Fantasic Fest: 'Gentleman Broncos' and 'Paranormal Activity'
Hess' latest satisfies, low budget thriller will 'creep you out'
When "Napoleon Dynamite" hit the scene back in 2004, I had a slightly tarnished experience with it since it was constantly acted out for me in impromptu one man shows many times before I ever got a chance to see the actual film, which significantly lessened its impact once I finally checked it out. "Nacho Libre" was a cute movie. I liked its charm, but it felt restrained, and much like "Dynamite," relied too much on how zany its characters were to keep us entertained instead of a strongly threaded story. But hey, I did ultimately enjoy both of those films and the universe that director/writer Jared Hess had begun to weave together. They were innocent and grotesque all in one rolled up freak ball, what’s not to like? Still, something always felt lacking.
"Gentlemen Broncos" feels like the first film that Hess has made that was more about the story he had to tell and less about setting up surreal puppets on his stage to dance for us. Yes, the movie is still populated with plenty of hill-nerds and small town egomaniacs to keep us snickering and euphorically uncomfortable, but there seemed more to this movie at its core than his other films; a tale about respecting your own creativity, fallen heroes and that first girlfriend that frustrated you in a hundred different ways. This movie also made me genuinely gut laugh a dozen times. In particular, there is a sight gag with a snake that just devastated my rib cage from laughter.
The performances are solid enough from all the cast, but there is no doubt that Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords") is the show stealer here. He plays Chevalier, the science fiction writer that preys upon the easily impressed populations of micro town America to keep his ego tank fueled. He’s worshiped by Michael Angarano’s character Benjamin, who is a young burgeoning science fiction writer himself off to be taught by his hero at a writer’s camp for home schooled children. At its heart, "Gentlemen Broncos" is about learning the harsh realities of the real world while finding solace and confidence in your own talents. There is also a message about having your original creative work perverted and twisted that is clearly a very personal warning from Jared Hess, who love him or hate him, seems to be trying his best to stay true to his own original works and not let anyone else airbrush over his watercolors. The other joy of the film is when we shift into ‘Yeast Lords’ world with Sam Rockwell brilliantly playing the hero yeast lord Bronco/Brutus. This fantasy world created by dueling God’s Benjamin and Chevalier always had me giggling and Rockwell is a nut in this split role between the yeast lusting mountain man Bronco and the effeminate space-cadet Brutus. Any movie that has Sam Rockwell flying around on missile laden deer shooting at Cyclops is an easy sell for me I suppose.
"Gentlemen Broncos" is easily my favorite of Jared Hess’ movies that I’ve seen. It’s not as quotable or new as something like "Dynamite" was, it’s not as kid accessible as "Nacho" was, but I think this film has a lot of heart and any film that can make me belly laugh that much is always going to be something I recommend to everyone.
Expectation – 6/10 Final Rating – 7/10
[Disclaimer: I worked for a while with one of the producers of this film, but we currently have no currently have no projects in the development.]
So, I could easily title this review “I used to love sleep until Oren Peli decided to turn on a camera”. "Paranormal Activity" is one of those movies that just gets under your skin in the worst way, the cinematic equivalent of your locally operated haunted house during Halloween. Sure, it looks a little cheesy on the outside and you know it’s probably just high school students in rubber masks waiting to jump out at you, but once you’re in there and anticipating that first screwed up occurrence to happen, they’ve snagged you and you’re their chump to play with now.
"Paranormal Activity" will creep you out so much that after you see it, your brain feels infected and every creak and bump in your house becomes a symptom of your new disorder. That is, if you’re the kind of person that can turn yourself over to this kind of thing. At the end of an enthusiastic and packed Fantastic Fest screening, the only negative word I heard about the film came from one woman sitting next to me that had to keep saying over and over how the movie was just cheap looking and not scary, almost like she was trying to convince herself of something, to the point her boyfriend finally said “oh, I guess that’s why you had your head buried under my arm for most of the movie”.
Beyond the creep factor, I found myself really liking the couple we’re following around during the course of this movie, Katie and Micah. There was never a moment their performance felt faked or ironic. This really helped sell me into the situation and made me forget I was watching a ‘movie’. The subject matter is of course always disturbing. I think there is something about the idea of a demon or demon infestation that upset even the non-religious. It’s the one supernatural monster we’ve been told since we were children by most main stream faiths that it “could be” real. So, I think there is an added dimension of paranoia these kinds of films bring because perhaps, somewhere deep down, you feel like you’re playing in a world that might be a little dangerous by just entertaining the subject matter. After the midnight screening, I came home, curled up next to my sleeping wife in bed who made the mistake of groggily asking me how the movie was. She had to stop me mid way through my description of the film because even hearing the premise was upsetting her while she was trying to sleep.
I also really appreciated the camera work in this film. I usually can’t stand “found footage” horror films like Blair Witch because of the damned shaky cam. This film has a very smooth feeling to it and the camera is mercifully mounted to a tri-pod for a good chunk of the film.
The only issue I had with "Paranormal Activity" came in the form of the literal last moment in the movie. I won’t ruin what happens at all, but let’s just say when you see it, it feels so out of place with the home-made atheistic the rest of the movie has, that it’s the equivalent of going on a wonderful first date with a guy/girl, and as they’re exiting the car to end the evening, they let one slightly rip right in your face. Whoops. But that’s okay, because the rest of the night was so great, you’ll do your best to forget that part.
This movie begs to be seen at midnight with all of your friends, or eventually seen as a party movie at your house with unsuspecting friends, with all the lights turned off, and an empty ice maker in your fridge so that way it’ll be sure to be working over time making ice during the movie.
Expectation 6/10 Final Rating 8/10
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