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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
A delirious and lighthearted pop spectacle with a dark undercurrent of apocalyptic horror, “Kaboom” is about 95 percent of the movie that writer-director Gregg Araki’s fans have been waiting for. Now, it’s not like there are so damn many Araki fans out there at this point — I probably know a lot of you personally, with your apartments in Silverlake or the Lower Haight, your exhaustive collections of offbeat pop music and your dioramas involving Japanese monster figurines. So it probably behooves me to explain the deal with this giddy, hilarious and stylish SoCal fever dream, which is partly glossy teen fantasy and partly nostalgia for a future that never quite got here.
Araki has described his ultra-indie mid-’90s films, like “Nowhere” and “The Doom Generation,” as being episodes of “Beverly Hills 90210″ on acid. Improbably enough, he has circled back to that early-hipster aesthetic, reclaiming it for a decade of sexting and reality TV and borderline-obscene teen soaps, and it’s almost completely delightful. For all its cheerful, all-directional raunch, “Kaboom” is far more wholesome than MTV’s suddenly notorious “Skins.” Smith (Thomas Dekker), Araki’s dirty-angel polysexual hero, is searching for true love amid the eroticized, desolate landscape of his unnamed Southern California college campus, and at least part of him understands that all the hot surfer guys and demented lesbian witches and creepy late-night intruders in animal masks are just obstacles on his pathway toward Mr. and/or Ms. Right.
“Kaboom” is a deliberately unstable fusion of every teen-oriented prime-time soap you can remember from the last 15 years, and others you can’t, with more than a dash of creepy, hidden-reality paranoia out of David Lynch or David Cronenberg thrown in. Araki and cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen foreground the actors, in bright light and primary colors, and make the dorm rooms and cafes and nightclubs behind them seem dim and distant, like dream-world locations. The balance of absurdity and delicacy, of trashy and sweet and downright disturbing, is not quite like anything else I’ve ever seen. (OK, here’s a parallel, in idiosyncratic ambition if not in tone: “Brick,” the Hammett-goes-to-high-school indie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.)
Smith wonders whether his ultra-straight surfer roommate, Thor (Chris Zylka), may be hiding something. After all, Thor has a closet full of color-coordinated flip-flops! Even Smith’s smartass lesbian friend Stella (Haley Bennett) pretends to be impressed: “Next to putting a dick in your mouth with Lady Gaga in the background, that’s about the gayest thing in the world.” As for Stella, Thor observes that she’s hot, “in an edgy, bitter, lez kind of way.” (And isn’t that the hottest version of hotness?) She yearns to hook up with the sinister, faintly Euro Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), a witch with a vintage Mustang, despite Smith’s all-too-prescient warning that the mythical Lorelei bewitched sailors and lured them to their deaths. ZOMG!
I should add that everybody relates to Smith as being gay — and there is that hunky hot-tub repair guy he keeps meeting on the beach — but he himself says his sexual major is “undeclared,” and he does some powerful bedroom cooking with London (Juno Temple), who is waiflike and androgynous but undeniably female. And what the heck does all this post-adolescent sexual drama have to do with the mysterious disappearance of a strung-out redhead (Nicole LaLiberte), or with Smith’s troubling dreams about a locked door and a Dumpster and the father he’s never met? Oh, trust me, you’ll find out, in a reckless, good-humored denouement that makes no sense at all.
Across 20-odd years and 11 feature films, the closest Araki’s ever gotten to a hit was with his compulsively outrageous “The Living End” in 1992 and then with the far more sober “Mysterious Skin” a dozen years later, two movies that pretty much bookended the movement known as New Queer Cinema (a term coined in ’92 by my former alt-weekly colleague B. Ruby Rich). If discussions about that movement sometimes bogged down in academic theory-speak that made them seem dogmatic and medicinal, the better films — like Todd Haynes’ “Poison,” or Tom Kalin’s “Swoon,” or Isaac Julien’s “Young Soul Rebels” — were daring and maddening and fun to watch, in varying combinations. As the shock value of showing LGBT-whatever characters on-screen having sex, doing drugs, being unsaintly fashion-victim scalawags and finding other ways to épater the brainwashed bourgeoisie faded, the NQC bandwagon began to spin its wheels.
While filmmakers like Haynes or Pedro Almodóvar have completely transcended those labels — and Kalin and Julien have migrated to making documentaries and/or experimental art films — Araki never quite found his second act. Maybe he’s been out there on the indie fringes so long that he’s ready to be part of a new new wave (and if you want to call it “post-queer cinema” or “mumblequeer” or whatever, that’s on you, buddy). The Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor film “I Love You Phillip Morris” is pretty much an updated NQC movie made with stars, and with a sympathetic general audience in view. Like such newcomers as French-Canadian wonder boy Xavier Dolan (who has made two features at age 21), Araki has lost interest in shocking heteros for its own sake, or in drawing in-group vs. out-group circles of sexual hipness.
“Kaboom” is a psychedelic reverie that celebrates a world where the fluid nature of human sexuality — i.e., the very basis of “queerness,” which seemed so revolutionary and confrontational in the days of Araki’s HIV-renegade odyssey, “The Living End” — has become a semi-acceptable element of pop culture, and even a cliché. It’s by far the funniest and warmest movie Araki has ever made, with much less juvenile angst and much more command of his craft. Do I wish he didn’t drive it totally off the rails in the last few minutes, toward an anarchic and literally explosive conclusion? (This is one of those movies where the title might be considered a spoiler.) Oh sure, maybe. But not that much. Reagan-era punk nihilism isn’t a pose for Gregg Araki; it’s where he feels most at home (with his Godzilla figurines in dresses). Somewhere inside, not all that deep down, I feel the same way.
“Kaboom” is now playing at the IFC Center in New York, and also available on-demand, via IFC In Theaters, from many cable and satellite providers. Wider national release will follow.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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