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BEFORE WE BEGIN: There was not a boy child with access to a television set in the late fifties who didn't know that George Reeves was Superman. Strange visitor from a distant planet who, disguised as Clark Kent, (fought) a neverending battle for Truth, Justice and The American Way. Or all that stuff. George Reeves was Clark Kent and Clark Kent was Superman was. The real life, living and breathing and flying, Lois Lane and Lucy Ricardo saving Man of Steel. Sure, the older kids - the ones who could read - would boast that "that isn't really Superman. It's an actor." We kidlets knew better. We knew that Superman was real and that Superman never never ever lied. As for that Clark Kent thing? It was just a white lie, to keep Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen safe from evil no-good-niks. More Lois than Jimmy, of course. Even little kids understand that he-she thing. For those that grew up with the first run of the television show, we're guessing that the moms of the time explained the show's cancellation by telling them that Superman was off saving people on the other side of the planet where there were no television cameras. Which meant that mom lied. [Just to be clear, Cranky wasn't born until 1957, and endless reruns meant our mom never had to lie. At least about Superman. That Batman and his young "ward" Robin thing? Yeah, right . . . ] OK, on to Hollywoodland, which begins with the death of an actor paid to wear tights. . .
IN SHORT: Not super. [Rated R for Language, Some Violence and Sexual Content. 120 minutes]
On June 16, 1959 actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck), whose undistinguished career began with a small part in Gone With the Wind and ended with a small part in From Here to Eternity, bid good night to fiance Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney) and two other friends. He went upstairs to his bedroom, put a Luger pistol to his head and blew his brains out. In between was a television role as the comic book icon Superman so fixed him in the minds of the populace that he couldn't get another job?
That, because of the depression that came with unemployment,, so the story goes. That 'depressed and suicidal' story has survived for the last four plus decades, as has a murmured conspiracy theory that suggests that Reeves was murdered. Hollywoodland provides reasonable stories to support both theories but mucks up the storytelling with so many flashbacks and forwards that we were left dazed and confused.
The parallel stories presented in Hollywoodland are simple enough that they could have played out, side by side, effectively. Knowing that her George never ever would have committed suicide, as the LAPD, who have closed the case, would have it, Reeves' mom Helen Besselo (Lois Smith) hires private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) for the then monumental sum of $50 a day to find the true story. Simo's investigation uncovers a torrid affair between Reeves and Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), wife of then MGM president Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) -- can you spell "motive"? -- and a larger story in which Reeves' death is just the key that unlocks a story of where the real power lies in Hollywood. A story which is well covered by a thick layer of green hush money . . .
Or something. Ah, if only we weren't so bored senseless by the time the Third Act bombshell is dropped we would write something clever and hint at the wonderful surprise in store for you lucky, lucky viewers. (it has something to do with a file of papers and newspaper clippings Simo will discovered. Watch for it.) But no, we can't. The film's construction is so self-indulgent that we were bored silly. Being a long-time comic book fanboy, that says an awful lot.
Hollywoodland is a mess, pure and simple. We can't point a finger -- either the screenwriter went nuts and the director wouldn't put his foot down and keep continuity in some kind of order or the director comes from the film student school of thought that serious movies should be just as serious, and intensely difficult to sit through, as their story. It's a shame, too, because the two theories are individually solid stories. If the filmmaker(s) hadn't been so damned clever with the editing razor and just told the story we may have been writing things like "best of the year."
We're not 'cuz it isn't.
Affleck's performance is cold as stone. IF the screenplay had made it clear that (Reeves) first accepted the Superman role because it was a film -- granted, it was an hour long, fit for Saturday morning matinee thing called Superman and the Mole Men -- and that the continuation into the "lesser" form of television was demeaning to a film actor, well, that would be too damned logical. OR that moving into television was a necessity for any film actor as the studio system began to collapse. No, this screenplay deems it more important to drop the tidbit that one of the two actresses who played Lois Lane was gay. It's a useless addition to the story.
Hollywoodland is almost as unbearable a sit as it was a failed name for a real estate sale. Those who weren't aware that the world famous HOLLYWOOD sign once had four more letters won't get any explanation from this film, though most history of Hollywood books will have that story. We're speculating that there may be some metaphorical thought justifying the title, big dreams like big signs all fall down, but that would just be speculation. It is the kind of overthinking that film students tend to do so for anyone looking for a starting place, save the energy that would otherwise be wasted emailing Cranky to tell him what an idiot he is and crack a book. You can get one for free at the library.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hollywoodland, he would have paid . . .
Rent. One last thing: According to the "history" implied in Hollywoodland, Reeves' part in From Here to Eternity was removed from the final cut after preview audiences mocked "Superman's" appearance in a WWII film. Not so. The scene you see recreated in Hollywoodland is in the release of From Here to Eternity (now on DVD) and the role wasn't all that big to begin with.
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