Blu-ray Review: Mysterious Skin (2004)

Film

The IMDb synopsis of the film describes this film as follows:

“A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.”

That’s about as dull a point as can be put on it without going too far into it.

This is a film that I had only truly written about once in the past. When compiling, to the best of my ability, and within the realm of what I had seen; the best films of the past decade. I wrote this about this film:

One of the most disturbing yet most captivating tales of the decade which creates a great plot around the subterfuge of memory. It also tells the disparate tales of two kids now grown with a shared traumatic childhood experience. This is the film that allowed Joseph Gordon-Levitt to break out of his sitcom persona and become a giant of the independent film scene.

That is certainly only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to this film. Perhaps what is the most captivating thing about this film is not just the emotional resonance, or the parallel structures of seemingly disparate stories, but the fact that it stays with you, and also leaves the characters in a place that doesn’t finish their whole story, but rather concludes what needs telling.

When the dust settles, and this was certainly true this time, it becomes apparent that some of the seeming-meandering (although still effective) is all deftly building and exploring character throughout. Neil’s pains are more below the surface, he doesn’t show them, but his is a more difficult arc to write and perform because his character is the one who doesn’t misremember his past but has an interpretation of it that both helps him cope but to an extent poisons his present.

I think what was re-affirmed in this re-watching of the film is that its impact the first time around is one that will not be equaled upon review whether you see the finale coming or not. It’s also proof that whether the subterfuge of memory fools you or not it’s a harrowing and effective narrative regardless.

As will be demonstrated through some of the special features, Araki’s direction of this tale is sure-handed and allows a sensitivity and insight to exude this tale usurping its brutal and harrowing moments cutting to the heart and soul of the characters at the core of this tale. They are characters we don’t always fully understand but when we do the empathy overflows, and through some of their questionable choices and actions they are still watchable.

It’s a film that’s still very highly recommended to all (of suitable age to see it). If you are unfamiliar with the film I’d recommend you find a way to rent it before committing. For fans of the film already either the Blu-ray or the DVD are a steal for all the bonus content you get regarding the crafting of this magnificent film – the Blu-ray offering clearly superior imagery.

Bonus Features

Here I will specifically discuss the bonus features included on the new Deluxe Blu-ray.

Introduction by Director Gregg Araki

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

Sometimes having an introduction to a movie can be a great thing and really set you up well for what you’re about to experience. You need not feel guilty if you skip the intro for later consumption. Araki does discuss all the fortuitous breaks that made the film what it is but does not offer any greater insight in this short snippet.

Interview with Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

This is perhaps the gem of the bonus features. I won’t give it away by enumerating the surprises in store but will rather say it’s great to hear their thoughts on the film ten years later, the intelligent discussion that they have, and that they frequently talk to one another as if there is no interviewer there.

Script/Sketch Gallery

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

One thing the actors talk about is Gregg Araki knowing what shots would end up in the cut – the clarity of his vision. This is illustrated here with his crude storyboards on script pages mapping the film’s conclusion.

Deleted Scenes

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

Deleted scenes usually should be deleted. However, they never fail to fascinate and often can be illuminating and rarely educational. Here you get a rare example as you see dailies of how the toughest parts of the story were handled. Illustrating the fine direction and editing the film had, and that the very young actors really weren’t fully aware of what the scenes were about (yet Chase Ellison and George Webster are still fantastic), but rather the Kuleshov effect and other editing techniques that filled in the blanks.

Mysterious Skin Book Reading

Mysterious Skin (1996, Harper Collins)

A very cool touch is that you get to see Brady Corbet an Joseph Gordon-Levitt read the opening chapters of their characters’ story out of the novel upon which the film is based. A fitting feature.

Author Scott Heim Reflects on the Adaptaion

Scott Heim (2008, Harper Collins)

The author discusses how in tune he and Araki were, and also how he was allowed more involvement than most writers are on film adaptations of their novels.

Photo Gallery

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

A good look a probably more stills of the shoot than you can find anywhere. Proof of the upbeat atmosphere Araki created in spite of the content of the film.

Actors’ Audition Tape

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

I always love to see this included. No, they’re not always earth-shattering obvious examples of why so-and-so got a part. However, it’s interesting for the layman, filmmakers and actors. You see unfinished renditions of these characters, the raw material of the performances were already present, and how much was being done with the actors having nothing to play off of.

Isolated Score and Effects Track

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

This is not a feature that’s done very often but it can be very cool and informative. You can see how the score works independently, as usually it’s about a seamless marriage; and also some effects work you may have missed with everything else going on.

Commentary Track

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

If you listened to the commentary track on the original DVD release this is the very same one. It features writer/director Gregg Araki and stars Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Since they all do help to contribute new material to this Blu-ray release this recycling is perfectly fine. In spite of the self-conscious and self-deprecating nature of the commentary track there are useful pieces of information conveyed and it is entertaining. Despite jokes to the contrary I did listen to the whole thing.

Trailer

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

When a trailer is the only real bonus feature it’s a throwaway, when it’s added with all these other bonuses it’s the cherry on top.

Film Score: 10/10
Bonus Feature Score 10/10

Mysterious Skin is now available on Blu-Ray from Strand Releasing.

Review- That’s What I Am

Ed Harris, Chase Ellison and Andrew Walters in That's What I Am (WWE)

In a somewhat similar vein to Alabama Moon, That’s What I Am is a film whose distribution path deserves a little bit of attention. The only place I heard of this playing was New York’s Quad Cinema and it was for one weekend only. Considering that I was going to be in New York that weekend I tried to shoehorn it into my plans but alas could not.

I later found out that it would shortly be available for purchase exclusively through Walmart. As if that’s not enough quirks it’s also a release from WWE, yes, as in World Wrestling Entertainment. For those of you groaning: aside from having a wrestler play a small part (Randy Orton whom I was glad to learn is also a producer for the film) there’s no wrestling involvement in the story.

That’s What I Am is a film in several ways that is sold and seems to be nothing more than a standard coming-of-age tale. However, there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye from the trailer. The film’s journey, as seen through its protagonist Andy (Chase Ellison), is the narrative of a formative time rather than one singular incident. The fact that the incidents that pervade this film are balanced relatively well gives this film a quasi-European aesthetic, why it doesn’t quite reach it will be shown later.

The trailer would lead you to believe that there are two main thrusts to the tale: not judging a book by its cover and discovering what one is, in short tolerance. Yet there’s far much more more to it.

Perhaps the most unexpected is the narrative strand that dominates a lot of the film is the allegation that the ever-popular uber-teacher Mr. Simon (Ed Simon) is gay. Considering that it’s set in the 1960s this is a perfectly legitimate grounds for termination (according to society) and it sets up a lot of the conflict and brings up the theme of tolerance in a different regard. Ed Harris is wonderful as usual and his initial denial to even respond is fantastic. I’ll not give away how this strand ends but he does eventually answer the question definitively in private and I wish he hadn’t. I think a stronger statement is made by his steadfastly saying “It doesn’t matter, I’m a good teacher.”

That serves to highlight the inconsistency in writing. Some of the dialogue isn’t as sharp as it needs to be and on occasion stumbles into the bad range but overall it is serviceable. There is plentiful voice-over by Andy as adult reflecting back which brings to mind Stand by Me because he is a writer but it nowhere near as strong.

There is also a romantic subplot in this film but what is refreshing about it is that it doesn’t dominate the narrative and it’s not a puppy love or I’m-gonna-die-if-she’s-not-mine crush it’s an attraction and the girl has a reputation, which lends some humor to it. In the Big G (Andrew Walters) subplot, the one that kicks the film off, wherein Andy is paired with him for an assignment, his being mocked for his appearance and nerdiness is only part of the equation. The other facet is that he never hesitates to be who he is and not be afraid of ridicule, meanwhile, his best friend Norman (Daniel Yelsky) is obsessed with blending in and they fight over this issue a few times.

Despite a few weak spots in the adult nucleus this film is buoyed by the strong performances of its young cast. Namely Chase Ellison, an actor whose had many strong turns either in small roles or smaller films, is a very effective “Everykid,” in this film and unlike many other films of its ilk doesn’t necessarily strike you as awkward trying to play awkward and seems to relate greatly to the part. Andrew Walters does a very effective job being the stoic, picked on Big G and I was glad to learn that in his big scene at the talent show he did his own stunt, so to speak. Daniel Yelsky is also convincing as the neurotic and fearful foil to Big G and Mia Rose Frampton plays a toned down, sweeter version of the character she is in the funniest scene in Bridesmaids.

There are a few instances in which I wish this film handled things more deftly or differently but ultimately I was quite pleased with indeed. This is a film that’s worth seeking out and is suitable viewing for the family, keeping rating in mind of course.

That’s What I Am is also available to stream on Netflix.

8/10