Friday, December 5, 2014

Comedy, crime, romance and "catricide" dot Gillian Greene's droll farce, MURDER OF A CAT

Talk about bizarre movies: After yesterday's winner, The Foxy Merkins, today we cover another oddball film for which there is not much precedent, so far as I can recall. MURDER OF A CAT, the new movie from first-time-full-length filmmaker Gillian Greene, is very nearly uncategorizable. Maybe think of it as a kind of throwback. But to what? The closest match might be the screwball crime capers of the 1940s, with a man in the role usually reserved for a woman: the clueless and not very bright "investigator" who sets the plot in motion. Really: This movie sort of mimics the sensibility of that family from You Can't Take It With You but sets its behavior down in the midst of our 21st Century.

Ms Greene (shown at left) is also known, evidently, as Mrs. Sam Raimi (Sam was one of the producers on the film) but what she has come up with would never be mistaken for a Raimi endeavor. Her movie begins with what looks like a nail-biting escape. By whom? From what? We don't know, but the escapee sure looks scared. Then we get the title card that reads Five Days Earlier and we're whisked back in time to a pleasant surburban street and a yard sale involving a bratty kid, our beleaguered hero and the cat that will soon be headed for kitty heaven. Also on tap: out hero's semi-nattering-but-really-pretty-decent mother; a local law-enforcement officer who's infinitely nicer and more patient than any you'll have seen on film in this century; a heroine who's up to something besides being heroic; and the owner of the town's superstore which has put a number of other local small businesses out of business. Including that belonging to our hero.

So the stage is set for... what? Just about anything you might guess. And the plot's twists and turns certainly encourage this kind of helter-skelter approach in which one odd thing leads to another even odder. The movie really turns on the role of Clinton Moisey and the performance of Fran Kranz (above) in that role. Mr. Kranz has impressed in some of the work of Joss Whedon and his crew, but here he gets the kind of bizarre role that actors either embrace or go running from as fast as they can. Kranz embraces it and then some.

From the near-fright wig he wears initially to his self-righteous attitude, constant bumbling and wrong-headedness, he makes Clinton a hero that only a mother (and maybe a girlfriend) could love. And he is just loony enough to finally win us over. In the role of the girlfriend and cat-sharer, Greta, Nikki Reed (above) makes a pleasantly abrasive other half of the investigative team,

while J. K. Simmons (above), always great fun to watch, plays the local Sheriff in such a pleasant and patient manner than he almost makes you forgot his Snidely role in the current Whiplash. Blythe Danner as the sweet, thoughtful mom; Greg Kinnear, offering up all kinds of charac-terizations as the owner of that megastore; and the wonderful Leonardo Nam as the store's most bizarre employee round out the main cast.

As a filmmaker, Ms Greene wisely concentrates on low-key humor rather than mystery or suspense (as both of the latter are either ridiculous or missing in action), and thereby succeeds in making her movie work pretty well. Overlong by maybe ten minutes, Murder of a Cat never pushes too hard and so ends up being a lot more charming than you might expect.

The movie -- from Gravitas Ventures and running 101 minutes -- opens today, Friday, December 5, in New York City at the Village East Cinema. Simultaneously, it will also be available via VOD platforms, Amazon, Apple and iTunes.

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