Friday, May 23, 2014

Jim Mickle's COLD IN JULY: It's a nasty, macho world we live in, boys and girls. Also a tad fake.

With COLD IN JULY, the  team of Jim Mickle (writing & directing, shown below) and Nick Damici (writing) continues its simultaneous ascent/descent. The budget grows larger and the cast starrier, while the movie's credibility level continues to sink. From Stake Land -- among the best modern zombie movies and a genuinely scary and involving one, rather than the often livelier quasi- ([Rec] 3) or full-out (Stalled) comedic versions -- through their remake of the original and better Mexican cannibal tale, We Are What We Are, we now arrive at this new film, opening today, which you must take a very large leap of faith to buy into some of its ridiculous coincidences and unbelievable actions.

This is too bad, because much of the initial story seems gripping and relatively original for this revenge/thriller/
family-in-jeopardy genre. Further, where it goes is exactly not where you'd imagine, which makes it all the more fun. Rather than give away most of the plot -- which many of our reviewers have already so helpfully managed to do -- let me just point out that when our hero (a nicely befuddled and frustrated Michael C. Hall, below), an utter novice at what he has decided to do, is tailing, rather obviously, a carload of dirty cops, they don't seem to notice. Hall's car get awfully close to the cop's car (at some point there's no other traffic around. Still nobody notices).

Further, when those cops leave a living, breathing man drugged out and spread across the railroad tracks in front of a soon-to-be oncoming train, they don't bother to wait the minute or two for that train to arrive to make sure their dirty deed is completed. If you buy into this kind of nonsense, you'll accept most anything a movie-maker cares to throw your way. (The film does take place in Texas, where the citizens sometimes seem dumber than many of us are used to, if that's any excuse.)

OK. So this is indeed fake, but that first-rate cast -- in addition to Mr. Hall, we have Sam Shepard (above, left) at his quietly menacing best and Don Johnson, making the kind of movie-stealing comeback that should give his career a permanent kick in the pants -- may keep you somewhat enthralled, as will the plot twists and turns while the movie goes from one sub-genre to another and another and another until we come upon, yes, snuff film-making in one of the ugliest scenes I've witnessed on screen in my life (we're spared the gore, but the set-up is so awful and complete that there's no need for the bloodshed).

We're mostly in darkest film-noir/macho-man territory here, and though the movie tries to make a bit of fun out of this, it also manages to go ridiculously macho-sentimental at its conclusion, handing us yet another if-you-believe-this-you'll-buy-anything scene that ought to be short, swift, angry and ugly but instead drags on in its manipulative and stupid way until you want to scream, "Get this the fuck over with!" Well, it at least allows us men to feel all choked up over one of the three guys. Those of us, that is, who are not by then rolling our eyes.

Cold in July, which has been adapted by Mickle and Damici from the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, is one of those casually unthinking misogynist movies in which women exist to natter and annoy (like the Hall character's wife, played by Vinessa Shaw) or are around to provide sex or to be tortured and killed. Otherwise, it's all tight-lipped macho stuff, all the time. Well-photographed and edited, the film looks good and gets the surface exactly right. Below, where it counts, there's way too much bullshit.

The movie, from IFC Films and running 109 minutes, opened today in New York City at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas. Simultaneously, it's available via VOD. 

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