BUG (2007). Nothing less than depression set in when Ashley Judd went from being an extraordinary indie actress to a dull studio-hack heroine, so it was gratifying to once again see her tackling an offbeat role. In Bug, she has one of her most memorable parts yet; she plays Agnes, a lonely waitress who's introduced to Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a quiet man who right off the bat assures Agnes that he's not an axe murderer. Clearly, though, there's something off about this brooding guy, but Agnes enjoys his company so much (or at least having company, period) that she invites him to stay with her. This irks her thuggish ex-con ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr., about as menacing as a French poodle), yet even his threats seem irrelevant once Peter begins to complain about the insect infestation in her apartment. Yet do the bugs really exist, or are they only in Peter's (and maybe Agnes') imagination? Working from Tracy Letts' screenplay (itself based on the latter's Off-Broadway play), director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) maximizes the claustrophobic feel of the intimate surroundings while drawing suitably anguished performances from Judd and Shannon. But Letts' story is rather limited in its examination of how a lonely person's neediness will often overcome all other emotions, and its employment of government paranoia feels decidedly old-hat. Indeed, it might have taken David Cronenberg, that insect fetishist (Naked Lunch, The Fly), to truly turn this into a freak-out session. As it stands, Bug deserves some measure of buzz, even if it never truly gets under the skin.
DVD extras include both audio commentary by Friedkin and a half-hour interview with the director, and a short making-of piece.
THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976). H.G. Wells must have been spinning in his grave when one of his titles was appropriated -- and mangled -- for this dreadful yarn which finds nature running amok. On a remote island, a creamy white substance bubbling from within the earth is discovered by farmers and (for what reason beyond script contrivance, God only knows) mixed with chicken feed. Soon, humans unlucky enough to stumble onto the island are having to contend with giant rats, wasps, chickens and worms. Writer-director-producer Bert I. Gordon, whose career-long fascination with oversized creatures would have delighted Freud (other credits include Village of the Giants, The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth vs. the Spider), managed to make a Hall of Shame turkey that sadly has never achieved the legendary status of, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space or Robot Monster. That's a shame, because if there are 10 consecutive seconds of quality in this film, I must have rubbed my eyes and missed them. The special effects are laughable throughout: Except for a few scenes featuring mechanized heads and actors in costumes, the giant rats are actually normal-sized rodents seen swarming around toy cars and dollhouses; the wasps are black smudges that look like they were drawn directly onto the film stock; and the chickens (and one mad rooster) look about as real as Burt Reynolds' late-career toupees. As for the performers, former-evangelist-turned-bad-actor Marjoe Gortner stars as a football player who kicks giant-critter butt, Pamela Franklin portrays the requisite scientist, here a horny brainiac who hits on the gridiron star even as they're about to be eaten by rats, and, depressingly, the great Ida Lupino -- a 1940s star and one of the first major female directors -- wraps up her career by playing a Bible-thumping rube who screams, "God! Oh, God! Aaaaaahhhh!" while watching bloodthirsty worms snack on her hand.
There are no extras on the DVD.
KNOCKED UP (2007). Director Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin was unique in that it managed to successfully mix raunch with romance. This summer hit, which reunited Apatow with Virgin supporting player Seth Rogen, attempts a similar balancing act, only it falls a tad short of attaining the same success as its predecessor. There's a sweet love story on view here as well, but because it's more rushed and not allowed to unfold at a natural clip, it ultimately plays second string to the picture's comedy quota. Fortunately, on that front, the movie's an unqualified success, with perhaps no other film this past summer offering as many theater-rumbling belly laughs. Rogen plays Ben Stone, a slacker who meets and has a drunken one-night stand with Alison (Katherine Heigl), who's out celebrating the fact that she has just been promoted to an on-air position at E! Entertainment Television. Alison learns a few weeks later that she's pregnant, and she decides that she and Ben (with whom she has nothing in common) should attempt to make their relationship work for the sake of the baby. Apatow fails to sufficiently flesh out their courting period between that initial tryst and the birth of the child; still, thanks to the sweet performances by Heigl and especially Rogen, there's plenty of warmth to be drawn from the resultant drama. Yet in this picture, it's comedy that's king, with a nonstop barrage of great lines as well as deft contributions from a capable cast.