The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two for One - Part I

One of my least favorite actors is Ben Affleck. He is a thespian I would describe as one-dimensional and when I see him in a film I can never step out of the idea that I’m seeing Ben Affleck on the screen. He never convinces me that he is someone else for even a moment or two and I don’t like that.

Maybe he’s like John Wayne, in a sense, because it’s true I had the very same feelings about that American icon. It didn’t bother me with the cowboy, though – probably because Mr. Wayne always played the cowboy and what they called him in the script didn’t matter at all (Who remembers anyway? McClintock is the only character name that comes to my mind at the moment and I’ve seen every one of his westerns). And, I met John Wayne when I was young and he was exactly as I thought he would be. When he said to me in that very familiar drawl, “How ya doin’ little missy” I knew I was standing next to The Duke.

Maybe I’m more comfortable with the essence of a western cow-hand than the perceived snobbish ways of an east coast elitist? Even when Affleck played a non-elitist, as in his roles in Dazed & Confused or Good Will Hunting, he was not as grungy or natural as one would hope he’d be. Not even a little bit. I am wondering now, am I simply sensitive to the nuances that make up a regional personality? That possibility didn’t strike me until a week or so ago – after I watched a double feature with two fairly new Affleck movies.

First, I watched Hollywoodland (2006) and, yes, I’m the one who brought that home. I love subjects like the unexplained elements of an actor’s mysterious death, and anything showcasing the golden years of Hollywood will get my attention every time. The story of George Reeves, who was found dead in his home in 1959, definitely held a perfect MO for me. Sometimes I figure the story could be good enough to overlook what will probably be a weak performance and perhaps, if I’m lucky, this will be the breakthrough script for a stuck-in-a-rut actor.

It wasn’t. What charisma Mr. Reeves had did not shine through in Affleck's performance and I just didn’t believe him as the Adventures of Superman actor. If I were friend or family of the original star I do believe I would hate the film just because of the lack of personalty given to Reeves. Otherwise, though, the film wasn’t half bad. Historically it covered a lot of bases and does give the most notable possibilities regarding what happened the night of Reeves’ death. It lessened the evidence that points to murder, and amplified aspects that lean toward suicide and I found that a little unfortunate. There are missing clues that are worth researching after you watch the film, if you have a mind to dig a little further.

As for Affleck's performance, he did receive some pretty good reviews but I think most critics simply emphasized with Ben the actor.  Many of them draw a parallel between the two stars, who both struggled tirelessly to overcome the doldrums of a not so exciting acting career. With Reeves, he was a descent film actor stuck in a less than respectable TV star persona, and a relationship with a powerful and married woman. With Affleck he’s a descent looking guy stuck with the morphed nickname Bennifer simply because the world-wide-gossip-media found way too much interest in his relationship with Jennifer Lopez. In a strange sort of way, the two had something in common. At least according to a lot of critics.

A couple of inaccuracies within the film are worth shedding a little light upon. One, audience derision and heckling towards Reeves at a test screening for From Here to Eternity, which led to the consequent cutting of his scenes, is really nothing more than urban legend. No test screenings ever took place for that film and the finished movie includes all of Reeves’ scenes from the original script.

And two, on the night he died, all three scenarios imagined by a private detective showed George playing his guitar and singing ‘Aquellos Ojos Verdes’ in Spanish and off-key. George, as were all Hollywood contract players in that era, was well trained in singing and never would have been off-key; and Leonore Lemmon (George’s girlfriend and fiance at the time) said before she died in 1989, that George never came down from his bedroom that night at all. That scene did nothing more than make George look pitiful, which was far from what he actually was.

George Reeves and Leonore Lemmon
What was interesting to me was that a second-rate character (a down-and-out private-eye hired by George’s mother after his death was ruled suicide) became the most interesting personality of the film. That should never happen in a bio-pic, but it certainly saved this film from complete disaster. Adrien Brody cleverly played a believable investigator who was interested in making a fast buck while, perhaps, even making a name for himself. By the end of the film he became not only sensitive to the personal tragedy surrounding George Reeves, but his own self-evaluation brought a certain conclusion to his own personal family disaster. I felt more sorry for him than for George ... which was weird, except when I realized that the suicide of Superman was actually traumatic for middle class America, I found it made a bit of sense. If a speeding bullet can bring the hero down, then what is left for the rest of us?

Meanwhile, Diane Lane (who played Toni Mannix, George’s married mistress) nearly stole the show with her predatory way, speaking with a hauntingly forced yet not over played Hollywood accent, and gracefully expressed herself with a refined and manicured demeanor. The essence of movie making in the 1950s was quite strong and I enjoyed the sets, props, clothing, and stylish film-making. Visually, it is a wonderful film to experience.

So, here I am recommending a Ben Affleck movie, not because of his performance at all, but because other players did a marvelous job stealing the show from the star. More than that, George Reeves is one we should learn a little more about. He is another of those Hollywood tragedies that seems to be buried back there, somewhere, and it feels to me that he’s never really been given a fair shake.

In the coming second half of this two for one, I’ll explore the east-coat elite side of Affleck by comparing him with none other than Russell Crowe.


Goldie said...

Brody did a good job in that movie... you're right about it feeling more about him then Reeves in a sense. I felt like the movie sort of told the story of how Reeve's death affected people and telling Reeve's story was part of explaining why his death affected people the way it did. Next time you are up this way we have to watch "the cat's meow" a very good period peice set in the 20's (or was it early 30's?) anyway, I'd love to see it again and you will like it I'm sure

Irelock said...

Yes, he did do a good job in this movie. So did Diane Lane and it's hard to say who stole the show more, he or she!

Yes, let's watch The Cat's Meow next time I'm up your way. You've mentioned that film more than once and I know I need to see it. I've a feeling we'll have a grand time .... I'll bring the popcorn!

Chris Schemanski said...

I agree the private eye was the best actor in this film but I would not recommend it. If it was a film about that Maddox guy I would be more interested. This film was very slow and boring. I found myself not caring about the character played by afflack or how he died.

Irelock said...

Affleck can kill a movie for you, no question, and that's a real shame in this case. The story of George Reeves had the potential to really bring some mystery to the film and a mark was missed here ...

Ann in Oregon said...

I REALLY enjoyed this!! I am not sure why:)
I loved the way you "reviewed" this movie. Again, you made me want to see it. I have always liked George Reeves and felt the sadness of his death.
I never thought how the fact that he WAS Superman, made it more sad. I loved how you said, a speeding bullet did stop Superman! :(

What great mistakes you found! I guess they just wanted to "Hollywoodize" the movie.

I agree that Ben always seems to play Ben. I found it interesting that you compared that to the way Duke always was Duke:) And that is what made him great too!

OK, now back to the "nude artist" research:)

Irelock said...

Thanks, Ann in Oregon! Hollywoodland is not a bad movie, really, it's just not as good as it could have been. I think Affleck played Reeves a little too melancholy but if you know about Reeves and adjust for Affleck, you just might enjoy this film. Brody and Lane make it worth it :-)

One thing I didn't mention in my story, yet it hangs right on the edge of my comfort zone, it the truth that two actors named Reeves played Superman and both had untimely and tragic deaths. It means nothing, I know, but I was relieved that Keanu Reeves did not take on the Hollywood land roll :-/

Thanks for enjoying the review and let me know how you like this film!

glaciallight said...

You strike so many resonant chords, Olivia, and so well.

Here in the Sonoran Desert, the winds and weather are swinging gracefully into fall. Spirits are again being resurrected by the new season's approach. Mine too, and not necessarily based on merit.

But that being said, I felt less, what, self-conscious (?) when I sang along moments ago while reading your review of Ben Afleck and the persona he sustained as Superman.

I have the following to share:

Night before last,I watched one of my least favorite actors, Jim Carrey, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He did an excellent job. As a consequence however, I have placed Mr. Carrey in the purgatory I have created for those who visit cognitive dissonance down upon me.

In this context, I anxiously await you comments on Russell Crowe, who in his role in the movie Master and Commander, captured the essence of Jack Aubrey from author Patrick O'Brian's book series set near the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars with Great Britain.

Why, why must we bear such fools with such talent, fools that consciously sustain levels of arrogance which the record shows, they often deliver personally and in expletive packages like "What Ever."

Straight at them, Olivia. Straight at them!

Irelock said...

Beautifully said, Glaciallight! I'm with you on Jim Carrey and feel so negative towards him that I will not watch any movie he's in. There is something about the subjects that cause me to bring Affleck home so I suffer through many of his movies, and that surprises me. As you say, oft times I am suffering ... which sucks because all I want to be is entertained!

Great to hear from you again, Glaciallight!

Ann in Oregon said...

I saw the movie on Netflix instant play. Maybe the every 30 minutes of buffering messed up the continuity but I found the flash backs a bit jerky. I would be really into one time frame then..boom..it is the investigation. I felt the transitions could be smoother.

You are right, Ben was Ben! That also messed up the movie for me. I was 13 when "Superman" died and it really affected me when I heard he took his life.
I wanted the part of George to be more "real". I didn't feel the character, I mostly saw Ben:)

Brody WAS the movie. He had a strong charter and I believed him.

I also liked the way they presented the different senerios of George's death. All possible but I still feel he took his life:(

I also agree about Jim Carey. I can take about 15 minutes of him. Thought I do remember liking the movie "Spotless Mind".

Irelock said...

Thanks for letting us know your reaction to the movie! As for the transitions, I didn't notice a rough from here to there when I watched and I usually notice that sort of thing. Perhaps it was a Netflix thing.

I'm like you ... I wanted to feel the essence of the real George ... Ben worked for peanuts so he could do this film and I think he was hoping it would pick up his career .. the story is a super one.

I'm not convinced George took his own life. Research about threatening phones he received in the weeks before his death, as well as the 2 auto auto accidents, and his autopsy. There are real questions the movie did not discuss and I wish it did. As I said in my review, they heavily supported suicide while ignoring some of the murder suspicions

I can't take 5 minutes of Carey ... I never even watched Man in the Moon because of that and I'm bummed. I loved the director of that film, and the subject ... but I will not watch Carey so there you go.

Thanks, Ann ... I'll be posting part two very soon and hopefully will be able to introduce you to another great movie.