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Tuesday
Aug092011

Thoughts I Had... While Watching "Kaboom"

This past week I finally caught up with Gregg Araki's Kaboom which is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. I still vividly remember seeing The Living End when it came out and the memory is vivid because it was so raw, like a gay garage band demo. The latest is a typical Araki as its obsessed with beautiful young men, polysexual love triangles and the apocalypse. 

Here are a few thoughts on the movie ... let's say five of them to be precise.

01 While Araki has been known to reuse the same actors, his obsession with youth means that he has to keep moving on from muses past. It must suck for 38 year old James Duval, for example, to be demoted to third tier stoner "The Messiah" after headlining in the past. For Kaboom Thomas Dekker gets the beloved son position front and center and I do mean front and I do mean center. That seems to be the only compositional choice Araki makes in the movie. Nearly every scene ignores the sides of frames entirely -- the art direction often consists of a black screen - and places one actor cropped close up dead center, usually Dekker with his blue peepers and vaguely frosted lips. Dekker is nice to look at, and I'll admit straightaway that betwen this and Cinema Verite, he's a more interesting and game actor than I initially thought when he whined through The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But I'm not sure he's ready for his close-up. Or at least not this many of them in one movie. You'd have to be a full fledged movie star to nail that many of them in short succession.

02 See what I mean about the composition...

Do you wanna f*** me?"

...asks Juno Temple's "London" while Smith begins to hallucinate from the party drugs in an early scene. This is about as forward as the movie gets about sex despite a narrative which includes the following [NSFW]: a threesome scene, instructional conversations about cunnilingus, anonymous gay beach sex, mentally unstable lesbian sex, and repeated closeups of the faces of actors (in the middle of the frame) faking druggy orgasms. If you want to make a highly stylized movie about self-absorbed, oversexed and sloppily stoned (by magic, drugs, voodoo, other) teenagers in college, shouldn't it be a little sluttier and more risque than, say, an episode of True Blood? Why are movies so much more prudish about sex than pay cable series, now? Even Gregg Araki movies! They used to be so rude.

03 One area in which it does measure up to past efforts is its incoherency. We get numerous dream sequences which dead end, sequences that don't feel like dream sequences which dead end without resolution (like Smith being chloroformed while looking at his computer and waking up the next day in the same room, no big whoop), weird dream imagery and repeated mysterious masked animal men, and subplots that feel like dead ends.

Until, that is, they all intertwine at the end at which point you don't care anymore since it all feels sloppily made up as it goes along like a game of exquisite corpse. Most damningly the movie doesn't seem to care either since it basically throws up its hands in typical end-of-the-world gesture.  

04 A few minutes before the movie ended I had a fleeting moment of worry that I was wrong to hate it, that it was secretly brilliant. This occurred when the animal men were unmasked and I realized that all of the plot threads were shapeshifting nonsensically just so that the movie could rewrite itself as a secret ode to Smith as the true center of the universe, and not just as the center of his own universe. For a split second, Kaboom almost felt like a scathing satire about the inestimable self-absorption seen in small infants and the occassional 19 year old gay-by.

Smith: What are you doing?
Thor: It's a useful skill to have!"

Which is why the most telling scene in the movie is definitely the moment where Smith walks in on his roommate Thor attempting to fellate himself. "It's a useful skill to have" Thor argues but Smith doesn't look like he's eager to try it. With the cast, camera, and director obviously eager to fellate him in every scene, why would he have any use for it?

05 'Best in Show' here is Haley Bennett as Smith's 'vagitarian' best friend Stella. In many ways it's a stock part (bitch-sass bestie) but Bennett lets just the right amount of boredom -- the willfully "mature" kind that's still immature -- settle in. In one of the funniest sequences, Smith tells her about Thor's auto-fellatio and tries to convince her that he's correct about Thor's sexuality with a list of Thor's gayish behavior, ending with a story about a closet full of color-coordinated flip-flops. Her dryly sarcastic retort:

Stella: Wow. Next to putting a dick in your mouth with Lady Gaga playing in the background that's about as gay as it gets.
Smith: See, I told you.
Stella: Smith, i'm kidding. This was all cute and fun when we were 15 but we're legal adults now.
........ in college. 

I wish Araki had had his own Stella on set to verbally slap him around a little whilst proving impossible to impress. Because this sort of movie -- the"shock value" queer apocalypse kind he used to dream up  -- no longer feels dangerous. It comes off like underfunded kitsch now. See, this was all cute and fun when it was the nineties and we were in college. But Araki hadn't yet made Mysterious Skin

Isn't it time to move beyond 19th birthday narcissism?

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Reader Comments (10)

Glad to hear I wasn't the only one disappointed in this film. Atleast a straight up satire ending would have redeemed itself. Instead, Araki seemed to be taking himself seriously. Awful.

August 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Sometimes I think that Mysterious Skin was secretly directed by Larry Clark, kind of like Speilberg/Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist. Nothing else in Arraki's career shares its ominous maturity.

August 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiscoNap

My sentiments exactly!
Ka-boom Review

August 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReel Charlie

just watched this over the weekend myself, and was really disappointed. where was the evolving maturity araki showed in splendor and (especially) mysterious skin? hot guys are great, naked hot guys are fun, but if that's all there is, i don't really need to pay to see that. there was some evolution in araki's work that was woefully lost. did anyone actually read the script before shooting other than the actors? because, honestly, it seemed like a great rough draft that never got edited or developed.

August 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrich

I liked it.

August 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Oh man, I had such a blast with this film! One of the most fun times in the cinema this year.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Blah, I've never been a fan of his. "Underfunded kitsch", in my opinion, is a terribly appropriate way to describe all his work, including his 'edgy' material like The Living End and the woefully overrated Mysterious Skin. Grated, there are some bright spots here and there (Skin features a standout performance by JGL) but his constant Gus Van Sant-esque obsession with attractive male youths got annoying long ago without every really challenging himself with or away from the territory. Unlike Van Sant, who become a better and more exciting filmmaker in the last decade.

Juno Temple needs to be in more things, she has such an interesting presence.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Completely agree with you Nat. It felt like a complete waste of time and to think I was so anticipating this movie after watching the trailer!!! Sometimes the trailler SHOULD be the film,

I have 2 words for Araki: grow up!

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

Larry Clark? REALLY? He's WORSE than Araki. Araki at least films plots every time. (Araki's issue has to do with overblown motifs and a taste for bizarre elements, like actual witches) Ken Park, from the Larry Clark stable, seems to be a plotless showcasing of pure grotesquerie... unless anyone can tell me otherwise.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I am a longtime Araki fan who had a hard time fully embracing Kaboom, as well. I think it's more a problem of contemporary Araki trying to make a vintage Araki movie, but being too different of a person to capture his youthful angst and panache necessary to satisfy. I expect more from the messy emptiness of Gregg Araki movies--they're usually fun, chaotic and significantly empty; Kaboom is fun, but too self-derivative and empty empty.

I enjoyed it on a fundamental level of "fun," because Araki just knows how to make those types of lurid, compulsively watchable bonkers films I used to relish in watching at 1am on IFC when I was in high school. But, again, it is really interesting that he commented in the Q & A on how optimistic he is in real life at his current age, and I think that's what made the film feel like a detached parody--or, being kinder--a pastiche of his previous work: just a fluffy regurgitation of his favorites themes, hedonistic characters, and modern fascinations. In this case, he just doesn't have a Doom Generation left in him anymore because he's a different person. I need the genuine angst with the camp, because I still find his youthful, sordid, disillusioned (and, sure, naive) screeds against society (like Doom) really refreshing and fun.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick McC.
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