Film #14: Kaboom (2010)

director: Gregg Araki
language: English
length: 86 minutes
watched on: 16 Jun

I think this was described in the promotional literature as Donnie Darko with gay sex. Fine, enough to get me in the cinema (along with the credentials of the director who made Mysterious Skin), but it’s a bit worrying when a film is so obviously basing itself on another film. Oh, it could be an homage, I guess, but it felt more like a copycat of some description. Here the visual connection to Donnie Darko is drawn in the form of a strange conspiracy of Scientologists members of an anonymous cult who wear animal masks and chase the main character around. So instead of one scary rabbit, we’ve got lots of scary tigers instead!

As for “gay sex”, it was, for one, all a bit gratuitous, and there was as much M/F sex anyway, since the main character’s bi – or at least, mumbles something incoherent about labels before the girl slaps him in the face and asks outright whether or not he wants to fuck. She, like everyone else in the film, is improbably pretty and has a stupid name, in her case London – because oh look she’s from England. Perhaps it’s indicative of the kind of nicknames people get given in college, but it’s still a stupid name. Her accent kept annoying me, as well; apparently the actress is English but must have spent long enough in America to have an annoying hybrid accent, which makes it sound like she’s putting on one or other of the two accents.

Then we have the main character, called Smith, and the ‘gorgeous’ jocky roommate who we get to see naked trying to suck himself, inexplicably named Thor. I’m sure the other female character, the ‘best friend’ pictured on the right above, had a ‘normal’ name, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. I suppose at least having stupid names helped me remember them.

Anyway, they’re all meant to be 18 or 19 but are clearly older, and it’s basically all just an excuse to espouse yet again that awful myth that college is the only and/or best age when you can (nay, should) have lots and lots of sex. To that end, the main character drags himself off to a nudist beach halfway through the film for no reason whatsoever. It was a particularly egregious example of the plot having no direction – it was more like a series of unconnected events. I guess that’s not a bad thing on its own, but the film kind of set itself up to have some sort of plot towards the beginning and it just sort of trailed off.

And then there were these odd supernatural moments in the film, such as the psycho lesbian witch attacking the best friend after they broke up, and a telepath – who, interestingly, uses the same pose as James McAvoy in X-Men. I didn’t feel they added anything to the film – indeed, it might have been much creepier and scarier if they weren’t there to remind us that there’s magic in the fictional world and therefore it’s not real. They did at least help to set the tone, though. It just kind of came out of nowhere.

The entire ending was a bit dissatisfying, too; even without it cutting short during the narrative climax, it just got a bit ridiculous. I already mentioned the totally-not-Scientologists – well, apparently there’s a conspiracy surrounding the boy, and the head of the totally-not-Scientologists, who’s a sort of cross between L Ron Hubbard, the Pope and Julius Caesar is like his father or something, and every single character introduced thusfar is implicated somehow, either as an Illuminati/Scientologist or as part of La Resistance, and then the film pulls a cheap trick to invoke incest in a last ditch (failed, in my case) attempt to shock the audience somehow. And then it all cuts short after two minor characters infodump everything about the conspiracy to the main character, in a surprisingly boring way considering that they’re in a high speed car chase, and we don’t get any closure on the story.

Everyone in this film is ridiculously pretty, as well, one of the more annoying Hollywood tropes. Except I do think the main character needed a shave – his stubble is just too painfully “designer” to be taken seriously. He had nice eyes though.

It is enjoyable to watch, though, and the storyline is at least somewhat engaging. There are a few frights here and there, especially the bits that take after Donnie Darko (it’s more effective than Donnie Darko at them, too). I don’t think it was very original, but it does nicely capture the modern zeitgeist with the general apocalyptic/conspiratorial feel. It has enough pretty people to satisfy one’s shallow side, but the characters are all vapid and the ending is rubbish. So I at least wouldn’t expect too much out of it if you do see it. A shame it didn’t live up to the high bar set by Mysterious Skin.

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Film #13: X-Men First Class (2011)

director: Matthew Vaughn
language: English with gratuitous Russian, German, Spanish, French
length: 132 minutes
watched on: 14 Jun

I don’t even know if this is meant to be one of those so-called franchise reboots that are all too common nowadays. But it kinda felt like one either way. It wasn’t brilliant, although it was fairly standard X-Men fare. It’s been a while since I saw the other films in the series, although I’m fairly certain it’s better than #3, which was a bit of a clusterfuck. I’d have to refresh my memory about #1 and #2, though.

Anyway, James McAvoy is pretty, and has nice eyes that we get a few lingering close-ups of, but I’m not too sure about his acting skills. I’m too aware that he’s putting on an accent, for instance, even though he does pretty well. I can’t quite see him as Professor X essentially transforming into Patrick Stewart, but this is pointed out sarcastically at the end of the film by the character.

Same goes for Nicholas Hoult’s character – I’m all too aware that his American accent is fake, despite it not being terrible. It was a bit of a surprise to suddenly see him turning up in something that wasn’t Skins, anyway.

The film does suffer from the sheer number of characters introduced, though, although again, it’s not quite as bad as #3 in the series. It could have done with a bit more focus in general. Among the younger characters, there is a lot of eye-candy; it’s another one of those films where everybody is just ridiculously attractive. We have the aforementioned Nicholas Hoult, for instance, and I personally quite liked the Banshee guy. But on the subject of the young’uns, it’s quite depressing that the black guy is the first to be killed off, followed pretty swiftly by the black/Latina girl defecting to the enemy side, leaving a set of very white X-Men.

I’m tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt on that, because it’s quite possible that they’re only following the source material of the original comics or something, but it then seems ironic that they’re using the X-Men as an allegory (as they always do) to preach acceptance and tolerance of people different from you – here the obvious one, given the civil-rights era setting (despite it actually being a Cold War plot), would be race. As always, the LGBT rights allegory is rather obvious as well (and there’s delicious sexual tension between the two adult protagonists in Magneto and Professor X).

One familiar conflict within the allegory of sexuality and racial tolerance that I’ve seen a bit in real life recently is the conflict between those mutants who have some kind of permanent, visible mutation and those who can, as it were, hide it from everyone else. And there’s hatred between them. And this depresses me because it reminds me that, taking the gay community as an example, there are masculine gay men who hate feminine gay men for being stereotypical, and feminine gay men who hate masculine gay men because they can ‘hide’ it. I just wonder why people have to hate each other.

They don’t really do that much with the Cold War setting, though – the Cuban nuclear sub blockade shows up as the scene of the final conflict, but I didn’t feel that it being the Cold War was necessary for the story to have worked. Besides, I’m starting to feel like the Cold War has been done to death.

Conclusion… well, more of James McAvoy’s eyes, less time-wasting next time!

Game: Lemmings for Mega Drive

finished playing on: 26 May

I’m including a quick note of praise about this port of Lemmings because it’s almost like a new game in its own right. Basically, the Mega Drive (or OK, Genesis, but Sega Mega Drive always had a ring to it in my opinion – but then I guess I’m being obtuse, because it’s always referred to as the Genesis version in the online Lemmings community) had some kind of memory limitation which meant that the maximum width of a level was just over two screens, rather than the ten or so that you could have on the original game. The developers took the levels that couldn’t be adapted down to 2 screens or stripped of extraneous sections and replaced them with brand new ones – 40 in total of the original levels were replaced, I believe. And then they rolled with it, creating 60 brand new levels, including some of the most difficult levels I’ve seen in an official release.

“Just how difficult could they be?” you ask… well, there’s this one, the second-last level in the second-last rating, called “Private Room Available”. Basically, you have to dig one lemming into every single one of the little boxes, and then down the exact centre of the box through the little spike, so that he doesn’t splat. But you also have to not let any other lemmings join him in the box, and if you don’t get him in the exact centre of the box when digging out, it’s possible to accidentally dig through the wall of an adjacent cell and have the adjacent lemming splat. It’s a bitch of a level, essentially, and it was the level that made me ragequit when I first tried the game several years ago. I think I only managed it this time because I worked out how to use savestates on my emulator.

It still makes me shudder when I see it – I think this is partly because it’s still fairly fresh for me; while I do find some levels of original Lemmings hard (Triple Trouble, Steel Mines of Kessel) and indeed shudder-worthy, and I still find ONML quite a challenge, I’ve been playing this game now for what, 16 years? I’m rather desensitised to them now – not so with these levels. I’m not much of a fan of this style of level, where it’s easy to work out what the solution is supposed to be but difficult to pull it off. And it’s always bloody diggers, isn’t it? As if “We all fall down” wasn’t enough.

But anyway, well made port, all things considered, and there are some real gems to be found in the level sets. The final level of the game is a particularly good head-scratcher, for instance.

Book #14: Brideshead Revisited (1945)

author: Evelyn Waugh
finished on: 25 May

This book was alright. It’s an interesting account of the pre-war aristocracy, a world that is a bit alien to me. But I got bored of it as it progressed, frankly, as it got more and more onto the topic of religion and away from the very-blatantly-homosexual relationship between the young men at the start of the book, which I found more interesting. I seem to remember the ending being a bit dissatisfying, too.

Anyway, this blog post is just going to serve as a reminder for me to actually update, since it’s been now almost 3 months since I read it, so I’ve forgotten all the interesting things I’d have had to say about it. And there are other items I wish to review now instead, so I guess I’m kinda twisting my own arm by requiring them to be in consecutive order or something. Meh.