Film Review: Bug (2006)

Release Date: May 19th, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Tracy Letts
Based on: Bug by Tracy Letts
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne, Harry Connick Jr.

DMK Mediafonds International, Inferno Distribution LLC, L.I.F.T. Productions, Lionsgate, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I guess I’d rather talk with you about bugs than nothing with nobody.” – Agnes White

William Friedkin is most associated with directing The Exorcist. This film, however, leaves you with a similar sense of disgust and dread.

In this picture, we meet Agnes, a lonely Oklahoma woman that works in a gay bar and lives in a rundown hotel. She does drugs and fools around with a lesbian, has a psycho ex-husband that just got out of prison and is still emotionally wrecked from the loss of her child.

Agnes is introduced to Peter and immediately develops in infatuation with him. Peter and Agnes get very close and intimate, even though Peter “isn’t into women” or anyone for that matter. Soon, we learn that Peter believes in all sorts of crazy conspiracies and even thinks that he was implanted with flesh eating bugs as some sort of military experiment.

As the film rolls on, Peter gets more erratic and insane and Agnes follows suit, believing him every step of the way. She starts seeing what Peter is seeing.

The film is magnificently shot. The opening scene that pans over a dark and barren landscape, slowly moving towards a small hotel in the distance, is beautiful and haunting. The cinematography in the last twenty minutes or so, showing these two insane people in a confined space of tin foil walls glowing from bug zappers is eerie and enchanting. This film certainly looks spectacular.

Bug also benefits from the tremendous performances by both Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who sell their characters to the point that their slip into madness feels organic and terrifying.

Despite the solid acting, though, the characters aren’t nearly developed enough in the script and it is hard to feel anything deeper for them beyond their psychotic surface. Sure, your heart aches in a way but you don’t necessarily like these two people or find them to be that interesting. Watching anyone slip into a horrible state of mental health is always engaging to some degree but this film lacks the soul it needs to really make it as profound as it was trying to be.

Besides, everything just sort of happens and once the crazy ball gets rolling, we’re off to the races and it goes from 0 to 60 in record time.

Bug is a film that has a lot of strengths but doesn’t do much to capitalize on them other than just throwing them on the screen and hoping it works on its own. It’s hard to say whether or not the script was lacking, although it seems as though it was, or if Friedkin failed to bring it all together. I think the blame is really on both of those things, though.

Plus, you’re supposed to wonder if Peter is actually telling the truth and isn’t just nuts. I never once thought he was anything but nuts and saw this all as a shared delusion. I know that I was supposed to question it but that just didn’t work for me.

Additionally, the ending is pretty terrible and didn’t add anything to the narrative. Things just sort of end very badly and very blandly.

This is a creepy and disturbing movie that will certainly make you uncomfortable but it is just as much unsatisfying as it is mesmerizing.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other body horror films: The BroodThe Fly, etc.

Comic Review: The Infinity Gauntlet

Since the new Avengers movie is coming out very shortly and it is about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, I wanted to revisit those stories in their original comic book format. This is the first of The Infinity Trilogy, which also features The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

This was the biggest Marvel mega crossover event of my most formative years. I had read Secret Wars I and II, as well as some of the major X-Men centered mega events before this but this one, at least when I was a preteen, seemed like it was legitimately for all the marbles like nothing else that came before it. Therefore, when it was revealed several years ago that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was building towards Thanos and his acquisition of the Infinity Stones, I knew that the third Avengers movie was going to be the biggest cinematic event in the history of comic book movies.

But how does the original body of work stack up now, two and a half decades later?

Well, it’s still really damn good and was a heck of a read.

The story is comprised of six beefy oversized issues. The first three serve to set up the final three, which cover the massive space battle between Thanos and everything the Marvel Universe could throw at him. The first half is a bit slow but it is necessary to understand what is happening. The fourth issue throws Earth’s heroes at Thanos, the fifth issue throws Marvel’s cosmic entities and gods at Thanos and the sixth and final issue sees Nebula acquire the Infinity Gauntlet, causing Thanos to have to reassess his place in the order of the universe.

I think that the biggest difference between this classic version and the upcoming film adaptation is that the build will be much different and it should be.

Here, Thanos is motivated by the petty idea that he can use the Gauntlet to win over the heart of Death. While it does work for the comics, it isn’t something that could really work on film, at least not with a lot more narrative work than the Marvel screenwriters will have time for if they also need to focus on wedging every cinematic hero into the film. By modern standards, Thanos’ motivation seems cheesy but I’ll buy into it because it isn’t something that I couldn’t see the character doing. He’s flawed and egomaniacal, and he would be driven to win over what he feels he cannot have.

I liked where this story went, how it challenged the heroes, how the writers worked it so that Thanos wasn’t “omnipotent” and how it all panned out in the end.

The Infinity Gauntelt is still a great Marvel mega crossover event that deserves the recognition and legendary status it has.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Its sequels The Infinity War and The Infinity Crusade.

Film Review: Alien³ (1992)

Release Date: May 19th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Vincent Ward, David Giller, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 114 Minutes (Theatrical), 145 Minutes (Assembly Cut), 138 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“[to the Alien] You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” – Ripley

Alien was such an incredible movie that it was damn near impossible to follow up while hitting that same level of grandeur and artistry. Aliens happened to achieve this, however. Many people even debate which of the two films is better. So when a third Alien film came along, it couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle for a third time could it?

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t good. It is still one hell of a ride and it certainly isn’t short on terror and dread.

Also, this was the directorial debut of David Fincher, a young man who got his start as an assistant cameraman and a matte photography assistant on films like Return of the JediIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The NeverEnding Story.

On paper, this probably looked like it was setup to fail. However, the young Fincher made it work and helped establish his own style enough to whittle out a pretty prolific Hollywood career for himself. He followed this movie up with Se7enThe GameFight Club and since the turn of the millennium he’s done Panic RoomZodiacThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social NetworkThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Without Alien³, those other films either wouldn’t have existed or they would have been adapted by people with a very different visual style.

And that’s the thing, Fincher has a unique style. Some love it, some don’t. Regardless of how you feel about it, the Fincher visual style is on full display in Alien³. In a way, it’s kind of impressive because Fincher had his own stylistic stamp out the gate. One could argue that he is an auteur. I wouldn’t quite call him that but you could argue for it and maybe in another decade he will be able to achieve that status.

In this chapter in the franchise, we see Ripley’s escape ship crash land on a prison planet. It picks up from the ending of Aliens, as Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop are still floating in space, asleep. When Ripley comes to, she realizes that everyone else died and soon after that, she comes to discover that an alien xenomorph stowed away on the ship. The rest of the film is about Ripley and the male prisoners trying to kill the alien that wants everyone for lunch. There is one catch, however… Ripley’s body is playing host to an alien queen. It’s almost Shakespearean in how the aliens get the last laugh in regards to Ripley’s fate.

One really cool thing about this film that actually blew my 13 year-old mind was that I saw the xenomorph emerge from a dog as it’s incubator/host. The alien took on characteristics of that animal, making it different and unique. My mind started exploding with ideas as to what would happen if the alien egg was incubating in other creatures. I guess toy makers got a similar idea because in the ’90s, there were a slew of Alien toys featuring all sorts of weird hybrid xenomorphs. My cousin had a really cool xenomorph rhino action figure.

The special effects in this film looked really good for 1992. However, now that this thing has been remastered in modern HD, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the shots that once worked don’t look so hot now but they’re not terrible, they’re just really noticeable. But one of the things I really loved about this picture was the first-person POV used for the xenomorph when hunting prisoners. These sequences are still really cool and it almost feels like a nod to first-person shooter games, which were just becoming the rage in this era. It’s also very similar to playing as an alien in the Alien Vs. Predator games.

Alien³ is not the grand spectacle that Alien and Aliens were. It is still a solid followup and helps enrich the mythos instead of bastardizing it like the fourth Alien film did.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The first two Alien movies.

Book Review: ‘Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk’ by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

I really don’t think that there is a better book on punk music.

Please Kill Me is pretty unique. It is a large book full of compelling and eye-opening stories told first hand by the artists and people who were there. It is a piece of work that delves deeper into the history of punk rock more than anything else I’ve ever encountered in any medium. It leaves no stone unturned and gives you more insight than you would ever expect.

Each chapter focuses on a specific subject or era in time throughout early punk’s history and it is told orally, albeit written down, by dozens upon dozens of those who were in the thick of this iconic cultural movement. The highlights for me were the bits told by or about Iggy Pop. Dude, was an even more interesting character than I had realized.

Whether you are into punk or not, this is still thoroughly enjoyable. If you are just a big fan of music in general or that period of time, this book is an eye-opener. The words and tales of those in this book are like a time machine, bringing the reader back to that exciting and innovative time. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other books on the history of punk and rock music: Richard Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean TrampMeet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman and Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad.

Comic Review: American Flagg! – Definitive Collection

American Flagg is considered a classic and a masterpiece by many comic book aficionados since it was running regularly in the 1980s. I never read it back then, I was pretty much only concerned with G.I. JoeStar Wars and superhero comics at the time. It was also much more adult than what I was ready for back when I was in elementary school.

I did finally pick this up, after Comixology had it up for free for Unlimited subscribers. I’ve heard only good things and thought that it was an experience that was long overdue.

Sadly, it didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it’s because it feels like a relic of that ’80s era and it doesn’t work outside of that time, other than being nostalgia for those who loved it back then.

I will say that the writing is pretty good and that the artwork is better than what was the standard, at the time. I like the character design, use of color and the tone of it. I just couldn’t get into the narrative despite the writing being mature and better than what I used to read back in the ’80s.

With those who I’ve talked to about it, this is often times compared to Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s work on Robocop, as well as the original Robocop film. It may even have hints of Blade Runner. While those are all things I like, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about American Flagg, which actually disappointed me.

I wanted to like it at more than just a visual level. I just felt that the characters were too generic and simple but then again, maybe that’s the point, as they live in a superficial, entertainment obsessed society. Still, it didn’t make for an interesting read, as it was difficult to feel a connection to any of the main characters.

I liked the talking cat though.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Has similar themes to Robocop and Watchmen.

Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.

Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E

*Written in 2015.

I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.

N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.

This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.

This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.

The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.

Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.

I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.

Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.

Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.

While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.

The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.

Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.

I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.

In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.

F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.

Film Review: Suddenly (1954)

Release Date: October 7th, 1954
Directed by: Lewis Allen
Written by: Richard Sale
Based on: Active Duty by Richard Sale
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Gates

Libra Productions, United Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not an actor, bustin’ my leg on a stage so I can yell ‘down with the tyrants’. If Booth wasn’t such a ham he might’ve made it.” – John Baron

This film was pretty heavy stuff for 1954. While there had been films about presidential assassinations before this one, never had their been one that took place in modern times. And on top of that, Frank Sinatra plays the man gunning for the President.

The film sees a widowed mother, her young son, her father-in-law and a cop that has the hots for her, held hostage in her home, as a gangster and his men are planning to use the home’s vantage point to stage a presidential assassination.

Sinatra plays a scumbag and there are no bones about it. I feel like it was probably hard to accept him in this role, given the time and for the fact that he was such a lovable icon. Still, his performance is solid and he carries himself well. He brought some gravitas and machismo to the screen and was unrelenting as this sinister killer.

Sterling Hayden plays the cop trapped with the mad man in the house. He is a good foil to Sinatra and their dialogue exchanges are engaging and serve to paint Sinatra’s John Baron as something darker than what you first assume. He’s a man with a screwed up history and a vendetta.

Nancy Gates plays the mother and she really is the heart and soul of the picture, even if she feels overshadowed and outnumbered by the men in the film. She has this likable sweetness and it is easy to understand her concerns, as the mother of a small child who has been threatened to be killed if any of the adults try to play hero.

Suddenly is well shot, well acted and has held up quite nicely.

The film ended up being at the center of some major controversy, however. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, it was said that Lee Harvey Oswald was inspired by this film. While that wasn’t necessarily true, Frank Sinatra was deeply upset about it, as he was close friends to the real-life president. It’s said that Sinatra pleaded with the studio to pull the film from circulation and that he tried to buy up all the prints in an effort to destroy them. This also wasn’t true but Sinatra did have some regrets about playing a part in this movie. And regardless of the true story or not, this film has very strong similarities to that dark day in American history and sort of foreshadowed it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Manchurian Candidate, another Sinatra film with similar themes.