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The Taking of Pelham 123 (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 105 minutes.

Not for Children.

Oh boy, another remake. The first one in 1974  had Walter Matthau contesting Robert Shaw. This one ups the ante and has superstars Denzel Washington combating John Travolta.

Ryder (Travolta) and three brutish compatriots take over the subway train and immediately contact the transit authority. The person talking to them for the Transit Authority is Walter Garber (an overweight Washington), who is under suspicion of receiving a bribe, so has been temporarily demoted. Ryder tells Garber that he wants $10 million in cash in one hour or he will start killing the passengers, one a minute.

The whole point of the film is the contest of wills between Ryder and Garber. Fortunately, director Tony Scott has held the running time down. While Scott includes “Top Gun” (1986), and “Beverly Hills Cop II” (1987)  among his credits, most of the rest have been mediocre to dismal, the latter exemplified by “Domino” (2005), where he wasted the talents of Keira Knightley in a dismal effort to tell the story of bounty hunter Domino Harvey.

Here he takes a proven winner, based on the novel by John Godey, and makes a moderately interesting thriller highlighting the two superstars. Travolta gives a good performance, but he’s got the easier task, since he’s playing a homicidal lunatic. Washington has a more difficult job of playing an ordinary person as the dispatcher who finds himself in the middle of something nobody could anticipate.

While both Travolta and Washington give interesting performances, I thought that two supporting actors, John Turturo, who plays Lt. Vincent Camonetti, the professional negotiator advising Garber, and James Gandolfini, who plays the New York Mayor, equaled the two superstars. Another good performance is given by Michael Rispoli, who plays Garber’s boss, John Johnson. Johnson firmly believes in Garber’s guilt and clearly doesn’t like him.

The cinematography is also very good. Typically in a modern action film there are some car crashes that are impressively done. The film provides enough action in between all the talk between Ryder and Garber that the pace is adequate.

This is a pretty run of the mill remake with nothing extraordinary. As such, however, the climax lets the film down because it ends with a thud, as well as buying into modern times’ definition of a “hero,” a definition with which I disagree, but that will be the subject of another essay. Suffice it to say, I don’t think it’s “heroic” for a man to risk sacrificing his life for strangers when he has a family depending on him to provide them with love, succor, and support. Oh well, compared with most of the rubbish that’s been put out this year, this at least held my interest most of the time.

June 10, 2009