Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Movie Review: "Southland Tales" (2006)

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Movie"Southland Tales"
Director: Richard Kelly
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

On an alternate timeline, a nuclear attack in Texas has led the United States into a third World War. The U.S. has started removing civil liberties in exchange for security, including using the Patriot Act to justify the mass collection of personal data by the NSA. However, a group of revolutionaries have a plan to change things that involves an actor, his wife, her senator father, a porn star, a drug dealer, a cop, his twin brother, a former soldier, a business man developing clean energy, and many others.

Art imitating life, or life imitating art???

"Southland Tales" is a film from writer/director Richard Kelly, who is best known as the writer and director of the sci-fi cult classic "Donnie Darko," a movie BigJ and I love. Both films are very much in the sci-fi genre, dealing with alternate realities and timelines, but "Donnie Darko" is far more straightforward than this film (which is a big statement considering "Donnie Darko" can get pretty confusing at times). "Southland Tales" is an obvious practice in avant-garde filmmaking, ripe with many of the markers of alternative types of movies.

Kelly brings together an ensemble cast which is comprised of an atypical group of actors like Dwayne Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Seann William Scott, Cheri Oteri, Christopher Lambert, Mandy Moore, Kevin Smith, Wallace Shawn, Amy Poehler, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Will Sasso, Bai Ling, John Larroquette, Jon Lovitz, Wood Harris, Miranda Richardson, and Nora Dunn, just to name a few. Can you think of a more random cast of characters in an ensemble in, well, ever? This was not an accident. Kelly and his casting crew made sure to include actors and actresses who had been typecast up until that point, and it sure shows in this random group of people. Many of the actors in the film have since admitted to not understanding it, and Justin Timberlake has said he views it as performance art. This all might sound a little pretentious and put off some viewers, and we fully admit that it is, but that's not really a bad thing. Hell, the lack of a coherent narrative is enough to alienate the average viewer. We almost always found what happens on screen to be wildly entertaining, even if incoherent. What we are truly impressed by is how well this film predicted certain actions by our own government. Despite being released in 2006, it has a major plot point about the NSA using the Patriot Act to collect mass data from everyone in the country. This was long before Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was, in fact, actually doing this, so maybe Richard Kelly knew something we all didn't??

It's partially about the end of the world, partially a think piece on war, and on the government and the NSA spying on the citizens of the country. It is part science fiction thriller, part comedy, part dance musical, part introspective drama, and these things happen all at once. It frequently quotes from both T.S. Eliot and the Bible. It is a dark comedy that offers some laughs, even if they stem from the random nature of its narrative. It has been edited and spliced so many times that some scenes are not fluid at all and make no sense in the grand scheme of the film. It's meta before meta was even a thing. The characters have the most bizarre names. They drink energy drinks and talk about porno and go missing and have twins and are racist and make screenplays about a baby that cannot make a bowel movement. It shows what our future was, or could have been, or might still be. We watched this 2 hour and 20+ minute film and were found ourselves completely confused by the time it was over. We don't exactly understand what we just watched. Is it good? Is it bad? Is is absolute insanity? We're still not sure we can properly answer these questions, but regardless, this film engaged us the entire time, good or bad or purely insane. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of those movies you'll need to watch over and over dozens of times, and we guarantee you'll find something new to you each viewing. We admit this that "Southland Tales" is not for everyone and will probably only appeal to a very select audience of weirdos, conspiracy theorists, and freaks, but we enjoy it despite not understanding most of it. It's not the kind of film that beckons to be analyzed.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 36%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "Devil in a Blue Dress"

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