Southland Tales

Southland Tales ★★★★½

Came expecting to cheer on a fascinating train wreck, left having experienced a masterpiece. What a bewildering, jaw-dropping rush of apocalyptic sci-fi satirical whatever. Like, I get why people hate it, but man, y'all. Quantum entanglement, time travel, satire of moral-majority conservatism, etc.--100% the movie I would have expected the writer/director of Donnie Darko to have directed with four times the budget, but also 100% funnier and more vital than I was prepared for. It's a fascinating artifact of the fears of the Bush era (terrorism emboldening a repressive [yet respectable-presenting] right-wing state; the Patriot Act re-shaping privacy and the internet as we know it--honestly, probably the most sincere and insightful reckoning with 9/11 as both a reality and a cultural symbol that this era of filmmaking produced), but there's also something perennially cogent about this movie's wild, wildly hilarious, brutally despairing take on the apocalypse. As someone sitting on the brink of what feels like some kind of low-grade apocalypse myself, I found a lot of this movie echoing pretty resoundingly in 2020 (geez, I already hate typing that number--more meme than calendar year by now), from the way the political battles of this movie condense around the magnetism of ineffectual celebrity (The Rock's performance here is so good, btw--don't ever think he's done anything this out-there before or since) to the way that otherwise noble revolutionary Marxists kind of lose the plot for a minute debating whether or not it is just that nature coerces all living things to defecate whether they want to or not. This movie just understands something constituent both about living in a world teetering on the brink in general and also about specifically the intersection of the American myth (or whatever sausage-mill version of that myth that comes out of the modern capitalist media landscape) with that general lived experience on the brink. I'm rambling (what else can you do about a movie as sprawling as this?), so I'll just close by saying that this is probably the most Pynchonian movie I've ever seen and definitely feels like a bizarro-world dry run for PTA's adaptation of Inherent Vice (Timberlake and Newsom basically play the same roles in their respective movies?)--each one being a borderline incomprehensibly plotted comedic whirlwind through the end of an era and the borderline incomprehensibly byzantine forces engineering that end. Neither movie runs out of ideas.

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