I wanted to write in about this when you first screened it at Fantastic Fest, but because of its semi-Lynchian qualities I thought I'd give it a little bit of time to sit. Plus, it's getting closer to release date. Maybe fermenting it for a while would allow it to sink in and I could see it in a whole new light. Maybe I'd see it for what it really was, or was at least trying to be. Nope. This is a film which the ambition and vast array of ideas stretch far beyond Richard Kelly's ability to communicate a cohesive story. I usually don't have much of a problem when a film lacks a disorganized plotline as long as it seems almost entirely intentional, like a David Lynch film. However, that's my main problem with SOUTHLAND TALES. There looks to be an attempt for things to make sense, but it's trying to tell the story in a way that kind of mixes the structure of something Lynchian with Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL. There are far too many characters involved for a story this broad to allow the final product to make good enough sense. This is something that would probably work better as a TV mini-series, or just a short run television show. Not saying that it would make it good enough for my taste, but it would make it better. Try and follow this: The Rock plays Boxer Santaro, an action-film star who wakes up in the middle of the desert with no recollection of how he got there or who he actually is. Boxer is dating a pop idol porn star played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the two of them wrote a script that miraculously seems to be the future of mankind put on paper, but Boxer doesn't remember that he in fact is a married man to the daughter (Mandy Moore) of a presidential elect and his affair could be damaging to the man's chances of becoming President, especially considering that Gellar is a porn star / underground Marxist (group of political uprisers made up of SNL alumni) with a vendetta against the future president and plan to bring the man down by recording a staged hate crime involving Boxer and Sean William Scott who has a twin brother cop that has been kidnapped by the Marxists so that their Sean William Scott can act like the cop Sean William Scott and stage the hate crime, but their attempt is interrupted by an unsuspecting individual which causes the men to go their separate ways out of fear and lead them to other players in this grand scheme such as a group of genius scientists that have solved the world's energy problems by using ocean water instead of oil and have taken an interest in Boxer's script, a druggie who is about to be drafted into the military (I think), a woman with an unhealthy fixation on Boxer working on the inside of the soon-to-be President's headquarters, and Justin Timberlake who likes to view everything from his elevated gun station for the purpose of coastline terrorism prevention and likes to narrarate things as they occur and sing The Killers songs, and call people pimps. Oh, and Kevin Smith in odd old man makeup. This is probably about half the story and half the characters of what was told, but is probably about 1/4th of the story and 1/4th of the characters that Kelly probably wanted to fit in. This is vision run amok. It goes on seemingly unimportant tangents, and as an audience member it completely broke down my will to concentrate about halfway through. I was chugging coffee like nobody's business to help me focus on this overly-extreme chain of events, but it did nothing more than keep me awake through a film that plays like listening to a story by a kid with ADD that's high on espresso. The scope of the film is too wide to keep everything in focus, and it just causes everything to blur. I will say that all the coffee I drank caused me to take a piss break at about the 2 hour mark. So, maybe the five minutes of film that I missed while in the bathroom explained everything to a T, but I doubt it. Had this film possibly decided to tell a story fixated on one main person I might've been able to connect with the movie as we experience everything along with one character that we can get attached to, but it doesn't do that. It wants to give us the whole story of everyone involved, and there's just no way to fit that into one feature length film. Part of why I think BRAZIL works in its complete form (closest relation to SOUTHLAND TALES that I can think of) is that there's very little of the film, if any, that does not involve Jonathon Pryce. So, we go along with everything and follow the lead of Jonathon Pryce. SOUTHLAND TALES is just a chaotic game of tag. We follow one character until he tags someone else to be it, then we follow them, then it goes somewhere else, then it comes back.... After two or three changes I just got too damn tired to keep playing and decided to sit on the sideline and watch everyone else complete the game, and by the reaction of everyone I watched it with it was as if they all ended up in different parts of the playing field following different people that they thought were it. Some liked it, most didn't. Some thought the lack of cohesiveness was intentional and part of its brilliance, others thought it was just dumb and used the ambiguity as an excuse to say that the chaos was the point of the movie. Personally, I don't know. I don't know what the fuck I saw. All I can say is that I didn't enjoy what I saw. Maybe I didn't get it. In fact, I know I didn't get it. But, unlike other films that I just don't understand, it didn't interest me enough to want to revisit it and try and "get it". It isn't fun enough to do that, and I don't want to sit through it again to try and understand why Kelly chose to introduce us to so many people that to me seemed completely inconsequential. Maybe I understood it completely, and Kelly did intend everything to not make much sense and it's supposed to be just a display of hectic storytelling. If that's the case then bravo, but it still doesn't make the film any more entertaining or interesting to me. Maybe down the road this will achieve some level of delayed genius if enough people decide to keep watching it and ultimately conclude that their initial reactions were wrong. It's getting people to rewatch it that'll be the challenge. Even though it has a couple things going well for it, such as the actors completely buying in to their roles and the visuals being fairly stellar, the experience is too tedious to want to go through over and over. I hope this makes enough money to at least keep Richard Kelly working, because I think he has the potential to make something better than DONNIE DARKO. But, SOUTHLAND TALES is not that movie. Keep trying. THE BEEFInteresting how people feel like their reaction will change if they watch it again. That’s true of films where I’m torn sometimes, but it’s rarely true of films that I dislike outright. This next guy is really, really, really into Richard Kelly.
I had the supreme good fortune of getting to see Southland Tales yesterday at USC with a Richard Kelly Q&A afterwards. Let me preface my thoughts by saying that for the past few months leading up to this film's release, I have become thoroughly obsessed with Southland Tales. My friends and I have all been poring over the prequel graphic novels, reading and re-reading them, taking notes (I even assembled a fucking study guide), discussing theories, etc. in a desperate attempt to piece together this insane puzzle that Kelly has created. Being a massive fan of Donnie Darko and similar WTF?-style entertainment ala Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, The Fountain, John From Cincinnati and the like, I couldn't WAIT to see this movie. I love these films that immediately make you want to go out and do shit-tons of research just so you can figure out what in the hell it is you just witnessed. There's something about them that is just so fascinating to behold, their mystique so thoroughly engaging and intriguing that I can't help but become completely enveloped in their insane worlds. Now I say all this to let you know that of the few dozen students I sat with in that movie theater, I was probably one of the more educated on what this whole alternate-future-reality-world that Kelly has created was all about. I had pretty solid grasp on the graphic novels and loved them, so I was sure as shit going to love this movie too, critics be damned. All those bad reviews it'd been receiving were clearly written by a bunch of simpletons who couldn't grasp the epicness of Kelly's accomplishments or wouldn't abide by his genre-bending and rule-breaking, I had convinced myself. But when the movie was over? Wow. Well talk about mixed feelings. Honestly, for a few minutes, I didn't even know what to think. Part of me was experiencing what I like to call the "Spider-Man 3 Syndrome," playing over all of the ridiculous and unforgiveably bad scenes in the film, unable to push them out of my mind. But the other part of me was still giddy with laughter and excitement over what I had just seen, what had just fulfilled so many of my absurdly high expectations. In the end, though, yes. I did like this movie. A lot. Is it a good movie? Hardly. In terms of filmmaking, in terms of storytelling, this fails on so many levels. All of the haters were absolutely right about it: it IS directionless, it IS overly convoluted and FAR too much screen time is given to characters that are of little importance to the overall plot. Most of the characters are nothing more than cardboard cutouts of real people; hollow, two-dimensional pawns that are being moved around in the least sensible way possible to further this mess of a plot. One also must take into account that this is only the second half of a story, and it really shows. So much of what is in this movie could have easily been taken out and replaced by vital plot information from the graphic novels that was sorely missing. In that respect, this is certainly the least easily-accessible film of this year, and probably many others. Anybody who stumbles into the theater drawn in by the eclectic pop-star cast will be hopelessly lost and won't have a clue about what's going on. But there's just too much here to like for me to cast it aside as a total failure or merely another case of sophomore slump. Kelly's reach clearly exceeded his grasp, but his grasp still ain't tiny. The final third of the movie is a wonderful thing to behold and really does bring almost everything together in a truly awesome way. The oft-metioned JT/Killers drug-induced musical sequence is indeed a lot of fun. The performances, for the most part, are pretty impressive. Dwayne Johnson (Hey, he doesn't want to be called "The Rock" anymore, I'll play along) is for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on a really interesting guy to watch. I couldn't take my eyes off of him for every second he was on frame. He definitely has some acting skills, but unfortunately his Boxer Santaros character doesn't let him show off all that much of it. But what he does with what he's given is great. Sean William Scott is the most impressive of the major players, providing the most convincing performance with the most depth of anyone in the movie (which probably shocks me more than anything else). There are loads of hilarious moments with Amy Poehler and Wood Harris, and Cheri Oteri and Jon Lovitz steal all the scenes they're in. The opening sequence, shot on DV, of the first nuke going off in Alibene was horrifyingly well-done. But fans of the graphic novel will be surprised to find that much of what was so prominently featured in those books (i.e. the liquid karma injections, "bleeding" forward/backward in time, Krysta's psychic abilities, the screenplay "The Power") is hardly featured in the film. There are a few nice payoffs for those who paid close attention to some of the prophetic lines in the comics, but that's about it. I found much of the movie to produce incredibly conflicting emotions in me, laughing at it's brilliance one moment only to be shaking my head at its stupidity the next. And indeed, the most fascinating thing about the film is also it's biggest flaw: this world, this alternate reality that Kelly has constructed is so fucking intricate that you feel like you could walk right into it...but so few of the details about it are essential to the plot of the actual film, which is, basically, that the Book of Revelation comes true in 2008 Los Angeles. Kelly gets side-tracked far too often with these great political struggles between the Neo-Marxists and the Republicans and the concept of Interstate Travel Visas and Fluid Karma and US-Ident that he totally loses track of the main story beats he needs to construct a coherent narrative. There's about a half-dozen really great movies in here that have unfortunately all been jam-packed into this one, and it's just too, too much. All of it is brilliant, all of it is really incredibly fucking interesting, and that's why I really enjoyed this movie and its prequel comics. But all of it at once is just too much to handle, no matter who you are. It's too much to expect an audience to be able to digest, and that, in the end, is the film's ultimate downfall. As soon as the credits roll I wanted to see it again. There's a twist in there that nobody saw coming. And I genuinely did like it. I WILL buy this movie on DVD. But be warned: it is a mess. It is a failure. But it's a brilliant, enjoyable, wonderfully messy failure...and I can live with that. Can you? Call me PZAdvance. P.S. I also got to meet Richard after the Q&A, really cool, nice guy, loved talking to us about the movie and seeing what we thought. It was a blast.
Nov. 7, 2007, 5:37 a.m. CST
Why didn't Kelly just break it down and spread it over a few more films? I guess if its as bad as most people make it out to be, it wouldn't of ever made it past the first film. Maybe people would have liked it more though. When something feels unfinished there seems to be more room to project wild interpretations/meanings onto them. Kinda like Donnie Darko or the Matrix(which btw would have been better had they stopped it right there or just gotten Grant Morrison to help them understand the ideas they stole from him). Bravo to Kelly for trying something insane though! The guys got balls.
Nov. 7, 2007, 5:46 a.m. CST
''I usually don't have much of a problem when a film lacks a disorganized plotline as long as it seems almost entirely intentional''<P>So what you're saying is it has an organised plot line?
Nov. 7, 2007, 6 a.m. CST
Sean William Scott, Kelly -- you're still casting him -- and I have to endure watching him. <p> You bastard. <p> I also find it hard to believe that casting SNL and MadTV cast members is an idea that will appreciate over time -- hell it worked for Rat Race, right? Right? <p> For Kelly to save himself he needs to cancel his cable subscription -- he's been watching too much Lost, and SNL/MADTV reruns.
Nov. 7, 2007, 7:03 a.m. CST
I think Kelly has got the capacity to be one of the best directors of his generation. This sounds extremely fascinating at the very least.
Nov. 7, 2007, 7:30 a.m. CST
i can read reviews from richard kelly fans until the cows come home.<p> where's a review from someone whose opinions i find halfway reliable?
Nov. 7, 2007, 7:41 a.m. CST
Yes I can see her boobies on TMZ or any other gossip site - but answer my question!!
Nov. 7, 2007, 8:55 a.m. CST
and they are really, really good. So high expectations on this one. Serpent's trench is pretty cool.
Nov. 7, 2007, 10:16 a.m. CST
Let's be real people. The 2nd reviewer is one of those obsessive Kelly fans and he didn't really like it. Harry gave it the same kind of bullshit, positive review he gave "Lady in the Water". He says he liked it but he can't explain anything that was good about it. This is a massive, jumbled mess by a decent talent who thinks he's a genius because he has been hanging out with Drew Barrymore too much. Please remember that Kelly's version of Donnie Darko sucked!! The studio "suits" saved that movie by editing it into an enigmatic masterpiece as opposed to the bloated, boring film that Kelly wanted.
Nov. 7, 2007, 10:31 a.m. CST
I thnk it's funny when people who've seen this film report badly but still think it's a good film. Like the director can take a cinematic dump and you still think he's a genius? The words 'horse' and 'blinkered' spring to mind. Ask yourself why no one has released this yet. You can obviously still sell some people anything if you say it's 'genius' and 'misunderstood'. I call it bad storytelling and a failure.
Nov. 7, 2007, 10:49 a.m. CST
...it took _donnie darko_ some time to sink in for me, and i think we all recognize its genius now. DON'T WE?? sorry to shout...but, i'd have to say my feeling right after seeing it was roughly similar to the reviewers. i, too, probably would have reported it badly but said it was a good film! and damn, ANY major studio release that troubles audiences this much, with this much (you should excuse the phrase) star power, should be cheered in this era of writer's strikes, childishly predictable storylines and "reality" as defined by the bravo channel. fuck that, and those, and them. and you. (snap, now i hope i don't hate it now, too...)
Nov. 7, 2007, 11:08 a.m. CST
by dr sauch
I mean, it was pretty cool, but come on, it was just cool. Also, the direction sucked.
Nov. 7, 2007, 11:09 a.m. CST
...the rock rocks. whether as gay hitman or perplexed amnesiac in the company of Buffy the Fluffer, i can't think of another "big" star as willing to challenge (less obvious garbage like _the game plan_ -- gotta keep the man in steroids, after all) his own star status. bring the flames, hatas -- i felt roddy piper had on of the top 10 great performances in the 80's with _they live_ and bet the rock is great in this. why should be surprised professional wrestling produces good actors? finally -- cheri oteri. good lord do i have a thing for this little minx. that cheerleader uniform....mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. is duanejones alone in his oteri jones?
Nov. 7, 2007, 11:22 a.m. CST
This is a film you will either love or hate, you will either get it or you wont. Seriously, its not hard to follow, and it may not have a "point" but it is good fun. What did I get of Southland Tales? Absolutely nothing. But I liked the story and the cast, and hell, it was pretty damn funny. It was cool to see how the world would end, and hell, watch some people try to change the world while it happened. Its a sick reality, how close to the film are we as a nation? Because ill say, we aren't that far.
Nov. 7, 2007, 11:25 a.m. CST
by Bernard Black
I saw the film last month in Santa Cruz, and found it thoroughly enjoyable in a silly way - kinda like a big action/sci-fi/tela novela. I think it's Richard Kelly's take on Revelations - a story that is endlessly convoluted with an overload of symbolism, that people take very seriously and claim to make sense out of, but that is as silly as a very special episode of Melrose Place.
Nov. 7, 2007, 12:52 p.m. CST
by the beef
No. I'm saying that if the disorganised plotline that it has seemed to be purposely confusing I may not have minded because the intent was to confuse. But, it didn't seem deliberate, and therefore I minded.
Nov. 7, 2007, 12:55 p.m. CST
by the beef
Nope. How much would it matter if she did though? If it was fitting for any of the cast members it would've been Gellar, who plays a porn star. Nonetheless, no nipples.
Nov. 7, 2007, 1:53 p.m. CST
I came at this film the other direction than PZAdvance but came to the same conclusion. Saw the movie, was confused, read the novels, was less confused but still thought movie was ill-fitting. It tried do too much to make up for being the first movie of the second part of a story.
Nov. 7, 2007, 2:49 p.m. CST
by C Legion
So even the super fans are calling it a messy failure. It looks like Kelly has some talent, but pretty much got lucky with the original cut of "Donnie Darko". Since then he's done shit all. He needs to just make a film, no fucking graphic novels, no explanations, no years of editing, just make a fucking film and let it stand. The guy is trying to be the next Lynch, if he wants that learn from him, NEVER EXPLAIN.
Nov. 7, 2007, 3:20 p.m. CST
by Jack Burton
I dug the trailer for Southland Tales but apparently it is as bad as has been reported. Too bad. I'll see it eventually but the Lynch comparisons aren't helping. I made it 20 minutes into Lost Highway before stopping the movie. His brand of pretentious chaos just does nothing for me.
Nov. 7, 2007, 4 p.m. CST
unlike the last reviews, the second review finally seems to capture the conflicting opinions that the film seems to engender. It's not all praise or condemnation. That messy, brilliant failure does make me want to see it more.
Nov. 7, 2007, 5:31 p.m. CST
With the Cannes screenings no-one knew what the fuck the movie was. That should have been the nod to Kelly to make something coherent out of it. Looks like he couldn't manage it. Who knows, maybe it's one that needs to be seen at least three times (usually by that time you've convinced yourself that there's a worthwhile movie there...). It sounds like a clusterfuck, and it's only being defended by people who think they're 'deeper' than everyone else and actually get what picture Kelly has painted. For fuck's sake, if you need to be a stuck-up idiot to enjoy this then something is wrong. I can't wait to see it to judge for myself.
Nov. 7, 2007, 7:59 p.m. CST
I don't mind people trashing That Donnie Darko director but trashing David Lynch? David Lynch is a god! And yes, his movies can be incredibly difficult to understand, but they do make sense if you can figure them out (or just read about them them on the internets.)
Nov. 7, 2007, 8:05 p.m. CST
So my point is, I don't know what Kelly was trying to say or if he's trying to say anything, but in Lost Highway (and Mulholland Road) David Lynch knows what he's saying and he's saying it about a believable human being told from the perspective of that human being. The fact that human being happens to be crazy is what makes it interesting and unique, and yes, difficult. The fact David Lynch can get into the head of a person who is crazy and show us what it is like, is what makes him an interesting and a damn great director. So, no more silly talk about David Lynch, please. Take the trouble to know what he's saying or just leave him alone. Your choice.
Nov. 8, 2007, 8:46 a.m. CST
Lynch is an fuckin God of cinema. I like Donnie Darko, but it is overrated. Lynch for kids.
Nov. 8, 2007, 9:45 a.m. CST
...capt. lou albano is the lee strasberg of the age, and all of steve austin's work is an extended sense memory of his traumatized past, eating turnbuckles...anyway, i was joking, half-ly ("half-wise"? i was half-joking...). tell me the acting craft of keanu, drew, &c., &c. wouldn't improve immeasureably from some time spent abusing steroids and metal folding chairs in the ring. then the rock will write the peerless guide to the young thespian, _an actor bodyslams_...
Nov. 8, 2007, 11:13 a.m. CST
by the beef
I compared SOUTHLAND to being Lynchian, but not Kelly's storytelling style in general. I may even be off-base with saying SOUTHLAND is semi-Lynchian, but the multiple characters and subplots reminded me of something similar to Mulholland Drive. I wouldn't say that Darko is Lynchian.
Nov. 8, 2007, 11:40 a.m. CST
And after listening to the commentary on the DVD it was rather apparent that Richerd Kelly was not 100% certain of where he was "going" with the flick.
Nov. 9, 2007, 6:28 a.m. CST
I thought it was great, showed it to all of my friends, they loved it, good. But then it turned into this worldwide "cult phenomenon" and every second asshole with an opinion would proclaim Kelly the future of cinema, but the truth is that it's simply a very impressive little film, nothing more. And sure, Kelly shows promise, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. As for the Lynch comparisons, it's actually quite understandable. The idea of the 'surreal' influencing and affecting suburban America was typical Lynch, especially in the 80's (Blue Velvet, followed by Twin Peaks in 1990). The reason I called Darko Lynch for kids is because Darko is the kind of film mostly teens discuss and are in awe of. Most of them have never seen any of Lynch's work. I they had, they probably wouldn't be so impressed with Darko, because Lynch's abstract storytelling is simply much more challenging and thought-provoking than anything seen in Kelly's little film.