EDITOR'S NOTE: Bob has a lot to say about 'Southland Tales,' but doing it this way makes for a simpler read. Here is the remainder of his angry rant/review.
1. It can’t figure out how to properly present a point.
a. Argument 1: Patriot Act = Bad. The movie does show that the USIDent involves the invasion of privacy (at one point even showing that they have cameras in bathrooms), but shoots itself in the foot by demonstrating, repeatedly, that USIDent and the over-controlling military save lives. Military snipers save both Boxer and Krysta when they’re being threatened by violently unbalanced people, and the only cop who is (to my recollection, and I am not going back through this to check) shown to kill unarmed targets is Bart, who is pretty clearly portrayed as rogue. And, of course, we have to look at the opposition, the Neo-Marxists: they kidnap people, brainwash people with amnesia (“Ronald”) into helping them (that’s the only idea for what happened that I can come up with), and also cut off fingers to rig fingerprint-based voting machines. Kind of hard to feel sympathy for characters who do things like that.
b. Argument 2: Gas = Bad and Alternative Energy = Good. The main “villain” of the film is Westphalen, who has made the most amazing alternative energy device ever. I think that kind of says everything I need to say, doesn’t it? Now, it’s possible I misread the film’s point, but it was pretty heavy-handed with those points on narration, so I kind of doubt it…it is just that the story doesn’t match up with the point it is trying to make.
2. The film is overly based on trying to make those points in the first place. There isn’t much of an actual plot here, honestly, for a 2-and-a-half hour film. Honestly, all the social commentary really overwhelms the plot. I recall watching V for Vendetta and getting more than a little annoyed at all the commentary points in that movie where the plot just kind of stopped to let the film have its say about the Bush administration despite being set in England (and to be clear, I actually rather liked V for Vendetta in a lot of ways), but that had nothing on Southland Tales.
3. It pauses far too frequently for overly elaborate transitions, and just generally has a ton of filler. There are several subplots and scenes that really don’t matter to the overall film and could easily have been cut without losing anything—in particular, a lot of the character stuff with the Neo-Marxists who are going to die at the 50-minute mark anyway, and the Krysta-and-the-video subplot. But even without going into that…the film loves to throw neato-keen transitions at you where it spends quite a while lingering on a screen with multiple TVs that are adding nothing of consequence to the plot other than throwing Martin Kefauver’s name at you again and again so…I guess so that someone, somewhere, can celebrate the fact that they somehow figured out that because his name was being shown since the beginning of the film he’d blow up the airship. And then there’s the music video sequence with Pilot, who sings the Killers’ “All These Things that I’ve Done” except when he’s pausing to drink beer while the singer’s part is still being sung by someone in what I guess is supposed to be some kind of commentary about something vitally important that the film can’t be bothered to explain (and by the way, that’s a dream sequence for “Ronald” after he takes some drugs).
4. It introduces what were clearly intended to be major film elements far too late. There are a few suggestions early on that some kind of time weirdness is going on (such as “Ronald” having a delay in his reflection in the mirror), but the point is almost completely dropped until the end of the film. Ideally, a few more hints might have been put in…for instance, Boxer could have found out that he was taken by Roland, and then discovered being driven out in the desert, and then maybe had some time clone bullshit flashback, etc. Also, the film’s ending phrase is “He is a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” This phrase, apparently an important enough quote (and really…that’s your ending line?) to end the movie and be the takeaway line, is first introduced about 4/5ths of the way through the film (1 hour and 54 minutes in). Oh, and also, I still don’t understand why it was even said, since Boxer says it in relation to the fact that original Boxer is dead…I guess maybe in some way the guys telling him this are trying to get him to think he killed Boxer #1, and he’s denying it, but it could be clearer. It’s repetition at the end of the film makes no real sense either, considering that by shaking hands and basically probably destroying the world, Roland and “Ronald” are committing suicide.
5. Insufficient or illogical explanations. The most notable one is probably the reason Boxer was sent through the time rift when monkey testing was an utter failure. The Baron wanted to send a movie star through, because…um. Anyway, Boxer’s political connections in addition to his movie star status made him perfect, because…um. And Boxer, an action movie star, understands the situation and what will happen to the world based on quantum mechanics (and even wrote a screenplay based on this understanding, perfectly predicting the eventual end of the world) because…well, the movie really doesn’t say, but I gather it’s because he went through the time rift. Look, I’m willing to accept crazy stuff for a film (I watch a lot of anime and play a lot of JRPGs), but you have to give me a little something to enable me to buy that you’ve at least come up with a decent—if very fake—explanation!
6. Inexplicable constant use of the “do it or I’ll kill myself” ploy. There’s three scenes that easily come to mind: Crazy Lady with Boxer on the beach, Boxer trying to get the evacuation going, and Roland and “Ronald” in the flying ice cream truck. That kind of ruins the dramatic moment, especially when the first use of it I can recall is one involving a lady wanting to have sex, not the end of the world.
7. Overall pretentiousness. Honestly, this movie is just aggressively arrogant and intentionally overcomplicated at times. From the unnecessary musical numbers to the cute little hints that aren’t really hints to the constant quotations and Biblical references, the film is constantly throwing little things around to show how smart it is. It’s kind of like that guy who goes to meetings and talks about complex economics or particle physics or something to show off his intelligence, but when you actually ask him to explain any of it, he just says “you wouldn’t understand” and condescendingly pats you on the shoulder. It even has one of those endings that makes you guess what happened…and while I do feel that such a thing can be used to great effect, in this film, it just caps off the annoyance of the night. If you’re going to waste two and a half hours of my life with pretentious crap, at least give me a clear ending. Show me the world blowing up or something so I can take clear solace in the idea that all of these annoying characters are now undoubtedly dead and will never bother me again.
8. Meaninglessness. The actions of almost all the characters in the movie are utterly pointless. Only the actions of Martin (who is, again, introduced very late), Roland, and “Ronald” matter in the least, and honestly you can kind of cross Martin off too since if the world blows up it really doesn’t matter that he shot an airship about 45 seconds before that. But basically all of the Boxer stuff is pointless because he and every character involved in his plot die in the airship crash. And the Boxer stuff is the majority of the film.
9. Length: I know, I’ve already said stuff about this, but the film drags on and so will I. This film is just amazingly long, and it really hits you hard at some points. It is an act of sheer willpower to make it through the whole thing. Again, I just have to emphasize that basic introduction takes a full 9 minutes or so, we don’t meet the second main character until over 15 minutes in, and the story doesn’t really get going with the two plots until 50 minutes in. As a further emphasis, the ending sequence—the airship—starts at the 1 hour and 44 minute mark. Yes…the film was “clearly starting to wrap up” 40 minutes before it actually did so. I don’t have a problem with long films. I do have a problem with long films that do not need to be long and in fact seem to be teasing me about that fact.