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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.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.