Massawyrm Says SOUTHLAND TALES Goes South Fast And That KILTRO And MIRAGEMAN Can't Come North Fast Enough!!
Published at: Sept. 24, 2007, 10:27 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
The word you're going to have to get used to hearing is "Mess." Complete mess, total mess, something of a mess. If it has the word mess, people are going to use it about this film. And the kicker is that mess isn't exactly the word I would use. The word mess seems to intimate that there is a number of different things going wrong simultaneously in Southland Tales. And there isn't. There are exactly two things wrong with Southland Tales - the first is that Richard Kelly REALLY wanted to write a Phillip K. Dick Novel. And secondly, rather than putting it in novel form he decided to adapt this unwritten novel to the screen using the imagery of Terry Gilliam.
The result is one of the most stunningly incredible failures I've ever witnessed. It doesn't just fail. It completely implodes. Like a college kid trying to find his identity, this movie shows every indication of wanting to come across as complicated and profound without first actually having anything to say. Oh sure, there are messages here, a steady stream of political static that won't seem new to anyone who has heard of this newfangled, magical device called the internet, but there's nothing at its core. This is a movie written around story elements and held together with all the same conventions that hold together the works of late 60's early 70's sci-fi writers. Problem is that those kinds of stories work on the page but not on the screen. The idea of a porn star trying to be a visionary television icon while simultaneously getting caught up in a violent, underground Neo-Marxist organization is one I will gladly give myself over to in print. But onscreen? Only if that's as weird as it gets. Sadly, that's just the beginning.
Kelly said it himself: he was making Pop Art. And the problem is that truly effective Pop Art rarely comes from someone setting out to make it. It just happens naturally. Setting out to make pop art tends to leave an artificial, superficial shell wrapped around a whole lot of nothing. Which is a great way to describe Southland Tales. This is a very sad collection of great ideas that never gel into a solid whole. It's watery Jello that is nice to stare at and dream of what it would be like if it all came together like you hoped, but never, ever will.
Making matters worse is that certain sections of the film become visual attempts to slip into the Gilliamverse and instead end up looking like they were painstakingly stolen from Shock Treatment, the long ignored and truly terrible sequel to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And can someone, for the love of God, explain to me what the fuck was up with the midgets in raincoats? For fucks sake, at least Gilliam makes his midgets make sense. They're hotel bellboys or temporal thieves. This movie just has truly random appearances by the vertically challenged for the sake of it.
Phillip K. Dick and Terry Gilliam are like Matter and Anti-Matter. Both are extraordinarily power forces, neither to be trifled with. But most importantly the two should never, ever be combined. The result is a work so dense, so weighed down by its own needless over-complication that it collapses in upon itself. It is a work that seems to be promising a light at the end of the tunnel, a primer that, if you can locate it, will make all the meaningless bullshit coalesce and begin to make sense. But it doesn't exist. It's not there. Unlike Donnie Darko and Domino before it, there isn't a magical moment of realization in which every tiny little fragment becomes important. Instead, I've seen people swimming through the 3 Graphic Novel set that we were all given afterwards which is the first three chapters of the movie - not because those people were so in love with the movie that they wanted more, but rather because they are praying that the primer is hidden somewhere within those pages.
And maybe it is. I could give a shit. This isn't a fucking installation piece. It is a movie. And if an audience can't walk out with a rudimentary understanding of what exactly the fuck it is that they just watched without a precursory few hours of reading, then the filmmaker has failed. I don't look at this and see a modern marvel of complexity – I see a cast and crew afraid to admit to a genius director that they might not be smart enough to understand his work and instead are just playing along with the assumption that this genius knows exactly what the hell he is doing. But this time he doesn't. Sorry guys – the emperor has no clothes.
I love Kelly and his work. I love his mind. He writes exactly the kind of films that I want to spend hours watching and dissecting. But this is the one he got wrong. This is the idea that wasn't ready to come out of the box. Not in this form at least. I might have LOVED to read Southland Tales: the novel. But the movie? The movie is a complete failure on every level. It cannot come and go fast enough, freeing Kelly up to make another piece to wow us with. I love the guy. But Southland Tales let me down in a big way.
Mirageman and Kiltro
Hell yes. Here's a buildup that didn't let me down, the Chilean cinematic dynamic duo – writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and stuntman/action hero Marko Zaror. Working together to blaze trails in the South American film market, these guys are building a very special body of work that combines intense martial arts action with smart writing, carefully crafted comedy and a whole lot of heart. In short, their films are feel good kung fu flicks – more akin to early Stephen Chow than anything else.
Both Kiltro and Mirageman deserve being reviewed together at this point, because that's how the rest of the world is going to discover them. And they are not entirely dissimilar. One is Ernesto and Marko's riff on Kill Bill, combining their love of Asian cinema with that of retro Italian and American cinema. That's Kiltro. The other is a superhero film about a somewhat average joe who attempts to become a masked vigilante and discovers it is nowhere near as easy as they make it look in the comics.
What these movies share is a star who is not only a complete and utter badass, but is also unafraid to play a bumbling, lovable idiot who is just unintelligent enough to keep getting himself into the wrong kinds of trouble but never stupid enough to make you want to roll your eyes at the trouble he gets into. It's a level of intelligence that makes him very human and incredibly believable. He's not the perfect hero that most action stars attempt to play – the smart, good looking, ass kicker with just the right one liner to finish up with. Marko Zaror plays the tall, brooding, quiet type who will kick your ass from here to Arica, but you know could easily be outsmarted by even the most average of thugs – which gives him a level of vulnerability that always allows for danger to exist. But whenever he is about to settle things HIS way, you know bodies are going to start flying and some kind of incredible flying kick is just around the corner.
Is Marko as stunning a performer as Tony Jaa? No. His physical style and stunts aren't at that level. At least not yet. But how do his movies compare? They are infinitely better. Let's face it, we all say the same thing about Ong Bak - none of us watch it for the story. But try walking out of Mirageman talking only about the fight scenes. You can't. You'll want to talk about its heart, its humor and its highly original story. And Marko in real life is smart enough to put his faith in a writer/director that knows how to play to both his strengths and weaknesses in order to craft exactly the right kinds of stories for him. And it makes a world of difference.
My wife pretty much hates martial arts flicks, but she loved Kiltro and wants to see its superior followup, Mirageman. It's safe to say that I loved both of these films and can't wait to see what happens when foreign investors begin to notice this pair and decide to drop a little more dough into their films. These guys appear to only be getting better. And a third film cannot come soon enough for my taste. Highly recommended. If you're at Fantastic fest right now and haven't seen either of these, seriously, for the love of all that's holy, poke someone standing next to you, ask them what THEY thought and realize that I'm not alone - these are two of the movies that you cannot miss this week. They are everything everyone is saying and then some.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.