Film Threat Review: Kaboom

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL EMERGING VISIONS SELECTION!
Unrated
85 minutes

****

Writer/Director Gregg Araki specializes in one thing: Films about attractive young people with supernatural problems boning each other. He’s made this type of film several times (“The Doom Generation,” “Nowhere”, “Mysterious Skin”) and each time he’s improved upon the formula. The young people of “Kaboom” are especially hot, extra supernatural and constantly boning. If you’re on board with this premise, “Kaboom” will not disappoint you. Otherwise, you’ll want to steer clear of this one, as well as the Arakiverse altogether.

Thomas Dekker (“the Sarah Connor Chronicles”) stars as Smith (his first name), a sexually malleable film student on the cusp of his 19th birthday. This erotic romp gets right to the Eros. Nearly every character that meets will have sex immediately, eventually or, at the very least, in a masturbatory fantasy. When Smith finds time to sleep, he has a vivid recurring dream involving his nearest and dearest as well as two strangers. The dream proves prophetic when he bumps into said strangers at a party. One is a lesbian witch named Lorelei who hooks up with Smith’s best friend, Stella. The other is a red-haired girl who is later murdered in front of Smith by some animal masked creeps. (Maybe. Depending on what was in that cookie.) Smith soon finds himself caught up in a cultist conspiracy in which he may play a pivotal role. Who can go to class at a time like this?

Araki really knows how to work a small budget, crafting a teen comedy that both satirizes and celebrates the genre. Every scene pops with candy rave colors and hipster hues. Asymmetrical haircuts and wild clothes beg the question: Is this what young people look like? Well, not exactly. And it’s not really how they talk either. The average teenager does not speak in snappy one-liners. But it is how Hollywood portrays them. And the look comes with a precocious, world-weary personality. Nowadays, kids must go into hair salons asking for “ the 30 Seconds to Mars” the way folks used to ask for “the Rachel.”

Though the mystery is somewhat complex and new characters pop up every few minutes, Araki is on top of it. “Kaboom” is well paced, effortlessly blending the sex and the sleuthing so there’s never too much of one or the other. He makes smart directorial choices that put “Kaboom” a cut above the films it alludes to. Freeze frames and novelty transitions could easily become conspicuous and annoying. But Araki’s use of them only adds to the whimsy.

As in the films it emulates, the characters of “Kaboom” constantly speak in snarky sound bites and custom slang. However, Araki’s take on it feels natural and even clever. Among Stella’s quips: “Nice hat, by the way. Are we in Paris?” and “Dreams are just your brain taking a dump at the end of the day. They don’t mean anything.” Haley Bennett delivers Stella’s lines in a way that lovingly recalls Veronica Sawyer in “Heathers“. I was surprised to see Dekkar play a character that isn’t at all whiny or tedious. It’s difficult to sell a line like, “I don’t believe in standardized sexual pigeonholes”, but it rolls off Dekkar’s tongue with adorable earnestness. Also adorable is Juno Temple (daughter of brilliant rock documentarian, Julian). Temple plays London, a free-spirited, sexually liberated party girl who has “a thing for gay dudes.” These actors do a fine job embodying some surprisingly three-dimensional disenchanted youth.

Incidentally, it’s refreshing to see characters in movies using brand-name internet services. Araki name checks both Google alerts and Facebook. I know Araki wasn’t going for realism or anything, but it always ups the silliness quotient of a movie when they use thinly veiled euphemisms for things people use every day. It’s easier to sell a wacky premise when the normal elements of the story are actually…normal.

For a while, there are so many balls in the air that it seems like the mystery of “Kaboom” might never be resolved. But it does pick up speed and culminates in a hilarious car chase scene that cemented my appreciation for this film. This may have been what Richard Kelly was trying to do when he made “Southland.”

Though I thoroughly enjoyed “Kaboom,” I do have one little request. Can we retire the response; “I just threw up a little bit in my mouth”? Somebody please get on this.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

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Film Threat Review: Septien

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL EMERGING VISIONS SELECTION!
Unrated
79 minutes

**
When reviewing a film, I normally hate to generalize or resort to hyperbole. But in the case of “Septien,” I really think it fits. There are two kinds of people in the world: People who won’t care for “Septien” and people who will think it’s amazing. The latter type of person will really “get it.” They’ll see themes and allusions up the wahzoo. They’ll hail the film as a work of art. And who knows, maybe they’re right. Real art is many things to many people. Sometimes, however, the reason a work of art leaves so much open to interpretation is because the artist hasn’t fully fleshed out their idea.

Michael Tully wrote, directed and stars as Cornelius Rawlings, one of three brothers living on a small backwoods farm in rural Tennessee. Cornelius has just returned unexpectedly after an unexplained 18-year absence. His brothers are pleased to see him but less pleased that Cornelius remains mum on pretty much every subject. The brothers quickly re-assume their roles. Ezra is the maternal one. A secretly self-loathing closet case, he keeps the house in a compulsively tidy state and prays for the souls of the others. Amos is the tortured artist, draining resources as he paints disturbing scenes for hours on end without any intention to sell his work. He’s both reverent of Cornelius and jealous of him. Cornelius is a passive-aggressive brat whom everyone adores anyway. Why they do isn’t exactly clear, though he does possess a tremendous amount of squandered athletic talent. To say these are broken people is likely inaccurate because they were probably screwed up all along. After all, they aren’t the only irreverent rednecks in town. Must be something in the water.

Helping out on the non-working farm is the resident simpleton, Wilbur. He spends his days running a metal detector over the grounds, finding a surprising array of items. Why someone would bury a working VHS camcorder (with a battery charger?), is beyond reason. But it gives Wilbur a chance to make a movie so that we can see what a beautiful soul he has. He sleeps in a tire and counts kitty petting as one of his hobbies.

By now you’ve probably guessed which camp I’m in. I didn’t want to hate “Septien.” I enjoyed the tone, which was suspenseful with the essence of a Harmony Korine film. (Incidentally, Korine’s wife, Rachel, has a featured role.) The flat line delivery that is so prevalent in this type of indie darling didn’t bother me here. It almost made a kind of sense that these characters would speak so dispassionately. Ezra’s (at times cliché) colorfulness was a nice contrast to his dusty, bearded brothers both in wardrobe and personality. Though I didn’t actually like any of the characters, they earnestly compelled me. With the promise of a big payoff, I gave it the benefit of the doubt right up until the end. Of course, I won’t give away the ending. But you should be warned. The big reveal isn’t that much of a surprise. The aftermath is confusing and, though it involves a lot fire, rather lackluster.

The enjoyable elements aren’t enough to make a successful film because the story takes a very long time to get going. After numerous lengthy scenes of character development, we’re introduced, in a single long shot, to a man in black. He appears out of a Honey Bucket and slowly walks off camera. He enigmatically pops back in from time to time, once with some creepy twin girls. But we don’t actually meet him till the film’s final act. That man is the plot. I guess, seeing as how he’s on foot, it just takes him a while to get there.

I understand that it’s not meant to be plot-heavy. I know that we’re getting a detailed look at whom these people are. But every movie needs to have some sort of plot. “Septien” barely meets that requirement. Every once in a while, something happens that feels like a turning point, such as the aforementioned buried camera mystery or Amos believing his paintings are prophetic. The brothers ominously sing themselves to sleep with a song about expelling demons. Cornelius repeatedly hustles local jocks into sports competitions they can’t win. All of these things feel like they should lead somewhere explosive. But they don’t. Either it turns out to be nothing or, at best, it’s something relatively insignificant to the plot as a whole.

The people who will really love “Septien” won’t mind waiting for Mr. Plot Device to show up looking like a hillbilly Hasselhoff. They’re too busy appreciating the hell out of the film’s quirkiness. They could sit and watch a character develop all day long. They’re the people who loved “Gummo” and think civilians make more interesting actors than the professionals. I’m the other guy.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

2010 Year-End Meme

I don’t do memes that much anymore, but I still really like the year-end meme because it’s nice to reflect on the years as they whiz past. So let’s do this.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
Gave birth to and subsequently cared for a human life. Weird. I’ll try not to make this whole thing baby-centric but it may prove difficult as once you have a baby, they basically consume your life. Also, I went on my first cruise. Ever since then, I’ve dreamed about being on a cruise at least once a month.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Didn’t make any. Though this year I’d like to continue to get some exercise at least 5 times a week, spend one night a week reading instead of vegging in front of the T.V., continue to have at least one baby-free night a week with my husband and find more time to write. Those all seem pretty do-able because I’m already doing several of them.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yep! 2010 welcomed Lula and her future BFFs Josie, Sam, Maddie and Ian.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
We weren’t that close anymore but my cousin died. It was weird because she was so young (21), but even weirder because I found out about it on Facebook. That’s the first time that’s ever happened. Is that the new way to deliver bad news? Also, my Aunt finally lost her battle with M.S. What a shitty disease that is.

5. What countries did you visit?
Mexico.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
A sense of purpose. I know that, as a mother, wife and semi-professional critic, I’m certainly necessary to at least a couple of people. I can’t exactly explain why I feel a little aimless. But hopefully 2011 will bring about an end to that.

7. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
February 20th, my daughter’s birthday. Also, February 12th, her due date, as it painfully passed me by.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Successfully nurturing and bringing a new person into the world and subsequently keeping that person alive for the next 6 months using only my boobs. I know that people do this all the time, but it still seemed kind of incredible that I, personally, was capable of this.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Still not finding a good parenting/work balance and therefore letting my freelance work dwindle.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Pregnancy is a lot like illness and giving birth definitely counts as injury.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The Ergo baby carrier. This thing is amazing and I’m always glad to have my kid strapped into it when I’m boarding the bus, walking down a city sidewalk, rushing through an airport or shopping at Trader Joe’s. Life is just so much more difficult with a stroller.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My husband has been absolutely incredible and has taken to fatherhood so well. Because of him, I get to sleep in once a week and I get to relax when he comes home from work. I have NO idea how people do this by themselves.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Idiot politicians. Parents who make gay kids scared to come out.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Baby stuff and vacations.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Lula’s birth. Not being pregnant anymore. Being able to drink again. Our various vacations. Meeting my friends’ babies.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
“Sister Golden Hair” because I sing it to Lula all the time. When you’re trying to get a baby to sleep, you just pull out any songs you know all the words to that can be slowed down a bit. Plus, she’s a tow-head, so it kinda fits.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
-i. happier or sadder?
Happier. This time last year, I was pretty damned uncomfortable.
– ii. thinner or fatter?
Thinner! I don’t even want to tell you how much I weighed this time last year.
– iii. richer or poorer?
Personally, much poorer on account of work falling by the wayside. But overall, we’re probably about the same financially. Shop Amazon, people! :)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Camping. I really missed it. It wouldn’t have been as much fun with a tiny baby though. But this summer, we already have one trip planned!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Crying. Hormones are a motherfucker.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Hung out in good old Poulsbo with our close friends. I won a gingerbread house building contest and $60 playing pai gow. It was a big day for me.

21. Where did you spend New Year’s Eve?
We dropped by an adult party and left around 9, when Lula started to lose her baby mind. When we got home, we put her to bed, watched Mad Men commentaries and fell asleep by 11:30. Parenting.

22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
I’ll try not to make anyone nauseous with the old “love at first baby sight” cliche. But I definitely love a person this year that I didn’t even know last year. My fella also continues to find new ways for me to fall for him.

23. How many one-night stands?
Not a lot of time for torrid anonymous sex when you have a baby.

24. What was your favorite TV program?
Mad Men and Fringe.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is a strong word, but I’m not as much of a fan of someone as I used to be.

26. What was the best book you read?
I didn’t read much fiction, but I continued to get much out of this book: http://www.amazon.com/Be-Prepared-Practical-Handbook-Dads/dp/0743251547/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294018385&sr=8-1

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
That old Sesame street songs are totally palatable and even delightfully clever.

28. What did you want and get?
A healthy, awesome kid. Losing the baby weight before her first birthday. No stretch marks (no idea how this happened as I still have faded white lines on my hips from puberty).

29. What did you want and not get?
To not fall prey to postpartum depression. For our cat to get used to the baby.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
“The Room”. Not since “Showgirls” has a movie delighted me to tears with its sheer inanity.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
My husband made me dinner and we watched one of my favorite movies, “Wild at Heart”. I turned 32.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Regular sleep.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Problematic. It really sucks having to fit a constantly fluctuating body whilst still maintaining some semblance of personal style. I mostly refused to wear maternity clothes on account of the fact that the affordable ones were extremely frumpy. After I gave birth, my body shrank slowly so I had several in-between stages to get through without spending too much money on clothes that wouldn’t fit me in a month or two.

34. What/Who kept you sane?
My husband, my awesome friends, the babysitter and alcohol.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Jon Hamm.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The rash of suicides amongst bullied gay teens.

37. Who did you miss?
Friends who moved away. My cousin. My band.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Lula, obviously. Our babysitter is a runner-up. I love that girl.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
That many people think they know more about how to raise your kid than you do and it’s OK to tell them to suck it.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple
To last your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough
For anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song

La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la