2014 has been a stellar year for independent/small budget films and you can add Cold in July to the list. I wasn’t familiar with director Jim Mickle, but his latest effort prompted me to check out some of his earlier work. Mulberry St is a horror/thriller that makes the most of it’s miniscule budget ($60,000) and Stake Land is a surprisingly solid post-apocalyptic vampire movie. Cold in July is his best film to date and it should garner him further acclaim.
The cast is excellent. Michael C. Hall stars, and Sam Shepard and Don Johnson both have tasty turns in a Texas-sized slab of pulp fiction. Mickle and longtime collaborator Nick Damici (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) wrote the script based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale. It starts with Richard Dane (Hall) accidentally killing an unknown intruder in his home before spiraling down an unpredictable path towards the unexpected. Dane’s efforts to protect his family take him to some dark places.
The acting is top-notch. It’s fun to see Hall play the anti-Dexter; a mullet rocking family man, out of his element playing with the bad guys. Sam Shepard is exceptional as the gritty father of the deceased seeking revenge. Don Johnson had a lot of fun with his character in Django Unchained, and he does the same thing here, stealing scenes in the process. Nick Damici makes his fourth appearance in a Mickle film and continues to be a positive force. Mickle’s direction is solid and not flashy, drawing you into the story. As it progressed I questioned Dane’s motivation. Is he still protecting his family or is there something else driving him?
Cold in July is dark, but it also has some unexpected humor. I plan on watching it again as a triple feature with the recent revenge thriller Blue Ruin, and the Coen brothers’ debut Blood Simple. I think they will pair well together and that’s a major complement to Jim Mickle and the talented cast.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Seth MacFarlane has a history of taking the easy route. I was a big fan of his during the first couple seasons of Family Guy, but I’ve since realized that he is never going to grow up and he just doesn’t have it in him to progress as an artist. I first realized this while viewing Blue Harvest and the other Family Guy parodies of the Star Wars movies. Given an entire universe to send up, MacFarlane skipped the witty satire, and fell back on crude humor as a crutch. A Million Ways to Die in the West is another example of MacFarlane flexing his muscle (as writer, director, and star) and showing the sophistication of a teenage boy.
The Good- Charlize Theron saves the movie in a role that is utterly likeable. The Bad– Seth MacFarlane (and his heavy eyeliner) should never have been given the title role. The dude just can’t act. Period. Someone should’ve said no. The Ugly– The never-ending string of fa’s- farting and falling. Every couple of minutes somebody is either farting or falling over. It’s lazy comedy and the movie is packed to the guild with both. There are poop, pee, and penis jokes galore and they tire out quickly. Underneath all the cum and excrement is a predictable, cliched story. This ain’t no Blazing Saddles.
It’s not all bad; if you throw a thousand jokes at the wall some of them are bound to stick. There’s a few fun cameos, and Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi have some funny bits. They play a couple that is waiting until marriage to have sexual relations together, the kicker is that she’s a prostitute. It’s comical at first, but the joke (and her vagina) is beaten to death over the course of the movie. Liam Neeson plays the villain and it’s one of his most forgettable performances.
Am I being unfair to Mr. Macfarlane? I don’t think so. He has all the opportunity in the world, but lacks class. His stint as host of the 2013 Oscars proved as much. Sometimes his jokes are borderline racist, and they don’t sound right coming from the well-to-do, white-bred, uppercruster. I used to expect more from him, but now I realize that Seth is going to keep farting his way to the bank and taking the easy route, as long as people are willing to pay for dumbed-down comedy. He should do a film with Sandler.
2 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Both films are currently playing in Houston:
Cold in July is playing at Sundance Cinemas. Today (Friday 5/30) @ 7 pm there is an intro, Q&A, and book signing with author Joe R. Lansdale.
A Million Ways to Die in the West is now in wide release.
Also playing in Houston. (Links to my reviews)
Million Dollar Arm– wide release
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