May 21, 2006

Cannes. Southland Tales.

Southland Tales "I must quickly gawp in astonishment at the sophomore-jinx train wreck that is Richard Kelly's Southland Tales [site]," jots Mike D'Angelo at Nerve. Despite Donnie Darko, "This is a potential career killer, I suspect..."

"There's a lot going on in Southland Tales; the problem is that it all goes nowhere," writes Cinematical's James Rocchi. "You could make the argument that the only way to satirize modern life is through the lens of bad science fiction; the problem with that technique is that at the end of the day, you've still got a piece of bad science fiction."

Updated through 5/25.

Jeffrey Wells calls it "a very long throw of a surreal wackazoid football - a stab at a great, sprawling GenX apocalyptic nightmare about an Orwellian police state running things a couple of years from now.... I'm not saying all younger people will like it, but you can definitely scratch the boomers.... [I]t's too dense and complex and ambitious by half.... Reservations aside, this is one of those films you have to see just to see how much you can get on the first take. I'm definitely going to take Kelly's advice and see it a second time."

Gregg Kilday talks with Kelly for the Hollywood Reporter. "I wanted to write a black comedy about Los Angeles, and ultimately about the end of the world.... I sort of really dug in - dealt with issues of domestic surveillance and homeland security and alternative fuel. I just started to make it something more political - but first and foremost a comedy."

IndieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez: "The showing was met with applause but at a press conference this afternoon, Kelly was pressed to react to the mixed reactions."

Updates, 5/22: Mike D'Angelo elaborates on his initial comments, but not before hearing rumors that some critics - some of whom you may read and admire, as I do - are going to come out swinging for Southland Tales. Names are named. We'll see. In the meantime, he adds: "Yes, Kelly addresses a handful of hot-button topics - the growing infringement of civil liberties in the name of the war on terrorism; the increasingly symbiotic relationship between politics and entertainment - but only the most shallow, simplistic, name-checking kind of way. Which would be forgivable if the movie were remotely funny, but it just plain isn't, despite the painfully labored efforts of the entire cast."

"Rarely has a picture been so self-consciously designed to be a culturally meaningful touchstone, and fallen so woefully short, as "Southland Tales," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "What's a shame is that there was no one involved on the project who could give Kelly brutally honest advice about the mess in the kitchen before the dish was served - who could save him from himself. It's the sophomore jinx with a vengeance."

Ray Bennet in the Hollywood Reporter: "The film strives to rank alongside such classics as Brazil and Blade Runner but falls more into the category of Mars Attacks! and 1941." Actually, both of those movies, even if widely regarded as failures, noble or not, do have their merits.

If Southland Tales is the dud, or even the disaster it's made out to be in this first round of reviews, to what extent, I wonder, does it have to do with its delivering only the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of a story begun in graphic novels? Creating an entire mythology with Star Wars-like complexity seems to work best when the introduction to that parallel universe is as simple and accessible as Star Wars IV itself - or for that matter, the first Matrix, as opposed to its overcooked followups. Donnie Darko, too, attracted a crowd first (albeit slowly, of course), and then some of that crowd followed Kelly further into the realm he'd created. At the moment, it doesn't sound like Southland Tales is going to have the sort of popular appeal that'll encourage more than a very few to bother wandering around in it once the credits roll.

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls it the "festival's real clunker."

But Manohla Dargis calls it "a sprawling, periodically dazzling, often funny pop-and-politics mash-up" in the New York Times.

SXSW producer Matt Dentler is "very disappointed," and what's more, "after chatting with some distributors last night, it seems like it would need a fair amount of trimming for anyone to consider releasing it."

Time Out's Geoff Andrews: "Morally and metaphysically confused, unfunny, heavy-handed, and as prone to waste, excess, idiocy and decadence as the emphatically allegorical world it imagines, it comes across as the dopehead nerd hipster's alternative to The Da Vinci Code."

Updates, 5/23: Mary Corliss, blogging for Time: "So far, Kelly hasn't been able to wrestle his madly imaginative material to the mat. It's controlling him. But I hold out hope that he will find a way to corral the riot of ideas and characters and astonish us with a great movie."

The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu: "It might conceivably work as a website or as a cult cable show; as an entertainment, it feels so protracted that, given the choice, most of the Cannes audience would have opted for the end of the world."

"I might not care about the incomprehensible plot, larded with biblical quotations and unspecific intimations of doom, and I might be willing to accept that Kelly has some kind of Godardian pomo deconstructionist hoo-ha in mind, if I ever believed he were in control of his material," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir:

But I think back to the pitch-perfect suburban surrealism of Donnie Darko and just feel sad. This is an overamped, lumpy, jumpy film that never establishes either its plot or its characters clearly, and the dialogue is often cringe-inducingly bad.

Yes, there are moments of pure visual magic here, and the scope of imagination and ambition at work in Southland Tales is everything you would expect. If Kelly recuts this, takes out all the nonsense and releases it as an experimental, almost wordless, nonnarrative film (at, say, 90 minutes) it might become a rare and beautiful thing. As it is now, it's about the biggest, ugliest mess I've ever seen.

Meanwhile, Jim Emerson is, shall we say, suspicious of Jeffrey Wells's take on the film.

Here's what we were waiting for, J Hoberman in the Voice, arguing the case for "the most audacious, polarizing, and to my mind, enjoyable movie in the competition thus far: Southland Tales.... Essentially, Southland Tales is a big-budget, widescreen underground movie.... There hasn't been anything comparable in American movies since Mulholland Drive."

Update, 5/25: "[U]nbearably smug, staggeringly self-indulgent, supremely terrible," an "astonishing exercise in juvenilia," marvels the LA Weekly's Scott Foundas: "Southland Tales is a movie that believes that to merely mention the words 'Iraq War,' 'Patriot Act' and 'alternative fuel' - or to name a bank after Karl Rove - is to make a bold political statement, and it's already clear that, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, there are some who feel that Kelly has accomplished exactly that."



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Posted by dwhudson at May 21, 2006 7:59 AM