A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 192 – Southland Tales

Southland Tales – September 8th, 2010

I am sorry to report that we are not watching a Star Trek movie for the show’s 44th anniversary. This is not because we don’t like Star Trek. We love Star Trek. We love it so much, we’re planning a two week Trekstravaganza wherein we will watch all of the Star Trek movies (yes, all of them), both Trekkies documentaries and Galaxy Quest. But we’re still a couple of movies short and we hadn’t planned ahead for two weeks of Trek and we already watched our other Shatner movie. So, we promise there will be Trek. Just not tonight. No, tonight we have some semi-post-apocalyptic dystopia satire with a heaping helping of biblical allegory!

Around when a couple of neo-Hummer-esque cars started having sex on screen, I decided to simply check out. The movie was pretty bizarre for the first fifty minutes, but really, what can you say to a chrome car penis? There are even characters in the movie who have that reaction. But not too long after that there’s Bai Ling cozying up to Wallace Shawn. They dance later on. And kiss. With tongue. Yeah, that was up near the top of my list of things I never thought I’d see in a movie. And that, I think, pretty much sums up my viewing experience. This movie is just a big old ball of things I don’t think I could have ever predicted would be put together on film.

It almost feels like what I’d expect John Waters would do if told to make a modern-US dystopia sci-fi allegory. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but it’s got this sort of tongue-in-cheek crassness about it that I associate with Waters. It’s clearly satire, but in the way Cry Baby is. A satire that’s laughing at itself as much as at what it’s satirizing, and at the same time pointing out serious topics. In this case, issues of US politics, media coverage, privacy, war, terrorism, teen horniness and the energy crisis. But then there’s the car penis and a whole lot of people wanting to have sex and talking about it Very Bluntly.

I’m honestly not sure what to say next. There are things to be said, but I’m not sure what they are, really. I could try to summarize the plot, I guess. I make no promises about it making sense, since the movie’s kind of convoluted. And by ‘kind of convoluted’ I mean ‘really fucking bizarre’. Okay, so, the US was bombed by someone, but it’s never made clear who. In the wake of the attacks the PATRIOT ACT is expanded into USIdent and people are basically monitored by the government all the time. War with several countries in the Middle East forced the US to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, leading to the rise of Fluid Karma, invented by Baron Von Westphalen (played by Wallace Shawn). It’s mysterious and no one’s really sure how it works but it generates wireless energy and comes from a big offshore plant. Then there’s Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), a famous actor with ties to the Republican party, who went missing for several days and then surfaced with a case of amnesia. And there’s the Neo-Marxists, who want to take down the government. There’s Roland and Ronald Taverner (played by Seann William Scott), a set of twins, one of whom is working with the Neo-Marxists. The Neo-Marxists are filming Boxer with former porn star Krysta Now (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) in an effort to blackmail his contacts in the Republican party into voting for a bill that will limit USIdent. But there’s more going on with Boxer cause he’s got this screenplay about the end of the world and he’s not sure where it came from.

Oh, and Justin Timberlake narrates a good chunk of the movie. He’s all scarred up from the war and has his own little smiley face sticker that pops up and has his stitches, sort of like he’s the Comedian from Watchmen. He gets a dream dance sequence set to The Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done mid-movie. He fits into the plot, but I think he fits more if you read the additional graphic novels that give all the pre-story for the movie. His narration is mostly for mood, really. It doesn’t help explain anything. It just sort of sets the stage and then moves you through things.

Did you notice the names up there? Wallace Shawn, Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake? Yeah, add in SNL alums Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Nora Dunn and Jon Lovitz (and those are just off the top of my head – I stopped watching ages ago so I might have missed some), John Larroquette, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson, the aforementioned Bai Ling (famous mostly for being famous, right?) and fucking Christopher Lambert. And Kevin Smith and Janeane Garofalo supposedly had parts too but I missed Kevin Smith and only caught Garofalo in the corner of the screen at the end. That is one bizarre collection of a cast. Some of them play things semi-serious (Bai Ling – whom I suspect is basically playing herself), some of them play things tongue-in-cheek, and some just go way past that and don’t bother hiding the attempt at laughs.

Maybe I should also try to address the biblical stuff. I had to stop and take a break up there with the plot. I lost track of things. There’s this whole allegory going on, with the Book of Revelations, which Timberlake’s character, Private Pilot Abilene, quotes from a hell of a lot. It’s messy, and I had to look up the IMDB FAQ on the movie to get a better sense of it, but really, it’s not that hard to guess that there’s something going down. What with the quoting from Revelations and the glowing and the end of the world stuff. I would guess that, much like the rest of the movie, it’s half satire, half serious. One could probably spend a good amount of time picking it all apart, but I did that to The Matrix in college. I’m good for messianic allegory analysis, thanks.

All in all, I enjoyed it. I really did. I smiled and laughed and by the end, when Mandy Moore and Sarah Michelle Gellar are waltzing on a mega-zeppelin, I didn’t really care if it made sense. Time travel twins, rifts in space-time, an energy source that’s apparently also a drug, musical interludes, car sex and Dwayne Johnson’s character’s identity crisis and rapidly twitching fingers. It’s all so incongruous and yet it’s weirdly fun. Enough so that I think I’ll hunt down the additional material. Not that I think it will help make sense of anything, but if it’s the same tone as the movie, it should be fun to be confused by too.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Southland Tales

September 8, 2010

Southland Tales

I don’t recall why I bought this movie. It was one I picked up used at Blockbuster when everything was going pear shaped for the store and movies were marked down under three dollars each, and I think it was recommended to me by one of my employees as a messed up brain twister of a movie. But really… I bought a movie staring The Rock and Sean William Scott? How odd.

Okay. So this movie was pitched to me as “batshit crazy” and I likes me some batshit crazy in my apocalyptic sci-fi. But there’s batshit, and then there’s BATSHIT. Is it possible for a movie to make LESS sense when it has an expository narration track added on? Maybe it’s not really that. Maybe it’s that when you hear expository narration your brain then expect things to make more sense. Whereas this narration is just another layer to the fever-dream that is this movie.

Okay. Here’s the thing. Writer/Director Richard Kelly knows how to tap into the unconsciousness and bring it to film. I very much look forward to reviewing Donnie Darko and presenting my own interpretation of it for that very reason. But the unconsciousness that he is tapping into is his own. Dreams are such a subjective thing. They’re constructed by our brains from our own memories and associations, so it’s a little disturbing to look into another person’s mind in this way. All the nonsensical random connections of a dream are there, but none of the neural map that explains why these things are happening the way they are.

I’ll attempt a plot summary now. The movie is an apocalypse tale supposedly rooted in an interpretation of the book of Revelations. It takes place in an alternate future past (the year is 2008) wherein World War III has happened. Martial law has been declared, the government has taken over the internet and is using it to spy on us in a kind of Big Brotherly way. You need a visa to travel between states. The draft has been re-instated for the war in the middle east. Gasoline is so expensive that everybody now depends on a mysterious form of energy produced from tidal currents known as “Fluid Karma.” All of this is explained in the first few minutes of the film using stills from the prequel comic books – which I haven’t read.

Dwayne Johnson (don’t call him The Rock) plays Boxer Santaros, a famous movie star who is somehow related to a conservative congressman running for president. He has amnesia. He is currently living with his girlfriend, the socially conscious porn star Krysta Now played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. (He doesn’t remember that he already has a wife.) Together the two of them have written a screenplay about the end of the world which Boxer wants to direct and star in. The screenplay is about Jericho Cane – a man who knows that the end of the world is coming because an alteration to the tides is causing the rotation of the Earth to slow down, which apparently has caused a rift in the fourth dimension. (For those of you keeping count that’s two Christ characters already.) There’s a shadowy organization of Neo Marxists who have taped footage of the porn star and the movie star together, which supposedly is going to give them some kind of political clout in the upcoming elections. But there’s another plot that the Marxists have, which involves having Boxer implicate in a staged double homicide. Involved in this plot is another amnesiac, Roland (or maybe Ronald) Taverner (played by Sean William Scott) who is being made by the Marxists to pose as a police officer and take Boxer on a documentary style cruise around LA. His twin brother is being held hostage by the Marxists. Taverner was involved in a friendly-fire incident which scarred the face of the narrator of the film Private Pilot (another biblical reference no doubt)… although this fact doesn’t actually seem to have anything to do with the movie… it’s just part of the back story.

Man. That was a whole lot of plot summary there and it only covers about the first five minutes of the movie. It doesn’t even begin to address the twisted contortions of the plot. Everybody is in cahoots with everybody else. Everybody is working for somebody. Maybe. If they’re not working for somebody else. There’s a nefarious scientist who has developed the Fluid Karma and in addition to using it as an alternate power source he has been experimenting with it as some kind of hallucinatory drug and giving it to soldiers overseas as part of his experiments. He has a trio of strange women who follow him around (not the maiden the mother and the crone, but the harlot, the mother and the soothsayer it seems.) There’s the shadowy government organization U.S.Ident which monitors all internet and phone traffic and apparently requires all its employees to wear translucent shirts. Because it is the future. The Marxists have infiltrated U.S.Ident and Ident has planted bugs on the Marxists. There are several Marxist cells working at cross-purposes I think, and it’s not at all clear what their true purpose is. There’s an underworld gun dealer working out of his ice-cream truck who apparently knows something about what’s going on. There’s the presidential candidate whose wife runs U.S.Ident, daughter is Boxer’s wife, and campaign manager is Boxer’s agent. If your head is starting to spin then you’re beginning to get some small sense of just how odd the movie is. But only beginning.

Another layer of strange is added by the huge and befuddling cast. I can see the appeal of casting, for example, John Larroquette (Dan from Night Court) as the sleazy campaign manager and Bai Ling as… well pretty much as Bai Ling as far as my wife and I can tell. It’s a ton of fun to see Wallace Shawn as the mad scientist – and he plays him as marvelously and completely insane. How did they get Christopher Lambert as the arms dealer though? Then Jon Lovitz shows up as a creepy crooked cop. Along with SNL alums as all the Marxist guerrillas and the head of U.S.Ident. It really adds to the fever-dream quality to have all these recognizable faces in strange roles. It’s very much a dream thing to see people and know who they are but have them behave in an altogether atypical fashion, and this movie has that in spades.

Then there’s the strangeness for strangeness sake. There’s a musical interlude in the middle of the film which is great fun but doesn’t really have anything to do with anything else. There’s a kind of Tarantinoesque bit involving a Japanese prime minister and the deal he makes to get access to Fluid Karma. There’s quite explicit footage of cars having sex. And there’s the final climactic moment which brought to mind for me nothing so much as the end of Repo Man, which I now desperately want to add to my collection.

I actually had a lot of fun watching this movie. It didn’t make any sense and I don’t really think it was intended to. I gave up early on and decided just to enjoy the ride. It boggles my mind that so many talented people signed on to become a part of this project, and that makes me wonder if perhaps there really was a deeper meaning behind everything that would make the craziness resolve into something lucid. I strongly suspect not however. As with any dream it might be inspired by ideas you have in your head when it happens, but ultimately it’s just your sleeping brain trying to make sense of randomly firing neurons as the days events are linked into the net of your memories. Any logic or cohesiveness it might have had will fade away in the light of day.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment