May 29, 2007

Hollywoodland is Affleck-ted

Most movies about Old Los Angeles are either sublime ("Sunset Blvd.", "Chinatown," "L.A. Confidential") or sorry ("The Black Dahlia"). One of the latest entries, 2006's "Hollywoodland," falls somewhere in between, and is now available on dvd.

"Hollywoodland" begins with the gunshot death of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the 1950s television series "The Adventures of Superman." When the police quickly rule Reeves' death a suicide, his disbelieving mother hires private eye Louis Simo, played by Adrien Brody, to find out what really happened. Brody's performance as the scruffy, slouching bigshot wannabe Simo is reason enough to watch "Hollywoodland."

The story is told in a series of flashbacks, Citizen Kane-style, as Simo tries to unravel the mystery of Reeves' death. Many scenes involve Diane Lane as Toni Mannix, the aging wife of fearsome studio enforcer Edgar "Eddie" Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Toni openly takes up with Reeves in a house that she has Eddie buy for them. The open marriage between Toni and Eddie is complicated, and apparently true to life, as is Toni's relationship with Reeves. When Reeves dumps Toni for young floozy Leonore Lemmon (played by Robin Tunney), Toni goes ballistic as the woman scorned. By the end of the film, Simo's professional and personal journey takes him full circle. If you want to know whether he solves the case and reunites with his estranged family, or whether he ends up like the cold and pathetic characters he has encountered, I won't spoil it for you.

The one weak link in "Hollywoodland" is Ben Affleck, whose acting is Holly-wooden. This is ironic, considering that Affleck was the most talked about element of "Hollywoodland," and he even garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. However, neither Affleck's acting talents, nor a fake nose, a paunch or a Clark Gable devil-may-care speech style, are sufficient to bury Affleck's own personality. He tries to play Reeves as both smarmy and charming (smarming?), but the problem is that Affleck himself is smarmy and charming, so his Reeves ends up being twice as smarmy and charming as Reeves could possibly have been in real life.

Despite Ben Affleck's presence, "Hollywoodland" faithfully recreates a time when the Hollywood studios ran Los Angeles and its police force, and carefully controlled both the careers and the private lives of the actors it held under contract. The film, and its dvd special features about the real Hollywood, are well worth a viewing.


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