A poorly essayed collection of essays and flights of fancy on film and more. Noted film critic Thomson (Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, 1996, etc.) seems to have fallen victim to one of the occupational hazards of his profession: Apparently discontented with his lot, he has taken a lunge at creativity with this wildly uneven and unrelated gathering of pieces, many previously published in magazines such as Movieline and Film Comment.There's a labored fantasia on ``James Dean at 50,'' imagining the rebel without a cause in middle age. This conceit is followed by ``Suspects,'' a patently unfunny imagining of the future lives of a number of film characters. Then there are tired variations on the Sony acquisition of Columbia Tristar, and various other weak satires. Even if these had been more successfully and wittily carried off, they still would be little more than bantamweight filler. When Thomson isn't at play in the fields of the bored, he can be found fawning over stars. Like Walter Pater obsessing over the Mona Lisa, Thomson celebrates every tic and twitch of actors such as Cary Grant and Greta Garbo. When he steps back and analyzes the roots of his fandom, he begins to verge on astuteness: ``Just the fact that photography is modern and technical does not prevent its fostering superstition. To believe in faces we never meet, and to let their moods affect our lives, depends on irrational faith.'' The closer Thomson gets to his forte--traditional film criticism--the better he gets. His essay on The Sheltering Sky is first-rate, as are his meditations on ``How People Die in Movies'' and the elaborated list of ``20 Things People Like to Forget About Hollywood.'' But these are exceptions to the roil of self-indulgent, free-form folderol.