Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Act of Killing (2012)

Had wanted to watch this since I heard it was nominated for Oscars, but never had the time since I knew it was almost 3 hours long. This movie was banned here, but it's available for free in YouTube.

When I was watching the movie, I thought it was some kind of 'behind the scene' in the making of a movie called 'Arsan dan Aminah'. American director Joshua Oppenheimer chatted with the main actors, asked them to tell the 1965 events in their own words. I had heard such stories (but the ones happened in Central Java) but from the victims' relation (the closest one was my aunt, who was almost in tears when she told me what had happened to her uncle, her favourite uncle - I supposed), never from the 'killers'. I just read articles at internet, that 'Arsan and Aminah' had been never released, that that the actors perhaps would sue Mr Oppenheimer. A bit strange despite the fact that there was a scene of an interview about 'Arsan and Aminah' with a local TV, with the poster as a background. I was appalled watching this, because the TV journalist put a happy face in the interview.

Anwar Congo, one of the main player in this documentary, was a member of Pemuda Pancasi1a. He was young and ardent in 1965. When he heard about how this communist party (PKI) murdered the top army generals, with his friends he struck back the PKI members and their branches; even though he lived in North Sumatra. Many people at that time belonged to organizations or parties and PKI was one of the biggest. Those who lived far from Jakarta usually didn't know anything and were caught, jailed, tortured and murdered because of a tiny connection to PKI. I had heard there were cases of mistaken identity, that they got the wrong person, but it made no different. [The Javanese people, for instance, often has a name of one word only. Two persons with the same name and they got the wrong one or they got both, the fate of the name's bearer was the same.] It was mentioned in the movie that they who had money could buy their freedom (it was true). At that time Anwar Congo believed that he did the right thing. He showed the director how he used garrote for execution. He got sick in the end of the movie, perhaps filled with remorse; unlike his other friend.

There were scenes when the Chinese retailers were being coerced for money and I wonder if the government could do something about it. There was also a candidate for people's representative (DPR) who thought how he could gain more money for himself if he won; not for the people's prosperity.

In President Soeharto's era, there was this movie called Penumpasan Pengkhianatan G 30 S PKI. It was released in 1984 and I was 11 year-old. My teacher told us, the pupils, to watch this movie and I went together with my father. It was a long movie, divided into 2 parts: First part when the PKI plotted to kill the generals and went on with the kidnapping, tortures and murders. Second part when Letjen Soeharto eradicated the traitors. The tortures scenes made me sick and years later I found out that the UK classified films according to their contents, such as nudity, profanity, violence. Like a movie with one (or two?) f**k word will get a 18+ certificate. So when I was forced to watch such violence like in the PKI movie, by my government, I wonder if I could sue somebody... Those same people who always boasting this country was famous of its eastern polite manners.

The Black Dahlia

I have seen the movie, which at that time I thought slow and boring. I had heard about the famous case, though, perhaps around late 80's  when I had a couple of American crime noir books to read. Different from the movie, I think this is one of the best crime books I've read.

At first I needed time to get used to the writing style, which quite hard for me to understand. Too many slangs and the way the sentences had been built was quite different. I also don't prefer the story telling from first person point-of-view.

The central character was a 29 year-old patrolman (and boxer) named Dwight Bleichert, who early in the story joined the Los Angeles Police Department as a Warrants detective. He and his partner Lee Blanchard were lent to Homicide to help investigating the Black Dahlia murder: a body of a tortured 22 year-old Elizabeth Short had been found in a vacant lot in January 15, 1947. The case was so famous that 200 cops were sent to work it. For Bleichert and Blanchard, the case became an obsession. It took time, but Bleichert managed to track back the missing last week in Elizabeth Short's life and find the killer.

In the real life, the case was unsolved; but this book was a fiction and the writer gave a conclusion... 2 years later. What made this book interesting was the details. So many crimes in this life, and in 1947 they were no different; although I believe they weren't as many as today where almost everyday we hear murder news on TV. Bleichert and Blanchard didn't work on the Black Dahlia case only, and some of them were for their own interest. These two heroes in the book were not saints and they were corrupted, both of them.

While reading the last pages and I thought, "Okay, so that person was the killer..." Mr Ellroy added something and the story was moving to a different direction. The richness of the story also made me forget this and that, like who killed Lee etc and in the last pages they were all answered and I finished the last page with satisfaction.

I just read the film page from Wikipedia: "DeWitt is gunned down by Lee, standing on the stairs across the atrium. Bucky sees a man sneak up behind Lee, wrapping a rope around Lee's neck. Lee fights back while Bucky, paralyzed with shock, watches from across the atrium as a second shadowy figure steps out and slits Lee's throat. Lee and the man holding the rope fall over the railing to their deaths several floors below."  This scene was so different from the book and reminded me why I didn't like the movie very much. I'm not a fan of John Hartnett either.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Storm Front - John Sandford

Storm Front is the latest book in Virgil Flowers series and another one with a title I can't understand. I also don't like the core of the story - I had reading enough book about conspiracy and discovery of buried artifacts that could rewrite the Bible etc. At first I couldn't believe John Sandford took this kind of theme (but I had to because I was reading it) and I really hoped he stuck to the usual state crimes, or rural state crimes.

A preacher who worked in excavation site in Jezreel, Israel, found a stone, part of a pillar, with an inscription in primitive Hebrew and hieroglyphics about King Solomon. The preacher stole the stone and brought it back to his hometown in Mankato, Minnesota, wanted to sell it to the highest bidder. The Israelis wanted the stone back and they sent an investigator. Mankato was also Virgil Flowers's hometown, so as the only resident BCA agent in the southern end of the state he was sent to pick up the investigator at airport and drive her around to meet the preacher and find the stone, even though he was investigating another case: a counterfeit lumber ring. This kind of case was actually for the FBI but they asked the BCA in because of local knowledge and the BCA owed them one that month and the boss said OK... etc.

This was an enjoyable story, actually, with spies, Hezbollah, show-business archaeologist, professor of ancient mysteries, ex-Turkish intelligence officers... One interesting thing I learned from this Virgil Flowers series is: an Apache could look like a Vietnamese or a Lebanese, makes me able to have more imagination what Winnetou looked like.

In Virgil Flowers series, Lucas Davenport (Flowers's boss) seemed never to do field works. This was actually the ideal condition Davenport's boss preferred. In Phantom Prey, Davenport's boss said: "Lucas, you're supposed to be the brains of the operation. You're not supposed to get shot in alleys. Not any more. Those days are over." But I do love reading Davenport doing field works. John Sandford usually made Davenport hurt in the end of a book so that time flied quickly - in the next book he was older by several months because he had to rest before the next big case. In the latest Prey series, Davenport was around fifty. Compare that to Virgil Flowers series: in this 7th book, Flowers was still in his early thirties.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mad River - John Sandford

Among all Virgil Flowers books I've read (this is number 6), only this one has the title I like. Mad River was a river near a small town called Arcadia, where some of the actions in this book took place. The other titles seems obscure to me.

This was a good book, too. We, the readers, and the police in the book know the bad guys from the start, but the way the story have been written makes the reading very enjoyable. I even think that the witty dialogues were back.

A kid named Jimmy Sharp brought along two friends to rob a house in Bare County and ended up by shooting the daughter of the owner. In their desperation to run away, and because Jimmy Sharp was not smart, the kids killed more people. In Bare County, where the criminal level was low, the kids became a terror; especially after a cop got killed. Virgil Flowers was sent to look at the case and he had to catch the kids before the sheriff did, because the sheriff wanted the kids dead. Meanwhile, Flowers thought that the kids, especially Jimmy Sharp, was a key witness who could help him to put the real brain in the first murder into jail.

In the previous book, Flowers used a new method called 'market research', and he used it again in this book to find where the kids were hiding. He gathered a couple of inmates in Stillwater prison, who had IQ level same as Jimmy Sharp, and after telling them the story and showed them a map, asked them to figure out where the kids were hiding.

Flowers' parents lived in Bare County, so we got to see the relationship between Virgil and his father and mother, which was good. Virgil was a priest's son and in this series we read what he thought about God and I must say that most of the time I disagreed with him. There was also interesting dialogues between Flowers and Davenport about how Flowers often forgot to carry his gun. That time, Flowers had been beaten by two guys outside a bar and was in a hospital.

Davenport: "You notice I didn't say a single f***m' thing about you going up to that bar without a gun."
Flowers : "I appreciate that."
Davenport: "But if you had a gun with you, like you should have, as soon as you were hit, you could have rolled and come up with the weapon and just squeezed off a couple of rounds... even if you didn't hit anything, that would have ended it. They'd have run, and you wouldn't be here." [...]
Flowers: "No. That's what would have happened if you had a gun. You can do that, because that's the way you think. If I'd had a gun, and even remembered it, I probably would have dropped it trying to get it out. [...] I'm just no d4mn good with pistols, Lucas."

This depiction of a cop's death was quite something, too: He fell in the street, on his back, and in a last dead reflex motion, threw his arms out to his sides, so that he looked like a picture of a dead man. It reminded me of clear depiction of Davenport's condition after a fight: ...and he was standing with one shoulder a foot lower than the other, crippled, hung over the balcony.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Shock Wave - John Sandford

A bomber blew up the boardroom at the Pye Pinnacle in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Three weeks later the same thing happened at a construction trailer at a new PyeMart site in Butternut Falls, Minnesota. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) instantly got involved. An ATF supervisor called the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and asked for a local liaison in Butternut Falls. The BCA sent Virgil Flowers.

The bomber was believed to be lived in Butternut Falls and he must be caught as soon as possible, especially after he went after Flowers. The new PyeMart site was controversial. The locals believed that the major and the city council were bribed to approve the zoning change, but they couldn't prove it. Flowers himself focused to catch the bomber. A local fisherman suggested that Flowers did a “Market Research”: everybody in town told Flowers confidentially who was likely to be the bomber. Each person nominated 10 names. Flowers had to went through the answers, interviewed the suspects and checked out their backgrounds. One of the names should be the bomber. The idea was new and interesting, and for us readers this made the book not as boring as usual when Flowers did so many interviews.

The identity of the bomber was revealed near the end. I think Shock Wave is one of the best Virgil Flowers books. In the previous book, Bad Blood, Flowers had a romantic relationship with the sheriff, which had to end in this book.

A restaurant waitress asked Virgil Flowers 'why you're called 'that fuck1n' Flowers.'"
He said: "They call me that because I'm so good with women."

Well, he actually didn't give a straight answer like that because he was upset, a little shook up after a bomb. I find this little scene quite touching and a bit sad because his sheriff was leaving him.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bad Blood - John Sandford

The previous book in this Virgil Flowers series, Rough Country, was quite disappointing (Heat Lightning, the book before Rough Country, was not spectacular either); so I prepared myself for the same quality when I began the next book: Bad Blood. However, this one turned out to be good. From the first chapter it successfully drew my attention and interest.

A 19 year-old boy, a good kid, killed a farmer in Homestead, in Warren County, Minnesota. The boy died in jail after being arrested, most likely killed by a deputy who guarded him in the night. Then, the deputy died in his own house. The (female) sheriff asked Virgil Flowers to look at the case, because the late deputy had run against her in the previous election and everybody believed that his death was a suicide.

Homestead was an old country town with appr. fourteen thousand people, so Flowers quickly linked the three murders to the death of a 17 year-old Kelly Baker, even though she was murdered across the line in Iowa a year ago. In small towns, murders are rare (not like what we can see from TV news every day) and people would remember and still talk about it.

The pace of the story was good. Flowers' investigation gained progress and development. In the end, Flowers had to face a kind of sect who used Bib1e to justify their actions: abusing kids, and this had been going on for many years, for several generations. This was a rare moment where the bad guys were so many.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rough Country - John Sandford

The CEO of an ad agency in Minneapolis got shot by a sniper at Eagle Nest, Stone Lake, over by Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Virgil Flowers was sent to help the local sheriff with the investigation because the nearest BCA guys were busy looking for a kidnapped girl. A friend of Flowers said: "You know, in some ways, your job resembles slavery." because when Flowers got the call from his boss, he was in the middle of a fishing tournament in Lake Vermilion.

Rough Country is the 3rd book in the Virgil Flowers series and so far this is the most boring. The pace was so slow. It seemed that Flowers never finished interviewing witnesses. Except the dead CEO, we got 1 more dead body from 2 years ago, a murder attempt and, near the end, a missing talent hunter. Most of the characters in this book were female and I really think that the country was not rough.

It was easy to guess the identity of the killer and I actually hoped that there was some twists in the end, that the killer had been someone else.

One thing I learned from this book was: there is a Grand Rapids in Minnesota, other than the one in Michigan.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Heat Lightning - John Sandford

BCA agent Virgil Flowers got a call from his boss to go to Stillwater. A body had been dumped at a veterans' memorial with a lemon in the mouth, shot twice in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. A similar case had been happened in New Ulm. In the course of the investigation, Virgil Flowers found that the killers had targeted more people and that he had to find the connection among those victims, tried to save them and stopped the killers. It all began in 1975 in Vietnam...

This is the 2nd Virgil Flowers book and I still think the pace is quite slow. I believe that like me, by the middle of the book, readers would have known why those killings were done and by whom. When the cops still think the killer is one of the men in the group, the readers know that they are outsiders. But of course the readers know that the victims are tortured to gain information, while the cops think it is because the killer is a lunatic.

The ending was very good, involving political issues and the fictional governor made a brave move. I don't really understand the title, whether it has another meaning, but it was used to describe the weather at the time the story in this book took place. I also don't get the lemon thing. A professor who was doing research on long-term after-effects of the Vietnam War told Flowers: "When the Vietnamese execute a prisoner, they'll gag him by stuffing a lemon in his mouth to keep them from talking while they're walking out to the wall." But later when Flowers tried to confirm it, every body he talked to said that it was a joke.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dark of The Moon - John Sandford

Lucas Davenport was now too high in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that if John Sandford wanted to write about not-so-big crimes he had to create a new character. Not that smaller crimes are not interesting to read; take Agatha Christie’s works, for example. It depends on who wrote them, I believe.

Virgil Flowers had worked for St Paul Police Department and Davenport took him to the BCA. Flowers was in mid-thirties, with long blond hair, and wore band T-shirts all the time. Everybody who met him for the first time would usually say, “You don’t look like a cop.” He drove a Toyota 4Runner, had been divorced 3 times, and lived in Mankato.

In a small town of Bluestem, after decades of peace, two murders had been taken place, with 3 deaths. Flowers was sent to help the local sheriff, who was trying to be re-elected. The town was small, the not-so-many inhabitants knew each other, and both Sheriff and Flowers believed that the murderer was local. How hard could it be? It wasn’t as difficult when Davenport had had to find a killer in Twin Cities.

Until almost the end, Flowers still couldn’t decide who the culprit was. It was like Agatha Christie’s style, really, when he listed the suspects one by one (but not gathered them) and weighed the percentage of their guilt.

What I really like in detective stories is how the detective solves the case and it would be nice if the bad guy is smart so both the protagonist and the antagonist outsmart each other. I think gory details and bizarre hints (like in this case: the man on the moon) are only decoration. My first impression on Virgil Flowers was: he was not as smart as Lucas Davenport.