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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It’s the end of the world as we know it; Sony feels fine

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I’m sure Roland Emmerich who, according to Nikki Finke, is receiving 25 percent of the grosses for his $200 million budgeted “2012,” is also feeling pretty good. Of course, now he has to figure out if he about to earn enough money for his own end-of-world-blocking fortress of solitude in case all those prophesies he used to come up with his critically dismissed thriller come true.

Emmerich’s latest multi-star epic earned an estimated $65 million, at the very highest end of the most optimistic projections put forth by Jolly Carl DiOrio that I mentioned on Thursday night. If you throw in the worldwide figures going back to the film’s international release last Wednesday, then you get to a figure of around $225 million so far. As per Variety‘s Pamela McClintock, assuming there are no surprises, this puts Sony’s PG-13 epic in the #9 spot on the top 10 for international opening weekends.

Disney's At #2 spot this weekend is the Disney/Jim Carrey/Robert Zemeckis CGI-3D revisit of “A Christmas Carol,” which, despite character designs that embody the unpleasant after effects of a visit to the uncanny valley, is holding up extremely well after what was deemed a disappointing opening last weekend. Charles Dickens’ unkillable holiday perennial only dropped about 25-26% or so, about half of what many films do, and collected a very respectable estimated $22.3 million. After it’s a truly steep fiscal drop all the way down to an estimated $6.2 million for “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” It seems to me there’s nothing more problematic at the box office than a prestige picture with a critical/online buzz response that amounts to “meh” — or in this case “meeeahhhh.” That’s an apparent 52% “many films” drop from last week.

Indeed, this week brings us the spectacle of a goat herd of A-listers being upstaged by an abused, severely overweight teen as the critically lauded by overtitled “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” shot up to #4 spot despite being in only 174 theaters. That means it earned it roughly $6.1 million on 2,279 less screens that “Goats” needed to earn an additional $0.1 million.

However, as good as the $35,000 per screen average for “Precious” was, taking a look at the Box Office Mojo weekend chart, the highest per screen went to Fox’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The old-school puppet animation comedy earned a very nice estimated average of $65,000 on four screens and is, weeks before its wide release, already going a long way toward burnishing the reputation of writer-director Wes Anderson who, as far as this writer is concerned, has never shot an uninteresting foot of film.

Still, it wasn’t all hearts and flowers for the indies this weekend. Despite some outstanding coverage by Mr. Will Harris at our fabulous sister site, “Pirate Radio” failed to receive the Bullz-Eye bump. The ensemble comedy, inspired by illegal British broadcasting outfits of the sixties and seventies that competed with the BBC by blasting out the latest in rowdy beat music, earned a very non-rocking  estimated $2.9 million, slipping just below Richard Kelly’s $3.2 million 10th place thriller, “The Box.”  On the other hand, that does mean that “Pirate Radio” went to 11.

  

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“A Christmas Carol” wins the weekend, but “Precious” gets the early Xmas cheer

Not quite Jim Carrey in Robert Zemeckis and Disney’s new CGI “A Christmas Carol” was pretty much destined to take the weekend, and it did with an estimated tally of $31 million. However, Nikki Finke noted that the film was expected to make, she says, at least $4 million more. I am inclined to think that the word that this version of Dicken’s holiday classic might be too scary for very young viewers might have given this entry a bit of a winter chill.

Variety, however, added insult to injury and the #1 movie found itself a subhead on its opening weekend. The trade paper of record instead led with the record-breaking per-screen average of the first new Oscar contender of the winter season, Lions Gate’s “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” which only placed 13th on the Box Office Mojo charts with an estimate of $1.8 million — but did so with an truly awe-inspiring per-screen average of $100,000 on 18 screens in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. For comparison, the week’s second highest per-screen average went to “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” a new dance documentary by cinema vérité legend Frederick Wiseman with $14,000 on a single screen. This is obviously a ridiculously good start for a dysfunctionality-driven drama with some markedly uncommercial aspects to it. I also have to wonder if the theaters it was playing in were somewhat larger than the usual arthouse venues.

The association of “Precious” with after-the-fact executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who both literally bought into the film after seeing it but will be reportedly donating whatever money they make on the film to charity, obviously paid off here with largely African-American audiences. There’s little reason, however, to expect that the film won’t “cross over” with all ethnicities thanks to Oscar buzz and mostly great reviews. Still, I’d also argue that more traditional art-house style numbers later in its run are a real possibility. It is worth noting that the nine theaters it’s playing in the L.A. area are demographically fascinating, straddling predominantly black areas and the liberal, indie-friendly west side of town and have me resisting the urge to give you a history of Los Angeles ethnic politics. Somebody knows what they’re doing.

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Holding up the #2 spot is, not surprisingly, the Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It,” which has ridden good worth-of-mouth to drop less than 40% and earn an estimated $14 million on its second weekend. Doing perhaps a bit better than expected, given that stars — at least stars with an average age north of 40 — no longer seem to have much impact at the box-office, the name-laden satirical comedy, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” managed an estimated $13.3 million in the #3 spot. Considering the $25 million budget, pretty modest for a film with four fairly major actors, and the “meh”-to-sub-“meh” reviews for a movie that should be critical cat-nip, that’s really not bad at all. Being the only new comedy in some time probably helped.

Nipping at the goat-starers’ heels was “The Fourth Kind,” which engages in some “based on a true story” quasi-mock-doc shenanigans. Though I made sport of it last time, there really is a sucker born every minute and enough of them had $10.00 handy this weekend for the science fiction flick to net an estimated $12.5 million. Somewhere, the ghost of William Castle is smiling.

The weekend’s other new release was one-time “Donnie Darko” whiz kid Richard Kelly’s dark science fiction tale, “The Box.” Not too surprisingly, the “Twilight Zone”-like tale fell short of “Paranormal Activity” — hanging in very nicely with an estimated $8.6 million and sure to cross the $100 million mark shortly — and came in at sixth place with an estimate of roughly $7.9 million.

  

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Xmas ghosts, a dead popster, goat starers, aliens, a box, and some demons

Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.

A Christmas Carol

Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.

After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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S. Darko

Despite the fact that “Donnie Darko” was one of the most imaginative, bold, exciting and talked about cult films of the last ten years, nobody really asked for a sequel. It was just that kind of movie – it said everything that it needed to say in one sitting. Heck, even Richard Kelly’s director’s cut that came around a few years later felt pretty superfluous. Nevertheless, the bean counters have won again, and so we have “S. Darko,” which is made by an entirely new set of creative folk yet stars Daveigh Chase, who played Donnie’s little sister, Samantha, in the original. Taking place seven years after the events of “Donnie Darko,” the sequel sees Samantha and her friend Corey (Briana Evigan, daughter of Greg) taking a road trip cross country, only to have their car break down in a crappy little town. There, all manner of weirdness surrounds them, most of it ripped directly from the original film. Tangent universes? Check. Roberta Sparrow’s time travel book? Check. Evil bunny mask? Check. A perverted motivational speaker? Check. Funny thing is, “S. Darko” finds absolutely nothing fresh or new to do with any of these ideas.

The movie is so reliant on the mythology set up in the original that it would make absolutely no sense if you haven’t seen the original, and yet because it brings nothing new to the table, fans of the original are bound to find it little more than a pointless exercise in commerce. It’s a shame about the screenplay, because most of the actors turn in pretty good performances, especially Evigan, whom I look forward to seeing more of in the future. Director Chris Fisher knows his way around the camera as well, and there are some really pretty pictures on display. And certainly any movie featuring music from The Cocteau Twins, Catherine Wheel and Dead Can Dance can’t be all bad, but it just so happens this one isn’t very good, either.

Click to buy “S. Darko”

  

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