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HOLLYWOODLAND – Marcelo Zarvos

September 8, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

There’s been an awful lot of buzz surrounding “Hollywoodland” in the past month or two, and that’s not so surprising… at a first glance, the film looks like Oscar material. It’s a handsomely crafted movie boasting a cast with a lot of credentials. To top things off, the movie is based on a true story, which somehow always manages to increase the chances of a film during awards season. Given these elements, it is a bit surprising to find that “Hollywoodland”, on the whole, is rather unremarkable. No, it is not a bad film, and I wouldn’t think of advising anyone not to go see it, but at the same time, I can’t really recommend it.

“Hollywoodland” attempts to deal with the death of television’s “Superman” star George Reeves, played here by none other than Ben Affleck. The details surrounding the case remain mysterious to this date, and though Reeves’ death was officially ruled a suicide, many have speculated as to whether foul play was involved. Adrian Brody plays the film’s central character, a private investigator who first begins to stir up rumors of murder simply to cause chaos and make money, but then realizes he may have actually begun to uncover something. We follow Brody around as he asks questions and discovers clues, battling his way through various obstacles, while simultaneously trying to deal with personal relationship problems.

As the story progresses, the film begins frequently cutting to scenes of Reeve’s life… primarily key moments of success or failure. Though I’ve often criticized Ben Affleck’s acting, his performance here is excellent, as he brings Reeves to life. Affleck imbues his performance with equal measures of charm and depth, turning Reeves into a remarkably believable and sympathetic figure. Reeves was never a very good actor, but he was just right for playing the square-jawed Superman/Clark Kent role, and became a familiar face in every American household for a brief period of time. Unfortunately, he was never able to live down his character… one scene in particular illustrates this, as a crowd makes “Superman” jokes at a pre-screening of “From Here to Eternity” (which Reeves played a small part in). Several of the Reeves scenes have great poignancy to them… consider the bit when a young boy walks up with a loaded pistol and asks if he can shoot Superman in the chest (“So I can watch the bullet bounce off!”), or a scene where Reeves verbally sizes up the broken relationship between himself and the woman he’s conducting an affair with (Diane Lane).

“Hollywoodland” presents George Reeves is a fascinating figure of tragedy, but the film’s primary problem is that it’s far more concerned with Reeves’ death than it is with his life. While there are numerous interesting theories presented about his death, they’re hardly strong enough to serve as the film’s center. Adrian Brody is a fine actor, and does a respectable job with his role, but all of his scenes feel rather ordinary, and whenever he’s onscreen, the movie goes on autopilot. Also, many of the supporting characters get lost in the shuffle, simply because there isn’t enough time to adequately address the numerous unnecessary subplots “Hollywoodland” piles on. Lane’s engaging performance winds up feeling incomplete because of this, and the always-dependable Bob Hoskins (as her free-living husband) barely gets a chance to make an impression with his few scenes.

The music is by Marcelo Zarvos, who turns in a rather subdued, brooding score. The music stays fairly low-key and gloomy for the film’s duration, relying mostly on slow-paced strings with various solo instruments placed carefully on top. In particular, the harp plays a major role in the score, appearing in at least half of the cues. Zarvos himself performs numerous piano solos in certain sections, and there are also some lonely, noirish trumpet and flugelhorn solos. The score works fairly well at setting a mood for the film, are there are a couple of cues that stand out (particularly towards the end), but the music here primarily tries to serve as tonal ambience, being supportive and not drawing attention to itself. There are several period songs heard in the background throughout the film, and Affleck even plays guitar and sings a couple of Spanish ballads onscreen.

While “Hollywoodland” is watchable from start to finish, and it’s nicely made from a technical standpoint, it’s scattered storytelling and misplaced focus damage it in the end. Perhaps if Reeves didn’t lead such an interesting life, and if Affleck’s performance weren’t so good, we might be able to sit back and enjoy what would be a decent detective story. But there’s too much quality around the edges of the movie, and not enough in the center. Even worse, all of this leads up to a surprisingly unsatisfying conclusion, which leaves the film as little more than a nice-looking episode of “Unsolved Mysteries”. An intriguing, but ultimately disappointing film.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Superman Falls (1:11)
  • Louis Simo, P.I. (1:37)
  • The Suit (2:30)
  • George and Toni (4:09)
  • The Meaning of Justice (2:16)
  • The Will (4:09)
  • Playground (1:48)
  • The Morgue (2:56)
  • Father’s Apology (1:17)
  • Mannix Estate (3:03)
  • A Violent Past (2:52)
  • George and Toni – Reprise (1:26)
  • Roosevelt Hotel (3:31)
  • Super 8 (0:55)
  • Last Night, Part I (2:34)
  • Last Night, Part II (2:25)
  • Laurie and Evan (1:25)
  • Superman Rises (1:10)
  • A New Simo (3:02)

Running Time: 44 minutes 16 seconds

Varese Sarabande 302 066 754 2 (2006)

Music composed and produced by Marcelo Zarvos.

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