A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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

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