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McMafia – Gangsters in the Age of Globalisation

February 12, 2018

The final episode of McMafia was broadcast last night, and while it may not have been the monster hit the BBC were hoping for, I would still rate it as one of the best dramas produced for television in recent years.

The story followed the fortunes of City of London banker Alex Godman (James Norton). The scion of a wealthy Russian family exiled in London, Godman at first comes across as your typical stiff upper lip English gentleman who wants nothing to with his father’s alleged involvement with organised crime. But when Godman’s uncle Boris makes the mistake of trying and failing to assassinate rival Mob Boss Vadim Kalyagin, Godman soon finds himself dragged into his family’s dangerous world by association. After Boris pays the ultimate price for crossing Vadim, Godman (whose legitimate business is failing) is courted by the shady Israeli politician/gangster Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathairn) who wants to continue the covert war against Vadim but can only do it with Godman’s help. There are strong parallels here with The Godfather, in which the good son (Godman/Michael Corleone) rejects the family business only to be sucked in regardless and, to his surprise, quietly enjoys the role of gangster. The deterioration in Godman’s relationship with his fiancee and the lost opportunity of fatherhood is also reminiscent of Michael and Kay in The Godfather. Even the reference to Veniamin (an ill-fated Russian crook whose grisly demise is used as a verbal warning) allusively reminded me of ‘Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.’ Does Godman’s name echo The Godfather as well? As the series progresses, it becomes clear he is certainly not the good man he thought he was, and he seems to have a God-like imperviousness to human emotions.

The influence of fictional gangsters from popular culture on the drama is unusual as McMafia is based on non-fiction. Misha Glenny delivered an outstanding piece of investigative journalism in his book McMafia. He recounts in astonishing detail how the fall of communism led to ex-members of the Security Services in Eastern Bloc countries to launch their own mafias once they found themselves out of work. Spin the globe and Glenny examines how the Yakuza played an unusual role in rebuilding Japan (for a healthy slice of the profits) after the Second World War. In another chapter he focuses on how some of the most notorious internet email scams began in Nigeria. But how does this relate to the TV series? Show creators Hossein Amini and James Watkins have taken Glenny’s work as a font of inspiration for the series but did not have a strict linear narrative from the book to follow. I found this quite liberating as I could read the book without it having any spoilers for the TV series. Other non-fiction works such as Fast Food Nation and The Men Who Stare at Goats have been adapted this way. Certain parts of the text did feel like they were directly inspired by the book. For instance, Lyudmilla the Russian beautician who arrives in Cairo expecting to find legitimate work only to be kidnapped and trafficked into the sex industry in Tel Aviv is very closely modelled on a harrowing story from the book of Ludmilla, a Moldovan woman who was forced into the sex trade during what should have been an exciting adventure abroad. As a powerful drama with an epic scale, McMafia astounded me. Watch a gangster film like Goodfellas and you’re often seeing thugs with baseball bats beating people up over unpaid loans or petty insults. McMafia, by contrast, portrays a world in which drugs manufactured in India are sold in Africa, the profits are laundered in the Cayman Islands and wind up in London or Moscow bank accounts. Organised crime has become a global business.

McMafia has substantial flaws which led many viewers to switch off and stopped it from generating the ‘water cooler talk’ buzz that accompanied other BBC hits such as The Night Manager. It pains me to say this but James Norton is just too wooden as Godman. I understand he may have wanted to avoid comparisons with Bryan Cranston’s manic portrayal of chemistry teacher Walter White in Breaking Bad, and opted for a quieter introspective approach, but Godman felt too much like a blank slate. If anything, I felt more sympathy for Vadim the lifelong gangster who slowly finds his empire crumbling around him. Vadim knows his kind are not fated to die peacefully in their dotage, but his visible shock at the price his family pays for his misdeeds made me empathise with him. Also, the series was dogged with allegations of anti-Russian sentiment and anti-Semitism. I don’t think its controversial or wrong necessarily to portray gangsters of different nationalities. As Glenny writes in the book, almost every country on earth has produced gangsters, and the few countries that appear not to have an organised crime presence tend to have ultra-authoritarian governments such as in North Korea where the ‘state budget is decisvely dependent on the trading of narcotics to criminal syndicates in neighbouring countries’. However, in the show, Semiyon is not only a gangster he is a member of the Knesset, being assisted in a human-trafficking scheme by a Mossad agent. This was certainly one of the more over the top plotlines, and the forthcoming adaptation of John le Carre’s controversial The Little Drummer Girl, given the subject matter, will likely add to allegations of anti-Semitism at the BBC.

But if you can overcome these problems, and they are significant, then McMafia is still an astonishing feat of storytelling. In many ways it is a grittier, more realistic portrayal of organised crime than The Night Manager which had descended into a colourful caper by its final episode. McMafia is already making an impact on the real world as it seems to be influencing government policy. It may have lacked popular appeal, but McMafia still has many distinctions to recommend it.


Michael Mann’s Thief at FACT Liverpool

February 4, 2018

I’ve arranged a Ourscreen showing of Thief at FACT Liverpool on Saturday, March 10th at 12 noon. Thief is one of my favourite films, and I would argue one of the greatest crime films of the 1980s. The story behind the production of the film is fascinating, but I’ll talk more about that on the day as I’m introducing the film. You can book tickets through the Ourscreen website. Please note the screening only goes ahead if we sell enough tickets. Ourscreen kindly added Thief to their catalogue (as they did with William Friedkin’s Sorcerer last December) so I could arrange the screening. I’ll post a copy of my talk about the film after the screening, but why not come along so you can see it in person? Hope to see you there.

The Play That Goes Wrong – Review

February 1, 2018

I first came across the phenomenon that is the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society when I saw the Christmas TV specials Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. Those two productions were probably the funniest thing I’d seen on television for years. So, when I heard that the original The Play That Goes Wrong was touring in the UK I eagerly snapped up a ticket. The premise of each play is that the fictional Cornley Polytechnic mount productions which through a combination of incompetence, bad luck, raging theatrical egos and bizarre coincidences invariably go wrong. The fun for the audience is to watch these very amateur actors try and keep it together.

I’m glad to say that this material is as funny, if not more so, onstage as it is on the telly. While audiences members were still taking their seats, the cast engaged in some breaking of the fourth wall. One member of the ‘technical crew’ walks round asking if anyone has seen her dog, while cast and crew members fiddle with a door on the set that just won’t stay shut (this is a set-up for two gags that pay off in spades once the play begins). Then we get an introduction from Chris, director of Cornley Polytechnic and lead actor in The Murder at Haversham Manor (a spoof of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap). This play within a play has a classic Golden Age Mystery set-up. A dead body is discovered at the eponymous Haversham Manor. An Inspector arrives and everyone at the house (gardener, butler, fiancee to the victim etc.) are murder suspects. This ‘plot’ acts as the springboard for a non-stop series of gags, including slapstick, double entendres and sex farce (one rather fetching member of the cast spends almost the entire second act clad only in her negligee). The amateur thesps struggle to keep the play going as the set quite literally falls apart around them. The Play That Goes Wrong is so gleefully funny and joyfully entertaining that to attempt any critical analysis might take away from its charm, but I will say that the laughs come thick and fast and even moments that don’t seem amusing at first are often just the build-up for big punchlines later on. It features physical comedy which is up there with the best of Chaplin or Buster Keaton, and also nicely sends-up the traditions of the English country house murder mystery. All that remains to be said is go see it. You’ll laugh yourself silly.

I saw The Play That Goes Wrong at Chester’s impressive, and still relatively new Storyhouse theatre. You can find details of the nationwide tour here.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland – Review

January 28, 2018

Need to Know is one of the most anticipated thrillers I’ve come across in years. Almost a year before publication date, it was reported that the movie rights had been sold and Charlize Theron will produce and star in the film adaptation. With such hype you might think any reading of the novel is bound to be a disappointment, but my initial reaction was one of surprise. Surprise that such a slow-burning intelligent spy novel could still be such a massive hit in an age of repetitive and action-driven vacuous franchises.

In Need to Know, Vivian Miller is a CIA counter-Intelligence analyst who seems like she has it all: a high-powered career tracking Russian sleeper cells in the US and a nice house perfect for raising her four kids with her loving, handsome husband Matt. But it’s not long before things start to unravel. A secret dossier at work reveals her husband is a Russian spy. She buries the evidence while she decides what to do. Cleveland gives us flashbacks to Vivian’s early relationship with Matt and how it developed. Suddenly, the mysteries of his character are beginning to make sense. Why did he always cancel planned visits for them to meet his parents at the last minute? Where did all of his money come from? The idea that you can never really know your partner is hardly new to the genre, and just when I thought this was going to be Gone Girl at Langley the story takes another turn. Vivian’s efforts to conceal her husband Matt’s true identity from her employers get increasingly dangerous, and the reader is left wondering if she choose between loyalty to her country or her love for her husband.

Cleveland spent eight years working as a CIA analyst, and she joins the growing ranks of retired spooks writing spy novels. Thankfully, she brings her knowledge of real-life espionage to add realism to this tale. This is a world wherein spies sit in front of computers and pore over financial statements and social media messages looking for threats to national security. And yet, even if the spy trade isn’t glamorous, Cleveland makes sure its never dull. Need to Know kept me guessing right to the end as the characters are involving and sympathetic. Vivian and Matt are not lazy caricatures of spies, they have the same problems as other couples, and the reader identifies with them as a consequence.

Just before Christmas, publishers traditionally rush out ghost-written, shallow memoirs by celebrities you’ve never heard of. So, this January, I needed to know that well-written and engaging novels are still hugely popular. Karen Cleveland did that for me.

The proof copy of Need to Know had a hidden message for budding spies

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed by Mike Ripley

January 12, 2018

Do you remember whiling away a train journey or a long winter evening with a paperback World War II yarn by Alistair Maclean? Or a well-paced thriller by Desmond Bagley? Or an expertly detailed sea adventure by Hammond Innes? If so, have you ever wondered why you don’t see novels like this anymore? Then Mike Ripley’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: The Boom in British Thrillers from Casino Royale to The Eagle Has Landed is the book for you. Although genres such as crime fiction and sci-fi have remained immensely popular and garnered increasing critical acclaim, the old fashioned thriller, as pioneered by the aforementioned writers as well as by luminaries such as Wilbur Smith, and in the US Robert Ludlum, have slowly started disappearing from our shelves.

Ripley charts the phenomenal success of adventure thrillers in post-war Britain. Rather like crime or detective fiction, the thriller genre is quite broad and includes some overlap with other types of narrative, especially when you take into consideration sub-genre. For instance, Ripley includes Ian Fleming’s Bond novels as Spy Fantasies which fall under this thriller or adventure label. Fleming deserves great credit in expanding the popularity of thriller narratives. In one of the most absorbing chapters of this study, ‘Class of 62’, Ripley examines how 1962 was a relatively disappointing year for Fleming in literary terms with the publication of his experimental, off-beat novel The Spy Who Loved Me, which lead to poor reviews (and even Fleming himself grew to hate it). However, in the same year the spectacular launch of the James Bond film series with Dr No lead to breakout publications for a host of adventure thriller writers such as Francis Clifford and James Aldridge who were either inspired by Fleming or motivated by momentum for thrillers the Bond author created. Ripley also takes a close look at novelists Len Deighton and John le Carre who created a more realistic portrayal of espionage and viewed themselves as the antithesis of Fleming. Deighton and le Carre, like some modern critics, found Fleming’s right-wing politics to be problematic and the theme of this study is that while Britain lost an Empire, her thriller writers saved the world. The Suez Crisis, decolonisation, devaluation, and joining the EEC (at least temporarily), may have suggested Britain was a nation in terminal decline, but writers such as James Leasor and John Gardner cheerfully ignored these facts in splendid tales of derring-do.
This book brought back a flood of memories for me. At one point, Ripley is describing the plot of Desmond Bagley’s High Citadel and huge sections of the book started coming back to me, even though I had not read or thought about the novel in over twenty years. I turned the page and found Ripley had included an illustration of the front cover of Bagley’s novel. I remembered that vividly too, as I must have cadged a copy from my father’s bookshelves. Happy days!
Inevitably, a decline in the popularity of thrillers would come, and Ripley traces this to emerging voices in the hardboiled neo-noir genre, including James Ellroy, among others who came to prominence in the 1980s and 90s, as well as the new popularity for forensic and legal thrillers. He quotes Tim Heald requiem for the thriller in Hatchards Crime Companion:
In the end I couldn’t bear another airport lounge or AK-47 and I gave up. It was, it seemed to me, a sub-genre that had had its day. The thriller wasn’t thrilling any more
I recognise the trend. After reading and enjoying about half-a-dozen of Jack Higgins‘ Sean Dillon thrillers, I knew I just couldn’t read another one as they were getting very repetitive and, crikey, has he continued to churn them out. But to be fair, there have been plenty of series of private detective and police procedural novels that have dragged on for far too long. History has judged the thriller novel too harshly. It had the same flaws as other genres, but it gave just as much entertainment. There might be a gap in the market, I would suggest, for a revival of the adventure thriller. As for scholarly interest, I know these novels would be devoured by undergraduates and postgrads if they were put on reading lists, and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will stand as the seminal study of the genre. Ripley himself has managed to get many of the less remembered thrillers back into print with Ostara Publishing.
The book ends with an informative two-part appendices which gives short, insightful biographies of the leading thriller writers followed by a few less well-known names. I didn’t know, for instance, about thriller writer Nichol Fleming, nephew of Ian, or about another scribe Antony Melville-Ross, a descendant of Herman Melville.
Highly Recommended.

Die Hard on the Big Screen

January 1, 2018

Over Christmas I watched the original Die Hard at FACT cinema Liverpool. The screening was arranged by my good friend Dan Slattery via Ourscreen, who had helped me arrange a screening of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer at FACT at the beginning of December. Needless to say, it was wonderful seeing the film in the cinema almost thirty years after it was originally released… and even better to see it over Christmas. Yes, I’m definitely in the Die Hard is a Christmas movie camp.

If you read this blog, I suspect you’ve seen Die Hard as many times as I have, so, instead of doing a traditional review, I thought I’d share some of the observations of the group I went to see it with, and my own musings, as we discussed the film in the bar afterwards.

Die Hard‘s screenplay has extremely tight writing: every plot point connects. Screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. deSouza clearly believed in the Chekhov’s Gun principle in narrative, and lots of little details that occur early in the film pay off beautifully as the story moves on, such as Holly Gennaro/McClane slamming down the framed family photo in her office.

Die Hard is considered a perfect example of a Three-Act structure: set-up, confrontation and resolution (thanks to Dan for pointing this out). It becomes increasingly clear during the second act that the terrorist plot will not succeed, but at the same time, the odds are never in favour of our hero John McClane surviving. Bruce Willis deserves great credit here – he created a hero that bleeds and the audience can almost feel every punch, kick, bullet and explosion he endures along the way.

As villains go, Alan Rickman balances malevolence with comedy perfectly and his performance started the trend of British theatrical actors playing villains in Hollywood films (and could have typecast Rickman). To my knowledge he only played one more major bad guy, a very over the top Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But, in Die Hard he gets the tone just right, relishing his evil lines and comic asides ‘Mr Takagi won’t be joining us for the rest of his life’, and never letting the all round excess of the story overwhelm his quiet menace.

The one scene I really don’t like is Sergeant Al Powell’s shooting of the terrorist Karl at the coda. It seems a triumphalist, utterly tone-deaf, way for him to overcome his accidental killing of a child years earlier which he confesses to McClane in one of the most touching scenes in the film. If it was being re-shot today, I doubt that scene would make it to the final cut. But in a way Die Hard never really ends. It was the beginning of a franchise that is still going strong today (let’s just forget about A Good Day to Die Hard), and spawned numerous imitators: Cliffhanger (Die Hard on a Mountain), Under Siege (Die Hard on a Battleship), and probably influenced the style of the later Bond films as well. Not bad for a Christmas movie.

L.A. Confidential the movie—20 years later

December 20, 2017

For our last post of 2017 we welcome back to the blog James Ellroy aficionado and all-round good guy Jason Carter. Here’s Jason’s bio:

Jason Carter is an unofficial Ellroy scholar with 20-years of Ellrovian tutelage under his belt. A devoted follower of Ellroy since the age of 14,  Jason now has the enviable honor of calling Mr. Ellroy his friend.  Although, don’t think of asking Jason for any personal details about Ellroy, as Jason is ferociously protective of Mr. Ellroy’s privacy. Jason, like Ellroy, lives in Denver, Colorado.


“My book, your movie…”  This is James Ellroy’s expeditious way of distinguishing himself and his work from the output of Hollywood…it’s common knowledge to anyone who’s followed the Demon Dog’s work for any number of years.

In Reinhart Jud’s 1993 Demon Dog of Crime Fiction documentary, Ellroy, riding high on the then-newly published conclusion to his L.A. Quartet, White Jazz, left no one in uncertainty about how he views film versions of his books:  “People option my books, they tell me ‘it’s going to be a masterpiece, so and so will direct, so and so will star in it,’ and I say to all of them except James B. Harris, [director of the 1988 James Woods film Cop, a forgettable take on Ellroy’s Blood on the Moon, with Woods as Lloyd Hopkins] HORSE SHIT!   Don’t tell me it’s gonna get made, ‘cause it’s not gonna get made, and chances are if you do make it, you’re gonna fuck it up!”

This skepticism is perfectly consistent with Ellroy’s constant warnings that nothing is ever what it seems in Hollywood, and all is not right; in a phrase, disingenuous verisimilitude, a concept pervading literally every one of Ellroy’s books.

While Ellroy’s books have exposed Hollywood’s flaws with candor and unfettered honesty, he is hardly the only novelist to speak critically of Tinsel Town.  I remember seeing a 1990s television interview with Michael Crichton, in which The Andromeda Strain author lambasted Hollywood as “a business of idiots!” (An astonishing statement, given Crichton’s decades-long friendship with a certain Hollywood A-lister named Steven Spielberg.)  And it’s hard to forget Tom Clancy’s famous quote that “giving your novel to Hollywood is like turning your daughter over to a pimp.”

Curtis Hanson’s 1997 star-studded and Academy Award-winning adaptation of L.A. Confidential recently marked its 20th anniversary earlier this year.  Even after two decades, the film is still the best, and most memorable Ellroy adaptation to date.  (Please forget about over-rated auteur Brian DePalma’s $50 million defecational flop The Black Dahlia in 2006—just forget about it…)

In a making-of featurette attached to an early DVD of L.A. Confidential, Hanson said of the ensemble cast “My hope was to cast actors that the audience didn’t already know… Actors the audience could discover the way I had discovered them.” Both Russell Crowe (Bud White) and Guy Pearce (Ed Exley) were relative unknowns in 1997.  For “Trashcan” Jack Vincennes, Hanson chose an established movie star then at the top of his game:  The recently disgraced Kevin Spacey.

The 2001 Ellroy documentary Feast of Death begins with Ellroy’s declaration that “L.A. Confidential the movie is the best thing that happened in my career that I had absolutely nothing to do with… It was a fluke, a wonderful one, and it is never going to happen again, a movie of that quality.”  Ellroy then tells of a now-famous encounter with an old lady at a Kansas video store that serves as a parable for the Demon Dog’s assessment of Hollywood.  My book, your movie.

Curtis Hanson’s film L.A. Confidential, covering maybe 13% of the book (and roughly four of the novel’s 14 fully developed plotlines), is now 20 years old, and people can’t stop talking about it.  By contrast, James Ellroy’s far more cinematic novel turned 20 in June, 2010, and no one, save for Ellroy himself, and maybe the Demon Dog’s publishers, said a word.

I’ve already told you about the disgust I felt over how Hollywood disingenuously treated my favorite character from the novel, rape victim Inez Soto. When I’ve mentioned this to Ellroy on several occasions in the past, he constantly reminds me that the actress who played Inez Soto in the movie, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, is now 44, and too old for me.  I insist that I’m referring to the far more richly detailed character from the Demon Dog’s novel, but to no avail.  This sardonically humorous exchange between Ellroy and I, coming across like a jazz refrain, makes an appropriate metaphor for the fatuous deference popular culture will blindly pile onto a film, while diminishing, ignoring and eventually forgetting its original inspiration or source.  Ellroy is a master of nuance both on the page and in person, and I can’t help but wonder if this dismissive and odd constant response isn’t his allegorical indictment of mass-market disregard.

Introducing a film screening of L.A. Confidential is nothing new for the Demon Dog; he’s done it on countless occasions all over the world—most recently in Chicago in August, 2017. When Ellroy moved to Denver, Colorado in 2015 and began hosting his dynamite and award-winning monthly film series In A Lonely Place, he kicked off the series in September of that year with L.A. Confidential.

On Monday, December 11, 2017, Ellroy screened a scratchy, off-color 35 mm of his greatest film adaptation (a most non-digital print looking every day of its 20 years) once more, in honor of its 20th anniversary.  With a hefty ticket price that included a copy of Ellroy’s latest novel Perfidia, courtesy of the Tattered Cover Book Store, a legendary Denver institution, the crowd was enormous.

After serenading the audience with a hilariously profane Christmas greeting Ellroy termed “Rudolph the Red Nosed Junkie,” Ellroy segued seamlessly into his timeless “peepers, prowlers, panty-sniffers…” intro and a lengthy recitation of T.S. Elliot’s poem “Four Quartets,” in short, a classic Ellroy introduction.

L.A. Confidential the movie is an extraordinarily witty and lively depiction of L.A. in the 1950s,” Ellroy began.   “It’s not a perfect motion picture, but it makes scandal-rag journalism, and the Sid Hudgens character, played by Danny Devito, fun… It makes the ruining of reputations and the American idiom—who’s a homo? who’s a lesbo? who’s a nympho? who’s a dipso? who fucks black people?—fun.”

This largely positive preamble soon gave way to Ellroy’s razor-sharp criticism.  “[L.A. Confidential] is somewhat over-rated…  It’s better than the over-rated Chinatown, but markedly over-praised.” Ellroy then railed quite loudly against the film’s “BAD miscasting,” declaring that “You feel nothing for Kevin Spacey, and you feel less than nothing for Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger.”

When Ellroy was asked whom he would cast if given free reign, he didn’t hesitate for a second:  “A 1982 William Hurt as Ed Exley… Steve Cochran as Jack Vincennes… Sterling Hayden as Bud White [Crowe has actually cited Hayden’s performance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing as a model for the Aussie’s performance as White]… and a 50-year-old Albert Finney as Dudley Smith.”

The most titanic irony of L.A. Confidential is that Ellroy wrote the novel with the specific aim to make it as cinema-unfriendly and unadaptable as possible.  In an unwitting mockery of Ellroy’s efforts, the film would go on to win an Academy Award for—go figure—Best Adapted Screenplay.  And while this is a well-known piece of history among the Demon Dog’s most devoted fans, Ellroy once again related the story of his novel’s bewildering journey to the silver screen, concluding with the warning that “If you write novels to be adapted into movies, you’ll always be on welfare…”

L.A. Confidential’s occasional bouts of anachronistically contemporary dialogue—particularly its Leathal Weapon-quality banter between Crowe and Pearce (Good cop, bad cop in 1953?  Really?)—make it difficult to take the film seriously.  However, the timing of this watershed anniversary couldn’t be more apropos, as it runs concurrent to a real world metastatic scandal that vibes paranoia like the best of Ellroy’s plotlines:  The McCarthy-esque sexual assault malaise currently eviscerating Hollywood and the mainstream media, (indistinguishable entities as far as I’m concerned) and ruining plenty of reputations.

With Kevin Spacey in the dubious cross hairs of the on-going scandal, it was impossible not to talk about him.  Ellroy handled the delicate matter with superb rectitude and equanimity:  “I will not comment on the trouble that [Spacey] is currently embroiled in, except to say I could’ve predicted it!

As a new high profile target emerges on an almost weekly basis, this “new McCarthyism” calls to mind the countless allusions Ellroy has made throughout his work to the ruthless sexploitation lurking behind the façade of Hollywood glamour.  (Anyone remember the title of the Tijuana stag film Betty Short is coerced into in The Black Dahlia?  It’s Slave Girls in Hell…Do you need another reminder?)

Juxtaposed against the scandal itself, Ellroy’s nuanced remark about Spacey deserves further scrutiny…  Is Ellroy referring to a personal dislike of Spacey, or the Demon Dog’s career-defining fictional exposure of Hollywood’s pervasive dark side?  As always with Ellroy, the answers are illusive and elliptical.

L.A. Confidential is indeed a uniquely prescient film for these dark times, even if it’s 20 years old.


For what it’s worth, happy 20th , L.A. Confidential.  I was 16 years old when the film debuted and just two years into my Ellrovian Journey.  I loved the film then, and I still love it now, but I’ll take Raymond Dieterling, Wee Willie Wennerholm, Kathy Janeway, and Dream-A-Dreamland (none of which were featured in the movie) any day over “Rollo Tomasi”.

I believe the words of demented patriarch Emmett Sprague from The Black Dahlia are especially relevant right now:  “Hearty fare breeds hearty people…”

Skip the movie and read the book.

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