Hidden Netflix Gems – Southland Tales

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Most viewers, even those who eventually became its biggest fans, initially found Richard Kelly‘s debut feature, Donnie Darko, to be strange, convoluted and challenging to fully comprehend on a single viewing. However, compared to his 2006 follow-up, Southland Tales, Darko now seems like Where’s Waldo? Perhaps the absolute craziest film ever made, Southland Tales is a wild ride through pre-apocalyptic paranoia, fevered hallucinations and madness that really defies any kind of classification. It is pulpy, surreal, funny, political and, above all, very weird. I won’t try to convince anyone that this film is a success, per se, but its wild ambition and complete originality make it well worth a look.

Southland Tales takes place in a near-future alternate reality, after nuclear attacks taking place on the fourth of July, 2005, have begun World War III. Post-9/11-style paranoia abounds, and the world is in a far-reaching energy crisis, which the wealthy Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn) is attempting to alleviate with his new energy generator, Fluid Karma, which uses the ocean’s currents as a power source. The only problem with Fluid Karma is that it is altering these currents, causing the earth to slow its rotation, and ripping holes in the space-time continuum. This space-time rift seems to be particularly felt in the criss-crossed destinies of the film’s main characters: Boxer Santaros, aka Jericho Cane (Dwayne Johnson), an amnesiac action star who may have become the main character of his own screenplay; Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a porn star and social activist who co-wrote the screenplay with Boxer; and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), a cop who may or may not also be his own twin brother, Ronald.

Does that all make sense? Obviously, not even close, and believe me, there’s much, much more going on in Southland Tales, including but not limited to: a brilliantly strange musical interlude featuring Justin Timberlake in a blood-soaked T-shirt; a neo-Marxist conspiracy involving no fewer than four former Saturday Night Live cast members (Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler); and, of course, that screenplay written by Boxer and Krysta, which may or may not foretell the end of the world as we know it. For good measure, the film also features Kevin Smith as a mad scientist and Christopher Lambert as an illegal arms dealer who sells his wares out of an ice cream truck, as well as hilarious philosophical dialogue like “Teen horniness is not a crime,” and “Pimps don’t commit suicide.” Southland Tales is gloriously chaotic and incoherent, similar to being plunged headfirst into the fever dream of a stoned pop-culture addict. It doesn’t completely make sense, even after multiple viewings, but it is an endlessly fascinating mess.

  

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Thanksgiving weekend box office: Harry Potter still rules, but “Tangled” keeps hope alive for Disney princesses

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint face the future in As we discussed on Thursday, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” would have had to suffer a truly enormous second weekend drop, or its nearest competitor would have had to be a HUGE over-performer, for it to come in at any spot but #1 this weekend. Still, these last five days were a bit more competitive than expected.

Over just this weekend (Friday-Sunday), the latest entry in J.K. Rowling’s enormous fantasy opus dropped by a hefty but not surprising 59.7% from last weekend with an estimate of $50 million and change for studio Warner Brothers, according to Box Office Mojo. Over at Anne Thompson/Indiewire land, Anthony D’Alessandro reports that the fantasy feature earned some $76.3 over the entire Thanksgiving weekend. (Nikki Finke has a slightly higher figure along with the predictable extra snark.)

Coming up a very healthy #2 was Disney’s “Tangled.” Reports of the death of Disney fairy-tale adaptations and princess tales may be taking a very Mark Twain-worthy turn. The 3D animated musical comedy, which is receiving hearty praise from critics and top grades from Cinemascore, earned a stellar $69 million estimate over the five day period and came within a hair’s breadth of the Potter-plex over the weekend with $49.1 million. Close enough that, when the actuals come out, it’s not impossible that “Tangled” could actually win the weekend. Of course, with this much money involved, neither film could possibly be termed a “loser.”

That, however, is not the case for the weekend’s other two new releases. The musical’s new lease on life took a small hit this weekend with a disappointing run for “Burlesque.” The poorly reviewed pic earned an $11.8 million weekend estimate for Screen Gems/Sony in the #4 spot after “Megamind,” and somewhere in the neighborhood of $17 million over the five day period, perhaps $7 million below the expected take. Still, D’Alessandro reports a very good Cinemascore rating, which may indicate strong legs or at least that people who really wanted to see a movie with Cher and Christina Aguilera got what they wanted.

Bringing up the rear after #5 “Unstoppable,” which is holding very nicely indeed in Week 3 with an estimated $11.75 for Fox, was Edward Zwick’s “Love and Other Drugs.” How Nikki Finke could describe Zwick’s first attempt at a romantic comedy/drama, 1986 near-crime against humanity (and David Mamet) “About Last Night,” as “now classic” is a mystery to me. Less of a mystery is the fact that a poorly reviewed attempt at Oscar bait is a movie with no place to call home. So, those $9.85 weekend and $14.5 holiday weekend estimates are absolutely no surprise.

The Dwayne Johnson action fest “Faster” also lost its personal race this weekend, with a rather slower $8.7 and $12.2 million estimate. La Finke notes that the marketing budget on the film was kept modest (so that’s why director George Tillman, Jr. talked to me?) and, at least, CBS Films prexy Les Moonves seems committed to the long haul with his fledgling film company.

Meanwhile, in limited release-land, the big news was the big weekend for “The King’s Speech” which earned by far the weekend’s biggest per-screen average with a king-size $87,500 average on four screens. Considering this film is both reportedly extremely good, stars English actors portraying royalty, and from the Weinsteins, its heavy Oscar presence seems assured alongside “The Social Network” (which I finally saw last night and was absolutely floored by) and “The Black Swan” (which I haven’t seen yet, but seems to floor everyone who sees it).

The-Kings-Speech-International-Trailer

  

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Box office preview: “Harry Potter” to smash strong competition like so many horcruxes

Even though we have four major releases hitting theaters tomorrow for this five day Turkey day weekend, I’m going to keep it short. Especially as, in some respects, this weekend is a foregone conclusion.

On the heels of its boffo $125 million opening weekend, Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows: Part One” would have to drop by what I’d think is an unprecedented percentage in its second weekend to get anywhere even close to the $40 million or so jolly Carl DiOrio expects for this week’s new CGI animated comedy based on the fairly tale “Rapunzel,” “Tangled.” The film, which Disney has seemed slightly nervous about, marks the final bow for the Disney princess brand and fairy tale adaptations for some time, we’re told, and the studio has been trying hard to sell it to males.

Though I might personally prefer my princesses 2D and traditionally animated, the tale has enraptured most critics and our David Medsker is rather sweet on it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it over perform — not because the people listen to critics but because the critics are (mostly) people. Maybe it’s a bit early to retire the whole fairy tale princesses thing.

Also looking strong and with definite female appeal — though plenty of PG-13 level under-clothed attractive women are on offer for ogling males — is the apparently deliberately hoaky musical, “Burlesque.” Though the film is getting some guilty pleasure semi-love from Jason Zingale, it’s not getting the guilt-ridden love of critics over all, not that it will matter for a movie, fans of Cher and Christina Aguilera and glitz will show. Fans of rom-coms, however might not show as  much for Edward Zwick’s attempt at something a bit more biting than the usual in the genre, Fox’s “Love and Other Drugs.” Any Oscar hopes for the Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway pairer seem beyond remote in the face of unimpressive reviews. and I suspect this is the kind of movie that actually needs to be good to do terribly well. Still, the considerable charisma of its two stars and the lack of adult-skewing date-type movies might help it achieve its rather modest expectations.

Bringing up the possible rear, or maybe not, is the relatively lowish budget actioner starring Dwayne Johnson, “Faster.” Though I enjoyed interviewing director George Tillman, Jr., the movie has received little critical applause, not that it particularly needs it. It’s possible, however, that considering the lack of action-fare right now, males might want to smell what Tilman, the ex-Rock, and a strong supporting cast are cooking. I’m sure CBS Films would find that delicious.

Dwayne Johnson is going

  

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“Faster” Dwayne Johnson, kill! kill!

I don’t know whether I’m fighting off a bug or if I’m being taken over by an alien pod, but I’m just not feeling cogent enough for reflection tonight. Good night to catch up on my TV viewing or on less creative writing tasks no matter how much movie news is going on out there.

As if to fit that mode, via Mike Fleming, here’s a very violent and bloody (nice close up of someone getting their throat cut) red band trailer from CBS Films for “Faster.” It shows Dwayne “no longer related to geologic formations” Johnson going very far out of his way to get the taint of all those family movies off of him, with a little help from Billy Bob Thornton and director George Tilman, Jr. Mr. Tilman seems to be channeling a bit of John Woo and Sam Peckinpah.

Fleming refers to Johnson’s characters as an “action hero”? No matter what they did to him, does a “hero” run around killing numerous unarmed people in cold blood? Not in my world. Still, looks like it might be an interesting ride. They haven’t had much luck with movies at CBS so far. Could this be the one that changes the new film division’s luck?

  

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Weekend box office preview: “Inception” to meet its match in “The Other Guys”

Christopher Nolan’s science fiction thriller continues to hold audiences to the tune of over $200 million as it enters its fourth week.  It still will likely be no match for the projected $30-$35 million or maybe a bit more being bandied about by box office prognosticators like Ben Fritz and, more optimistically, jolly Carl DiOrio for the new buddy-cop cop parody/homage from Sony starring Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys.” Of course, having Ferrell in a movie is not an instant ticket to box office glory as the experience of “Land of the Lost” taught us not so long ago. “Inception” will nevertheless go to the #2 spot, it appears.

The Other Guys and friend

This time, Ferrell’s got what looks to be very strong support from the increasingly funny Mark Wahlberg not to mention supporting performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as the supercops who would ordinarily be the leads in a buddy-cop flick. It’s even got very decent reviews, which are not a requirement for Ferrell to have a hit but they indicate the movie might be okay. That always helps, though there’s general agreement that the film from Sony is creatively not in anywhere near the ballpark of something like the similarly themed “Hot Fuzz.”

Aimed at a very different audience of young girls, the prospects are less promising for Disney’s “Step Up: 3D.” As the third film in a series that was actually declining, the conventional wisdom is that the only reason it was even made was to cash in on the three-dimensional craze. I’m thinking that craze has already peaked, at least for the present. Nevertheless, DiOrio says that its tracking indicates it might actually beat the $18.9 million opening of the prior entry. I’ll believe that when I see it, though admittedly there really isn’t a strong film for female tweens right now, so counterprogramming could be the film’s salvation. Though with “3D” actually in the title, I’d be worried if I was the executive who greenlit this one.

Luke Wilson and Friends in This week also sees two films opening in over two hundred theaters, making them larger than usual limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, “Middle Men” from Paramount will be opening in 252 theaters, including the multiscreen drive-in theater about thirty miles east of L.A. where I’ll likely be attending an informal gathering at this weekend.  The movie is getting mixed reviews, which is about right in my view. It’s an attempt to make a Scorsese-style quality film about a major turning point both in the history of porn and e-commerce that fails simply because it tries to tell a miniseries story in the length of an ordinary 100 minute release. Still, it’s an interesting movie with a lot of good moments and some very good acting, including from star Luke Wilson. We’ve been covering it a lot at Bullz-Eye with interviews by me with co-stars Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht and there’s more to come here at Premium Hollywood.

Being released in 231 theaters is Joel Schumacher’s latest attempt at artistic respectability, “12.” Named after a fictitious designer drug, it’s getting predictably uniform bad reviews and is evoking mentions of Larry Clark’s infamous “Kids.”  On 45 screens is kind of the flip side of that, a sentimental comedy-drama of puppy love that sounds a little bit like a very wholesome “Let the Right One,” minus (obviously) the vampires, called “Flipped.” What’s weird here is not that its reviews so far aren’t so good, but that there are only four of them. Even at his best, Reiner was never a huge favorite of mine, though he sometimes chose great material. (No, “When Harry Met Sally” is not really great material in my view.). Still, only getting four reviews is just sad.

  

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