Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"NOW a warning?"


I don't know exactly why I titled this post after that hysterical bit of dialogue from Death Becomes Her, but it does seem fitting, just throwing something I love randomly at the wall and seeing how it sticks, since I'm going to be talking about Richard Kelly's Southland Tales here.

Ah yes. Southland Tales. I'm assuming y'all remember my initial reaction to it a couple of weeks ago, in which I briefly expressed... dismay, one might say. I gave it a D and... well, I really didn't know what to think. It hurt me. It pained me deep on the inside, like swallowing one of those fabled razor-blade apples. Just like that! I used the word "hate" for goodness sake!

So... then I went and saw it again this past weekend. I knew what to expect this time. I girded my loins in expectation of its spastic messiness, its cinematic limbs akimbo, flailing every which way. And then... what's this... oh my Christ I enjoyed it.

I didn't write much about my first reaction because I wanted to give it another chance (echoes of my silence on No Country For Old Men there, huh? I'm getting to it!), but here's where I stood with my first Southland go-round: very funny in parts. For one, Sarah Michelle Gellar, as I have previously expressed, is awesome - every time Krysta Now is on-screen the whole movie just lights up. Richard Kelly was obviously working from experience here; he knows this woman, and SMG knows this woman, and her every moment is a giddy delight. The rest of the cast was hit-or-miss; how I could leave a movie that features Beth Grant and not have a single "Beth Grant giggle-fest" strike me in retrospect is... it's blasphemy! And I felt she was wasted. Bai Ling flitted around amusingly; she's a special effect unto herself. None of anything made any sense, and one scene just seemed to sidle up beside the next in the sloppiest of manners. I did admire the movie for just... going for it, ya know? In this age of movies being filtered through a thousand different test-groups and having anything interesting and unique whittled down to nothing, here was a movie that was just a big ol' disaster, going everywhere, in every direction... so I admired that, but the experience of sitting through it the first time through was... painful. What was funny fell between the cracks of its insanity.

And so I went a second time, being a glutton for punishment apparently. No, it's just... Richard Kelly made Donnie Darko! He was owed a second chance. And strangely, the clouds parted, and things kinda began to fall into place. I'm not prepared to rave about the film; I still think Kelly held the puree button down a little long, and the film's sloppiness (man I'm overusing that word; it's just... so right here) can be a slog to make it through still. But the funny stepped forward on a second viewing and smacked me about the face and instead of working so hard at figuring out what the eff was happening I could let it go and just appreciate more of the pleasures the film does offer and there are bunches to be had. SMG's performance grew on me even more, for one; it's sad that her film career seems kind of stagnant these days, but when one's specialty turns out to be so quirky it's inevitable I guess. She needs to work with the Joss Whedons and Richard Kellys of the world more often, because she's so wonderfully game for being bonkers.

Mandy Moore says the phrase "Cockchuggers 2: Cockchuggin'," which deserves a paragraph of its own.

What of our Do Dump Marry trio? Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Justin Timberlake still didn't 100% work for me, but I found Seann William Scott much more affecting with a second viewing; especially once one "gets" (as in what the film's really about, under the 17 layers of storytelling artifice) his character. (Sidenote: Scott's buzzed-head/beard combo has officially branded him highly fuckable on the fuckable scale.) I know Johnson was supposed to be unhinged but his twiddling-finger schtick seemed, well, schticky. I kept feeling like he was looking at me in the audience and admitting he had no idea what was going on either, unlike say how SMG just jumped right in and went with it. (He looked great, though.) Justin Timberlake... gah he just never fails to get on my nerves. His voice-over was slightly less annoying and his musical sequence felt a little less jarring this time, though, and... well, I don't really want to explain the movie here - if you have seen it and would like to discuss what it's about, head on to the comments! - but let's just say that as things began to fall into place - and I do think that, as this second viewing finished, I've actually really got a total handle on what the eff was going on, for real, like I get it! I win prizes, right? - so as things fell into place, Timberlake and Scott's characters made a world of more sense, in the context in which they fit, which once you "get" the movie will make sense. If that makes sense.

See? See what this movie does to one's brain? But once you do get what's going on, once the pieces fall into place, even the most annoying of the movie's many schticks - that being its overblown-to-the-point-of-grating cutesy character names - Jericho Kane, Dr. Soberin Exx, Dr. Inga Von Westphalen - well, that makes sense too. Damn you, Richard Kelly! You've officially made me lose my mind, I think.

I'm not to the point of hailing the film as a work of genius or anything. I still think it's a mess. But it's a mess that kinda sorta makes sense now, and one that's terrifically funny, and somewhere head-deep in all of its sloppiness I find myself, yes, appreciating its sloppiness on some level. That somehow Richard Kelly got somebody to green-light this "Richard-Kelly's-Brain masturbating on the screen" session. That he got a slew of game actors onboard. In this day and age, to see something so completely bat-shit, well, it's a privilege.

Check out what my pal Joe R. says about the movie at Low Resolution. He's even more nuts than me! As for my grade, at this time, Southland Tales has moved from a D to a B. B stands for Bonkers! Belligerently Boisterous! And Chef Boyardee.


FDot said...

Grah! It only played in Westchester for 5 days before vanishing. Where is it still playing in the city?

JA said...

It was playing at the theater at 11th and 2nd here in the city this past weekend; I'd guess that there's a good chance it won't be even there much longer, though.

Joe R. said...


qta said...

Now I am going to have to go see it. I was using your D as justification to avoid the possible heartbreak... since you and I agree so often on films.... but this means that not only will I have to see it, but now I'll have to see it twice!

JA said...


Damion, I just have to say that's what you get for ever trusting me - being jerked around mercilessly from one end of the spectrum to the other. I'm deranged, I tells ya; DERANGED!!! I do apologize, though. Perhaps you'll love it or hate it upon immediate sight though, and a 2nd viewing won't be necessary. But yes, you should see it at least once, I say now. Feel free to smack me around the next time we see each other.