Thoughts on two recent films

Despite going to see more older movies over the past few weeks -- Jacques Tati's "Playtime," "Easy Rider" and "Dr. Strangelove," to name a few -- than new ones, I have caught a couple films released in ought-five. And, my God, what are these people thinking? First, "The Island." Now, no one has high expectations for a Michael Bay movie and anyone who says they do are liars. You go to a Bay pic for blood, guts, action, sex and machismo. That's it, plain and simple. And while "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor" are trashy exploits not worth the stock they're printed on, Bay did hit one solidly with "The Rock." How much of that has to do with the unbelievable efforts of Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage -- despite the material -- is arguable. But still, Michael Bay's name is on a quality movie so that at least should give you hope.

But with "The Island," all those Bay-isms -- sex, violence and manhood -- are mish-mashed in one of the most anti-climactic, derivative action movie ever to see the light of the day. And worst of all, it's boring.

Split up into two halves, the first being heady sci-fi stuff and the second being balls-to-the-wall action, a la "The Matrix Reloaded," "The Island" can never get a sure footing because it doesn't know what it wants to be: a sci-fi parable or a popcorn flick. And because no one behind the camera cares to even direct their attention to keeping this meandering white elephant on course, the audience can't care about getting into the action.

Big mistake.

If you can't go to an action movie -- especially a Michael Bay movie -- and be entertained by, at the very least, the absurdity of the gaudy action set pieces, then the movie is a failure, through and through. That said, though, there are a couple games to play with yourself to keep interest. One is spot the product placement. Over the course of "The Island," I spotted nine: Puma, Aquafina/Pepsi, Microsoft/MSN/Xbox, General Motors (Cadillac, Chevrolet, Hummer), Budweiser, Tag Hauer, Nokia, Mack trucks and Calvin Klein. And walking out of the movie, I had the sneaking suspicion that I missed a couple, so see how many you can catch. (This is the same game I played watching that crap-fest, "Men in Black II," and interestingly playing the spot the ad game with both movies led to the same result: annoyance that I wasted my time.)

The other game you can play is spot the movie rip-off. Here, I'm a little lagging because I was watching for ads. But I still picked up on a few: "THX-1138," "Logan's Run," the "Star Trek" mythos and, despite having not seen it I'll take the word of those who claim it to be true, "Parts: The Clonus Horror." Playing this game isn't quite as fun as it is with watching, say, "The Core," but it'll at least hold your interest.

Now, the other movie... Holy hell.

"Mysterious Skin" has been ballyhooed and lauded from here to eternity by damn near everyone it seems. Some critics cite the acting as reason enough to catch the film, others point to the frank depiction of the horrors of child molestation. But all, or at least most, simply heart this movie.

I would have loved it too if I thought watching an eight year old shove his arm elbow deep into his little league coach's ass -- and wanting to do it -- was my idea of a good time.

In no way am I offended by sex in movies, nor an I squeamish when it comes to frank depictions of sex acts. I am, however, offended by filmmakers who think they can shovel any amount of bullshit down the audience's throats and that audience will simply swallow it with a smile and a request for more.

Director Gregg Akai, who also wrote the screenplay, seems to have confused shock and awe for substance. The plot revolves around two teenagers coming to grips with being abused as children -- but is, in fact, only about one of the kids -- and the consequences of such acts. At least, that's the log line.

In actuality, the movie uses child molestation as an excuse to throw one character, Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), into the dangerous world of gay sex in the '80s, while introducing another, Brian (Brady Corbet), as nothing more than perverse comic relief to balance off the utterly reprehensible and contemptible Neil. And that's a damn shame.

Sitting in the theater, you can't help but be astounded that someone would think that what is being presented could be believable, either in this life or any other. For example, when we first meet Neil, he's eight years old -- and a worldy eight, at that. He knows, a) he's gay, b) what jerking off is, c) what a blowjob is, d) that if you jerk off stuff comes out the end of your penis, and e) that he's in love with his baseball coach.

Boy, when I was eight all I knew was that girls had cooties. And I was eight a mere, ha!, eight years after Neil was (the movie begins in 1981).

Then, we're forced to believe that Neil could abduct a mentally retarded kid on Halloween, molest him -- after he himself had been molested by his coach -- stick firecrackers in his mouth, light them and blow the kid's teeth through his mouth -- all while his best friend, Wendy (played in later scenes by Michelle Trachtenberg), watches in horror. And nothing bad ever happens to Neil as a result. What kind of fucked up reality do these characters populate? A suspension of disbelief can only carry you so far.

Add to that the later revelation that Neil enjoyed, a) having his coach wrap his entire mouth around his gentalia, b) attempted to do the same to other boys but couldn't because his mouth was too small, and c) not only enjoyed but instigated the whole arm-up-to-the-elbow incident with his coach.

Over and over again, we're forced to buy into this world that is disgustingly unreal under the guise of being taught a lesson about the horrors of molestation.

Excuse me? How dare you manipulate an audience like that! The horrors of molestation? The main character, Neil, loved what his coach did to him and, in fact, wanted it to happen. I'm not inferring there, it's fact based on what's presented in the movie. If Araki wanted to deal with the consequences of molestation, he would have focused on Brian who, among all the characters, is the most sympathetic because he was severly messed up because of his ordeal as a fellow eight year old. But instead, he's dropped in and out of the narrative with little regard to his character or the audience's feelings toward him.

None of that says anything about the piss-poor acting -- no one can hold a Southern accent to save their lives -- the goofs -- there's a sticker for Metallica's "St. Anger" album on one character's car; fine, except the scene takes place in 1992 and the album was released in 2003! -- and the overall lack of quality in any moment of the film.

It's rare that a film makes me so angry, but when a filmmaker considers me too stupid to think on my own and resort to shock imagery to drive home a non-existent point that they themselves can't explore themsevles, then that's when I scream foul.

And if "Mysterious Skin" is anything, it's foul.