Recent Films of Note

Again, members, this is the spot to sound off; say those innermost thoughts about practically any film you want, those gems that you keep in your psyche. I think there were some of you who liked the idea that during the club meeting we would move around the room quickly mentioning films we had seen that month. It sparks possibilities for the rest of us.

This weekend, in preparation for the Wine Styles Academy Awards 2007 event, I got around to watching a few films. The first one was HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) directed by Allen Coulter; mostly an HBO director, helming over 50 of the SOPRANOS, and ROME, and SEX IN THE CITY; even tossing in an X-FILES for good measure. Hollywood from 1950-1960 is the setting for this fine film. The primary plot driver was the death of actor George Reeves, whose claim to fame was being TV’s SUPERMAN. He died of a gunshot wound to the head. Was it suicide or murder? Ben Affleck does some fine work recapturing the timbre of Reeves speech, and his walk, his handsomeness, and his loneliness. But the film is really not about him as much as the struggling private investigator, Adrien Brody, who gets caught up in the cover-up and miasma of clues in Reeves’ death. Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins playing MGM power couple, the Mannix’s, are wonderful too. All the good stuff is intact. Politics, the Movies fear of television first mantled in disdain. I remember in 1959, when Reeves died, there were a lot of cruel jokes at his expense. I remembering seeing him in GONE WITH THE WIND, and many other 40’s B flicks, and wondering how he found his way to the blue tights and red cape. Adrien Brody does a powerhouse job in this film. See it for the flavor of old Hollywood, and the history lesson.

The next treat I viewed was the Edward Norton project, DOWN IN THE VALLEY (2005). He produced it and starred in it. It was directed by newcomer David Jacobson, who also wrote it. He previously had directed DAHMER. Norton plays a dillusional drifter who believes he is really a lonesome cowboy from South Dakota, new to the Valley (San Fernando, pard). He meets the jailbait goddess, Tobe, played marvelously by Evan Rachel Ward (THIRTEEN). Norton is  Harlan Curruthers, or so he says. He knows how to rope and ride, and say you-all, and he sports a well balanced brace of real Colt .45’s, and he could not tell the truth to save his soul; even though he is given ample opportunity to do so. David Morse is the teenage girl’s father, or possibly stepfather. There is a lot about the pasts of these characters that is muddled and underdeveloped. Rory Culkin is the 13 year old little brother, who is still afraid of the dark, and sneaks into his big sister’s room at night to feel safe. Norton saw something unique and noble in this character, and this script. The film has rough edges. It tries to be LONELY ARE THE BRAVE and TAXI DRIVER and FADE TO BLACK all at the same time. The inexplicable does weigh on you, like how did Harlan get so expert at drawing, twirling, and shooting his Colts, roping, and riding, when really it is hinted he was just a runaway from the Valley, a kid with a rough past, like 20 years before. But Norton is so good, and Wood matches him. The brief love affair is almost real for a short time. Norton’s calm ability to sell a lie, and put forth a scam, are truly frightening. Ebert liked parts of the film. I liked a bit more of it. It does rank up there with Norton’s best roles, and no one has really seen it. He, as producer, had to fight hard from Cannes on, to get it out there, and save it from going straight to DVD and video, to oblivion. If you love Westerns, and you like Norton’s work, this little indie gem is for you. Bruce Dern and Geoffrey Lewis do cameos in it.



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