Cold in July : A Film Review

image Film Directed by Jim Mickle co-written with Nick Damici  Set in East Texas 1989

Guns make people bleed

Michael C. Hall takes the role of an East Texas small business owner who in this re-telling of a 1989 novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale goes by the name of Richard Dane in what is know in cinema lore as a neo noir film. He is a married man with a young son and one summer night at home they hear a noise which gets him up and armed with lethal effect as he sort of accidentally spreads the organs of the intruder over his sofa. Enter some musical homage later as the clean up commences. You would be a changed man (or woman) if something of that order happened to you and what bits is that , the metamorphic hyper sensation of the chemical change brought about in his veins and cerebral cortex.

The People

The Everyman is altered and some hobos come along for the ride though a you shouldn’t call Sam – take me seriously – Shepard that nor should you call Melanie Griffiths ex, coincidently recently split with Desperadoes Antonio Banderos. the early ex (twice over) Don Johnson hobos but character actors with leather soles and weathered hangdog hobo looks. This time Johnson either wants to upstage the other two dudes with a crimson Cadillac plated red bitch, as he strides around on his well kept frame like an Austin actor free on the road which in fact is a disguise for him as a private detective based in Houston. He turns in a gritty well thought performance only occasionally getting his jeans and rodeo shirt marked. Once a bit painfully but he often gets the best lines and is fastest to the point ensuring his own safety and that of anyone he takes into his confidence. The saving each other’s ass is a bit hokum, later in the film they have to look out for each other. For an atmosphere of parallel worlds and second identities this cosy ness is a bit fake given the dark arts, the violence which will unleash the more they uncover. The co writer takes a cosy role of bent trusty (not) cop. They also hook a few jokes into the works as, in common with this sort of movie replet with the bigger names they try a little comedy to ease our guilt in consuming this tarnished and grotesque unreality. The real world being vein rich in its gruesome violence.

The Unlikely Connections

Shepard is the father of the ‘apparent’ wasted human life taken by Hall. Suspenseful it is, as this narrative plays out and the hateful character of the apparent wasteful ones dad makes the Everyman’s family life a misery and his misplaced mission; the usual tale – I failed you in life son but I won’t fail you in death – is a kind of twisted logic given in many cinematic sorties.

Trio come together

Johnson, goes by the name Jim Bob, is called upon by his long time friend and fellow war veteran Ben when it occurs to Ben at Rich’s insistence. The story is plausible to Jim Bob and after a couple of days he returns with the wise shrewd head neither of the other two possess and marshals a plan. The three are thoroughly now into a whole different ball game and this crucial change targets us to figure each’s motives. The closeness of the Two veterans is obvious and underlined in the script.

Everyman

The whole Everyman character is the stick or twist fish out of water Rich persona. While making up the odd tale for Vinnessa who gets to act, shamefully for this consummate Everywoman Actor, who displays all the heartfelt emotion Rich keeps internalized and out of her view. she plays the role as one none the wiser but cutting him a bit of slack because Rich has become part of the man she hoped was inside. This due as earlier events were clearly real and close to terminal. She does know the cost just yet except reminds Rich of the ironmongery bill for the added house security!

Role supplanted

It shades out the lovely Vinnesa Shaw whose bit role as wife to the now differently mental used Rich. She could have had a thing or two to tell us about Richard that he didn’t know about himself. Richard happens to inwardly see fault in himself, not a proper male maybe, as this reality of killing someone has for him brought out the maleness and a violent side which both sexes are required to suppress and do so successfully as it is what progresses society and is the wish of God who empowers us to be peaceful human beings if only were able to.

Nature of violence

So many make contact with this vengance filled hysteria and irrationality. Of the nations the dangerous destroy the peace keepers. Look at the new fueled sectarian hatred created by the inflicted separatism brought about by Britain and the US in Iraq whose plan of maintaining separation was one Iraq was (like Northern Ireland) never going to solve with false representational Government and no strategic talking and restitution. The petrol cowboy claimants now at the forefront already with many stolen cash filled war chests have enough to start a new fascist regime. These people are the same as the Wests directors of Wars and they destroy their peoples futures, the future of Everyman, and Woman. They have taken myth as Northern Ireland, religiousity, and forgotten the truth claiming for their ‘people’ this revenge seen in this film as a pattern of deranged minds.

Faith

Without being too theologian it reminds me that Jesus in the Gospel found HIS knowledge of God the Father, HIS Father held not the flesh as the source but the knowledge within. This lesson even learnt by no less than Leo Tolstoy but left aside by the religiously reformed and well placed Karl Marx whose interpretation left narrow paths of forgiveness and no read consciousness implicit in the Word of God. History of … Vinessa would say he is very normal and a bit broody. His emotions are suppressed most of the time and yes I suppose he would be susceptible to auto suggestion if fearful and challenged since he doesn’t communicate that well with me (Vinessa) so it plays out as a neo noir with nods to Cronenberg and Tarintino.

Parallel Worlds and Words

It uncomfortably recalls Cronenburgs The History of Violence in terms of originality. The similarity begins with the Everyman figure Michael, in The History of Violence, Tom Stall played by Viggo Mortensen and his quiet life, living with lawyer wife played by Maria Bello and their two children in the town of Millbrook, Indiana. In self defence one night at his diner he kills two would be robbers. See any similarities so far? He becomes the hero as he has also saved lives and this turns around his own sense of self and his outward identity. Instead of taking on the enforcer role he is challenged by another hobo, this time replace Sam Shepard with menacing mysterious almost lookalikey Ed Harris. The psychology is the same if the responses somewhat different but it is a shoehorn half baked tale of immersive pandering to violence and this time it goes so far as to assert itself as being A HISTORY it is oven cooked rougher to the boil cold blooded derangement fulfilled for our sakes as a fictional tale. A fairly mediocre one at that as mister everyman (good cinema name) which has not moved the noir on to become a neo noir and is a thriller with frames cut and sprayed into disembodiment for effective squirm making from the safety of a cinema seat. We even have the change in directorial nudge courteously of the darkened night shots, well shot and framed detail, cinema period referencing and the new Motorola brick paying Jim Bob as a hokum in wonder of this great toy, the Cell. The director sets out to project cinema gore as tangible stuff, he lays on the second half what is tenderly acknowledged as ‘the truth’ in a video. Another branch of film making unacknowledged as fodder a skin away from the B movie genre. This in fact is tasteful sycophancy if not yet appreciated by the participants. One role is the appreciation. The three are therefore in a bind with the uncomfortable knowledge this other cinema fodder brings. This pivotal point is one of the memorable strikes hit by the actors. Michael C. Hall consistently the best actor, creating what is a superb role despite the neo noir imaginings, he has arrived in a new world which is familiar as deep down awareness now surfaces; he after all has been there himself and lightbulb moment, realises he has rejected the violence. This however is just the same and while trying to curtail any more premature deaths. Being in possession of this video knowledge is not a stroll in a mini cab around the A to Z of London’s streets but a perilous encounter with the Everyman village in East Texas. Life in the time of ghosts appearing in your life re-shaping Richs soul, unaccountably taking control but in a destructive way.

Two films

What we make of the early Ben father character who was in incarceration and having been released, visits the graveyard for the funeral and makes insinuations. “Nice family” kind of thing, with face pulling cartoon trigger happy go lucky kind of fellow, a bit of a hawk is not in the scope of the film anyway convincing despite it taking up the early cop chase (god forbid any suggestion the co-writer wanted frame time under trees in the pouring rain, shop visits, home visits – as he writes nothing in the later part nor explains, given his excursion what his shtik is) The Ben part is due to the script patchy but up Sams current wages street. Certainly the Ben character is the missing link which triggers Michael but need it have been so lingering on the (disappearing) cops antics. Join the mad and bad. Be resourceful and protective even if it hasn’t actually come across yet.

Pernickety Valley Finaghy East Texas

People in East Texas must get a bit browned off at this sort of caper and it is hot in summer, especially in July and dusty. There is also water and green gorgeous pastures peacefully flourishing there as a thing of beauty. Wise guys write songs and tend horses and talk hinges out in sweltering heat firing up refrigeration and air conditioning in a manner likely to cause mini climate changes but hell it blows over. It kind of is a straight jacket place with few visible sides. That is cinemas and media stereotyping denying other pioneering insights. A conspiracy can be sorted with jail or an electric chair or winging at democrats.

Conclusion 4####

This is a brave attempt at creating compelling narrative and drama around the neo noir crime and thriller Everyman through American eyes. It has pace, complexity, just believable connections, Hyde outcomes and straight jacketed stereotyping for the modern day B movie addictive movie goer. It is hot in July as we know and this film can be watched from the comfort of an air conditioned cinema. The QFT air conditioning works brilliantly, can be taken as July evening shock factor form as the outside evening cools and the evening lights near their on time. It is synthed with a modern score not overplayed and keeps your attention throughout and the Everyman character is carried off triumphantly by the abundance of nuanced and not so nuanced demands of this role. Of the others there is a lot to like about the Vinnessa Shaw character and the son even plays his part very well but it will be quite a few years before it is made known to him, we hope that the content is relatively cheerless violent provocative cinema.

At QFT. Friday 27 June through to Thursday 10 July 2014.

Enjoy summer cinema wherever you are.

John Graham

18 June 2014

Belfast

 

Asides

July is interesting I found out from a woman who is 87 this week. She has ambitions to last beyond 100 which she tells me is quite possible if you were born around July, she stresses this important wisdom, as she knows three old – her words not mine – biddies knocking on all about 103, 104 and having a good laugh at their joint good fortune. How many replacement parts they have I didn’t ask.

East Texas is not as tough as Finaghy so the old folk must be OK out there if born into Julys cold heat. Now it is cold bloc here referred to I take it. A pun in use I surmise.

Just when the business of film making is making headway in Northern Ireland our little backwater is described by Game of Thrones executives as a Game of Thorns with a prickly undercurrent of lameness at the cosmopolitan heart so the spiel from the likes of Arlene Foster as Director of Tourism and other spin topics is not convincing.

They are destroying the arts – a massive break for Northern Ireland Screen is one thing – but the actually cultural heart of this place is being choked at its creative springs. Along with Fracking, wrecking Lough Neagh, our coastline and the destruction of our city by more demolition of cosmopolitan buildings other cities would cry out for, the Assembly is without a currency of ideas.

It seems the Film industry is embracing the unreality as much as Everyman is aware and happy to elect such careerists. There is every prospect of Golf saving everything apparently and to have a British Open Golf tournament, no sooner than 2018!!! will only cost the loss of the last two holes, as they do not accommodate the grandstands on both sides as they are. The alternative is to, of course, no pun intended, make holes one and two the last two holes and keep the topography of the idiosyncrasy unsuitable final holes into the future we hope.

The course is precisely such an acclaimed one due to its foibles and a mulligan save is needed. Don’t be putting any money on Rory McIlroy to win it as he insists he is not a Links Golfer

Revised World Cup view. Brazil will come good and win beating Germany.

Happy days.

The Two Faces of January : A Film Review

imageThree people. Many faces.

The Two Faces of January.
Dir. Hossein Almani. 12a. 1hr 36mins.

Writers of a certain kind.
Missing from the large print in the Film release poster is the name Patricia Highsmith, the writer of the 1964 novel The Two faces of January which maybe points to insecurity on the publicist’s part knowing the novelist has a certain fixed clientele.
On Patricia Highsmiths part she followed in a tradition of modern female thriller writers, Daphne de Maurier, Agatha Christie and more recently P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell and Ruth Rendel all who liked a good cliffhanger and their readers liked being captured by intrigue. Patricia Highsmith also wrote The Talented Mr Ripleya.

Thriller writers sometimes favoured the heady salty air of exotic locations and following on from the renowned 1963 marriage of the Greek shipping magnate Aristotile Onnassis to Jackie Kennedy and the yacht and gold encrusted lifestyle that lay before the public Patricia Highsmith took up our curiosity of the people you might expect to be holidaying in Athens and the Greek islands, of their pursuits and reasons for being there. Made a change from the Philip Marlowe genre of crime fiction and thrillers with numerous nasty twists and turns.
In her novel the central pair meet up with a fellow American who, like them has his own reasons to be away from his homeland. Very little of it is to do with the wonders Greece has to offer. It is there merely a tool in their own complex refuge from whatever burden is in play that they are unable to face or deal with.

Ancient Mediterranean
The lengthy attraction of the Mediterranean climate was and is one of the wonders of the world. From Athens itself to the groups of islands, like Ios where Homer is buried with its Irish Over Seas manacle and it’s 365 plus churches crammed onto a small piece of paradise with clear blue waters and charismatic spring carpet of violets, to the Apollonian haunts of Naxos where Dionysus the god of fertility, wine and drama, a saintly trinity! worshipped, to the volcanic Santorini, to the island of three known identities, Mythilene, Lesbos or Kastros, to the 3000bc to 1100bc Minoan ruins of Knossos on Crete, home of the Minotaur, the islands were made to explore and dine on by the yachting set as well as the ferried tourist. This was a godsend of a place and time for any novelist to turn up highly imaginative exotic and adventurous drama.

While the book has to set up the atmosphere of locations, the harbour side tavernas, the ever present antiquity, the opulence of some quarters and the pace of life, the film drenches you from the get go with the entrancing images in which the characters pop up. The laidback relaxed anonymity of the tourist locations suits it seems, the main characters, Colette the breezy Kirsten Dunst, all attractive, refreshing and as intoxicating as a mint julep only a permanently sustaining delicacy. Her husband Chester, Viggo Mortensen is onto his third marriage and this one might be for keeps, foolish not to, as his chain smoking and whiskey chasing lifestyle might in any case make it his last marriage anyway and so he hopes it will endure. They are a loved up union and clearly react to each other’s take on life on an equal footing. Adventure seems a real driver for both. There is a considerable difference in age also.

When they encounter the young tour guide Rydal, Oscar Issacs they establish a rapport almost instantly and hook up on a firm footing to share each other’s compainionship as fellow Americans. It suits both parties and the not so impressionable Chester has his guard up straight away and marks up one initial day to try out the tourist and tour guide thing. He has his reasons for getting into the tourist mindset, if only to actually become one and take whatever is on his mind off it, take stock, forge an experience for himself and Collette.

So there you have it a chance encounter has set up the intrigue of what these people are really about. Apart from being here as opposed to the lesser choice of elsewhere, it is not a bad place to wander into this dilemma. The scenery and old buildings, the luxury of Grand living are there. Chester fills ashtrays in the swankIest joints and has the beautiful wing woman Collete as his dearest and adored partner.

This aperitif, the luxurious quarters, the random choices made of itinerary are a prelude to the anticipated twists within this fortuitous situation, one that changes once the engagement of Rydal is in play. A flick of the pen and Patricia Highsmith alters things. Rydal does a routine rip off routine when it comes to trading with the locals as is nothing more than a boost to his earnings. It also is a racket most seem to engage in as far as the relatively rich tourist is concerned.

We come hopeful of well worked narrative and jeopardy and are not in the least going to be disappoInted. They did things differently when this film was set. 1964. Apart from smoking a great deal, they had no double jeopardy of late night clubs, cheap alcohol and decibels piled high. No overcrowded streets. This was old Athens and from Piraeus port the ferries docked and transported all and sundry to and from the islands.
The only thing that struck me as unreal being the efficiency of the seafaring and transport. Taxi cabs were as usual cash devouring and fares etc. ad hoc but they were clean and shiny and the city had a sense of deserved pride. Waiters, (no waitresses) were not hard to find and while the writer/director did not introduce any discourse of anxiety it was probably because the tables the companions were usually at tipped generously. Part of the Greek dining experience is that it is expected to be laid back.
There is also a Greek relaxed engagement when Ouzo and wine loosen the atmosphere. As far as lively entertainment, well it is also relaxed and normal as you would expect culturally. Today is totally different so this period piece enjoys another set of standards.

It packs a punch
In Athens the two faces of Chester become quickly apparent and it begins an hectic journey of suspense, disbelief, emotion and sequences cleverly conceived and delivered by screenwriter, director, Hossein Amini whose mix of close ups and action, dark interiors, period exactness – in an early scene, was the terrace taverna of the Grandest part of Athens so probably indecently correct in every detail, table lights instead of candles and fine unrusticated furniture. Indecently correct and opulent.

Oscar Issacs has his work cut out from the get go also and given his lust which outmanoeuvres any money advancement to be gained from his rich commisioner, he is kept sufficiently on his toes to know he should chose his footsteps carefully.
Both men do not trust each other and at a level up from normal tourist mistrust.

There is movement of location and some Greek islands feature.
The season is indeterminate but for a ‘January’ it looks a shade too unshady.
There are a few other destinations in line and this only reinforces the period atmosphere and the continuity of life, the pace pre Visa card, pre backpack and scooter, pre packaged, pre bucket shop holidays. Pre Troika and bad, really bad banking and governments juicing its public to pay for it and its cohorts corruption. This was religious, (generalising) flat capped Greece, marine and agrarian, getting on with its gift of hospitality and their loyal attachment to the ancient, almost intrinsic essence of their intriguing heritage and present lifestyle.
It is also an irreversible time never to be replicated except in books and works of drama.

The Two faces of January
If anything the drama we encounter is relativly off centre and not ground breaking or world changing. It is a tight drama which has nerves (for the more sensitive among you!) jangling befitting the writers compulsion to surprise. They knew also how to tailor, making suits tough, as Chester’s lasts a very long time and seems to have been constructed by James Bond’s apparel maker.
Heavy grade linen compressed and refined Irish super stock?!

I was going to mention there was no mention of January and just did.
This allusion seems to fit the story and the film title very loosely.
The purpose of the title, I have not read the book, could be intrinsically linked with the following if you wanted to extend credit to the authors ultimate framework which does merit much credit and should and does offer cunning facility to the story.

The Two faces of January is far removed from the pace of mainland Europe than we are used to imagining but such is the adroitness of the director, and the cinematographer in nimbly framing this past era it instantly evokes the Patricia Highsmith attentiveness to the crucial isolation found in the narrative. She gives the characters narrow choices in this Mediterranean cluster by virtue of its many faces.

There is a clear play on words in the title with the Roman diety Janus, Janus-faced having the implicit recognition of two contradictory aspects found.
Who could that possibly be?!
Being an Aquarian (January) I am quite upset at the notion and contest it vigorously but on the other hand … !
Given the Roman habit of creating Saints; a miracle took place recently in Rome when the JP2 and the other one were welcomed into the fold, St Januaris may have fallen short of the administered deity we imagine is necessary. Men make Saints and ignore God’s teaching.

Viggo Mortesen is convincing and consistently unpredictable, playing this part with a restraint and affability true to his character and displays some wry confidence belying the stacking changes that occur. A well constructed, hard won confidence ‘attribute’ of the personality acted out. His concerns are not helped by a growing worry he is being challenged in the relationship stakes by his new companion and what he might have in mind.
He might not get a mint julep but having access to whiskey helps his mind organise and wipe out temporary concerns. Things always change.

Kirsten Dunst plays a classic companion with little misjudgement in evidence save her unstated desires, which makes her slightly unreadable and occasionally her fragility surfaces and Kirsten Dunst gets to create a little more depth to the simplified characterisation she has to deal with, alongside the evolving story dominated by the intensity Viggo Mortensen gets to play out. Patricia Highsmith maybe was not interested in framing bigger and complex detail not wanting it to get in the way of a basically formulaic adventure story. Only sometimes does it conspire to give Collette more memorable and provocative feminine traits in grabbing custody of events.

Conclusion.
#### 4

This is an excellent classic thriller piece with a tight narrative. With hooks and little space to manouvre it creates a tension all the way through with fluctuating and never straight moral choices impinging. Certain fixed positions are taken for self preservation reasons mainly and the Mediterranean location heightens the contrasts of sedentary and adventure driven lives. There is little antiquity involved. When it does appear initially it is the youthful, Parthenon, then the civilisation of some almost five thousand years ago makes an appearance as a mere backdrop setting for more twists.

Hossein Almani has crafted a very attractive movie, well acted by all characters, with spot on minor roles also and Almani relied on his wise cinematic instinct to tell his version of a story with changing pace, alteration, changing evocative scenery and dramatic sequences all working at what cinema is best at delivering convincing dramatic environments. This is where also ecapism, emotional realism, historic tales and fantasy convey story.

This film should succeed in convincing you the art of cinema has many faces as it captures the sense of genus loci of Greece with a characters and human interest at the edge of rare dilemma.
The Two Faces of January is entertainIng, fairly intense, taut and offers up the Janus personality traits of characters you hopefully avoid on your travels and for that matter anytime.

QFT Friday 16 May 2014 through to 29 May 2014 (check June listing to see if any carry over into June.)

John Graham

15 May 2014

Belfast