptation of Mary Norton’s series of children’s stories about three English children, evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz, who are taken in by a woman studying to become a witch in order to help the Allies fight the Nazis. Robert Stevenson directed.

4-The Public Eye

5. “The Public Eye” (1992) – Joe Pesci starred in this interesting neo-noir tale about a New York City photojournalist (shuttlebug) who stumbles across an illegal gas rationing scandal involving the mob, a Federal government official during the early years of World War II. Barbara Hershey and Stanley Tucci co-starred.

5-A Murder Is Announced

6. “A Murder Is Announced” (1985) – Joan Hickson starred in this 1985 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1950 novel about Miss Jane Marple’s investigation of a series of murders in an English village that began with a newspaper notice advertising a “murder party”. Directed by David Giles, the movie co-starred John Castle.

6-Hope and Glory

7. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote and directed this fictionalized account of his childhood during the early years of World War II in England. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

7-The Godfather

8. “The Godfather” (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote and directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel about the fictional leaders of a crime family in post-World War II New York City. Oscar winner Marlon Brando and Oscar nominee Al Pacino starred.

8-Valkyrie

9. “Valkyrie” (2008) – Bryan Singer directed this acclaimed account of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson starred.

9-The Black Dahlia

10. “The Black Dahlia” (2006) – Brian DePalma directed this entertaining adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel about the investigation of the infamous Black Dahlia case in 1947 Los Angeles. Josh Harnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank starred.

10-Stalag 17

Honorable Mention: “Stalag 17” (1953) – Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote this well done adaptation of the 1951 Broadway play about a group of U.S. airmen in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, who begin to suspect that one of them might be an informant for the Nazis. Oscar winner William Holden starred.

Ten Favorite Movies Set in TEXAS

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Texas aka “the Lone Star State”:

TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN TEXAS

1 - The Big Country

1. “The Big Country” (1958) – William Wyler directed this big scale adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s 1958 novel, “Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.

2 - Written on the Wind

2. “Written on the Wind” (1956) – Douglas Sirk directed this adaptation of Robert Wilder’s 1954 novel about a East Coast secretary who married into a wealthy Texas family. The movie starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Oscar nominee Robert Stack and Oscar winner Dorothy Malone.

3 - The Shadow Riders

3. “The Shadow Riders” (1982) – Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot starred in this television adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s novel about brothers who search for their kidnapped siblings at the end of the Civil War. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, the movie co-starred Jeff Osterhage, Katherine Ross and Ben Johnson.

4 - Giant

4. “Giant” (1956) – Oscar nominee George Stevens produced and directed this adaptation of Edna Ferber’s 1952 about a wealthy Texas family. The movie starred Elizabeth Taylor, and Oscar nominees Rock Hudson and James Dean.

5 - 2 Guns

5. “2 Guns” (2013) – Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg starred in this adaptation of a comic book series about two undercover agents and their search for missing C.I.A. money. The movie was directed by Baltasar Kormákur.

6 - No Country For Old Men

6. “No Country For Old Men” (2007) – The Coen Brothers directed this Oscar winning film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel. The movie starred Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson and Oscar winner Jarvier Bardem.

7 - Parkland

7. “Parkland” (2013) – Peter Landesman wrote and directed this film about the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The cast includes Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston and James Badge Dale.

8 - Dallas Buyers Club

8. “Dallas Buyers’ Club” (2013) – Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey starred in this biopic about A.I.D.S. activist Ron Woodruff. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the movie co-starred Jennifer Garner and Oscar winner Jared Leto.

9 - The Searchers

9. “The Searchers” (1956) – John Ford directed this epic adaptation of Alan Le May’s 1954 novel about the search for a missing girl taken by Commanches. The movie starred John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter.

10 - Extreme Prejudice

10. “Extreme Prejudice” (1987) – Walter Hill directed this action packed tale about a conflict between a Texas Ranger, his former boyhood friend-turned-drug kingpin and a team of Army Intelligence agents. Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe starred.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 


FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.



2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.



3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.



4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.



5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.



6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.



7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.



8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.



9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.



10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“FLIGHT” (2012) Review

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“FLIGHT” (2012) Review

For years, I thought that director Robert Zemeckis had lost his way. I thought the Academy Award he had won for the 1994 movie, “FOREST GUMP” had transformed a talented and slightly eccentric filmmaker into a pretentious and boring one. 

I realize this is a cruel thing to say. Robert Zemeckis had been one of my favorite directors ever since I first saw his 1978 comedy, “I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND” on television. But after he won a Best Director Oscar for “GUMP”, he seemed to have lost his touch. I am not saying that movies like “CONTACT”“WHAT LIES BENEATH” and “CASTAWAY” were terrible. For me, they seemed to lack that Zemeckis touch that had made his previous movies magical for me. But after seeing the director’s latest endeavor, “FLIGHT”, I believe there is a good chance that he may have regained his mojo.

“FLIGHT” tells the story of an airline pilot, who manages to prevent a flight between Orlando and Atlanta from perishing in a fatal crash. Only six people – four passengers and two stewardesses – die in the crash. An investigation of the crash reveals not only malfunctions within the plane, but also evidence of alcohol use by the crew, especially by the pilot, one Whip Whitaker. Whip had used cocaine before the flight to keep himself alert and imbibed alcohol during the flight. The airline pilots’ union hires Hugh Lang to defend Whip and prevent the latter from serving time in prison for drug and manslaughter charges. Lang claims he can get the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)‘s toxicology report declared inadmissible in court and focus the investigation on the plane’s malfunctions. But both he and Whip’s friend and union representative, Charlie Anderson, gradually become aware that Whip is a hardcore alcoholic and drug abuser. And his addictions might stand in the way of any successful defense on Lang’s part.

I am not stating that “FLIGHT” is perfect. It had one or two aspects I found questionable. One, I thought a movie that is basically a character study of an alcoholic airline pilot possibly facing the consequences of his substance abuse should not have a running time of 139 minutes. Yes, I believe it was at least fifteen to twenty minutes too long. And one of the scenes I would have trimmed featured a cameo appearance by the very talented James Badge Dale. Do not get me wrong. I thought that Badge Dale gave a superb performance as a cancer patient that Whip Whitaker and future girlfriend/fellow addict Nicole Maggen met in a hospital hallway. Unless Badge Dale had said something that related to the story (and if he did, someone please enlighten me), I saw no reason to include his character into the story. My other problem has a good deal to do with a repentant Whip recounting his alcoholism and drug use to a counseling group. Honestly, it felt as if Bob Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins injected a segment from an episode of the “ABC AFTERSCHOOL” television series . . . and that Whip was talking to a group of high school students.

Despite these flaws, I must admit that “FLIGHT” really impressed me. The last time I saw a movie or television series about an alcoholic was CBS’s “KNOT’S LANDING” in which the Gary Ewing character (portrayed by actor Ted Shackleford) experienced his last bout of alcoholism and recovery. It was ugly to watch. Since then, I have made a point of deliberately avoiding movies about alcoholics and drug abusers. At least two family members have died from the consequences of drug abuse. When I sat down in a movie theater to watch “FLIGHT”, I never thought that Denzel Washington would be portraying such a hardcore substance abuser. But you know what? I am glad that I saw the movie.

There are many aspects about “FLIGHT” that I truly enjoyed. Thanks to Robert Zemeckis’ direction, Don Burgess’ cinematography and award worthy editing by Jeremiah O’Driscoll, the movie featured a kick ass plane crash sequence that left me breathless and wired at the same time. It was a beautiful thing to watch and worthy of a series of Academy Awards technical nominations. But more importantly, Gatnis created a superb portrayal of the alcoholic airline pilot that gave plenty of meat for both Zemeckis and actor Denzel Washington. Some of the movie’s best moments aside from the actual crash included Whip’s future girlfriend, Nicole Maggen, nearly dying from a heroin overdose; Lang and Whip’s meeting with the president of the airlines; Whip and Nicole’s conflict over his constant drinking; Whip’s confrontation with his ex-wife and son; Lang’s chewing out Whip about the latter’s legal situation; and Whip’s failed attempt to resist consuming booze he found in a mini bar in a hotel room. My two favorite scenes featured the attempts of Whip’s colorful friend/drug dealer Harling Mays to help him recover from another alcoholic binge before he can testify before a NTSB hearing . . . and the actual hearing itself, which ended with a surprising twist.

The performances for “FLIGHT” were superb. I could not find a bad or mediocre performance from any member of the cast. Not one. I have already pointed out James Badge Dale’s excellent performance as a cancer patient that Whip and Nicole briefly met. I was also impressed by Tamara Tunie’s stalwart, yet emotional performance as senior flight attendant Margaret Thomason; Brian Geraghty as Whip’s religious co-pilot Ken Evans, who lost the use of his legs; Peter Gerety’s colorful portrayal of airline owner Avington Carr; and Nadine Velazquez’s solid performance as Katerina Marquez, the recently deceased flight attendant who had been Whip’s lover.

But the performances that really caught my eye came from Melissa Leo, who gave a brief, yet subtle performance as lead NTSB investigator Ellen Block; John Goodman, who was deliciously larger than life as Whip’s friend and drug dealer, Harling Mays; and Bruce Greenwood’s quiet, yet emotional portrayal of Whip’s much put upon friend, Charlie Anderson.  Don Cheadle (who last worked with Washington in the 1995 movie, “DEVIL IN THE BLUE DRESS”) gave a superb performance, while acting as more or less the backbone of the movie as Whip’s uber talented attorney, Hugh Lang. Kelly Reilly finally caught the eyes of critics in her excellent portrayal of recovering drug addict, Nicole Maggen, who ends up falling for Whip.

But the man of the hour was Denzel Washington. Ever since winning his second Academy Award, eleven years ago, he has given a series of solid or excellent performances in movies that were either successful or not. But it was plain to me that his performance as alcoholic Whip Whitaker was one of his very best in years. Washington was always at his best when portraying characters that were complex – with both likeable and dislikeable traits. Only a true performer, in my opinion, is not afraid to tackle such a character. As the last twenty to thirty years of superb performances have shown, Washington has never been afraid to tackle such characters like Whip.  And for his efforts, he earned both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

“FLIGHT” may have suffered from a running time that I found too long and an ending that struck me as a little too adolescent for my tastes. But I must admit that it has become for me one of the best movies I have seen in 2012. As a filmmaker, Robert Zemeckis has returned in top form. And his endeavors were assisted by excellent photography and editing, a top-notch screenplay by John Gatins and first-rate performances from a talented cast led by the always superb Denzel Washington.

“SAFE HOUSE” (2012) Review

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“SAFE HOUSE” (2012) Review

One of the first hits of the year 2012 turned out to be a neat little political thriller called “SAFE HOUSE” that was directed by Daniel Espinosa. 

Penned by David Guggenheim, “SAFE HOUSE” is about a young and ambitious C.I.A. agent named Matt Weston, whose present assignment is the “housekeeper” of an Agency safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. When ex-C.I.A. agent-turned-international criminal Tobin Frost turns himself in to a nearby U.S. consulate, Weston is informed by his superiors at Langley that Tobin will be brought to the safe house by an Agency torturer named Daniel Kiefer and his men. Weston watches the torture, until the process is interrupted by mercenaries led by a man named Vargas. He has been after Frost for some information that the latter acquired from an MI-6. Kiefer and the other C.I.A. agents are killed by Vargas and his men. And Weston escapes the safe house with Frost as his captive.

As I had stated earlier, “SAFE HOUSE” is a neat little political thriller filled with exciting chase sequences and nail-biting fight scenes. All of this was filmed in and around Cape Town, Africa; which struck me as a refreshingly original setting for a spy thriller. More importantly, screenwriter Guggenheim allowed all of the action to revolve around the computer file that the Tobin Frost character had acquired. The file contained information on the illegal activities of various intelligence officials throughout the world – including those from the C.I.A. The Vargas character had been recruited to get his hands on the file and kill Frost in the process. Due to this subplot, Guggenheim managed to introduce the element of a “mole” within the C.I.A. And the mole in question might either be Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, or the latter’s colleague, Catherine Linklater.

I cannot deny that “SAFE HOUSE” is an entertaining thriller and I could easily see why it did so well at the box office. It possessed a tight plot concerning betrayal. The movie also questioned Weston’s determination to maintain his C.I.A. career by allowing Frost to recount his own intelligence career and the circumstances that led him to turn rogue. However . . . it was not a perfect movie. It has its share of flaws that will never allow it to be considered one of the best spy thrillers to come out of Hollywood.

I have complained in past reviews about the new style of cinematography and editing that has prevailed in action-adventures since the BOURNE movies directed by Paul Greengrass. Yep . . . the same type of cinematography, direction and pacing is also prevalent in “SAFE HOUSE”, thanks to director Daniel Espinoza, cinematographer Oliver Wood and editor Rick Pearson. Oh well. I suppose one has to endure some unpleasant aspects for the sake of a decent story. Speaking of the story . . . well, how can I say this? I enjoyed it. But I must admit that I found it rather predictable. It did not take me very long to figure out the “mole” who had sent Vargas to kill Frost. And I managed to figure out Weston and Frost’s fates at least a half hour before the movie ended.

Thankfully, “SAFE HOUSE” provided plenty of first-rate performances that allowed me to . . . somewhat overlook the movie’s flaws. Some of my favorite Denzel Washington roles have always been those that reeked of moral ambiguity. And Tobin Frost proved to be one of his most ambiguous roles to date. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by his character’s goal by the film’s last twenty minutes. I had assumed that his position as a rogue agent was a means to bring justice to the “mole” within the C.I.A. or in protest of some operation that threatened innocents. I was wrong. His actions had been purely motivated by greed. Yet, I could not help cheering him on, as he managed to evade his pursuers throughout the movie. Ryan Reynolds portrayed a less ambiguous role – namely the inexperienced C.I.A. agent Matt Weston, who has ambitions to rise within the Agency. Reynolds is already in his mid-30s, yet he did a first-rate job in capturing the naivety and ambitions of someone who could be at least a decade younger. This allowed Reynolds convey Weston’s gradual maturity with great skill. By the end of the movie, his Weston almost seemed like a completely different from the young man at the beginning of the film.

“SAFE HOUSE” also boasted some solid performances from Sam Shephard, who portrayed the garrulous C.I.A. Director Harlan Whitford; Vera Farmiga as C.I.A. operative Catherine Linklater, who seems determined to believe that Weston is a fellow conspirator of Frost’s; Liam Cunningham as the MI-6 agent who provided Frost with the files; Rubén Blades as a former contact of Frost’s, whose help he seeks in a local Cape Town township; Robert Patrick, who gave his character – C.I.A. torturer Daniel Kiefer – a sharp air of professionalism; and Nora Arnezeder, as Whitford’s French girlfriend, who left confused by his sudden determination to distance himself from her. My favorite supporting performance came from Brendan Gleeson, whose portrayal of Weston’s mentor, David Barlow, seemed to rival Washington’s when in regard to moral ambiguity. Gleeson injected enough mystery into the character to make a viewer wonder if he is the mole or not. At the same, it is quite apparent that he cares about Weston’s career and safety.

“SAFE HOUSE” may not be the best spy thriller to come along in quite a while. I found the plot rather predictable and I was not that impressed by the Greengrass-style photography and editing. But I cannot deny that Daniel Espinoza directed an entertaining thriller, thanks to a solid script written by David Guggenheim and an excellent cast led by Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds.

“THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” (2009) Review

”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” (2009) Review

Tony Scott’s new version of John Godey’s 1973 novel, ”The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” marked the third time Hollywood released a version of the crime drama about the hijacking of a New York City subway train. The first version, directed by Joseph Sargent, featured Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. Nineteen eighty-eight saw the release of a television version that starred Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio. I barely remember the 1974 version and I have never seen the 1998 version. But since I recently saw this new version, I might as well give my two-cents on the movie.

In ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” (2009) , Denzel Washington portrays a MTA dispatcher named Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), who is assigned to the Rail Control Center due to an ongoing investigation that he took a bribe to recommend a Japanese car manufacturer for the next subway car contract. It is Garber who ends up as the liaison between the New York Police Department/the Mayor’s Office and a man named “Ryder” (John Travolta) who has led three other men to board one of the MTA trains and hijack in exchange for $10 million dollars in ransom money. Also in the cast are John Turturro as Lieutenant Camonett of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, who guides Garber into communicating with “Ryder”; Luis Guzmán as Phil Ramos (a.k.a. “Mr. Green”), one of the hijackers; and James Gandolfini as an unpopular mayor of New York City, who is under heavy pressure to address the hostage crisis.

Since my memories of the 1974 version is vague, I might as well express my view of the movie. In a nutshell, it was a solid and decent movie that had the good luck to possess a decent script written by Oscar winner, Brian Helgeland (”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”). Yes, Helgeland made changes not only from the original novel, but also from the 1974 movie. That was to be expected . . . even though I have no idea what the changes are. Wait a minute. I am aware of one particular change. The Walter Garber character portrayed by Walter Matthau was a transit cop. Not that I care, since I have very vague memories of the movie. And for once, Tony Scott’s penchant for MTV style direction did not bother me. I thought it mixed well with the movie’s story. However . . . the sequence that featured the NYPD’s attempt to deliver the ransom money through the streets of Manhattan struck me as slightly ridiculous and over-the-top . . . especially with the number of car crashes that occurred this scene. As one character had put it – why not deliver the money via helicopter? The audience would have been spared that ridiculous scene. And one last scene annoyed me. It had to do with Garber’s attempts to track down and arrest “Ryder” and recover the ransom money. I thought it was a silly and contrived scene. But I must admit that I enjoyed how Scott captured the kinetic energy of Manhattan and kept the movie’s pace from moving too fast or two slow. ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” struck me as a well-paced film.

At least four performances in the movie managed to catch my attention. I found James Gandolfini’s performance as an unpopular mayor rather sharp and funny, and a nice departure from his some of his heavier past roles – including Tony Soprano. Another amusing performance came from Luis Guzman as one of the hijackers, Phil Ramos. Whereas the other hijackers – including Travolta – projected an over-the-top menace, Guzman gave a restrained and funny performance. John Turturro’s performance as the police hostage negotiator was also restrained, subtle . . . and intelligent. And last, but not least, I was very impressed by Denzel Washington’s performance as the MTA dispatcher forced into dealing with an erratic and dangerous hijacker. Like Guzman and Turturro, he gave a very restrained performance and did an excellent job in keeping in character with an ordinary man, dragged into an extraordinary situation. Washington also gave the best performance in a scene that featured “Ryder” forcing Garber to confess to the charges of bribery, in order to save the life of one of the hostages. The one performance that troubled me happened to be that of John Travolta as “Ryder”, leader of the hijackers. Not only was it over-the-top, it was the kind of performance he had given several times in the past in movies like ”BROKEN ARROW” and ”FACE-OFF”. Back in the 90s, these flashy performances were fun and amusing. In 2009, I found it a little tiresome. At least he was convincing as an intelligent and dangerous man.

Judging from other comments and reviews I have read about this film, many seem quite willing to dismiss it as a crappy film. As far as I am concerned, ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” is not crap. Granted, it is not the best action thriller I have seen, because I have seen better ones. But I do believe that it is a pretty solid and entertaining movie that should not be dismissed, because it is not exceptional. But I can see the writing on the wall. Chances are it will fail at the box office. Too bad. ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” may not be a masterpiece, but I think that it is a hell of a lot better than a very mediocre movie like ”STAR TREK”, which managed to get rave reviews.