Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kaboom (2010)

I think you should know before you read any further that I am a fan of the film maker. Gregg Araki has been a major influence on the kind of films I want to make so I cannot be completely unbiased with this review. In much the same way as Repo Chick in fact.

Kaboom is, according to imdb, the eleventh Gregg Araki movie. He is perhaps most famous for Mysterious Skin, a beautiful, interesting film that helped launch Joseph Gordon-Levitt out of TV and onwards towards his inevitable mega stardom but fans will point to The Doom Trilogy of Totally Fucked Up, Doom Generation and my personal favourite Nowhere.

Cool posters and a great demonstration of the power of artwork on selling movies. How many orgasms can you see in the black poster? The multi coloured lettering and the reviews chosen all there to appeal to the new generation of ADD Araki fans out there on their macbooks spamming each others twitters. The second poster looks very arty doesn't it, a serious awards poster if you ever saw one, it still says "sex" but in a slightly more subtle way, ideal for sensible people who take things like Cannes and Sundance seriously.

What you are about to read is as much of a synopsis as you can write for a film like this: A super hot bi guy (Thomas Dekker from Heroes) and his arty hipster friend (Haley Bennett who doesn't really seem to have been in anything worthwhile) are college freshman (I'm English, I have no idea what these terms actually mean) having a lot of fun sleeping around, weird stuff starts to happen and there's a plot to destroy the world.

Or you can trust the official writeup from the Toronto International Film Festival: Smith's everyday life in the dorm - hanging out with his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella, hooking up with a beautiful free spirit named London, lusting for his gorgeous but dim surfer roommate Thor - all gets turned upside-down after one fateful, terrifying night.

Araki is a director who is used to working with a low budget, another in the school of using creativity to solve a problem instead of throwing money at it. His previous films have looked deliberately cheap and largely visually arresting. Kaboom is no different, a similar story is told about similar characters using modern techniques of low budget film making.

At times it is obvious that these are the same characters as the previous films but for the new generation, he has a unique ear for knowing how youth interact, instead of the stoned mallrats making home videos in the 90's we are treated to the evolution of these sluts and slackers in to the youtube and facebook generation with HD video blogs and instant access to gossip and knowledge via smartphones.

The continuing themes of the director's works are abundantly evident from the start, alienation, homosexuality, the apocalypse, paranoia, drug use, apparent nihilism. These young people are trying to find themselves in the modern world and even more so than 15 years it is proving difficult with the large amount of technology available and the lack of cohesion in their family lives.

Shot in vivid colour and making use of noir stylistics in the thriller scenes this is at times a visual feast, especially impressive considering the budget and at other times deliberately cheap looking, some of the effects for example could have been taken from his 90's trilogy.

The constant waking from dreams sequences are very nicely done and add another layer to the story which is engaging, mostly because you are constantly asking "what the fuck is going on?" And there are subplots that weave their way through the story and later work their way to the surface and become the major plot devices.

Other visually appealing items for your consideration: Juno Temple is naked half of the time, there's a lot of sex to keep your attention focused on the screen, Araki stalwart James Duval plays a permanent student who's permanently stoned and a white Rastafarian to boot and there's a whole cast of beautiful people who may or may not be superfluous to the story.

For a dramatic comedy with slight science fictiony undertones this movie has great moments of humour and mixes them with disturbing scenes and an occasional eeriness (thanks to the use of light and shadow and occasionally well placed cameras.)

There's a lot of talk out on the net of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales being ripped off by Araki for this movie but I would state without any hesitation that Richard Kelly was a fanboy of Gregg Araki a long time before he even considered making those two films and I would even add Alex Cox to the list of directors he was influenced by before he got his big break. The fact that Kelly had a breakout mainstream success means nothing, Alex Cox was clearly an influence on Araki and as witnessed by Repo Chick recently he himself has made a film that was influenced by Araki.

The major difference between these three directors is that Richard Kelly had a lot of money thrown at him, Alex Cox made different decisions in his career and is working in other fields aside from film and Araki is hindered by his use of homosexuality. They are all film students and Araki's use of Chien Andalou in Kaboom should point your expectations towards a film that has no plot in the conventional sense, a disjointed chronology, uses dream logic and presents a series of tenuously connected, disjointed scenes. But that's not all there is, it's a thoroughly enjoyable piece of film making too.

Kaboom (2010) DivX -


  1. Nice review! I was unsure about this movie in the beginning but as it pressed on and just got weirder and weirder I came out enjoying it. Love the abrupt wtf ending and the visual style/host of attractive people. Juno Temple is too cute!

    I didn't realize people were comparing this Donnie Darko. I never even thought to put the two together, except for the inclusion of James Duval in both. They seem like two totally different filmmakers to me and it is pretty ignorant for anyone to think that Araki is being influenced by Kelly.

    PS Thank you so much for all your comments on my blog! I decided to respond to them all at once in the SUPER post, since that seemed less complicated.

  2. thank you. i used to find it hard to write positive reviews so it's nice to get positive feedback.

    i think mostly donnie darko gets mentioned because its richard kelly, there are obvious comparisons with southland tales and most of the araki ouevre.

    now i think about it there are similarities in the attitudes of minor characters in darko and the earlier araki stuff but only in the same way if i wrote a script it would be influenced by repo man and nowhere.

  3. I only read the beginning of this post since I haven't seen the film yet, but I thought I'd say your opener convinced me to go get the film. Araki used to be one of those filmmakers I would check back on all the time to check if a film was coming out, I'm not sure when I stopped doing that. I was a fan primarily because of Mysterious Skin and Doom Generation, which used to be one of my favourite films to point people towards when discussing the power of shift in directorial choice re: atmosphere, tone and stylistic malevolence. Having said that I didn't take to Nowhere, it was ironically too nasty for me. Yes I know that's pretty much getting exactly what you should expect and later whining you didn't think it'd be like that, but still... it's not a film I rewatch.

  4. I can't put my finger on why Nowhere is my favourite, i think it's the ridiculous aliens and the nihlism. But i think you are not alone with that favouritism towards Doom Generation.

    I didn't even realise Kaboom was released as after Smiley Face i also stopped paying attention to Araki

    I hope you enjoy the film when you get around to viewing. Although i do provide links to 750mb decent quality streams/downloads at the end of each review post.

  5. I'm a longtime of Araki ever since seeing The Doom Generation in the mid-90s when I was just a teenager. I've seen a lot of his work, minus Totally Fucked Up and the stuff he did before The Living End, since then. This film for me represents Araki not just returning to those themes but also do it with some maturity.

    As a filmmaker, I think he's getting better and more confident. It's clear he knows what he is doing and he seems to be enjoying himself at the same time. I enjoyed the humor and unconventional tone of it. I also loved the ending for just being so subversive of what is expected in film. It's definitely somewhere in my list of the best films of 2010 since it did premiere at Cannes that year winning its first Queer Palm award.

  6. void - what did you think of smiley face?

    you're absolutely correct about his growth as a filmmaker, i think making the more traditionally structured MYSTERIOUS SKIN had a positive effect on him.

    it's turning up on 2011 lists so i may just include it on mine for this year rather than last. especially as it only just got a dvd release in australia.

  7. I actually liked Smiley Face a lot. I liked what Araki was able to do with a genre like the stoner comedy but also put some of his own ideas into. Notably the soundtrack which is definitely all Araki and it has a great performance by Anna Faris who I think is quite underrated if you watch some of the films she did like Lost in Translation and May. She's actually a better actress than people give her credit for.

  8. void - interesting. i wanted to give it a chance but the stoner premise was just a little too immature sounding for me. count me in on the ANNA FARIS appreciation society, she's much better than she's given credit for. i guess she shouldve stopped making the scary movie franchise sooner.