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Southland Tales (DVD)

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Southland Tales DVD (click for larger image)Reviewed by Debi Moore

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Nora Dunn, John Larroquette, Holmes Osborne, Cheri Oteri, Lou Taylor Pucci, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Lambert

Written and directed by Richard Kelly

Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


So it’s finally here. The DVD release of Southland Tales, Richard Kelly’s highly anticipated, much delayed follow-up to fan favorite Donnie Darko. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely yes — and then some. Frankly, I’m still catching my breath over its intensity. This fucker is deep. Even better than its predecessor, Tales mixes and crosses genre lines to such a degree of success that this reviewer cannot help but rate it 5 out of 5. Is it a perfect film? Not quite. But it merits a perfect score nonetheless. Its one or two flaws only contribute to its greatness since they underscore Kelly’s balls-out approach to his subject matter. And there are a lot of subjects to be covered, among them: the current conflict in Iraq and war in general, corruption in the government, the oil industry and corporate America, the pervasiveness of the media and our obsession with pop culture, science and its at times reckless disregard for the consequences of experimentation, sexuality and pornography, religion, and humanity as a whole. Inserted into the dialogue are song lyrics, Bible verses, and lines of poetry, most notably from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men. Realistic looking TV news spots, radio sound bites, subversive websites, political messages, and musical performances (I’m not joking) are blended in with the live action. Did I mention it’s comprised of three chapters, starting with #IV (Nos. I-III are available as a graphic novel), and takes place in 2008 during a Presidential election? It’s a complete in-your-face look at what’s happening around us today, and the parallels and insinuations are unmistakable.

Southland Tales DVD (click for larger image)The storyline goes something like this: On July 4, 2005, atom bombs were dropped on Abilene, Texas, plunging the US into WW3 with the bulk of the Arab world, North Korea, and the remaining Axis of Evil members. Now it’s three years later, the country is in upheaval, and Boxer Santaros (Johnson), an action hero celebrity and husband of Madeline Frost (Moore), the daughter of the Republican VP candidate (Osborne), awakens on an LA beach with amnesia as the result of … something. We’re not sure at first what happened to him, but it’s okay because he’s hooked up with porn star/reality TV show hostess with the mostest Krysta Now (Gellar). They share some sort of psychic connection and together have written “The Power,” a screenplay that seems to be coming true, meaning there are only three days left before the apocalypse. Subplots weave in and out of Boxer’s world and each other’s. Neo-Marxists who are headquartered in Venice Beach are at odds with USIdent, the Administration’s newest way to keep track of everyone and ensure that the terrorists don’t win. Think Homeland Security on mega steroids. No side is portrayed as better than the other; Kelly pokes fun at both equally. The two main Neo-Marxists, played flawlessly by Nora Dunn and Cheri Oteri, each have plans involving Boxer and the peculiar Taverner twins (Scott, in a dual role). The details on what the twins’ exact purpose in all this is don’t become clear until the latter part of the film, but they are pivotal to the resolution of events.

Then you have Baron Von Westphalen (Shawn) of Treer Corporation with his “Fluid Karma” and fucking (literally) cars that never run out of energy. We just won’t mention that pesky rift in the time/space continuum he created. One of the most engaging characters is Starla Von Luft (Michele Durrett). Stuck in a humdrum job at USIdent and a huge fan of Boxer, Starla gives him information that validates the impending end of days. It’s a small part, but Durrett nails it. And I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Justin Timberlake yet as narrator Pilot Abilene. He does a bang-up job in the film’s big production number that’s part Busby Berkeley/part Julie Taymor.

Southland Tales DVD (click for larger image)Madeline’s mother (Richardson) is the brains behind the USIdent machinery, but she’s becoming like a machine herself, constantly glued to her massive bank of TV screens that broadcast every detail of the world around her. If Timberlake is the voice of Tales, then she’s its eyes, watching everything but seeing nothing. There’s more — much more — but this should give you a general idea of how ambitious a project Southland Tales is. It’s extreme sci-fi combined with intelligent drama alternating with outrageous spoof. In the DVD’s only featurette, “USIdent TV,” the sets are described as forming a “tapestry of art and politics and the overall insanity” of the situation at hand. Well, I’d say that Richard Kelly has formed an inspired and amazing tapestry of his own. Tales‘ brilliance lies in its effortless melding of so many different themes into a cohesive concoction that teeters “this” close to overkill and pretentiousness but consistently manages to pull back just in time and laugh at itself.

At heart Tales is a comedy, but rest assured Kelly paints it black, as black as can be. Every bit of silly slapstick is countered by something brutal or ugly. Kelly set out to emphasize stupidity and keep the viewer on edge, always tingeing the gaiety with cutting satire, and mission accomplished. Sometimes I think people forget how great movies can be when character interaction and social and political commentary are done really well. And Southland Tales does it better than anything I’ve seen since Magnolia nearly ten years ago. It would be equally at home in the Seventies alongside Altman’s and Ashby’s best, most thought-provoking works. Comparisons can also be made stylistically to David Lynch, Fight Club, and (maybe it’s just me) American Graffiti. Kelly’s vision is crisp and clear and, most importantly, he’s smart enough to surround himself with people whose talents equal or exceed his own.

First off, it must be said that Southland Tales looks magnificent. That breath I mentioned in the first paragraph? Kelly, his DP Steven Poster, and editor Sam Bauer took it away on a regular basis during Tales‘ almost 2-and-1/2-hour runtime with all the eye candy they offered. It’s a crime it wasn’t able to be seen by more people on the big screen. Every detail contributed to the filmmakers’ accomplishments from the set design to the costumes to the effects and stunts. And the music. Moby helped Kelly make pure movie magic with some of the choices here. Good stuff. The chief weaknesses are a couple of characters that fall flat and the slightly muddled, theatrical ending, but neither is enough to mar the overall satisfaction to be derived.

Southland Tales DVD (click for larger image)Enough beating about the bush, you’re probably thinking. What about the acting? Can The Rock actually carry off the lead role in a “serious” film? Is Gellar destined to play the same one-note character over and over? Chris Lambert?!? Where the hell has he been? What’s with all the SNL people? Is there any blood? Don’t ask me how, but just about everybody pulls their weight and comes off convincingly. And yes, there are some surprisingly violent scenes that will please genre fans but shouldn’t be too off-putting to more mainstream viewers. Johnson truly shines as Boxer, displaying both high power movie star wattage and a gentle vulnerability. Even so, it’s the women who stand out the most. Along with the aforementioned Dunn and Oteri, Richardson and Gellar add nuances and layers to their characters that lesser actresses would never have reached. And it’s a kick to play the name game as one familiar face after another comes across the screen. “Look! It’s that guy … and that guy … and Zelda Rubinstein. Wait! Is that Kevin Smith?” Kelly definitely showed he knows a thing or two about compiling a first-rate ensemble cast and using them to the best of their abilities.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Sony was able to muster much in the way of DVD extras for this release. But they have no problem filling up the empty space with previews of their products. A whopping 15 trailers are included for such diverse fare as Guy Ritchie’s upcoming Revolver, The Tattooist, April Fool’s Day (keep moving; nothing to see here), Gabriel, and the very trippy looking (please don’t let it be like The Number 23) The Nines. Relating to Southland Tales, there’s a 9-minute animated short called “This Is the Way the World Ends” and a 33-minute featurette entitled “USIdent TV: Surveilling the Southland.” The short introduces us to an octopus dad explaining to his young son how humans were destroyed due to their inability to get along with each other. It’s nice enough, but I would have also liked to see some deleted scenes and more in-depth Q&A’s with the cast and crew. The interviews included in “USIdent TV” are adequate but hardly scratch the surface. Everything is squeezed into segments of a few minutes each whereas I wanted to hear more about the process Kelly went through from script to screen to post and beyond. And of course there’s no commentary. Boo. A film like Southland Tales is tailor-made for repeat viewing what with the crawls at the bottom of the fake news reports, the complexity of the set decoration, and all the underlying symbolism; having a commentary track to listen to during the 3rd or 4th run-through would be ideal.

Alas, no such luck. But I don’t mind too much. Movies like Southland Tales don’t need to be overly explained. They’re visceral experiences meant to leave you guessing … and thinking … and chuckling over the absurdity of it all. All the while terrified by its inevitability. Jon Lovitz describes it as an “impenetrable and intriguing” story. I just call Southland Tales a damn good movie that gets it totally right.

Special Features

  • “USIdent TV: Surveilling the Southland” featurette
  • “This Is the Way the World Ends” animated short
  • Trailers

    Film:

    5 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 1/2 out of 5

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    Get both the DVD and The Prequel Saga graphic novel collection below.

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    Inside (Remake) Review – Is It as Brutal as the Original?

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    Starring Rachel Nichols Laura Harring

    Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


    While the directing duo of the cringe-inducing and original 2007 French grand guignol thriller Inside have gone on to refurbishments of their own—Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo recently helmed a retread of Leatherface’s origin story—their flick now has an American stamp on it with the release of the remake, also titled Inside.

    A cheerless Christmas eve sets the stage for heavily-pregnant widow Sarah’s (Rachel Nichols) oncoming ordeal. It’s a frigid and snowy night. She’s got a huge house to herself, following the accidental and violent death of her husband. She wants to sell the home that was meant to hold a family, to forget the nascent memories it once held. But she’s got to ride it out until the baby is born. While Sarah is lonesome, she won’t be alone. She’s got her genial gay neighbor nearby, and her mum is going to come and stay with her for a few days. Oh, and there will be an unexpected visitor too.

    When a shadowy, seemingly stranded stranger (Laura Harring) knocks on the door pleading to be let inside, Sarah instinctively balks. She even calls the cops. But the woman leaves and all seems well. Crisis averted. Sarah puts the housekeys in the mailbox outside for Mom, and goes to bed. Big mistake.

    Mystery Lady shows up at Sarah’s bedside armed with chloroform, an IV bag, and a case full of sharp-and-pointies (sorry, ’07 fans… those implements do not include a pair of scissors). The horror unfolds and the expected yet lively game of gory cat-and-mouse ensues. Then the tete-a-tete becomes a body-count chiller featuring one shocking moment after another.

    Nichols is fantastic in the role, giving it her all. When the original Inside came out eleven years ago, she was starring in another French-helmed horror, P2—also set on Christmas eve—and she stole the show. She does the same here but with a less-intense adversary. Harring’s killer character, unlike her European counterpart, has a lot to say—which takes away from her initially mysterious manner as the minutes tick off. Still, the girl-on-girl action is a welcome change from the usual gender dynamic one sees in these things. Both deserve kudos for their performances.

    While Inside isn’t a died-in-the-wool “Hollywood” remake (Miguel Ángel Vivas directs, while [REC] co-creator Jaume Balagueró wrote it) it feels like one. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end). However, Inside is still a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it.

    • Inside (Remake)
    3.0

    Summary

    Inside is a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end).

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    User Rating 1.67 (3 votes)
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    What If Tina Fey Wrote Jennifer’s Body? My Friend’s Exorcism Book Review

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    “Rummaging in one of his duffel bags, [the exorcist] pulled out and athletic cup and slid it down the front of his pants. ‘First place they go for,’ he explained. He then adjusted himself and picked up a well-worn Bible. ‘Let’s do the Lord’s work.'”

    It was about a year ago now (it seems) that I first saw the cover of “My Best Friend’s Exorcism.” If you haven’t seen it for yourself in all of its glory, make sure to click the image over to the right for a more in-depth look. Awesome, right? Got to love all the VHS details such as the “Horror” and “Be Kind Rewind” stickers. Classic. Utter classic.

    Now I’m fully aware that one should not judge a book by its cover. Literally. But still the moment I saw this work of delicious art crop up in the inbox I had to read the book asap. Well, it turns out asap was about a year later, but all the same, I’ve now had a peek at the inside of the book as well as the outside. Does the content inside match the content outside?

    Let’s find out…

    For those who might not know, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” (henceforth referred to as MBFE) tells the tale of two best friends named Abby and Grethen. One night the two, and a few of there other friends, drop a bit of acid for the first time. While the drug never kicks in (no worries, there’s no lame twist-ending to be had here) poor Gretchen still wanders off into the woods and gets possessed like a motherf*cker in some creepy abandoned building. From there, things go from bad to worse until an unlikely exorcist is called in and things go off the wicked walls in all the best ways possible.

    Now, to review. First of all, let it be know that MBFE is more of a teen romance (between two friends) than a straight tale of terror. Think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body?” and that will give you a good hint at what the book holds in store for you. Not that that’s a bad thing. Still, you should be aware that the first 2/3 of the book is almost exclusively teenagers not getting along, bitch about losing touch, who is sleeping with who, and yada, yada, yada for pages on end. Dramarama for days. Mostly.

    That said, not only is the teen drama bearable (and truthfully quite sweet in spots), Hendrix keeps the horror in the spotlight just enough that I never lost faith the book was heading somewhere truly balls to the wall. And it does. Oh, boy does it. From the time the unholy shite hits the fan in the last third, to the time the last word is read, the book is filled with horror moments that will make even the most jaded fright-fiction fan gag, grimace, or stand up and cheer!

    You just have to get through all the angst first…

    But speaking of angst, let me get a bit of extremely personal business out of the way real quick. Can I trust you with this info? Sure I can. MBFE made is cry like a baby. Not kidding. There have been very few times in my life that I have literally burst out crying. I’ve had some sad shite happen in my days, and I have seen some sad-ass movies, but nothing has made me cry out of the f*cking blue like MBFE. I’m not going to go into details about the final 10 pages of the book, but it tore my poor horror-heart a new one. It was bad. Like snot and hyperventilating type shite. Again, not kidding. Thank the lord I wasn’t in public is all I can say. I would have arrested and thrown in the booby-hatch.

    MBFE goes along like a slightly horror-centric version of Mean Girls and Heathers for most of its page count. If you’re a straight horror fan, you’ll be at odds with whether you should bother finishing it or not. You will. Trust me. But listen to me now and know that once our heroine goes into the dark, dank bedroom of the school’s resident bitch to find out why she hasn’t been in school the past few days/weeks, the horror hits like holy hell. And it only gets worse (RE: better) from there.

    In the end, MBFE is a book ever horror fan should own – if only for the cover. I dug the hell out of the book (eventually) and I’m sure the majority of you guys will too. But even for those hard-hearts out there that just can’t stand to read about things like uncompromising love, and hellfire-forged friendship, you still need to own the book. You still owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you don’t care for it, that’s cool, just display in on your bookshelf in all it’s VHS glory. It will make you look cool.

    • My Best Friend's Exorcism - Book Review
    3.5

    Summary

    Grady Hendrix’s “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is a killer mixture of Mean Girls, Heathers, and The Exorcist. Just think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body” and you’ll have a good indication of what lies in store for you within the amazing VHS-inspired cover art.

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    Knock Knock Review – This Throwback To The VHS Era Packs A Fun Punch

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    Starring Kerry Tartack, Sisi Berry, Chuk Hell

    Directed by Toby Canto


    I remember the glory days of my youth back in the early to mid-80’s, renting every friggin horror flick on VHS and keeping the cassettes well past the return dates, eventually blacklisting my name from damn near all of the movie shops in my hometown. For the sole reason of wanting to hop back in the time-machine, I’ll never turn down the opportunity to check out a film that promises to ship you back to the days of all of that cheesy-neon attire and overblown hairdos.

    Director Toby Canto was generous enough to offer his latest film up onto the sacrificial stone, and it’s called Knock Knock – about a WAY past his prime pugilist named Sam (Tartack) who is unwillingly thrust into a throwdown with a bloodsucker who happens to reside in the same apartment – damn noisy neighbors! His only birthday wish is to spend his 60th go-round safely hold up in his domicile, away from pesky residents alike. Well, that plan goes to shit when his kooky neighbor (Berry) comes by and pitches the idea of throwing hands with the newest tenant: a real creature of the night (Lucas Ayoub).

    Sam initially nixes the idea wholeheartedly, but when more of his quirky neighbors show up to his place to substantiate the vampiric-claims, Sam finds himself lacing up the leather for one more round…or two, depending on if he can still take a beating. Filled with more than a handful of goofy instances, this near-hour presentation won’t blow the doors off of the horror/com vehicle, but should more than suffice in the short-term until the next spooky-laugher comes slithering out of its hole.

    • Film
    3.0

    Summary

    Historians alike, this movie’s for those who want a reminder of how loopy those VHS days were, and the best part is you don’t have to rewind a freakin’ thing.

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