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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Hollywoodland (2006)

"I will be on television in a month, wearing brown and gray underpants."
- George Reeves (Ben Affleck)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 12, 2007

Stars: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins
Director: Allen Coulter

MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and sexual content
Run Time: 02h:06m:08s
Release Date: February 06, 2007
UPC: 025192884627
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-BB+ C+

DVD Review

Both on and off screen, the film industry tends to eat its own, and that particularly grisly form of silver screen cannibalism is at the heart of Hollywoodland, a movie that always looks gorgeous but never quite gets our hearts aflutter. The film tells that sad story of George Reeves, who came to the movie colony with plans to be the next Spencer Tracy—his aesthetic high water mark may have been in a brief role in Gone With The Wind, but greater fame came to him in the title role of the 1950s TV serial version of Superman. When the series went off the air he floundered professionally, and died a violent death in 1959. Whether or not it was the suicide of a despairing has-been or a thinly disguised act of murderous vengeance is, more or less, what this movie is all about.

It's a film with a bifurcated structure, cutting back and forth between its two central characters. One of course is Reeves, played kind of brilliantly by Ben Affleck, who gets at both the cheesy superhero swagger and at the desperation that lies just beneath—Affleck's Reeves is an actor of limited skill who sees the window closing, as it's just a matter of time before he starts to lose his looks, so if greatness doesn't happen for him now, it never will. He finds himself a fetching sugarmama—Diane Lane plays Toni Mannix, who is slinky, sexy, interested, and obviously neglected by her studio executive of a husband. George becomes both her pet and her pet project, and the uneasy balance between business and pleasure is at the heart of their relationship.

The other central figure is Louis Simo, a seedy private investigator who gets himself hired by Reeves' mother to prove that her sweet little boy didn't in fact kill himself. Simo's life has the seediness that TV shows like Superman were designed to help us escape from, at least for a little while—his embittered ex-wife lives in Van Nuys with their son, and Simo's job consists largely of preying on the weaknesses of husbands who suspect they're being cuckolded, and between stakeouts Simo is perfectly happy to sleep with his secretary, who's got Hollywood ambitions of his own.

On some level, unfortunately, the movie doesn't quite seal the deal. It's like the filmmakers know that Reeves' story alone isn't sufficiently compelling to pull us along through a conventional biopic; but they never quite make the case that in investigating Reeves' murder, Simo is putting his own soul on the line, and the parallels between the two central figures frequently feel much more schematic than organic. Adrien Brody is typically excellent as Simo, who so wants to do well, but can't shake his demons or his temper—but his life seems like a mishmash of backstory and tantrums, and despite Brody's best efforts, we really don't come to know this guy.

There are a couple of ghosts haunting this movie, and we can't really stop the comparisons with more successfully told period pieces like L.A. Confidential. When a client tells Simo that "You might wish to entertain the notion that there's more going on here than you realize," the screenplay sounds like Chinatown Lite ("You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't"), and as odious studio executive Eddie Mannix, Bob Hoskins pales compared to Noah Cross. Also, it feels like we've seen this performance from Hoskins before, a handful of times. Lane is kind of wonderful, though, as is Jeffrey DeMunn as Reeves' unflappably optimistic agent.

When the movie hums, then, it's due to its production values, its re-creation of a glorious Hollywood that was fading fast, and one that was probably mostly smoke and mirrors, anyway. But drinks and dinner at Ciro's, for instance, is irresistible, as are the cocktail dresses and cigarette holders, the natty suits and the armada of Buick Roadsters. The pictures are frequently so pretty that they'll distract you from what's going on between the characters, which is too often opaque or insufficiently engaging.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Occasionally the transfer looks a little slapdash and blotchy, but overall it's a pretty fair job, though the colors frequently lack the saturation they deserve.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is generally clear, though in some of the crowd scenes things sound a little undermixed.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Touch a Fire, Hot Fuzz, Man of the Year, HD-DVD format
3 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Allen Coulter
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Allen Coulter's commentary track emphasizes period details and shooting strategies, especially on location and on a limited budget; unsurprisingly he's got many complimentary things to say about his cast, Brody particularly. More interesting perhaps are the three deleted scenes, especially DeMunn delivering the eulogy at Reeves' funeral; it's more humanizing than almost anything in the feature. And the three accompanying featurettes feel a bit generic, and were assembled from the same round of interviews with Coulter, prominent members of the cast, and producer Glenn Williamson. Re-Creating Old Hollywood (06m:54s) emphasizes the style of the picture; Behind the Headlines (07m:23s) is a tribute to Reeves; and Hollywood Then and Now (07m:58s) is most notable for the presence of film historian Rudy Behlmer on the workings of the studio system.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Brody, Affleck and Lane give strong character performances, but the overall structure of the film lets them down, and so what's left is a movie of pretty pictures of a time long gone, and not really what it strives to be, which is a searing look at how Hollywood can steal your soul.

 


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