Cold in July (2014): Innocence Lost

Michael C Hall and Sam Shepard in Cold in July
The 2014 film Cold in July is another offering from the team that brought you Stake Land and in a sense, this new film is also about innocence lost. In the first movie, that starred Damici, it is the young protagonist being trained by Mister who loses his, in the new film by the team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, it is Michael C. Hall’s character Richard Dane who falls.

Based upon Joe R Lonsdale’s 1989 novel of the same name, Cold in July stars Hall as a “everyman” who shoots an intruder in his house and his life begins a rollercoaster trip of twists and turns that change his world. Initially he is stalked and threatened by the ex-con father of the man he killed, Mr. Russell, played by Sam Shepard, and he turns to his friend on the local police force Ray Price (Nick Damici) for help.

The police catch Russell and tell Richard that the man is back in prison. When Dane is at the police station, he sees a wanted poster with the name of the man he shot; the picture on the bill looks nothinglike the dead man. The frame shop owner tries to question Price about the discrepancy and the detective blows him off. Heading down to the station, he sees the police taking Russell out of jail. They put him on train tracks, inject him and leave him to be killed by an oncoming train. Dane saves the man and puts him in his late father’s cabin.

The two men dig up the man Dane shot and Russell learns that the body in the coffin is not his son. Russell calls a friend from Houston, Jim Bob (Don Johnson) who comes to help his Korean War comrade. It turns out that Russell’s son worked for the Dixie mafia and turned state’s evidence. He is now under the witness protection program and the police are helping the man to disappear.

Shepard’s character wants Jim Bob to find his son and Richard volunteers to help. When the men find Freddy Russell, the film takes yet another darker turn and Dane gets in even deeper.

Hall plays a man who finds himself firmly immersed in the underbelly of southern crime. Porn films, snuff movies, the Dixie Mafia and wholesale bloodshed all leave the man shaken and changed by the end of the film. The arc for Richard Dane is a long and complex one. At the beginning when his neighbors are starring at the man who inadvertently killed an intruder in his home, Dane is uncomfortable with his notoriety.

“I didn’t mean to shoot him,” Richard says. When he shakingly loads his pistol, it is obvious that the man is nervous and scared. Later when he confronts the man in his living room, the clock striking is the trigger that makes him shoot. The camera shows the vividness of the victim’s blood and later focusses on the couple cleaning up the crime scene and revealing just how destructive death is.

Later on, when Dane joins up with Jim Bob and Russell Sr, he slowly gets acclimatized to weapons and being around them but he still hesitates to pull the trigger. A tendency that almost costs him his life and that of his two comrades. The film moves from what could have been a question of morality and the cost of taking another man’s life into a modern noir of grim proportion.

The hunting down of the con’s son and the discovery that Russell’s offspring is beyond evil is as shocking as the video tape that they take from the giant thug they encounter at Freddy’s house. All three of the male protagonists knock their performances out of the park. Shepard as Russell is a wraith, full of remorse, rage and deadly intentions. He does not suffer fools and his life has been harsh.

Dane has lived the existence of the small town businessman. He has a wife and child, is well thought of in the community and has never killed anyone before. His gradual descent into the hellish underworld of pornography and the Dixie mafia is shocking and Hall convinces that his character will never be the same again.

Don Johnson as the Houston private eye and war friend of Russell is bigger than life and plays Jim Bob as a jaded man who has seen it all and paid the price. One can easily imagine that Richard Dane knows exactly how both men feel at the end of the film.

As a genre, Jim Mickle and Nick Damici have placed Cold in July in a category that could be called Southern Gothic Noir. At 109 minutes, the movie moves at a good pace and never drags. Some sequences of the film feel a bit like Cape Fear but not for long. The shape and direction of the movie changes quickly soon after and the viewer is taken into unknown territory.

Michael C Hall is well known for his portrayal of the serial killer with a difference in Dexter. The actor has given a brilliant performance in this film and his fans will not be disappointed with his work on Cold in July. This is a real 5 out of 5 star film that enthralls from the first frame to the last. It is streaming on Showtime at the moment.

Christian Bale as Travis McGee? What the Fudge?

Christian Bale in promo shot

Okay, just when you thought that the worst casting decision in the world was Marky Mark as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted film, Hollywood chucks one out that is breathtakingly bad. Christian Bale as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Really??

What the fudge people.

After this initial sense of outrage, disbelief and shock, it turns out that the movie is in a sort of “development hell.” The movie was first touted as a vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio as long ago as 2010/11 and resurfaced again in 2013. Scheduling problems took the Wolf Of Wall Street star off the picture and the last word was that Bale was being considered for the role of “salvage consultant” beach bum McGee.

Rosamund Pike, (Gone Girl) is now attached to the project and while that may be good news, the fact that Bale’s name is still associated with the film is not. It was the news of Pike’s connection to the movie that pointed out Bales as being the new McGee. One thing to cling to, however, is that Fox do not really seem to know what they are doing with this property.

From the very start, it looks like the studios have never read any of the superb John D. MacDonald’s series, first publicity blurbs talk of a “World War II” film. Trav was a Korean War vet, although later in the series this became a sort of “open to interpretation” as to which war he had participated. The time settings of the latter stories made the Vietnam War more likely than the big WWII.

At least twice Travis McGee and his best friend Meyer (an economist) have been portrayed on film. Australian actor Rod Taylor on the big screen and laconic actor Sam Elliott on television have both played the beach bum with a penchant for women “who are broken birds.” While both actors did a good job, Taylor seemed a better fit for the role in terms of physicality.

For the audio versions of the stories, TV’s old Mike Hammer, and later Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin voiced McGee and became, for many, the perfect embodiment of MacDonald’s hero.

In the books, the author described McGee as a big man with sandy hair and “spit colored eyes.” The idea of Christian Bale, with his “tortured” air and intensity, playing the McGee is almost sacrilege. Perhaps in terms of size and delivery, Dick Van Dyke’s son Barry (Diagnosis Murder) comes closest to fitting McGee than any other actor out there.

Unfortunately with names like Bale and, now, Rosamund Pike being touted for the big screen version of The Deep Blue Goodbye, Van Dyke will never get a look in. The other downside is that at 63, Barry is far too long in the tooth to play the Florida bachelor. There may be other younger actors who would be a better fit than Bale, but in terms of box office he will be the stronger choice, as was DiCaprio initially.

Why the Batman actor is being considered for the role is mystifying. His latest film, where he depicts a tortured and intense Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, proves that he cannot escape his usual style of performance even when portraying a biblical figure. At least on that film, he did not come unglued and scream at a technician on set.

It is a shame that the Fox project, which had the talented Dennis Lehane writing the script, cannot come up with a better choice for the role of Travis. Even Leonard DiCaprio, the studio’s initial casting, was not a good fit. Too young and not physical enough. No arguments with the casting of Rosamund Pike at all at this point but, please Fox, pick someone else to play McGee.

Sadly, it seems that Hollywood will most probably not get this one right. This is not too dissimilar to Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, played for laughs by Dean Martin, where perfect casting for a more serious version of the American James Bond proved elusive. No one actor really fit the bill and it looks like Travis McGee may well suffer the same celluloid casting fate.

McGee had a quality that kept the reader coming back and wanting him to find the perfect mate. By the last book, The Lonely Silver Rain, Trav had a daughter and Meyer was delighted to see his friend become more mature. Sadly it was the last McGee adventure to be written. MacDonald, a prolific writer, was taken back by the muses and at least one reader cried tears of loss after learning that “McGee” was dead.

The author died in 1986 and was the same creative genius who wrote Cape Fear, made twice into a film, as well as The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, and a slew of other novels and short story collections on top of some works of non fiction.

The news of Christian Bale being considered for the role of McGee does tend to make one wail in disbelief and scream out “What the Fudge?” However, it is nice to think that this evergreen character, who has been around since the 1960s, is interesting enough to still be considered a good property for the big screen. All one can ask is that a better candidate than Bale be cast at the end of the day.

And of course there is still the issue of Meyer. Knowing Hollywood, they will probably make the best friend a skinny woman thus changing the entire purpose of the economist. This project still seems to be stuck in developmental hell for the time being, despite Pike’s being “cast.” Hopefully scheduling conflicts will negate the American Hustle actor becoming the latest casting mistake in Tinseltown.

Polly Bergen From Martin & Lewis to ‘The Sopranos’ a Remarkable Life Ends

Polly Bergen From Martin & Lewis to ‘The Sopranos’ a Remarkable Life Ends

Polly Bergen, the award winning actress whose career went from Martin & Lewis to The Sopranos and beyond, ended a remarkable life at age 84 on Saturday according to her publicist. The multi-talented performer worked in show business for over six decades with her first gig being on the radio at the age of 14. Bergen died in her home surrounded by those she was close to, her friends, family and manager.