Friday, April 3, 2015

The Big Something (dir. Travis Mills, 2011)

This stylish first feature, shot by writer-director Travis Mills in Tempe, Arizona, is infinitely better than most Hollywood comedies. Mills states that he is influenced by Buster Keaton, and by Howard Hawks in his screwball comedy phase, and one can easily spot traces of both. The framing of the action is consistently funny in and of itself (Keaton), and the laugh-out-loud dialogue has a line-by-line quotability (Hawks). (Even a simple utterance like "Scratch that" elicits a guffaw because it is so perfectly placed.)

The Big Something is a satiric murder mystery set in and around Tempe's low-rent, sometimes even scruffy establishments: a record store, a coffee shop, a pool hall, a bike repair "hellhole," a dilapidated former mental hospital (shades of the popular website Abandoned Places). The actors vary in professional level, as is pretty inevitable on a low-budget feature, but it scarcely matters because they all do create engaging characters that you want to know more about, none more so than our hapless-but-likable protagonist, Lewis the record store clerk, played winningly by Michael Coleman. There are many more bits of recognizable human behavior here than in slicker productions. And the stylistics are wonderful: the ultra-precise framing as mentioned, the clear bright cinematography (the Arizona sunlight is practically a character), the sprightly use of public domain jazz and blue recordings on the soundtrack, the sparing but pleasant touches of iris-ins and iris-outs and silent-film-style title cards. Highlights of the action include the unexpected revelation of a character as an accomplished harpist, an absurdist chess match with one player who doesn't know the moves, a fight amongst homeless over a dumpster "territory," the threatening deployment of a croquet mallet, and the use of "Bob Saget" as a secret password.

Travis Mills is a busy guy, as you can tell from the extensive information about his many projects at his website:

Running Wild Films

You can watch The Big Something for free here:

The Big Something

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