Sunday 1 December 2013

Catch the Frog (2013)

Director: Travis Mills
Stars: Amber Michelle, Michael Coleman, Matthew Crosby, Travis Mills and Anna Grace Bell
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
It's December already, so here's a fresh Running Wild review to kick off the new month. This one's also an IFP Mystery Box Challenge review, as making 52 shorts in 52 weeks is clearly not challenge enough for Travis and his team so they're filling in odd gaps in their shooting schedules with other challenges too. I liked Catch the Frog and felt that it had a good shot at the technical elements and music awards, but it went home empty handed; there were enough strong entries to split fifteen awards between nine films with only Long Way and Break Down taking three. This one may resonate within Running Wild's own filmography for a number of reasons. It stays truest to the company's name of the many Running Wild films, as it features little more than one long running scene. It plays well as a standalone piece, though it's also a clear experiment to play with the technical elements of a chase. Mills, a noted fan of modern French cinema, also finally made a film that featured only subtitled French dialogue.

What's more, It's a better French spy film than The French Spy, a film that was so overtly experimental that it's easy to now believe that its title character was so good at her job that she eluded the Running Wild crew entirely and showed up in a completely different picture. She appears in the form of Amber Michelle who is on the run from moment one, snatching up a large stuffed frog from an apartment and hightailing it out of there, hotly pursued by Michael Coleman and Matthew Crosby. We aren't given any of the things we might expect from a filmmaker: like names, background details, motivations, anything. All we get is two guys chasing a girl carrying a MacGuffin and we have to fill in the rest. While the final scene tells us the nationality of a pair of players and reveals the title to be a pun to boot, it stops short of fleshing out anyone else. Are Coleman and Crosby FBI, Mossad or Russian intelligence? Who knows? It doesn't matter. What matters is merely that they're chasing the MacGuffin.
Catch the Frog could be an infuriating piece; by the end, we don't know who, what, when, where or how, which makes it even more fluff than Avatar. Every character is an enigma and it has so little story that it can be summed up in the single word, 'chase'. However, it's brought to the screen very capably indeed. The music that runs longer than the visuals, At Iron Mountain by Tired Army, sets the tone perfectly and accompanies it well. The editing, by Mills himself, is very sharp indeed. Most, but not quite everything, follows Russ Meyer's approach of shooting with static cameras and then adding an impression of action through careful editing. This also gives the opportunity to play with focus, many shots having someone moving toward or away from the camera, so coming into focus for a moment then leaving it again. It's a good approach for an elongated chase scene, though this one unfolds in isolation so doesn't invite any further gimmickry. The focus play and tight editing also make for excellent cast credits at the end.

The end credits also provide one of the two negatives. After the cast are introduced so capably, there's no need for the further footage that includes a solitary blooper, a brief glimpse behind the scenes and gratuitous play with Bandit, the boykin from Boykin. With its strong pace and enigmatic glimpse into a bigger story, Catch the Frog deserves to be a quick jab of a short film, but this extraneous material is more like a distracting hug. The other is half of a positive. We're treated to a number of good locations, as we should be in any action film, and one of them is a covered bridge over an interstate, in which we witness a fight. The choreography by Matthew Crosby is solid, but neither Amber Michelle nor Michael Coleman are able to sell the moves, which lets some power back out of the picture. If this was as much experimentation as challenge submission, that's the one piece that still needs work. All the rest could easily be put to solid use in a future Running Wild feature.

Catch the Frog can be viewed for free at Vimeo or YouTube.

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