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Southland Tales

June 7, 2011

Southland Tales (2006)
Director: Richard Kelly
Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott

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Synopsis: Apocalyptic happenings in California after terrorist attacks on US soil drastically change the socio-political landscape of America.

Review: Richard Kelly’s unfairly derided follow-up to his cult classic Donnie Darko is one of the most memorable American feature films I’ve seen in recent years. Sure, it’s a great big sprawling mess, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and features some pretty ropey acting – but it’s got a lot of good stuff going on too, and its virtuosity in an American cinematic landscape of increasing franchisation and homogenisation should be cherished. Of all the recent genre movies that have dealt with an apocalyptic theme, this is easily the most cinematically interesting and politically prescient, with the film’s opening sequence brilliantly showcasing how the apocalypse occurred (a terrorist nuclear attack in Texas, that led the US to simultaneously invade/bomb all its enemy states – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea – and unleash a huge Neo-Con movement in the US government). Admittedly, the sheer breadth of the narrative causes the film some problems – there are simply too many major characters, all with their little backstories, and the numerous ideas about guerrilla warfare, national security, an energy crisis, and time-travel, are often fighting for space amid the film’s sheer bombast and sense of spectacle. What I will take from Southland Tales is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘mainstream’ Hollywood movie engage in such an imaginative and rampant satire of American cultural and political values, and although the film must have made a financial loss, I hope the industry finds a way of sustaining such a maverick directorial talent as Kelly. (June 2011)

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