Southland Tales

Southland Tales

 

I don’t know if the roughly 140 minute version of Southland Tales that made it to DVD is a butchered or merely abbreviated version of a masterpiece, but what I just saw is an unholy mess. I’m one of director Richard Kelly’s apologists for his divisive film Donnie Darko, one of the few movies able to choke up this grown male Dork Reporter. Like Southland Tales, it was heavily edited down before release, and the original theatrical version doesn’t even make logical sense. Its emotional appeal is hard to pin down, and yet I found it hugely involving and moving. I was rooting for Kelly on his big follow-up, and even though it made the best-of-the-year lists of both The New York Times and The Village Voice, I guess I’m on the losing team now.

The opening moments recall Cloverfield and Jericho with accidental home video footage of a nuclear attack on Texas. A long barrage of infographics, television fragments, and narration follows, outlining a tremendously involved backstory. Kelly has obviously created a huge fictional universe, the bulk of which proves superfluous to the comparatively simple story that concerns the bulk of the film that follows. Perhaps Southland Tales is the first entry in this Kellyverse, and indeed, it is comprised of four chapters (starting, no doubt modeled after Star Wars, with Chapter 4). But after this failure it’s hard to imagine Kelly securing the funding to complete additional chapters (at least as films; television or comics seem both more appropriate and more frugal).

Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling in Southland TalesBe thankful I couldn’t find a still of them making out

The ensemble cast is extraordinarily weird, featuring The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, and a complement of little people. No less than five past and present Saturday Night Live cast members also appear: Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, John Lovitz, Nora Dunn, and Janeane Garofalo (credited but I think I only spotted her in one shot near the end). Rounding it out are Miranda Richardson, John Laroquette, Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale in The Wire), and Kelly booster Kevin Smith. And is that the weird little French woman from The City of Lost Children? You haven’t seen a movie until you’ve seen one with Wallace Shawn and Bai Ling making out. But in a way I suppose that makes sense; they are both aliens from another planet. Different planets, maybe, but still.

Justin Timberlake in Southland TalesJustin Timberlake shills for Budweiser (not shown)

The music is likewise eccentric: Jane’s Addiction’s punk/prog masterpiece Three Days figures in the dialogue as an enigmatic prophesy and as the introduction to the official movie website, and Moby does his best Vangelis impression for his original score. Justin Timberlake (filmed in separation to most of the action) serves as narrator but also stars in a bizarre musical interlude and/or Budweiser commercial and/or Iraq war commentary: “I got sold out by I’m not a soldier.” And, why not toss in pop star Mandy Moore?


Official movie site: www.southlandtales.com

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Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy movie poster

 

Far and away Kevin Smith’s best film, and not coincidentally his most heartfelt. I think Smith’s achievement is to tell a universal guy’s story while still featuring significant and sympathetic female characters. Yes, Chasing Amy is spectacularly profane and the characters are prone to giving extended on-the-nose speeches perfectly explicating their inner motivations, but the central theme is worthy and true: love can be a mixture of elevating another to a height to which you can’t measure up, while paradoxically needing to have them do the same to you. More literally, Holden (Ben Affleck) feels both fascinated and threatened by what he perceives as Alyssa’s (Joey Lauren Adams) more adventurous and worldly sexuality, but also needs to believe that he has power over her and has somehow tamed her.

Out of Smith’s oeuvre, the closest to Chasing Amy is Jersey Girl. But his personal meditations on fatherhood required more of his trademark raunch to offset the treacle than the PG-13 allowed. It did, however, feature the single cruelest joke I’ve ever heard: Andrew Lloyd Webber is “the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to New York City.” Zing! Nobody, not even Lloyd Webber, deserves that!

Ben Affleck and Jason Lee in Chasing Amy.jpgNot one to pass up an opportunity to cite Jaws

A far better writer than I has already been here and done that: please refer to Matthew Dessem’s review on The Criterion Contraption. I disagree with his obvious dislike of the film, but every point he makes against it is fair.


Official movie site: www.viewaskew.com/chasingamy

Criterion DVD info: www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=75

Criterion Contraption review: criterioncollection.blogspot.com/2007/09/75-chasing-amy.html

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