Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Southland Tales

Well, as an opening comment to the movie that is known by many only as the follow up to Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, I must say that if you though that Donnie Darko was weird, then you are in for what will feel like an absolute mind-warp of the senses. The film was ironically completed in 2005, but managed to only pop in cinemas in the United Kingdom at the end of last year, except it was more or less invisible by that stage, and has been more or less low key on the DVD side of things, so I knew that it would be an interesting film to see, being one of the few people to have seen it on DVD, much less at all. There were horror stories of how bad it was, so perhaps they supressed the film, but that is another topic. The topic here is the theatrically released cut of Southland Tales. Anway, in as little words as possible (and that is pretty hard to do), Boxer Santaros, an action film star with amnesia, Krysta Now, a porn star, and Roland Taverner, a policeman, get up to all manner of things weird and abstract over the course of three days, including conspiracies, time travel, Neo-Marxist terrorism and the Apocalyspe etc. Now, personally, this should be all the things I like in a film. I absolutely loved Kelly's Donnie Darko, and it is one of the best movies of the past decade, but I approached this film with an open minded neutrality, with my love of Donnie Darko and the horrifying reviews for this film. I can understand why there were horrifying reviews of the film. However, all is not as bad as it seems in the world of the Southland Tales (apocalypse or not). For starters, the film is a very visually dazzling film, with some superb cinematography on display here. Kelly is obviously a great visual stylist, and here with a bigger budget, is letting his imagination run free, and the director of photography is quite obviously heavily under his direction. However, personally I feel that while being imaginative is great in the world of film, that Kelly has unfortunately lost control of his imagination. Kelly unfortunately by this stage, after the massive success of Donnie Darko as a cult phenomenon, has been given the keys to the kingdom was a greater budget and bigger stars enthusiastic to work with him. The film is like Donnie Darko, in that it attempts to convey multiple sociological, ideological, political and philosophical themes, however, because of Kelly being given the keys, he has lost all sense of plot and direction. For example, he is unable to garner any legitimate performance from his cast in the slightest. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who was actually good in Get Smart this year, essentially plays himself, and Boxer Santaros is let's face it a boring character. Likewise with Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose acting performance is as one-dimensional as the character she plays. For example, Megan Fox played a similar role in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, and there is such an obvious difference. Whereas Fox plays her role with a knowing "wink wink" satirical portrayal of the person she is stereotyped as herself, Gellar merely plays a Barbie doll carved out of plastic and not of human flesh. The most interesting character's are Justin Timberlake's Pilot Abilene and Roland Taverner, played by Sean William Scott. The film should have been about these two characters, but instead Kelly goes for the all-out mind-rape, never mind mind-warp, and instead creates a multi-stranded ensemble piece which neither he nor his screenplay can handle. Kelly has become a kid locked overnight in a candy store, knowing he will get sick if he eats too much sweets, but nonetheless unable to resist these sumptuous temptations that surround him. There is enough material surrounding Kelly here to fit into four or five films, but instead he attempts to squash it into an impossibly short two hours and twenty minutes, which ironically by the end of the film's bombardment, feels like eight hours. I'm sorry that this has not really been a structured review split into specific sections in the film itself, but trust me, the film itself has worse structure. It is edited so poorly, with ideas just being shoved in to the point that the film is burgeoning at the seams, that it just feels as though you have this insane amount of pressure being squeezed onto your head. Donnie Darko did all of the same with regards to themes in under a hundred minutes (discounting the poor directors cut). If that film was shot in the same style as Southland Tales, then we would have Mrs Farmer as one of the main character of the film. And let's face it, we all hated Mrs Farmer. At it's best moments, Southland Tales is rather reminiscent of the masterpiece that is Koyaanisqatsi. Kelly is a great visual-sound director, in that he knows how to mix music perfectly with the actions that are occurring onscreen, and there are a couple of key scenes in which that quite obvious talent flourishes. Personally, I would love to see Kelly make a "pure film," as in no dialogue, no script, no plot, just images to music. However, unfortunately, this is no "pure film." While you do feel in some senses that there is a passable movie in there somewhere, all in all, the film is a poorly edited, directed, acted, sociological, theological, political and philosophical mess. The tagline of the film goes "Have A Nice Apocalypse," and in most ironic of senses, this proves prophetic. It is an accurate portrayal of the apocalypse, as in the film is a perfect representative of the anarchic mess to be expected with the coming of the rapture.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 2.3/10

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