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Taking-Pelham-Washington_l.jpg

Very little time to post this week and next as I wrap up two summer courses.

I thought about heading to see the High Line over the weekend, but the coverage at Animal makes me glad I waited. David Byrne’s lovely photo of an evening stroll makes me think I’ll try it after dark once I eventually make it over there.

Instead, we went to see the new Pelham, probably against better judgment. The beginning was bad, the ending waaaayyy worse, but I tried to enjoy the middle as much as possible, which still wasn’t a lot. Running Scared is spot on for a handful of the film’s major problems, but for me the worst departure from the original was, in the end, the decision not to keep the contrived Noah’s Ark casting of the original. In the new version, there are no New Yorkers. There are a few attempts at ethnic typing — Travolta is a bit of a bigot who can’t stop calling John Turturro a “greaseball,” as if Italians remain at the top of the persecuted minority list in the 21st century city. Travolta himself, a Wall St. broker gone bad, seems more calculated to play to Main Street prejudice against Wall St. than to represent anything recognizably related to the city. Instead of city types, even bad movie stereotypes, there’s just a bunch of vanilla on a subway train. The passengers have no personality at all. They’re just there — like the rest of us, I suppose — to be terrorized or eventually stand up and be counted. Let’s roll, you know.

It’s like a movie version of a movie version of a movie version of New York, where New Yorkness can be signified only by jerky editing or rats in the subway, and where a runaway 6 train somehow gets to Coney Island only moments after crossing the Manhattan Bridge (did I miss something about rerouting?). Characters either love the city or hate it (the mayor starts off hating it — especially the subway — but comes to love it, I think); there’s no nuanced way of inhabiting it. The low moment in this regard came when suburban-chubby Denzel is being spirited uptown in a helicopter and the pilot says, gesturing to the majestic skyline, something like: “Makes you realize just what it is we’re fighting for.” A skyline! A view from above! No sense of the value of life on street-level. There are no neighborhood streets in this city — only towers and freeways and tunnels, and the lower you go the more rats you’ll find.

When it ended, a smattering of people in the audience clapped. I imagine they were the same ones who laughed when Travolta said “greaseball” for the fourth time. I also imagine they haven’t seen the original. Shame.