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SOUTHLAND TALES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake
Director: Richard Kelly
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 144 Minutes
Release Date: March 18, 2008

ďIt all ends tonight.Ē

Film ***

When I first saw Donnie Darko, one thing was clear to me; writer/director Richard Kelly was trying to establish himself as the next David Lynch. That film became the quintessential cult classic of the decade, and it would give Kelly a great deal of creative freedom for his next project. And after seeing Southland Tales, I seriously wonder if David Lynch himself could even make sense of the movie.

Yes, this may just be the single strangest movie Iíve ever seen in my life, but itís also one of the most incredibly ambitious movies to ever exist. Mind you, Iím writing this review after having just seen it for the first time, and like Donnie Darko this is a film that will no doubt have to be experienced more than once to fully understand. But what I do know is that I am very overwhelmed by the ambitions of Kellyís vision.

Southland Tales is a satire of many sorts, but itís clear from the get go that Kellyís main target of satire is the Patriot Act. The film opens in 2005, where a video camcorder captures footage of a terrorist nuclear bomb attack in Texas. Cut to 2008, and the renewed powers of the Patriot Act have resulted in, of all things, the shutting down of America.

The country has basically been divided into two extremist groups; one far right, the other far left. Oil has become incredibly scarce, leading to the creation of a new fuel source called Liquid Karma. During the course of the story, what becomes clear is that the movie is a political satire set in an alternate futureÖthe kind you would see in a David Lynch-type film.

The story will bring together a number of characters from different walks of life. Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) is an action movie superstar with political ties who has recently lost his memory. He is trying to sell a screenplay, which he has written with his girlfriend, adult film star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). It tells of the end of the world, and as the film progresses it appears that Boxerís screenplay has literally come to life, as all sorts of madness begin to occur.

Other key characters in the piece include L.A. cop Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott), whom Boxer is paired with in order to research the role in his film project. Later we learn that Boxer is in fact married to Madeline Frost (Mandy Moore), whoís the daughter of a presidential candidate. And keeping close watch over everyone is the filmís narrator, an Iraq war veteran named Abilene (Justin Timberlake).

In this society, everyone is under surveillance. A national security force named USIdent, led by the wife of the same presidential candidate, listens in on everyone and everything. That force is the main target of a group of underground Neo-Marxists. And it turns out this same underground group is blackmailing Ronald, who has a twin brother, into stirring up a media storm designed to bring USIdent to its knees, a media storm that Boxer turns out to be the center of.

As far as plot explanation is concerned, thatís about as far as I can go with this movie. Itís not that I donít want to reveal anything else that happens, but rather I canít seem to make sense of further plot details without causing the reader to scratch his or her head in confusion. In the end, Southland Tales is a film you just have to experience and come up with your own theories.

But again, what must be appreciated is the vision of writer/director Richard Kelly. What he has done here is painted a futuristic society where all hope has been lost, the government literally controls the movement of everyone, and the existence of the human race is close to ending. And in the midst of depicting such a tragic state of society, Kelly has taken so many different tones and thrown them into a super blender. If anything, the ambition is the star and the all around driving force of Southland Tales.

Though I am a bit overwhelmed by the audacity and the strangeness of Southland Tales, I am also convinced that with a few more viewings, that it will become a true cult classic at the same level of Kellyís Donnie Darko. But for now, I still appreciate the ambitious qualities of the film, which truly exceed any other film released in 2007, except for maybe P.T. Andersonís brilliant epic, There Will Be Blood.

Bottom line, this is a difficult film to recommend. Some will love it, others will hate it. But if you were a fan of Donnie Darko, or are looking for some truly adventurous cinematic fare, then Southland Tales deserves your full attention.

Video ****

This release from Sony boasts yet another incredible looking presentation. The anamorphic picture is thoroughly crisp from start to finish, adding a huge effect to Richard Kellyís distinctive vision of the apocalypse. Colors are incredibly solid, and daytime and nighttime sequences both appear in fantastic form.

Audio ****

This is one futuristic tale with some audio bite to spare, and the 5.1 mix makes grand use of every possible sound element. Surround sound is alive and consistent throughout the film, and Mobyís amazing music score sounds nothing short of phenomenal. The late sequences of pure anarchy also standout, as do the scenes involving visual effects. Dialogue delivery is also clean and strongly delivered.

Features **

This disc includes a behind the scenes documentary titled ďUSIdent TV: Surveilling the SouthlandĒ, as well as an animated short called ďThis Is the Way the World EndsĒ, which can serve as something of a predecessor to the film. Thereís also a Bonus Preview gallery featuring trailers for additional Sony releases, including Revolver and 30 Days of Night.

Summary:

My mind is still wrapping around Southland Tales, and the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it. Itís a messy film at times, but itís quite original and certainly never boring, and itís a movie experience worth taking, no matter what your reaction ends up being.

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