Hollywoodland (Focus/Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Allen Coulter, w/ Ben Affleck, Adrien Brody, Diane Lane. Rating: NNNN
A quick browse of the IMDB reveals Hollywoodland to be the directorial debut of someone who's spent about two decades directing high-end series television, including episodes of The Sopranos, Rome, Six Feet Under, Sex And The City and The X-Files.
With that experience, Allen Coulter has developed an undeniable fluidity as well as the ability to run a split-level storyline. Hollywoodland follows the strange career and mysterious demise of George Reeves (Ben Affleck) and the somewhat seedy private eye (Adrien Brody) hired to investigate Reeves's death.
Brody's and Lane's exceptional work is hardly a surprise, but the rueful self-awareness in Affleck's performance, for which he won the best-actor award at Venice last year, is. The film sets out to explore the effects of hollow fame on an ambitious psyche, and Affleck seems to grasp that almost instinctively.
The DVD presentation is solid, with about 20 minutes of production featurettes on the creation of 50s Hollywood, and a good, practical, detailed director's commentary.
EXTRAS Director commentary, three production featurettes, deleted scenes. English and French audio. English captions, French and Spanish subtitles.
Flags Of Our Fathers (DreamWorks/ Paramount, 2006) D: Clint Eastwood, w/ Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe. Rating: NNN
Flags Of Our Fathers is the first half of Clint Eastwood's Battle Of Iwo Jima diptych, the American side of the story that follows the lives of the men who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi and found themselves the subjects of a famous picture.
It's a solid, well-made drama that has three basic problems. First, Eastwood is trying to be Steven Spielberg in the combat scenes, but he lacks his restless kinetic inventiveness.
Second, the film's got a four-headed protagonist, which makes it hard for the audience to bond emotionally with the heroes.
Third, and most important, Flags has a retrospective structure. It's told from the perspective of Ryan Phillippe's son (Tom McCarthy), who's going around collecting the memories of the survivors. That creates two, and sometimes three levels of narrative fog between us and the film's immediate present.
When a major studio release arrives on DVD with no extras, you know what's coming: the two-disc special edition is down the road, so anybody who wants Flags Of Our Fathers on DVD may want to wake up and smell the double dip.
Paramount and Warner will probably figure out some sort of work-around so there'll be a Flags/Letters From Iwo Jima box set.
EXTRAS Letters From Iwo Jima trailer. English, French audio. English, Spanish subtitles.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (IFC/Mongrel Media, 2006) D: Kirby Dick, w/ Dick, Kevin Smith, Atom Egoyan. Rating: NNN
The relentlessly narrowing window on DVDs produces an interesting situation. Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated premiered about a year ago at Sundance, had a short life on the festival circuit, a limited theatrical release in the U.S. starting in September and opened in Toronto in a limited run all of three weeks ago.
On the one hand, the ready release of DVDs makes it easier to see documentaries that don't get a full release. On the other, doesn't the dependability of the DVD release schedule create an ever smaller window of theatrical opportunity?
Why go see This Film Is Not Yet Rated at the Bloor when you'll be able to watch it in your living room in about three weeks?
It's neither a visual extravaganza that demands a big screen nor a riotous comedy that benefits from a theatre full of laughter.
Dick has chosen to study the American movie rating system by interviewing filmmakers who've had to deal with it - John Waters, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone and Atom Egoyan - and by investigating it himself, with the help of a private eye, and then submitting an earlier version of the film to the ratings board.
The director's self-absorption tends to get in the way, but there's plenty here to hold your interest. The interviews in the film and in the extras are illuminating, as is Dick's astute collection of side-by-side clips demonstrating how independent films get rated versus identical footage in studio pictures, or how gay sex scenes get treated in comparison with almost identical straight scenes. Excellent extras package.
EXTRAS Director/private eye commentary, deleted scenes, director Q&A from SXSW Film Festival.
Trust The Man (20th Century Fox, 2005) D: Bart Freundlich, w/ David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Rating: NNN
This isn't quite a good romantic comedy, in that it's often not funny even when the director evidently believes it is, but it is a fascinating bit of psychological autobiography.
David Duchovny plays a guy who's given up advertising to be a househusband/Mr. Mom for his movie star wife (Julianne Moore).
Is this how director Bart Freundlich (The Myth Of Fingerprints) deals with the fact that if Julianne Moore weren't married to him she probably wouldn't return his phone calls, let alone appear in his films?
The fun comes from Billy Crudup as Moore's slacker brother, his dead-end relationship with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ellen Burstyn's two great scenes with Gyllenhaal.
EXTRAS Very entertaining, dry, self-doubting commentary by Freundlich and Duchovny; making-of featurette, deleted scenes. English, Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, February 13
Martin Scorsese's best shot at the best-director nod in years, just in time for the Oscars.
(Weinstein/Alliance Atlantis, 2002)
The original Infernal Affairs was the basis for Scorsese's The Departed, and if you have moral qualms about buying Chinatown bootlegs, there's now an official North American release of all three films in the trilogy in this box set.
Sofia Coppola's story of a pretty young woman who lives in a very big house and worries that people don't "get" her. Wait a minute. Isn't that the synopsis of Lost In Translation?
Classic of Italian neo-realism in a new two-disc Criterion edition.