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Southland Tales [DVD]
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Richard (Donnie Darko) Kelly directs this fast-moving ensemble piece set in a futuristic Los Angeles suffering economic and environmental meltdown. It's the fourth of July 2008, three years after a nuclear strike has wiped out a large part of Texas. The federal government, having assumed control of most people's lives in the interim, moves to stop the introduction of a seawater-based energy solution, under pressure from big business. Meanwhile, the government has also got its hands full with a Marxist underground movement intent on revolution, operating on the west coast. The various plotlines revolve around three central characters: Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), an action movie boxing star, suffering from amnesia, who's trying to get a new project off the ground; Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a porn star trying to break into TV punditry with her views on everything from teenage sex to west-coast culture, and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), an LA cop, who is searching for his, literally, split personality.
Well, filmmakers should aim high, they say. And Richard Kelly shot the moon on his highly-anticipated follow-up to cult sensation Donnie Darko, which expands the apocalyptic mood of that movie and blows it up tenfold. Set during the election season of 2008, Southland Tales proposes a series of apparently linked events: the reappearance of a vanished movie star (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), now an amnesiac; the bizarre doubling of a policeman (Seann William Scott in two roles); the development of an energy source from ocean waves; and the presence of an Iraq War veteran (Justin Timberlake) who seems to be watching everything, and narrating some of it. Not that the narration helps; even with voice-over (reportedly added after the film's disastrous debut at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival), Southland Tales doesn't come close to making sense, let alone at the minimum level of dangling a carrot to lead the audience along (even Mulholland Drive had a semblance of murder mystery to be solved, or not). The cast is loaded with Saturday Night Live cut-ups, but only Jon Lovitz connects, and in other roles people like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Christopher Lambert, Bai Ling, and John Larroquette are utterly mystifying, by no fault of their own. In some of the musical sequences Kelly gets in stride, but it's easy to create drama in a three-minute music video, and harder to do over two and a half hours. Some top critics rushed to champion the movie, as though flying in the face of philistinism, so feel free to try out this incoherent pastiche for yourself. --Robert HortonSee all Product description
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And I was quite saddened by the reaction from viewers and critics alike (because I really loved it!). Yes, if you're thinking of watching Southland Tales, know that most people absolutely loathed it. They described it as unwatchable, too complicated and not making any sense.
And they're probably right. But I still love it anyway. For a start, it's set in the same `Darko' universe and, like its predecessor, is a mixture of genres. Ultimately, it's an `end-of-the-world' film, but it encompasses comedy, romance, action, musical, thriller, science fiction and even political satire on the constant `war' on terrorism.
It has numerous characters, all of which are playing their part in the overall story. However, this is where the `haters' start to build their argument. There are so many characters that none of them (bar Dwayne Johnson possibly) are really afforded the screen time they deserve. Hence we never really know an awful lot about them and then suddenly they're killed off and we're left none the wiser to what they were really about.
Then you have the narration. There's an old saying in the writing world: `Show, don't tell.' Here, Southland Tales simply tells half of the important plot points through a narrator and various fictional shots from the internet. Again, this does give off the feeling of being a bit rushed.
But, if you can get over the many minus points, you'll find that Southland Tales is actually quite a novel story, told in a very slick and stylish way. Some of the scenes are almost visually hypnotic and the soundtrack (courtesy of Moby) certainly adds to the mood.
If you've seen Donnie Darko, you may know what to expect. Don't think you're going to get any quick answers to what's going on. You may find you're looking up answers on the internet as to what Southland Tales is all about. That prospect may not appeal to everyone, so, if you're one of them, don't bother watching this. However, I'll just sit back and enjoy the experience. I don't claim to understand everything and I'll never say it's a perfect film. However, I found it perfect for me.
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