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Bug – Review

26 Apr

I seem to be in a William Friedkin kind of mood recently having just reviewed his movie The Hunted and now coming back to review his 2006 film Bug. I actually remember when this movie first came out and how intrigued I was by the whole idea, but unfortunately it was 10 years ago and 10 years ago I would never be able to get into a theater to see it. I’m actually glad I waited so long, because now I’m a lot more familiar with the works of William Friedkin and his screenwriting collaborator, Tracy Letts. Bug is actually based off of Letts’ stage play, as was a later Friedkin film Killer Joe, which is now one of my top favorite movies. Like Killer JoeBug tells a nightmarish story of the south with very troubled human characters engaging in some very strange behavior.

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Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a waitress living in a shady motel on the side of a seemingly desert road. She’s in such a secluded location so as to stay hidden from her abusive husband, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr.), who is getting released from prison any day now. On a night like any other, Agnes meets a drifter named Peter (Michael Shannon), a quiet but caring man who only seems to care about Agnes’ best interests. As their relationship begins to build, Jerry returns and starts to harass Agnes, but Agnes is far too busy with learning about Peter and Peter’s strange beliefs that the government implanted millions of bugs into his skin and blood, and that they are now beginning to escape and make themselves known.

This is a very, very strange movie and definitely not what I expected it was going to be. It’s easy to see how this is a stage play since most of the action occurs in Agnes’ motel. Sometimes the characters go outside or are in a bar, but that’s really only for a couple scenes out of the movie. I love when stories happen in closed in spaces. It creates the feeling of claustrophobia and injects the fear of not escaping the horrors that will surface. What really threw me off is the pacing of Bug. I don’t want to say that it’s bad, it’s just weird. The first 45 minutes play as a straightforward drama with a lingering sense of unease. Then after these 45 minutes, the movie shoots forward into insanity. It jumps through time so strangely, that you can’t really know how much time has passed, which was jarring while watching the movie but after thinking about it, it was a clever way to tell the story.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that Bug features the best performances of both Ashley Judd’s and Michael Shannon’s careers. I always looked at Ashley Judd as an overall unimpressive actress, but after seeing her in this movie my attitude’s changed. I think with the write screenplay and direction, she can really deliver a powerhouse performances. Now, Michael Shannon’s history with Bug goes pretty deep. For years, Shannon has played the role of Peter off Broadway in both London and America. This role is so ingrained in his mind he seems to literally transform into Peter. It’s an amazing performance and I just assume that this movie was too weird to get any Oscar attention for both actors.

Over the years, Bug has torn critics and audiences into a couple different and completely polarizing categories. On one side are the people that absolutely hated the movie claiming that it doesn’t make any logical sense and that it’s the stupidest thing in the world. On the other side are all of the people who look down on the plebeians claiming that the movie is stupid and just rubbing it in that they “just don’t get it.” I honestly can completely understand how someone can both love and hate this movie. It’s really bizarre and often doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s sort of the point. The movie is designed to make the audience feel more distanced, confused, and paranoid as the story progresses which forces Bug to go through some jarring changes. I, personally, respect the hell out of this movie.

William Friedkin and Tracy Letts are two artists that just seem to be made for each other. I felt that way after I saw Killer Joe and I feel it once again after watching Bug. This is one of the most disorienting and jarring movies I’ve ever seen, and at first it made the movie kind of hard to watch and a little questionable, but after letting it all sink in I can understand why the movie had to be made like it is. It isn’t as powerful as Killer Joe, but Bug is a powerhouse of a movie in terms of directing, acting, and writing.

 

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The Cremator – Review

4 Jul

Back when I was in college, I took a few film history courses and in one of them we watched scenes from this Czechoslovakian film The Cremator. They were pretty startling scenes, because they combined humor, horror, and mind blowing cinematography almost perfectly. I never thought I’d actually be able to track down a copy, but it was finally released to worldwide audiences just a few years ago, after almost 40 years. Thankfully, I can say that this movie didn’t disappoint me at all, and it didn’t just contain a few good scenes. The entire movie, for the most part, is solid and it is a fantastic example, if not THE example, of Eastern European surrealism.

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Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínsky) is a cremator at a local crematorium in Prague. What’s unusual about Mr. Kopfrkingl is that he doesn’t look at his job as just a job, but a duty that goes beyond the physical realm. He believes that cremating those who have died releases their spirit into the ether faster than it would go if they decomposed naturally, and it is his responsibility to end the dead’s suffering as soon as possible. When the Nazis begin to make their way into the Czech government in the late 1930s, Kopfrkingl is introduced to the ideals of the party, taking his ideologies about suffering and the releasing of souls to the next level. It also allows some of his more secret and deep urges to be unleashed.

It’s difficult to put into words just how strange and unsettling this movie is, but I’m certain;y going to try. While this film is an example of surrealism, it is also a prime example of Czech New Wave, which was taking over their cinemas in the 1960s and early 1970s. One of the trademarks of this kind of film making is dark and absurd humor, which The Cremator has a lot of. While it’s a very funny film, it’s also a horrific film that deals with heavy thematic material and an awful view of history. I felt like I was being dragged across a line between laughing and cringing that lasted the entire movie, but that’s exactly the effect that was desired.

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I can’t say this about most movies, but I can sure say it about this one. You don’t have to even watch this movie with the sound on to enjoy it. This is one of the most technically proficient movies I’ve ever seen, even without it going overboard. The editing and juxtaposition of different images tells a story about the characters without them even needing to say a word. One of the most talked about scenes in the movie is the very first scene where characters’ faces are quickly cut together with the mouths and eyes of animals in the zoo. A lot of the film is also shot through fish eye and wide angle lenses to distort the faces of the characters especially in the most intense of situations. It’s a masterpiece of film making and should be taught in schools all around the world, especially in terms of editing.

Other than just how great the movie looks, it also has a haunting story to tell about someone who is already disturbed pushed to his furthest point because of the Nazi regime. Taking this movie as a character study of Karl is probably how the movie should be watched. Sure it tells a story of history, but it’s how history shapes this particular person is what’s really interesting. The so called “justified” violence going on around him justifies his own violent desires, which helps him believe he’s still doing the proper thing. This makes you feel even stranger when you start laughing at some of the things he says or does.

The Cremator works as a horror movie, a dark comedy comedy, and a brilliant character study. It’s slowly becoming more and more recognized, as it should, since it is such a startling and jarring film, but also one that is significant in Czech film history. It will be my new mission to get as many people as I can to see this movie, even though it’s one that leaves you feeling a little weird way before it’s even close to being over.