Action, Comedy and Cowboys collide in one man's quest to become a real life hero. John is a man possessed by the spirit of a Cowboy who finds himself caught up in a war of pride, desire and very big guns. The beautiful but dangerous Roberta needs a hero and John is the only one crazy enough to fight for her life. Carlos is feared by everyone in town and when he wants Roberta back, bullets and lives are expendable. Aided only by the alcoholic but enthusiastic Tim, the Don Quixote of Westerns must rely on all of his delusional skills to survive the gauntlet of fists and firepower commanded by the baddest man in town In a world without heroes... One man dared to believe. Written by
Normal Vibes Productions
Even the life of an amateur film critic has its glamorous moments. Last week, the charity premiere of Casino Royale with black tie and martinis. This week, the premiere of a locally made feature by the production team Normal Vibes, along with champagne reception at the Jersey Arts Centre. The comparisons end there. Cowfusion was shot by a group of enthusiastic amateurs for £1000 in three weeks (although post-production has taken over a year).
The slight story starts with a man accidentally breathing in his grandfather's ashes and believing himself to be a modern day Cowboy (Arthur). Whilst searching for a decent pair of boots and whisky, he rescues Roberta (Reakes) from a gang of thugs. The goons are in the employ of Carlos (Temple), who will stop at nothing to get the girl back. The Cowboy has no option but to do what a man's got to do kill everybody in sight.
Cowfusion is made in the tradition of El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez's knockabout debut made on the cheap that opened Hollywood's doors (although he remembered his roots with two sequels, Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico). Since then, the advent of digital photography and home editing software has circumvented the need for the most expensive element of film-making: the film itself. However, cameras and computers don't yet come packaged with imagination and talent. Fortunately the makers of Cowfusion have plenty of both.
Writer-director (and star under a different name) J Francis has clearly watched a lot of movies. You don't need to be a fan of westerns, but if you are as I am it helps to enjoy this gentle send-up of the genre. His script is full of good jokes, such as the shopkeeper shouting after the Cowboy as he walks out with a packet of cigarettes, "You got to pay!", only to be told menacingly, "We all got to pay." The film licks along, balancing comedy and action, and pulling off some inventive visual flourishes. One of the skills needed to produce a film on this scale and budget is an awareness of one's limitations, and Francis proves to be an astute judge. Cowfusion is creative without being over-ambitious, never outstays its welcome, and adheres to its own absurd logic.
The choices of offbeat Jersey locations complement the cinematography. The film fades to scratchy sepia to represent the Cowboy's point-of-view, while Carlos's world is one of high contrast, burnt-out black and white. Occasionally the screen squeezes to an extreme widescreen, echoing the compositions of Sergio Leone. There is some terrific editing here too. Francis is aware that action, especially when shot with limited resources, can be built on the soundtrack. It's amazing how the addition of a bone-crunching sound effect can make an audience wince, even when they haven't actually seen the act of violence. Major kudos to the atmospheric music too.
Whilst Cowfusion is a very enjoyable debut feature, in the spirit of constructive criticism let's not pretend that it's perfect. Some sequences needed tightening up both in performance and editing; there are some unnecessary pauses and shots that drag on past the scene's natural end. Perhaps it was the Arts Centre's set up, but the sound mix was all over the corral. And, whilst involving your mates may get you keen actors for free, some of the performances aren't the most polished, shall we say.
This last comment doesn't apply to the leads. John Arthur gives a funny, natural performance as the Cowboy, whilst Mia Reakes is fiery and passionate as Roberta. Two worryingly convincing performances are Clive Temple as the psychopathic Carlos (with a London accent!) and Mike Dean as the Cowboy's drunken loudmouthed best mate.
Their obvious enthusiasm for the project is infectious. Cowfusion can't be taken seriously for a second, but the silliness never becomes self-indulgent or in-jokey. It's terrific fun, with a healthy sense of the ridiculous, and a genuinely impressive achievement for the budget and resources. And whilst I probably shouldn't promote the commercial sales of a DVD, if you've missed the opportunity to see Cowfusion on the big screen, I can gently point you in the direction of www.normalvibes.com if you've ever wanted to see a car neigh like a bolshy horse.
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