27 September 2006

Movie Review: "All the King's Men"

Movie Review: "All the King's Men"
September 27, 2006 03:09 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

A remake of the 1949 Oscar-winning Best Film by the same title, All the King's Men, originally from the Robert Penn Warren 1946 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, tells the story of an idealistic man who rises from poverty to be the governor of his state. With an all-star A-list cast like this one you would expect some tour de force acting to occur. Sadly, such is not the case. Whatever possessed the director, Steven Zaillian, to cast five of the six leads who play native Louisianans using English actors who could not duplicate the correct accent is beyond this reviewer. The accent problem creates much havoc as a good third of the dialog is hard to understand, much less care about. Why do the five of the six lead characters, who in this script all grew up together, have six distinctly different accents? It's just one of many problems with this film that will distract you from their work and from this story.

Sean Penn, one of our finer actors, had moments of brilliance in this film as Willie Stark, but in the end, was let down by his director. It's hard to understand why million dollar movie budgets are often based on the work of someone with little directorial experience. But that is how Hollywood is run these days, and writer Zallian, author of many fine scripts such as Schindler's List, Awakenings, and Gangs of New York, fails miserably here in directing this remake from his own screenplay. The intricacies of directing a film are completely different skills than writing a film. This is a common problem in Hollywood, someone who is the writer/director/producer of a movie will not have what it takes to edit it down into an enjoyable experience for the audience. Each line, each shot, each moment is held too dear to such a director. We have this problem to thank for overly long films with too many endings. This reviewer counted four endings for this film, each might have made this a stronger outing.

Being that the story of Willie Stark, a fictionalized version of real-life Louisiana politician Huey P. Long, is jam-packed with great characters, huge ideas and life-shattering disappointments, it's hard to understand why a voice-over was needed to tell this larger-than-life story… unless you understand the use of voice-overs in Hollywood. When copious voice-over is used in a film it is often a good indication that the dialog and action itself was not good enough to tell the story alone. Often, this voice-over is added in ADR at the end of the Post process to help explain the story for the audience. If the action and dialog cannot tell the story sufficiently the voice-over is the only way to get the story across. It is often a solution of last resort. Jude Law's Jack Burden tells the story here, and, though his performance left no complaints, his monotone voice-over and odd accent did. Accents changed and morphed throughout the film and left one wondering if the film had lost its budget for a dialog coach.

In keeping with the apparent official Hollywood 2006 Autumn theme of neo-noir films All the King's Men features overwrought gothic storytelling in a mixed up confusing gumbo of usually interesting actors who look great in their clothes and on the gorgeous sets by Production Designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, but have no clue as to what they are supposed to be doing. Jude Law's character, Jack, was supposed to have grown up with Kate Winslet's Anne Stanton and her brother Adam, both the children of a former beloved governor of the state, played by a consistently depressed and expressionless Mark Ruffalo. How Ruffalo gets cast in anything is beyond understanding, perhaps there's a market for actors who are unable to move their facial muscles. They all lived next to each other in huge swampy gothic mansions covered by kudzu and mud, and also hung out with a nearby judge, Anthony Hopkins, and a Stark advisor, Patricia Clarkson. Except for Clarkson, who is usually the best thing in whatever she appears in – and doesn't disappoint here, each actor had a different, and unusual accent, that stopped everything just about every time they opened their mouths. Even James Gandolfini, playing against type here as a Stark advisor in a pointless role with little dialog, feels like he's sleepwalking through time. The only partially interesting character in this film was Starks bodyguard Sugar Boy, played almost silently by Jackie Earle Haley, a true working actor with thirty years in the biz - and one of the best actors in this bunch of sleepwalkers.

In line with the poor choices made for this film, James Horner's music was baroque, it loudly and annoyingly cued the audience as to what emotion they should be feeling before every plot point. The script tells us Stark had a connection to the other "hicks" in Louisianna and that he did great things for the state as governor, but the film doesn't show us one thing Stark accomplished. All we see of Stark are some close-ups of him screaming his impassioned stump speeches at his hick audiences as he campaigns around the state. About two-thirds into the film the entire focus changes and we realize we are not watching the same story about Stark as we were at the beginning. Suddenly this film is all about four other characters and their smarmy personal lives. Very confusing.

The real questions here are… why the painful remake of a past award-winning film? Why choose Zallian? Why the overly dramatic and unsuccessful music and score by James Horner? Why wasn't film editor Wayne Wahrman allowed do his job? And, most of all…why didn't any of the twelve credited producers do their job in reining in an out-of-control director with only three minor prior efforts? Why remake a formerly great film, miscast it and then waste millions promoting it, if no one involved cared about doing their jobs right? This film was on the shelf for over a year before its release, now we know why.


Digital Dogs rating: D for a big Disappointment, wait for cable.

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for an intense sequence of violence, sexual content and partial nudity.

Running Time: 120 minutes, but it felt like 145 minutes.

© Digital Dogs


24 September 2006

Movie Review: "Last King of Scotland"

Movie Review: "Last King of Scotland"
September 24, 2006 06:47 AM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

A long-awaited tour de force performance by Forest Whitaker carries The Last Kind of Scotland to the top of the heap in Hollywood at the beginning of Academy season. Academy season is when the studios begin tripping all over themselves to schedule special screenings of the movies they deem appropriate for possible nominations. And if ever a nomination looms, it looms for Forest Whitaker in the performance of a lifetime as brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin during the height of his reign from 1971 to 1979. Alternately warmly engaging and threateningly psychotic, Whitaker's Amin merges so closely with the real-life Amin as to be an amazing portrayal. Complete with black face and army uniforms with ribbons that grow across and down his grand chest, Whitaker is so in character he is downright scary in a glaringly brilliant performance.

An adaptation of the award-winning first novel by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland combines fact and fiction to tell the story of how a Scottish doctor became Idi Amin's personal physician, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a composite character that combines three men into one for the sake of filmic brevity - thankfully.

Born into a dirt poor Ugandan family, Amin rises to the presidency of Uganda as a champion of the common African men and women who line the streets to cheer him as he and his entourage ride by in his huge Mercedes luxury limo. On the other side of the world in rural Scotland a young man follows in his father's footsteps to become a doctor. The young man can't bear to settle down in practice with his disapproving father and, on a complete whim, decides on a medical mission in Africa, selecting Uganda only by chance. Once there he shrugs aside good advice from the wife of the mission doctor, Gillian Anderson, and allows himself to become entangled in Idi Amin's tentacles. Carefree and naïve, Garrigan isn't capable of understanding the actions of the people around him, least of all Amin, who charms him into being his private physician almost against his will. Garrigan is unable to see the paranoid psychotic side of Amin until it is almost too late, and even then he causes the death of the only good man left in Uganda, a doctor who gives his own life so Garrigan can survive to tell the true story of Amin – from a white man's mouth, as the soon-to-be-dead-African-doctor tells him – so the world will believe. It is sad beyond speech to understand this kind of sincere patriotism. The story becomes involved with one of Amin's many wives and betrayal, insanity, and cruelty ensue. Some of Garrigan's behavior is hard to believe, but it is forgiveable since the character is a composite of three separate men. But the focus is all on Amin and the incredible performance-of-a-lifetime of Forest Whitaker which towers above all others so far this Academy season.

At just over two hours The Last King of Scotland is engrossing and disgusting at the same time. Whitaker's accent, command of two different local African dialects, physical attitude, persona, maniacal paranoia, even his skin breathes as did Idi Amin's. Whitaker spent two months in Uganda researching his role and learning local customs, speech patterns, and dialects. He found that many Ugandan's are surprisingly conflicted about Amin, most of the generation who remembers him best have passed from power and today's Ugandan's remember Amin as a man who made a big impact of the international political scene, and for that they remain proud of him. Amin persecuted many ethnic groups who resided in Uganda, the Acholi, Lango, Christians, Karamojong, the Turkana nomads from Kenya, Asians from the Indian sub-continent, and aligned himself with the Soviet Union and Libya. Shortly after Amin took power the US and then the UK closed their embassies in Uganda. Amin's full lengthy self-endowed title reads: His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin,VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.

The colorful, brutal, and ruthless Amin never wrote his biography, what remains about him is recorded in public record and remembered by people still alive from his time. His father was an ethnic Kakwa and Catholic who converted to Islam in his early 20s. The father abandonded Amin early on and he was raised by his mother. He studied the Q'uran in a madrassa for a short time and then was recruited to the army by a British colonial army officer. He worked, and some say trained, with a Scots regiment and formed a lifelong admiration of all things Scottish, even going so far as to have his own regiment of kilted African bagpipers parading around Kampala – a scene that can be viewed at the end of the film in news footage. He had a lifelong interest in Scotland, believing Uganda and Scotland were both under the yoke of the English colonials, and he believed he could save Scotland from the English and thus be The Last King of Scotland.

Amin formed alliances with the new terror groups that were beginning to pop up in the 70s, groups like the PLO, and the Red Army Faction. If you remember the word Entebbe, you'll remember it as the airport in Uganda's capital city, Kampala, where the Israeli army led a successful raid on an Air France Airbus filled with passengers and hijacked from Athens being held by PLO terrorists in June 1976. Israeli commandos attacked the airport and freed all but two of the 256 passengers. Entebbe was the beginning of the end for Amin, his erratic behavior increased, fear and terror ruled the country. Some go so far as to suggest Amin was suffering from neurosyphilis. Amin left Uganda in 1979 and lived the rest of his days in exile on a stipend from the government in Saudi Arabia, dying in August 2003, never setting foot again in Uganda.

The African music in this film is the most authentic heard on the big screen so far, displaying the joyous Pan-Africanism fever that was spreading around the continent in the years following independence from colonial powers. Tony Allen, a Nigerian Fela disciple, authors two of the Afro-beat songs used, and other local traditional music are heard, as well as South African Hugh Masakela and Bob Marley, … all hughly popular on a continent in the midst of a grand pan-African dream.

Director Kevin MacDonald, who has made a name for himself in documentaries, approached this film with the appropriate documentarians eye for setting time and place. A big story with an even bigger lead character needs a director who knows when to step back and allow the magic to happen. Once Whitaker was in character I imagine magic was all over the place. Whitaker's is a stand-out performance that should win the Oscar… at least so far this season.


Digital Dogs rating: A+, definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

MPAA rating: Rated R for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language.

Running Time: 121 minutes

Producers Andrea Calderwood, Lisa Bryer, Charles Steel, Director Kevin MacDonald, Screenplay Peter Morgan, Jeremy Brock, based on the novel by Giles Foden, Actors Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney, Gillian Anderson

© Digital Dogs


21 September 2006

Movie Review: "Catch a Fire"

Movie Review: "Catch a Fire"
September 20, 2006 06:42 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

Australian Philip Noyce directs Catch a Fire, one of the best films of the year that few people in the US might actually see. Catch a Fire is a classic hero's journey that dramatizes the story of Patrick Chamusso, an ordinary man whose life is turned upside down by extraordinary circumstances. Set in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, Catch a Fire is a beautiful and haunting film that bears great relevance to circumstances in the world today. Noyce deftly tells Patrick's story of how easily a terrorist can be created from a gentle ordinary man.

The film is set in the 1980's, a time when life is hard for the black people of South Africa, but family man Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke), a foreman at the Secunda Oil Refinery (which turns coal into oil and is a symbol of South Africa's self-sufficiency during apartheid), is doing better than most. He is a loving, attentive husband with a beautiful wife, Precious (South African Bonnie Mbuli, aka Bonnie Henna), 2 young daughters he dearly loves, a home, a car, a son (he also dearly loves) from another woman, and he is the coach for the local township football team. Patrick is completely apolitical and has made his life as good as it could be while still being black in apartheid South Africa.

Patrick is only interested in living the best life he possibly can. He is successful even though the ANC (African National Congress) is organizing against apartheid resulting in tensions between whites and blacks being at an all-time high. Considered a terrorist organization by the minority white South African government, the ANC is outlawed while the SA government desperately tries to hold on to its power. Academy Award winner (for 2003's Mystic River) Tim Robbins plays Nic Vos, a composite character who, in this film, is a Colonel in the country's Police Security Branch. Thoughtful yet shrewd, Vos is concerned about his family's security and teaches his two daughters to shoot guns for their protection. Vos leads a team that focuses on the outlawed ANC. One night while Patrick is secretly visiting with his son by another woman (so his wife doesn't find out), Secunda is sabotaged and a big explosion occurs. An innocent Patrick comes under suspicion because his whereabouts cannot be explained. Patrick does not want to hurt his wife by admitting his past indiscretion with a woman other than his wife, so he keeps mum about his alibi. Patrick is arrested in June 1980 and he is ill-prepared to withstand the brutal interrogations by Vos and his men that follow. After an unsuccessful series of torture, Vos arrests Patrick's wife Precious and that, and the beating she receives, are the beginnings of Patrick's radicalization. Vos finally realizes Patrick was not involved and he is released from prison and ultimately leaves his family to travel to Mozambique to train with the ANC. Once there he becomes involved with the ANC's military wing, Mkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and with their support he eventually prepares a successful solo follow-up attack on Secunda.

In Mozambique Patrick meets MK Commander Joe Slovo, one of very few senior white members of the ANC. Slovo, born in Lithuania to a Jewish family who emigrated to South Africa when he was eight, ran Special Ops for the MK, a military unit set up to run spectacular acts of armed propaganda inside South Africa, the Secunda attacks being part of its agenda. Patrick's attack on Secunda was successful and, after evading the police for three days, he was arrested, convicted of terrorism, and sentenced to jail for 24 years. Patrick served 10 years in the prison on Robben Island, the same location Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.

Derek Luke plays Patrick with gentleness and sensitivity, and his Oscar-worthy performance is the true highlight of this film along with its story. Luke, remembered best for his brilliant performance as Antowne Fisher, outdoes himself in this film, and it is almost impossible to believe he hails from New Jersey, his South African demeanor and accent are spot-on. Luke deserves more lead roles and more recognition. Hopefully this role will boost him up the Hollywood ladder of success. Tim Robbins displays a cruel and conflicted Nic Vos with restraint and gravity.

Catch a Fire is a neat 98 minutes, proving that a big story can be told without wasting time and money catering to a director's or producer's whims. The audience was enthralled with this huge emotional well-acted story and gave it a standing ovation when Noyce, the Slovos, Luke, Henna, and the real-life Patrick came out for a Q&A afterwards. The Slovo sisters talked about how their father had considered this story so important that he asked them to make sure the world would one day hear Patrick's story. The connections you will draw from this film to present day terrorism will surprise you.

Today the quiet gentle Patrick lives in North East South Africa with his wife Conney, a woman he married after his release from prison. Together they have three children of their own and run a home for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic that is devastating much of the African continent. You can help support their work by making a donation to their organization, also the name of their orphanage, Two Sisters.

This is a film you will not only enjoy, but will learn from on many levels. Highly recommended!


Digital Dogs rating: A+, dead and tortured bodies litter the film, so be prepared. Bring tissues.

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving torture and abuse, violence and brief language.

Producers Sydney Pollack, Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin, Anthony Minghella, Eric Fellner, Robyn Slovo, Director Philip Noyce, Writer Shawn Slovo, Actors Derek Luke, Bonnie Mbuli, Tim Robbins

Running Time: 98 minutes

© Digital Dogs


14 September 2006

Movie Review: "The Black Dahlia"

The Black Dahlia is director Brian De Palma's take on an adaptation of James Ellroy's period-1940 novel about two L.A. cops who head up the hunt for the killer of fledgling actress and Hollywood party girl Elizabeth Short. One of many young women who came to Hollywood to pursue dreams of Hollywood glory, Short never held down a steady job. She shared a top floor one-bedroom apartment in the middle of Hollywood, on Cherokee near Franklin, with seven other young women like herself who dated-for-dinner, and though she liked to party, she rarely drank and did not do drugs, she was not a prostitute as many accountings of her story allude. She was just one of many girls who had a Hollywood dream… a dream that went terribly wrong.

Born in Boston in the summer of 1924, Elizabeth Short drifted away from her family due to her father's boozing behavior. She wandered around the country as an early slacker chatting up guys to help pay for her drinks and meals. She arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of 1946 just as writer and screenwriter Raymond Chandler's film The Blue Dahlia was playing all over town. Smart was a proto-goth girl - obviously way ahead of her time - who dressed all in black, died her hair black, and wore a black flower in her hair. The list of people who were considered "people of interest" for her murder reads like a Hollywood celebrity guest list: gangsters Bugsy Seigel and Mickey Cohen, LA Times publisher Norman Chandler, surrealist Man Ray, directors John Huston and Orson Welles, artists Marcel Duchamp and Diego Rivera, screenwriter Ben Hecht, writer Henry Miller, actors Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson, even Woody Guthrie was questioned, and there were whispers that Marilyn Monroe was her lover, but to this day the crime is still unsolved. Smart's posed dead body was found in an empty lot that today is a fully developed neighborhood on Norton Street in the middle of Los Angeles. She was found bludgeoned to death and then posed, her mouth extended on both sides in a sick clownish grin, with cuts on both breasts, details the cops held back from press reports. The clean cutting technique that severed Short's body in half was made exactly between the second and third lumbar vertebrae, all the blood was drained from her body and all of her internal organs were removed and never found, that, and the quality of the implement used, have also led many to believe that the killer had detailed knowledge of surgical techniques, leading to seven different doctors being under suspicion as well.

A Los Angeles Police Detective, Steve Hodel, believes his physician father, George Hodel, was the killer. The home in which he grew up was a place where Hollywood cocktail parties and great architecture mixed fantasy with reality. The house, architect Lloyd Wright's (son of archect-extraordinaire Frank Lloyd Wright) "Sowden House," a true-life Mayan Temple of Doom, is a well-known poured concrete bunker on Franklin Avenue near Normandie that has been used countless times as a film location; L.A. Confidential and The Aviator are two recent films shot there. Hodel was a dapper doctor with a long list of young girlfriends, his daughter accused him of incest, though the eventual court case was dismissed. The house was a celebrity party house fully equipped with a secret room hidden behind a bookcase. George Hodel was one of those doctors on the list of "people of interest."

You have now learned more about the Black Dahlia than you will from this film.

Brian De Palma, known for such classic crime dramas as The Untouchables, Scarface, Wise Guys, Carlito's Way, thrillers Carrie, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out, directs this adaptation of Ellroy's (L.A. Confidential, American Tabloid) best-selling take on one of the most infamous and still unsolved crimes in Hollywood's history. You might think that with all the juicy stories, celebrity names, great sets, not to mention the strange slacker story of Elizabeth Short's shortened life, that are part of the sad tale of the Black Dahlia that we might get a film rich with Hollywood's seamy and steamy heritage from De Palma. But sadly such is not the case.

You might think that a film titled The Black Dahlia would be about the murder of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner). Instead, this is a story about two smarmy detectives who started out as amateur boxers and ended up as partners in the LAPD. Called Fire and Ice by the LAPD movers and shakers who are more interested in playing politics than solving crime, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Harnett) become two parts of a strange threesome, completed by Scarlett Johanson's Kay Lake, an ex-hooker with her pimp's initials carved in her back. It is through their story we witness events and it is hard to identify with characters with few redeeming qualities, and fewer acting chops. Poorly miscast as Bucky, Josh Harnett is too lightweight, too blank and emotionless, to play this pivotal character. On the other hand, Aaron Eckhart displays a full range of emotions as he keeps running to catch up with the winning cop and fighter he used to be. Mixed in the jumble are a rich nutty family whose daughter, Madeline Linscott (Hilary Swank), believes she looks like Short (but doesn't, Swank looks as much like Mia Kirshner as she does Sandra Bullock – not at all), dresses as a Black Dahlia wannabe, and picks up Bucky in a lesbian bar; and the only bit of interesting footage about Short - flashbacks of imagined black and white audition films of her (which never existed in real life), played mysteriously weird and wonderfully by Mia Kirshner. The lesbian bar scene had a floor show topped by a haunting cameo appearance of k. d. lang singing in drag. Though beautiful to behold, Scarlett Johansson's work in Dahlia is thin and weedy, desperately in need of some direction to appropriately portray the damaged woman she plays. Fiona Shaw adds her wacky over-the-top campy take as Swank's mother. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond did his usual standout work, and if any nominations are forthcoming from this film it will be for his work.

The story of The Black Dahlia seems only an after-thought in this film. There are odd scarred men, suspicious gangsters, pimps, and rapists, and a crooked LAPD, and a strange-looking Los Angeles that looks nothing like the real town where these events were supposed to take place, other than one quick exterior shot of the Pantages Theater and the Frolic Room next door. Someone should have acquainted the Location Manager with the town he was supposed to be doubling, the long rolling hills in this film, shot mostly in Bulgaria, bear no resemblance to the cragged peaks and valleys of The Santa Monica Mountains, which Hollywood is nestled in and below, where the Hollywoodland sign lives, and where pivotal action takes place at the end of this film.

Someone should have also re-acquainted De Palma with some of his past glories, as his work here is sadly lacking, with many performances almost bordering on camp. Much of the serious dialog in the film was laughed at by the packed insider audience, and many voices were heard nastily demeaning the film as the audience left the theater.

This film might burn brightly on opening weekend due to the heavy hype - and current lackluster box ofice offerings in general, but its flame will fall fast. Mr. De Palma would benefit by taking some time reviewing his past oeuvre on DVD before returning to the set. Perhaps he had a balloon mortgage payment come due and he simply called in his work.


Digital Dogs rating: B-

MPAA rating: Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language.

Running Time: 121 minutes

Producers Art Linson, Avi Lerner, Moshe Diamant, Michael P, Flannigan, Rudy Cohen, Director Brian De Palma, Writer Josh Friedman, from the James Ellroy novel The Black Dahlia, Actors Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Mia Kirshner

-- Digital Dogs


11 September 2006

Movie Review: "Hollywoodland"

Movie Review: "Hollywoodland"
September 07, 2006 06:31 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

The dark and sleazy side of Hollywood snares center stage this month as the city gears up for the release of two neo-noir films. Fueled first by Hollywoodland, a lengthy and imaginative speculation on the untimely and ever-suspicious death of TV's Superman, George Reeves (Ben Affleck), whose death began the infamous Superman death-legend (that anyone who plays the super hero dies an untimely death like Reeves and Christopher Reeve). The period noir-ish The Black Dahlia follows next week.

Back in the days when Hollywood was monochromatic, the hard-boiled detective crime drama was one popular vehicle of choice for many top directors in the Hollywood studio system. Classics like Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard showcased lurid tales of men and women who lived in the midst - and on the edge - of Hollywood. To the world Hollywood means glamour, but to the people who crew its films, the extras in the background, the countless wannabe's who come to Hollywood who are competing with the top one per cent of people in the world with dreams of Hollywood grandeur, Hollywood can mean terrible failure and can often end with great loss. The greatness aspired to - and the desperation of those who fail - in Tinsel Town litter Hollywoodland with its ghosts.

Inspired by one of Hollywood greatest real-life mysteries, Hollywoodland is a film noir period piece that follows low-rent Private Detective Louis Simo, played by the poorly cast Adrien Brody, as he investigates the strange death of '50s TV Superman star George Reeves. Felled by a single gunshot to his head in his Hollywood Hills home, Reeves' death has been the subject of countless conspiracy theories. Reeves began his career with a high in the late 30's when he was cast as one of Vivien Leigh's suitors in one of the opening scenes of Gone With the Wind. He lad a long 20-year career that ended with a five year run as the title character on TV's Adventures of Superman. He was never able to accept his speedy Hollywood descent from leading man to cartoon character in tights and a cape. With a broad-shouldered iron-jawed façade, Reeves was born to play a leading man. Only problem was that George was only one of many leading men in Hollywood - the competition was fierce and Reeves was not that lucky. Hollywoodland opens with a desperate-to-be-seen Reeves sticking his head into a Hollywood society photograph, which introduces him to a long-term love affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM exec and ex-mobster Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins).

Praised as "one of the best unproduced scripts" during it's years spent in "development hell," Hollywoodland is yet another overly-long offering by a first-time feature director, Allen Coulter, who has extensive TV credits, including multiple episodes of The Sopranos, and Sex and the City. The period noir Hollywood we see in Hollywoodland is lush and tainted, stained by the hopes and dreams of all the people who failed to succeed, and an exhausting and depressing lethargy hangs over the film like a pall. Simo is hired by Reeves mother to investigate her sons' murder and he sets out on a Rashoman-style hunt to decipher who did the dirty deed of doing away with Superman. As Simo connects the dots he comes up with three compelling scenarios, any one of which could have easily been the truth. The guesswork is interesting, but it takes Coulter too long to make his points and we become bogged down in the seedy desperation of the characters, none of which have any redeeming characteristics. Affleck does well with the 20 pounds he gained to bulk up for the square-jawed Reeves, but the many flashbacks only serve to confuse and produce jagged transitions. Diane Lane plays the older and wiser Norma Desmond… woops, I mean Toni Mannix who slowly turns Reeves into a kept man with his tacit approval and purchases a lovely house in the Hollywood Hills for him. The period look of fading Hollywood grandeur is captured perfectly by Production Designer Leslie McDonald and Costume Designer Julie Weiss.

All in all, this is an interesting take on the Reeves death, though much too long to sit through. Casting should've been given more consideration, as Brody is too light-weight to be the hard-boiled detective, perhaps his wardrobe could have been used to help depict a more meaningful character, Simo is too-often clothed in a lightweight short sleeve guyabera-type shirt that only points out his slight build and youthful appearance. In addition, though Brody is an interesting actor, this reviewer wished more than a few times that he would blow his nose or get his deviated septum repaired. Affleck, Lane, and Hoskins aquit themselves well, though no nominations will be forthcoming from this outing.

Running Time: 126 min

Digital Dogs rating: B; set Tivo to record and watch at your leisure.

MPAA rating: R

Distributer Focus Features Miramax Films, Producers Glenn Williamson, Miles Dale, Director Allen Coulter, Writer Paul Bernbaum, Actors Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Joe Spano