• Murder of a Cat



    Released by: Anchor Bay
    Released on: May 5, 2015
    Director: Gillian Greene
    Cast: Fran Kranz, Nikki Reed, J.K. Simmons, Blythe Danner, Greg Kinnear, Ted Raimi
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:

    Clinton lives at home with his mom. To make ends meet, he sells action figures of his own making from a table in his front yard, though few people buy them. One day he finds his beloved cat dead in the street with an arrow through it. Determined to find out who committed the atrocious deed, he tracks his precious pet to a young woman, Greta, who lives nearby; strangely, she insists that the cat was hers. The two band together to solve the cat’s murder, and the case takes them to a nearby store where a young Asian man and his older but mentally challenged friend may be fencing stolen items. Other suspects pop up as well, including the store’s suspicious owner and even Greta herself. Meanwhile, Clinton’s mother has started dating the local sheriff, who is putting the heat on Clinton to drop the case.

    The film’s script was once on the notorious Hollywood “Black List,” a list of unfilmed screenplays ignored by major studios but considered worthy of production by Hollywood insiders. Among the other names on the list from the same period that were later produced are Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Argo, Chronicle, The Hunger Games, Looper, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Unlike those films, however, Murder of a Cat was ignored until 2012, when it was finally picked up by Sam Raimi’s production company.

    Originally cast in the lead was Jay Baruchel, who found fame working with Judd Apatow; among his hits were Million Dollar Baby, Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, and How to Train Your Dragon. He dropped out at the last minute and had to be replaced by lesser-known Fran Kranz, star of another project that almost never was, Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods (where he plays a very similar character). In 2012 he began a career on Broadway, starring in the classic play Death of a Salesman, but in 2013 he returned to Los Angeles to shoot Murder of a Cat.

    Obviously made on a shoestring, the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014 to poor reviews. Taking the bulk of the hit was Franz: “The star of this dirge is a banana head named Fran Kranz, whose onscreen charisma is an undetectable secret,” wrote Rex Reed for The New York Observer; one can only assume he found Franz too unattractive for the lead role. If anything, it is Franz’s appealing performance that sustains the film when the script’s wit fails it. The remainder of the cast—Nikki Reed, J.K. Simmons, Blythe Danner, and Greg Kinnear—likewise hand in admirable performances.

    One must conclude that screenwriters Christian Magalhaes and Robert Snow were influenced by a love of children’s mystery series from the 1960s and ‘70s. As if to prove such a contention, they even throw in a reference to this reviewer’s favorite young adult series: “They’re boosters, dropping off the stolen goods to a fence,” Clinton tells Greta about his prime suspects. “A fence?” Greta asks. “A middleman,” Clinton clarifies. “He unloads the hot items. You never read The Hardy Boys? Three Investigators?” And therein lies what little appeal the film has apart from its performances; it harkens back to the young adult mystery novels of a past era. Too bad the screenwriters didn’t go further in this direction. As it is, the film is better than the official movie adaptations of two of Robert Arthur’s Three Investigators books, even if it only barely manages to be average. The film may not be great—in fact, it isn’t even very good—but it’s not exactly the piece of crap that critics suggest.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Anchor Bay has released Murder of a Cat in anamorphic widescreen solely on DVD in standard definition 480p. The film was clearly shot on a mid-grade digital camera, which means that it doesn’t look like film, though it doesn’t look terrible either. Detail is adequate, and most of the picture is well lit, so crush isn’t too much of a problem. Most of the nighttime sequences were obviously shot in the daytime and were processed, and these sequences look a little murkier than the rest of the film. Colors mostly look good.

    The film’s soundtrack is provided in English Dolby Digital 5.1. The film doesn’t exactly have a lot of aural effects, so fans won’t be using it as a showcase for their surround systems, but there are no issues to report. Dialogue is clear. And the score is minimal, so it doesn’t interfere with the conversations. English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired have been included along with Spanish subtitles.

    There are no extras related to the film itself. Since it wasn’t released theatrically, there is no teaser or theatrical trailer. There are previews for other films released by Anchor Bay, including Hit By Lightning, Always Woodstock, and Lovesick, all of which have gone straight to video. These previews automatically play when the disc is inserted and cannot be accessed from the menu screen. The sound is also louder than on the film itself.

    The Final Word:

    Murder of a Cat is a relatively entertaining diversion with decent performances and a couple of witty moments. Anchor Bay’s release is typical of this kind of budget fare, but at least the DVD can be purchased at a fairly affordable price. The image is good if not great, and there no issues with the sound.