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DID YOU READ

“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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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 IFC.com

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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.

Uncle-Buck

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

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…