AN ANTI-WAR MOVIE, APPROPRIATELY CRAFTED IN CHAOS

Lacking any viable Saturday nite dance-action, me and my man-friend checked out “Southland Tales.” The new film written and directed by Richard “Donnie Darko” Kelly, it notoriously stars the Rock and was booed at Cannes, but last night, it wasn’t wanting for any Angelika art-theatre audience. Post-film, a lively debate about the nature of The Rock’s face ensued: His face is too perfect. Could he have had plastic surgery? “It’s perfect, but it’s expressive, too. If he’d gotten plastic surgery, he’d be able to move his face less.” Maybe his features are so chiseled because he works out all the time. Maybe he does face yoga in between bench presses. Or it’s natural because when he’s lifting weights, he crunches up his cheeks and his face gets stronger, too. Answers: TK.
The film itself was a true descendent of “Repo Man,” in that there are revelations/apocalypse subtones hidden under alien/quantum physics themes, and the script meanders for most of its two hours before it actually reaches a plateau of vague cohesion. The basic plot: In 2005, terrorists nuclear-bomb Abilene, Texas, leading to WWIII. America, jingo-ier than ever, re-enacts the draft and sends troops to Iraq, Iran, Syria and North Korea. Meanwhile, we run out of oil, so this band of sexually deviant mad scientists (including the midget lady from Poltergeist) creates this tidal-wave energy-generator called Liquid Karma, that will control all cars remotely via the power generated by the ocean. Liquid Karma is also the name of a highly addictive mood drug administered to G.I.s, one of which Justin Timberlake plays excellently, donned in ugly black goatee and giant eye-scar. Meanwhile The Rock plays an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type – a former actor with Republican ties, who’s married to the daughter of the candidate for Repub VP in the 2008 election. The Rock develops amnesia, starts fucking a porn star / pop singer named Krysta Now (hit song: “Teen Horniness is Not a Crime”), and decides to make a film about the end of the world, which mysteriously starts coming true. [Classic movie line: "I'm a pimp. And pimps don't commit suicide."] Additionally, The Rock’s character is being chased all over Los Angeles by two cop-brothers, played by “The guy who plays the lead jock in all the American Pie movies,” according to my man-friend. Also, Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale from The Wire) and Amy Poehler from SNL have an amazingly hilarious side-plot as a nationally famous spoken word duo, Dream and Dione, who are in a Marxist rebel group called, of course, the Marxists.
Seriously, I have no idea what the movie was about, but it’s an incredibly zeitgeistical work of war-era art, maybe the most relevant and on-point one I’ve seen in eight godforsaken years. It’s delivered in the kind of chaos we experience every day – CNN screens with five tickers flash every five minutes, internet interludes, the paranoia of being spied upon, etc. It also plays to Kelly’s apparent obsessions, continuing themes he introduced in Donnie Darko: The fragility of the space-time continuum, his penchant for shot-out eyes, and a stupidly ’90s soundtrack that includes The Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, Blur, Radiohead, something-something. He also shoots the most brilliantly depressing, onscreen song-and-dance number since the lung-cancer scene in “All that Jazz”: wherein Justin Timberlake’s character, the Iraq war veteran, shoots himself up with Liquid Karma and recalls what happened to him in Iraq (as deigned by his subtle facial expressions), as he dances through a video game arcade among beautiful, busty blondes, and sings the refrain, “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” which segues into the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done”:
Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done

You must see it.
Later in the night, I was bit on the palm by a spider and my entire hand swelled up. If it turns purple or develops streaks, I’m going to the hospital. I’ll keep you posted.

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2 Responses to AN ANTI-WAR MOVIE, APPROPRIATELY CRAFTED IN CHAOS

  1. Thanks for this account of Southland Tales. I really really want to see it, but unfortunately it only played for a week where I live (Detroit) and is already gone. Attempts to torrent it have been unsuccessful, so I will probably have to wait for the DVD.
    But you might be interested to know that Kelly also put out a comic book (three long parts, now collected into a single “graphic novel” TPB) which serves as a prequel to the movie. It gives a lot of plot, pretty much sets up all the stuff you describe here. Only it doesn’t visually match what I imagine the movie to be like (or as you describe it). The art by Brett Weldele is pretty good, but it lacks that multimedia density that you describe for the film. And of course, there’s no soundtrack to the comic.

  2. Thanks for this account of Southland Tales. I really really want to see it, but unfortunately it only played for a week where I live (Detroit) and is already gone. Attempts to torrent it have been unsuccessful, so I will probably have to wait for the DVD.
    But you might be interested to know that Kelly also put out a comic book (three long parts, now collected into a single “graphic novel” TPB) which serves as a prequel to the movie. It gives a lot of plot, pretty much sets up all the stuff you describe here. Only it doesn’t visually match what I imagine the movie to be like (or as you describe it). The art by Brett Weldele is pretty good, but it lacks that multimedia density that you describe for the film. And of course, there’s no soundtrack to the comic.

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