Monday, July 14, 2008

Southland Tales: Did Anyone Else See This?

Okay, Mike Phillips, I finally saw Southland Tales.

Here's the thing: I heard this movie was terrible, and it was even worse than I expected. Sure, like anyone, I enjoy some Donnie Darko. Not the Director's Cut, which adds lengthy text pieces and attempts to "explain" the science of time travel using the magic of metal + water. But the theatrical release of Donnie Darko is a movie I can recommend. I used to teach it in my cinema class, but I stopped because every teenager had seen it by the time they hit senior year. I don't know if that's true anymore, and maybe I'll start showing it again soon, but you know what movie I won't add to the curriculum?

You guessed it! Southland Tales.

Even before the Cannes crowd booed this piece of cinematic silliness off the stage, we had plenty of warning signs that the movie wouldn't be very good. I personally had the misfortune of seeing Richard Kelly speak at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con, after being brought onstage by his pal Kevin Smith. As quick-witted and loquacious Smith can be, Kelly is the opposite. He could barely form a sentence during that presentation, stumbling over words and incoherently trying to explain bits of the project he was working on. Then he showed an early version of the CGI sequence of the scene where an SUV humps a smaller SUV. Maybe Kelly has trouble with public speaking (not the best character flaw to have as a director, one would imagine), but there's no excuse for the utter lack of taste or humor in that SUV scene.

Another warning sign that Southland Tales would be a disaster was Kelly's director commentary track on Donnie Darko. As anyone who's ever listened to that track knows, the story Kelly thinks he's telling doesn't match what's on the screen. In his mind, Donnie is a kind of superhero who, at the end, flies up into the sky and pulls the engine off the jet, sending it back through the time rift. That doesn't match the visuals, and listening to him explain the movie to (once again, his pal) Kevin Smith, proved that his ideas and the execution of his ideas do not correspond.

Then, of course, he cast Kevin Smith as a paraplegic Gulf War vet, and considered Southland Tales a postmodern musical dealing with the effects of 9-11 and the celebrity culture. All warning signs that the movie might not work.

And it doesn't. At all.

This is a movie where Cheri Oteri and Seann William Scott give two of the more restrained performances.

This is a movie where the Rock is somehow Jesus, just because he happened to time travel sixty-nine seconds into the past. Except, wait, he's not Jesus, because Seann William Scott is. Spoiler, sorry. But you really don't want to see this movie anyway.

This is a movie where Wallace Shawn can't even make the dialogue work.

This is a movie where a facially-scarred Justin Timberlake acts as a lethal sentinel over the city, shooting Marxist rebels before lip-syncing and dancing to somebody else's song, selling Iraqi-import awesome sauce, and forgiving his best friend (who shot him in the face and is Jesus).

This is a movie where the number sixty-nine is supposed to be inherently funny, so Buffy the Vampire Slayer has it on her license plate.

This is a movie where the presidential ticket features Eliot and Frost, as in T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, and then goes and quotes or misquotes the most famous lines from their most famous poems as if that somehow legitimizes the awfulness.

This is a movie that tries so hard to be about something, it is about nothing more than the unrestrained incoherence of its writer/director.

I know the obvious joke for me to use regarding this silly, ugly, ineffectual time travel movie is something like, "I wish I could travel back in time and stop myself before I wasted my time watching this disaster," but instead of saving myself, I'll spend the rest of my life warning the rest of humanity to avoid this movie. It's not good.


Matt St. Pierre said...

I heard it was absolutely terrible, and so never wasted money or time to watch it.

Until it comes on HBO. As soon as it comes on HBO, even with the horridness, I'm sure I'll watch it about 50 times. That's a ballpark estimate. It could be one million, it could be twice.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. ... Sometimes, I can still hear the audio late at night.

Marc Caputo said...

"This is a movie where Wallace Shawn can't even make the dialogue work."

Inconceivable! (Dude, couldn't resist.)

Malpractice said...

I loved Southland Tales but yea i guess i am going to remain the only one who did lol. I understand why most people hated it but i don't know something about the movie just clicked with me.

I would recommend even if you didn't like the movie to read the Southland Tales prequel comics if even for the art alone. I actually think Richard Kelly should of just done the whole project as a comic book, and it would of worked out a lot better.

Anonymous said...

Southland Tales doesn't quite work, but it fails in mostly the same ways as David Lynch's Dune, which looms as large over Southland Tales as Blue Velvet does over Donnie Darko.

I can't imagine getting nothing from the film, though, particularly when the "All the Things That I've Done" segment was far and away the best scene from any film I saw last year (it helps that last year was a godawful year for movies, but it was still good).

Chad Nevett said...

It is a glorious failure of a movie, but (as we'll see in a day or two when I post on another failure) I really enjoy ambitious failures. I find them far more interesting than successes. And Southland Tales is about as ambitious a failure as you can find. I was strangely compelled while watching it and think I'll wind up watching it again soon. Odd, I know, but it's nothing if not interesting. Not good, but interesting.

Ultimate Matt said...

I'm with all of the above who said it was fascinating on the ambitious failure level. For all the movies flaws, I had a GREAT time watching it, just because it was so .... something.

The other thing I loved about it was the stunt casting and complete reversal of typecast for the actors, which almost seemed to be directly and intentionally fucking with the audience, the same way Millar is doing in All-Star Batman.

Sean William Scott is usually a hyperactive, goofy pothead? Well, here he is as an ultra-serious street cop/messiah.

The Rock is basically a living superhero? Well, in this movie he's a patsy who runs away terrified from Jon Lovitz.

Speaking of Jon Lovitz, he's a silver-haired psycho racist cop who quotes Phillip K. Dick novels for no apparent reason, nary a joke to be found! Enjoy!

Booger from Revenge of the Nerds as a genius scientist guy; Justin Timberlake as an facially scarred reclusive who doesn't even get to sing his own songs (in my favorite scene of the movie); Buffy the Vampire slayer as a porn star (possibly the only casting choice which may have been pandering to its audience a bit, at least the men); etc.

I just had fun watching it, to see what it was going to do next.

Geoff Klock said...

You can read my review HERE I actually sort of liked it. Chad is right about it being a glorious failure

Timothy Callahan said...

Thanks for reminding me, Geoff. I saw your review but ignored it because I wanted to see the movie for myself, but I pretty much agree with what you have to say.

ALTHOUGH, I'm not convinced about the idea that it gets some kind of credit for being an ambitious failure. Sure it's better than "Norbitt" or "Daddy Day Camp" which lack ambition and quality, but a failure is still a failure, no? Sometimes I think ambitious failures are even more frustrating because you can see what might have been, but the director didn't pull it off.

I have to think about the idea of ambitious failures some more...

Geoff Klock said...

From The Lion in Winter:

"Does it matter how a man falls?"
"When the fall is all he has: it matters."

so, yeah, I think a failure is not always just a failure.

Chad Nevett said...

Tim, it's not so much as giving the movie credit for being an ambitious failure, it's about it being interesting because it's an ambitious failure. Since you can see the disparity between intention and execution so easily, it's engaging to examine exactly what went wrong. At least, it is for me.

Mike Phillips said...

My take (having read the prequel comics as well):

The comics are not necessary to enjoy the film. Yes, ENJOY the film. The comics are actually really good, but I don't even like to think of them as an important part of the film's story. The prequels actually f'ed up my expectations for the film. I love them separately actually. The comics make you think the movie's going to be this killer sci-fi epic with alternate realities and time travel; giving you that Donnie Darko expectation. Then I watched the film, and it doesn't deliver on that front too much.

But the film by itself is very cool. I get the feeling that Kelly's actually poking fun at himself or a writer/director who tries to take on/pontificate about every aspect of (pop) culture and reality TV. Imagine someone sitting in front of their laptop and thinking, "I've got to SAY something about society, damn it!"

Kelly does, but with all of the tongue-in-cheek silliness of someone who knows that to write about it in a serious fashion would be super hard, arrogant, and ultimately absurd to try. So, speaking of absurd, Kelly seems to have decided that the absurdity of American culture was the target.

It's fun, soap-operah-ish, and as cool as the comic prequels but for a different reason.

Mike Phillips said...

Tim, you're just a bad viewer.

Timothy Callahan said...

You know what, Michael Montgomery Phillips? In this case, I'm going to have to disagree with you. Because you are wrong. On so, so many levels.

Mike Phillips said...

Oh, I might be wrong about you being a bad viewer, but I'm not wrong about the film being enjoyable. I like it more each time I watch it, and (on a side note) the prequel comics DID help me understand the movie.

Perhaps you should read the comics. Not necessarily to enjoy the film (although it would help), but so you could read some cool comic ideas AND understand the film slightly better. After all, wasn't it you that said that sometimes you've got to do a little work to really enjoy a story?

Oh, and also: I will kick you.

Bill Reed said...

I watched this because Donnie Darko (yeah, the theatrical one, not the director's cut) is one of my all-time favorite films. I'd heard Southland Tales was bad, but I figure it'd be worth a watch, right?

It's maybe the worst movie I've ever seen. I couldn't comprehend it at all, and worse than that, it was exceedingly boring.