Thursday, January 27, 2011

Araki's KABOOM opens -- at Sundance, in theaters & via Sundance Selects; plus a very short Q&A with Master Gregg

Be still my heart (and certain other body appendages)! KABOOM is upon us, and a funnier, sexier, goofier, goosier good time, TrustMovies has not had since... last year's delight, Women in Trouble. I wonder, in fact, if Kaboom's writer/director Gregg Araki sees, as do I, any similarities in the two films. (That's one of the questions I had hoped to ask him during the roundtable Q&A a couple of weeks back. But then the roundtable was delayed and I had to leave the Q&A early, so I learned only a portion of what I hoped for. (My short interview appears at the end of this review.) The styles of the two films are certainly different, and while Women's filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez concentrates on the gals, the porn industry and some lesbian fun, Araki gives us gals and guys -- and though he makes certain you know his main boy is at least accidentally ambi-sexual, this kid's fantasies always seem to go gay.

What unites the films for me is the state they put the viewer in by the end of the experience: A kind of joyful, giddy, beaming pleasure. Watching them is like taking a vacation -- not just from life but from most other movies. They're not guilty pleasures because -- stylish, smart, and very well-written, -directed and -acted -- they're guilt-free. Araki, that sly guy (pictured at right), is also quite transgressive. I should think even a lot of gays find his work "difficult."  You don't get feel-good, coming-out movies in which friends and family finally see the light and embrace the "Why-he's-just-like-us!" protagonist. The triumph of the human spirit is -- sadly but gladly -- nowhere to be found.

What is to be found is a randy-dandy embrace of sexuality in whatever form pleasures you -- from a mere (but hot) fantasy about roommate Thor (Chris Zylka, above) to a threesome with a fantasy who suddenly becomes a realty. The filmaker is happy to give sex lessons, too -- as when one of his heroines, London (the sublime Juno Temple, shown with red cap in the penultimate photo, below) diagnoses to a "t" the performance problems of studly Rex (Andy Fischer-Price).

The plot, such as it is, is mostly about the getting laid -- in any and every manner possible -- of Araki's young hero Smith (Thomas Dekker, above, looking very much like a little boy with a beard).

But before, during and after said sex, all sorts of odd happenings occur: Men in animal masks kidnap and kill; a young woman barfs on our hero's shoes; his mom (Kelly Lynch) can't keep one quick phone call going; and a "witch" (Roxanne Mesquida, above, right) seduces then stalks his best gal pal (Haley Bennett, above, center, who, along with Ms Temple, gives the film's standout performance). Oh, yes: and our hero's been having some weird apocalyptic nightmares....

While Araki's style grows ever more commercial (don't worry his content is anything but), Kaboom seems like a cross between his first relatively good-looking movie Splendor and the charm and humor of Smiley Face. Full of inventive, fun visual effects, the film looks like a million bucks (but probably cost much less).

At the screening I attended, laughter was near-constant thing -- but on an individual, rather than a group, basis: It never came from a large portion of the audience at the same time. Instead, it seemed as though, every few moments, something struck someone in the audience as hilarious, so there would be a sudden and very audible hoot or snort. That's the sneaky, Araki way: Even the laughs aren't mainstream. By the time you've been doing this kind of guffawing and chuckling throughout an entire movie, you may find yourself in a very good mood.

Kaboom,via IFC Films, made its Sundance debut this week in the Spotlight section of the festival (where all four of its screenings sold out), had its On-Demand Sundance Selects debut yesterday and will open theatrically in New York City at the IFC Center this Friday, January 28 -- with a national rollout beginning in February.


An unusually large table of bloggers met with Gregg Araki on an afternoon earlier this winter at the IFC headquarters at Eleven Penn Plaza. The meeting took place about a half-hour later than originally scheduled so yours truly had to beat, all too soon, a hasty retreat. But the group allowed me to ask my couple of questions first. Here they are, in boldface, along with those of a couple of other bloggers that found their way into the early discussion. Araki's answers are in standard type:

Because we're starting late, Gregg, I have to leave early, so the group has allowed me to ask you a question or two first.

Oh -- good: You're right by the door, too.

Yes, I planned it that way.

That's better. Do you ever notice that, when people leave in the middle of a screening, it seems like they're always seated in the front row!

Maybe they didn't expect to be leaving early?  Anyway, your movie gave me more fun than I have had in a theater in ages.  It left me almost high.

Oh, thank you-- that's awesome! It was intended to be that. I think of the movie as just a really fun ride that sort of  starts and then takes you away into this new world. A couple of weeks ago I was in London for the film festival, and I was supposed to introduce the film and then go out with the festival organizers for dinner. Once the film started, I wanted to sit there for a couple of minutes to make sure it was going OK. But then I got sucked back into to it and it was like 15 minutes, and I was still sitting there. Then the whole first reel had played and they were like, "Well, are you coming to dinner?"

I can understand that. How many times have you actually seen your film?

Maybe a hundred. (The whole table gasps.) Well, you know, I edited it, too. And I've seen all the different cuts of it. I literally designed it to be a movie that you can watch over and over and over again and maybe get something new out of it every time you view it.  Lots of times I don't intend to watch it, but it'll start and I just get sucked in. Thomas -- the kid who stars in the movie -- is the same way. We've been at several film festival together with it, and I think he's now seen it seven or eight times. I actually made it, hoping  it might be one of those cult movies where you get the DVD and watch it over and over. That's why it's short, to the point, and just fun to watch.

In some ways, your movies seem to me to be growing -- well, not that you'd ever get to be mainstream -- but your production values in this film look like a million dollars.  Everything in it looks great.  It reminded me of something where you maybe took some ideas from Splendor and the humor of Smiley Face and then added the theme of a movie of yours I have not seen -- but the IMDB says you've made -- a TV movie called This Is How the World Ends. Do you find that it is getting easier to make movies, the more of them you make?  Because it seems that each one you do includes more and makes use of more moviemaking skills. 

I actually do think this is true.  The actual making of a film almost gets harder -- the financing, that whole aspect of it -- but I do feel that with each film I make I am just a better filmmaker. You learn so much every time you make a movie. Kaboom is by now my tenth film. You learn so much. With Kaboom in particular, it was a very ambitious project, a very big movie on a very tight budget and a very tight schedule, so I had to really use every trick in the book to pull it off and make it all happen on the budget we had. So it is.... Really -- I do feel like technically, as a filmmaker, I am much better than I was ten or 20 years ago. But that's just natural: The more you do something, the better you should get at it.

At this point, another blogger chimes in. 

I feel like there is a lot of social criticism in your film: sexual tabloos broken -- like the threesome -- and then the fantasy element, like the witch. So I am not sure, but did you have to create this world in order to tackle these subjects. They are so heightened. Are you recreating this "high," or are you tackling these social things? 

My films have always been interested in creating this kind of thing. They always exist in their own world. There is sort of a subjective nature to the universe, and Kaboom is one in which this is most pronounced. The movie sort of takes you away into another place. Like a sort of Utopian place -- where the light is better, the colors are richer, the people are prettier. And there's more sex.  Of course there's a bad conspiracy and the world is going to end, but aside from that....
(We all laugh)

There is something about the world of Kaboom that is so intoxicating that it almost casts a spell over you, and that is one of the things I wanted to do -- create a world where anything can happen. But I didn't want to create a world that was just quirky and weird to be quirky and weird -- but instead could be this kind of universe of not boring mundane reality, but an escape. While we were shooting it, we all called it Kaboom World, When the shoot was over Thomas was really upset: "I don't to leave this, I don't want this to end," he told us. 

One of the most exciting things is when you can let go and just surprise yourself.

Yes, and Kaboom was sort of just a surprise. That's the way it was created. I wanted it to be coming from a place of creative freedom. To do and be its own thing -- not have to be constrained by expectations of more conventional genres. That way, it has the supernatural elements like the cult, the witch, the animal guys, Everything just sort of had a life of its own. When I was writing, I sometimes wondered, Where did this come from? Like the dumpster. Where did that come from?! That was one of the most exciting things for me about making the movie. Where everything came from.

Do you think you get more or less transgressive as you get older?

It depends, I guess, on how you define transgressive. I feel that I am getting lighter as I get older. Definitely. I think my films are getting more optimistic. Not as angry or dark as my early films like The Doom Generation. If you are talking about transgressive --and the idea of it as being sort of a liberation from taboo -- I actually think that Kaboom is one of my most transgressive. Because it is really rare for American movies, and even my own movies, to see sex as having no negative consequences, to see it totally in a positive light. When the kids have sex in this film, nothing bad comes from this. There is bad stuff, but it is not related to the sex. The sex is seen as a very sort of positive force in terms of these kids' lives and their adventures and what they are learning about themselves. Like the London character, when she talks about sex., through her sexuality she is discovering stuff about herself and about other opepple.  That point of view in itself is extremely transgressive, particular in America, which is such a hypocritical and puritanical society.

(At this point I had to leave, but I wish I could have remained. Araki is as well-spoken and to the point as his films are off-the-wall and entertaining. Well, next time, next film....) 

The photos above are the film itself, 
with the exception of those of Mr.Araki -- 
the second of which (he's in a white polo shirt) 
was taken by Sara De Boer, courtesy of Retna.

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