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Southland Tales
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by brianorndorf

"Who needs drugs when there's Richard Kelly?"
5 stars

Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” is a mess, but it’s a gonzo, unsettling, semi-coherent, barnstorming near-masterpiece that had me glued to my seat in anticipation of witnessing how far this multi-dimensional funhouse of madness could go.

It’s been three years since terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb in Texas, and America has shut down due to renewed powers of the Patriot Act. Oil is scarce, which leaves a new oceanic power source called “Liquid Karma” the ruler of the land. Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) is a Hollywood superstar who’s recently lost his memory, looking to push a screenplay he’s written with his lover, porn star/talk show host Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), which foreshadows the end of the world. Also along for this ride of final days are twin brothers Roland and Ronald Tavner (Seann William Scott), Iraq vet Private Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake), and a fierce warrior in the underground “Neo-Marxist” movement named Zora Carmichaels (Cheri Oteri).

It’s futile to even try and explain the plot of “Southland Tales,” so consider what you’ve read in the above paragraph to be the loosest summarization of the film possible. Taking his sweet time following up his 2001 cult bonanza “Donnie Darko,” Writer/director Kelly has returned with a creation of astonishing sprawl and bewildering intensity. If you thought “Darko” hurt your head, I would suggest bringing a helmet to observe these “Tales.”

An apocalyptic political comedy of sorts, “Tales” is a Kubrickian satiric jaunt that takes few prisoners. The film imagines a gasping world where hope is lost, the government observes and controls every single thing we do, and the only way to poison this militaristic order is to run screaming head first into chaos. The mixture of anarchy and futurism delights Kelly, who heaps on a widescreen story of murder, deception, and dimensional tearing. The ambition of this beast is simply breathtaking.

That’s not to say any of this makes sense. Much like “Darko,” “Tales” is a story told over multiple media outlets (a graphic novel prequel seems a must read before entering the theater), with the feature film labeled parts IV, V, and VI in a series with a future that isn’t addressed. Many of the characters were established in previous incarnations of “Tales,” leaving the viewer to play catch-up with much of the movie. For some, it’ll read as outrageous arrogance, but there’s something about Kelly’s tenacity tinkering with mysterious forces that I find irresistible, especially with the monster canvas he’s given himself in “Tales.”

Beyond the political nature of the film, in which Kelly comments on America with a wicked smirk, knowing we’re all headed straight to hell, “Tales” could be classified more in surrealist terms: it mixes futuristic sights such as the Liquid Karma subplot and the finale set on a glowing “Megazeppelin” with the story of Roland and Ronald, and their place as messianic figures. That’s not to mention hordes of other twisted touches, most centered on Boxer and his mysterious past and biblical future. “Tales” comes off as a slippery David Lynch production at certain moments, basking in the ambiguity of it all while we lowly filmgoers share the burden of fitting all these pieces together. Frustratingly, those pieces don’t always slide easily into place.

Radically restructured after its disastrous Cannes 2006 debut, “Tales” has the pace and reach of a film that’s truncating critical characters and absent some important momentum. In a film that’s overflowing with supporting parts (including Miranda Richardson, John Larroquette, Mandy Moore, Zelda Rubenstein, Kevin Smith, Nora Dunn, Bai Ling, Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, Christopher Lambert, Lou Pucci, Rebekah Del Rio, Will Sasso, Curtis Armstrong, and Wallace Shawn) it makes sense to see “Tales” backed into a corner as new characters pop up and are just as quickly shooed away. I’m still trying to figure out why the heck Janeane Garofalo appeared in a party scene at the end of the movie.

The confusion is extended to the story, which has enough Grand Canyon-sized narrative gaps to make it clear they’re not part of Kelly’s original design, though the hand-holding, sardonic narration by Timberlake (who also contributes a beer-soaked musical number because...well, why not) is appreciated.

While “Tales” teasingly hints at a conclusion of apocalyptic proportions, it’s a treat to see Kelly is dead serious with those intentions, rendering a last act buttressed by citywide violence, cocktail parties, and colossal reveals of characters finding their true purpose. “Southland Tales” is a fearless picture utterly dependent on patience and curiosity. Even for die-hard “Darko” dorks, it’s a braintickler that will require careful inspection over time to sort out. For those eager for Kelly’s insanity to lead them into the unknown, this feature is a gold mine of the fantastic and abstract, stuffed daringly into an audaciously entertaining and riveting package that could very well be the most polarizing moviegoing experience of the year.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16687&reviewer=404
originally posted: 11/13/07 23:37:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2017 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/20/17 morris campbell strange but interesting 3 stars
6/11/12 Flipsider An overcomplicated farce that in the end doesn't have much to say. 3 stars
2/04/12 Ryan Marshall Hated this movie. Kelly has intriguing ideas but lacks proper execution. 1 stars
5/06/11 Laks Surrealism at it's finest. This movie made no sense, and that is what makes it so good 4 stars
1/24/11 Joe Nelson Great Directing, Acting, Story, Everything was Great. 5 stars
12/30/10 Josh I appreciate this film greatly, it is an epic, a modern epic at that 5 stars
8/13/10 Zephyr J This flick gave me brain cancer - AVOID!!! 1 stars
3/09/10 Richard Brandt Kind of like an elaborate 90's miniseries that didn't make the cut 3 stars
2/22/10 King Contra YA i like it 4 stars
1/19/10 Andrew Shearer FINALLY! Someone besides me loves this film! 5 stars
11/28/09 B Rage I like the surreal atmosphere. It's a trip, no less. 5 stars
11/27/09 John B Clever movie, worth seeing. You'll need to watch it twice to catch all the madness. 4 stars
11/12/09 Green A deliberate mess and, therefore, genius! 5 stars
8/19/09 TreeTiger 2 hours and 20 mins. of pure, unfiltered cinematic CRAP..! 1 stars
12/07/08 Lee beautiful, crazy, well written film, idiots will not like it though. 5 stars
11/23/08 Shaun Wallner This movie stinks!! 5 stars
4/09/08 Michael holy fuck, I had some hopes for this, but what a horrifying embarrassment for all concerned 1 stars
3/25/08 Charles Tatum An abominable milestone in cinematic history 1 stars
3/20/08 Jefenator The emperor's new 144-minute feature film. 2 stars
3/18/08 JJ Gimp Kelly clearly wants to be like Terry Gilliam but fails on every level. 1 stars
3/07/08 matthew well, it was ok. the plot got irritating quickly though and the casting is just bizarre 3 stars
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  14-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 18-Mar-2008



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