Tuesday, July 5, 2011

*Bob* Reviews: Southland Tales

Hey, everyone. I'm Bob, and this is my yearly descent into horror and insanity. Once again I've made the mistake of allowing Al to get another year older, so here I am, reviewing Southland Tales. This time, Al specifically asked me to review the film, since with my love of pretentious bullshit…er…intricate, psychological, thinking-man’s entertainment…I’d stand the best chance at being able to figure the film out. So I get to blame him doubly for this one this time. EDITOR'S NOTE: Whatever.
There are three things about Southland Tales that were actually quite good. First off, the introduction is actually pretty neat. It’s done as though it were a home video being taken by a couple kids at a neighborhood or family party, and it feels pretty legitimate. I wouldn’t honestly be surprised if I were told that the director just found a family willing to turn in a tape of their party, and then had some of them film a couple extra “planned” scenes, but I’m sure it probably was all scripted. Just, honestly, it was nicely done. Second, the camerawork, lighting, and overall cinematography of the film…all very good. Most shots are just fine, and there are some very beautiful shots with just the perfect use of lights to get a very dramatic mood. Third…the acting is mostly quite good. Almost everyone involved gives a nice performance, though there are a few oddities here and there- a few SNL cast members who ham it up a bit too much at times and are at odds with the mood, and Wallace Shawn as Baron Von Westphalen goes too over the top with the role at times making it hard to take him seriously. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson gives a particularly good performance, excepting a few parts where he seems to have been told to act as strangely as possible, and he’s playing an unusual part for him-an action star who is actually nervous and meek. Honestly, the problems this film has have nothing to do with the filming or the acting, and that’s an unusual thing in my experience.
As usual, there will be SPOILERS here, so for those of you who don’t want them, here’s my quick opinion: Southland Tales is a bad film, due largely to its habit of sending mixed messages and being too busy being artsy or intentionally over-complicated to have much of a plot. It is unfortunately not a particularly interesting bad film, so I don’t really recommend it even to those of you who seek out terrible cinema. That said, it isn’t as horrible as Narcosys, so…there’s that, I guess?
The film opens with a little home video sequence set in Texas, where we soon learn there was a nuclear attack. A narrator (Justin Timberlake as “Pilot”) and a CG/video sequence of news reports and…basically advanced Powerpoint slides…then bring us up to speed…and up to speed…and up to speed. The movie has to pause to do that a lot, featuring a ton of direct exposition (which breaks up the film’s flow). So here’s the basics: after nuclear attacks in Texas, America revived the draft lottery, and “World War III” began. Mind, World War III is apparently between America and Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and North Korea, so considering that one of the primary rules of being a World War is that you basically have to cover most of the World, I’d say it kind of fails. Because the USA was fighting so much in the Middle East, oil became restricted, so alternative fuel projects are now very important. Additionally, the Patriot Act was expanded as the Republicans took control of the government (complete with a wonderful image of two elephants humping-thanks, movie). Checkpoints were even set up between states. And now, liberal rebels are appearing, such as the Neo-Marxists. And as the final setup, we have the 2008 election being decided by the votes of California (the “Southland” is part of California)…and an actor- Boxer Santaros (The Rock)- who is married to the daughter of one of the Republican candidates, has gone missing, only to be found 3 days later with amnesia. This opening sequence also uses a number of comic book panels to tell the backstory of Pilot, one of the soldiers from the war. Pilot was apparently a victim of friendly fire in the form of a grenade. We meet Pilot soon afterwards…he likes to read from Revelations while seated on his beachside giant sniper turret. We get the first of many “This is the way the world ends” quotes (3x), followed by “not with a whimper, but a bang,” which will be repeated frequently. We go in an odd transition to multiple TV screens with a bunch of people jabbering at us about nothing really comprehensible. In addition, we see our first of many text references to Martin Kefauver, a character who won’t show up until very near the end of the film. EDITOR'S NOTE: What?
More scene-setting follows (we’re now 7 minutes in and basically nothing has actually happened yet). USIDent was created (thanks to the Republicans) to control cyberspace, empowered by the Patriot Act. (Not that I have any problem with this, but USIDent sure employs a lot of midgets.) USIDent is opened by Senator Bobby Frost, who likes to quote Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” A lot. Especially when it doesn’t make sense to do so, like how he quotes “…and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” when opening USIDent, something which apparently had the support of the majority of the nation. Oh, well.
Boxer, having returned from the desert where he was left, is now living with “Krysta Now,” (Sarah Michelle Gellar) with whom he has written a screenplay called “The Power.” 9 minutes, by the way, and mostly all narration and scene-setting. Krysta is a porn star.
Now we meet Baron Von Westphalen, who has an alternative energy scheme that’s actually kind of neat: an energy emitter powered by the ocean sends out waves of power to vehicles, homes, etc. This is called Fluid Karma. Now, keep in mind the film has been waving the “gas is evil” flag already and will continue to do so, and really seemed to want us to believe in alternative energy. Now, you won’t find out until later in the film, but Westphalen is very evil. So…is alternative energy bad, too? What is the movie trying to say?
Okay. So…scene set. From here, the movie basically follows two major plots (and a hell of a lot of minor ones): Boxer Santaros, and Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott)…oh, what’s that? I haven’t mentioned Roland yet? That’s because we’re 15 minutes in and the movie hasn’t seen fit to do so either, despite him being half the focus of the movie- gah! Here are the basics (and yes, this is the basics): “Ronald” is in the care of the Neo-Marxists at first, engaged in a plot to imitate his “twin brother” Roland, who was captured by the Neo-Marxists (he’s apparently okay with this). This is part of an overly elaborate plan to make the Republicans look bad by making Boxer Santaros look bad, because saying something bad about the husband of the daughter of the Senator who is running certainly says a lot about the Senator himself. The idea is this: Ronald will pretend to be a horrible racist power-mad cop, and take Boxer on a ride-along so Boxer can study how to be a police officer for his film. Ronald will “shoot” two people having a domestic dispute (actually two of the Neo-Marxists), after making a few racist comments to Boxer on Boxer’s camera while riding with him. The plan goes to pot when Ronald and Boxer meet a real power-mad rogue cop, Bart Bookman (Jon Lovitz), who really shoots the two Neo-Marxists for no particular reason. Boxer does get this on film and Bart also films Boxer, so the overall concept is still intact. All of that takes a full 50 minutes for the film to get through. Yep, when most films would be halfway through or more, this finally finishes up its basic introduction. From here, Boxer and Ronald split up, and so I’ll do a very shortened recap of their stories:
Ronald: Ronald rejoins his Neo-Marxist buddies. Ronald starts trying to find his “twin brother,” who is trying to find him- after being set free by a Neo-Marxist just before USIDent raids their hideout and kills everyone there- and eventually runs into Martin Kefauver, a young man who just got drafted and who is trying to commit suicide because of it. Ronald convinces Martin not to do it, and the two drive off together. Later, they give up on going wherever they were going and rip an ATM out of the wall at a bank with their SUV, because Ronald’s magic twin vision or something reveals that they’re going to need it. Meanwhile Roland is captured by a weapons nut (Christopher Lambert- just because). In an extraordinary happenstance, ATM meets Weapon Guy’s ice cream truck- when the SUV ice cream truck happen to drive past each other- and Roland is freed. However, he’s freed in the middle of the riots, and both “brothers” are shot. Then they shake hands...

Boxer: After running the hell away from the shooting, Boxer is contacted by a lady at USIDent who was entranced by a copy of his screenplay she found out on the Interwebz, and now believes she is a scientist character in the screenplay. She calls him by his character’s name (Jericho Kane…which is actually a cooler name than Boxer Santaros) and gives him some guidance. She gets him in touch with someone who works for Bobby Frost, so the Republicans can finally…
…find him. Sorry, wait, what? Okay. So Westphalen shows off a car commercial involving two SUVs humping. What confuses me is why these things even have exhaust pipes, since they’re supposedly powered by hydroelectric quantum teleporbullshit (HEQTBS), but anyway, one exhaust pipe is the xxxxx and the other is the xxxxxx and I damn near gave up right there, but let’s move on.
So Boxer ends up at Frost’s house and meets his wife, and then his porn star girlfriend Krysta comes in and (quite reasonably) girlfriend and wife hate each other extremely. The movie kind of suggests the wife is being overly-mean, but no offense, the girlfriend is an idiot, a porn star, and an admitted slut, so…whatever. Anyway, Westphalen is apparently funding the Neo-Marxists, as the wife found out somehow and Westphalen knows that the wife is having a baby with someone other than Boxer. Krysta runs off, and Boxer decides to leave too, and despite spending the entire movie so far looking for him, Frost and co. just kind of let him walk right out the door, take a car, and go away after Westphalen’s assistant quotes something to him. Boxer ends up following USIDent Crazy Lady’s directions and meeting her on a beach, where she gives him some last info and then wants to suck his dick, leading to Pilot shooting her as she threatens to commit suicide and then threatens Boxer with the gun. Boxer runs again, but runs into Krysta’s friend that he was staying with, only he’s actually with the Baron...so he takes Boxer hostage again. Boxer is taken to his wife, and apparently spoke while he was asleep, apparently he now knows the world is going to end in 3 days...except that was 3 days ago so it all ends tonight. His wife agrees to help him now and they go on to the Baron’s giant HEQTBS airship. Krysta, after finding and mailing the Boxer-at-the-crime-scene video to the Neo-Marxists because she thinks it is a sex tape of her and Boxer and that this can get back at the wife or something, and being chased by Bart the evil cop and one of the Neo-Marxists who was secretly working with him, is now working on the airship as a dancer, because…um…the Baron wants it for some reason. On the airship, Boxer finds out the truth, and it’s a doozy…there are two Boxers, because he was kidnapped and driven through a portal in time & this created some quantum bullshit clones. Boxer #1 was killed by a car bomb, and Boxer #2 was wandering around. The reason for the experiment was apparently to find out what would happen if two time copies of a person met and touched. Boxer, suddenly aware of advanced quantum mechanics, notes that the universe would end. It turns out that the cop who kidnapped him, Roland Taverner, was also time-cloned, but both copies survived. Boxer goes back to the airship’s launch party, where he then claims that they need to evacuate.
The Ending: Roland and “Ronald” get in the ice cream truck and shake hands, while Martin gets a rocket launcher from Lambert’s collection. The ice cream truck starts to fly. Back at the airship party, Krysta and friends come out on stage, and Boxer gives up on evacuating for a few minutes to go have a dance number. Boxer’s wife comes on stage, then, and then she dances with Krysta, and the two evidently decide to stop hating each other and whisper prophetically, “He’s going to die, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” Then Boxer fires a pistol and yells about evacuating, and the Baron yells about destroying capitalism and dethroning God, and then Martin decides to fire the rocket launcher at the airship and blows it up, killing almost every major character in the movie since they all were there for some reason or another. The two Rolands forgive each other for the friendly fire incident in Iraq (where Pilot was hurt), and then the screen fades to white, which from all indications basically means the world just blew up. 
I’m sure that there’s a lot more I could say about Southland Tales, and believe me when I say there are even more stupid and nutty things about this film than I’ve had the time or inclination to discuss here, but I’ve already taken up so much page space that I’ve probably driven half of you away forever, so before I lose the rest of Al’s audience, let me make one last note. I did not hate Southland Tales as much as I hated Narcosys, but that is largely because the acting (not the script, but the acting) was better, the cinematography was nice, and it didn’t show me full frontal male nudity. I did, however, hate it more than Ninja Vengeance, and Ninja Vengeance was horrible. So that should say something.
Al…Happy Birthday. Expect revenge.

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