Thursday, December 18, 2008

Southland Tales (Kelly)

Where to start? First of all, Southland Tales is the second film by Richard Kelly, the director of Donnie Darko. I liked Donnie Darko, but not as much as most people did. I didn't really understand the point. Sometimes that doesn't bother me, but with Donnie Darko I felt like Kelly actually thought his film had a point but he didn't really know what it was. It seemed like one of those movies people liked because it was different enough from most other movies and because it received no hype. Then I heard that Southland Tales was screened at Cannes and everybody said it was terrible. But it sounded like it might be terrible in a Fellini Satyricon/She Hate Me/Inland Empire sort of way. I decided that if I ever got the chance to watch it for free, I would give it a try. So I'd like to give a big shout-out to my former co-worker for loaning me the DVD.

Richard Kelly is a very ambitious director but not, I'd say, a particularly intellectual one. He seems to have a (slightly more geeky than usual but) essentially normal American alpha male mentality. I get the impression he watched Fight Club and Three Kings and figured, "Hey, I could make movies just like these!" But he didn't really pick up on the subtle attention directors like Fincher and Russell tend to pay to cinematography, editing, set design, etc. As a result, Southland Tales has a bit of an amateurish, TV movie quality; Kelly basically points the camera at the action and doesn't bother with the rest. His writing also lacks the wit and coherence of his contemporaries. Some sample lines of dialogue:

"The fourth dimension will collapse upon stupid bitch."

"We're a bisexual nation living in denial. All because of a bunch of nerds. A bunch of nerds who got off a boat in the 15th century and decided that sex was something to be ashamed of. All the Pilgrims did was ruin the American Indian orgy of freedom. "

"Join us for an in-depth discussion of the penetrating issues facing society today. Issues like abortion, terrorism, crime, poverty, social reform, quantum teleportation, teen horniness and war."

It's like, "My dialogue doesn't need to be particularly insightful, just as long as it's weird." He may have a point. Kelly's ultimate idea of cinema is probably The Usual Suspects or Rocky III, but hey, at least he's got enthusiasm. It's not everyday you see Justin Timberlake hulking behind an offshore gun turret with an ungainly scar on his face quoting ponderous passages from the Book of Revelation, is it? Or Wallace Shawn ranting and raving from the ballroom of a zeppelin about the new brand of "fluid karma" he's invented? If you don't even know who Wallace Shawn is, then I'm afraid you may not find Southland Tales quite as appealing as I did. Truth be told, I've never seen a more stellar assembly of quasi-famous character actors in my life: Curtis Armstrong, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri, John Larroquette, Jon Lovitz...the list goes on. Not to mention Sarah Michelle Gellar as a porn star/political activist and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a political heir/time-traveling scientific specimen. I'm not sure if Kelly deliberately wanted to cast the film with B-level actors or if these are simply the only actors who were willing to say yes. Either way, the end result is the same.

So if you adored Donnie Darko and were actually expecting Southland Tales to be a "good" movie, then I'm sorry for you my friend. But for me, watching Southland Tales was a bit like reading one of those really wacky and entertaining short stories you might come across in a Fiction Writing college class: it's not the work of a true professional, but it sure beats the hell out of that treacly semi-autobiographical love story written by the self-absorbed girl to milk some cheap sympathy from her classmates after her latest meaningless break-up.

"Film critic" rating: *1/2
"Little Earl" rating: ***


ninquelote said...

First off, the point of Donnie Darko. If you could see into the future and change God's plan and your fate, would you? The answer: No.

On to other things. I agree that Southland Tales was not nearly as good as Donnie Darko, but it was very entertaining. It very much flowed like a freshman year short story where the writer wanted a bunch of cool stuff to be in it, but didn't really want to take the time to make each of those things have a purpose within the story. As for the quality of acting talent, Donnie Darko didn't really have any stars in it either and I liked it better that way.

yoggoth said...

Yeah, but if you think about it, and even accept the plot of Donnie Darko, I think you still would change God's plan if there were such a thing. That's what has always bugged me about the film, although I like it on the whole.

Any more comments I can disagree with Ninquelote? ;)

Herr Zrbo said...

I think I'm with you LE, I thought Donnie Darko was interesting, but I didn't really get the point in the end. It's been a few years, maybe I need to rewatch it (one of the few DVDs I own, *gasp*).

Word of advice: Don't bother with 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. I went to see it with the misses this weekend. We both agreed it was pretty lame. It was an hour and a half of wooden, meaningless dialogue (and not just Keanu's) and then it just sort of ends. We really wanted to see Frost/Nixon but it's nowhere to be found. Speaking of which, you saw that Deepthroat died?

ninquelote said...

Yoggoth, I'm pretty sure you disagree with every comment I make just on principle. I think it's a jealousy thing.

Besides, it doesn't matter what you would do, it only matters what the character in the movie would do, and he wasn't willing to trade his life for the girl's life. Seems pretty simple. I would suggest you write a movie that involves God's plan and how your character, a lowly human, decides that the whole plan is hogwash and just changes the shit out of it.

As for Day the Earth Stood Still, I agree totally with Zrbo. It was very boring and I thought the message of the film was completely fragmented. Half of the character changed personalities throughout the movie. Especially Kathy Bates character. I think John Cleese's character was the only anchor the movie had and he was only in it for about three minutes. I would have rather the movie been about him, and had him and Keanu standing in front of the chalk board the whole time. Now that was interesting.

Little Earl said...

Damn, and I was really looking forward to another remake of a classic back-and-white film where the charmingly dated low-budget effects are replaced with less charming, instantly dated CGI effects. (Also, just a reminder: I'm not the only one who can post movie reviews you know. Maybe as the awards season approaches we could do competing reviews of some of the same films?)

Donnie Darko certainly had a gripping mood and tone. I just didn't watch it and think, "Wow, this guy is the new Tarantino and I can't wait to see what he does next," like some people.

Herr Zrbo said...

I completely agree with what Ninquelote said about TDTESS, the part with John Cleese was the only worthwhile part, and like you said, it only lasted about 3 minutes.

Jeez, the whole thing was just silly the more I think about it. Like take any of the scenes with the military. The studio folks must have been like "We need to have more explosions, so every so often let's throw in a scene with some yokel military commander who orders shit to be blown up, that'll pack the audience in."