Sunday, December 4, 2011

Movies Worth Googling: Strange Movie Reviews by Jenny Orosel


Some time ago, a friend and I were talking about a movie we both liked. However, a few minutes into the discussion we realized we were talking about two different movies. The title was the same, but that’s where the similarities ended. Titles can’t be copy written, so you could theoretically have fifty movies in one year, all with the title of HAPPY SCRAPPY HERO PUP. It wouldn’t be wise, as that title invokes a very specific mental image. A more generic title like, say, FOOD or SUNSHINE could work. So could BUG.

The Internet Movie Database lists five movies with the specific, one-word title BUG. That’s not including films like BUG’S LIFE or HERBIE THE LOVE BUG where it’s only a portion of the title. I watched three of the BUG movies, and they couldn’t be more different than each other.

2002’s BUG has very little to do with bugs. It starts with a child squishing a roach, and scattered throughout the film, there are bug references. That’s not what the movie’s about. Ever since Richard Linklater’s SLACKER (1991), there’s been a subgenre in indie flicks where, instead of one large over-arching plot, there are a handful of loosely connected vignettes. We never get to know the characters; in fact we rarely learn their names. It takes a strong script to survive an ensemble story, and BUG had some decent writers behind it. Directed by two screenwriters (Phil Hay and Matt Manifred), they give enough information about the characters, but not so much that it bogs down the story. The forementioned bug squishing inspires a lonely man to put on an insect costume and jump from the roof of a skyscraper, only to be stopped by one good-hearted man who gets a parking ticket every time he stops to do a good deed. What is the first man trying to say with his attempted suicide? What is it that keeps the second man motivated to do kindness, despite the cards that appear stacked against him? We never find out because we never need to. And therein lies the key to BUG—it keeps the focus on needed information and, unlike most flicks by first-time indie filmmakers, avoids self-indulgence.

Bug | Brian Cox | Michael Hitchcock | Phil Hay | Movie Trailer | Review

By contrast, BUG from 1975 is about insects. Specifically, roaches from beneath the Earth’s surface that travel by car exhaust and make things (including people and cats) catch fire. Sounds corny. But this one was co-written by William Castle, the brilliant mind behind gimmick flicks like THE TINGLER and 13 GHOSTS and that man knew how to create a story that was a damn good time to see. It didn’t try and have a deeper meaning, or deliver a Very Important Message. Instead, the director and writers realized they were making a movie about roaches that make things explode and ran with it. The deaths are alternately frightening and hilarious. Like some of the best monster movies throughout history, 1975’s BUG is pure fun.

In 2006, William Friedkin made his own BUG movie, this one based on a stage play. Yes, the story involves bugs, however, it does not involve insects. Peter Evans recently returned from the first gulf war, where he had to undergo unnamed medical treatments, He believes the doctors implanted a “bug” somewhere on his body to spy on him. The story is told through the eyes of his new girlfriend, played by Ashley Judd, as she travels with him deeper and deeper into his world of fear and paranoia. Was he really the subject of unspeakable experiments? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is what they believe. Friedkin is a master filmmaker, and by the end, you can almost feel the world closing in the way the two main characters experience it.

Three completely distinct movies, one title. As a writer I find it fascinating how a single word can be interpreted in such different ways. It would make for a fun exercise to see all the different ways a writer can interpret a single word or concept. But in the meantime I might just go watch the other BUGS….

Where to find the movies:

The 2006 and 1975 versions are still in print. The 2002 BUG is out of print but can be found for less than a dollar on EBay. That is, if you don’t mind combing through the 841 results for movies with “bug” in the title.

--Jenny Orosel