11 May 2015

This Is Hardcore

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When I was younger, I was well aware that the true meaning of Christmas was to receive as many presents as possible whilst hiding behind the sofa from anybody who may attempt to visit. Since my parents' divorce however, almost every Christmas has been completely different from the last. A couple of years ago in fact I found myself sat around a table with a friend's loving family as they sang songs and had a great time. This might seem normal to you but because I have nothing to do with my family- and we've never sang songs- I couldn't help but assume the night would end with me being burnt alive in a giant Wicker Man. The next year I was kindly invited back but this time we'd be staying in an empty hotel that one family member had been tasked with looking after for the season. Not only that but I swear to God that that specific family member genuinely did show me both an axe that he kept hidden and also some documents stating that someone of his name had worked there a good hundred years earlier. I couldn't go past a fucking lift without expecting to see a river of blood come flooding out. God knows what I'll be doing this year for it. Maybe it'll be another quiet one at home or maybe I'll be floating above my bed as somebody throws holy water in my face and I call their mother a cunt.
 
Like my Christmases, I recently saw the film Cold In July which also seems to change story and mood with a shocking amount of frequency. The film starts with that bloke from Dexter being woken up in the night with his wife believing that she can hear somebody having broken in. This being America, they own a gun, she's correct, and within a couple of seconds they've redecorated the front room wall with a lovely splattering of burglar-brains. Rather than chopping up the corpse and eating the evidence like I might have done, the family then do the right thing of calling the police and have the whole thing written up as self-defence. This might sound like the more sensible thing to do, but it seems that the dead intruder's daddy has just been released from prison and intends to take revenge by threatening the life of the family's own young son. See, suddenly my irrational jump to cannibalism doesn't seem so unreasonable, does it? Anyway this might seem like it's heading down the path of A History Of Violence in which retribution begins to escalate and perhaps it'll culminate in a Straw Dogs-esque scene of home invasion. Well, if you assumed that's where things would go then hopefully you'll be about as pleasantly surprised as a drug dealer finding out that his new neighbour is Lindsay Lohan. 

I won't say what does happen because that'd be like telling a kid that life as an adult is full-on shite, or like informing somebody that their arranged marriage is to a munter... why spoil the surprise!? But what I will say is that there are so many twists and turns in this that you'll struggle to guess what'll be happening in two minutes, let alone how the fucking thing will end. One second we're watching a simple crime-gone-wrong story, the next it's a buddy movie and then it's a conspiracy thriller with shady sheriffs and complacent train drivers. In a world of predictability, it's nice to spend two hours with a film that genuinely contains more shocks than lunch with a dominatrix on cattle-prod day. If you like your movies to be pulpier than seeing Jarvis Cocker drink a pint of Shane Black's freshly squeezed orange juice, then this'll be for you. The plot meanders, the characters are both hard-boiled and ludicrous, whilst the whole thing couldn't be cooler if it was a lolly-ice that Mr Freeze had used as a butt-plug. To say that I may have loved this film would certainly be true, but also such an understatement that it's on par with Schwarzenegger telling his wife that he “probably doesn't have a secret family”.  

Beyond the films story, genre shifts, and overall tone, it also owes a massive debt to one of my all time favourite directors, John Carpenter. To anybody that doesn't know, Carpenter used to make the greatest films ever with such classics as Escape From New York and Assault On Precinct 13 being churned out with a shocking regularity. Like King Midas having sat on his own hand, it was as though all he had to do was shit and gold would pop out. Like Cold In July, Carpenter's films also had a pulp-quality to them whilst being scored with an iconic synth-pop style of music that will be forever linked to his incredible back catalogue of cinematic treats. In fact, that kind of music and him are so closely associated that any other film to use it is basically declaring it's love for his work with such lack of shame that it may as well knock on his door with a rose between its arse. However since the late 80's, something seems to have gone incredibly wrong and like a fat person at Ice-Cream Rehabilitation, he seems to have simply given up. His films, like an old mans erection, are now released with sporadic irregularity and even then things are still depressingly disappointing.  

However over the last couple of years I've come to realise how much of a good thing this might actually be. We now live in a time where cinema is being made by its fans with J.J Abrams and Sam Mendes doing Star Wars and James Bond being two particular examples. Since Carpenter started trickling out crap, he's left a void where his films should have been and in this gap his followers have started to take his place. In the last year we've had The Guest and It Follows which couldn't be more in his debt if it owed him drug money in exchange for their knee-caps. Cold In July is also another of these films that has been made in his shadow with it's amazing Carpenter-esque soundtrack, hard-as-nails characters, distinctive lighting, and over-all sense of cool. As if that wasn't enough they've also cast Wyatt Russell, the son of Carpenter's muse, as a prominent character. Kurt Russell and John Carpenter were the Jack and Rose of cool 80's genre movies and so how more obvious could the movie declare it's love for them than casting something that owes its life to Russell's balls. Not only that but young Russell looks so much like his father that during his close-ups and with that music pumping, it's so nostalgic that as a fan myself, it's almost too much for me to fully take. Other than that time Joseph let God get his missus up the duff, I can't think of another Carpenter that has had his life so thoroughly taken advantage of and to such brilliant effect. 

With it's larger than life characters, a crime focused quest for a MacGuffin, and a humour so dark that it makes O.J Simpson's soul look like a fucking lighthouse, Cold In July also has a Coen Brother vibe running though it too. In fact it almost wouldn't seem out of place if the characters in this drove past the characters from Blood Simple with both stories kind of happening in the same cynical universe. Although perhaps that's simply due to its roots being mostly firmly planted in the world of the Southern Gothic Horror which therefore also brings comparisons up to everything from Night Of The Hunter to the brilliant documentary The Imposter. As well as this, it's worth noting that the performances in the film are all also brilliant with the Dexter guy proving that he hasn't been typecast as man who loves killing by playing a man who only tends to kill by mistake. What a range! Don Johnson also gives his coolest ever performance in a role that didn't simply involve having Crockett roll his sleeves up, and it's nice to see Sam Shepard play a character with more screen-time than his last five films combined. In fact, with these three characters playing three different types of male archetype, the film is obviously interested in the theme of masculinity, but in my mission to waffle about this film without revealing spoilers, I won't say how. In fact I think we might leave this here before I do say something you'll regret. Cold In July is a brilliantly unpredictable Carpenter-esque thriller in which I spent more time on the edge of my seat than a nun forced to sit on Burn After Reading's dildo-chair. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and I'll see you next time. 

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