View image The evil queen and her dwarves. How clever. This was the shot that almost prompted me to walk out. I can't believe they used it for a production still. Yes I can.
Sometimes I doubt Richard Kelly's commitment to Sparkle Motion. The first time was the "Director's Cut" of "Donnie Darko," which de-emphasized all that was mysterious and exciting about the original film by insisting on a literal explication of the time-warp theories of Roberta Sparrow (aka "Grandma Death"). Huge mistake -- as bad as showing us the inside of the mothership in the "Special Edition" of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." At least Spielberg knew that was an error, and removed it from his Director's Cut: He'd wanted to tweak things he'd had to rush in order to meet his deadline (after all, the fate of Columbia Pictures was riding on this picture), and to flesh out some character details. But Columbia let him go back and fine-tune his blockbuster on the condition that he show Richard Dreyfuss inside the ship -- something we really didn't want to see, because it ruined the uplifting momentum of the ending, and who wants to see Richard Dreyfuss crying over anti-climactic special effects anyway?
"Southland Tales" is the product of the same literalist sensibility that produced the second version of "Donnie Darko." Part of me questions whether it's even worth writing about, mainly because it offers so little of cinematic interest. It's fussy and inert, like Part 4 of a PowerPoint slide-show based on a set of elaborately drawn storyboards that explain in excruciating detail the minutiae of the mythology behind "Hudson Hawk." There's nothing close to a movie here.
There's an obvious channel-surfing aesthetic to mimic "information overload," but nothing's on, anyway. One shot could just as easily be followed by any other shot -- they aren't cut together with any verve or intelligence, so the effect is flat and linear. We flip by a beachside talk show ("The View" with porn actresses), and that's as sophisticated and penetrating as "Southland Tales" ever gets about sex, politics and media. (He said "penetrating"!) Is it hard to follow? Not really. The voiceover makes sure everything is explained (often more than once), but it could just as well not have been explained and it wouldn't matter, because nothing is illuminated in the explanation.
Like "Hudson Hawk," it's a bloated, white-elephantine vanity production (for the writer-director, not the star) -- a strained, deliberate, joyless, big-budget, star-studded Hollywood effort to manufacture a "cult movie" by pandering to what some studio execs probably consider to be "the comic-book youth demographic." It wishes it could be "Repo Man" (or "RoboCop" or "Starship Troopers") but it's not even "The Postman." Actually, "Southland Tales" -- co-financed by Universal, which is distributing the film internationally but dropped any domestic plans after the disastrous reception at Cannes -- isn't "big-budget" by today's Hollywood standards ($17 million). But the feeling of waste and desperation behind it -- "Let's throw money at the screen for big sets and unimaginative digital effects!" -- is not unlike that dead-lump-in-your-stomach feeling you get while watching your average Michael Bay movie. [Since writing this, I have learned that the time and (Sony) money spent re-tooling "Southland Tales" after Cannes has included cutting 20 minutes, adding to Justin Timberlake's too-literal voiceover, and beefing up the special effects. That's what I was afraid of. It shows.]