Reviews

Bug (2006) (2006)

What goes on in Aggie's head is the point of departure for Bug, which is not, as early trailers suggested, anything like a conventional horror film.


Bug

Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick, Jr., Lynn Collins
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Lionsgate
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2007-05-25 (General release)
Website

The bugs are the transmitters!

-- Agnes (Ashley Judd)

Agnes (Ashley Judd) can't catch a break. Stuck away in a motel room in Oklahoma, she works nights at a bar, full of smoke and neon and customers who grab at their waitresses as a matter of course. Her best friend RC (Lynn Collins) looks out for her; they share a sense of being under siege.

Agnes' days, not exactly by contrast, look to be shapeless and lonely. She's become used to being afraid, whether lying in bed or hearing the phone ring. Lately she's been getting calls where no one speaks, but she thinks it's Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.), her ex, just come out of prison, breathing on the other end. To dull the raw edges, she drinks, wine and beer mostly, and when she can get it, she sniffs coke or smokes crack. But even as her party with RC literally dissolves into a series of snickers and half-asked queries while they lay beside one another on her "crappy couch," Aggie's head looks to be churning: she can't stop thinking.

What goes on in Aggie's head is the point of departure for Bug, which is not, as early trailers suggested, anything like a conventional horror film. No specially-effected crawly things under her skin, no slamming doors or chases down hallways. The horror here is much worse. It has to do with worry and inculcation, fear so close you believe it was always yours, that it marks you innate sensitivity and insight. It has to do with surveillance and weirdness, habits and expectations. Even a trip to the local market turns into an ordeal: Aggie steps out into the sunshine, noticing her car windshield has a Xeroxed flyer on it, for "B&B Body Shop." The camera follows her gaze as she peeps the other cars parked before the motel, a serial rack focus underscoring that not a one has a flyer on it. Just hers.

The scene at the store offers an exceptionally brief indication of Aggie's trauma, the possible event that triggered her current state: she spots onions, the camera closes on them then cuts to her and back again, matching zooms that reveal she has a past with onions, and an empty shopping cart. It's not hard to put this together when it slips later that she had a six-year-old son who "disappeared" in a supermarket some 10 years ago. Still, the movie doesn't press the point: she's got guilt and pain, and no way to manage any of it, except by self-medication and Jerry's abuse (Judd's performance is phenomenal, evoking the promise and tender detail she offered, so generously and so strikingly, way back in Ruby in Paradise). The specifics of such trauma are, of course, both intolerably intimate and splashed all over cable TV. The movie doesn't make visible those specifics. It doesn't need to. Instead, you see aftermath, Aggie's daily desperation, her grueling sadness.

And then she meets Peter (Michael Shannon). With a jaw set at a perfectly creepy jut, he's someone RC brings back to Aggie's room from the bar, a man who doesn't drink, but spends a strangely long time in the bathroom, flushing and flushing. The girls, meanwhile, wonder about him, giggling over the possibility that he's an "axe murderer." When he finally emerges from the bathroom, he's dead serious: "I'm not an axe murderer," he says more than once, to make sure Aggie hears him. When she begins to wonder about him, observing him as she sits on a swing outside the motel -- a shot that is flawlessly quaint and absurd -- he reveals, "I pick up on things." It "makes people uncomfortable," he suggests, intriguing Aggie, who jokes, "That's a talent." When he observes that she's lonely, she has to laugh. "That hardly makes you Jeane Dixon." That she needs to explain "Jeane Dixon" to Peter makes him seem naïve, possibly untainted by the current (or maybe recent) tabloid world, or maybe so literal-minded that he's unable to fathom irony.

Turns out he does have something else to offer. Bugs. In the middle of the night, he wakes with a panic about aphids in the bed, feeling bitten, pointing out unseeable lice until Aggie sees them too. He also brings a story about medical experiments and time served in "the Gulf," which makes him a veteran, with a doctor he remembers and distrusts, a "them" who change minute by minute, and a microscope he uses to peer at the bugs in his blood, which he drops onto slides by candlelight (no word on the surveillance possibilities in electricity).

Aggie's own trip to an outside doctor with RC takes place off screen (William Friedkin's film is based on Tracy Letts' play, and it maintains a certain one-room fixation), but the diagnosis is that her wounds -- jarring red jabbies on her throat and arms -- are self-inflicted. When RC decides she's going to save Aggie from Peter (her own guilt warping around her, for she found him and brought him to Aggie), Peter unravels spectacularly. Revealing his own torso, a wretched map of his superficial efforts to dig out the bugs he knows have been implanted and now grow and mutate inside him, he then seems almost to lurch into himself. He slaps at bugs unseen, beats his head, then begins to flop uncontrollably on the bed. The women clutch at him and try to make him still, their faces turned from the camera, which watches from an angle slightly above them, curious or perplexed, but not too close.

In another movie (say, The Exorcist), this flailing would signal possession or maybe insanity. Here the meaning remains aptly unclear. For the bugs are everywhere. Though Aggie wants not trust Peter, their dips into each other, embraces in the midst of fear, are marked as such, with chopper sounds and lights flashing and wind whipping, as if they are alone amid world-ending calamity (or about to be swooped away by Peter's military tormenters). Here as well the sources of bugs -- infections and ideas -- remain unknown. Arriving at the moment Jerry gets out of jail, Peter may be Aggie's figment. Or she may be his, or perhaps neither Jerry nor Peter exists in the forms she's seeing.

Whether Aggie is herself a product of particular horrors -- whether she's watched too much television, absorbed her own lost child into herself, or believes terrorists mean to invade Oklahoma the very second they get their chance -- also remains unknown. Wholly metaphorical and wholly literal at once, she's condemned to an apocalyptic, distractingly bizarre finale, as her motel room is completely insulated in aluminum foil and Peter teeters about, his face swollen and bloodied from self-performed tooth pullings. Gazing on his horrific face, she lets loose her story, the many pieces of conspiracy and fear that make the world go now. It's nutty and awful and not so compelling as the film's previous, now remarkably subtler hour. But Aggie's story, so utterly not hers, so much a mishmash of "stuff" she's been told and heard, is plausible, suddenly, to her.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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