Monday, April 14, 2008

Southland Tales

This movie, from the director of “Donnie Darko,” one of my all-time favorite movies, was not seen by anyone I know. In fact, no one I know saw “Donnie Darko,” so I guess I shouldn’t have expected much. The movie was trashed by critics when it came out: too long, too self-indulgent, too confusing, etc. It is all of those things – and brilliant.

The cast was amazing: I loved how Richard Kelly played everyone against type (Cheri Oteri was a tough chick with a powerful uppercut, Mandy Moore was a total witch married to Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Geller played a porn queen with a talk show who has dreams of running her own business empire, and Justin Timberlake (nearly unrecognizable to me!) was a turret gunner in the military –among many more).

Narrated by Justin Timberlake, the film has an otherworldly feel – a sort-of future, rooted firmly in our current terrorist-obsessed culture. There is a stifling police presence, a broadcast landscape filled with product placement, politicos being blackmailed by porn stars, and a neo-Marxist underground intent on disrupting the next election. It all takes place in California’s “southland,” Los Angeles and its vicinity. If you live around here, you’ll recognize many of the locations. It’s quintessential LA.

As in “Darko,” the world in “Tales” is facing an apocalypse which would make you think Kelly is a complete pessimist, and yet the world does indeed get saved – by one person who must sacrifice himself for the greater good. In “Darko,” it was Jake Gyllenhaal’s character and in “Tales,” it’s Seann William Scott who was part of a military experiment involving Dwayne Johnson. I would like to believe this speaks to a more sentimental philosophy on Kelly’s part, that good can triumph but yes, there will be blood.

As for charges this movie was long, I think it probably could have been trimmed but there are a ton of characters and their stories take a while to wrap up. Also, I wonder if Kelly suffers from the same problem I do when I write: I have such a great time setting everything up and introducing characters and plots and intertwining them, that the story ends up being twice as long as I had intended. In my case, I always cut back because I’m not famous. But in Kelly’s case, perhaps his success with his first movie gave him license to be a little more indulgent with his second. Personally, I don’t care: I thought every single scene was great. Humor, pathos, surprise, confusion…

…oh yes, confusion. Look, it’s like a Lynch film…you sort of have to let it wash over you. Don’t try too hard to figure it out. Get the rhythm of the characters, watch them interact, enjoy. It all works out in some fashion and you absolutely cannot figure it out from the beginning as you do with many other movies.

I loved this movie. I have to put Richard Kelly on my list of people I would like to meet.