Cold in July Review – Payback’s a B*tch!


Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici (screenplay), Joe R. Lansdale (novel)

Stars: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw

cold_in_july_ver2


Release date: May 23, 2014

 Distributor: IFC Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The atmospheric visuals.

Worst part: The undercooked sub-plots. 

My screening of crime-thriller Cold in July was a precious and disarming experience. Sitting alongside my mother, several distractions reared their ugly heads before the lights dimmed and the movie reached its first frame. It’s strange whenever a movie instantly immerses you in its magic. The distractions fade away, and the narrative’s cinematic aura introduces itself willingly and charmingly. After the opening frame (part of a spectacular first scene), Cold in July fills its quarrels and catastrophes with a revolver’s worth of bullets.

Michael C. Hall.

With a dynamic story and engaging characters riding off into the sunset, this crime-thriller addresses the best and worst aspects of its ever-expanding genre. With new additions kicking their way through our doors each year, the revenge-thriller is hurriedly becoming a worn-out concept. In fact, recently, Blue Ruin roared its satirical and visceral sound at an unsuspecting film festival crowd. Here, the genre’s stripped-back nature is in full effect. The movie, not one to shoot second, delivers major questions before and after lighting up the screen with bullets, blood, and bad deeds. Intriguingly, to describe the plot, I may have to reach into the deep, dark recesses of my soul. This crime-thriller kicks off with a bang. With an intruder rummaging through his house, polite citizen Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) takes the law into his own hands. After blowing the intruder’s brains out, Richard watches on in horror as his actions ripple across town. Tested by his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw), and their child, Jordan (Brogan Hall), this simpleton craves for everything to go back to normal. However, this act of self-defence yields severe consequences for our lead character. As the victim’s disgruntled father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is released from prison, Richard watches over his family and home. Following through with its premise, masculinity, right vs. wrong, and gun worship are given as much credit as the lead actors.

C. Hall and Sam Shepard.

The premise – relying on charm and subtlety to push it forward – is certainly an interesting one. With revenge-thrillers making their mark on the transformer-and-superhero-ridden cinematic landscape, the little guy is making his mark over the big boys surrounding him. Okay, enough with the metaphors! I’m here to discuss Cold in July in a sincere and serious fashion. However, with something so delicious and gritty gracing our screens, it’s difficult not to notice its overt cheese factor. From the first few scenes onward, in which the town’s tasteless inhabitants tell it the way they see it, this story delves head-long into its most discomforting conceits. Cold in July tracks its characters, as its familial drama quickly reaches breaking point. With Ben swearing revenge, paranoia builds upon the already bizarre narrative. Echoing Cape Fear‘s intensifying structure, this guessing game rolls through the small-town setting with thunderous momentum. However, shockingly, this conflict only takes up the first third. The first third, housing Richard and Ben’s cat-and-mouse game, delivers more tension-fuelled moments and standard story beats than expected. The narrative then takes a turn for the kooky, as certain revelations alter Richard and Ben’s vicious battle. Taking on goons and genre tropes, this crime-drama lovingly transitions into a fiery western. Aided by War hero turned private investigator Jim Bob Luke(Don Johnson)’s kooky introduction, the movie’s second-half turns bolster an already arresting revenge-thriller.

“Are you really my father?” (Freddy (Wyatt Russell), Cold in July).

Don Johnson.

Upping the ante throughout the tight 110-minute run-time, director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) understands the benefits and limitations of the genre he’s playing in. Influenced by Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Drive, Mickle honours these significant game-changing features and directors throughout this alluring thrill-ride. Matching sickeningly dark twists with blackly comedic jabs, his efforts deliver gut-wrenching surprises and moral quandaries. Clinging onto Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, Mickle and fellow screenwriter Nick Damici (also starring in a key role) occasionally veer into cloying obstacles. Several sub-plots, from the intrinsically important to the mildly distracting, are left wholly unresolved. By story’s end, questions and answers face off inside the viewer’s swirling mindset. Mickle’s feature, if anything, follows through on its promise to stick by Texas’ good ol’ fashioned timeliness. With certain settings becoming drenched in sleaze and sweat, the visuals strike up an unusual concoction of filth, degradation, and blood. Tracking our leads through strange situations, the cinematography is worth the admission cost. Slightly off-kilter, certain camera angles and movements heighten the tension. With a John Carpenter-like score upping the stakes, the movie’s 80s-era vibe comes close to tripping this meticulous story. Gracefully, the movie’s organic performances push this crime-thriller over the edge. In this hard-edged role, C. Hall’s adds tenacity and liveliness to every scene. Following his character, the story jumps whenever he does. In addition, Shepard and Johnson simultaneously parody and pay homage to their wonder years.

Overcoming the corny one-liners, gaping plot-holes, and obvious homages, Cold in July puts its foot down at opportune moments. Setting up several intriguing sub-plots and motivations, the first half pays off significantly more so than the second. However, despite these mild complaints, this crime-thriller eventually comes through. Unlike most modern movies, Cold in July is surprisingly honest about its best and worst qualities.

Verdict: A taut and intriguing crime-thriller

Trailer Trash – The Expendables 3 Official Trailer


expendables3-poster1-2In 2010, action-hungry superstar Sylvester Stallone gave us a taste of his excessive lifestyle. Surrounded by action heroes, explosions, and bland one-liners, The Expendables became a commercial hit in the vein of Planet Hollywood, the National Rifle Association, and your average strip club. However, eerily resembling a set of testicles, this testosterone-charged roller-coaster rubbed critics and pop-culture the wrong way. However, in 2012, The Expendables 2 upped the ante. Quality wise, it was vastly superior to the original. Sadly, it didn’t elevate the series’ reputation.

This year, Stallone and co. aim to please every being on this big, blue marble. Looking back on the first two with regret, this-and-last-century’s action stars are, at the very least, trying to make a different type of Expendables venture. Ridding this sequel of CGI blood, useless cameos, and irritating jokes, the style and tone have been drastically altered. Bred by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), The Expendables 3 sticks to this genre’s roots. With explosions, fist-fights, and wrinkled facades covering the screen, this trailer makes everything look somewhat authentic. From the get go, we see a train being turned into junkyard scrap-metal by our arthritis-ridden supermen. Ironically, their target is a jail-ridden Wesley Snipes. Giving this instalment a chance, this trailer gets off to a promising start.

Here, we also see some significant upgrades from the first two. Adding gravitas to this witless and brash franchise, newcomers Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer boost this instalment’s gargantuan potential. Sadly, Ford makes room to make fun of Jet Li’s height. Seriously, why would ANYONE pick on this martial-arts master? However, this sequel’s purpose rings true. Kidnapping the Expendables’ younger additions, Mel Gibson’s bad-guy character delivers some bite for this preposterous series. Beyond this, the trailer may be delivering the movie’s better moments. It could end up as a momentous disappointment. Then again, we’ve already sat through the first one. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


Tom Conyers (Director) Interview – Working-class Cinephile


Australian filmmaker Tom Conyers.

At 2012’s Revelation Perth Film Festival, I got the spectacular chance to chat with Victorian Filmmakers Mark White and Tom Conyers. These two, promoting their new flick The Caretaker, were as approachable and professional as possible. So, a couple of years later, I took it upon myself to get in touch with them to chat about their past, present, and future successes. Conyers, the director, was lauded for using Victoria’s searing landscapes to his advantage. Building an influential bottle film, Conyer’s style brought a tight-knit cast and crew together for this explosive genre event. Recently, I caught up with Conyers to talk about the movie, his career, and the places he’s going next.

How did you begin your career in film-making?

I wouldn’t call where I’m at as having a career in filmmaking, more a residual existence, but I’ve always been interested in the craft, from way back as a kid making super 8 movies.

Where did the idea of the caretaker come from?

I was trying to think of a cheap script. ‘The Caretaker’ is basically four people in a room with a vampire. We were able to make it a lot more cinematic than that with great locations, by shifting much of the action to the outdoors, and putting in a few scenes with extras, though. I also wanted to try to bring up issues that aren’t usually the preserve of genre films. To me ‘The Caretaker’ is about domesticity. Whether the house is always a home. Is marriage something that must be sanctified in a church or whether it can exist as an idea between couples. I wanted to look at less salutatory aspects of Australian culture, particularly to do with masculinity. And to invert the idea of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold into domesticity, as anyone will understand who’s seen how the film ends. Even the vampire is domesticated, being let out like a cat at night. One of my favourite plays is ‘The Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen and I think that fed into the film somehow.

Were your inspirations/ideas by the current popularity of vampires in any way?

I wouldn’t say I’ve religiously followed vampires. My favourite vampire novel would be ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu. Very subtle, which it had to be for the time. In terms of vampire films, ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Martin’ are my two favourites. And they’re quite old now. So I wasn’t terribly aware of the current trends.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

It mostly came together pretty well despite great obstacles. I feel I got about 70% of the film I wanted, and the rest I can live with!

What was it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s production?

There was good and bad. The depressing thing is that not only does a vast proportion of the public and critics write off Australian films, but so too do many actors and crew working on them. It means that making an independent film is just one long torturous uphill battle. There were a handful of people we worked with both in front of the camera and behind it who were great, and there have been some really supportive champions of the film since. But Australian films are never going to really thrive till there is better support at home. Which is a shame, because there seem to be independent films getting made all the time in this country but most people wouldn’t know it. I don’t know why the ABC doesn’t set up a channel like the Indigenous one they’ve now got, but devoted exclusively to homegrown, independent content. It might just be that Australian film generally fails because no one gets to see it. The problem with this stupid world where protectionism has been deemed a dirty word, where the market is left to decide what lives and dies, is that instead of the greater choice and lower prices this purportedly offers, instead we are left with monopolies dictating the publics’ tastes with increasingly homogenous and overpriced fair. But that’s how this dumb world works. ‘The market, the market.’ Likes it’s this living thing we have no choice but to be in thrall to.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

The food, the mice, the skepticism were the low points. The high point was just the thrill of making a feature film finally, and working with those people who were enthused and doing a great job.

How did you create the visual effects and set designs?

In terms of visual effects, we tried to do as much in-camera as possible and then enhanced things later on computer. But the real impressive computer graphics were done in Brazil by a friend of mine, Verginia Grando, and her team. The sets were put up and taken down and redressed in record time by the producer Mark White and set-dressing duo Jane Cherry and Jessica Moran.

How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

We took a year editing the film. We’d probably do it much faster if we had it over again. But because you’re feeling your way in the dark, you make mistakes like having your sound files in the wrong format and discovering you need to recode them and so on. Plus we had one big continuity problem. One of the actors in the film doesn’t have any costume changes. He’s in the same gear from start to finish. No one was really watching his continuity but the actor bizarrely kept rolling his sleeves up and down!

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I don’t know. I suppose genre films are appealing to the independent filmmaker because people will still watch them even if marquee names aren’t attached. The genre crowd generally seems less snobbish. I’ve seen some really good independent dramas and comedies that just don’t get a look in at all because no one knows any of the actors in them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

There are almost no advantages. There are almost an overwhelming number of disadvantages. I’m still trying to think of the advantages.

What is your next project?

I have multiple projects. Whether any come to fruition is another matter. But they are in all sorts of genres and styles. I’m taking to a few people, and there are a few people doing their best to make some of them real, but we’ll see. I won’t believe I’m making another film till the first day on set and it’s too late for investors to pull their money out.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

I think it’s become a lot cheaper to make a good-looking film these days. I starting out making 16mm shorts and the cost of the film stock, processing and telecine was exorbitant. Our whole budget for ‘The Caretaker’ would probably have gone on those three things if we hadn’t been able to shoot digital. But while digital has been a godsend in one way, it also means people can copy your work without any degradation in quality. Making money out of movies for the independent filmmaker still seems like an uphill battle.

Official website: The Caretaker


 

 

Mark White (Actor/Producer) Interview – Diving In Fang First


Actor/producer Mark White.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet, and chat extensively with, actor/producer Mark White. At the Revelation Perth Film Festival, his latest feature The Caretaker was on display for critics and cinema-goers to take in. The movie, dropping a bunch of ordinary people in a vampiric apocalypse, pushes the very best of Australian genre cinema to the edge. With a restrained budget, cast, and crew on offer, the production was lauded as being valuable and intrinsic to the Australian film industry. Calling Victoria home, Mark White graciously agreed to an interview about his motivations, the feature, and everything concerning the industry today.

How did you begin your career in film-making ?

IT WAS A VERY FLUID PROCESS FOR ME. AS A DANCE STUDENT I TOOK ALL THE TELEVISION COMMERCIALS AND BIT PARTS I COULD GET TO HELP KEEP A ROOF OVER MY HEAD. OVERR THE YEARS THE WORK BECAME MORE SOPHISTICATED AND I BEGAN TO GRASP THE VAST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEATRE AND RECORDED MEDIA, AND THE VERY DIFFERENT TYPES AND INTENSITY OF PERFORMANCE FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. AS MY DANCE SKILLS DEVELOPED OPPORTUNITIES TO CHOREOGRAPH AROSE, INTRODUCING ME TO PRODUCTION. AT THAT TIME I WORKED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY WITH SILVER-SCREEN AND JEFF DIXON BEGAN TO ASK ME TO CAST UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS. IVE HAD NO FORMAL TRAINING AT ALL.

As producer, how did you finance The Caretaker?

INDIE FILM IS ABOUT AD TOUGH AS IT GETS. I CAN YELL YOU THAT IT IS EASIER TO RAISE $20 MILLION THAN IT IS TO RAISE $200 THOUSAND. I’M CONSTANTLY STUNNED BY THE PERCENTAGE OF ARTLESS CRAP COMING OUT OF THE BIG MONEY END OF THIS INDUSTRY. EASY COME EASY GO I GUESS. I BEGIN EVRY INDEPENDENT FILM, BY BEGINNING! THERE WAS NO MONEY AT ALL. SO WE PULLED IN A FEW FAVOURS, ASSEMBLED A SKELETON CREW HIT THE ROAD TO MAKE THE TRAILER FOR THE FILM. IN MY OPINION THAT IS THE WAY TO GO. SHOW POTENTIAL BACKERS WHAT IT IS GOING TO BE, THE STYLE AND FEEL, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY….THAT YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU SAY! PEOPLE SAW THE TRAILER AND WROTE US CHECKS. THE FIRST THREE PEOPLE WE SHOWED IT GAVE US $345,000. I DONATED FOUR YEARS TO THE PROJECT AS WELL AS SHAVING COSTS BY ACTING – IN REAL TERMS, THAT REPRESENTS A MINIMUM OF $1 MILLION, AND THE DIRECTOR’S CONTRIBUTION WOULD BE THE SAME. THIS IS WHAT CAM BE SO MISLEADING ABOUT INDIE FILM. THE REAL COST IF YOU INCLUDE THE PRODUCER/STAR/WRITER/DIRECTOR/EDITOR ETC WOULD BE CLOSER TO $3 MILLION.

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

I’LL BE FRANK. THE VAST BULK OF AUSSIE FILMS THIS SIZE NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY, OFTEN SHELVED WITHOUT BEING COMPLETED. THEN IF YOU GET THERE IT’s DAMN TOUGH TO GET AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTORS AND AGENTS TO CONSIDER YOU. THE CARETAKER IS IN THE UK, NORTH AMERICA, CANADA, JAPAN, SPAIN, GERMANY AND MORE…PRETTY MUCH EVERYWHERE, EXCEPT AUSTRALIA. NOT ONE DISTRIBUTOR WAS INTERESTED. WHILE IT’s NOT EXCLUSIVE TO AUSTRALIA, THERE IS A GATEKEEPER MENTALITY IN MOST ARTS COMMUNITIES HERE, SO THAT INSTEAD OF ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTING THE TENACITY OF DYI NEWCOMERS AND EMERGING TALENT THEY ARE OFTEN IGNORED

You not only produce but play an important character in the film, what is it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s conception?

EXHAUSTING. I WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED PERFORMER BY TWENTY YEARS AT LEAST. IN ADDITION OF COURSE ITS MY DUTY AS PRODUCER TO INSURE THAT PRODUCTION ORBITS MY PERSONA IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PROTECT THE DIRECTOR AND HIS VISION. IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THE ACTORS NEVER FELT THAT THEY WERE FILMING A SCENE WITH THE BOSS I HAD TO REDESIGN MY PRODUCER ROLE INTO ONE MORE PLIANT…NO DOWN TIME.

How did/do you distribute your films?

AS YOU’D BE AWARE. THE INDUSTRY IS AT THE MERCY OF SUCCESSIVE REVOLUTIONS IN MEDIA TECHNOLOGY AND INTERACTIVITY. ANYONE DISTRIBUTING FILM WITHIN PIRACY BEING FRONT AND CENTRE IN THEIR STRATEGY WILL FAIL. SO GIVING A DISTRIBUTOR NEARLY HALF OF YOUR REVENUE WHEN THE FILM IS ON EVERYONE’s COMPUTER BEFORE THE RELEASE DATE AINT GONNA CUT IT. THIS WAS PROBABLY THE LAST FILM THAT I WOULD DISTRIBUTE TRADITIONALLY. THAT SAID, THERE WAS NOTHING TRADITIONAL ABOUT OUR PROCESS. RANDOMS SUBMITTING UNSOLICITED FILMS TO DISTRIBUTORS IS SIMPLY NOT DONE. BUT YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN EHAT YOU DO, AND CONVEY THAT BELIEF. WE HAD THREE SOLID OFFERS FOR DISTRIBUTION AND A GLOBAL AGENT WITHIN A MONTH OF COMPLETION.

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES OF STARTING SO YOUNG AND GROWING UP IN THE BUSINESS IS A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ARTIST AND AUDIENCE. A STRONG AND GROWING FAN BASE IS AN INDICATION THAT YOU ARE MOSTLY GETTING YOUR JOB RIGHT. NOT PERFECT, BUT RIGHT. ALSO, NOW MORE THAN EVER WE NEED THE FAN BASE TO VALUE THE FILM, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM TORRENTED IT. THE FUTURE OF THIS RELATIONSHIP WILL RELY ON THE END USER CHOOSING TO GIVE THE PRODUCER MONEY.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

DIFFICULT. WITHOUT THE MANPOWER AND CAPITAL FOR A SUSTAINED BLAST TO ALL AVENUES OF SOCIAL MEDIA IT IS DIFFICULT TO REACH CRITICAL MASS. SO, AGAIN WE HAD TO DO WHAT WE COULD AND THEN LEAVE OURSELVES IN THE HANDS OF THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY. FB FANS ARE JOW GROWING OF THEIR OWN ACCORD, MANY OF THEM TORRENTED THE FILM, BUT DECIDED IT WAS WORTH SUPPORTING.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

HAVING A HANDFUL OF LAUREL LEAVES TO PLASTER OVER THE FRONT OF YOUR MATERIAL IS A GOOD ATTENTION GRABBER iIN TERMS OF BOTH AGENTS/DISTRIBUTORS AND AUDIENCE. I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT FESTIVALS. ONE NEEDS TO BE AWARE OF HOW MANY COPIES OF THE FILM ARE OUT THERE. IM CERTAIN SOME OF THE SHONKIER ‘FESTIVALS’ ARE NOT MUCH MORE THAN A FRONT FOR PIRATE BAY. WHILE THE A LISTS ARE A QUAGMIRE OF NEPOTISM. AS FOR THE B AND C LIST…IF YOU ARENT CERTAIN YOULL TAKE OUT BEST FEATURE, WHY BOTHER? THE EXPECTED ANIMOSITY BETWEEN MAINSTREAM AND ALTERNATIVE FESTIVALS OFTEN MEANS LIMITED UPWARD NETWORK MOBILITY. IF YOURE NOT GOING TO WIN, DONT PUT IT IN.

What is your next project?

HAHAHA. THAT WOULD BE TELLING! BUT I CAN SAY THAT IT IS CONFIRMED AND FULLY FUNDED AT MANY TIMES THE BUDGET OF THE LAST. AND THAT I WILL BE WORKING WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR ONCE AGAIN. I ANTICIPATE THAT WE WILL HAVE COMPLETED PRODUCTION BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

EVERYTHING IN THE INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS. TECHNOLOGY….ON ONE SIDE AS RELENTLESS WAVES OF TECHNICAL REVOLUTION CRASH OVER THE INDUSTRY IT GETS EASIER TO DO MORE FOR LESS, WHICH IS GOOD, BECAUSE ON THE OTHER SIDE-THOSE SAME WAVES CRASH OVER THE MARKET AND MAKES IT EASIER TO TAKE EVERYTHING AND PAY NOTHING. TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW CELLPHONE CAMS WILL HAVE THE SCOPE AND CAPACITY FOR FEATURES. WE HAVE ENTERED A PERIOD WHERE ALMOST ALL THE TECHNICAL HARDWARE FROM EVERY DEPARTMENT IS REDUNDANT BY THE END OF EACH PROJECT, WITH BETTER, CHEAPER VERSIONS WAITING FOR THE NEXT.

Official website: The Caretaker