Blu-ray Review: Southland Tales



After the cult success of Donnie Darko in theaters and especially on DVD, movie fans were eager to see writer-director Richard Kelly would create next. Buzz built fast as word leaked out about the cast which would include Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, Kevin Smith, Amy Poehler, Zelda Rubinstein, Curtis Armstrong, Christopher Lambert Janeane Garofalo, Jon Lovitz and Will Sasso. He even brought on Moby to create the score. What could he possibly be up to with such a cast and the title <I>Southland Tales</i>? While people waited for the movie, Kelly let it be known that you needed to do more than buy a ticket to absorb his film. He was originally going to have six graphic novels released one per month leading up to the opening weekend. This got shortened to only three. None of the books were released before the movie debuted in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2006. The film was savaged by the critics. Kelly sliced away 20 minutes before it was released in November stateside. Only two of the books were released by this time. Southland Tales did not score well at the box office and didn’t gain the cult status of Donnie Darko. My first viewing left me quite confused.

A year after the release, I interviewed Wallace Shawn who played Baron von Westphalen in the film. Even though we were discussing a different movie, I had to ask him, “You were in Southland Tales. What was that about?”

“It was probably a lot of things at the same time,” Wallace Shawn said. “One of them that you can’t possibly question is that it’s not supposed to be America today. But it provides some amazing portraits of America today. If somebody asks what it was like in those boom years, the crazy years under George W. Bush, you can probably say look at that party on the blimp in Southland Tales. That was what it was like. The scene on the boardwalk is kinda like what it was like back in the day when people were wandering around on the boardwalk.

“If you get into questioning it, you might never find the answers. If you take it for what it is, your minutes were well spent watching it. You have to give yourself to the film. To answer the questions either will never happen or it would take 20 viewings to answer. You don’t have to. If you don’t like it, you can leave after half an hour. But it’s worth a third time to watch it.” Take that advice from Wallace Shawn.

The good news is this release of Southland Tales gives people an immediate reason to watch it a second time without it being a familiar experience. Richard Kelly is able to include both the version that was shown at Cannes and the US distributed cut. Does the extra time make it a totally understandable film? Do the missing minutes provide the key for connecting the dystopia future with World War III in progress, a culture in love with reality shows, a prophetic film script written by the Rock, an evil hydro energy company, neo-Marxists rigging an election, a sniper spying on the characters zipping around Los Angeles (Southland), the zeppelin and musical moments? Not quite. But the extra time allows you to get lost in this strange intersecting world. Maybe it doesn’t need to make sense or have answers or a massive feel good payoff. Just because it stars the Rock doesn’t mean we have to have that heroic final payoff that demands a massive gasp followed by applause as the houselights come up. Southland Tales is able to maintain it’s bizarre approach from beginning to end like a dream that keeps getting interrupted by your bed mate’s snoring.

Maybe it makes greater sense if I’d read the three comic books. But why would I want to ruin the cinematic experience? Southland Tales is there when you wander inside.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic for both the Cannes Cut and Theatrical Release. The New 2K restoration was approved by director Richard Kelly and director of photography Steven Poster. The resolution brings out the details of Los Angeles/Southland. It also let you enjoy seeing a younger version of The Rock as he roams the landscape. The audio is Original lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks. The mix gets you into the near future dystopia. The movie is subtitled.

Audio commentary on the theatrical cut by Richard Kelly.

It’s a Madcap World: The Making of an Unfinished Film (50:52) is a new three part documentary on the film with Richard Kelly and original crew members discussing what was going on in the film and outside the frame. Kelly discusses how this film started with the idea of a kidnapping comedy that ends on a zeppelin. They talk about how Kelly explored more than was in the original shooting script which gave it too. He speaks about how the budget didn’t quite cover the special effects. He also relates what went wrong at Cannes.

USIDent TV: Surveilling the Southland (33:48) is an archival featurette with cast and crew interviews. It opens with Will Sasso asking what’s Southland Tales about? He declares it a comedy about the end of the world. They show frames from the comic books. Kelly talks about how the film shows how divided the country is become. It hasn’t quite approved in the last 15 years.

This is the Way the World Ends (9:12) is an animated short set in the Southland Tales universe. We’re taken inside a drowned world where Squidbilly-like creatures now control the ruins of society.

Theatrical Trailer (2:31) promises to show us the way the world ends.

Image gallery (24:11) features dozens of photos from the production.

Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Peter Tonguette and Simon Ward.

Arrow Academy presents Southland Tales. Directed by: Richard Kelly. Screenplay by: Giuseppe Tornatore. Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson and Wallace Shawn. Running Time: 144 (theatrical) & 159 minutes (Cannes Cut). Rated: R. Released: January 26, 2021.

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