Sunday 5 September 2010

Cemetery Junction (2010) [Blu-ray]

Sunday 5 September 2010

WRITERS & DIRECTORS: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
CAST: Christian Cooke, Felicity Jones, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan, Ricky Gervais, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes & Emily Watson
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins. BUDGET: $18m
Renowned as purveyors of small-screen "cringe comedy" with The Office and Extras double-hitters, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant turn their talent to a coming-of-age movie that stretches their formula into fresh tonality. Cemetery Junction is as well-observed, humane and humorous as their television work, spinning a yarn that's often predictable and clichéd, but so full of warmth and likeable performances that it's impossible to hate.

Set in Reading, Berkshire, 1973 (where Gervais himself grew up, making this a rose-tinted, quasi-autobiographical tale), we're introduced to the three jack-the-lad leads: handsome Freddie (Christian Cooke), who's scared of a future working in a factory like his underachieving dad (Gervais); charismatic Bruce (Tom Hughes), who already works in said factory and can't seem to escape the home he shares with the alcoholic father he pities; and "Snork" (Jack Doolan), their podgy friend/sidekick who refuses to grow up. All three are stuck in a rut in the titular Cemetery Junction district of town; aptly named because each are about to make a decision that'll determine where their grown-up lives will lead, to avoid dying with a heart-full of regrets.

Cemetery Junction: Sony Official Site

Freddie aspires to be a door-to-door salesman for the Vigilance life insurance company, run by local-boy-made-good Mr Kendrick (an underused Ralph Fiennes), whose sweet daughter Julie (Felicity Jones) was once his Freddie's childhood sweetheart, but whose ignorant fiancé Mike (Matthew Goode) is now Freddie's sales mentor. As Freddie learns how to successfully talk old people into setting aside money to ensure their loved-ones are provided for when they die, rather than focus on the here-and-now, the movie essentially becomes a parable about young people living for the moment and chasing love and dreams, because money and social standing isn't all it's cracked up to be.

There's no denying Cemetery Junction's storyline is a ramble of clichéd and obvious story arcs, but there's some comfort in watching the story travel down a route as the train track that provides the climactic escape route. The lack of surprises does prevent the film from becoming the mini-classic it feels intended to be, but its predictability it kept in check thanks to some genuinely funny moments, personable characters, and an embracive heart.

While the movie suffers from a railed storyline, the direction and writing keep things light-footed, while the casting is superb. Each of the leads may be stuck in storylines with developments you can see coming a mile off, but they're such a pleasure to spend time with it hardly matters. Gervais's supporting role is only really there to provide trailer-bait and shoehorn in some dinner table gags, but there's a really lovely turn from Emily Watson as a housewife in a loveless marriage who wants her daughter to choose a different path. It's a shame Fiennes wasn't given more to do, as his one memorable scene (giving a retiring employee a stilted, unrehearsed "golden handshake" in front of the entire workforce) seemed to prove he could have been a more memorable component, instead of a big-name to lend the film some A-list gloss.

Overall, Cemetery Junction isn't the homespun classic it's aiming to be, but it proves Gervais and Merchant have additional skills up their sleeves, and it's certainly a refreshing alternative to the often downbeat crime/horror-orientated British movie. There's a slight whiff of TV-standard drama at times, but a punchy script and strong performances do a marvellous job of raising the quality and taking you down a narrative path that, while foreseeable, is nevertheless very scenic and involving.

Cemetery Junction: Sony Official Site

Blu-ray Review

Picture (2.40:1, 1080p) The film looks incredibly vibrant and beautiful, reflected in the excellent image quality on display here. Dazzling colours with a rich sense of depth, if a little too soft at times, with natural skin tones and acute texturing.

Sound (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) Crisp, strong and immersive sound-mix, particularly when the movie starts spewing out classic '70s music tracks. The sense of atmosphere is always there, from the factory scenes, to the countryside, to the nightclubs.

Special Features

Audio Commentaries: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant give a typically enlightening and humourous commentary with some lively banter and fun anecdotes. Actors Christian Cooke and Jack Dolan also give a commentary track, but one that's a little dry and certainly pales into insignificance compared to the Gervais/Merchant yakker.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 14 mins.) Quite a tedious selection of scenes deservedly cut.

Blooper Reel (HD, 14 mins.) Hilarious sequence of outtakes, most focusing on Ricky Gervais cracking up and ruining takes. I'm sure this will become a YouTube hit within days, if it isn't already.

The Directors: A Conversation With Gervais & Merchant (HD, 15 mins.) Interesting and funny featurette with the writer-directors outlining exactly what they intended to achieve with the movie.

The Lads Look Back: The Stars Discuss Cemetery Junction (HD, 10 mins.) Decent featurette with Cooke, Dolan and Hughes reminiscing about their experience making the movie.

Seventies Style: Production & Costume Design (HD, 9 mins.) A surprisingly engaging featurette about the costuming, helped by the interspersed interviews with Gervais and Merchant.

Production Featurettes (HD, 7 mins.) Five short documentaries, originally released on Ricky Gervais's official website. Unremarkable.

Extras: The awful MovieIQ and BDLive are bundled with this disc, as usual for Sony.