Category Archives: SIFF

Review: Mysterious Skin

Neil in Mysterious Skin
The film was great. It definitely ranks up there with some of the best book-to-film adaptations ever. The acting was superb. The music was haunting. And the message was preserved.

I’ve always thought that The Virgin Suicides was the best book-to-film adaptation ever. The light, ethereal cinematography combined with the amazingly ambient score by the French band Air really enhanced the content of the book, elevating the film version to something greater than just a stand-alone movie. I also thought that Requiem for a Dream surpassed the novel (which was rather difficult to get through due to its lack of punctuation, etc.), not only because it made the material more accessible, but also because the jerky and oftentimes experimental filming style really captured the feelings of the characters and their situations. Most of the time, I’ve noticed, when I enjoy a movie better than a book (or think the movie is as good as the book), it is because the filmmaker did something unique to express an idea in the book that can be done better visually.

Surprisingly, that was not the case with Mysterious Skin. The movie is pretty much a one-to-one adaptation of the book. Some of the major differences/exclusions I noticed:

  • During the Halloween part (when they were eight years old), as Brian is entering the haunted house, him and Neil make eye contact.
  • In the movie, Neil doesn’t discover the Playgirl magazines stashed under his mom’s bed.
  • The movie doesn’t explain that Brian’s dad leaves the family and divorces his mom.
  • The book has a scene before Brian and Mrs. Lackey watch the World of Mystery television show where they go fishing — I thought it was cool to see them bond.
  • The scene where Neil, Neil’s mom, and Eric go to the white trash diner and then the nature reserve (where they eat cheese and drink wine) was removed.
  • Neil gets a got at “Subz” in the film and it is after leaving there that he meets the guy who rapes him. In the book, the guy is waiting outside of the hustler bar (one of the “cheap ones” who doesn’t go in the bar but waits for the hustlers who can’t get business that night).
  • In the book, Neil sort of makes a friend at the hustler bar.
  • In the book, after being raped, Neil makes a comment about never wanting to touch his ass again — I thought this was really significant, but I can see how it would be tough to translate into film.

Despite that (somewhat?) long list, the movie really was extremely faithful to the book. In a Q&A after the film, Gregg Araki explained that ever since reading the novel, he has always wanted to basically translate it to the screen. I think his careful adaptation preserves the importance and delicate subject matter of the book without adding the director’s own flashy trademarks. As someone who just finished reading the book a few days ago, I was very pleased.

As for the acting, of course, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil (the gay one who is a hustler) was great — and he had the perfect body for the part (dark hair, dark eyes, waif-thin, etc.). What blew me away most was the acting of Chase Ellison who played Neil at age eight. The kid totally had me convinced that he was a horny and somewhat manipulative (not to mention confused and rather messed-up/abused).

One of the things Araki discussed at the Q&A was the fact that it was very important to him and the crew that the young actors were “shielded” from the content of the film. I am guessing that this meant that the young actors basically didn’t know what they were doing — they were just acting however the director told them to act (“look sad”, “look shocked”, “look uncomfortable”, etc.). Araki said that with young actors, you don’t really tell them about their character by giving them back story or explain what is going through that characters head — instead, you just tell the kid actor exactly what to do, and that’s what they do. I thought this, while pretty intuitive, was interesting and seeing how well it worked in Mysterious Skin is really, I think, a testament to how skilled Araki is as a director.

My only qualm about the acting/characters is that we didn’t see much Elisabeth Shue. Granted, her part in the book wasn’t much bigger, but I would’ve loved to see her on-screen more. Oh well.

When it comes to the music, there is where I think my love for Greg Araki really intensifies. As I recently mentioned, I became rather obsessed with the music of Nowhere and The Doom Generation. While the music for Mysterious Skin wasn’t as random/”pop” (as in “pop” as opposed to classical/arranged/score music), it was still just as appropriate and moving.

Robin Guthrie, of the Cocteau Twins (who Araki has used extensively on soundtracks in the past and who are one of the major players in that whole shoegaze music movement), worked with Harold Budd (who worked with Brian Eno back in the day) to create an extremely ambient and moody soundtrack. Araki mentioned during the Q&A that he has the soundtrack album and listens to it constantly. He also noted that shoegaze music was influential on both him and the writer of the novel (Scott Heim).

In addition to the score, I also remembered hearing “Dagger” by Slowdive, a song or two by Cocteau Twins, a song by Medicine, and a song by Sigur Rós. During the Q&A, Araki mentioned that there was a song by Curve, but I don’t think so — though I know he used them in The Doom Generation and Nowhere.

Overall, I, of course, gave this movie 5/5. It was touching and very well-done. And I was also impressed with Araki’s ability to break from his trademark style (“satirical, postmodern, and ironic” — I think is how he described it last night) to something more subtle and serious.

Gregg Araki Tonight

Gregg Araki
In a super exciting turn of events, it appears that Gregg Araki (the director) will be at tonight’s showing of Mysterious Skin. This is really awesome, and the fact he will also be at Saturday afternoon’s showing makes me want to go see it again (depending on how much I like or dislike the film tonight, I may buy a Saturday ticket).

Back during high school there was a time when he was probably one of my favorite directors. Movies like The Doom Generation and Nowhere really sort of, I don’t know, inspired me? as a high schooler in Minnesota. The films were totally about a world and life so far away (Los Angeles) but at the same time sort of gave me something to fantasize about and all that? I don’t know exactly. I just remember watching those two movies, in particular, and wishing that I could hangout with the characters.

I also remember loving the music in both of the films. I, of course, have the soundtrack to both Nowhere and The Doom Generation, but there were also tons of tons that were not on the soundtrack. I specifically remember spending a weekend watching Nowhere over and over again, identifying each song and writing a little description about when it played then going on to Napster or some file sharing program to get that song. I actually still have the yellow legal pads where I recorded all of this information stashed away somewhere in my apartment now.

The soundtracks featured groups that were somewhat obscure but that I still loved like Slowdive (where I first heard the song “Avalyn I” [as Dark played by James Duvall masturbates in the shower]), Catherine Wheel, Lush, Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth (the b-side “Hendrix Necro” even!!), Curve, Blur, Jesus and Mary Chain, Portishead, Love and Rockets, Wolfgang Press, Ride, Medicine, Pizacatto Five, Belly, and many more. Basically, the soundtrack was very 4AD (record label) and shoegaze -heavy. I can honestly say that the music of Gregg Araki’s films have greatly influenced my taste in music in general.

Further, there is a line from Totally Fucked Up (somewhat of a pseudo-documentary about gay and lesbian kids living in Los Angeles dealing with issues such as gay bashing, cheating, artificial insemination, random hooks, and bootleg Nine inch Nails concert videos) that inspired a paper I wrote about AIDS/HIV. The quote comes from one of the lesbian characters during an “interview” part of the documentary:

It’s a born-again Nazi republican wet dream come true!

As I wrote in my paper AIDS: Abjection, (body) Image, (self) Destruction, Sex,

Ever since I saw that movie, I have been unable to shake the thought that something about whole HIV/AIDS phenomenon seemed too “perfect” from the perspective of those born-again Nazi republicans.

As for Mysterious Skin, I have finished reading the novel and have started writing down my thoughts. I am determined to finish before I watch the movie so that my perceptions after the movie don’t influence what I thought of the book. Nonetheless, I am totally excited for the film tonight.

Now we’ll have to see if I can muster up the courage/desire to actually ask Araki some questions during the Q&A session which, I hope, will follow the film tonight.

Review: November

Sophie in November
The SIFF web site describes November as:

[a] change-of-pace homage to the mind-bending thrillers of David Lynch

well, I would say that November is less David Lynch, and more Run Lola Run. Though I felt at times that the movie borrowed ideas from Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, that was really only the first third of the movie. The rest felt pretty conventional. Oh, and this review will contain spoilers.

The movie is broken into three parts: denial, despair, and acknowledgement (I think?). Each part of the film was white-balanced differently (the director spoke after the movie, so I learned a bit about the making of it). The first part was very green/blue, the second part was very yellow/orange, and the final part was very naturally lit.

All three parts deal with Sophie (played by Courtney Cox, who proves that all of the female cast members of Friends can act… I can’t say anything for the guys, though) and her boyfriend Hugh and a late-night visit to a convenience store. Each part also involves Sophie visiting a therapist (Nora Dunn from Saturday Night Live!!), dining with her mother (Anne Archer from Fatal Attraction!!), and teaching a photography class.

In “Denial,” Hugh is killed during a hold-up at the convienence store. “Denial” is by far the most abstract and interesting part of the film. When Sophie visits her therapist we learn that she had been having an affair and that when Hugh was killed in the store she was actually talking to the guy on the phone. She also tells her therapist that the medication she is on makes her feel sick and gives her headaches. When Sophie has dinner with her mother, her mother tries to convince her to cut her hair because her current style “looks like an underachiever’s haircut.” The dinner is very tense, and when Sophie’s mom spills some red wine, the image of red liquid on the table cloth freaks Sophie out.

What makes “Denial” so interesting, though, is the appearance of the “Lynchian obscure object” — a slide that one of her students inadvertently (and unknowingly) shows during class. The picture is of Sophie sitting in her car the night of Hugh’s murder. Sophie gets in touch with a detective who tries to help her unravel the mystery. Ultimately, he discovers that she is the one who developed the slide, which is basically impossible since: 1. she was the subject of the slide; 2. there didn’t appear to be anyone outside or near the car taking pictures; 3. why would she take the picture in the first place?; 4. why/how could she forget visiting the photo lab to have it developed? Other Lynchian elements of “Denial” include the incessant loud music and banging noises Sophie hears in her apartment.

“Denial” ends with Sophie freaking out and bleeding in the bathroom with very Lynchian sound effects (screeching, etc.) overwhelming her and the audience.

“Despair” basically makes the affair between Sophie and her student much more explicit. During the convenience store robbery, Sophie and the guy she was cheating with were in the store taking photographs. He left to get something from the car when the robbery took place. Being a photographer, Sophie manages to snap some photos of the person doing the robbery (though when developed, they are “too arsty” [says the detective] and the thief appears as a black blur). She also snaps a picture that includes the guy she was cheating with, but doesn’t really turn it over to the police or something.

At the visit to the therapist, Sophie reveals that she has been having dreams in which Hugh is shot in the stomach. She also mentions that she has been having stomach pains herself. The therapist makes some obvious statement like, “So in the dream your are hurting Hugh, and then when you are awake it hurts you too. Why don’t you draw the line?”

This statement, coupled with the bizarre appearance of the slide in “Denial” and the loud noises in “Denial” lead me to believe that the movie was somehow about the physical effects of guilt and guilt manifesting itself in different ways a la the scar on Pete’s forehead in Lost Highway or the blue key in Mulholland Drive. The theory still may hold. I’m not sure.

Eventually Hugh figures out that Sophie is cheating on him, and leaves her (taking the couch but leaving a photograph from their first encounter together). When Sophie meets her mother for dinner, she asks here Hugh is, and Sophie is forced to dodge the issue, making for a rather tense dinner. During the photograph class, Sophie makes a statement like, “What is excluded [in a photograph] is just as important as what is included.” I’m guessing this was some obvious attempt at making the movie rather philosophical?

The final part of the film, “Acknowledgement” (or whatever?) is the most boring. Sophie and Hugh have a great relationship. When she encounters the student she had an affair with (which is all over now), they talk like normal people and leave open the possibility of having coffee later. She tells her therapist that, though it “may sound crazy,” she thinks she’s done with therapy, and the dinner with her mother goes very well (her mother worrying that her haircut is too much of an underachiever’s, and that maybe she, not Sophie, needs to visit the stylist).

In a möbius strip form of logic, as everything is going well Sophie and Hugh decide to go have Chinese food for dinner. One fortune from the fortune cookie reads something like, “It’s never to late to change your life” (i.e. a non-fatalist view of life), the had something to do with a more fatalist perspective of life. How to reconcile? Hugh and Sophie just laugh.

After dinner Sophie tells Hugh that she is still hungry (and we are back to the opening scene). He goes into the convenience store. Before he gets in she calls to tell him that she loves him and to hurry. A after flipping through a weekly newspaper (with the cover story: “Is Modernism Dead?”) she hears a gunshot and rushes inside. Hugh has already been shot, and Sophie is next (taking the bullet in her stomach).

The movie ends with them lying on the ground next to teach other then fading into a flashback to the first time they met. Totally cheesy and happy — now they are together and content and in heaven, etc. etc.

Like I said, the first third (“Denial”) was really good and creepy and set a mood for the film that wasn’t followed through at all. I guess the fact that the timeline of “Acknowledgement” wasn’t linear (in “Denial” and “Despair” she visits the therapist, has dinner whit her mom, etc. a month after the deadly trip to the convenience store) made that part slightly interesting, but in the end I felt the movie wasn’t ambiguous enough.

My interpretation is that, like Mulholland Drive and Jacob’s Ladder and other films, the entire movie is a flashback of the main character, imagining/dreaming of/hoping for alternate versions of his or her life. Not too ambiguous and not too profound, as far as I’m concerned.

As for things I learned since the director was there:

  • The film was done for less than $150,000. This is very very cheap compared to most Hollywood films.
  • The director (Greg Harrison) comes from a background of making movie trailers. Though he didn’t work on the trailer for November because he learned that directors make the worst trailers for their movies.
  • He intended for the trailer to capture the mood of the film rather than the story (and, really, I think it only presents the mood for the first third of the movie…)
  • Everything was filmed on digital video (miniDV to be exact) and edited on a desktop Macintosh computer.
  • Because David Fincher is a friend of Courtney Cox’s, he viewed a rough cut of the film and gave Harrison some feedback.
  • The movie was filmed in fifteen days.

Overall, I gave the movie 3/5 stars. It had lots of promise in the beginning, the second and third parts really disappointed me.

Review: Izo

Have you ever seen a movie that you think has some deeper meaning but you just don’t get it? And then after some consideration you wonder if you did infact miss something or whether the movie was just fucking with your head the entire time — trying to be all pretentious and meaningful but really just trying to be self-consciously showy?

I’m still not sure what Izo is. But I liked it, nonetheless.

I’m not sure how I can summarize it. Izo is some sort of guy who kills a lot of people. Toward the end of the movie he begins to turn into a demon. After the movie I heard a lot of people complaining that the movie didn’t have a plot. They were probably right. Mostly Izo kills people. At first, the people he kills are ghosts/reincarnations of people he killed in the past. Then he just starts killing everyone.

The movie is, for lack of a better term, very postmodern. Movie is very aware that it is a movie. For example, there is some random guy who appears throughout the film and plays guitar and sings (in a very insane/punk voice) some bizzare song. Nobody seems to notice to care about him. Additionally, Izo is frequently in one place then suddenly appears in another. Plus, the amount of blood and violence is so over the top, that it almost feels like a parody.

My working theory throughout the movie was that the character Izo was a physical representation of the idea of abjection. He is a formless form, a souless soul, he is living but his life is death, etc. Plus there is some line about how Izo is basically disruptor of the system and a contradition.

Furthermore, all of the blood and vommiting allude back to abjection — both of which are common ways of relaying the theory.

There is also some group of men who seem to somehow be behind Izo’s existence. I think they are related to war?

In my Postmodernism and Japanese Mass Culture class the professor suggested that pretty much every aspect of Japanese culture post-WWII is somehow influenced by the fact that they were defeated and the fact that the nuclear bomb was dropped on them (twice). Assuming that is true, Izo is a perfect example. In addition to strange conspiracy of men, there are also numerous cut-ins containing footage of the war and occupation and soldiers and Hitler.

Thus, I think Izo, in addition to being a manifestation of the theory of abjection, is also a manifestation for the guilt/pain/hypocrisy of war.

The film is filled with pretty profound one-liners, and I constantly wish I had a notebook with me so I could jot things down. Overall, I gave the movie 4/5 and will definitely be seeing it again (on DVD, though).

Review: Childstar

The main reason I went to see Childstar was because Jennifer Jason Leigh was in it. The review said something about it being a movie about a Macaulay Culkin-esque child actor who is abducted.

Really, though, this film is about the Hollywood exploitation of child actors.

But I’m not sure what the ultimate message is, and that is probably the main weakness of the film. In the end, I wasn’t sure whether it was more a critique of the movie-making process or a argument against using child actors in films… and if it was about child actors, it’s rather ironic that in order to make the film, the filmmaker had to exploit the actor who played the child actor (Mark Rendall, who was amazing “for a kid”).

The story itself was rather uninteresting. The kid actor is cast in a joke-of-a-movie about the first son (which the kid plays). His dad, the president, is kidnapped by “European terrorists” (who are funny). Since his dad is gone, the first son has to be “the man of the house,” which, apparently, involves taking on the terrorists single-handedly and saving his dad. (The movie itself doesn’t show the sub-movie in its entirety — we are briefed about the plot in the opening when some agency is pitching it to a production company.)

What I found most interesting were the rather intertextual themes of the movie. The fact that it was a movie about a movie was pretty interesting and meta. I also liked the fact that one of the main characters was the driver for the kid actor and that the driver was also an aspiring director… and the fact that that character was also the director/writer of the film, Don McKellar. I just loved the fact that the director played a driver who was a wannabe director.

Also, I must add, that I’m always terribly delighted whenever Jennifer Jason Leigh is on the screen. Yes, she pretty much always plays the same role (kinda neurotic, possibly substance-abusing, etc.). She plays the kid actor’s mother in the movie and seems to be exploiting him pretty hardcore… plus, she hooks up with the driver, which is just weird.

Overall, I gave the movie a 4/5. In retrospect, it was probably more of a 3, but oh well. I also liked that it was Canadian.

Starting Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin
In my continual stop-and-start of book reading (I recently started, then stopped, Infinite Jest, then I started, then stopped, Speculum of the Other Woman [for the third time]), and now I’m starting yet another book. This time, though, I need to finish it since I’m seeing the movie it was based on in a couple of weeks.

My next book is Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim.

I don’t know too much about the book, except for the fact that is is probably gay-themed and involves alien abductions (that probably aren’t really done by aliens). I know nothing about the author, so this should be pretty exciting.

I’m reading it because on June 2, I will be seeing the film version of Mysterious Skin as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. Greg Araki, who directed two movies I absolutely love: The Doom Generation and Nowhere.

Araki’s other movies are very sexual and surreal. Nowhere, in fact, seems to have been very inspired by the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. The film version of Less Than Zero absolutely sucks, so I just pretend that Nowhere was the real adapatation.

That said, I’m excited to start reading this novel. With the except of Infinite Jest (which, of course, I took a break from reading), I haven’t read a nonfiction book for a few months (The Handmaid’s Tale was the last one I read).

Feast Your Eyes

Seattle International Film Festival cover
Last year I was a bad Seattle-ite and didn’t get around to going to any of the Seattle International Film Festival showings. I tried going to see The Corporation, but I didn’t understand the whole pass/buy-your-ticket-in-advance concept back then and I ended up not seeing it when I wanted. But that was last year. And I am glad to say I learned from my mistake.

This year, I am going to go much more full-force with the whole SIFF thing. So far we’re only about four days into the festival, and I’ve seen three SIFF showings — yay for me.

On Friday night and Saturday afternoon (yes, twice) I went to see 2046. Readers of my blog should know that I’ve already seen the movie twice (first review of 2046, second review of 2046). I gotta say that seeing it three, then four, times only made me love the movie more. Every time I’ve watched it I’ve picked up on something different and understood things a bit differently.

Bai Ling
At the Saturday showing the woman from SIFF who introduced the film said a few interesting things. First, she said that she had worked with Wong Kar-Wai on his last five movies and that she asked him to come to Seattle for the debut of 2046. Second, she said that he had to decline because he was working on his next movie, The Lady From Shanghai with Nicole Kidman. As of right now, the Internet Movie Database notes that the film is in production without any cast listed. There are some rumors on the message board that Nicole Kidman would be involved, but nothing concrete… so, it seems to me that we may have been the first to really find out for certain that Kidman is in the next WKW movie. That is awesome. Finally, the woman said that WKW thanked us for seeing the film at SIFF and not going to Scarecrow Video to rent the bootleg/import version of the film. Oops. Well, I guess he didn’t personally thank me, but hey, I saw the SIFF screening twice, so it’s not like I took away business.

Speaking of 2046, when I first mentioned that it would be showing at SIFF I noted that there are apparently two edits of the film. After its Cannes 2004 premiere, WKW went and edited a bit so that it made more sense. I am 90% sure that the version I saw at SIFF was different than the version I watched on DVD. The “2046” and “2047” segments were longer and overall the film made more sense, though that could be due to the fact I had seen it so many times before and the fact I was watching it on a big screen.

Finally, and this is my last comment about 2046 and SIFF, but I have to say that The Neptune theatre in the University District is by far the worst movie ever to see subtitled films at. The floor isn’t sloped enough so the head of the person in front of you is always in the way. Again, learning from my past, when I went on Saturday afternoon we got the front row seats on the balcony, which at least gave us a chance to read all of the subtitles… as for the comfort, that still left a lot to be desired. That place needs new seats!

Secret Festival pass
In addition to the regular films at the festival, my coworker learned about this thing called The Secret Festival. Every year SIFF (and this is, I understand, pretty unique to SIFF) does this additional set of movies that you can see but not talk about. How serious are they about not talking about it? Well, pretty serious, apparently. Using my pretty keen Google-fu, I couldn’t find anything online about what has been shown in the past. Additionally, when you get the pass, you sign what is basically a nondisclosure agreement:

I, the undersigned, do hereby solemnly swear that I will never divulge the titles of discuss any of the films screened at the 2005 SIFF Secret Festival. Futhermore, I agree that I will not commit to print, broadcast on radio/television, on-line service or any other media form information regarding any of the 2005 Secret Festival screenings. I understand that the Seattle International Film Festival can and will pursue legal action against me in order to recover punitive and financial damages caused by my breach of this contract. I understand that no recording device is allowed into festival venues and that I may be subject to physical search of my person or personal property upon entrance to festival venues.

So yah, don’t expect any more information about the Secret Festival showings.

As for the other films, this is what I plan to see:

  • Ronda Nocturna @ Harvard Exit @ May 25, 2005 9:30 p.m.
  • Childstar @ Neptune Theatre @ May 27, 2005 7:15 p.m.
  • Izo @ Egyptian Theatre @ May 28, 2005 11:55 p.m.
  • November @ Neptune Theatre @ May 31, 2005 9:30 p.m.
  • Mysterious Skin @ Egyptian Theatre @ Jun 2, 2005 9:15 p.m.
  • A Hole in My Heart @ Egyptian Theatre @ Jun 4, 2005 11:55 p.m.
  • L’Amant @ Harvard Exit @ Jun 5, 2005 6:30 p.m.
  • Clean @ Harvard Exit @ Jun 7, 2005 9:30 p.m.
  • Ellie Parker @ Neptune Theatre @ Jun 11, 2005 2:00 p.m.
  • Frozen @ Harvard Exit @ Jun 12, 2005 4:15 p.m.

So yeah, within the next month my ass will become very sore and I will be an expert at taking the 7 bus route between my place and the U-District (for the Neptune showings).

It would be totally awesome for people to join me at any of these movies. And I do intend to review each film I see as much as possible, though it could become rather overwhelming.

What am I most excited about? Right now, Mysterious Skin because I love Greg Araki (Nowhere, The Doom Generation) and I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I am also excited about Clean because Maggie Cheung was great in In the Mood For Love and because the film involves heroin addicts and rock stars. As for the rest, we’ll see.

Wish me luck!