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



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