Saturday, 23 June 2012

Southland Tales - Movie Review

Spoiler Free Review Synopsis: This is a great movie, because it's just so bad. The plot is tangled and senseless, the characters are flat and incomprehensible, the premise is ludicrous, and the acting is just hilariously bad. It's a lot like Tommy Wiseau's The Room in this way, and I recommend it for an enjoyably weird experience.

I have to take a different approach to this one. This movie is very weird. No, really, you don't even know. Southland Tales was directed by Richard Kelly, who you might know as the writer/director of Donnie Darko. Basically, this is what happens when you give a guy like that a bigger budget and forget to proofread his work. I actually kind of feel bad for him, since it seems like he really wanted this to be an epic saga. There's even a prequel trilogy of stories that was released as a tie-in comic, and the movie itself is structured in three acts, labelled as Episodes IV, V, and VI. It frequently quotes the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelations, and the main plot focuses on the end of the world. Having said that, the words "plot" and "focus" really don't belong in association with this film.

With a movie like this, you can't deal with it the same way that you would a conventional movie, because it's not built the same way. It's like comparing a Rubik's Cube to a book of Mad Libs, or Apples to Pens. Thus, I am not going to address the overall breakdown of the movie like I normally would. I am going to come at this from the angle it deserves, as a movie that is composed of totally random arrangements of characters and plotlines. This is a top 10 list of the best lines in Southland Tales. I'll try to give them as much context as I can. It won't help at all though.

1. "I am going to tell you the story of Boxer Santaros, and his journey down the road not taken."

The first lie of the movie! Justin Timberlake is the narrator, playing a wounded Iraq War veteran who is only peripherally involved in the events of the movie and has a musical dance number near the end of the movie for absolutely no reason. Anyway, he gives us the premise of the movie in a ten-minute narration at the start of the movie, followed by this little nugget. Boxer Santaros, played by Dwayne Johnson, is just one of 30+ named characters in the film who figure into the plot, and he is hardly the main character of the story. Though he is prominent, this is no more his story than it is his porn star girlfriend's (Sarah Michelle Gellar), or a kidnapped government police officer and his twin brother (Seann William Scott), or the crazy arms dealer (Christopher Lambert), or the porn producer/revolutionary leader (Will Sasso), or the homicidal cop/evil lackey (Jon Lovitz). Nobody's running this show.

2. "The ocean is a perpetual motion machine. Fluid Karma is a simulation of the principles you see working right here. As long as the waves continue to crash, Fluid Karma will exist." 

A crazy scientist (Wallace Shawn) has invented a new energy source because America is currently embroiled in a "world war" with a half-dozen other Middle Eastern countries and doesn't have access to its oil supply anymore. This power source is called Fluid Karma. It works by using the motion of the ocean (hah!) to generate energy, which is then transmitted via some sort of wireless technology to vehicles and devices. I'm not sure, but I think this guy just invented the Morphing Grid from Power Rangers. But while he's explaining how all this works, some weird tiny fat lady just pipes up with this line...

3. "Quantum Teleportation."

No, really, that's it. She just says it, and stops talking. Nobody gave her a reason to say it, and she doesn't elaborate. It's weird, but what's even weirder is that this is apparently a hot-topic in this culture. Later on, a porn-star talk show briefly mentions the issue, once again with no prompting or details. If you just spouted that in the middle of a conversation, people would just look at you as if you had slapped them. Go ahead, give it a try the next time you talk to someone. Then slap them. That's what watching this movie feels like.

4. "You're not really here."

This one needs context. And a stiff drink. So here's one of the movie's subplots broken down: USIDent is a government agency that monitors people. Like, all the time. They have a division that is purely devoted to watching you while you poop through surveillance cameras. It's Big Brother without the pretense. Naturally, this doesn't go over well with the rebels, who hatch a plan to bring the system down. Their plan is simple, and also stupid: They kidnap government officer Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), and have his twin brother pretend to be him. He takes Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), a movie star, on a ride-along to research his next film role. While being filmed on this ride-along, he acts like a racist jerk and is called to a staged domestic disturbance, where he is going to pretend to shoot and murder the couple (complete with blank bullets and pre-set squibs to simulate the gunshots). Naturally, if one cop is racist and murderous, that logically means that the whole system is corrupt and must be brought down. The plan wouldn't have worked even if it had gone down as planned, but it was foiled by the arrival of another cop (Jon Lovitz), who walks into the room, shoots the couple dead, then turns the gun on Seann William Scott and tells him "You're not really here." Then they leave. WTF, movie?

5. "I haven't had a bowel movement in 6 days. I haven't taken a piss, either."

This is apparently supposed to have some sort of biblical significance. But how, I couldn't tell you. During a conversation between Santaros and Taverner on the ride-along, in which Taverner is racist and Santaros is crazy, Santaros mentions a top-secret experiment in which a newborn child returns home with his parents from the hospital, and a week goes by without the child producing a bowel movement. Supposedly, this baby is special, and processes energy differently. Taverner confesses that he hasn't had a bowel movement in six days. What is the significance of this? I think the movie is trying to tell us that Stifler is Jesus, but I can't confirm of deny it using the facts the movie lays out. I also don't care.

6. "But deep down inside, everyone wishes they were a porn star."

Not in this world, but that's actually a good point for why this movie is so damn weird. The weird alternate-universe this movie occupies has a radically different culture than the one we're used to (see my American Reunion review). In this world, everything's exaggerated to a ridiculous degree. The Republican Party took office and turned the country into a police state, while Democrats have apparently become underground Marxist terrorists. This would be interesting if either side actually had any deeper motivation besides "screw those other guys". Nobody comes off looking good, since everybody's out for themselves. If you're looking for a movie that gives you hope for the human race, try something else. Maybe Terminator 2.

7. "Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."

The hell? What does that even mean? This line comes from Krista Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), the porn star talk show host I mentioned earlier, who also gave us the earlier quote. The movie can't seem to decide if she's a visionary or a moron, and it's quite possible that the two are synonymous in this world. Don't even get me started on Senator Bobby Frost (Holmes Osbourne). He seems to exist in this movie only to play the stereotypical arrogant redneck politician, and randomly quote Robert Frost...get it? This movie doesn't do subtlety.

8. "Did I just see two cars porking each other?"

Yes. We all did. I may never forgive you, Richard Kelly. This is another gem from Frost, who has just viewed a European commercial for Fluid Karma. In the commercial, which I will show below because I want you to suffer like I did, two cars receive power transmissions from Fluid Karma. One drives up behind the other and proceeds to mount it from the rear, as it's tailpipe becomes a chrone penis, while the receiving vehicle grows labia where its muffler is. Once again, this movie exists in a universe radically different from our own. And even in that universe, European commercials are MESSED UP.

This is Super Bowl level weirdness.

9. "We are going to take the ATM machine with us to Mexico."

No. You don't get context for this one. Context would only dilute the flavor of this moment. I'm apparently going to start linking a lot of videos for the rest of this list, so enjoy!

Hell Yes We Are

10. "Ladies and gentlemen, the party is over. Have a nice apocalypse."

The final scenes of the movie take place (for the most part) on-board a giant blimp, where a Republican fundraiser is taking place. While on this blimp, we learn the secrets of time travel, watch a weird techno-opera rendition of the national anthem, and it ultimately explodes because a wannabe thug who's been drafted into the army shoots it with a rocket launcher that he got from a crazy arms dealer while he stands on top of a levitating ice cream truck containing two magical twins having the most epic handshake of all time. The weirdest thing about all this (HAH!) is the announcer on-board the blimp, who chimes in with a bunch of these random lines. Who is this man? Why does he know there's an apocalypse? Why is he still announcing things? He keeps right on going even up to his impending death, cheerful as ever, giving all those doomed souls the weirdest final thoughts ever.
Bonus: "I'm a pimp. And pimps don't commit suicide."

This one's repeated a few times. It actually has no context in the overall story, but it has something to do with time travel creating duplicate people, and suicide causing a temporal paradox. Boxer Santaros knows that he would never commit suicide, because he is a pimp. Not literally, but figuratively. Nobody actually mentions suicide before this point, so the line literally has no context. It's as though entire pages of dialogue were ripped out of the script and nobody noticed. That's the charm of the movie: It's a mess, and it's up to you to put the pieces together however you like.

Bonus #2: Just watch the clip. I can't even...


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