Sunday, December 16, 2007

Miami Vice - How can such fast cars, boats and planes make such a slow movie?

This movie drags, drags unbelievably. All the special effects and hyperpowered vehicles combine like many bright colors of paint... to end up with dull gray. The movie is as dreary as the colors it's shot in, or lack of colors. Colin Farrel is stunningly miscast, and seems almost like he's standing in until whoever's supposed to be playing the role shows up. Even his hair is all wrong, as though he was in the middle of growing it out for whatever movie he was doing next, and didn't bother cutting it since he was just a stand-in on this movie... and then they real star never showed up, so they had to just use all those rehearsal scenes they'd shot with the stand-in. Waste of time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

JARHEAD (the movie)


Like Trainspotting, I found this film impossible to like after having read the book, to which it bore little similarity.

I'm not panning it for lack of action. I'm panning it for being nonsense.

An excellent example is the scene where they're observing the officers arguing in the flight control tower (with, in the book, Swofford spotting and Troy on the trigger). They felt that is was clearly an argument about whether to surrender or fight the approaching American forces, and they wanted to shoot the commander who was demanding the outmatched Iraqi forces fight to the end.
When they asked for permission, it was denied, with the rationale that if their commanders' heads were exploding into pink mist, the Iraqis might be less willing to surrender.

Swofford explains that the truth was the opposite - the Marine commanders wanted a fight. They were afraid that if the head of the enemy officer who was insisting suddenly burst apart, the Iraqis might just instantly surrender, as so many others did, and what fun, glory or medals were there in that? They needed that officer alive so their troops would go into combat.

It's a portrait of cynicism, of a grunt's anger at the way soldiers are used, disgust with commanders being so brave about other people's risks.

In the movie, they actually get permission, and just as their about to fire, some "desk jockey" comes in to sit in a lawn chair and watch the impending air strike and tells them they can't shoot, even though it'll make no difference at all. The soldiers are livid at being denied the chance to shoot somebody. In the movie, they just really wanted to kill somebody for the sake of killing somebody, and they threw this tantrum at not being allowed to kill somebody who was about to get blown up.

Well, whatever that's supposed to mean, whatever message that's supposed to convey, it's very, very different from that of the actual event as described in the book. Worse, it's fiction, and the book isn't.

I can't see why they changed it, except that an air strike looks cool on film and people like to watch stuff blow up.

To make up for taking all the point and truth out of the story, they ended with this preposterous voice over spewing line after line of utter nonsense that's supposed to somehow acquire meaning or merit from the way it's intoned.

Stupid, stupid movie, named after, though only barely related to, a pretty good book.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Six Feet Under: From life-affirming to lifeless

Six Feet Under is a rich meditation on death, and life.

It's life, against the eternal (and very present backdrop) of death, finding meaning and richness: Claire's creative and coming-of-age journey, David's quest for love and identity, Nate's struggle with meaning and mortality, Ruth's sense of alienation as an aging widow. It also jolts the audience and characters out of denial of death to look at the value and urgency of getting on with our finite lives.

At least, so it was for two seasons.

At the end of every episode, I knew that I would die, and so would everyone I loved.

In one episode, an absentee father shows up angry at his six-year-old son's funeral.

Nate says: Everybody's life is a ticking clock. You can hit all the people you want, but your time to make a difference in that boy's life is over. Did you use it well, or did you just piss it away?

I reflected on that, thought of how I was or wasn't using my time well, for myself and for the people I care about, and how I needed to change that.

The third season begins with a dream-sequence, and it's never quite clear when that ends... it just sort of mushes into an episode, and then a series of episodes, so bad, so flavorless, so without purchase, that I was wondering if the dream sequence had ended at all.

(If not, it's very tedious dream sequence. Speaking of which, those sequences in general, so interesting and amusing at first as they displayed characters thoughts spinning off crazily, have long-since gone stale, mostly because they're poorly thought out and badly realized.)

I wish that the reviews had been more accurate and honest. I wish that every review had been one star. That way, I would've just given up on the series at the end of season two, when it was still good, and figured that unresolved ending was just the way it was meant to be. I would've still loved it. Now, I just find the whole thing grating.

The main thing about season three is that there's just not enough substance. There is, in the entire season, enough for maybe half an episode of season one.

Many said the first season was the best television show ever. Though I watch very little TV (I watched this all on DVD) season one is certainly by far the best show I've ever seen, more like a series of movies than television, and good movies at that.

The second season, though much inferior to the first, was still very good, with exceptional moments.

But the third season... well, it bears very, very little relation to the first two. The audience's interest is retained only by the soap opera aspects. (That happens with television: Audiences are still intrigued by the characters and the producers, though they're out of ideas, milk it for a while by turning the show into a soap opera.)

It's like the funeral home was indeed taken over by a corporation - seems to be the same establishment, but what's inside is totally different, and lifeless.

The characters are played by the same actors, of course, but even Rachel Griffiths can't do much with scripts that have become boring. Though everyone is still doing their jobs well, it seems like Lauren Ambrose (Claire) is the only other actor putting her heart into it.

The way the deaths were woven into the fabric of the episodes, so crucial to this series, is absent. It's just a business, and they might as well be selling lawnmowers. The scripts could be transferred to or from any other show, and seem to have been.

David's become effeminate and swishy (and gets even more so in the next season) - closer to a stereotype and out of character from who he was in season one - and his romantic travails have become monotonous.

Ruth just seems goofy, and lost. Without that marvelous interplay of her lusty Russian, Nikoli (full of irrepressible life, including the symbolism in his vocation), her world is just comfortingly dull, even when a bit spiced up by a naughty friend (introduced with a lame addiction storyline that seemed to be just introduce the new friend).

Claire's journey, though it's the most interesting thing about the season, and its focus (sort of), has become tedious as well. (Her art-school teacher is just a well-rendered stock character.)

Nate we just can't make ourselves care about anymore. The character he was before had a certain core that this one just doesn't. Maybe it's his brain problem, but he's not him anymore. (And what's with the expensively-mainted, trendy, bad haircut?)

Frederico remains little more than a prop, continuously exploited by Fishers. They pay him less than he's worth, treat him terribly no matter how much he does for them, and then, though they left him to twist in the same situation (when they could have easily helped him), he comes through with a lifesaver when they're desperate (for which, with typical ingratitude, they take advantage of him again). It's crazy that anyone would entrust money to people who handle it so badly. Talk about a doormat. It's strange that there's no explanation or exploration of that.

Keith, once so intriguing, has become a prop as well, almost on the level of comic relief. He has a boring job that's boring for us to watch, and they've decided he has to become a boring guy.

(It's hard to imagine the Keith who sees life as "striving towards perfection", who seemed so dynamic, settling for that. The character seems more likely to have, for one, been better prepared for what might happen if he had to shoot someone. And then, if he was so shaken by it, to have eventually dealt with it more constructively - by changing departmental changing and procedure (he and his partner could have shot or Tased the guy before it became life-or-death) so others wouldn't end up in the same position, by becoming a paramedic, by getting a Ph.D. and going into social work or gun-control policy. A lot of possibilities. Hard to see the character he was ending up in security more than briefly.)

It seems like the writers just can't imagine anyone in a mundane job could have an interesting and worthwhile existence, and the show has taken on a mildly racist tinge.

Lisa, originally a one-dimensional, one-off character, should have remained such, or stayed in the background. Her story is dull - it doesn't have to be, but it is - and drags down the rest with it, if it can be dragged lower.

Brenda is only interesting at all because she's so well-acted. The character, like everything else, has gone flat (uh, so to speak). No matter how well acted, the characters have become cardboard cutouts.

The writers also introduce a mildly autistic, slightly creepy nerd. For some reason. (Also very well acted... and pointless.)

I like who the characters were on the first season. For example, I liked Brenda's self-assurance, even though there was all kinds of damage beneath it; that played nicely into Nate's air of detached, rugged cool, just beneath which he was perpetually skating over the thin ice of an empty and meaningless existence.

People change, but there's something left of who they were, instead of someone completely unrelated - David lurching into a stereotype, for example. When he asks the new assistant (in season one) what makes her think he's gay, we might wonder the same thing. In season three, it's so obvious that the only answer is, Duh.


Why does Nate lose his entire personality and replace it with a new one with no connection or even transition (brain surgery)? Was Keith's entire identity based on being a cop who hadn't shot anyone yet (and why, in that scene, didn't his partner fire as well - who'd want to have a partner that wouldn't do anything when someone swings a gun around to shoot you)?

In short, though called by the same names and played by the same actors, the characters are otherwise unrelated to those of season one.

There is no point to watching this season. Though I was soon bored, I kept on because I figured there had to be some payoff somewhere. There isn't.

The first season is stunning. The second, though uneven, is still excellent.

The third, though, looks like some goof took the characters and wrote a weak fan-fiction version.

The technique is still superb: There are marvelous touches, like when a character gets shocking news there's no ominous theme music or heavy-handed camerawork; it's just an ordinary afternoon.

It's just that the writing has fallen apart.

To the injury of wasted time and money, one writer adds insult, literally: Wondering why the second season was inferior to the first, I listened to the writer's commentary on an episode. She starts by insulting the audience for having nothing better to do than listen to her. It's not funny - it doesn't seem to be meant to be funny - and it turns out to be a well-founded, as she has nothing interesting to say.

Might explain why the following season is so crappy. Everything is just plot devices and recycled sitcom gags.

E.g., bumping into the priest at the video store. That was particularly onerous because Father Jack seemed to stand up for gay rights without himself being gay, something I'd like to see more examples of, because gay rights are civil rights, are human rights, something one imagines a priest would care about.

I was curious enough about why this was so bad, when the first season was so good, that I poked around on the Internet a bit. A lot of comments were along the lines of will X and Y get back together? Will A and B break up? Soap opera comments for a soap opera season.

There are people who liked season three; there are people who like soap operas, and this season basically is one (centered around a funeral home).

Read the episode guides. By the second episode of the first series, so much had happened it felt like I'd been watching for at least a season already. And although the second season faltered, with a lot more filler, it still had a great deal to offer.

Had the entire third season been cut down to make up one episode, or maximum two, it might have been good, but as it is, it's all just vague filler, a waste of time and talent.

Anyone who likes Six Feet Under and hasn't yet watched beyond season two would be well advised not to. Just pretend it ended at the end of season two, maybe leaving some things unresolved, but that's just the way it ended. Leave it there and appreciate it for what it was. Unless you're a big fan of fan-fiction, there's no point in watching beyond that.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

BROKEN FLOWERS: Repaired Ending

SPOILER - This one is for people who've already seen it.

What doesn't work about this film is the ending - it's a good movie otherwise. The fix is simple.

When, in the last scene, Don sits down with the boy, and they talk, I thought, well, this is a really nice way for them to meet each other. I admired how they eased into acknowledgement of who they were. I thought, Wow, that's so much better than other ways they could have met up.

Though it's subtle, as the scene progresses, there's no ambiguity - they're definitely father and son. You'd pretty much figured that already - going from the airport to the small town, but the scene confirms it.

Which makes the next bit so strange, and the ending not work. Sorry, but that scene has left no doubt.

In some movies, the in media res   ending works well. Problem is, here it more seems like part of the film is just missing due to a technical problem with the projector. "Before Sunset" and "Sideways" both use that type of ending, but it's an actually ending, not just a missing chunk.

Add about two minutes and you could have an in media res (oh, that's fancy talk for in the middle of the act) that works.


Runs as in original version (OV) right up to the last scene. The change in that scene is that instead of Don stating anything overtly, the boy finishes his food and says thanks and that he has to be on his way.

Don accepts this, saying, "It was nice talking to you. I hope I'll get a chance to talk to you again."

The boy is noncommittal, but holding back strong emotions (or just a little weirded out?).

Don jokes a bit like he did with Winston's kids. "Well, I hope so, anyway... if you're around for a bit maybe we'll get to do lunch again... You got a place to stay... I could give you a few bucks for a motel or..."

"I think I got a place to stay. I just gotta sort it out, you know."

Don nods. "Alright then."

"Thanks again for the sandwich," says the boy as he hefts his duffel and walks away.

Don wanders out into the street, feeling stricken. Feeling he'll never see the boy again. Then the Beetle goes by and he wonders if he just imagined the connection. He's very confused, stands in the street for a while until the scene fades out.

Fade in again with Don arriving at home maybe an hour later. He sits on his couch, watching a cartoon, confused about whether the boy was his son, wondering if it was all a set-up by Sherry or maybe even some elaborate scheme of Winston's.

He takes out the letter from Sherry, reads it over, and suddenly sets it aside, staring off into space, maybe vexed, maybe pleased. He's looking at flowers still there from last week when...

There's a knock at the door.

Don waits a moment.

It's clear he's been expecting it. Ever so very slightly, he smiles.    

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

WICKEDly dull.

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, 406 long pages

I was excited to read this book; I expected a great read.

Wicked relies on a gimmick. Though the result could be worthwhile, and I thought it would be in this case, it's not. There's just the gimmick.

Wicked is too long by at least a hundred pages - though the story could easily have been told and done, and the reader is feeling done with it, we're still left slogging along.

Just as the story is building to what turns out to be the (aborted) climax, halfway through, the author suddenly, jarringly, shoves the protagonist into a convent (though she's a complete non-believer), and then has her do absolutely nothing for the next several years (well, she cleans some floors or something).

Though there are still a couple hundred more pages, the book is over right there. You keep hoping, expecting, it to somehow start up again, but neither the book nor the characters will ever have any interest in anything again. It's over.

The story has, at that point, somehow become a political thriller (Wicked zigzags all about without ever finding an identity). Perhaps the deadness of spirit in a once-impassioned radical, after she's lost faith and/or hope, would have been a worthwhile exploration. Instead, the story just ends.

For some reason, the author keeps writing more pages. For no reason, really.

(The Nature of Evil theme is so incredibly weak and puerile in its rendering as to be nothing more than a tedious distraction from the plot. The characters basically step outside the story for a bit, discuss it, and then go back to whatever they were doing.)

If this were a book of paintings, it would go from lush oil at the beginning to somewhat interesting (dark) watercolors in the middle. After that, there'd be a few nicely shaded drawings, some sketches and finally just stick figures. And that's what you're left with.

It never answers its own questions, and never bothers to resolve all the threads that just trail off (and much of what keeps you reading, long after the book has clearly died, is some hope of seeing those resolved - they won't be).

Crucially, Elphaba never actually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. The author just crams her into that role as abruptly and jarringly as he crammed her into the convent, and suddenly has her say words that have nothing to do with the character we've seen for the past zillion pages.

It's like she was suddenly turned into a puppet, just so Dorothy can accidentally kill her, as if the author forgot she was supposed to be the Wicked Witch of the West and suddenly cut-and-pasted in a brief bit about that, so he could have this gimmick to sell it. (That's the climactic confrontation we've been anticipating for 400 pages?)

It's your standard workshop-fiction type of book - lots of attention to the phrasing, self-important symbolism, Meaningful (capital M) conflicts, one or two words that might send you to the dictionary - but there's no real fire here, and the author not only doesn't have much of a story to tell, but also fails to explore his characters and theme.

If this weren't an alternative view of a familiar character, nobody would read it. There'd be no point. And though that marketing hook will pull many a reader in (as it did me), ultimately there isn't any.

Ocean's Twelve: The Lost Rewrite

Synopsis: Ocean's Twelve had excellent acting and direction, but a flimsy story that made all their efforts basically pointless. This is long, but here's how I would've fixed it - basically, my rewrite.

I may be missing something about "Oceans' 12". I hope I am, just like it seems everybody but me who saw "Adaptation" misunderstood or just plain missed so much of the movie's marvelously layered recursiveness.

So maybe I missed something important.

There's a bit at the end where Rusty (Pitt) says something about Lemarc having helped set up the whole Night Fox business. Maybe there was something there that I missed - like maybe it was a really elaborate set up for an even bigger Bellagio heist and to get Isabel (Zeta-Jones) back in touch with her long lost father.

Maybe it was all about that, instead of a careless comment by an old man that enraged the petty vanity of a playboy master-thief into delivering the identities of eleven people into the clutches of a mob-connected casino owner who would have them all killed.

But if there was something like that, everyone else seems to have missed it, too. So let's get to how I would have changed it:

I'm going start with a digression. (I'm always digressing; it's pretty much all I ever do... but I digress.) Oceans Twelve was packed with amazing acting, excellent direction, and some very clever jokes, all wasted on a terrible story.

But whole nonesense with stealing the egg on the train, that's Deus ex Machina - it's too easy. What I mean is this:

In high school, we once had this story writing workshop. As a class, we came up with a story of a boy followed a dog after school. (Each part was by suggestion - we'd raise our hands and get called on, then suggest the next part: Main character? "A boy." "OK, a boy, what's he doing?" "Leaving school." "OK, what happens? "He sees a dog.")

As night began to fall, our wayward child found he'd wandered far away from his familiar environs. A rock concert was starting and all sorts of crazed people rushing around. He wanted to get away from them. Now he was very lost. Someone picked his pocket. He found a payphone, but the phone didn't work (the teacher needed to help us with that one, because that would've likely ended the story).

Now, we had the stage set for the boy to face down his fears, maybe to go through the night and discover at sunrise that he'd survived, survived seeing rats and crazed homeless people and all these things, or, more importantly, survived his own fears of them.

In the light of a new day, he could find his way back home, wiser for the experience, a bit of a coming-of-age story.

Or something like that. We hadn't decided. We weren't there yet.

We were still with him very lost and scared and in the bad part of town. The whole night, the whole adventure... the whole story, in fact, lay in front of him.

Trying to come up with where the story would go next, one of the students suggested, "His grandmother could be driving by just then and happen to see him, and take him home."

Bang. Story aborted. The woman leading the workshop gave the reasons why that wouldn't work, among them that it's someone else solving his problems, instead of the character actually doing something or going somewhere.

Of course, it could have ended badly and still been a story, but if grandma drove by just then and drives him home to play video games, that's pretty boring. There's no story anymore.

End digression.

I mean, end digression number one.

The problem in Ocean's Twelve is there's this whole elaborate problem set up, and then basically grandma drives by and takes the boy home.

The exchange was simply, incredibly simply, made on a train by staging a goofy diversion while the egg was ludicrously unguarded. The egg and the theft and the brilliant Julia Roberts joke, it all just fizzles.

(Which makes me wonder if I missed something, if there was no egg theft at all... but I can't figure out how that fits with the rest of the story... just like I can't figure out why they had to go through with the whole thing, twice. If the egg was already stolen, what was that bit with the hologram and getting arrested about?

Which is why I'm guessing it was something to do with pulling Isabel in... somehow. But it's tied together poorly.)

In the first movie, they needed all these different guys with all sorts of expertise - needed eleven people all with expertise in their areas, and that was keeping the number to the absolute minimum (which, of course, they were motivated to do for both financial and security reasons).

In this one, half the cast is just hanging around. In fact, all those characters are so useless to the plot that most of them spend crucial parts of the film sitting around jail cells, doing nothing - one of them for virtually the whole film.

Come on.

So run the story basically as it is up to the end, the first end before any flashbacks, but with some tweaking - like there's no idiotic funeral scene.

(Great, opening scene, by the way - just brilliant. Great bit in the Amsterdam cafe, with the forced laughter and the bizarre free verse. That and so much more. All flushed away by a pointless story.)

After the Amsterdam gig falls apart, which it does a little worse than in the original, they take flight in panic, with Interpol (or Europol) breathing down their necks, and in mortal fear of gangsters or whatever.

Then we run the movie basically as it went.

Now, here's the changes:

Baron Cassel's challenge is made.

Remember that decoys are used when the egg travels, and sometimes even it's a decoy that's displayed.

Thus, even the museum officials don't know if they're showing a decoy (just so long as it would only be known to be a decoy on very, very close inspection - since the public and even museum experts would be kept back a certain distance).

That is, the museums accept the possibility of receiving a replica. Due the necessity of extreme security, even the local museum curator isn't allowed to get close enough to know if her museum was displaying the replica or not.

OK, so remember that in the original version (OV hereafter) LeMarc had stolen the egg already, but his wife had made him put it back? We can work with that - in this version, he never put it back.

In the revised version (which, following the obvious logic by which we obtained OV, we'll abbreviate as ZVXXRQWLTVAZG...), the job is actually to put the egg back, and with no one noticing.

Because, the truth is, the egg was stolen years ago, and ONLY the replicas have been traveling and shown since then.

It's such a catastrophe and embarrassment for the museum that's supposed to be holding the real thing that they've never let it be known.

(We could imagine, for example, the same thing happening if the Mona Lisa were swiped from the Louvre. The painting is now behind thick, tinted glass. It's not very big and the public is kept back from it. If they replaced it with an expert copy, one worked directly from the original (using lasers to trace, and thus replicate, the artist's original brushstrokes, and so on), who would know, who could possibly?

On extremely close inspection by a top expert, the colors might be ever-so-slightly off. But, well, the tinted glass takes care of that rather nicely, doesn't it?)

But now Lemarc has to replace the original, and because there are only fakes, the security is ultra-tight on the fake, even tighter than on a real one, to keep up the show. Thus, it's almost impossible to get at the replica.

And Lemarc is old now. He hasn't the young man's agility that allowed him to pull of his spectacular thefts. But he still has the brilliance, and now it's coupled with a wisdom in the ways of human behavior.

But who has that agility? Who that would put it to the use of replacing a replica with the real thing, of pulling a theft in reverse and thus getting no reward or glory for it?

Well, Lemarc's protege, Baron Cassel, certainly has both the agility and the ability, but he's vain. The juice for him is being the best thief in the world (behind his mask of the Night Fox, of course).

Lemarc thinks of Cassel first, but quickly realizes there's no way Cassel would do this, even for him. He concludes that Cassel, for all his admiration and gratitude, is ultimately loyal to nothing beyond his own ego.

And if Cassel were to be entrusted with the real egg, he would be too tempted. Even if he wanted to replace it, he'd give in to his bad side and disappear with it, most likely setting up a fake theft at the museum to make it look like he'd pulled off the heist of the new century.

But who else in the world is capable of such a thing? Who could possibly be?

Well, there was that heist in Vegas...

So here's what happened:

Lemarc, using his protege's egotism, baited Cassel into going after the Ocean's Eleven team. When he does that, they seem to us, through most of the movie, to be trapped, screwed. They have no choice but to accept Lemarc's challenge.

There's another problem - the real Faberge egg has long since been sold. Lemarc made a fortune off it.

It made so much money for him that it was a hang-up-your-gloves sort of deal, and once he made that theft and sale, he could disappear into retirement, whereabouts completely unknown.

The only way to even find out where the egg went is by way of a wealthy and eccentric agoraphobic collector who is, in reality, the fence for priceless objects.

(He's, let's say, the only guy in the world a master-thief would go to to make the sale of swiped a Van Gogh or a Picasso, and the only guy a billionaire wanting purloined works would trust. He's crucial, and this is the real reason his house so is heavily secured, though of course it also does contain treasures of its own.)

He's the guy Lemarc used to fence the egg. And nothing would ever make him reveal where it went.

So, first problem is to find the location of the real egg. To get to that, they'd have to hit this house in Amsterdam. But that's impossible. What to do?

Well, the Ocean team figures out that they have to raise the house. Interestingly, it's the Rusty character who makes (or is it just seems to make?) the connection with the legendary Lemarc heists.

Bang, they hit that house. The stock certificate is gone when they get there, but what we learn at the end is that that's fine with them - they actually needed Cassel to get in before them and steal that in order to cover their real purpose, which was to get to the agoraphobic's ultra-secret client list.

(N.B.: This nicely explains that stupid, pointless theft of the stock certificate.)

Now they have the location of the egg.

We move on to heist number two, the real heist of the film, though we don't even know about it until the end.

This could be anywhere. It involves what seems to everyone (to us in the audience, to the Europol agents, and especially to Cassel) to be a long meandering detour.

Let's say that when it looks like they missed the stock certificate, they panic and all flee, going off to Siberia or wherever under assumed identities.

They can't access even their secret bank accounts without somebody realizing it. They used what cash they had to get the hell out of Amsterdam in hurry and hide out as far away from everything as they could get, where no one would ever find them or even bother to think of looking.

If they turn up on anyone's radar, they're dead.

We also see that Cassel knows all along where they are, as, possibly, does Europol.

But they're out of everyone's way, not doing anything illegal - they're obviously a defeated and broken bunch. If they ever try to return, they'll be picked up on relatively minor charges but for now, might as well leave them to mildew away where they are. With them out of the way, Cassel doesn't care what they do, etc.

But what they (we learn at the end) were really doing was the movie's real heist: The egg had been bought by a Russian billionaire, who kept it near his oilfields in Siberia (where he could watch the Northern Lights from his terrace - nice effect for the film).

They seemed to be going as far way from everything as possible, but in fact they were, knowing that they were under constant survellience, just faking it, faking the panic.

While they were going somewhere really remote where "no one will ever find us, or even bother to look", they were actually going towards their destination, which was the egg.

(Imagine the possibilities here for a moment. They, in their "panic", decide to go set up false identities. Carl Reiner could have been an ex-Communist general, the others could be oilfield workers... Brad Pitt would have been disguised as an ex-soldier who seemed to us to have become a real drunk... and we'd believe, while watching it, that this was all what they'd done to run away and hide.)

They could even go to different parts of the world - one to China, say, because a cargo plane would be flying in with equipment for the oil field (although actually flying out with the egg).

We'd realize afterwards that during their time there none of them had ever actually spoken a word except something like "Da!" (hence, for example, Brad Pitt's impersonation of a severe alcoholic - he was always in such a stupor he'd just slur out some nonsense and no one would ever realize he wasn't a Russian ex-soldier who ended up a drunk like so many others.

The former General would have been too dignified from his past and mortified by his present situation to speak as he sat in back of the local restaurant slurping his borscht, and so on. Would've been brilliant.)

So they pull of the real theft, from the Russian oil billionaire. This one is stunning. And uses all of their separate skills.

(The Chinese cargo had a certain acrobat hidden in one of the pipes, which a "special crew" of foreign engineers working at the oil field installed one day - a pipe which actually led to a tunnel the Russian billionaire used when he wanted to go from his palace to the oil fields during those ferocious Siberian blizzards, a tunnel left over from the Soviet missile program. And it's in that bunker that the egg, under security that might as well be for nuclear missiles, is kept.

That's where our billionaire keeps an absolute trove of many of other of the world's greatest missing artworks, some of which the Ocean's team help themselves to - their cut of the action.

I like this because there'd be a chance to, at least briefly, raise a few issues - like, for one, where wealth comes from and who are the real thieves, is it people who make heists of single precious objects from some very wealthy individuals, whose lives won't really be affected at all by the loss, or is it ones who take far more from far greater numbers of people, leaving a lot of suffering because of it.

(Not as preachy or exposition-heavy as it might seem - the planning for the heist could touch on, or show, how the ex-KGB and the like just looted everything when so-called Communism collapsed (kind of, ah, the way America is being looted now that so-called democracy has collapsed).

You could talk about these things, or at least give a few pointers in that direction, and do it gracefully enough the audience would barely notice the message part.

It could also easily touch on what's happened to the former Soviet nuclear weapons program, which is terrifying from a possibility-of-terrorism perspective, among others... which could set up a sequel, where with the stakes the highest, they have to waltz in and carry off this crucial operation of, say, disabling a rogue nuke, all the while as cool as can be, Clooney oozing charm and so on, just like high-stakes poker players have to keep it all under control.).)

OK so, now, this is where they're desperate, totally screwed, no hope of ever seeing their former lives (or wives) again. And it's at this point that Cassel, the egotist steps in. He thinks he's got them where he wants them - totally defeated. But he's still needled that they pulled off the spectacular Vegas job. Everyone talks about that as the greatest.

And since they are, obviously, now incapable of any sort of heist, he sees no risk at all in challenging them. If he wins, which he will, of course, everyone will know that the Night Fox is the unimpeachable master thief of the world, while the Ocean team, being so diminished, will most likely end up in jail. (Cassel knows they're being watched by Europol, although he doesn't know that they also know this... and we don't either.)

To the museum heist:

What we learn at the end was that the whole set up at the museum was faked (which, in OV, seems so utterly pointless if they already had the egg and had won... they all get photographed and profiled by Interpol, risking everything just to piss off Cassel a little? Or to lure Isabel?

Even worse, it stretches disbelief beyond breaking that someone's mom could just show up impersonating a "Section Chief" and drive off with an entire group of internationally wanted criminals...

Although maybe it's some sort of comment on police corruption in Italy or something, because also seems pretty improbable that someone commonly accepted to have engaged in severe criminal behavior could be prime minister of Italy and allowed to keep the job of running the entire country because... he'd managed to delay his prosecution long enough that a court ruled that now the time limit to prosecute him had passed. I digress.)

(Of course, it also would seem pretty incredible that the president of France could be highly suspected of some criminal acts of his own but unprosecutable because the president of the country is immune to prosecution...

Oh, that makes sense: You wouldn't want to be able to do anything about it if the guy running the country turned out to be guilty of criminal acts. Um... am I digressing again?)

In the movie as it is, at the end, we learn that the story was over basically before it began, so what was the point of it all? The switch was already made, in a heist that five drunks propping up any bar could have worked out. No mastery involved.

That's a huge let-down for us, the audience, and it leaves the Night Fox as by far the best, as it took a whole team of them to accomplish that totally amateurish job, while he waltzed into the museum through the impossible security, solo, even if it was steal a replica.

That bothers us, and it should: On that bridge in Amsterdam Ocean and Brad Pitt talk about how in their souls they're basically thieves - not snatch-an-old-lady's-purse-on-welfare-check-day type thieves, but jewel-thief types, they're Cary Grant on Monte Carlo rooftops.

If that's what they are in their souls, then what's with the stupid purse-snatching bit on the train? Might as well snatch old-ladies' purses.

And did the couriers have to set out the incredibly valuable egg, accompanied by a special security detail, in a backpack not only right there on the seat, but on the aisle seat, where someone could've just walked by and run off to the cafe car with it?

I mean, the swithceroo wouldn't have been any harder if it was on the inside one... in fact, it would have been even better from the movie-making standpoint, as the security team would have momentarily all turned away from it.

As it is, the commotion makes them all turn towards it, absolutely what the thieves don't want to happen.

Better to have a pigeon hit the window. (And they could have done that: As long as they were going with goofy backpack-switch-on-the-train version, they might as well have had one or two of the team (useless anyway) on top of the train swinging a pigeon on a string.

In our revised version, Cassel goes into the museum to scope it out, carrying a replica he's had made, a replica for what he thinks is the real egg, the one on display. He goes in the day Julia Roberts shows up, giving a point to that whole thing, because in the crush of the crowd, one of the Ocean team switches Cassel's replica for the real egg (that they've stolen from the Russian billionaire).

So now Cassel, unknowingly, has the real egg. (He could even, between then and the time he goes in for real, show what he thinks is his "replica" to an expert, who says, "Incredible! It appears an utterly perfect copy! Without spectrometry tests, even I could never distinguish it from the original.

"It's almost too amazing. It's even got the exact wear patterns. For example, this nick where the little Tsarina's ring scratched it more than a century ago. I can't imagine how anyone could have gotten that level of detail... Almost no one even knows about that."

That was Cassel's one chance, the one crucial clue he could have picked up on. (Even when we watch it again at the end, we hold our breath for a moment while shadow of doubt crosses his face, and wonder if he'll catch on - even though we already know he didn't.)

That way, it's (again) Cassel's own ego that's his downfall. A slightly lesser or slightly more humble thief might have wondered about that. Might have turned and re-examined his replica and gotten thinking.

(It's a bit like Mohammed Ali's famous right-hand lead in Zaire against George Foreman - a boxer of that level would never have to worry about such a thing. As Norman Mailer said, to even train for it would have been an insult to that level of boxer, and thus Foreman was completely and effectively surprised to get smashed again and again by Ali's rights.

Cassel, similarly, would never have even considered or wasted energy on something as basic as a switcheroo being put over on a world class master-thief like himself.)

So now Cassel does his capoera through the lasers, and zips in to switch his "replica" - actually the real egg - for the decoy that the museum has on display (and there was no reason Cassel couldn't have been a bit more likeable - I loved the bit where he jauntily clicked his heels after making it through).

He gets out, thinks he's got the real thing (hasn't even bothered to have to examined yet), pulls up at his place in Italy, finds his guests on the terrace and so on.

And the apparent theft attempt with "Julia Roberts" isn't one. They make the switch for the hologram as in the original version, but the hologram immediately malfunctions with a momentary flicker, which is how they're caught - Zeta-Jones spots the flicker. The thing is, a second later they swap the hologram base back out and replace the egg.

She doesn't see that part. We don't either. So when she stops them at the exit, they're clean.

In this version, Bruce Willis has a role besides comic relief: When Zeta-Jones insists on detaining them, Willis still believes she's the real Julia Roberts and starts playing prima-donna (primo-don?), shouting about who he'll call and so on.

Just then, the local carabineri chief shows up absolutely livid about the forged 1077, which has pulled a score of his men off more important duties.

He's convinced Isabel has lost her marbles.
Not only has she committed a severe violation of the rules for some wacky personal obsession, now she's using that same forged 1077 to direct those same carabineri to harass not just one but, incredibly, two A-list celebrities, risking worldwide embarrassment for his police detachment not to mention the effective end of his career.

Bruce Willis is screaming about calling Pavoratti - starts dialing him on the cell phone (how 'bout a cameo of Pavoratti himself rushing up shouting). Isabel insists she's an official with Europol and these people have just stolen - and have in their possesion - the Faberge egg. She insists they be searched.

Bruce Willis is turning purple, Pavaratti's about to have a heart attack, and "Julia Roberts" is fainting again while her "doctor" starts shouting his head off, too. Isabel, unflappable, pulls rank and demands they be searched. Bruce Willis sticks his face in hers and says, "You can search me naked if you want but you're not touching my pregnant friend here."

Everyone agrees that "Julia Roberts" must be left unmolested. Zeta-Jones does still have some official authority however, even though the carabineri chief is by now screaming and turning purple himself. They finally settle on searching everyone else, and letting "Julia Roberts" pass through a metal detector set on maximum sensitivity, since there's no way to conceal the presence of a big hunk of metal from the detector (even with a fake pregnant belly). She takes her bracelets and rings and everything and walks through. The detector goes off.

We hold our breath.

She looks down at her shoes, which have big ornamental silver buckles. She backs up, kicks them off, and walks through with no problems.

Isabel is finally stunned. Everyone else is relieved the whole thing is over and a very distressed "Julia Roberts" is helped to her car by a marvelously solicitous Bruce Willis, while the carabineri chief is deciding whether to have Zeta-Jones fired or arrested and Pavarotti starts signing autographs.

Then there's a little amusing denouement to that scene where she has to get away from Bruce Willis.

Now, of course, once we see all the flashbacks and know what's actually happened, we're still left with a big question: Why?

And that's where Lemarc comes in. Like they said in another movie, "You can't show Jaws in the first reel."

They have to save Lemarc for the end. He's the biggest mystery man in the world, and he can't just be some guy who casually talks things over on terrace overlooking the Trocadero in Paris.

Now we have the real reason. Remember how Lemarc's wife made him put the egg back. Well, consider that in OV he did put it back, but she still left him, told him if he ever went near their daughter again she'd inform on him. So that's a bit of the story that doesn't make sense.

Here's how we fix it (lotta fixing to do here, but it's worth it):

What actually happened was that he refused to do so. For one thing, he'd already sold the egg and had no idea where it went. More importantly, such a move went against everything he believed in about his honor as a thief.

And... he was also a bit stubborn, in those days something of an egotist himself (hence his thorough understanding of the character of Cassel).

But now the egg has been resold to a crooked Russian billionare. Lemarc's growing old and wants to spend time with his daughter again.

Thing is, he's too old to get the egg from the billionare's bunker. He doubts even Cassel is capable of it.

The only people he can think of who might have any chance are that team that pulled of the Bellagio heist in Vegas, a heist so well-executed it even stunned Lemarc, the greatest of them all. And he starts using his master-thief genius to track them down.

But this is going to take even more talent, including Cassel. The Ocean crew can't do both the Russian billionaire theft and the museum heist. Too much planning required, too much set up.

So they need someone good enough to get into the museum, which, though pretty much impossible, is actually the easier part of the job. Hence, Cassel.

Lamarc sets up the discussion on the yacht to prick Cassel's ego. Cassel falls for it. And, at the end of it all, though even Cassel doesn't know it (he just thinks he's been beaten), the real Faberge egg is back in place.

A very, very select group do know it, however. One is a top art expert, a renowned curator who once fell in love with a dashing and cavalier young man who seemed to know everything about art, who loved priceless treasures as much as she did, yet strangely didn't seem to work in the field.

He'd told her he was an amateur scholar, an aficionado. Always had plenty of money. And it wasn't until after she got pregnant, during the wildest days of her life and the greatest love affair she could have imagined, that she took a closer look at his supposed background, and, being very, very intelligent, everything fell quickly into place.

(Their child, combining the talents and passions of both her parents, would one day become one of the world's top police experts protecting museums from art theft.)

But such was their love for one another that they settled in to a certain detente: He could deal in the very expensive objects as long as he stayed away from the greatest works of the world's common heritage.

If he snatched shiny baubles like rare coins or some supermodel's Tiffany jewelry, his wife could live with it; if he went after the sublime - the Mona Lisa or a Michelangelo - it was over.

Somehow, the Faberge egg fell into a bit of a gray area. He thought it another bauble; she thought it transcendent.

He insisted she hadn't been clear enough until it was too late, that he'd never meant to hurt her and he wouldn't have even thought about it if he'd known.

A bitter argument ensued that just kept getting worse and worse, with her insisting if he'd been able to take the egg, he was able to put it back, and with him insisting that even if he could, he wouldn't, but its whereabouts were now unknown even to him so it was impossible in any case.

It blew out the point where she finally said, Either the egg comes back, or you don't.

So he moved out, thinking it temporary, and then settled into that stubbornness people often do, spending many, many, too many years regretting it, years filled with everything he could possibly want, except the two things he really wanted.

Finally, when he managed to learn the egg had been very secretly resold, he saw his chance to give in, a way he could do so without giving up his honor - he wouldn't be taking it back from the original buyer.

If he could just replace the egg, he was sure he'd be forgiven. He was sure his wife - after all these years she'd never divorced him and even after his "death" had never remarried - wanted to forgive him as much as he wanted to be forgiven. He only needed give her the excuse.

He couldn't believe how many years and how much happiness he'd thrown away for it, how much pain he'd caused. He should have set it right long ago, even before it had been resold. Now, there was nothing holding him back.

Except... there was one thing: Age.

In the intervening years, he'd grown too old to pull off such an elaborate job himself. This one would have been challenge even at his peak.

It was far too involved, required too many people and, and maybe this was another sign of his age, for the first time his thoughts were clouded by the fear of being caught.

No matter how small a chance there might be, it was always there.

(That was part of the juice, of course... which is why the backpack switch is so dumb, because there's so little risk it's hardly a jewel-thief maneuver - Cary Grant would never have swapped a backpack lying on train seat and acted like done anything exceptional.)

If he were to get caught, his fate would be sealed: he'd never see his daughter again, not free, and he wouldn't be able to bear her finally seeing him, after all these years, as a humiliated old man behind bars. He'd waited too long; he had too little time left to make that up to her.

And there was the unresolved question of the love of his life.

That Dutch art curator was one of the few people in the world who knew that the Faberge egg had been stolen.

And she was one of the even fewer who knew when it came back.

BLUE BLOOD, by Edward Conlon

Here's what you'll find in BLUE BLOOD:

Cops watch drug dealers; cops rush in to arrest them and the people who bought from them; cops try to get the drug dealers to tell them something about other drug dealers, or about people who might have guns.

There's also a very funny scene - Conlon wasn't there but tells the story - of some detectives who make a lie-detector using a salad bowl, two wires and a photocopier.

They take a sheet of paper with the word "LIE!" in big letters, put the salad bowl on the suspect's head, and "wire" it to the photocopier. Every time the guy tells a lie, they punch the copy button, and the machine spits out a paper that says, "LIE!"

The guy is terrified and confesses everything, but the jury doesn't convict him.

Bronx juries often let guilty people off.

That's pretty much the book. You've just saved yourself 500 pages of reading... which means you can now read the rest of this. (There are a few other nuggets, but with way too high a rock-to-ore ratio.)

If you're left wondering how Blue Blood got such good reviews, join club. Though the jacket describes it as reading like a novel, a lot of us felt it had as much flow as a grocery list, and about as much interest.

One jacket blurb describes it as "a social history" - it's not - and another, incredibly, compares it to Michael Herr's superb collection of Vietnam reportage, Dispatches. When one interviewer told Conlon he wrote "beautifully", I wondered if we'd read the same book, as "ploddingly" would be a far more accurate word.

Well, we didn't read the same book: reviewers skim.

And that's a problem for those of us who actually read books - in skimming, reviewers often miss heaps that's good, and heaps that's bad. If you're skimming, 500 pages might take up a few pleasurable hours. If you're actually reading, they go on interminably.

Much of the criticism towards this book has been of the Where was the editor? variety. You read 500 plus pages, all the while wondering how all this endlessly repetitive droning ever got past an editor, and why.

Is the author trying to give us a feel for how boring and tedious his job is? Do we really need to know all this stuff about filling out forms? And can't he find some way to tell better?

How many times do we have to hear about the warrants that he wasn't even able to get, or about the informant who failed to call him as scheduled?

Then there's the history of his family - a completely misplaced aimless stringing together of facts, trivia and guesses, little of which is of interest.

It's also distressing that he reaches for the larger picture only sort of. There's no history of the NYPD, just glimpses that are as fragmented and incoherent as much of the rest of the book.

The story of how the NYPD became so heavily laden with Irish, in a city that once had signs warning No Blacks or Irish Need Apply, would seem to have a place in a book with a title that plays on the idea of generations of Irish cops.

Conlon is at his worst when he tries for the broad perspective, which, mercifully, he doesn't do very much.

Incredibly, he never even bothers to mention that crime across the country was dropping during this period. Though every big city mayor and small-town sheriff took the credit, crime rates were simply falling throughout the society, regardless of what Sheriff Butch Toughguy in Kentucky or Deputy Bo Badass in Tennessee or Patrolman Eddie Conlon in New York was doing.

Socio-economic factors, such as lower unemployment, played a far more significant role than the police, who were for the most part doing the same things they've always done.

There's little about what was going on in the country, the world, or even what time of year it is... or much of anything else external. And as our hero goes through the same housing project drug operations over and over and over, he reflects upon it so little that might as well be playing soccer (fun to chase people, run around, ug!).

The author's Harvard education is played up in the marketing, but is absent in the book - you'll find no review of alternate ideas of crime control/public safety, no pesky questions about whether the police are really helping, or perhaps even harming, communities, or whether it might be better to pursue an entirely different approach.

Is this is right approach to a social problem? Shouldn't we be exploring these questions?

Apparently not. Instead, there's just this endless I'm-a-foot-soldier-who's-not-gettin'-paid-to-think, so-let's-lock-people-up. Nothing about the ethics of... well, you get the idea.

And that might work if the book didn't pretend, at the same time, to be offering something more. And if The Job wasn't about something more - that is, if it didn't have to do with society, the control of parts of it, with putting human beings in cages, etc.

Which brings us to the War on Drugs. The jacket promises we'll get his view on that. We don't... or we do... or we don't. There are just a few vapid paragraphs regurgitating lame arguments and counter-arguments.

That's a bit strange given that he spends so much time, and these people risk their lives, over it, and so much of the book is about drug busts.

No doubt some of these drug dealers are very bad people, but they'd be just us bad whether the product was cigarettes or rum or blood diamonds. They're selling drugs because there's a lot of money in them, which is because they're illegal. (Same with Prohibition, same with tax-dodging cigarette peddlers in contemporary NYC.)

Conlon vacillates a bit, seeing perhaps, maybe, kinda some validity to the counter-arguments, but then concludes by telling us that heroin gave us crime as we know it.

Um, so before heroin, we didn't have crime as we... um... it was another kind of crime?


The same person (I assume, anyway) also relates that when heroin was legal in the US, most addicts were middle-aged white women who'd become addicted after doctors prescribed it.

Now, presumably those women weren't out doing carjackings.

So what changed?

Don't bother to ask, or at least to look for answers in the book.

(Those who say this book doesn't pretend to offer an analysis, doesn't pretend to be more than just a day-on-the-Job recounting are wrong: It does try, it just does a terrible job of it.)

Someone who spends so much time locking people up and otherwise controlling them for using these substances can't, apparently, be bothered to look at places where the issue is treated differently, and whether that's good or bad for a society, whether tougher enforcement actually leads to a decrease in either drug related violence or deaths (it does neither; in fact, both go up, for reasons directly related to the enforcement).

Because, for all their professed concern for the community, police in general seem to be after something quite different:

Conlon tells us more than once that the best part of the job is smashing people's doors in, a sentiment his colleagues seem to share.

Though police everywhere dress it up with all sorts of rationalizations, too many just get rush out of that storm-trooper power, and that's what they're in it for. They'd be doing it whether what lay behind those doors were drugs or diamonds or Jews. (It could just as well be Jews, for all the thought Conlon gives to the morality of what he's doing.)

Cars with flashing lights, badges, guns, kicking doors in and arresting the people behind them - is it really about public safety?

Conlon pays a smidgeon of lip service to public safety, then goes back to grabbing people and smashing in doors.

Or not smashing doors. Or getting warrants. Or not getting warrants. Or filling out forms. Or getting transferred. Or not getting transferred. Or thinking about his grandfather. For 500 pages.

Cut down by 300 pages or so, it might be worth reading. A skimmer might not mind the tedious, plodding repetitiveness. But those planning to actually read will regret having started Blue Blood.