21 August 2006

Art Imitates Life in the Promised Land

Okay, I have to admit I feel somewhat vindicated that I got taken to the woodshed this weekend by the movie-going public. A little more than a week ago, I touted all the media hysteria that surrounded "Snakes on a Plane", which was released widely this past week. I even stocked up on some of the movie's shares this past week over at the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a virtual Wall Street-like competition for all things (and players) Hollyweird. Convinced I was that the public needed a stupid, over-the-top summer getaway movie to escape the real drama of the evening news and daily grind. According to the first weekend numbers, though, I was wrong. But while I have taken a 'loss' of good proportions over on HSX, I do so gladly...and it gives me hope that not everybody wants to see mindless crap just because it may be campy and features a snake with fangs clamp down on a woman's exposed nipple or slither through a man's shorts. So Wise Ricky and others like him: rejoice. While I hate to see summer fading away as I absolutely hate the colder months, I do take solace in that these same months also bring out the best movies of the year.

(Egads...now if I can just do something with my sagging stock in the magic-portrayal drama of "The Illusionist" with Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, and Edward Norton. All of them need a solid hit and are fine, if frequently unheralded, actors.)

However, in truly movie-lover's form, I was not terribly cheated at the theatre this weekend. I saw two potentially great movie trailers while waiting to see "Snakes" (and an odd combination of trailers for that film, too...something I would never have done without getting fired, but then again I got canned once for violating local decency statutes in theory, too, so maybe I'm not a good judge on what works here locally). That said, I was far more intrigued with these trailers than the actual feature matinee I paid money for.

The first one I'll mention this morning definitely has more potential than the other in my opinion. (The second film I'll tackle this evening after work, the new Adrien Brody/Ben Affleck...yes, you read that correctly, Ben Affleck...drama called "Hollywoodland".) Take a look at the trailer for this first diamond in the rough, coming out for wide release next month (courtesy of YouTube, as usual):

"The Black Dahlia"

Looks potentially quite good to me...except for one glaring casting error: Josh Harnett as the lead in "The Black Dahlia". Hands down, "The Black Dahlia" is one of the most infamous (and infamously botched) crime cases in LAPD history (and the LAPD was one of the most corrupt to ever exist in modern times, so to say it's botched by their standards is saying something). Technically, it's still listed as 'unsolved', largely because massive amounts of evidence originally collected has turned up missing (a hallmark of the late 1930s-1960s LAPD investigations). To say the "Dahlia" case is something of Hollywood lore is akin to saying the OJ Simpson trial was well-publicizied: everything else pales in contrast.

Countless books have been written about this murder, including a rather careening one written by LA-born crime writer James Ellroy back in the late 1980s (he later wrote the novel "LA Confidential" which loosely was the inspiration for the great movie of the same name many years later). Hell, "Dahlia" even garnered its own chapter in Kenneth Anger's smear campaign book "Hollywood Babylon" (again, something of a first by comparison...don't even get me started on the crap that man dumped on the tragic silent screen icon Clara Bow). However, a MUST read (no matter if you see this film or not) is "Black Dahlia Avenger", written by former LAPD detective Steve Hodel (with a forward by none other than Mr. Ellroy). In Hodel's book, he painstakingily retraces the murder, the investigation, and the suspects...one of whom also happened to be his own father...an exceptional read, no matter if you agree with the conclusions or not.

Some people try to solve Jack the Ripper; my father and I were armchair detectives regarding "Dahlia". However, I know Dad would have been with me and about 50 others seeing the trailer when it dawned to us that Mr Harnett is the lead...which caused a massively audible, collective groan from the seats. Had it not been for the previous Ellroy connection and superb work in "LA Confidential", actors Guy Pearce, David Straithairn, or Russell Crowe would have been perfect for this lead role. A particularily equal, albeit riskier choice financially to 'the suits', would have been (my fellow Missouri native) acting wunderkind Chris Cooper as lead (who still stuns me in "American Beauty" and "Lone Star"). I fear that the film won't even scratch the surface of the whole underlying decades-old drama now because, frankly, Hollywood has yet to learn from its countless mistakes: you don't send a boy in to do a man's job, I don't care how damn pretty he is. (This point will be further expanded upon in the Ben Affleck piece later today.) In a movie that will require the detective to use his brains to try and solve it, it would be highly appreciative that the lead actor playing that detective could convey he has the brains to do so in the first place. The real life crime was botched, so shall the movie be, too?

I swear to God...I'd give my right arm if someone just tried half as hard as Burt Lancaster did in most of his acting. Greatness is always missed when lost forever.

No comments: