Tag Archives: Max Von Sydow

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Ghostbusters II (1989)

ghostbusters 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Called back into action.

It’s been 5 years since our team of Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd) saved New York City from impending ghostly doom only to be thanked by getting sued for all the damage they created in the process, which promptly sent them out of business. Now though there are signs of an even worse attack from the supernatural in the form of an ectoplasmic river underneath New York, which is being strengthened by all of the negative energy from the citizens that live there. Can our team of heroes put on their uniforms once more and save the city from yet another ghostly attack while also coming to the aid of Dana (Sigourney Weaver) who finds that an ancient sorcerer (Wilhelm Von Homburg) is trying to possess her newborn child?

The premise pretty much starts the film out on bad footing and it’s never able to recover. The idea that they’d be driven out of business by a barrage of lawsuits didn’t make much sense to me. The ghosts that were terrorizing Dana’s apartment building in the first film were witnessed by thousands of spectators as they stood outside on the ground and watched the three men drive them away, so they should’ve been viewed as heroes and those that tried to sue them would’ve been vilified. Besides it was the mayor (David Margulies) who gave them the permission to do whatever they needed to do to take the ghosts out, so if anyone was to be a target for the lawsuits it would’ve been his office and the city. What is even worse is that after the first 40 minutes the story eventually goes back to the original premise where the team becomes popular again and their services are in-demand, so why couldn’t the film simply started from that point as it makes the entire first act come off like a complete waste of time otherwise.

Although it’s great to see Janet Margolin, who plays a prosecuting attorney, in her last film appearance, the court room scenes are static and not right for this type of genre. The ghosts are not scary or frightening like they were in the first one either and instead come off as cartoonish and boring.

Murray gets pigeonholed in a dull routine where he spends most of the time trying to desperately rekindle his romance with Dana, which isn’t interesting. Ramis and Aykroyd seemed more intent on stealing back some of Murray’s thunder by not having him come along on a few of their missions including a long segment where they discover the evil river underneath the city, which is just not as funny without Murray there.

Weaver pretty much just goes through the motions in a part that really does not allow her much to do. I was also confused as to why she had been a musician in the first film, but in this one she had strangely crossed over into being a painter. Rick Moranis and Annie Potts are equally wasted and forced into a makeshift romance simply because the writers didn’t know what else to do with them.

William Atherton, who was so good at playing the prissy, arrogant heavy in the first film, gets sorely missed. Kurt Fuller tries to take up his slack, but he is not as effective. Former wrestler von Homburg plays the evil sorcerer, but his voice ended up being dubbed by Max von Sydow, which made me wonder why they didn’t just cast him in the villainess role to begin with since he was the far better actor.

Just about all the jokes fall flat and the climactic finish which features an animated Statue of Liberty is really lame. The story is never able to gain any traction or momentum, doesn’t add any new or interesting angle to the theme and should’ve been trashed before it was even made.

My Rating: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ivan Reitman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, Amazon Instant Video

Deathwatch (1980)

deathwatch 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone watches her die.

Based on the David Compton novel this story deals with Katherine (Romy Schneider) who is living in a futuristic society where almost all diseases can be cured and death is very rare. When she is diagnosed with having a rare and incurable illness Vincent (Harry Dean Stanton) tries to get her to appear on his hit reality show ‘Deathwatch’ in which they film in documentary style a person’s slow and agonizing death, which is a huge TV hit. When Katherine tries to escape the publicity and hide from their cameras Vincent has a small camera surgically implanted into the brain of Roddy (Harvey Keitel) one of his cameramen, which then allows  Roddy to follow Katherine around and record her actions without her knowing it. The two then slowly form a relationship that culminates with tragic results.

Director Bertrand Tavernier is in top form. The movie is nicely paced and Tavernier shows a perfect grasp of the material. His use of music wonderfully accentuates the mood and tone. Filmed on-location in Scotland he captures the old buildings of the region with a stylish flair that gives the film an added personality and memorable image. Showing characters walking all alone in the seemingly abandoned streets hits home their loneliness and having the scenes done in decaying buildings and neighborhoods illustrates the decaying values and morals of the world these characters live in. The gray stormy skies brings out the pictures moodiness and the isolated shack in the middle of a vast empty field that the two hide out in captures visually the characters lost and hopeless desperation. The film becomes like an orchestral ensemble moved along by a talented conductor at the peak of his skill.

This is also a great example of using a hand-held camera sparingly and only to create a certain mood, or emotion. Too many films these days seem to have what I call ‘the shaking camera syndrome’ and it is annoying and loses the original intended effect. Here Tavernier employs it during a scene where Katherine is trying to elude the production crew and the viewer feels her frantic tension with each move that the camera makes as well as getting a great cultural feel by capturing the various street vendors along the way.

The story itself is fascinating and years ahead of its time. The issues it brings out about television, ratings, and the cutthroat ugly world of business of entertainment have never been more on-target. This film may even transcend the classic Network with its dire message and that is not easy to do. What I really liked though was the fact that the twists keep coming in layers and all of them are unexpected, but equally fascinating. The story is riveting and compelling from beginning to end.

Schneider is brilliant and beautiful as always giving another one of her impeccable performances. Her character is easily identifiable and the viewer immediately gains her sympathy. She shows an array of different emotions and traits making her a fascinating three-dimensional person. Her presence is the main ingredient that propels the film and without her none of it would have worked and her gorgeous natural smile is wonderful and manages to come on display briefly despite the ugly difficulties of her character.

Keitel is in fine form as well playing a character who finds that when one works for those who are more than willing to exploit others they themselves will eventually be exploited by them as well. Von Sydow appears near the very end and lends stature to the proceedings.

I hate to bring this up because I love the film’s visual design, but I did find it a bit odd that the story is about the hi-tech future and yet all we are shown are old buildings and other gadgets that look very much like they are from the 1980’s. The computer that Katherine works on is laughably archaic and I felt from that end they could have tried harder to create a little more of a futuristic impression. Also, the name of the network ‘NTV’ sounds a little too much like the cable network that used to show music videos.

The recent Blu-ray release from the Shout Factory is excellent and restores the film to its original runtime of 130 minutes. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy Sci-fi fare that is thought provoking and original.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 23, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Studio: Gaumont International

Available: VHS (1Hour 57Minute Version), DVD, Blu-ray