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“Southland Tales”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Southland Tales,” Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2007]

Two roads diverged, and director Richard Kelly took the path not taken. The cult wunderkind behind “Donnie Darko” could have taken all that indie cred, gone Hollywood, and directed a sequel to a superhero movie like so many others before him. Instead he made the shambolic “Southland Tales,” and he took so long doing it that his vision of an alternate future is already almost an alternate history at this point.

Kelly’s vision of an encroaching apocalypse begins on July 4th way back in 2005, when nuclear weapons detonated outside of Abilene, TX start the United States on the march to World War III. Three years later, with the 2008 presidential election fast approaching, the increasingly powerful Republicans sets their sights on California’s 55 electoral votes (their new party logo: one elephant mounting another). That’s where Boxer Santaros (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) comes in. He’s the biggest movie star in the world, married to the daughter (Mandy Moore) of the G.O.P.’s Vice Presidential candidate, and his affair with a porn star and talk show host named Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) threatens to rock the campaign with scandal even as he’s doing research for his next role with a confused Los Angeles police officer named Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott). Or, wait, is his name Ronald?

What, exactly, does any of that have to do with the end of the world? Not a whole hell of a lot, it seems. Reading through the press notes, you find that Kelly was working on this “Donnie Darko” follow-up before 9/11, but reconfigured the piece to reflect the world after it. It eventually becomes clear that for all its political bluster, “Southland Tales”‘s interests lie elsewhere. Though it occasionally invokes the Book of Revelations, nothing concretely calamitous happens after the chilling opening sequence, where the Abilene attack is presented from the perspective of a kid fooling around with a camcorder at an Independence Day block party. The rest is a concatenation of literary references and pop culture satire, a sort of “Dr. Strangelove” by way of “The Rundown.”

Though high art gets a significant nod — Justin Timberlake’s somber voiceover refers to T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” as well as the famous Robert Frost poem about the two roads — it’s the lowbrow that provides Kelly with most of his targets. The references are so numerous and diverse that every viewer will observe different nods and winks. Sketch comedy devotees will spot the incredible number of cast members from “Saturday Night Live” and “MadTV” (including Jon Lovitz, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, and Will Sasso). Some will try to wrap their heads around Christopher Lambert in a tie-dyed shirt. My own particular obsession: the endless similarities with the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the name of Boxer’s next character (Jericho Cane, a cop-on-the-edge who must save the world from an impending Armageddon, originally played by Arnold in “End of Days”) to shared thematic obsessions over doubling and twins (the number “2” appears everywhere, from Roland’s bulletproof vest to the name of the mysterious “Deep Throat 2”).

With so many different threads and so little driving the movie (if Jericho Cane could stop the end of the world, the schizophrenic Boxer clearly cannot) “Southland Tales” basically adds up to the sum of its gags and ideas. Some of them kill — Kelly’s jab at crawls on the news is a true knee-slapper — some of them just die — the fake car commercial that plays on Hummers and hummers is too unrealistic to be truly funny. There’s a sequence that could have been plucked from “Melrose Place” and a nearly full-length music video for The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” starring Timberlake and a bevy of sexy nurses.

For all its cleverness and evocative imagery, “Southland Tales” is an incredibly uneven movie. By their nature, amnesiacs don’t have a character, and this movie has three of them at its center. Some sequences are wildly inventive (Mirror reflections out of sync with the people in them!), some are wildly infuriating (Zeppelin launch sequences that go on for ten minutes!). “Southland Tales” defies good and bad categorization because it’s hard to tell at any moment whether Kelly even wants to be good, or minds being bad, or even cares which is which.

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Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

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Colin the Chicken

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Dream Of The ’90s

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No You Go

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A-O River!

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Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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