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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 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: So sad to see so much hate

L: Lightfoot I haven't read the books, I don't intend to ever, and I loved the film. A much better attempt than, say, Wim Wenders' End of the Worlduote]   I cant recommend them enough. If you loved the film as it is, it will certainly enrich your experience. PM me if you want them. ... More

Posted by lamby at 12:24, 05 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

I haven't read the books, I don't intend to ever, and I loved the film.   A much better attempt than, say, Wim Wenders' End of the World ... More

Posted by Lightfoot at 08:52, 04 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

L: The REAL Bozz Sorry man, I didn't mean to make it sound like I was acuseing you of that. I get what your saying I just mean that the people who never liked it wouldn't be likely to go through the hassle of seeking out and purchaseing the prequel comics. Good call though as fan's can find out more about the world. Yet I would advise anyone who is curious to just check out the FAQ for Southland Tales on the imdb or go to wikipedia. You shouldn't really have to go out and buy a bloody... More

Posted by lamby at 21:07, 03 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

Sorry man, I didn't mean to make it sound like I was acuseing you of that. I get what your saying I just mean that the people who never liked it wouldn't be likely to go through the hassle of seeking out and purchaseing the prequel comics. Good call though as fan's can find out more about the world. Yet I would advise anyone who is curious to just check out the FAQ for Southland Tales on the imdb or go to wikipedia. You shouldn't really have to go out and buy a bloody comic to get the FULL... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 00:44, 03 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

L: The REAL Bozz This aint a film you can change people's minds about dude. It's a love it or hate it kind of film regardless of how much the universe is expanded outiside of the film. Im not trying to change anyone's mind. Im saying FACT there are books that make this film a hell of a lot more enjoyable. It aint rocket science! If you want to read them and then watch it the film really does take on a different dimension. Im saying alone the film has it;s big flaws, with the books these ... More

Posted by lamby at 23:55, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

I haven't read the books, think I might have read a portion of one online, but only a few pages and it seemed to cover ground that was touched on enough in the movie for my mind to fill in the blanks.  I did not find the film complex, I just found it really dull, it was not the story or the characters but the editing and the direction - which often felt like an episode of Sunset Beach!  I thought the cast was especially game, though some cast members were a touch out-of-place, this co... More

Posted by kingoftheducks at 19:24, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

This aint a film you can change people's minds about dude. It's a love it or hate it kind of film regardless of how much the universe is expanded outiside of the film. ... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 18:52, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

L: kingoftheducks Saw this at the cinema last year, a little surprised to see that I haven't spouted off about it here already, but, basically, my problem with the film was that though it was a mess it wasn't as crazy a mess as it really needed to to be a 'cult' classic... it was too safe in many regards, it was like a mainstream remake of 'Repo Man' but without the real punk-rock verve or satirical edge of that film... it was a great dissapointment as the trailers looked superb.  I h... More

Posted by lamby at 17:09, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

Saw this at the cinema last year, a little surprised to see that I haven't spouted off about it here already, but, basically, my problem with the film was that though it was a mess it wasn't as crazy a mess as it really needed to to be a 'cult' classic... it was too safe in many regards, it was like a mainstream remake of 'Repo Man' but without the real punk-rock verve or satirical edge of that film... it was a great dissapointment as the trailers looked superb.  I had high and low hopes g... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kingoftheducks at 15:11, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

L: The REAL Bozz I know what you mean about Kelly's intentions and I did enjoy the film but I don't think you should ever have to go out and buy graphic novels to get the complete experience of a movie. It should be all contained in the film. sp; I agree, but in the end this was the directors intention.His full idea was to have these books, then the internet progressing the story, then finally the film. If you read his interviews during the production stage of the film he made this int... More

Posted by lamby at 13:59, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

I know what you mean about Kelly's intentions and I did enjoy the film but I don't think you should ever have to go out and buy graphic novels to get the complete experience of a movie. It should be all contained in the film. ... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 10:52, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

I cant emphasise enough how much better this film is if you read the prequel saga books. I know films should not require further reading material before hand but in the end this was Richard Kelly's intention of crossing different mediums.   I'm currently onto the third part of the books and it seriously explains so much about the characters. The most important character development in these books is that of Krysta Now's. I have to admit on first viewing i was disappointed. I tho... More

Posted by lamby at 23:10, 01 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

I thought this movie was confusing and was trying to hard to be a cult movie. It took me a while to understand what was actual going on. But understood in the end but dont ask me to explain it. I thought the rock was brilliant in this movie. Most people dont like him but i thought he was good and sean william scott. The only character that annoyed me is that guy who looked like a frog . ... More

Posted by zombiemaster at 02:45, 01 April 2008 | Report This Post


RE: So sad to see so much hate

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 dimension and r... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 01:18, 01 April 2008 | Report This Post


So sad to see so much hate

Finally, finally, saw the film, desperate but a little hesitant, and it was brilliant, I loved it so much, I can see why people wouldn't enjoy it, but all the negative reviews seem quite sad for a movie of this calibre. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ethanial at 19:13, 31 March 2008 | Report This Post


Southland Tales.

I really enjoyed the dancing scene. Besides it has some beautiful music by Moby, but, I have a question. When it's gonna be relased on DVD? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 17:18, 28 March 2008 | Report This Post


Southland Tales.

I really enjoyed the dancing scene. Besides it has some beautiful music by Moby, but, I have a question. When it's gonna be relased on DVD? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 17:18, 28 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: This is EXACTLY what Hollywood NEEDS!

This kept me watching unlike any film I've seen recently, mainly because you're sat there for 144 minutes wondering where the hell all the plot strands are going. That said I honestly thought I had a handle on everything right up until the last 20 minutes, after that Richard Kelly pretty much fucked my brain in half.   That aside though it's well acted, well scored (loved the Moby soundtrack), funny and very entertaining.   4/5 ... More

Posted by paulyboy at 23:19, 14 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: This is EXACTLY what Hollywood NEEDS!

Genius or goat?  Bit of both.  But I can't stop thinking about it and that rates it as a success IMO.  Either the film that started Kelly's downfall or launches him into the stratosphere with The Box.  I think this'll become a cult classic like Brazil.  Weird, funny, stupid, sexy, confusing, annoying, joyfull, gorgeous, eerie...Southland is all these things; the problem is they're often all at once. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Caster at 22:50, 13 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: This is EXACTLY what Hollywood NEEDS!

Why don't you shut your f***ing mouth, stu*** ignorant. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 21:11, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post


Southland Tales is magnificent.

One hell of a film. Great Movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 21:05, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

LIGHTFOOT: Your comments are well received by me! When you say you need to get your head in sync with this movie to appreciate it, even with it's flaws, I think you nail it right there. It IS brilliant....it's just not, well....standard, "normal" or boring. It's unusual for Hollywood...and THAT is why it works! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by rlacombe at 21:55, 27 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Southland Tales

L: Neth nd Talessfully confirms two suspicions - firstly, that Kelly has an eye for visually arresting imagesecondly, that when he's let loose to paint such visuals, he takes a serious wrong turn into messy, half-realised ideas. sp; Greatly "inspired" by Matthew Barneys Cremaster cycle series. www.moviemartyr.com/1995/cremaster1.htm ... More

Posted by punchdrunk at 12:34, 25 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: This is EXACTLY what Hollywood NEEDS!

Holy shit. Well. To quote a reviewer from the Telegraph: "It's actually easier to say what i] in this film than what is." This film is a supercharged pastiche pisstake of the world in the 21st Century. There's little point trying to explain this movie. You just have to see it. And see it you should, because despite being an infuriating, uneven, too-clever-by-half movie, you simply won't see anything like it this year, or any other year. Like I said, most reviews were either l... More

Posted by Lightfoot at 19:33, 17 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: This is EXACTLY what Hollywood NEEDS!

Appauling doesn't even cover how bad this movie is. Richard Kelly really really should have taken a couple of years after Donnie Darko to hone his writing and direction with some more accessible material which gradually would build to him attempting to make a movie like this. He was being far too ambitious attempting to follow up Donnie Darko with a movie that he obviously thought could compete in the David Lynch arena.   This is a jumbled muddled mess of a movie with a cast comp... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by temetnosce at 18:34, 15 December 2007 | Report This Post


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