Movie Reviews: Hollywoodland and The Last Kiss

My wife and I decided to see a couple of movies last weekend, as this fall is already being touted as one of the best for movies in recent memory. Briefly, here are my thoughts on them:

HOLLYWOODLAND (126 minutes, directed by Allen Coulter, starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck)       *** out of 4 Stars

“Hollywoodland” is an intelligently written look at the life and death of George Reeves, who played Superman in the original television series in the 1950s. To its credit, the film does not play like a suspense or a mystery, as its point is to examine rather than resolve to circumstances surrounding Reeves’ mysterious death in his home. Affleck does a respectable job of portraying the troubled Reeves, who openly dispised the Superman show and the fame he gained as a result. However, I found myself wishing his portrayal was given more depth by the script. Affleck’s most telling scene comes at a carnival where he is dressed up as Superman and is approached by a young boy pointing what appears to be a real gun at him, not understanding that what he sees on television does not carry over to reality.

The best performance is given by Brody starring as cocky private eye Louis Simo who is hired to investigate the mysterious death, which was ruled a suicide by police. The movie consists of Simo’s investigation and his fearless public disapproval of the police department’s closing of the case as a suicide without further investigation. Throughout the movie, he imagines all of the different circumstances that could have caused Reeves’ death, eventually settling on one that eases his mind about a case that had driven him mad.

Diane Lane gives a powerful performance as Toni Mannix, the wife of MGM studio head Edgar Mannix and girlfriend of Reeves. Did Mannix have Reeves killed for his relationship with Toni? Did he have Reeves killed for breaking Toni’s heart? Was Reeves killed by his moderately unbalanced fiancee? Or had Reeves simply decided that he’d had enough of the Hollywood lifestyle? “Hollywoodland” doesn’t answer any of these questions, and to do so is not its purpose. Instead, it provides an accurate portrayal of the facts along with insight into the tendency for corruption and mental instability in the land of Hollywood.

THE LAST KISS (104 minutes, directed by Tony Goldwyn, starring Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett and Rachel Bilson)    ** 1/2 out of 4 stars

Being a man who married at the age of twenty-five, I have trouble connecting to such commitment-phobic characters as Zach Braff’s character represents here. However, I knew the plotline going in, so I digress. Braff stars as Michael, a thirty-year old man who lives with his pregnant girlfriend Jenna who he has dated for three years but does not want to marry yet. This isn’t exactly a shocking state of affairs in the world today, so I suppose the movie attempts to become interesting when Michael and Jenna travel to a friend’s wedding and Michael, having escaped Jenna’s supervision, lays eyes on Kim. Played to perfection by the intelligently cast Rachel Bilson, Kim is a twenty-two year old college student who thinks, talks and acts exactly like a co-ed should. (So do you like, want my number or something?)

Predictably, Michael is tempted by Kim. He tracks her down on campus, not knowing exactly what he is doing or what he hopes to gain. The character of Michael is frustrating in that he never completely understands his own intentions, but I suppose that this is the point of the film, that temptation happens. But everyone who has ever been in a relationship on any level knows that already. Where the film fails is in its lack of resolution on this point- can succombing to temptation be forgiven? Or is letting your guard down and devastating someone who loves you unforgivable? I suppose the movie also succeeds in letting the audience determine this for themselves, but it is difficult when Michael’s character deserves little to no sympathy.

I am, of course, getting ahead of myself, and the point of the movie where the predictable plot unleashes itself is painful to watch. One thing leads to another, Michael is unable to resist Kim’s advances, Jenna figures it out and Michael’s world comes crashing in. As Jenna, Jacinda Barrett gives an impressive performance as a young woman trying to balance her feelings of extreme anger and sadness against each other, and as the film ends, these feelings are still unresolved.

Overall, the film is well-acted and mildly entertaining but its premise does not generate a lot of intrigue.  To me, a thirty-year old man who has a pregnant girlfriend and cheats on her is a pretty horrible person and a loser, and I didn’t need to watch this movie to decide as much.

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