Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cold in July (2014)

This film has been dogging me for months. It's shown up at a couple of  festivals, it had ton of press screenings, special members screenings at the IFC Center and a theatrical run damn near close to my house but I never got to it.

Worse yet it's been on IFC in Theaters service so seeing it wouldn't cost me a dime but I still never watched until tonight.

Cold in July is the story of Richard Dane (Michael C Hall), a good family man who kills an intruder in his house. This sets him on a bloody path as the dead man's father (Sam Shepard) comes looking for revenge and what he thinks he knew begins to get upended.

(This is going to be a less than detailed discussion because I don't want to spoil anything)

All hail Jim Mickle a wonderful director who manages not to repeat himself with  every film. Yes he deals with dark subjects, crime, vampires, cannibalism, and other nasties in his films, but he always manages to upend the apple cart and your expectations by taking things in another direction. Say what you will about the finished products, I for one will be happy even to sit through his failures since it means he's trying to do something unexpected.

To be perfectly honest I'm mixed about the film. To me it's very good, but it never quite reaches the super heights that many people seem to say it reaches. Don't get me wrong it's a wonderful modern updated noir, but its very good not really great.

For me the problem with the film comes from two places, one expected and one unexpected.

The first thing that kind of lessens the film is that the film is right on the line of form over content. Yes, noir very often is form over content, but at the same time, the reds and blues in the lighting scheme, the electronic music (which is quite good) and the deep meaningful silences make the film seem at times like Mickle is trying a tad too hard.

The other problem with the film has to do with the source material. While I have not read this particular Joe R Lansdale book, I have read a bunch of them. I've also read a great deal of his comic work, and a lot of his short stories. I say this because the problem with Lansdale's work is that stripped of his words, stripped of his control his stories don't always work.  Somehow I have the feeling that the book reads so much better.

I remember back in my Barnes and Noble and heavy comic book reading days trying to explain one of Lansdale's stories to someone in the break room.  I had discovered Lansdale through his comic work and was reading his stories when I happened upon them.  I'm explaining the story I was reading to this co-worker who was kind of staring at me as if to go yea right. When I realized that my description wasn't getting me anywhere I handed them the book and said- "read that piece there". Bells went off and lights came on as the person realized with Lansdale it's all in the prose.

Again this is not to say that the film is bad, its simply to say it's not the neo-noir classic that some people have labeled it.

Should you see it?

If you like you're crime dramas tense with a side order of bloody and just a dash of sleaze by all means. Personally I had a hell of an evening sitting on the couch watching it with a big bowl of popcorn.

And if you can see it on a big screen, like at Fantasia on Monday, do so. This plays better without real life intruding on it.

Chocko was at the opening night in New York at the IFC Center when Michael C Hall, Don Johnson and the director dropped in for an abbreviated Q&A. The report and video can be found here.

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