November 16th, 2008

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

"There's just something missing from this film," I said to Rome Girl. "I'm not sure what it is - because all the parts are there. It just doesn't come together."

"I don't know what it is either," she said. "But it's something. It's like it's not scrappy enough."

In some ways I feel like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a video game trying to be a movie. It's not an awful film. There's nothing on the level of Jar Jar Binks, but it still just didn't "feel" like an Indiana Jones film to me.

There are things to like - the sword fight on the trucks, the giant ants, the escape scene at Area 51 - but there was also just a lot of pointless shit.

1. It would have been a lot cooler if they didn't telegraph the alien shit from the start of the film and let that be more of a "gotcha."

2. Ditto with the "surprise" about the kid he's traveling with.

3. How exactly do you get a giant intergalactic magnet on a plane without fucking up the plane and crashing?

4. On that point - ever notice that the skull only has magnetic properties when it's convenient for the plot?

5. What the fuck is up with the hedgehogs in the first 20 minutes of the film?

6. I feel like the film was really slow paced, which is odd since it was just a series of action sequences back to back.

7. Why do they establish at the start of the film that Kate Blanchette has telekinetic abilities and then never have her use them for anything?

8. "Knowledge was their treasure." Fuck you, whoever wrote that line.

9. I've now decided that deep down in his miserable heart, George Lucas truly believes that all bad guys have terrible aim.

10. They must have had all the money in the world to make this thing - so why use really, really crappy CGI graphics. Are stunt men really that expensive?

The Shield

I'm now caught up on The Shield and man, while this may be one of the best television series ever created, man does it get depressing to watch.

As Rome Girl points out it's a lot more fun now that Macky isn't a cop anymore and can do anything - but he's still full of bad ideas and doesn't realize that he's not quite bright enough to pull off the stuff he's trying to pull off.

Seriously, when his partner had the idea to flee to South America they should have just taken off.

What makes it so sad is Macky's eternal optimism when it's really, really obvious that he's doomed. The only question is will he end up dead or in prison.

The Big Nowhere/American Tabloid

For the first time in several years I just finished re-reading James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere and American Tabloid.

One of my hobbies is going back a re-reading books that I've put away for a while and seeing how the changes in me effect the changes in how I appreciate them.

I'm glad to say that both books stand the test of (my) time and I highly recommend them. Plus, if there were ever two books to read back to back, these are the ones.

The Big Nowhere is the earlier book and it's the first time Ellroy uses what would become his signature style. He finally has the courage to abandon traditional grammar, syntax and, at times, spelling. The result is spellbinding - in that you only get the words you need to know, so your imagination is set free.

Like all the Ellroy books that follow it focuses on three men, each of whom has their own story and point of view. At first the stories and narration run independent of each other, but eventually their lives intersect. As in all of the "three man" Ellroy books, one of them has to die along the way and part of the tragic fun is figuring out which one is really doomed.

It's also the book that introduces the best Ellroy villain - Dudley Smith, who gets a larger role in L.A. Confidential.

The stories themselves seem to be about fighting communists and crime in the early 1950s, but it's really about repressed homosexuality, the way that drugs and money corrupt everything and how everyone is, deep down, both desperate and capable of anything.

American Tabloid takes this formula and turns it into a masterpiece. At this point Ellroy is on top of his game and just doesn't give a fuck about anything anymore - which, as Rome Girl says makes this book like "embracing an old friend."

This time around the three men are

Kemper Boyd - a dude who spent years undercover for the FBI busting auto theft rings (and stealing a lot of cars for personal profit) before leaving and joining Bobby Kennedy's crusade against the mafia.

Ward Little - An FBI agent assigned to follow communists who hates his life because he doesn't think commies are that bad and would rather be busting hoodlums. He applies for a job helping Bobby fight the mob but is humiliated instead.

Big Pete Bondurant - An ex cop who once accidentally killed his own brother and now does favors for Howard Hughes and Jimmy Hoffa in between running his own freelance extortion and shakedown rackets.

By the end of the book - and this is telegraphed early on - these three men will, through a series of accidents, bad luck, poor choices and desperation, end up killing John F. Kennedy.

The beauty of the book is the inevitability of it all. It starts out well before Jack is president and at one time or another all three of these men will almost worship Jack - or at least put their faith in him - and yet, each one will get burned and then backed into that corner. Yet, no one ever suspects how dangerous they really are, because they seem just like typical low lifes.

Ellroy has said that the point of the book is that real history isn't caused by what we think of as "great men" but really by little guys who are just trying to get through the day and live their lives, yet get pushed into desperate circumstances. He calls the book an attempt to create a "new American mythos" based on the concept that the people who live in "an underworld" are the real players, whether they want to be or not.

It's a particularly timely read at the moment, because it captures the euphoria of a new young president followed by disastrous disillusionment.

And, it's a fucking good read.