You can tell I’m not a real movie critic. I missed the extravaganza of Shrek the Third, carefully avoided the craziness that is the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which I’ve never liked, and ended up reviewing Bug.
Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire.
I used to like Johnny Depp, really. Then he fell victim to the Christopher Walken curse and became more a parody of himself than himself. I hear Shrek isn’t much good this time out, but Spider-Man 3 was okay. Still, it’s a bit frustrating and annoying to discover that thanks to those three films (all of which are third in a series — maybe there’s something numerological going on), my local 16-screen theatre is actually showing only six movies. Six! So that left me with Bug.
First of all, don’t go see it. I had to get that off my chest. Don’t rent it, don’t buy the DVD. Maybe watch it for free if there’s really nothing else on. Yes, it’s that bad, in spite of all the lovely and talented Ashley Judd could do. I don’t think there is now or has ever been any actress who could say the line “I am the super mother bug!” in any way that won’t provoke giggles, and it isn’t supposed to provoke giggles. I think. There’s lots of nudity, both male and female (yes, even the full monty, as they say), but there’s also a good amount of blood, and after a while, you forget the nudity and can only try to remember why it was you started watching in the first place.
I understand it was quite a successful stage play, but something has apparently gone tragically wrong during the transition to the screen. What that was, I’m not sure. The acting is all good. The plot is very simple, but does involve all sort of wild, paranoia-inducing conspiracy theory stuff, which I usually like. And I’m not against films with lots of talking — far from it. Part of the problem might be that I walked in to the theatre not quite sure what to expect. The trailer I saw made it look like a horror movie, pure and simple. Then I read online that poor Ashley was hiding from a jealous, abusive ex-husband, and started thinking it was a stalker movie. And after about forty-five minutes, I was still kind of expecting a stalker movie, though a low-key, psychological sort of stalker movie.
Then there were suddenly bug strips hanging everywhere, and at least three spray cans of every bug-killer known to man, and Michael Shannon (as quiet, unnerving drifter Peter Evans, reprising his role from the stage) was rattling off every “the government is experimenting on you right now” theory that I’ve ever heard, while completely surrounded by the paranoic’s favorite, aluminum foil. (It scrambles the signals, you know. Really.)

Agnes and Peter search carefully for Ashley Judd’s motivation.

Let me back up a little. Agnes White (our Ashley) is in fact living in fear of her ex-con ex-husband, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr., who always plays an excellent sleaze, and this is no exception). She works in a honkytonk bar in Oklahoma which apparently caters mostly to gays (I know, I didn’t think Oklahoma would allow such a bar in their state either), and lives in a room in the Rustic Motel. It’s rustic because except for the honkytonk, presumably, there doesn’t seem to be anything within fifty miles of it except for a highway, a river, and lots of scrubby little plants; and there’s also nothing inside it that’s less than thirty years old, including most of the fascinating stains on the walls.
She drinks and does drugs, though I don’t know how she can afford them, and I almost can’t blame her, considering how dismal her life is. The movie’s very claustrophobic, a carryover from its start as a play, but that works here, because you’re supposed to feel trapped and uneasy. Mostly, though, I ended up feeling bored and restless.
But to continue, one of Ashley’s lesbian friends, R.C. (played by Lynn Collins, who wisely escapes from the film before everything starts to look like a set from a cheap sci-fi flick) introduces her to a nice guy she’s met, the aforementioned drifter. R.C. might normally be a good judge of character, but she seriously drops the ball here. Peter is intelligent and observant, but he’s also just as scary as the ex, in his own warped and twisted way. He doesn’t seem to be able to help himself, but that’s not much comfort to poor Ashley, or to anyone watching the movie.
It’s sort of two movies sewn together. First Ashley is a normal, though deeply wounded person, and then, as quickly as turning on a bug zapper, she’s a madwoman, and the audience doesn’t have anyone to connect with. I was left feeling like I must have missed something really important after Ashely’s sudden switch. Maybe that part’s on a cutting room floor somewhere, but if something needed to be taken out, it should have been the part where Peter tries to do his own dentistry. With pliers. Did I mention the blood?
I hate to give this too low a rating, I really do. Let’s go with two idols. There were things I liked — for instance, Peter has a little speech about all the awful things the Bad People of the world can do to you, and somewhere along the way you get the sense that he’s warning Ashley about what he could do to her, though I don’t think the character quite realizes what he’s saying. The film does everything it can to pull you in to the characters’ crazy little world, and I usually like movies that do that, but somehow it just doesn’t work here. My only consolation is that I didn’t pay money for this. I used my free ticket voucher.

28 Weeks Later…

I’m not sure if the dots are really necessary, but that’s how the title’s listed on imdb. Now, maybe some of you haven’t seen the first movie, 28 Days Later (not to be confused with the Sandra Bullock film, 28 Days, because except for the titles, they have no similarities whatsoever), but that really doesn’t matter. There are no characters returning from the first film, unless you count the poor beleaguered city of London, and all you really need to know is explained in the captions at the beginning.
Just a slightly longer summary here, so you can keep reading the review: Some scientists, who apparently thought they could cure the human race of anger and thus stop war and violence (scientists really aren’t very practical sometimes), created a virus that induced rage — blind, uncontrollable rage. “In order to cure, you must first understand,” says one scientist, shortly before an infected human tears his throat out. I’m not sure this virus angle was the best way to go about their little project, but okay. The virus is unleashed on an unsuspecting British public, and the island is quickly decimated. A small band of survivors join forces, have a nasty run-in with Christopher Eccleston, and we have a happy ending in learning that the virus was, at least, contained on the island, where it eventually dies off naturally.
Or does it? The chief medical officer (Rose Byrne) of the NATO team now helping to resettle the island isn’t sure that they can relax yet, and of course her worst fears are realized. You see, the virus’ effects are apparent within seconds of contamination, usually by a bite, so it should obvious who has it and who doesn’t. Except it isn’t.

See? Anyone would run from a bunch of those things.

Don (Robert Carlyle, of The Full Monty and The World is Not Enough) is waiting to welcome his kids — they were on a school trip abroad when all hell broke loose, and are now returning home. But Don is racked with guilt over the fate of his wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack, perhaps still best known to U.S. audiences as Mel Gibson’s ill-fated wife in Braveheart), who he left to the mercy of creatures who have none. Now, I think that we get so used to people in horror/survival movies coming up with some last-second trick to save others that we forget that sometimes there really isn’t anything to be done. So when someone fails to manage such a trick, we end up labelling them cowards. But whether that’s true here or not, Don is terribly ashamed.
And in this kind of movie, my friends, guilt and shame will kill you, and probably lots of other people as well. Like its predecessor, the movie goes for a pretty realistic look — these are ordinary people, not models, and they react in normal ways. So when Don gives in to his guilt, you understand completely why he’s doing it, even though you know it’s the worst possible thing he could do. The infection is unleashed again.
Don’s kids, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton — and yes, I think those must be their real names) now have to scramble to survive, as the virus again spreads like wildfire and the troops (led by Idris Elba, one of the few good things about The Reaping, though he has only a very small part here) fight to regain control. You can tell they had a lot more budget this time — they get to block off much larger and busier parts of London, not to mention firebombing major landmarks in convincing fashion. Sadly, they also gave in to the always horrible temptation to do MORE without worrying about whether it’s better or not — not often, but when they do, they really give in. Remember what I said about the scene at the end of The Hitcher, how it was probably the most gruesome film death I’d ever seen? I have to demote that to second place now. Two words: helicopter blades. The squeamish should look away when you see it coming, and you will.
I was very nervous going in, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. In spite of all the Americans running around, it still has the same sort of English feel as the first film — there isn’t as much incidental music as there is just background noise, giving it an edgy feel, and having more of an ensemble cast instead of a couple of stars really works well. I didn’t even mind the kids, and usually I hate it when child actors have to carry much of the plot, as they do here. But they’re good actors, so they do pretty well.
I can’t say the same for the camera work, though — it’s as choppy and confusing as anything in The Bourne Supremacy, and might cause motion sickness. There’s a scene where the kids and the medical officer are walking through a pitch-dark building, with only the night-vision scope of a rifle to guide them, which is easily as creepy as Clarice stumbling through that basement in Silence of the Lambs, but is then spoiled when things start to happen and I can’t even tell who they’re happening to.
Overall, though, I’ll give this one three idols. It’s over-the-top gruesome where it doesn’t need to be (I’m still cringing over the helicopter incident, and then there was the totally unnecessary eye-gouge, presumably to mirror a similar scene in the first film… which was also unnecessary) and I hope that NATO troops really aren’t as slow as they are here. It seemed to take them at least an hour to find two kids riding around on a Moped on otherwise totally deserted streets. But the film does draw you in and keep you jumping in sympathy with the characters, and the acting is very good. I still wish they could have fit Christopher Eccleston in somehow, but you can’t have everything.

Month of Music

Here was the plan. 50 pieces of music in one month. Well, that was the plan… the NEW plan is one piece of music every day. Keeping up the former pace was causing me too much stress for a stupid challenge.
Today is the 6th, so here’s the first 6 pieces:

  • Artifact Neat African hybrid

  • Aretes Written for a documentary on glaciers – “a cross between Windham Hill and Enya”

  • Bach’s Cello Suite #1 Prelude As performed on a dulcimer. I always thought this would work well.

  • Fenster’s Explanation Your standard-type musical number for a female lead.

  • Gearhead Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! All your Hard Rockin’ Prayers are answered!

  • Riptide This is another rock piece… written for a different documentary… on a subject that had nothing to do with rock music. But that’s why there are large gaps in guitar (much narration).

There you have it! The Month of Music hath begun! Just 25 more pieces to go…