Sunday
Jun082014

Quick Thoughts: COLD IN JULY (2014)

The recent wave of eighties -nostalgia flicks has been a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we have people intentionally being lazy with just about everything, throwing some boobd and blood in, and saying it’s in the spirit of homespun horror yarns from days past. But then there are a few who actually try to “neon-ify” their films, giving it striking camerawork, a kicking score, and over-the-top stylized violence. Remember Drive? It was a bit too artsy for my tastes, but that movie screamed retro dammit! The music, the visuals, the violence; it was all there. It’s a bit unfair to compare that to the recently-released to limited theaters film Cold in July on that basis alone, because the two films are very distinct from each other.

 

Cold in July is based on the (rather phenomenal) book of the same title by Joe R. “He Of Bubba-Ho-Tep Fame” Lansdale. It’s directed by Jim Mickle, who’s received acclaim for two of his earlier works, Stake Land (which I found to be surprisingly good, but not the best) and We Are What We Are (which was loaded with glorious atmosphere, but I found it to be pretty dull). Regardless, I was confident this was going to be Mickle’s big accomplishment. The one thing that I felt suffered in those two movies were the plots and how they progressed; I felt they just weren’t captivating enough. But since this was adapted from a (stupendous) novel (seriously, read that shit), I was confident that the great story partnered with Mickle’s out of this world visual style was going to be a grand slam in every way.

 

Ehhh...not exactly. It might be because I watched the movie in such close proximity with reading the book, but I couldn’t help comparing it to the novel and how, like We Are What We Are, slow it ended up being. My main gripe is what made the cut from page to screen and what didn’t make the cut. What didn’t make the cut? Just about every exciting fight/action sequence in the first ¾ of the book. What made the cut? Everything else. In the end, that’s what made me leave the theater with a funny taste in my mouth. I don’t know if, given this is Mickle’s first action-y movie, he didn’t feel comfortable shooting action scenes so decided to cut them altogether or what, because if those scenes were inserted and filmed perfectly, this movie might be a 10/10. Even the grand climax wasn’t the payoff the build-up led me to believe was coming, even if it had some bona fide badass moments. Cutting certain action scenes also creates problems in the progression of the plot (at least compared to how things played out in the novel) and so they had to find an almost over-complicated way of delivering those plot elements effectively (can you tell I’m trying not to spoil it?), which just seemed silly to me.

 

But there’s still a truckload of praise to be dumped on this flick. The acting is nearly flawless, especially Don Johnson having a very good time as Jim Bob (granted, he is the best-written character). Michael C. Hall delivers a great turn from his usual psychotic Dexter role, but the best part is definitely his mullet-mustache killer combo. Sam Shepard does equally as great, even if his role doesn’t give him too much to do past the first third of the movie. Screenwriter Nick Damici, as with all the other Jim Mickle films, makes an appearance as Lt. Price, and I can’t help but love that guy whenever he’s onscreen. It’s gotta be that slick-as-all-hell stache of his that manages to out-stache Hall’s stache. Hall’s got him beat as far as hair goes, though; mullets always prevail. Speaking of, the 1989 setting is also done perfectly. You never feel bludgeoned with hyper-nostalgia (the only example of this is with a dated cell phone, but admittedly, it was pretty funny).

 

I must commend the director for making Cold in July visually astounding, but not so headache-inducingly over-the-top that it becomes an unwelcome distraction. The film’s filled with colorful eye candy, but it’s subtle enough where it doesn’t take you out of the movie, but you’ll definitely leave the theater with your eyeballs drooling. Or, crying. That’s the word. And then, my favorite part of the whole movie, the score. Delivered to us by Jeff Grace, whose work is comprised solely of indie fare (including those two other Mickle films), Cold in July has an utterly jaw-dropping soundtrack. It’s the kind of throbbing synthesizer track that will bring back fond memories of early Carpenter, and when mixed with the aforementioned visuals, it’s guaranteed to make you bleed out of your pores, but you won’t mind a bit. It also manages to fit Dynatron’s “Cosmo Black” into the mix...and if you haven’t heard that one...do so ASAP.

 

So those are my thoughts on Cold in July in a nutshell. Altogether, I will say I’m a little disappointed, since this was my most anticipated movie of 2014 after Her (stare all you want; that was a quality film), but that may be because of my expectations after that (marvelous) work of literature it’s based on. I will say the time to see it is now and at a movie theater, because having that score in surround sound and those visuals on a huge screen dulled the disappointment a bit. It just won’t be the same on home video, sadly. If I were to give it a rating, I’d want to say a 6/10, but with some time away rom the book (I do hate comparing the two), I’d probably say this is a 7/10 kind of movie. Even if it isn’t nearly as violent as Drive, I found it to be a lot more intriguing (the twisty plot remains unchanged, and is still a doozy no matter what). So take that for what you will. Definitely check it out, despite if you've read the boom or not. Don’t go in expecting a Bronson-esque shoot-em-up and you should be fine. Actually, given the ambitious story, striking visuals, ear-pleasing score, and reserved violence (it does get graphic when it wants to be), this actually has a lot in common with spaghetti westerns, with a healthy dose of genuine suspense thrown in. And with all those things combined, a movie simply cannot fail.

But there you have it: Cold in July. It’s a good, soothingly-retro time. Check it out at a theater near you, while it’s still around.

 

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