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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
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Good 3 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
TBC
Cast
Dwayne Johnson
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Seann William Scott
Kevin Smith
Curtis Armstrong
Justin Timberlake.
Directors
Richard Kelly.
Screenwriters
Richard Kelly.
Running Time
137 minutes

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Southland Tales
No longer as bad as you’ve heard


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Plot
A third World War has broken out in 2008 and Hollywood action star Boxer Santaros (Johnson) has gone missing. When he reappears, tattooed and shacked up with a porn star (Gellar), things really get weird.


Review
Southland Tales
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When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006, Southland Tales was the film that had us Empire types bounding from our beds at some ungodly hour of the morning, despite the near lethal levels of booze coursing through our anxious veins. What the hell would we see? The follow-up to Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s debut, was shrouded in secrecy - it was a riddle, as Winston Churchill once said of Russian foreign policy, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. All we knew of Kelly’s film was that it was about the end of the world, a three-hour sci-fi oddity starring WWE’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson with some bloke from Dude, Where’s My Car? and her from Buffy as a porn star. But after about an hour, it became clear that the thing that would be ending that day was not the world. It would be Richard Kelly’s - immediate - career.

It’s hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t there quite how crushing the whole experience was. Donnie Darko was one of those milestone movies that suggested a great new talent, a director who knew how to tantalise the imagination and leave the brain aching like an untrained, flabby muscle after a whirlwind workout. Donnie Darko worked on so many levels that it straddled arthouse and teen culture as few other films had before. It left questions unanswered and had a wonderful open-endedness to it that, together with Kelly’s visual flair and Michael Andrews’ underrated, buzzing score, even had Martin Scorsese paying his respects.

Southland Tales, however... Jesus Christ! The version we saw was simply abysmal. To call it anarchic would be kind and perhaps fair to the director’s vision. But to call it incoherent would be nearer the truth. This was a film that seemed to wilfully defy the most rudimentary expectations of entertainment.

It was scattershot, shrill, featured no promise of a conclusion or, at times, even a premise. Performances ranged from routine to dire, and events, mostly mystifying, weren’t exactly helped by a voiceover from a minor character that may as well have been beamed in from another movie entirely. Its moments of naturalism never worked, but its attempts at surrealism were even worse. His Donnie Darko star Jake Gyllenhaal once remarked that, after they’d seen David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive together, Kelly joked, “I guess we made the Bambi version.”

Well, with Southland Tales he’d made the Kenneth Branagh version. ‘Obvious’ hardly covered it. So this is the part of the review where you might expect the shotgun to come out. The trek to the screening room for a second viewing was not a happy one. But, amazingly, the last 18 months has done Kelly’s twisted labour of love an astonishing service. It’s not brilliant, so don’t get too excited, but, after some scissor work and a hell of a lot of extra post-production, Southland Tales emerges as something much sleeker and - this is the most surprising part - actually quite smart. What Kelly has done is refine his story, so where the Cannes version simply vomited its excesses right in your lap, this new cut paces itself, setting its storyline out from the new, and vastly improved, animated intro.

To be honest, Kelly has been helped out enormously by the ongoing situation in Iraq. With America still struggling to hold the tiger by its tail, Kelly can now play the satire card with much more confidence. In its new incarnation, its aspiration to become a sort of 21st-century Dr. Strangelove becomes much clearer, and the results are actually pretty funny. It’s no coincidence that the movie-critic admirers of the initial version - proper ones, and there were a few - mostly came from the west coast of America, and although a little knowledge of the Santa Monica area might be helpful for specific jokes, this is really a big, juicy black comedy about America’s reaction to Armageddon. Or rather the state of California’s reaction to Armageddon. In Kelly’s film, it’s pretty much business as usual, with the right-wing government trying to crack down on civil liberties, the liberal underground spreading its idealistic demagoguery, Hollywood trying to make a buck, and the porn community, represented by the blissfully stupid reality chat show host Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), torn between such issues as war, poverty and, lest we overlook it, teen horniness.

The weak spot in all this is still The Rock, who struggles with a role that requires more of his fame than his talent. But at least we know now that this is Boxer’s story; in the first cut we saw the effects of a nuclear attack in Texas before diving into this impenetrable story. Now, it’s been pared down to one simple trajectory: where has Boxer been and what will become of him? Without giving too much away, though, that’s not very simple at all. How, for example, does it relate to the story of twin policemen Roland and Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott)? If, that is, they... And if Boxer... No, that might be giving too much away.
But even though Kelly has given clear thought to tidying up his story, it’s still, like the onerous ‘director’s cut’ of Donnie Darko, both too much and too little, especially when the cast and story fly into the sky on the impressive Megazeppelin, taking our interest with them. It seems semi-serious, and big, and clever, and maybe further revelations will dawn on us later. But for now, the best part of Southland Tales is its Terry Southern-style madness, its wonderful depiction of America as it seems today, with insane rows about democracy, a terrorist who has to invade a big charity event solo because she can’t get “a plus one”, and a woman (Miranda Richardson) who becomes so obsessed with surveillance that she can’t leave her post ever - a scene vastly enhanced by digital screens that suggest she isn’t just filming her scenes in a shed in London, as it appeared in Cannes.

The political skew of all this may seem clumsy and perhaps a bit redundant, but what Richard Kelly has pulled out of the dreadful tombola of his initial cut is that sometimes the craziest films can better reflect the madness of the times. It may not be Strangelove, let alone M*A*S*H, but Southland Tales works best as a west coast Children Of Men, in which the cycle of violence may be perpetuated all around the globe, but somehow there’s a beautiful specificity to the apocalypse that will only ever happen in this strange and uniquely marvellous corner of the world.


Verdict
A bold and sometimes garbled take on modern American politics, this nevertheless marks an effective and surprisingly funny comeback for a film that many deemed to be DOA.


Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Southland Tales
Empire Star Rating

RE:

I've begun writing a regular feature on 'Guilty Pleasures' for a website, and Southland Tales was one of the first to bring to mind, and I think it's actually one of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures because I actually don't like the film... it's a hard one to explain without repeating my article, so here's the article: www.battleroyalewithcheese.com/2009/07/guilty-pleasures -southland-tales.html ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kingoftheducks at 04:29, 04 August 2009 | Report This Post


Smart and sometimes brilliant, let down by the fact that it's a fucking mess! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SkullKassidy at 22:43, 05 May 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

I did not enjoy this movie and do not have the inclination to work out the point of it, it was just too messy and ultimately boring but....I admire Kelly's ambition if not the execution and look forward to his next endeavour. I think the intention was to fill in the gaps in the movie with other media etc and I think that day will come but Kelly was too early and the gen. pop couldn't be arsed. When it all goes tits up on the zeppelin (and it had been falling backwards since the openin... More

Posted by Bondurant at 10:28, 08 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

The more I think about it, the better this film gets. Also, did Richard Kelly predict the future? Wireless electricity (ie Fluid Karma) is one step closer lol   www.nme.com/news/various-artists/41872p; ... More

Posted by lamby at 21:14, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

L: richCie L: Fluke Skywalker I wouldn't mind seeing the original cut out of interest either - I dunno why but the ending reminded me of Repo Man - maybe it was all the glowing and vehicles taking off ote] Repo Man rules! is this as good? ctually I haven't seen Repo Man for 10 years so the only bit that reminded me of it was literally the glowing and vehicles floating off ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 15:40, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

L: lamby L: Fluke Skywalker I wouldn't mind seeing the original cut out of interest either - I dunno why but the ending reminded me of Repo Man - maybe it was all the glowing and vehicles taking off ote] but is it better? might watch it on youtube then when i have some free time. As mentioned the ORIGINAL cut (ie The Cannes cut) is now showing on Sky movies (Sky Indie). It was on yesterday as well actually. You can also find it on youtube under Southland tales Cannes ... More

Posted by richCie at 15:20, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

L: Fluke Skywalker I wouldn't mind seeing the original cut out of interest either - I dunno why but the ending reminded me of Repo Man - maybe it was all the glowing and vehicles taking off ote]   As mentioned the ORIGINAL cut (ie The Cannes cut) is now showing on Sky movies (Sky Indie). It was on yesterday as well actually.   You can also find it on youtube under Southland tales Cannes Cut. ... More

Posted by lamby at 15:00, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

L: Fluke Skywalker I wouldn't mind seeing the original cut out of interest either - I dunno why but the ending reminded me of Repo Man - maybe it was all the glowing and vehicles taking off ote] Repo Man rules! is this as good? ... More

Posted by richCie at 14:52, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

I wouldn't mind seeing the original cut out of interest either - I dunno why but the ending reminded me of Repo Man - maybe it was all the glowing and vehicles taking off ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 12:57, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

I really enjoyed Southland Tales, Kelly had to make some changes in order to finish it but overall its an enjoyable ride. I'd really like to see his original cut sometime, but we'll have to make do with The Box later this year. Looking forward to that film. ... More

Posted by raithrover at 12:39, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

I really enjoyed this - fair enough it's flawed, they've tried to stuff in too many ideas and made it all a bit confusing but it had a feel about it that I really warmed to - I'd much rather see people take risks with something different as opposed to sticking to the script and making completely forgettable Hollywood fodder. The Rock was a bit of a weak point though - I think he's actually an ok actor overall but for some reason he seemed out of place in this movie. Maybe he was a bit too ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 12:20, 05 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

For me I think the definitive version lies somewhere between the two versions. The one thing I found with the Cannes cut were the poorly places songs that were used alot more effectively in the theatrical cut. For example Blur's tender randomly used during the scene where Ronald Taverner and Marin Kefauver pullled the cash machine from the wall. Also, the use of Elbow's 'Forget Myself' during the scene where Boxer is talking to Serpentine seemed out of place.   It was similar to D... More

Posted by lamby at 15:58, 04 January 2009 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

Saw the cut on youtube, was wondering how someone got it until the end when over the non-musical credits an announcer talks about Sky movie channels, amazing. Gotta admit, Timberlake's sarcastic voice over was more enjoyable, the longer run time felt right, and I loved that they had the hand finger agreement scene before the titles this time. And the slow build up of info instead of the 4 minute info overload of the theatrical cut was far better, but I love the film anyway. ... More

Posted by Ethanial at 23:12, 30 December 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

Has anyone watched the version of the film that is currently on sky? They have been screening the cannes version of the film!   Its actually quite different. The cut scenes makes the film a lot better in regards to making it feel like they are building towards something. Additionally there are scenes placed in a completely different part of the film. In intro of film is completely different as well. Also the extended scenes help make more sense of Roland taverners role in regards ... More

Posted by lamby at 22:57, 27 December 2008 | Report This Post


Awful, it is boring, incomprehenisble, pretentious and a pointless waste of my time ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 17:54, 11 November 2008 | Report This Post


Cannes Version / General Release Version (SPOILERS!)

I don't know if anyone has noticed this, but Sky Movies are actually showing the Cannes cut (Janeane Garofalo has dialogue, the special effects clearly aren't finished, Nora Dunn and John Larroquette kiss! The Rock's tattoos DO NOT bleed into an image of Christ!!) and it is worth checking out just to compare it with the general release cut. Essentially, the same differences between the two cuts are similar to those between the original cut and the redux cut of Donnie Darko; one is more open to i... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dibder Booth at 12:10, 11 November 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

L: DONOVAN KURTWOOD This film is even worse than Donnie Darko. Congratulations Universe, you have me using a sentence i never thought I'd utter! Southland Tales IMO was an absolutely excrutiating watch, but no doubt film students all across the country are spending hours dissecting the meaning of nothing, searching for existentialism through a haze bong smoke.... someone has pointed above, any movie that requires external material to fully understand is already heavily flawed.o... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Squidward Hark Bugle at 16:14, 06 November 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

This film is even worse than Donnie Darko. Congratulations Universe, you have me using a sentence i never thought I'd utter! Southland Tales IMO was an absolutely excrutiating watch, but no doubt film students all across the country are spending hours dissecting the meaning of nothing, searching for existentialism through a haze bong smoke....   And as someone has pointed above, any movie that requires external material to fully understand is already heavily flawed. ... More

Posted by DONOVAN KURTWOOD at 14:37, 06 November 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

L: The REAL Bozz Wow, now I aint the sharpest tool in the box by a long shot but I had no issues understanding the plot of this film. It was easy enough for me to follow so Im a little surprised some peeps had difficulty with it. After hearing some really poor reactions to the film I was expecting this to be a huge turd and I love Kelly so I was delighted it was anything but. It could actually be a straight sequel to Donnie Darko, both films share many similar theme's such as the 4th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by juanvasquez at 13:58, 06 November 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Bat shit crazy!

OK, watched this last night. Not sure what it is meant to be. Is it a statement on American foreign policy or just a step further into Lynch territory after Donnie Darko? I enjoyed DD, watching and the dissection afterwards but this was just unintelligble rubbish at times. I give it 2/5 for the initial setup was interesting but it soon descended into a mish mash of strange characters and wayward story telling.  ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by vader100 at 13:00, 04 August 2008 | Report This Post


Bat shit crazy!

But what can I say? I love it. And I'm just starting to 'get' it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jimoakley666 at 13:03, 10 June 2008 | Report This Post


amazing

the title says it all ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by liem_D@yahoo.com.au at 19:35, 08 June 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

watched this last night and really enjoyed it. Not as bad as some have had it out to be. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by morg1138 at 14:10, 31 May 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

Overlong, boring, confusing, uninteresting. And all i wanted to see was Sarah Gellars breasts. for me it was a total waste of time. avoid. ... More

Posted by kumar at 14:35, 29 May 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

I've just watched this on DVD tonight and thought it was a muddled mess of a film. Tonally it's all over the place, and at times you do find yourself wondering what the hell is going on. Despite this though there was something about it I liked, though I can't quite put my finger on what it was. I was always engaged by it and keen to find out what was going to happen next. I can understand fully that people will hate this, but I didn't, I thought it was a glorious failure. 3 Stars ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by skeletonjack at 23:31, 05 April 2008 | Report This Post


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