Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Seedy Underbelly

No, it's not the name of a new nightclub...

Factotum- Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon) is a writer. He's not published yet, and as he puts it, he's "not ready for a novel." While he writes his short stories to submit to magazines, he takes jobs at places like auto shops and pickle factories. He lives in squalor, usually with a woman he's just met. And through it all, he drinks. A lot. He never stays at any one job for long, usually getting fired while sitting on a bar stool. But Henry doesn't care. These jobs mean nothing to him.
Based on the novel by Charles Bukowski, Bent Hamer's film is bleak, but funny, and ultimately uplifting in an odd sort of way. Henry knows what he wants from life and he's going for it. Dillon's performance is outstanding. We see all of Henry's most despicable traits and yet we like him anyway. His constant job jumping has also made him a master of the interview, and we see him enjoying himself early on in the film as he explains to his future boss that his book is about "everything."
"Is it about cancer?"
"Is it about my wife?"
"She's in there too," Henry replies dryly.
I've only read a tiny bit of Bukowski (a few chapters of Post Office), but it seems like Hamer pretty much got it right, right down to Lili Taylor ("High Fidelity") as Henry's most stable and supportive "girlfriend," Jan. One night as Henry gets home, he tells her he "got canned" on his first day. When he remembers that he hasn't gotten his check yet she assertively tells him, "You almost worked a full day, they owe you a wage." She's truly proud of him.
It's not cheerful, but "Factotum" is very good. It's a bit hard to find, but if it's near you it's worth checking out. In Seattle it's currently playing at the Egyptian. 8.5/10

Hollywoodland- I'll just say it right up front. Ben Affleck is great in this. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, that Ben Affleck.
The question of whether the death of George Reeves (the original TV Superman) was suicide or homicide has never been sufficiently answered, and Allen Coulter's film (with a very good screenplay by Paul Bernbaum) doesn't try to answer it for us. What it proposes is many possibilities, all with a good amount of credibility.
The film opens with detectives discovering the body of Reeves and it's ruled a suicide almost instantly. The only person who seems convinced that someone else pulled the trigger is his mother (Lois Smith, "Twister"). She enlists private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to try and make her case, though her motives are not entirely clear. Initially Simo only seems interested in the money, but as he starts to dig, he comes to believe that someone else was behind the death of Superman. From here, Simo's investigation is intercut with the story of Reeves himself, shown in flashback.
We meet the struggling young actor at a Hollywood party where he meets Toni (Diane Lane), a glamourous woman who's only too happy to talk to Reeves. The next morning he realizes that she's Toni Mannix, wife of MGM head Edgar Mannix (Bob Hoskins). She explains that her husband has a mistress of his own and won't mind at all. This leads to a bizarre dinner scene in which we see the two couples dining out together. When Toni tells her husband that George's first job was a small role in "Gone with the Wind," he simply says, "That picture made money."
The performances are all great. Brody gives Simo a just the right mixture of swagger and vulnerability. He's a guy who will keep pushing your buttons with a sly smile on his face, even though he knows he'll get a punch in the gut (or worse) for it. Lane's Toni is sad. She's a kept woman who enjoys keeping George for her own. Her slow and steady emotional descent is never overplayed. Hoskins is always great, and he brings a ruthless edge to his role.
The real surprise is Affleck, who finally proves that he has true talent after all. I get the feeling that he may be drawing from his own experience here, as Reeves was never taken seriously as an actor after landing the role of Superman. His Reeves is a thoroughly likeable man who wants to be offered genuinely good work. He takes "Superman" because he needs the money, and reluctantly becomes an icon. The film's best moment comes when he's sitting at lunch with Toni and his agent (Jeffrey DeMunn in a fine supporting turn) and notices a group of adoring children outside the window. The look on Affleck's face as he notices them is priceless.
In the end, "Hollywoodland" isn't a film about answers but about questions and the importance of raising them. Simo's relentless search for the truth doesn't yield the results he's looking for, but he does get people to question what they were told. Happily, "Hollywoodland" is in wide release and very easy to find. 8/10

Movies to rent, in case you missed 'em:
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang- 10/10
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story- 9/10
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada- 9/10


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