A well acted and well directed film that shines with an above average transfer and is supplemented with a few short but sweet extras.
The surround track is a bit flat and you can get through the extras in about 30 minutes.
Real film noir hasn't been seen in awhile maybe since L.A Confidential. While Hollywoodland t quite 100% film noir, it shares elements of it and makes the story feel a little modern in a good way. You don't have the bad guys smoking fat cigars and wearing rimmed hats that shade their faces as a streetlight hangs over them, and that makes the film more accessible and believable. The film borrows a lot from the classic Polanski film, Chinatown. The story follows private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) as he tries to prick and prod at the suicide case of actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck). The film is told with parallel storylines; one of the storylines is the one with Simo investigating the case, while the other is of George Reeves and his rise to fame and unfortunate death. The film cuts back and forth seamlessly as if they were both happening at the same time, it really works well. By showing George Reeves' story we see all the friends and enemies he makes in Hollywood as he becomes more and more famous. That makes Simo's storyline easier to understand and makes it more interesting for us as he makes all of his different accusations. Simo believes that Reeves did not commit suicide, that he was murdered instead due to his status in Hollywood. As he learns more about Reeves so does the audience in the other storyline, and we start to throw things around in our minds as an audience. Did the studio executives murder him because he became a failure and started losing them money? Was he murdered by one of his jealous lovers because of all the affairs he had? Was it merely an accident? Or was his life so miserable that he actually did commit suicide? The audience will have a great time trying to figure it out, and they will be pulled into the world of 1940's/1950's Hollywood. The only problem with the movie is that pacing and tone is a bit inconsistent. The movie speeds up and slows down way too much, and there is never a consisent tone. The film overall is fairly light despite its dark subject matter. The film does in fact end on a dark and disturbing note, but it doesn't match with the rest of the film. It's an amazing ending, but it just doesn't match tone-wise. The movie also owes a lot to it's fantastic directing from Allen Coulter who makes his feature film directing debut. Marcelo Zarvous was the film's composer, and he really hasn't done anything noteworthy before this. His score to the film felt like an incarnation of Jerry Goldsmith's score to Chinatown, but I liked it alot. It really created the right mood for the film's setting.
The cast lays it down on the table and there are amazing performances all around. Adrien Brody is perfect as Simo, he carries himself the right way and talks the right way. His character is a bit sleazy, but we follow him anyway in his pursuit of the truth (or money?). As you've probably read in many other reviews, Ben Affleck was sensational as George Reeves. His body language, the way he talks and the way he carries himself all embody a man of the era. He adds complexity to the character who would seem very static in any other circumstance. He makes the conclusion of the case all the more doubtful because as an audience we see that it could be any one of the scenarios that the film presents us. Diane Lane is great as usual and gives her character presence as well, which is essential in relation to Affleck's character. Bob Hoskins pulls out his snotty L.A accent as the powerful studio executive who has his money do all his work. Imagine his character from Who Framed Roger Rabbit except only as a man of power instead of a gutter rat. Great acting all around in this one, truly pleased with the cast.
We go deep into the realms of tinsletown and delve under the rocks for the truth. We experience all the guts and glamour of the land that is Hollywood. Hollywoodland may feel inconsistent and a little incomplete, but its great screenplay and amazing cast pull it up and make it a pretty darn good film.
Allen Coulter provides a very detailed commentary. He points out all the specific details within the "mise en scene" that was added just to create the overall feel of 50's Hollywood. The commentary is not very involving, but definitely worth a listen.
Re-Creating Old Hollywood:
A short featurette that goes into everything from set design to costume design. Many of the cast and crew point out how much detailed work went into recreating the time period. We see how the recreated all the old night clubs that the stars went to and how the actors approached their characters.
Behind The Headlines:
While the film is based on a true story, it's not a biopic. Adrien Brody's character is totally fictional and this featurette discusses the Simo character and his role in the narrative.
Hollywood Then & Now:
The filmmakers and cast discuss a little history about Hollywood and how the industry worked. It was really great to see a featurette on a DVD like this. Eeverything in this featurette touched on aspects I learned while taking my Film History class. You learn how Hollywood was mostly about the business and not the films, very interesting.
Three separate scenes totaling around 5 minutes are presented here. They play as one big chunk with no commentary and are non-anamorphic. I hate it when we don't have a menu with each scene labeled individually and without commentary. I know that these scenes were cut because they didn't progress the plot at all, but I'd like to see some insight from the director.
The video is actually quite good and is presented in a 1.85:1 Anamorphic transfer. The film used muted colors with different shades of yellow and brown. The lighting was extraordinary and the transfer really highlights all the fine details. The picture is sharp and color tones are perfect. Black levels are also handled exceptionally well. I loved the look of the film and Universal did the film well with an above average transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix isn't anything to jump up and down about. While dialogue is clear and sharp, the entire mix is front heavy. Coulter pointed out in the commentary of different ambient sounds inserted to give a better feel of the setting and it was a shame that the surround channels didn't highlight them. Weather it was a dog barking in the background or some distant ambience, it would have been nicer to hear those surround channels used.
Universal gives us a standard single-disc case with snapping locks on the side and no insert.
Hollywoodland is a fantastic period piece that takes a real-life event and makes it into a fascinating exploration into several interesting characters. There was some inconsistency with the film's overall tone, but in the end it leaves a dark and lasting impression on the audience. It reminded very much of Polanksi's Chinatown right down to Marcelo Zarvos' score, but I never thought that it was unoriginal. Fantastic acting and fantastic direction make Hollywoodland worth buying on DVD. The featurettes are few, but they give you good information. The transfer is great and the sound is sufficient if not a bit lacking. The DVD is worth your time though.