Sunday, February 11, 2007

Featured DVD: "Hollywoodland"

The trailer for "Hollywoodland"

"Hollywoodland"(Focus Films, out now): Hollywood. To outsiders, it's a mystery. To insiders, it's mysterious. That's the underlying premise behind Allan Coulter's "Hollywoodland," a film with two, two, two plots in one: It's a mystery film about whether the death of TV's Superman, George Reeves (played by Ben Affleck), was suicide, as the police investigation concluded, or murder, and a drama about a fictional private investigator Louis Simo (Adrian Brody) whose life had been unfulfilling due to a broken marriage and a lack of clients until the case of Reeves' death falls in his lap.
The film beautifully recreates the Hollywood of old, both in scenery and in spirit, from the architecture to the automobiles.
On the big screen, "Hollywoodland" was a somewhat murky film that has trouble figuring out whether it was a murder mystery or an atmospheric history lesson. On DVD, however, the viewer crystalizes the parallels between Reeves and Simo's lives. Both men had aimless lives. It's Reeves' death that, strangely enough, that makes him an almost mythical creature and gives Simo's life some purpose.
As befits any murder mystery, there are many suspects. Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM executive Eddie Mannix (played by Bob Hoskins) in a marriage of convenience. She's Reeves' first "benefactor" and is angered when he decides to move to New York to further his career after the "Superman" TV series is cancelled. Did she kill him? Eddie Mannix, meanwhile, has power at his fingertips. Did he have Reeves murdered because of his affair with Mannix's wife? There's also Lenore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), who plays Reeves fiance at the time of his death. Did she kill him for his money? The film, for all the clues it offers, never answers the question. No surprise there.
Molly Parker plays Laurie Simo, the detective's estranged wife, while Lois Smith plays Helen Besselo, Reeves' mother, who initiates the investigation because she doesn't accept the L.A.P.D.'s police report.
Reeves was never much more than a cardboard actor, from his early role in "Gone With the Wind" as one of the Tarleton twins, to his "Superman" role. Affleck manages to flesh him out a little, but not much. One exception is a scene where Reeves, sitting in a restaurant, puts down a cigarette ("Superman doesn't smoke," he's told) and plays up to some young fans at the window. It's a charming bit that, for a few seconds, gives life to a face that never exhibited much on the screen.
The "Superman" aura itself really plays somewhat of a small role in the film. That the filmmakers managed to do that keeps the focus on the storyline.
Mystery or mysterious, we have a fascination with Hollywood. The film "Hollywoodland" drags in spots, but between its recreation of the old Hollywood and the dual stories about Reeves and Simo, it is an absorbing film, well worth a view, especially off the big screen.

Short takes
"All in the Family: The Complete Sixth Season": Changes are in store as the sixth season begins. Mike and Gloria are moving next door. But there's even bigger news: Gloria is pregnant, and the opening episode, with this revelation, is absolutely charming and one of the best in the series. "All in the Family" was at the top of the sitcom world for most of its run. The sixth season continues to show why.