Saturday, April 19, 2008

Meeg at the Movies: The Party's Over -- Have a Nice Apocalypse

I think I like movies more than your average person. I get out to the cinema on occasion, but I also have a Netflix account which I use to rent all kinds of stuff. Often after I watch a movie I find myself wanting to discuss it with someone and then I run into a brick wall because none of my friends have seen it yet. As a result I sometimes end up harassing people trying to convince them that they need to see such-and-such-a-movie.

So anyway, I've decided I should really start taking advantage of the blog as an opportunity to have a monologue (remember how one of the founding purposes of this blog was to serve as an outlet for typographical masturbation?) about those movie's I've watched that have made an impression on me (that expression sometimes makes me think that experiences are like rubber stamps which leave their mark on the spongy grey matter of my cerebrum). Plus, who knows, maybe other people who've seen the movie might join the discussion. This might even aid me in my continuous quest to get friends to watch stuff.

Southland Tales is a particularly good movie to start off this potential thread of future blog posts since I think that a lot of people have either (a) not even heard of it or (b) heard that it was horrible and something to be avoided. Released last year (2007), this is director Richard Kelly's first film since the much lauded Donnie Darko. If you haven't seen it, Donnie Darko was a thought-provoking movie where Jake Gyllenhaal explores time travel, alternative universes and theoretical physics and is goaded into committing acts of mild terrorism by a freaky-looking giant bunny that's only in his head. Also, Mary McDonnell (aka Laura Roslin) played his mom and Drew Barrymore basically proved she's not smart enough to convincingly play a high school English teacher. A lot of people probably had high expectations for Southland Tales but it was booed at Cannes (hey, they booed Sofia Coppolla's Marie Antoinette too so I guess it happens). Lots of critics hated it including Roger Ebert who basically made it sound like a crime against the moviegoing public.

When I uncovered all of this information I thought that maybe I made a big mistake by putting the movie at the top of my queue. But after watching it I'm going to say that all those geezers at Cannes were just looking at the movie from the wrong side of the generational gap. This is the type of cult movie that I know I'm going to rewatch.

Southland Tales is a comic strip satire set in a dystopian present. After a terrorist nuclear attack in Texas, the country is thrown into a panic. The Republican dominated government passes the patriot act on steroids which includes a system of interstate visas and military checkpoints between state lines as well as a homeland security-style government agency which presides over all law enforcement, surveillance and the internet. Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson (who is totally not bad) is a movie star with ties to the Republican party (he's engaged to the vice presidential nominee's daughter played by Mandy Moore) who is kidnapped by Sarah Michelle Geller's character, a porn star turned mainstream celebrity/entrepreneur. Seann William Scott (aka Stiffler) plays a cop and his twin brother (or are they the same person?), Justin Timberlake is a druggie Iraqi war veteran, and Miranda Richardson (!) is the first lady -- an ex-beauty queen who now runs homeland security. Everyone is somehow mixed up in a conspiracy by the neo-Marxists (the last bastion of the radical left in California, played mostly but SNL alums) to... ensure the Democrats win the election... or blow something up... or something?? Oh and the "inconceivable" guy from the Princess Bride (Wallace Shawn), assisted -- I kid you not -- by the little lady from the Poltergeist movies (Zelda Rubinstein) and Bai Ling, has harnessed the power of the ocean and turned it into the ultimate alternative energy source which he's dubbed "Fluid Karma".

Is this movie confusing? Yes. Campy? Yes. Flawed? Yes. But I do not understand how anyone can dismiss a movie which contains as many compelling ideas (even if many of them are only brushed upon) as this one. It's not perfect, but Southland Tales gives you a lot to chew over and it begs for repeat viewing. Not only that, but parts of it are really entertaining. I particularly enjoyed a scene where Justin Timberlake shoots up and is transported into a musical number as well as Sarah Michelle Geller's dialogue (highlights include "All the pilgrims did was ruin the American Indian orgy of freedom!" and "Scientists are saying that the future will be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."). And the final act kicks off with Rebekah Del Rio singing the national anthem in Spanglish with a gothic string accompaniment.

To be totally fair to the audience at Cannes, I heard that Richard Kelly seriously reworked the film after it showed there in 2006: adding exposition, polishing the visual effects and removing 20-25 minutes of footage. I have no doubt the theatrical release is a marked improvement, but I'm now burning with curiosity to see what was cut out (The NYTimes' film critic, Manohla Garvis, says she misses the deleted scenes and Janeane Garofalo was featured).

In summation, watch Southland Tales if my synopsis intrigued you and you're not turned off by weird or confusing. This could totally be a stoner classic, it will achieve cult status, and it may do the best job of capturing the zeitgeist of post-9/11 America of any movie I've seen so far. Oh and imagine my surprise when I heard the Blur song "Tender" (off the album 13) playing over the closing credits!

Image is UK quad poster for Southland Tales found on


Dan McCallum said...

Yes there are some nice quotes from the film, don't forget Krista Now mentioning that "The New York Times said God is Dead!" when in fact it was Friedrich Nietzsch back in the 1800's...

Nice review, I appreciate the points you brought up about it, and I'm considering watching it a second time to absorb more of the ideas presented.

Lee said...

Yeah, it really is fascinating that Kelly tries to do so much; too much really. After watching it a third time with a group of friends, we came to the conclusion that, despite all it tries to be about, in the end, it never really accomplished anything it sets out to do because there is no clear focus. And yet, since Kelly's approach is so relaxed it's completely absorbing to watch. I gotta give him big props for going all out and making something that was important to him.


nola32 said...

drew barrymore was SO bad in 'donny darko'. it was almost painful (but not as painful as 'never been kissed').

nola32 said...

i meant 'donnie darko'.
whatever, you know what i meant.

and i kind of liked sophia's rock n roll version of the french revolution. it was no 'lost in translation' and she really needs to get over kirsten dunst, but i didn't think it deserved to be panned like that.

Meeg said...

Oh yeah, I kind of really liked Marie Antoinette. However, I guess it's not hard to see how -- say -- the French would see it as sacreligious.