If you want to recreate the experience of watching a movie on HBO at 12:50 a.m. in 1991, Jim Mickle’s “Cold in July” is your movie. It’s not just that the movie, out on DVD this week, is set in 1989 and revels in its Bush Senior-era kitschiness, from star Michael J. Hall’s majestic mullet to co-star Don Johnson’s shoebox-sized car phone to, well, Don Johnson. It’s more the texture of the thriller, modest in scope, seedy and bloody and focused. They don’t make them like they used to anymore.
“Stray Dog” screens on Sunday at 7 p.m. at 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. as part of the UW-Cinematheque series. Director Debra Granik and subject Ronnie “Stray Dog” Hall will both be in attendance to talk about the film. FREE!
I would not mess with Ronnie “Stray Dog” Hall. The Vietnam veteran and Missouri biker is a fearsome-looking man, the sort who looks like he’s led a hard life, but can make yours a lot harder. No wonder director Debra Granik asked him to appear in her movie “Winter’s Bone” as a terrifying backwoods drug dealer. (My interview with Granik is here.) In one deleted scene on the DVD, you can watch Hall absolutely let loose on John Hawkes with an improvised rant that includes the threat “I’ll nail your dick to the wall.” It clearly comes from someplace real.
This wasn’t really planned, but I ended up talking a world tour at the first full day of the Milwaukee Film Festival on Friday, taking in films from Italy, Iran and Mexico. The festival’s foreign film slate has always been strong, and this year has beefed up its Latino programming with a special “Passport: Mexico” series.
“Pay 2 Play” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:29, two and a half stars out of four. Cap Times and Nation columnist John Nichols (who is in the film) and myself will host a post-show chat after the 7 p.m. show on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at Sundance.
“Monopoly” is kind of a weird game. It has no finish line. The winner is determined not because they reach any particular goal, but because all the other players have gone bankrupt. It’s not enough to win; every other player has to lose, too.
“The Equalizer” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. R, 2:11, two stars out of four.
“Training Day,” the first collaboration between Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua, was a live wire of a movie, a nervy character drama masquerading as a thriller. We hadn’t seen this dangerously unpredictable Denzel before.
1. Pick of the week: “The Boxtrolls” (all week, Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — I’m willing to give anything made by Portland-based Laika a pass just because it looks like it takes forever. The animation studio uses stop-motion animation in the tradition of Aardman Studios, giving each frame a loving, handmade feel. Luckily, the movies have been good, too — “Coraline” is a modern classic, and I really liked “ParaNorman” too. “Boxtrolls” is a similarly dark and delightful tale, about bizarre creatures who raise a human boy as their own.
“Alive Inside” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:14, three stars out of four.
“We are made to age,” filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett says about halfway through “Alive Inside,” which may be the most radical statement you’ll hear in a movie theater all year. As Rossato-Bennett correctly points out, modern American culture thinks of adulthood as the apogee of the human condition, while growing old is considered nothing more than an inexorable deterioration of that perfect state.