Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mirror's Edge - Goes Everywhere and Nowhere

Since I am currently a college student, this blog will be updated with less frequency than before and there is less time now to play video games of any substantial length (although there are a couple of upcoming games that will be reviewed no matter what). With this in mind, I figured it would be best to focus on shorter video games and get more licensed video game comic reviews up; basically whatever takes less time. As soon as we agreed to this measure, I thought of finally playing Mirror's Edge, a game that I had in my library for a couple years but never really got around to playing past the first chapter. I was surprised to learn that this game has a cult following, which would explain the planned sequel, and while I now understand why it does, it definitely needed some work for its initial release.

The game takes place in an unnamed dystopian city that does its hardest to forget its violent past. While most people are happy and have even forgotten what the "bad" old days were like, people like Faith Connors have not. While her family was involved in a campaign to stop the city from succumbing to totalitarianism, a tragic turn of events forced her to run away and start a new life. Four years later, she has found freedom as a Runner, a special breed of courier that delivers packages containing sensitive information that would normally be snuffed if handled through legitimate channels. Now Faith runs along the mirror's edge, always one step from death, existing everywhere and nowhere and the one thing that makes her feel truly alive and above the city's rule. However, that's about to change, since she's gotten involved in a conspiracy that involves her sister being unjustly imprisoned.

As the story unfolds, I found that the developers were able to craft a pretty solid story with the right turns and properly develop the main character. The problem however lies in the explanation. By that, I mean that the story is never properly explained that well within the game itself. You get more of an explanation of the background from the manual, where most of the previous paragraph came from, than you do in the actual game. While I feel that some more world building could have been done, the plot still manages to do a good job of making Faith a strong female protagonist. I liked that she was willing to save her sister no matter what it took, yet realizes the costs of her reckless actions when they finally catch up with her; she's human and willing to accept and make up for her mistakes. Other characters are developed as needed to fill an archetype, such as Mercury being Faith's mentor, but I think I should mention that I found the main antagonist to be rather disappointing. He just comes off as cocky and the buildup to the reveal isn't fully developed, which makes the story seem a bit thin the more I think about it.

Then of course is the gameplay, which is divided between parkour-style platforming and combat. The platforming is executed brilliantly, with levels designed specifically to take full advantage of the many things the player can potentially do. Among the many times I've had to vault, wall run and other maneuvers, I felt a sense of freedom and flow that I haven't from other platformers. The acrobatics that can be performed, especially when you're quickly changing directions, are unique and the sections that utilize the easy-to-use game mechanics are easily my favorite part of the experience.

Combat, on the other hand, falls flat. There's a sort of secondary "fight or flight" mentality to enemy encounters, in which running away from enemies is actually a viable option. Sometimes that doesn't pan out however and you are forced to fight past the blues (cops) or security guards to get to the objective. Faith can defend herself pretty well thanks to her hand-to-hand combat training, but even knowing the proper timing to disarm some of the tougher enemies' guns won't get you very far if you're attempting to get a specific achievement/trophy. While I tried to get the trophy, the sheer difficulty of trying to knock out guards and get away from some swarms forced me to learn to use the guns for survival. As far as I'm concerned the guns work perfectly well and can serve to make the levels go by much quicker, but there's no safe way to tell how much ammo is remaining and the sniper rifle could be difficult to aim with at times. Either way, I didn't have fun fighting off groups of enemies and simply wanted to get back to the splendid parkour.

You may not get to enjoy these sections for very long however, considering that the game is pretty short. The levels go by surprisingly quickly and since there's only nine total levels, you'll find yourself searching for motivation to keep playing. Thankfully, you can squeeze out more play time with the Time Trial mode, which basically has you playing through different level sections minus the guards, so long as you meet the requirements to unlock the various courses. I had some fun here, but it's good to keep in mind that the routes they make you follow are specific to the story, so don't be surprised if you quit in frustration at least once.

Technically speaking, I absolutely loved the graphics. The bright colors help the player find their way through the levels and have enough variety to make the scenery great to look at, though the daytime portions show off the lighting to the point where it takes a moment to make the whites easy to see. Conversely, I thought the flash animated cutscenes were decent, though it did simplify some details like Faith's tattoos. The music in each level is done well enough to aid the player's emotions, but isn't really memorable outside of gameplay.

For an experimental idea, DICE managed to craft a solid game based around first-person platforming. While I can't say I would play it all the time, I am definitely interested in a sequel, as it could end up like Portal 2 where the next installment really stretches everyone's creativity. I would tell you to give this game a try, especially at a low price, but know that Mirror's Edge runs the same line as the Runners: everywhere and nowhere.

World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria (Comic)

Before I begin, I would like to say that I have absolutely no experience with any of the Warcraft games or books, nor do I wish to any time soon. That said, I first heard about the graphic novel World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria, likely made to tie into the Mists of Pandaria expansion coming soon to the MMO World of Warcraft (WoW), while reading a DC comic. What actually got me to buy it, admittedly, was that the art was done by Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, best known for his designs on the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon (which I have not seen). Having read this newly-released graphic novel with very little knowledge of the Warcraft universe, I believe that Pearl of Pandaria tells a story that holds up on its own.

The tale begins on the island turtle Shen-zin Su, where a young Pandaren named Li Li is reading letters from her Uncle Chen about his adventures in Azeroth. As a result, she desires to be adventurous herself, but her father Chon Po want her to stay on Shen-zin Su and continue Pandaren traditions. This leads to an argument between the two, after which Li Li decides to run away during the night in search of her Uncle Chen, but not without leaving a note for her father. After reading the note, Chon Po sends Li Li's trainer Bo to go after her, leading to a series of exploits as Bo and Li Li learn more about each other and the world of Azeroth.

While I am not familiar with the works of Mickey Neilson, I thought the writing of this book was fantastic. There's plenty of references to the MMO throughout, including, among the few things I was able to pick up on, the Lich King and a couple mentions of Azeroth, but they are thankfully not important to the story and serve as small nods to tie it in to WoW. Continuity aside (again, lack of experience), it is an amazing story with plenty of twists and epic moments to make the reader want to keep going. The characters of Bo and Li Li have their own character flaws that make them interesting to read about and through flashbacks you get to learn what kind of person Uncle Chen is like. The story itself isn't anything new, but the execution makes it work.

The art for Pearl of Pandaria, by Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, is simply stunning. His art style is very cartoonish, but with it he is able to express a wide range of action and emotion, especially during a truly epic clash at the end. The villains of the story look genuinely threatening, especially with the lighting placed in just the right way to enhance the effect. The backgrounds are also beautifully detailed, but are not distracting, though I can't say for myself how true they are to the WoW environments. In any case, the art fits perfectly with the narrative.

However, when I got to the end, I noticed a couple of major errors, both of which are related to the comic itself. Near the end when Li Li is speaking (I won't spoil context), her dialogue is misattributed to a character who happens to be standing right next to her (saying who would still spoil context). There is also an art error that slightly confuses the story; when Li Li is receiving an item in one panel (again, no context spoiler), she is seen with the same item in one or two panels preceding it. Aside from this, there are some other minor art errors (which I won't get into) in otherwise highly consistent visuals. Any other errors I may not have noted, however, stem from my lack of knowledge on Warcraft media.

World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria is an amazing graphic novel. The story is engaging and manages to work by itself, while the art displays the events in a visually appealing way. Anyone unfamiliar with the Warcraft series will enjoy it for what it is, and the WoW references don't really get in the way. I think anyone that has actually played World of Warcraft may like it, but then again I don't know if it conflicts with any continuity (nor do I wish to find out). In any case, this is a video game comic you do not want to pass up on. This book doesn't make me want to play the MMO it ties in to, but I'm sure someone out there would be more convinced to do so.

Stubs - Scoop

SCOOP (2006) Starring: Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Ian McShane. Directed by Woody Allen. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Letty Aronson, John Davis, Gareth Wiley. Runtime: 96. Color. U.S.-U.K. Comedy, Mystery

Woody Allen’s career may have peaked in the 1970’s, but he continues to write and direct movies to this day. And while they are no longer guaranteed box office, he does occasionally still make acclaimed and successful films, such as Midnight in Paris (2011). Allen, noted as a New York filmmaker, has been forced to make movies abroad for the last seven years, and it seems to have genuinely breathed new life into his career.

His biggest success prior to Midnight in Paris was the movie Match Point (2005), his first film made in England. The next year, he returned to London and made Scoop, reuniting the director with Scarlett Johansson, a young actress he had worked with in Match Point. And while Scoop did not receive the same attention as Match Point, it is still a very good and very interesting film.

The story begins, oddly enough, at the memorial service for a British news reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane). Following the service, several of Strombel’s contemporaries gather at a local pub to hoist a drink to their now dead colleague.

Next we cut to Strombel on board a boat captained by Death crossing the Styx. There, Strombel starts up a conversation with Jane Cook (Fenella Woolgar), who tells him that she died of poisoning. She suspects it was due to the fact that she had evidence that her boss, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) was the notorious serial killer known in the tabloids as the Tarot Card Killer due to the fact a tarot card gets left at the murder scene of short haired brunette prostitutes. Strombel is so intrigued by the story that he escapes the death boat.

Meanwhile, Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) is in London on vacation, but is also trying to get an interview with director Mike Tinsley (Kevin R. McNally). But instead of getting the story, she sleeps with Tinsley instead. She’s upset by her own lack of professionalism, but Vivian (Romola Garai), the daughter of the London family she’s staying with, talks her into attending a performance by a magician, the Great Splendini (Woody Allen), aka Sid Waterman. Sondra volunteers to participate in the finale of the show, wherein, Splendini puts the subject in a box and makes them disappear. But while Sondra’s in the box, she encounters Strombel’s ghost, who has momentarily escaped the Grim Reaper and is drawn to her because she is a journalist. He tells her that Peter Lyman is the Tarot Card killer and urges her to investigate the story.

Not sure what to make of what happened, Sondra returns to Splendini between shows and begs him to let her go into the chamber again. Splendini has little patience and practically pulls her out of the chamber, when the ghost of Strombel appears to the two of them. Convinced there is a story, Sondra decides to investigate and drags Sid along with her, pretending he is her father. On their first attempt to break the story, they end up following the wrong man, since there are no good photos of Lyman on the internet. But all is not lost. The family she’s staying with know Lyman and know some of his habits, such as a daily swim at a private club. But since the family are members they can get Sondra and Sid in as their guests.

Once there, Sid and Sondra work out a scheme to get Lyman’s attention. While Sid goes off to have tea, Sondra pretends to be drowning. Being the gentleman he is and the only other person in the pool, Lyman saves her. She introduces herself as Jade Spence, the daughter of a rich Floridian. Enchanted by her beauty, Lyman asks her to attend a party at his parent’s estate. Even though he’s supposed to be a rich businessman, Sid can’t help but do card tricks and bits of magic. But while Sondra tries to keep Lyman occupied by awkwardly talking about things like Tarot cards, Sid goes through the house looking for clues. He finds only one, a doodle on the back of an envelope Lyman made with the name Betty G.

But when they return from the estate, neither Sid nor Sondra is convinced Lyman is a murderer. Sid has been invited to play poker at the club and is doing very well before Lyman shows up late. The next morning, both Sid and Sondra are concerned when there has been a new Tarot Card murder. Sid surmises that Lyman would have had enough time to have killed the prostitute before showing up at the club. Sondra wants to dig deeper and get a look at his house. Which she does, after a date with Lyman.

He takes her down stairs of his townhouse to a climate controlled vault where he keeps rare and expensive instruments his family has collected. Down there, the two share a kiss and she spends the night. Meanwhile, Sid is doing his usual act, when Strombel appears to him, and apparently the entire audience. He tells Sid to remember three numbers 16, 21, 12, though he doesn’t tell him what they are for.

After sex, Sondra and Lyman make small talk. She compliments his aftershave and he tells her it’s Yardley, a fragrance he’s used since he was a teenager and has never stopped using. He wants her to stay for breakfast and while he’s getting some champagne to celebrate their togetherness, she goes through his bedroom for clues, coming across a photo of a short-haired brunette woman, whom Lyman identifies as his mother, beautiful but unfaithful. Sondra begs off breakfast and meets up with Sid, who tells her what Strombel’s ghost had told him. By now, Sid knows it’s a combination and Sondra remembers that the vault has a combination lock.

At a party at Lyman’s house, Sid manages to sneak down to the vault and rummages around the room, though he gets accidentally locked in there by one of the servants. He is saved, when Sondra gets worried and goes looking for him. He tells her the combination and she lets him out just in time so that Lyman doesn’t catch him in the vault. Sid by now is convinced that they are on a wild goose chase searching the vault. Lyman pulls Sondra aside and begs her to stay the night, which she does.

And while he’s sleeping, Sondra sneaks back down to the vault where she makes a casual search. Under the French horn she finds a stack of Tarot cards. (Incidentally, Sid had found the same French horn in the previous vault scene on its side. He even started to make a joke about a French horn player before putting it back.) But upstairs, Lyman wakes up and calls out for her. But she has already returned with an alibi glass of milk to help her sleep as an excuse for being up at 4 am. You can sense that she’s nervous being with him, but he asks her if she would consider staying in London after her vacation ends.

The next morning, Sondra and Sid discuss what she has found out. While he’s convinced it points to guilt, Sondra is skeptical. Owning Tarot cards and being late to a poker game aren’t the sign of anything. They discuss calling the police, but Sondra insists that she wants to get the story if there is one.

In the next scene, it is Sondra’s birthday. In a public park, Lyman gives her an expensive bracelet, but begs off celebrating it with her, saying that he has out of town business to take care of. Sid offers to take her out for her birthday for Indian food. She seems preoccupied. She thinks Lyman might be leading up to ask her to marry him.

Back at her friend’s London house, Sondra is once again visited by Strombel’s ghost. He sensed that Sondra was falling in love, so he escaped, again. While he agrees that there is not enough evidence to get Lyman arrested, he is convinced that there is too much circumstantial evidence for Lyman not to be guilty. He warns her not to act too hastily as Lyman would walk and her credibility would be shot. But as he’s fading he implores her not to let him down.

That night, in a storefront Indian restaurant, Sondra sees Lyman walk by across the street. She and Sid take chase, but lose him in the confusing streets of London. But they do find themselves near where a murder had just taken place. A woman comes out of an apartment house shouting that someone has just been killed and another resident confirms a Tarot Card was found next to the body.

The next morning, Sid and Sondra go through the newspaper stories about the murder. This time the victim is named, Elizabeth Gibson, another short-haired brunette. They debate about going to the cops, but decide instead to have a real newspaperman look at her story. Luckily, her host family knows one that works at the Observer.

While Mr. Malcolm (Charles Dance) believes the story is vivid he tells her that no newspaper would print it as it would be libelous to do so. All she has are theories that would only tarnish Lyman’s reputation without a single strand of substantial proof. Again the same arguments that Sid and Sondra have debated about are raised by Mr. Malcolm. And he doesn’t believe that Strombel was her original source for the story. When Sid says that she could have sold the story to a tabloid, Mr. Malcolm informs them that to have done so would have been a disaster for everyone involved, since the real Tarot Card killer, a handy man named Henry Banks, had just been arrested by the police and confessed to all the murders. Evidence had been found linking Banks to the crimes, as well as he having led them to two additional bodies.

Now that it appears Lyman is in the clear, Sondra is faced with another problem. She had lied to him over and over again about who she is and what she was doing. Finally though, she is alone with Peter on the estate and they both confess to each other their lies. Peter confesses that he lied when he said he was going out of town on business. The truth, according to Peter, is that a company his father owns is merging with a company in the Middle East and they didn’t want details leaked out to the press. Sondra confesses her lies to Peter, including her real name, her relationship to Sid and her suspicions that he was the Tarot Card murderer. Peter laughs about her thoughts that he could be the killer. She asks about the Tarot deck in his music room, but he tells her that it was a surprise for her, based on a previous conversation they’d had. Peter wants to move on with their lives.

But Sid is convinced now that Peter is a murderer and a liar. He comes back to the doodle Betty G and found that the woman who was murdered on her birthday was named Elizabeth Gibson. Betty is often a nickname for Elizabeth. Sid spells out the same clues and circumstantial evidence they had found and supposes that Peter folded in his murder of Betty G into the Tarot Card murder crime wave. He’s convinced that Betty was blackmailing Peter for something, though he doesn’t know exactly what.

Strombel appears again to Sid to find out how Sondra reacted. Strombel tells Sid to check the Tarot deck to see if a card is missing, right after he warns him that he will not be able to return again. Strombel has cheated death all the ways he could.

Determined to uncover the answer, Sid goes to Elizabeth Gibson’s apartment house to ask about her. He finally finds someone that knew her. She tells Sid that Elizabeth was known as Betty to everyone. She bemoans the fact that Betty had dyed her blond hair brown and cut it so short. She tells him that Betty did it to please a regular client, Peter Yardley.

Sid calls Sondra at Peter’s estate to tell her what he had found out about the last victim. But she doesn’t want to hear it. Peter listens in and hears Sid tell her that he’s convinced of Peter’s guilt and hears Sondra to stop being paranoid.

But Sid is not deterred. He goes to Peter’s house and tells the housekeeper that he’s there to pick up his daughter’s red cashmere sweater. While the woman goes upstairs to look, Sid heads for the vault. This time, under the French horn, he finds a key. He’s not sure what to make of it and almost puts it back, but at the last minute pockets it. However, he isn’t fast enough to avoid detection by the housekeeper, who catches him coming out of the vault. Sid says his usual gibberish as an excuse and flees the scene.

The housekeeper, though, calls Peter and tells him what’s happened. Peter now thinks his jig is almost up. Meanwhile, Sid goes back to the apartment house and tries the key in Elizabeth Gordon’s door and it opens it.

Back at the estate, Peter takes Sondra out to the middle of the lake. Sid meantime, driving a smart car, beelines it to the country. When they are all alone, Peter confesses to Sondra that he is going to have to drown her. When Sondra asks why, he confesses to the murder of Betty Gibson. She was blackmailing him and he couldn’t let it continue. He studied the Tarot Case and rehearsed his plan just the way Sid had supposed. Sondra warns that Sid will tell someone if Peter kills her. But Peter counters that he’ll take care of Sid that night.

Cut back to Sid driving recklessly through the narrow roads. Peter gets more menacing, finally picking up Sondra and throwing her out of the boat. He watches her drown and then rows back to shore. Sid in his haste careens off the road and we hear an accident off screen. Peter rows his boat back to the house and, sounding hysterical, calls the police about a drowning.

The police arrive and come to the house to tell Peter they think they’ve found the body. Peter tells him a story about her going out onto the lake to commune with nature. He tells him about saving her from drowning and that she was a weak swimmer. Just then Sondra steps out from one of the rooms, still soaking wet and tells Peter she was lying and that she had in fact been the captain of a swim team.

Her story now completed, Sondra once again shows it to Mr. Malcolm who is very enthusiastic about it. She tells him that she has to thank Strombel for being an inspiration and to the late Sidney, who helped out with the investigation.

The film ends with Sidney on a similar barge that Strombel was on earlier in the movie, as it crosses The Styx River. Sid tells his fellow passengers that if he had been driving in America, he would have arrived on time and been a hero. When one of them asks what he did for a living, he tells them he was a magician. He offers to show them a card trick if they have the time, to which one of them says, “I believe we have eternity.”

Scoop is not Woody Allen’s best film, but I have to say I enjoyed it a lot. The film explores many of the same themes that Allen has touched on in the past. In fact, some of the movie was reminiscent of his Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), another somewhat underrated effort. In that film, Allen and movie wife Diane Keaton, solve the murder of a neighbor.

In many ways, Scarlett Johansson is the stand in for Diane Keaton, though there is no love interest between them. As I believe I have opined before, in a Woody Allen film, even if he’s not in the movie, there is someone who is speaking for him. Someone is the Woody Allen character. In this case, Allen is in the film and we get sort of stereophonic Woody, as Johansson does her best female impersonation of Allen’s usual nebbish character. While I am a big fan of Ms. Johansson, in this film she is sometimes a bad carbon copy, especially when she’s sharing screen time with the original.

Johansson is a beautiful woman, but it is hard to see the attraction that Peter Lyman has for her Sondra. Peter is presented as a man of the world, while Sondra is a college journalist who wears glasses and is easily flustered. I’ll admit I didn’t see his attraction for her, especially when his type must attract all sorts of women. Jackman is surprisingly good as the evil, narcissistic playboy. He exudes self-confidence throughout the film, the same way a sociopath would.

Ian McShane as Strombel is good, but he’s a bit of a one note performance. Whatever we learn about him is expository through other characters. It is an important role, but perhaps one that any mature British actor could have portrayed.

Allen is also good in front of the camera, but I think his best work was behind it. The script, which features many of Allen’s own clich├ęs, is very funny. Allen seems to write as though every town were his hometown, which is both good and bad. These are stories that could be told anywhere, which means he isn’t writing it just because it takes place in London. But at the same time, because they could take place anywhere they seem a little like transplants; change out the Met for Albert Hall, etc.

And there are holes in the script that take away from the strength of the mystery. The family Sondra is staying with in London seems to know just the right people and never ask any questions, as to why their young American houseguest is running around with a much older magician or seem worried that she is investigating a murder while using an assumed name.

And the clues are just a little too easy to find. Tarot Cards that were clearly not under the French horn in one scene appear there in the next. And why hide the key to the victim’s apartment in the exact same spot? And why not change the vault combination if you’re suspicious of prying eyes? And how fortunate that Sid would stumble across a neighbor, who knew so much information about Betty Gordon’s clientele and would willingly spill all the details to a reporter.

The film is very beautiful. I will give Allen credit that he treats every city he shoots in as if it were his beloved New York. Care is taken to show each location in its best light and the cinematography in this case done by Remi Adefarasin is the usual excellent that one finds in a Woody Allen film.

While I would recommend other Woody Allen films over this one for a first timer, Scoop is definitely worth watching if only to listen to the dialogue and not too closely to the plot.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stubs – Raiders of the Lost Ark

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John-Rhys Davies, Denholm Elliott. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Music by John Williams. Produced by Frank Marshell, George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian. Run time: 115. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Romance.

I was recently invited to a screening of Raiders, which has been remastered and is currently enjoying a re-release in movie theaters and on Blu-ray this week. If you’re like me, you’ve already seen it once in a movie theater, but this version is supposed to be better than the original, without any of the objects digitally replaced (no cell phones for guns as was the case in ET, a few years back.)

This film was made back in the days when the top summer movie seemed to be traded back and forth between some film Spielberg directed and one that his best friend George Lucas produced. The summer was their bank and the two of them made millions in withdrawls. So it’s no surprise that the two of them who pair up to produce what would turn out to be the biggest film of 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Apparently, Lucas, who was awaiting the results from Star Wars at the time, told Spielberg his idea and Spielberg signed on immediately. At the screening, Spielberg made reference to the serials produced at Republic Pictures as the inspiration for the movie. However, earlier he had supposedly given some credit to Scrooge McDuck for inspiring the opening sequence of the film (See #4).

That said, the presentation was set up to praise Spielberg, so no one would question anything he said. For the most part, he was an engaged and witty guest, as was Harrison Ford, who showed up unannounced. I will admit Spielberg is a very successful director with a large following, but I don’t put him in the same list as say Alfred Hitchcock, as far as storytelling goes. Spielberg films are sometimes too cute for their own good (see the four Indy sequels if you need proof of that).
While Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a failed attempt to pass on the explorer torch to Shia LaBeouf, of all people, the story is what made the movie almost laughable in the wrong places. But that is a review for another day. The purpose of this review is to discuss the first of the films, and definitely the best of the four, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The movie opens in 1936 with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), and that is apparently his real name, leading an expedition to an ancient temple in the jungles of South America. Armed with only his wit and bull whip, Indy enters the temple with the last member of his crew Satipo (Alfred Molina). While there are booby traps on the way in, things get even hairier after Indy switches out a golden idol for a bag of sand. The famous rolling boulder is unleashed and Indy is deserted by Satipo and left on his own to narrowly escape.
But Satipo isn’t so lucky and a booby trap gets him and Indy escapes with the idol in hand. But waiting for him is a rival archaeologist, Rene Bolloq (Paul Freeman). Bolloq has an army of Hovitos, the indigenous people of the jungle and Indy is forced to surrender his prize. But before Bolloq can have him killed, Indy flees into the jungle and toward the seaplane that will carry him to safety. One last thing we learn is that Indy hates snakes, since the pilot inexplicably keeps a snake as a pet on the plane.
Returning to his day job as a popular college archaeology professor, Indy is alerted by a friend, Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), that two government agents are waiting to see him. These men inform Indy that the Nazis are looking for his old mentor Abner Ravenwood, a leading expert in ancient Egypt and the city of Tanis in particular. The Nazis are on the hunt for occult items and Indy is convinced the Nazis are looking for the Ark of the Covenant, the biblical vessel built at instructions from God to hold the original stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. With the Ark in their possession, the Nazi’s think their army would be unstoppable.
Per the movie, an Egyptian pharaoh’s army stole the Ark and took it to Tanis. However, the city was soon after wiped off the face of the earth by dust storms. (In reality, the Babylonians stole the Ark in 586 BC, but ancient Egypt makes for a better story and place.) According to Indy, the Ark was taken to the Well of Souls in the city of Tanis and the only way to find its exact location is with the headpiece from the staff of Ra. When the sun’s rays hit the map room in Tanis, the light passing through the headpiece will illuminate the location of the chamber. The army authorizes Indy to retrieve the Ark before the Nazis can.
First stop: Nepal. While that might seem like an odd way to go from the U.S. to Egypt, Indy is looking for Ravenwood, whom he knows has the headpiece. When he arrives at the bar Ravenwood’s daughter Marion (Karen Allen) runs, he find out Ravenwood is dead. Marion, who happens to be an embittered former lover of Indy’s, knows where the headpiece is (around her neck) and agrees to sell it to Indy for $3000.  However, she requires him to come back the next day. But as soon as he leaves, the bar is overrun by native thugs at the command of Major Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey) who also wants the headpiece.
Indy, who apparently couldn’t find room at the Nepal Holiday Inn, returns to the bar and a firefight ensues, which leads to the tavern being burned to the ground. During the fighting, Toht sees the headpiece and makes a grab for it, but it is too hot to handle and sears the palm of his hand with one side of the image. But it is Marion and Indy who make it out with the actual headpiece. Marion informs Indy that she’s going with him until he can pay her for the headpiece.
Next stop: Cairo. There Indy and Marion are hosted by Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), whom Indy states is the best digger in Egypt. Sallah knows that the Nazis, with Belloq’s help, were trying to excavate Tanis and thought they had the headpiece based on the seared scar in Toht’s hand.
In a bazaar, Indy and Marion are beset by Nazis and their Egyptian allies chase the two through the streets. They are attempting to kidnap Marion. One of the more famous fight scenes in the movie takes place at this part of the film. When confronted by a sword wielding man, rather than fight him off with his whip, as he had done previously, he simply takes out his gun and rather nonchalantly shoots him. But despite his best efforts, Marion is kidnapped and apparently dies in a fiery explosion.
Marion’s death appears to hit Indy hard. (Notably, there are apparently no police in Cairo, since no one ever seems to investigate the noise of the explosion.) Indy is confronted by Balloq and as usual, a horde of thugs, but Sallah manages his escape by sending in children as a sort of protective shield and Indy once again escapes from the Nazis.
Sallah takes Indy to someone who can read the inscription on the headpiece. It turns out the Nazis only had one half of the puzzle and thus were using the wrong measurement for the staff. Armed with the right length of staff, Sallah smuggles Indy into the dig.
Using the light coming through the headpiece, Indy locates the Well of Souls. But the Nazis stumble across Sallah where he’s not supposed to be. But again, Indy escapes, coming across Marion in the process. She is tied up in a tent. Happy to see her alive, he starts to release her, but stops, not wanting to give himself away to the Nazis. Marion is not happy about being left behind.
Sallah, Indy and crew begin their own digging, even though they are surrounded by Nazis, no one notices. Even though they are digging on a hill, no one notices. Even though Indy puts on his iconic hat at sunset, no one notices.
Belloq comes in and tries to get Marion to talk ahead of her being left to Toht’s ways of getting her to talk. He has a fancy dress and wine. Marion tries to drink Belloq under the table, which we have seen her do to men before. But he seems to be more than a match for her. Marion is sober enough to try to escape, but she gets stopped when Toht and a couple of goons appear in the tent.
Sallah and Indy lower themselves down into the chamber which is beset with snakes which we know by now give Indy the willies. But with the help of gasoline, the two manage to make a path through the snakes and retrieve the Ark. By morning, they are pulling the Ark out and that’s when Belloq notices them. Before Indy can make it out, Belloq and the Nazis are at the top of the well. They have the Ark and are planning on taking it back to Berlin. Before sealing Indy in the well, they throw Marion down into the well. With their torches, they manage to keep the snakes at bay, but that’s only temporary. With their torches going out, Indy manages to figure a way out and the two manage to escape the well.
They make a beeline to the airplane, a flying wing, that is supposed to transport the Ark. Indy gets into a fight with a guard and subdues one, but then a giant Nazi mechanic gets involved. Marion gets onboard and subdues the pilot, but the plane starts to move in a circle. The trucks arrive with the Ark and Marion manages to fire on them, but she also manages to shot a fuel depot as well. Indy manages to maneuver the mechanic into the spinning blades of the plane and to get Marion off the plane before it inevitably explodes.

But the Nazis are anything if not adaptable and decide to truck the Ark out of the site instead. And Indy takes chase on horseback. As expected, Indy catches the convoy and takes control of the truck with the Ark. Not that it’s easy doings; Indy gets shot, gets thrown out of the truck and has to do his best Yakima Canutt impersonation, or rather the stuntman on Raiders imitates Canutt’s famous horse team stunt but with a transport truck. Indy drives the truck with Nazis in pursuit, to the next village down the road and straight into a welcoming garage. Before the Nazis pass by, villagers set up a bazaar in front of the garage door, so it looks as if Indy and the Ark have vanished into thin air. A little too convenient if you think about it too much.

Indy meets up with Sallah, who has arranged for transport of the Ark on a tramp steamer. In the captain’s quarters, Indy and Marion reconcile their feelings, but happiness is very short lived. A Nazi sub stops the steamer and relieves it of the Ark and Marion. Indy though manages to escape detection. The crew of the steamer is still looking for him, when he shows up on the outside of the sub.

Luckily for Indy, the sub does not submerge as it makes its way to a secret Nazi island. Instead of taking the Ark directly to Berlin, Belloq convinces his Nazi cohorts that they need to see what’s in the Ark and they take it to a special altar set up for the occasion. Indy tries to stop them, threatening to blow up the Ark with a grenade launcher. But Belloq calls his bluff, knowing Indy couldn’t destroy such a valuable artifact.

This leads to a set piece that reminded me of the alien meeting in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (all cuts). Indy ends up tied to a post with Marion, while Belloq performs a Jewish ritual to open the Ark. But what first appears to be nothing more than sand quickly turns into spirits which start to ravage the Nazis present. Aware of the danger of looking at the apparitions, Indy instructs Marion to close her eyes. And that simple action saves the two of them, while demonic creatures ravage the Nazis, exploding Belloq’s head and famously melting Toht’s face. With everyone dead, the Ark sends energy into the air before closing itself up.

With the Ark safely in U.S. possession, Indy and Brody want to examine it, but instead it is quietly crated up and put away in storage in the National Archives, surrounded by other like crates.

To begin any review, let’s talk about Steven Spielberg as director. I have always preferred Spielberg as a director over his BFF Lucas. Lucas is a sterile director by comparison. There is no sensuality in his movies, even slight. On the other hand when Karen Allen is standing in the wind in the dress Belloq picked out for her, you get the real feeling that she is naked underneath. It is a minor point, but you don’t get that feeling watching Princess Leia.

My complaint would be that the action is almost too paramount to the movie. We never get a real sense of the backstory between Indy and Marion; or Indy and Belloq. Stopping to give any backstory would just get in the way of the action. This is not a Republic Pictures serial, it is a major motion picture and expectations are set at a higher level.

Spielberg is also a director that uses special effects sometimes to excess. While there are special effects in this film, they are not overused. They add to the action of the movie. This is not his best effort, but it is definitely a sign that he is going to be, as he has been, a major director in Hollywood. Again, he may be the most successful ever dollar-wise. And he is someone who has made the most of his power in Hollywood. Any studio, even his own Dreamworks, would be happy to have a film directed by him.

The cast, especially the male and female leads, are very well cast. Harrison Ford, coming off his second film as Han Solo, is perfectly cast as the sexy, smart and quick thinking Indiana Jones. It is interesting to think that if Magnum P.I. hadn’t come up, Tom Selleck would have been Indiana Jones. Somehow, it would be a very different franchise if that bit of casting had held up. Ford brings a bit of swagger that Indy needs that I don’t know if Selleck possesses. Karen Allen is also a great choice for Marion. She is just the right mix of cute and tomboy for the role.

The writing is somewhat suspect. There are too many loopholes for me. Why don’t the Nazis see Indy’s crew digging? Where are the police in Cairo? How did Indy set up that garage and bazaar after stealing back the Ark? Why doesn’t the sub submerge? That’s a sign that things happen in the script because they need to happen in the script in order for the story to be told. Scripts should work within the world it sets up not manipulate it for the sake of the story. But this is not a story you’re supposed to really pay attention to. As the audience, you’re supposed to concentrate on the battle of good v. evil and be mesmerized by the action on the screen. Don’t look too closely or think too hard.

John Williams’ music is somewhat reminiscent of other John Williams scores. While the Indy theme is memorable, listening to just the music, as I had to do before the movie started, and you could imagine some of the music could fit easily into say The Empire Strikes Back. But he is part of the successful combination that Spielberg feels comfortable with, so the man is assured a job for life.

The real question of a review is would I recommend it. If you have never seen the movie before, the answer would be yes. It is a fun romp as long as you don’t think about it too much. If you have seen the movie before and loved it, then you should definitely see it again. This is one case that the movie has been remastered and has not been altered. Would I say buy it, and in some cases, again? That would depend on how much of a diehard fan you are. For me there are other films I’d rather spend my money on, since I already have the first three Indy films on disc.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stubs - Lady and the Tramp


LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955) Starring: Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom. Directed by Clyde Geronime, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi, Story by Joe Grant. Based on Haoot Dan the Whistling Dog by Ward Greene. Produced by Walt Disney. Run time: 75. Color. U.S. Animated, Musical.

Lady and the Tramp is considered one of the Walt Disney animated classics, but it is not quite up the standards of the best films that studio produced. While it contains many of the same basic elements one finds in all of the classic Disney films, including interesting backgrounds, one or two memorable songs and top-notch animation, Lady and the Tramp falls somewhat short of the mark set by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940), Cinderella (1950) and Alice in Wonderland (1951) to name a few.

Like my previous review, Christmas plays a part but isn’t really involved in the plot of the story. In the case of Lady and the Tramp, Christmas is used to bookend the story, which begins Christmas morning 1909 with Lady (Barbara Luddy), a cocker-spaniel, presented as a gift from Jim Dear (Lee Millar) to his wife Darling (Peggy Lee). (One can only assume these would be the character names a dog would pick up on, rather than anyone’s real names. Otherwise, the wife would be Darling Dear.) After some power play between Lady and Jim Dear, the three of them settle down as a happy trio; Jim and Darling appear to be archetypal pet parents.

Meanwhile, across the tracks, things are much harder for a mutt named Tramp (Larry Roberts). While he has a happy disposition, Tramp is still forced to beg for food. One of his favorites is Tony’s, a local Italian restaurant. But Tramp also looks after his fellow dogs and rescues Peg (Peggy Lee), a Lahsa Apso and Bull (Bill Thompson), an English bulldog, when they get picked up by the dog catcher. Tramp is a bit of a legend among the other stray mutts.

But things change in the Dear household when Darling gets pregnant, The couple becomes more distant and wary of Lady. Feeling low, Lady turns to her neighborhood friends, a Scottish terrier named Jock (Bill Thompson) and an older bloodhound, Trusty (Bill Baucom) who has lost his sense of smell. They make Lady feel better about herself and her situation and when the baby arrives and Lady is finally introduced to the baby, things settle down. That is until Jim and Darling go on a trip without baby and Lady, putting Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton) in charge. She doesn’t like Lady and to top it off, she has two mischievous Siamese cats, Si and Am (both played by Peggy Lee), who do nothing but make trouble for Lady. Finally, Aunt Sarah takes Lady to the pet store to be fitted for a muzzle.

Frustrated, Lady flees and once on her own is chased by a pack of wild dogs. Lucky for her, Tramp comes to her rescue. Tramp takes Lady to the zoo, where he tricks a beaver (Stan Freberg) to remove the muzzle. Tramp shows Lady what it’s like to be collar-free and shows her the places where he gets fed, taking her to Tony’s and the film’s best-known scene as Tramp and Lady end up kissing while sharing a strand of spaghetti. The two dogs end up sleeping together in a hilltop park.

Tramp escorts Lady home, but decides to cause havoc in a chicken coop they pass on the way. The farmer catches them, but while Tramp and Lady manage to escape him, Lady does not escape the dogcatcher. When she gets to the pound, Lady meets many of the same stray dogs that Tramp had previously saved. She learns from Peg that Tramp has many girlfriends and is unlikely to settle down anytime soon. Aunt Sarah does come to retrieve Lady, but takes her home and chains her up in the backyard doghouse. Trusty and Jock come to comfort her and Tramp drops by to apologize. Lady confronts Tramp about his many girlfriends and his failure to rescue her. Tramp leaves.

As soon as Tramp leaves, it starts to rain and Lady watches helplessly as a rat scurries into the house. She is sure that the rat will harm the baby. Lady barks, but Aunt Sarah tells her to be quiet. However, Tramp hears her and returns. Tramp gets into the house and confronts the rat. Meanwhile, Lady manages to break free of her chains and hurries to the nursery. Tramp fights and kills the rat, but inadvertently knocks over the crib and awakens the baby. When Aunt Sarah finally arrives, she blames the two dogs. She forces Tramp into a closet and locks Lady up in the basement. And then Aunt Sarah calls the dogcatcher to take Tramp away.

Jim Dear and Darling arrive just as the dogcatcher departs and free Lady, who leads them and Aunt Sarah to the dead rat, exonerating Tramp. Jock and Trusty overhear what’s happened and chase after the dogcatcher’s wagon. Trusty manages to follow the scent of the wagon and the two dogs manage to spook the horses, who drive the wagon into a pole. Jim, Darling and Lady are also chasing after the wagon and arrive on the scene and Lady is reunited with Tramp. However, Trusty gets injured.

By the next Christmas, Tramp is now part of Lady’s family with his own collar and license. The two dogs are raising four puppies of their own, Annette, Danielle, Collette and Scamp. Jock and Trusty, still recovering from his injury, come to visit. And all is well; happy ending.

The film is fun and enjoyable to watch, but doesn’t quite rise to the same level as earlier Disney efforts and some would point out that One Hundred and One Dalmations (1961), also dog-themed, is better well-known and more satisfying to watch.

That said, there are several things to recommend the movie. The backgrounds, if you look at them, are reminiscent of those utilized to better effect in Sleeping Beauty (1959). As in that later movie, Eyvind Earle, a Disney artist at the time, was in charge of the backgrounds. Earle, who had been an artist at Disney since 1951, would eventually go on to become a well-known painter of expressionistic landscapes. He had worked on several Disney films before Lady and the Tramp, including Peter Pan.

The voice acting is pretty good, with several actors, including singer Peggy Lee, taking on more than one role in the film. The songs, however, with few exceptions, are pretty forgettable. The best known is “The Siamese Cat Song”, which like all the songs in the film was co-written by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke, better known as a big band arranger in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.

While Lady and the Tramp may not be up to the same standards as the best Disney animated films, it is still pretty good and should be on anyone’s viewing list if they like animation. However, it might not be a film that you watch over and over again, such as Snow White, Cinderella and Peter Pan.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

Second Opinion - Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

As a fan of Transformers, and the brother of a fan who's into it way more than I am, I've had plenty of exposure to the franchise through its various TV incarnations (some on DVD), comic book runs and movies. However, I hadn't really gotten into any video games until the excellent War For Cybertron game by High Moon released in 2010. Naturally I began to anticipate its 2012 sequel, Fall of Cybertron, in hopes that it could take every fault and remove it, thus improving the experience. After finally getting in a playthrough, I believe that the developers have done just that.

Fall of Cybertron takes place within the Aligned Continuity of Transformers, with various story and visual elements to help establish this fact that echo within the currently airing Prime cartoon. The story on its own is very engaging, transitioning between the different playable characters in a very natural progression, each section highlighting a character's abilities and personalities. To that end, gameplay is varied well, with stealth and platforming sections among others that emphasize flight or firepower. Each character also controls very well and their levels bring out the best of their capabilities in a way that can actually make you think about what you're doing. As for the in-game store, its nice that Teletraan 1 remembers your purchases so that you don't have to repurchase everything in each chapter.

There's plenty of visual appeal, with graphics that establish a unique style in the game's aesthetic and more varied environments than its predecessor. Brighter colors help everyone and everything stand out from each other and allow the awesome moments be even more so. What also helps is the sound, with an amazing score to set the tone and top notch voice acting that includes the likes of Peter Cullen, Troy Baker, Steve Blum and Nolan North. You can really sense the level of effort the actors put into their roles, the result being a delight to hear.

Of course, it's also obvious how much the developers are into Transformers, considering everyone working on the game is a fan. There are plenty of references to Generation 1 peppered into the game, especially the 1986 animated movie, with dialogue and similar scenes lifted straight from the feature. This is admittedly funnier to those who have seen the original cartoon series, but on their own the references still fit within the narrative pretty well. References that don't influence the narrative can have an effect on the gameplay, though very rarely, as it is with the reward for completing the campaign.

From start to finish, Fall of Cybertron is a game that can display not only a development team's devotion to a franchise, but also their ability to create a well crafted game. While enemies can create an annoyance from time to time, the good traits vastly outweigh the bad, with more varied gameplay to help make each chapter feel unique and memorable. This is a game that anyone can enjoy, regardless of their status as a Transformers fan.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Expendables 2 - A Nonstop Badass Testosterone Fueled Thrill Action Joyride

2010 saw the release of The Expendables, a movie that set out to use and exploit every possible action movie trope in existence and pair it with an all star cast. Needless to say, it succeeded and a sequel was released on August 17 of this year. I apologize if this delay seems a little late, but school has just crawled back into my life, which means I won't be able to spend as much time as I would like playing the games, watching the movies and reading the comics that make this blog work. What's important however is that I have seen it now and think it's one of my new favorite action movies.

The plot is this: After a sequence in Nepal, Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) has a new job for Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his mercenary group The Expendables to retrieve an important item from a downed plane. To aid in this operation, he sends Maggie Chan (Yu Nan) with them to the site. However, they are ambushed during the job by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an arms dealer who wants to use the item to locate a large stockpile of Plutonium to make lots and lots of money. After an event within this first encounter, Ross leads his group on a quest to stop Vilain from accomplishing his goals and finally be even with Mr. Church.

This time around, I felt that the plot was actually more coherent and believable for an action movie. All of the actors do their part to help, with Van Damme doing a surprisingly good job as a villain (yes, the villain's name is Vilain), a cold and ruthless one at that. There's also some new blood in the form of Liam Hemsworth, who some may recognize as Gale Hawthorne from The Hunger Games, as a new recruit named Billy the Kid, who does well for his role and I think a couple more roles in movies like this one could lead to a good film career. While some characters are shoved aside, such as Yin Yang (Jet Li) leaving early on and Toll Road (Randy Couture) barely speaking at all, this is understandable due to the expanded roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as a brand new character played by none other than Chuck Norris. I liked Willis and Schwarzenegger playing off each other in their scenes, the latter even manages to steal the show from time to time, but Norris' acting admittedly felt a bit wooden compared with the rest of the cast (though he is better than Keanu Reeves). Then again, he likely wasn't hired to act well.

That is where the meat of this movie kicks in: action that contains so much testosterone in a single frame that it puts other action flicks to shame. This movie has it all. We're talking fist fights, gun fights, explosions, chains as a weapon, missiles, explosions, knife fights, tanks and explosions. I can't really say too much about the action sequences so that I don't take too much away from them, but believe me when I say that they are all incredibly awesome and will make you say phrases akin to "Whoa!" and "Holy [expletive]!" Sometimes, I couldn't help myself from laughing with joy and merriment.

Speaking of laughter, this movie, like its predecessor, was laugh out loud funny at the right times. A lot of the humor came from quips regarding each actor's careers, as well as an inevitable Chuck Norris joke adapted to suit his character Booker. While cute, some of these feel a little cheesy later and a little out of place. On the other hand, they do help to ease the tension while watching the movie.

A minor complaint that I have though is that sometimes, when looking at a given scene, you can sort of tell what's going to come next. While I'm not going to give examples, though I will mention that one involves Billy the Kid, I will admit that these and minor plot holes do not detract from the sheer awesome onscreen.

It's very clear that The Expendables 2 doesn't take itself seriously, a fact established in the first ten minutes where you realize that everyone is just there to be totally badass, nor does it try to. You can tell that everyone involved had a lot of fun working on the movie, with the end result being a product that is well worth the money and simply does not fail to entertain. Fans of action movies and the first Expendables will definitely enjoy this one, though I encourage older viewers to give it a shot as well. It delivers on all levels and for that I am deeply satisfied.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Stubs - 3 Days of the Condor

File:Three Days of the Condor poster.JPG

3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max Von Sydow. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel. Based on the book Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Run Time: 118. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Espionage, Suspense.

I will admit right off the top that I have not read James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor so any review about the movie will be solely based on my viewing experience, rather than any comparison between literary work and the motion picture. In my opinion, books and movies share the ability to tell a story, but they have to go about it in very different means. What may work well on the page may not translate to the big screen. A movie must stand on its own and tell a compelling story no matter what the source material.

Set at Christmastime, though not what many would consider a Christmas movie, 3 Days of the Condor tells the story of Joseph Turner aka The Condor (Robert Redford), a CIA operative who works for a cover organization, The American Literary Historical Society, that reads everything published to look for connections to existing operations. We watch as the office starts its day; workers arrive, coffee is made, conversations are had, etc., etc. Everyone is there with the exception of two people, Turner and another operative named Heidegger (Lee Steale). We know this because a mysterious man is staking the office out and ticking off employee names as they arrive.

Turner is late, which seems to be a natural course for him. Once he arrives he is informed that headquarters has dismissed his report about a thriller novel that has been translated into various odd languages, like Arabic and Dutch. Turner is sent on an errand to get the office lunch order and is around the corner at the deli, when three men, led by G. Joubert (Max Von Sydow), enter the office and kill everyone they find, including Janice Chon (Tina Chen), the co-worker Turner appears to have something going on with. Fearing for his life, Turner grabs the gun the receptionist had in her desk and flees.

He goes to a nearby phone and calls the CIA in Langley. Originally scolded for not following protocol, Condor is told not to go home, to call back in two hours and to walk away from the phone. So naturally, Turner heads back to his apartment. There his landlady (Carol Gustafson) tells him that two men are waiting for him in his apartment. Wisely, Turner leaves and heads over to Heidegger’s place, only to find he’s been killed while still in bed. Turner manages to get out of the apartment just ahead of two shadowy men who show up and go inside.

Turner calls the New York CIA headquarters and talks with J. Higgins (Cliff Robertson), the deputy director of the New York division, and is given instructions to come in. The rendezvous is an alleyway next to the Ansonia hotel. In addition to his section chief S.W. Wicks (Michael Kane), who has flown up from D.C., there will also be a friendly face, Sam Barber (Walter McGinn), waiting for him. But as soon as Turner arrives and Barber acknowledges him, Wicks, who has never met Turner, opens fire on him. Turner shoots back, wounding Wicks. Barber, who is obviously confused, is shot and killed by Wicks. Turner, though, manages to escape.

Needing a place to hide, Turner takes refuge in a ski shop and then targets one of the shoppers, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) as she is leaving the store. At gunpoint, he forces her to drive them to her apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Needing some rest, Turner forces Kathy to lie on the bed with him before the news. When the shooting next to the Hotel is mentioned, the victims are not identified. Turner decides to visit Barber’s wife, Mae (Carlin Glynn). She is preparing dinner for Turner, Janice and her husband and wonders why Janie and Sam are both working late. The phone rings, as Mae says it had several times, but there is no one there. Sensing bad things, Turner makes Mae leave and go wait with some upstairs neighbors.

As he is hustling her into the elevator, he becomes aware that Joubert is also waiting for the elevator. Turner takes the elevator down and Joubert gets on with him. Joubert is ominous looking, but is polite and conversational towards Turner. However, Turner, who reads a lot, figures out that Joubert might be lying in wait for him outside the building. Promising money if some young people in the lobby will try to help him unlock his car, Turner surrounds himself with unwilling human shields. Joubert, who is waiting for him, can’t get a clean shot, so Turner manages to get away. However, Joubert does get a look at the license plate on Kathy’s car.

That night, Kathy, who has been tied up in the bathroom with a gag in her mouth, succumbs to Turner’s charms and the two have sex. Even though there is no nudity and the sex is shown above the waist, it still seems gratuitous. As if you couldn’t have two attractive leads and not have them get into bed together. By this time, Turner has told Kathy his story and she seems to believe him, but he’s not one hundred percent sure he can trust her.

The next morning, while Kathy is in the shower, a postman arrives needing a signature for a package. As the audience, we recognize him as one of the assassins from the previous day. Even though Turner doesn’t know he was one of the killers, he suspects that the man is not a postman and manages to overpower and kill him. Turner goes through the postman’s pockets and finds a key for room 819 and a slip of paper with a phone number on it. He calls the number with a Washington DC area code and is connected to the CIA. When he asks for Wicks, he is told he is out of the office.

Knowing he can’t trust anyone at the CIA, Turner gets Kathy to help him. First, she goes to the CIA office to apply for a position. Once on the floor, she goes to Higgins’ office so she can see what he looks like, Next, when Higgins goes to lunch, Turner and Kathy follow him to a restaurant, where Kathy manages to lure him outside. Turner and Kathy kidnap Higgins and take him someplace where they can talk without being overheard or tracked. After being questioned, Higgins reveals that the assassin is Joubert, a former CIA agent, now a freelance killer. It is also at the meeting that Turner learns that Wicks died.

After stealing a briefcase from a telephone van, Turner takes the postman’s key to a locksmith. Turner knows that the codes on the key mean something and bribes the locksmith to help him. The key belongs to a Holiday Inn and using tools in the briefcase, Turner manages to tap into Joubert’s phone. After making a cryptic call to the room, Turner records the number Joubert dials next. Using connections he still has at the CIA, Turner plays the recording into a computer which deciphers the tones and tells him the number. Then calling the phone company Turner finds that the number belongs to Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell), a CIA director who outranks Higgins and Wicks.

Freeing Kathy to return to her life, which includes a ski trip she’s supposed to be on with her boyfriend, Turner takes the train down to Washington DC and gets into Atwood’s house. There he learns that his report had uncovered a secret CIA plot to invade the Middle East oilfields, thus setting into motion the killing of his entire office to cover it up. But his confrontation with Atwood is cut short when Joubert arrives on the scene.

Expecting to be killed, Turner puts down his gun and steps away from Atwood. However, Joubert is there to kill Atwood. He tells Turner that he has been hired by the CIA to kill Atwood. Since his contract to kill Turner had been with Atwood, he lets Turner walk. Joubert advises Turner to leave the country and become an assassin. But Turner refuses. Joubert then tells Turner that if he does go back one day someone he knows and trusts will betray him. He offers Turner back the gun he had, for that day, he says. Finally, Joubert asks if he can give Turner a ride anywhere.

Back in New York, Turner once again confronts Higgins, who appears to be willing to bring him in at last. However, Turner refuses. When asked if there are plans to invade the Middle East, Higgins will only admit to war games, played on a what if basis. But Higgins defends the plans, telling Turner that if the oil gets shut off, the American people will only want the government to get it for them, they won’t ask how they do it. Turner tells Higgins that he has told his story to the New York Times, as a way of protecting himself. But Higgins asks him how he knows the Times will print his story. Even though Turner is confident they’ll print it, in the final freeze frame, we see Turner looking back at Higgins. We are left to wonder if he will indeed be safe or if Joubert’s prediction will one day come true.

Overall, 3 Days of the Condor is a pretty good, though not great, espionage film. Coming post-Watergate, at a time when public opinion didn’t trust the federal government, it was easy to believe that there might indeed be a CIA inside the CIA, as Turner supposes. There are enough twists and turns to keep the story interesting, but not too many as to keep the plot from being followed. This is a movie that you need to pay attention to while watching, but if you do, you will not be disappointed. Sydney Pollack should be congratulated for that, which, in inferior hands, might easily be a confusing mess.

The acting is also, for the most part, good as well. Cliff Robertson is his usual good as Higgins. Max Von Sydow, best known for his eleven films with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is a very ominous and complex Joubert. I’d also like to mention John Houseman, who plays Wabash. There are several scenes showing how the CIA is reacting to and trying to kill Condor and Wabash is one of the most menacing, by playing the part understated. Houseman, whose own film career dates back to Citizen Kane (1941), would continue to act through the 1980’s.

3 Days of the Condor is a Redford vehicle. In the mid-70’s when this film was made, Redford was at the height of his popularity, having starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Candidate (1972), The Sting (1973), The Way We Were (1973) and the Great Gatsby (1974). The film, like most of Redford’s films at this time, was well received and did decent box office. Redford would continue to act: The Electric Horseman (1979), The Natural (1984), Sneakers (1992) to name a few.

But from this point on, Redford would get into controlling his career, buying the movie rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s All The President’s Men, which he would help make into a movie and co-star in the year after this film. He would eventually get into directing, winning an Academy Award for his first film Ordinary People (1980); producing with The Horse Whisperer (1998), which he also directed; found the Sundance Film Festival (1978), Sundance Institute (1981), Sundance Channel (1996) and Sundance Cinemas (2007), all dedicated to showcasing independent films, documentaries and foreign-language films.

There are some flaws, as far as I see it, but most of them revolve around the character of Kathy. She is an odd duck, to say the least. She never screams or really fights back when Turner takes her hostage. She is obviously scared but ultimately trusts Turner, even going so far as to sleep with him, as discussed above. We are told that even though she is in a relationship, she is lonely like Turner is and that’s supposed to be enough for her to let her guard down and have sex with him and then help him in the very dangerous game of cat and mouse Turner is playing with the CIA. Hers seems to be a necessary character, though I’m not sure I really believe her.

Watching 3 Days of The Condor, you will be surprised at how outdated the technology is in the film; how big and archaic the computers are and how no one has a cell phone. But while the technology may be outdated, the story is not. Distrust of the government is as old as the movie. We have never fully recovered from the Watergate break-in and cover-up. No one blindly trusts that the government will do the right thing at the right time; see Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It is easy to believe that the CIA has secret plans they want to keep secret, an idea other movies, like the above-mentioned Sneakers and the Bruce Willis starrer Red (2010), have also exploited.

But the reason to watch 3 Days is to see Robert Redford. Not only is he good-looking he is a very good actor and makes almost any movie he’s in worth watching. This is a good movie and a fun one to watch.

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