Saturday 7 September 2013

Southland Tales (2006)

This is what villains look like.
I made the mistake of watching this in the middle of the night, then going on holiday for what felt like months, before returning to write it up.  Thus, I'm left only with its overpowering images and feelings.  It's like a dream, not in an ethereal or drifting way like 'Russian Ark' (2002), but with an aftertaste like 1967's 'Casino Royale', where you wonder 'did I really see this film, or did I make it all up?'

So it's a science-fantasy, I think, but only just.  The movie divides its action into three episodes, and taking a sensible cue from the Star Wars trilogy (1977-83), numbers them IV-VI rather than I-III.  The fantastical world on which its action occurs is not long-distant Tatooine, but late-2000s California at the casual end of World War Three.  It's a political comedy of sorts, though I couldn't quite place its politics, since the incompetent terrorists of the left seemed little better than the Republican governance.  Perhaps it was the individuals, the ones who get on with private lives, that were commended.  I forget.  It was lost in the blur of an odd adventure.

Miranda Richardson heads a vague yet menacing government agency.
The film has a curious cast.  It's full of people I didn't expect to find together in the same film.  The Rock (it pleases me to hope that this is his actual name) plays an amnesiac politician, or perhaps the son of one, who has been involved in a sci-fi experiment of sorts before being scrobbled by the Democrats who wish to incriminate him ahead of the elections.  The Rock is mainly noted as a muscle-man, but, like Schwarzenegger before him, has started to branch out into comedies, some strange and excellent, some slightly more desperate.  This film belongs in the former category, and I suspect 'Tooth Fairy' (2010) belongs in the latter, though I'm content not to find out.  He's much better at comedy than Arnie, perhaps better at acting, but shares with him a look of one who expected to be in a more serious film but will make do with their circumstances.

Elsewhere we find Sarah Michelle Gellar, in my mind unshakeably Buffy, here playing an adult movie star who befriends the aforementioned Rock, having meant to incriminate him before the world; Justin Timberlake playing an Iraq war veteran, and yes, he gets a song; and Wallace Shawn, who I know best as the Sicilian from 'The Princess Bride' (1987), here playing the villainous Baron von Westphalen whose outlandish scientific scheme threatens the whole of the United States.

Justin Timberlake, for some reason.
Beyond this, and some of the vibrant set pieces that I'm disinclined to spoil for you, my mind goes just about blank.  I remember it being an extremely fun film, with its exposition given as inexpensively as possible at the front end, and a stylisation that makes the incredibly near future of America seem a ripe site for fantastic adventure.  I recall thinking, during the last of its three episodes, that it had gone on a little too long and that I wished it would end, but by that point it was about four in the morning and I wanted to go to bed so I won't hold a grudge.  I don't remember what the ending was, but I recall being satisfied, so it must have been worth the wait.  One day I'll revisit this film with a clearer head and enjoy it as if for the first time.  Or hate it, but that seems less likely.

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