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…

Spider-Man 3

Oh, you knew I’d have to review this one. My head’s still spinning, but I’ll see what I can do. It’s my fault; I went to the theatre with the Ultrascreen across town, and everything was so huge! It was hard to read the credits, and some of the fight scenes left me reeling.
Speaking of fight scenes, I’m sure this isn’t going to help much, but please, people: Don’t bring your four-year-old to this film. In fact, don’t bring your one-year-old, either. There were kids there that young, and I believe they enjoyed the movie about as much as I enjoyed seeing (and hearing) them there — which is to say, not at all. It may be based on a comic book, but that doesn’t mean it’s family-friendly. It’s PG-13 for a reason, people! There’s violence galore, and blood, and death! Relatively sanitized death, but still. And Venom is really pretty creepy. So don’t scar your little children. Also, if they’re not there, they can’t annoy the rest of us by crying for mommy or asking to go to the bathroom three times. Two hours and twenty minutes is an eternity to a child’s bladder.
Anyway, I imagine you know the basics: Spidey’s back, and there’s gonna be trouble. This time, trouble comes in the form of Flint Marko, a.k.a. Sandman (Thomas Haden Church, who I really only know from watching the occasional episode of Wings, years ago, so this was kind of a shock) and Brock, Eddie Brock Jr., a.k.a. Venom (Topher Grace — I hear he was in some other TV show, which I’ve never seen). Neither character gets called Sandman or Venom except in the closing credits, but all the fanboys (and fangirls) know who they are.
Sandy is an escaped convict when we meet him, struggling to find the daughter he loves. He’s in prison because he loves her so much that he robs lots of banks to try and get the money she needs for an operation, or whatever it is that will fix the unnamed disease she has. She needs an oxygen tank to breathe and a crutch to walk, so it must be something pretty serious, but I’m not sure what would cause both those problems. But it requires money to fix anything, and with health-care costs what they are these days, Daddy has to skip the auctions and bake sales and go straight to grand larceny.
Meanwhile, Eddie wants to make a name for himself as a photographer for the Daily Bugle and smarms his way into a job. Peter’s job. I don’t know how good a photographer he is, but he’s great at being smarmy. Unfortunately, he’s also ambitious and very vengeful. Add to that one icky black alien Venom symbiote; and add to our desparate escaped felon one accidental trip into the middle of an experiment in a particle physics lab, and poof! You have two super villains ready to make our hero’s life miserable.
Now, the birth of Sandman is really cool. They borrow the micro-cam from House to show us the freaky cellular process at work in turning a man into sand, and the sequence of him trying to learn to use his powers is fascinating. It just seems odd that a particle physics lab would be running experiments on a big pile of sand in the middle of the night. I’m no physicist, but I think they usually work with much smaller particles than sand. Much smaller. Venom, as previously mentioned, is seriously creepy, but also very cool. He was never my favorite villain, but he was used to excellent effect here.

Spidey unexpectedly finds himself playing with sand. Cool, huh?

I could keep going a lot longer and still not tell you everything that happened. This movie, like its two predecessors, was packed with plotlines and characters and all the CGI effects you could possibly want. Just think of the post-production on this baby. It’s now the most expensive movie ever made in non-adjusted U.S. dollars (not quite sure what that means; I’m quoting imdb.com), at nearly 300 million. I’d say that most of that went towards effects, but they had a lot of actors to pay, too. Everyone is in it!
Tobey and Kirsten, James Franco as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin Mark II (though he isn’t very green, so they just call him the New Goblin), Rosemary Harris as the delightful Aunt May, J.K. Simmons as the cigar-chewing J. Jonah Jameson, Dylan Baker as Dr. Curt Conners, still not having turned into the Lizard yet — all your favorites are back, and there’s more. Bryce Dallas Howard (looking lovely and being talented as always) is Gwen Stacy in a small and rather thankless role, and perennial character actor James Cromwell is Capt. Stacy — he was a lousy Zephram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, but if he’d actually had any real scenes, I think he’d be a great Capt. Stacy.
It all boils down to it being too much of a good thing. There are too many villains, real and imagined, and too many thing happening. I’ve barely mentioned all the problems Peter and Mary Jane have with their relationship, or the whole Goblin thing, and this is already pretty long. Even at nearly two and a half hours, there’s not enough room for everything they try to do. It has all the action you expect and the characters you remember, but it never quite hits the emotional quality of the first two films, especially the second. That wonderful scene with the train passengers tenderly helping the injured Spidey after he saves them is the first thing I think of when I think about these movies, and there’s not a lot here that competes with that. There are some very good scenes with best friends Pete and Harry, but there’s still a certain depth lacking. Let’s not even mention Pete as ladykiller, which only gets embarrassing.
Three idols here. It was enjoyable, and I wouldn’t mind owning it on DVD, but this one was more polished and less endearing than the others, and Spider Man should always be endearing. He’s the underdog, the regular guy doing unbelieveable things who we just have to root for. That’s still here, but it’s starting to be clouded over by the glitz. Do see it on the big screen if you get the chance, though crossed eyes and dizziness may occur if you watch it on the really big screen. Just remember: PG-13!