Bug (11/9/12)

BugMovie Two Hundred Fifty Four

In Bug, after a woman is introduced to a friend during a night of hard partying, the two spiral into a world where they may be infested with bugs.

Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a waitress living in a shoddy motel room, receiving strange phone calls from someone she believes to be her abusive ex, Jerry Gross (Harry Connick, Jr.). After a night of partying with her friend, RC (Lynn Collins), and Peter (Michael Shannon), a drifter, Agnes and Peter form a bond and together being to descend into delusion. One morning Peter wakes up claiming to have been bitten by bugs, aphids, specifically. He convinces Agnes of the bugs, among other things and the two become dependent on each other, each feeding into the madness together. When its discovered that Peter may be mentally ill, the line of reality and delusion becomes even fuzzier.

Bug is quite a mixed bag. On the one hand, every performance given is spectacular; Judd and Shannon, especially. Even if you have complete disinterest in the plot, it’s hard to look away when either character is on screen. Since most of the film takes place in a tiny hotel room, it makes their performances all the more huge. However, I found Bug to be almost completely nonsensical at times. Obviously, Bug is supposed to be schizophrenic but there is a line that needs to be drawn so that the plot still makes sense. When Judd or Shannon are ranting it’s easy to tune out and just watch them.

William Friedkin, who has given us many great movies over the years like The Exorcist and Sorcerer, does his best to make Bug an interesting affair. Though the set piece of the motel is small, there are a few tricks visually that make it seem unnatural, like black lighting outside under the eave, and the unusual green tint that permeates much of the film. We are taken for a wild ride through insanity and Bug doesn’t really let up, though it stumbles over itself at times.

In thinking what would have helped Bug be a better film, I’m honestly not sure. The performances were great, the story is ambiguous and gives a sense of insanity the main characters struggle though, and the setting is claustrophobic. Maybe that all makes Bug sound like a horror movie but I never thought to classify it as such, except maybe when Shannon is pulling out his teeth. It’s a film that tries not to be bound by genre and in doing so fails to really be anything. Bug is not a bad movie, just a sloppy one with great actors in it.

I give it 2 crazed Michael Shannon in blue light out of 5.

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Sorcerer (8/10/12)

SorcererMovie One Hundred Eighty Six

In Sorcerer, four men are coerced into transporting volatile sticks of dynamite across rugged terrain for a fair sum of money if they can make it.

In a politically tumultuous Nicaraguan town dependent on a big oil company, four separate criminals/outcasts, Jackie (Roy Scheider), Victor (Bruno Cremer), Nilo (Francisco Rabal), and Kassem (Amidou), are offered a substantial amount of money and citizenship to transport sticks of unstable dynamite. Having no real choice, the men take two separate trucks, named Sorcerer and Lazaro, to make the harrowing journey through the jungle with the dynamite sticks.

A remake of Wages of Fear, Sorcerer is fairly different from the original, in some good ways and other not so good. The tension and thrilling nature of the entire second half of the original heartily outpaces Sorcerer, but Sorcerer comes back with scenes of enormous tension and a fantastic sound design. Instead of having the tension snap taut early on and never relenting, Sorcerer‘s tension rises and falls a bit.

Personally, I had little interest in the setting or characters this time around. The film seems to be in no rush to set things up and even though I knew the gist of what would happen, having just watched Wages of Fear, I was not invested in learning the new differences. I could blame that on watching the remake too soon after the original, however. On a whole, William Friedkin’s Sorcerer feels like a vastly different film, largely due to the electronic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.

Perhaps the most interesting things about Sorcerer are about the movie’s history. Opening right around Star Wars, the film was received well by critics but absolutely ignored by movie-goers in favor of the sci-fi juggernaut. The budget of the film was over $20 million and the film was fraught with setbacks and delays, so it is widely regarded as a failure. Perhaps the nebulous title threw people off too, but the film differs enough from Wages of Fear to merit its own title. Steve McQueen was going to star in the film but dropped out, leading to Scheider’s casting. McQueen’s star power might have saved the film from relative obscurity at the time of Sorcerer’s release, hopefully a studio like Criterion will give the film new life on home video.

Sorcerer is a remake, but it’s a unique film in many ways, despite my weighing disappointment. When compared directly to Wages of Fear (which, unfortunately I was not able to get around the outright comparisons) it is mostly inferior, but it is not an entirely fair comparison. Sorcerer is a good movie that should have been great. I will need to revisit it again once the freshness of Wages of Fear has dulled and I can judge Sorcerer on its own merits.

I give it 4 spectacular bridge scenes out of 5.
(Possible spoiler warning)

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