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Cemetery Junction DVD Review

Cemetery Junction DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Cemetery Junction

UK Theatrical Release: April 14, 2010 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Writers/Directors: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant

Cast: Christian Cooke (Freddie Taylor), Felicity Jones (Julie Kendrick), Tom Hughes (Bruce Pearson), Jack Doolan (Paul "Snork"), Anne Reid (Freddie's Gran), Steve Speirs (Sgt. Wyn Davies), Julia Davis (Mrs. Taylor), Emily Watson (Mrs. Kendrick), Ricky Gervais (Len Taylor), Matthew Goode (Mike Ramsay), Ralph Fiennes (Mr. Kendrick), Francis Magee (Mr. Pearson), David Earl (Brian), Bryony Hannah (Louise), Katy Murphy (Mrs. Waring), Albert Welling (Mr. Waring), Bev Willis (Jack Bentley), Matthew Holness (Band Leader), Stephen Merchant (Dougie Boden)

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Chinese Traditional, Thai, Korean
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, Chinese Traditional, Thai, Korean
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
DVD Release Date: August 17, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.96
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($30.95 SRP)

Buy on DVD from Amazon.com • Buy on Blu-ray from Amazon.com

Ricky Gervais' first major contribution to the world of movies was sweet; Ghost Town channeled The Sixth Sense into a much better than average romantic comedy. Gervais' second leading turn was sour; any promise to The Invention of Lying, which he co-wrote and co-directed, disappeared when the movie became an argument for atheism. Now, his third major film, Cemetery Junction, has gone direct to video in the US.

That is less a reflection of the modest returns of Gervais' two American comedies and more of the fact that this is strictly a British production in which Gervais and a few other recognizable actors assume small supporting roles. Still, it's very much Gervais' movie; he wrote and directed it with Stephen Merchant, the co-creator of his decorated two signature TV series, the BBC's original "The Office" and the HBO-distributed "Extras."

"Cemetery Junction" centers on three friends from the titular community: Bruce (Tom Hughes), Snork (Jack Doolan), and Freddie (Christian Cooke). Freddie (Christian Cooke, left) tries his hand at selling an elderly couple life assurance, while his calculating mentor (Matthew Goode, center) quietly observes.

A far cry from the horror implications of the title, Cemetery Junction centers on three male friends in their early twenties living in an English small town during the summer of 1973. Despite secondary cover placement, our protagonist is the sympathetic Freddie (Christian Cooke), who wants something other than the dirty, thankless factory lifestyle of his father (Gervais). Unlike his two chums -- raging rebel Bruce (Tom Hughes) and amateurishly chest-tattooed Paul (Jack Doolan), who's too eager to share the reason he's nicknamed "Snork" -- Freddie is willing to grow up and broaden himself.

He takes a job at a life assurance company, where he learns the secret of door-to-door salesman success from his cunning mentor Mike Ramsay (Matthew Goode). Mike, it turns out, is engaged to the boss' daughter Julie (Felicity Jones), a dear childhood friend of Freddie's with whom he is happy to reconnect.

The film considers the ambitions of these young people. The most conscientious of his friends, Freddie weighs a comfortable future with a calling he's not entirely charmed by. Inevitably, he also develops feelings for sophisticated Julie, whose worldly photographer ambitions seem unlikely to blossom with her and Mike destined for a marriage like that of her parents, the snobby Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes) and his domestically dulled wife (Emily Watson). Not that Freddie's own fancies of escaping the frozen bubble community and his small-minded family are any more promising.

Childhood sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones) is happy to photograph and reconnect with Freddie. Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson) have a chilly marriage and, at the annual Winner's Ball, contrasting manners.

Cemetery Junction is not dripping with originality, but it is complex enough to appreciate its inventiveness and tactful enough to consider appealing.
Though this isn't a film you would expect from Gervais and Merchant based on their past collaborations, you can hear their voices in some of the comedy. You can also appreciate their intentions to jog back a generation to tell this distinctly British but equally universal coming-of-age tale.

For the most part, the movie is earnest and successful. Its lines are drawn a little too clearly; initial subtleties regrettably fade for characterizations that are more black and white. The piece also never shakes a feeling of derivation, welcoming comparisons to things like American Graffiti and countless other small town stories cut from the same mold. The best friends dynamic that should be the film's heart also never jells quite as intended. Fortunately, the movie fares better with both the understated impossible romance and Freddie's soul-searching, aspects that come to outweigh the rowdy boys material.

Playing in United Kingdom cinemas last spring, Cemetery Junction grossed just over $2 million, about a fifth of what was earned there by Gervais' high-concept American vehicles. Accordingly, one can't really blame Sony for forgoing a US theatrical release. But it is important to recognize that the movie is now on DVD and Blu-ray stateside because of modest commercial prospects, not any artistic shortcomings.

Freddie Taylor (Christian Cooke) is just plain different from the rest of his family (Julia Davis, Ricky Gervais, Anne Reid), as confirmed by their breakfast table discussion of National Geographic and France.

VIDEO and AUDIO

DVD presents Cemetery Junction in its intended 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The film looks terrific, displaying no evidence of the frugality that's often required of a small personal project of this sort. (Gervais and Merchant have developed enough good will and clout to spare them of that.) Immaculately clean, clear, and sharp, picture quality leaves nothing to be desired (but there is a Blu-ray, should you disagree).

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is marked by peaks and valleys, the former from the period tunes by the likes of Elton John, T. Rex, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin (full list at the bottom of the review) that the film prominently drops in. That will require volume-adjusting for many viewers, but if you can handle that, you'll enjoy the crisp, lively, broad mix. English subtitles were appreciated by this Yankee critic, although the plethora of foreign language options (most of which carry over to the disc's two commentaries) make it a challenge to briefly clarify a line and then deactivate.

To free up his buddy, Bruce (Tom Hughes) tries selling insurance to elderly folks standing outside a funeral service in this deleted scene. Anyone who's seen any of Ricky Gervais' work on DVD knows the Blooper Reel will show the fat funnyman dabbling in the uncontrollable production-slowing laughter he calls "corpsing."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Cemetery Junction may not have been given a theatrical release in the US, but that doesn't keep it from getting a pretty loaded DVD. The hearty extras slate begins with two audio commentaries.

Expectedly, the first features writers/directors/executive producers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. They immediately make it clear they differ from other filmmakers not only in number but in experience. They're also a lot funnier than your typical directors, which makes this more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill commentary.
While they don't leave their brand of ironic comedy out, they do speak seriously about topics like technique, the cast, populating the town, approaching a period setting, and autobiographical aspects. Even though, like most, this track runs out of steam, by the time it does, it has already amused and shed light on Steve McQueen's The Great Escape performance.

Then, young leads Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, and Jack Doolan provide a cast audio commentary. These three are less engaging and have much less to share. Most of their comments refer to either them (their hair, their costumes, their teeth) or scenes' filming conditions (locations, weather). The track is at its most interesting when the guys are debating whether they'd rather have giant feet and tiny hands or vice versa. Beyond that, those interested in what they have to say would be much better served by their 10-minute featurette.

Ten deleted scenes (13:40) are presented polished and 16:9-enhanced. Comprised more of extensions than deletions, the lot doesn't offer much of note, aside from a montage of Bruce selling some of Freddie's insurance at a funeral and a couple of additional moments of Fiennes and Goode's characters.

Of course, an unusually long Blooper Reel (13:40) treats us to Gervais' loud, familiar cackle both in front of and behind the camera. Other flubs and crack-ups are also shown with ample context.

Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, the duo that gave us "The Office" and "Extras", keep things largely sincere in their first feature film collaboration. There's a good chance you wouldn't recognize one or more of the leads (Tom Hughes, Christian Cooke, Jack Doolan) from this film looking as they do in "The Lads Look Back" featurette.

The first of the DVD's two interview featurettes is "The Directors: A Conversation with Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant" (15:05). With tongues only rarely in cheek, the creative partners talk about their romanticized, feel-good goals for the film, young and established cast members, and their process.

"The Lads Look Back: The Stars Discuss Cemetery Junction" (10:15) reunites Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, and Jack Doolan.
Looking quite different from their appearances in the film, the actors reflect on their casting experience, their characters, their directors, and what they gained from it.

A surprising number of extras are kept exclusive to the movie's high-definition release on an unlikely title to stand as Blu-ray bait. Only on Blu-ray will you find the following: "Seventies Style: Production and Costume Design", "The Start of Filming", "Week 1", "Meet the Boys", "The Directors On Set", the Easter egg "Snow Dude", and, via BD-Live, movieIQ+sync's real-time information and trivia.

Promos for Blu-ray Disc and BD-Live, The Square, and Micmacs play at DVD insertion. The Previews menu houses these in addition to trailers for Harry Brown, A Single Man, Youth in Revolt, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, and The Secret in Their Eyes.

The disc's static black menus (silent, save for the scored main screen) put colorful character stills in rectangles of various sizes. There are no inserts inside the Eco-Box keepcase.

Snork (Jack Doolan), supposedly nicknamed for his olfaction, proudly displays his crude self-illustrated body art of a naked vampire woman. Tough guy Bruce (Tom Hughes) gets a jail cell wake-up call from the ordinarily friendly Sgt. Davies.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Cemetery Junction is a film I recommend seeing, regardless of your appreciation or lack thereof for writers/directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Rather than resting on the laurels of their exalted 21st century television comedy, the two Brits have tried something different, more heartfelt than hilarious, and have found a good amount of success. This '70s coming-of-age tale isn't brilliant or innovative, but it is likable, engaging, and treated to a pretty great DVD (missing Blu-ray exclusives notwithstanding). Though this quiet direct-to-disc release is easy to miss, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to let that happen.

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Cemetery Junction Songs List (in order of use): The Bournemouth Sinfonietta - "Five Variants of Dive and Lazarus", Elton John - "Saturday's Alright (for Fighting)", Roxy Music - "Amazona", T. Rex - "Life's a Gas", The Osmonds - "Crazy Horses", "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree", "Four Walls", "Crying in the Chapel", "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)", Jack Doolan - "Cum On Feel the Noize", Matt the Hoople and David Bowie - "All the Young Dudes", "I Believe in Miracles", Led Zeppelin - "The Rain Song"

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Reviewed August 19, 2010.



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