For only the second time in seven days, I allowed myself to sleep past 6:30 ayem so I’m only just starting. It’s 11:10 now and I have to pack up and get over to the X-Men 3 screening at the Lumiere, which I feel obliged to see in a half-resigned, half-teeth-gritting way. More postings later…kind of a uneventful Monday, and that’s fine for a change.
After the regrettable but inescapable duty of writing my reactions to Southland Tales (which could, it seems to me, be trimmed and refined and re-shaped to its benefit, so there’s another critical-reaction chapter yet to come…I hope), I shuffled out of the Palais and down the Croisette to a very pleasant HBO beach party, with the blustery winds buffeting the see-through plastic barriers that had been draped around three beach-facing sides of the tent. mPRm’s Michael Lawson and James Lewis were hosting, and I had a pleasant shmooze with senior vp media relations Nancy Lesser. Around 6:45 pm I arrived at a Southland Tales party on a Cadillac Escalade-type yacht called the Big Eagle in the Cannes harbor. I had a great talk with bright and engaging Senh Duong, the Emeryville-based creator and major domo of Rotten Tomatoes. I also had a good chat with Persistent Entertainment’s Matthew Rhodes, who hands-on produced and/or handled financing for Southland Tales, Walker Payne and Lasse Hallstrom’s An Unfinished Life, among several others. Rhodes is now preparing to produce The Beautiful Ordinary, a suburban high-school drama written and directed by Jessica Manafort, whom Rhodes said is cut from the same kind of imaginative, creatively audacious cloth as Southland‘s Richard Kelly.
Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, which had its first public screening this morning inside the Cannes Grand Palais, is 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 liked portions of Kelly’s film here and there (especially the musical numbers and the wild fantasy stuff that kicks in toward the end), but mostly it felt like a struggle and a muddle. I’m sorry to say this because I think Kelly is one of the best younger filmmakers around, but this is the kind of difficult film that only an audacious visionary could make.
Seann William Scott (center, shaved head) as Hermosa Beach cop Roland Taverner in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. (I’ll figure out the other actors’ names later on.)
Set mostly in the beach communities of Los Angeles (with a final act that happens above the streets of downtown Los Angeles) over a July 4th weekend, it’s about various permutations of frenzy, delusion, egoistic fame-seeking, and underground anti-government activity, all of it running rampant after a second 9/11-type attack (a much worse one) occurs in Texas.
There weren’t that many walkouts during the screening (I noticed about 12 or 13) but they were almost all people with soft bellies and gray hair. I don’t know how many tickets Southland Tales (Universal, mid-fall) is going to sell when it opens, but if it makes out at all it’ll be largely due to the GenX-ers and GenY-ers who turned Kelly’s Donnie Darko into a cult hit after it opened in October ’01, despite many critical pans.
< ?php include ('/home/hollyw9/public_html/wired'); ?>
Southland Tales is absolutely not a movie for your average 55 year-old. I’m not saying all younger people will like it, but you can almost certainly scratch the boomers.
I was of two minds. I felt distanced and frustrated by the lack of a clear through-line and a not-simple-enough unfolding (especially in the beginning), and by the sense of insufficient refinement in the story strokes.
But I also felt dazzled and delighted by some of the flights of fancy and fantasy that Southland veers into, especially during the final act. This is a crazy, no-holds-barred, go-for-it Richard Kelly film. And I think vigorously challenging mind-scrambling movies are good for the soul, even if you don’t get everything about them.
Duane “the Rock” Johnson
Kelly himself admitted in the post-screening press conference that the film is “a tapestry of ideas” and “an experience of a puzzle,” and that perhaps it will take “a second viewing to comprehend all the intricacies.”
That’s the problem with the film — it’s too dense and complex and ambitious by half.
And the actors — Duane “The Rock” Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott and Justin Timberlake have the lead parts — have been directed to perform with arch and mannered deliveries, or to act ultra-serious and alarmed with constantly shocked expressions, and so it doesn’t connect on an emotional level. Nothing is allowed to sink in and touch you.
Southland Tales is meant to be a black comedy, but the jokes are on the dry side and under-delivered (which is usually the kind of humor I prefer…except here) and they’re frankly not very funny.
The film is also supposed to be a kind of half-musical, but Kelly doesn’t work enough songs in (only Timberlake has an out-and-out musical number) and Southland could have really used the anchor effect of characters occasionally singing and dancing their butts off.
My opening paragraph makes Southland Tales sound like a bad oppressors vs. good revolutionaries story, but it’s not that simple.
All kinds of ideas, echoes and story elements have been thrown into this puppy, mostly stemming from post-9/11 attitudes and intrigues.
Armed soldiers are on the street, a privately-run big brother outfit called USIDent is checking up on everyone, the environment is heating up badly, two pairs of identical twins (or twin souls) are part of the general plot swirl, and there are a lot of folks getting shot at the end.
There’s also a decelerating globe, a political alliance between an ex-porn star and an action star (i.e., Gellar and Johnson), a conniving neocon political candidate and his flunkies, a power-mad company called Fluid Karma that delivers ocean-driven energy, Santa Monica-based neo-Marxist revolutionaries blackmailing politicians, a mood-altering substance that various characters inject into their necks with a high-tech syringe, veterans of the Iraq War suffering post-traumatic stress disorder…and that’s just for starters.
This morning’s press conference — Monday, 5.22.06, 12:55 pm
Southland tales is probably going to get a rough reception from the Cannes critics. I talked to a few of them as we shuffled out of the screening, and I don’t think it’ll be pretty.
Here’s what Kelly has written in the press notes: “Southland Tales is a comedic spin on the apocalypse, as it should occur in the great city of Los Angeles. Trust me on this one…if the end is indeed upon us (apparently 59% of Americans believe that it is), it is going to happen in Los Angeles.”
I thought it a bit odd that only Duane Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kelly’s producer Sean McKittrick were on the dais with Kelly at the press conference. The no-shows included Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake, Chris Lambert, Jon Lovitz and Kevin Smith (who is close to unrecognizable in the film due to a heavy makeup job).
Sarah Michelle Gellar
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.
But Kelly should consider doing a re-edit before showing it again at a major festival. I think there’s a slightly better movie inside the one I saw this morning. And if he does a re-edit, he should consider cleaning up the beginning and make it simpler and more straight-arrow and with less plot thrown at the audience so early on.
This is an “old” (i.e., three days old) piece, but it’s worth quoting from regardless. It’s Entertainment Weekly critc Owen Gleiberman lamenting that United 93 didn’t take in any more than $30 million domestically (which isn’t that awful , considering how much people everywhere were talking about not seeing it. “I…found the experience of United 93 to be scary, inspiring, and cathartic,” Gleiberman wrote. “I felt closer, in a way that gave me a shudder, to what happened that day; I felt a little more connection to the brave people on that plane, much as I have when I’ve read, in the newspaper, those agonizing transcripts of their final moments. We don’t expect serious journalists to soft-pedal the news. So why do we say that a movie that dares to present itself as an incendiary act of dramatized journalism has touched the forbidden third rail? Why do we insist that it’s too real, too raw, too painful [and] too soon? I say: It’s not what’s up on screen that we should turn away from. It’s our fear of seeing it .”
Richard Kelly’s intensely political, surreal and audacious Southland Tales screened at the Grand Palais this morning, and it’s time now to head over to the press conference, which begins in five minutes…
A journalist has an issue with the Breakup and Omen tracking figures that I passed along yesterday (or perhaps with the way I interpreted them) and he wants to know who passed them along to me. He mentioned a name, and has said if I don’t reply that he’ll feel free to interpret that for what it may imply. In short, he’s looking to out a source. I won’t reveal my source and feel it’s odious beyond measure for a fellow journalist to threaten what he’s threatened. I replied that NRG Tracking is NRG tracking is NRG tracking — it’s on paper, printed with black type, and if it’s accurate what’s the difference if Donald Duck or Minnie Mouse passed it along? If I misunderstood the numbers or misinterpreted their meaning (a reader got in touch last night and said the numbers I reported don’t square with his) I will of course report that and issue a correction and an apology. The source who passed along the figures is well positioned and has given me accurate figures for a long time. I have no axe to grind against The Breakup or The Omen, and if clarification is needed on this matter I will quickly provide it.
An L.A. industry friend reports there was “applause following the World Trade Center trailer in Westwood’s Festival theatre just before the Friday night at 8 pm showing of The DaVinci Code. The theatre was sold out…and everyone I met afterwards, your basic LA moviegoer, liked the film. DaVinci is clearly a crowd-pleaser and more of a guilty pleasure than critics are willing to admit. Akiva Goldsman‘s script and particularly his dialogue are beyond tedious and painful, but Tom Hanks manages to survive and pull it out of the gutter. A lesser actor would have followed it down the hole.”
One woman told me they had driven to three theatres in the area that were not only sold out- but
all Friday night shows after on all of the multi screens- sold out as well.
The Breakup (Universal, 6.2), Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston‘s romantic discord comedy, isn’t tracking. With only twelve days to go before opening, that means the game is pretty much over. Definite interest is at 30, 1st choice is 5…it’s finished. I’m told that while audiences enjoy Vaughn in an off-the-wall mode, they don’t want to see him in semi-romantic parts. This is bad news for Aniston also because now she’s 0 for 4 — Derailed, Rumor Has It , Friends with Money and now this thing. She’s all but kaput as a big-screen, big-bucks player. She’s not particularly sexy, not perky, not a gifted comedienne…and she always seems to play parts in an introspective, low-energy way. I’m not deriving any joy from saying this, but Aniston is probably one or two steps away from competing with Helen Hunt for HBO roles.
Tracking on John Moore‘s The Omen (20th Century Fox, 6.6) is in the toilet. Definite interest is 19, definitely not interested is 18, and first choice is 2. It didn’t cost very much to make so it won’t be a bringer of financial doom if it doesn’t fly, but that 18% definitely not interested figure basically means forget it. Why? My guesses are that (a) audiences have seen the Richard Donner ’70s version on TV and don’t want to see it again, (b) they’ve seen the DVD of same, (c) Liev Schrieber doesn’t sell tickets and isn’t Gregory Peck (besides the fact that it’s hard to believe in Schreiber as a U.S. ambassador to Great Britain under any circumstances), (d) Julia Styles isn’t Lee Remick and (e) devil movies were all the rage in the ’70s, but are over now (as producers of last year’s Exorcist prequel will probably testify).
The DaVinci Code earned a hefty $28.6 million on Friday , and a rival studio (i.e., not Columbia, the domestic distributor) is projecting a $78,790,000 weekend. The question is what it will do on weekend #2 and #3, especially with X-Men 3: The Last Stand expected to go through the roof when it opens next Friday. Brett Ratner’s sequel is going to make over $100 million over the 4-day Memorial Day weekend . (A recent tracking report had general awareness at 89, definite interest at 56 and first choice at 23. By the time next weekend rolls around the first choice figure for X-Men 3 will likely be up to 40.) Mission: Impossible III did $3.3 million on Friday and will only do about $10.9 million for the weekend, which means it’ll be a push to $120 million. M:I:3 may do okay with foreign revenue and everything else factored in, but that’s not much of a domestic haul for a film of this size. Over the Hedge is expected to do about $38,200,000 for the weekend. Poseidon is off 57% this weekend, with a projected $9,500,000. It cost $160 million to make, and it may earn a bit less than $50 million before leaving the domestic arena.
The Inconvenient Truth press conference in Cannes’ Grand Palais ended at 5:30 pm, or about an hour ago. The question-receivers, naturally, were Al Gore, director Davis Guggenheim, producer Laurie David, producer Lawrence Bender and two others whose names I can’t remember.
Some highlights: (a) As things began moderator Henri Behar asked Gore how he should be addressed, and Gore replied, “Your Adequacy“; (b) Gore said he has no plans to run for President in 2008 (“I can’t foresee any circumstances that would lead me to run,” etc.), and that the whole running-for-office phase on his life is essentially over; (c) As far as dealing with global warming in a meaningful way, much less recognizing the scope of the problem, Gore allowed that some senior officials making decisions on behalf of the United States live in “a bubble of unreality” but “the people are always way ahead of the politicians on this issue”; (d) In a reference to Katrina and other domestic ecological disasters that are likely to result from global warming, Gore said that “even Bush and Cheney will eventually be forced to change their views“, adding that “nature is a very persuasive force”; (e) After a journalist made a humorous reference to the Keifer Sutherland series 24, Gore said, “I think it was this season that the President [of the U.S.] on 24 turned out to be a real villain…right?” He then stroked his chin Sherlock Holmes-style and went, “Hmmmm”; (e) I asked whether he thinks Hilary Clinton has been a sufficiently active eco-friendly legislator as a U.S. Senator and whether he could name any eco-friendly potential candidates that he personally approves of in terms of their legislative record on global warming issues, Gore said, “This is going to frustrate you but I think it’s too early to get into the 2008 Presidential race…right now I would rather focus on a local level for the fall elections.”
A good (if short) N.Y. Times piece by Pat H. Broeske about the two upcoming movies — Minnie Driver‘s The Virgin of Juarez and Jennifer Lopez‘s Bordertown — that focus on the mystery of 400 killings of women in the Juarez area.
- Thumbs Down on “Pearl”
Some are under an impression that Ti West‘s Pearl (A24, currently playing), the X prequel, is some kind of unusual,...More »
- Emily’s Journey
It only took me five weeks to finally watch John Patton Ford‘s Emily The Criminal, which is pretty close to...More »
- Once More With “Empire”
Yesterday I tried to elaborate upon my positive Telluride reaction to Sam Mendes‘ Empire of Light (Searchlight, 12.9). Toward the...More »
- RT Cooking “Woman King” Scores?
At what point can The Woman King, which cost $50M to produce and another significant chunk of change to sell,...More »
- Don McLean’s “The Day The Academy Died”
An article by a veteran Academy member has appeared on The Ankler, and it says something that The Ankler‘s Richard...More »
- Nightmare at Village Market
Last night I ran into an old friend who’s no longer a friend because he’s more or less turned into...More »