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.

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September 8, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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