Cambridge Film Festival Review: Gravytrain

Posted on

The Pitch: Police Camera Act-ing.

The Review: The beauty of film festivals is, among other things, getting the chance to see movies that otherwise would struggle to get attention. When you have a movie called “Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way Of The Tosser”, that should not only get you attention, it should also get you some good will for your follow up. Creative pairing April Mullen and Tim Doiron were responsible for “Tosser” which was more of the mockumentary style, but this falls squarely into the spoof category, full of general silliness and larger than life characters. (Indeed, in some cases they feel larger than larger-than-life.)

In theory, the plot is simple: Charles “Chuck” Gravytrain has joined the local constabulary to follow in his father’s footsteps and also in an attempt to find his father’s murderer, Jimmy The Fish. Paired up with an out of town cop with a secret in her past, Jimmy has restarted his murder spree and it’s up to Gravytrain and his partner Uma Booma to get to the bottom of things. Along the way, they encounter an increasingly odd array of supporting characters, and as Chuck and Uma attempt to uncover the truth they find themselves framed for the very murder they’re trying to solve.

Mullen directs and Doiron writes, and they’re also Uma and Chuck respectively. Mullen shows off a wide variety of one-piece outfits and Doiron has an early Jim Carrey vibe hiding behind his slightly bug-eyed expression, although without the manic intensity of an Ace Ventura (which is maybe no bad thing). There are a couple of big names in the cast; Colin Mochrie will be familiar to viewers of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” from both sides of the Atlantic, but the standout in the supporting cast (no, scratch that, in the cast) is Tim Meadows, the SNL alumnus enlivening every scene he’s in, which sadly for the viewer isn’t enough of them.

What emerges is not quite a curate’s egg of a movie, but isn’t far off. There’s lots of little humourous touches and bright moments, but there’s as much which falls flat and leads you to question the sanity of those involved for leaving it in the edit. The redeeming factor is the ending, which is by far the most well structured section of the movie, although I’d not go as far as to say it makes sense of all that precedes it. The overall impression may be middling at best, but those glimmers of quality and inspiration leave you wondering what Mullen and Doiron might be capable of under the right circumstances. An intriguing mish-mash, but also an acquired taste.

Why see it at the cinema: Apparently only the third movie shot in Canada on the Red One digital camera, also used for Ché, District 9 and The Social Network, Gravytrain is visually stunning, especially in the black and white tones of the opening flashback. See it on the big screen if you’re seeing it anywhere.

The Score: 5/10

Cambridge Film Festival Review: A Town Called Panic

Posted on

The Pitch: How The West Was… Moved To A Small Belgian Village And Then Invaded By Undersea Fish Monsters Called Gérard?

The Review: With the seeming descent of hand-drawn animation into obsolescence, and CGI animated movies all but taking over, it’s left to the occasional bastion of alternative traditional techniques to keep the old-fashioned animated flag flying, with the stop-motion animation of the likes of Nick Park and Henry Selick. Painstaking in their attention to detail, the most successful animated movies these days seem to be as rich in character and story as they are in their visuals, in order to compete with their shiny counterparts. So is there room in this world for a (very) crudely animated Belgian pair’s odyssey of a cowboy, an indian and a horse?

Hopefully so, not least because this is completely bonkers. The animation style should be instantly familiar to most people in the UK, having been used by the same production company for the Cravendale milk adverts, but the original Western-themed characters and their fellow villagers have a much longer history, stretching back ten years and even including an Aardman-produced English language version. For their step up to the big screen, though, they stay resolutely French (which works for me as an Englishman, as a heavily accented “Ah non!” is always more amusing to me than a similar “Oh no!”), but of course requires a longer narrative for the characters to inhabit.

I’m not sure any attempt by me to describe that narrative would give you any idea what the movie’s actually about anyway, or indeed highlight the true beauty of Aubier and Patar’s distinctive style. There’s huge amounts of wonderful background detail going on, but much of the joy comes from the foreground style as well – A Town Called Panic has its own internal sense of logic for the most part, but it’s a very loose framework on which to add lots of visual and narrative oddness. For example, as well as Cowboy, Indian and Horse, the other inhabitants of the village include a policeman with a sentry box that can instantaneously transform into a prison, and an incessantly shouting farmer who resuscitates a poorly tractor in an operating theatre and sends his animals to school, where piano lessons consist of several pianos in the same room and where the teacher is Horse’s fellow equine love interest. Still with me?

This is occasionally anarchic, but more often than not simply surrealist and absurdist, and the sheer amount of detail and invention here should keep you going easily for the 75 minute run time. What keeps this just short of true greatness is the absence of those strong character arcs that the likes of Pixar and even Nick Park are so good at – the ending feels like a non-sequitur to everything that’s gone before, but that’s no great shakes when everything else is just so enjoyable. If you like your animated movies completely unhinged, then pay a trip to the village.

Why see it at the cinema: The big screen allows you to truly appreciate how deformed the lead characters appear most of the time, but there is definitely a cinematic sensibility to many of the scenes and it will benefit from larger viewing.

The Score: 8/10