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“Southland Tales.”

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"There would be a lot less violence in the world if everyone just did a little more cardio."We’ve still under the weather and are also having terrible trouble writing about "Southland Tales," but don’t want to let it go without mention. So this isn’t going to be very coherent, which many would no doubt deem appropriate.

There seems to be some alchemical disconnect between the movies Richard Kelly has in his head and what actually ends up on screen. We like "Donnie Darko" plenty, but can’t believe that anyone can glean the interpretations Kelly has offered in interviews and on DVD extras from what’s in the film alone. There’s not enough of it there on screen… and anyway, why would you want to? Those supplemental explanations just drag down something that’s better left happily oblique. If Kelly had managed to make clear everything he intended in the film, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

Now, if Mr. Kelly were to stand next to the screen at every showing of "Southland Tales" and offer verbal footnotes, perhaps with backing of the three graphic novels that precede the film and allow it to kick off, "Star Wars" style, on book four, the whole thing would surely unravel, if not elegantly, at least in a way that made some sense. As it stands, though, "Southland Tales" is overstuffed, underexplicated, hubristically ambitious, uneven, bewildering and kind of awesome. We can’t imagine it’s going to please most anyone, and we have to admit our personal susceptibility to the fabulous disaster, but "Southland Tales" has wormed its way in our brain like few other films this year and is, without a doubt, one of our favorites.

The basics are: It’s 2008, Texas has been bombed by terrorists, neocons run rampant in
the upper echelons of the government, the U.S. is buckled down under a
‘roided-up Patriot Act and at war with Iran, Iraq, North Korea and
Syria, the draft has been reinstated, oil is out of the question and Southern California is being
powered by an experimental, laws-of-thermodynamics-defying invention
called Fluid Karma, housed in a massive structure looming off the Santa
Monica shore. This entire scenario is dropped on us in first ten minutes with the help of a animated overview, and from there the story lets forth a dozen tentacles following scattered characters: a famous actor with links to the Republican party and an inconvenient case of amnesia (Dwayne Johnson); a porn star with talk show and franchise ambitions who’s written a screenplay that foretells the coming apocalypse (Sarah Michelle Gellar); a Venice Beach-based radical activist group called the neo-Marxists; a scarred former actor turned soldier turned narrator, drug addict and sniper (Justin Timberlake); and a cop with, possibly, a twin and also, possibly, amnesia (Seann William Scott).

How to explicate "Southland Tales"’ unearthly pull? It comes in part because the casting is all in air quotes — The Rock, Buffy, Stifler, various SNL escapees, Mandy Moore, an almost unrecognizable Kevin Smith and the current king of the pop charts — but the acting is often as earnest as the over-the-top scenarios will allow, particularly Johnson and Timberlake, who manages to make a sequence in which he imagines himself as the star of a music video set in an arcade, lip syncing to the Killers’ "All These Things That I’ve Done," bafflingly resonant. It’s also because the film seems like a hallucination born from years of apocalyptic Los Angeles imagery, the meeting point of "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Blade Runner" (both of which receive nods) and dozens of other tales on celluloid and in print that would have the city constantly on the verge of catastrophe and still soldiering on, cheerfully oblivious to the fact. And its in part because it fearlessly mixes T.S. Eliot references with the cheapest of dumb blond jokes, and because under a front of irony the film has its big sloppy heart out on its sleeve.

So "Southland Tales" is about L.A., it’s about the end of the world, it’s overtly a comedy but also helplessly mournful, it’s a genre mash-up particularly fixated on the ever-rewarding oeuvre of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it’s, less successfully, a heavy-handed but fervent political satire. It’s also 19 minutes shorter than the version that was so poorly received at Cannes, and you can see the edges of a snipped storyline apparently involving Janeane Garofalo, who appears fleetingly toward the film’s climax. We’d like to see that first cut, but we’d also just like to see the film again. (We’re in the stalwart minority there — though our colleague Matt Singer did allow that he’d see it a second time… in a year.) Certainly it’s valiantly, foolhardily its own film, and it’s sure as hell like nothing else you’ll find in theaters, and that, we’d hope, would be recommendation enough.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

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

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