Saturday, April 3, 2021

Blu-ray debut for Richard Kelly's ever-more-pertinent cult classic, SOUTHLAND TALES

Fifteen years have passed since SOUTHLAND TALES, the follow-up film to Richard Kelly's now cult classic Donnie Darko, made its theatrical debut. 

Back in 2006, TrustMovies found the film alternately bewildering and fun. As I recall, the movie also marked the passing of the name of one of its stars, The Rock, into the more mainstream moniker of Dwayne Johnson (his co-stars were the then-very-hot Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seann William Scott). 

Mr. Kelly, meanwhile, has written and directed only one other movie since then, The Box (from 2009). This seems to me a great waste, as all three of his films may be flawed, but they are also fascinating. Southland Tales, in fact, holds up much better now, I believe, than it seemed to upon release. Times have, unfortunately, caught up with the movie, and it turns out that Kelly (shown at right) was either prescient or remarkably ahead of his time.

His plot, if you can even quite call it that, both sci-fi-ish and political, has to do with travel between dimensions and the fight between right-wing fascists and left-wing neo-Marxists for the power and soul of the USA. Very big deals, right? Yet Kelly seems more amused by it all than overly worked up. And while his sympathies may lie more with the left than the right, he makes fun of both their methodologies, while making the most of his very game cast -- the supporting roles of which are played by some of our crème de la crème of comic actors (then and now).

Kelly also makes the most of the sex appeal (as well as the general appeal) of his three stars. Johnson (above, left) and Scott (at right) shine brightest here, though Gellar (below), in a lesser role, is certainly good enough. 

The filmmaker's tone is remarkably consistent in its goofiness, and this is where those supporting actors prove most important. Crazy as things get -- do they ever -- performers such as Nora Dunn (below), Jon LovitzAmy PoehlerJohn Larroquette and Beth Grant keep things humming and on track throughout. 

Wallace Shawn
and Bai Ling (below, left and right) are used delightfully, too, as is the late Zelda Rubinstein (further below). Even as the "plot" keeps spinning off grid, the enjoyment of watching these actors strut their stuff keeps us happily bouncing along. 

From the outset Southland Tales is apocalyptic (think climate change, even if the movie puts it elsewhere), while the behavior of its generally crazy characters is often violent and close-to-scary. Timely, right?  

Further, the willingness of most of the characters -- politicians, military, police -- to embrace this terrible scenario also proves a little too close for comfort. If Kelly and his script is serious about anything, that would be our back-then-current -- and fuck-it-all, still current -- mid-east wars. 

The film's narrator (and perhaps the actual main character), a wounded vet played by Justin Timberlake (above) gets a kind of musical number for himself and his hot-girl chorus that is both wonderful and downright depressing.

Finally, though, it's the charisma, charm and sheer sex appeal of the three stars that bring the movie home. When one woman places a gun to her head and tells the character played by Johnson that if she can't suck his dick, she's going to pull the trigger, I suspect you'll know exactly how she feels. Then, once satisfied, what the hell, we'll be ready for that apocalypse.

From Arrow Video (distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group) and running 158 minutes (in the Cannes Festival cut) and 145 minutes (the theatrical cut) -- both are included on this two-disc 2K restoration set, approved by director Kelly and director of photography Stephen Poster, which also includes some nice Bonus features -- Southland Tales hit the street for purchase this past January. My copy, however, did not arrive until last week. Hence the late reporting. Click here for more information on the release.

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