Gentlemen Broncos [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (3rd April 2010).
The Film

To idolize a human being is dangerous as a general rule, because humans are flawed by their very nature. As such, to meet ones idol is often a harrowing experience – they rarely live up to our built up version of what they should be. The meeting (and following realization) is frankly traumatic enough for most, but could you imagine that not only does your idol turn out to be kind of a dick, destroying your fragile worldview; he also steals the idea for your book too?

Benjamin (Michael Angarano) doesn’t have to imagine. When the home-schooled introvert attends the annual Cletus Fest, a camp for aspiring young writers, he finds out that not only is renowned sci-fi novelist Dr. Robert Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), a pompous, egotistical douche, but he knows less about writing than Ben, and worst of all, is more interested in making money than actually writing a lasting, meaningful work that will live on for future generations. At the festival Ben enters his latest “masterpiece” – “Yeast Wars: The Bronco Years”, a book with a plot so absurd I’m still not sure what exactly happens in it – into a contest, to be judged by Chevalier and his contemporaries, and the winner of which will get a 1000 printing release into an unnamed established, nationwide chain-store. Benjamin returns home from the festival early, to help his mother (Jennifer Coolidge), and his novel remains unreturned to him. Meanwhile, Chevalier, on the verge of being dumped by his publisher after a disastrous new release, seizes the promising “Yeast Wars”, revamps it for the worse – making minor tweaks, like changing the name of Ben’s protagonist Bronco to Brutus – and calls the work his own.

“Gentlemen Broncos” is the very definition of an inconsistent film, and my notes look like the scribbles of a bipolar mind. On one hand, Hess’ direction is, for a majority of the flicks runtime, bland and lifeless, but the fantasy moments are so ridiculously and meticulously well executed, and the ending minutes are so well edited, matched with the perfect soundtrack backing the appropriate images, that I have to commend him, at least somewhat. Likewise, while the script itself is wholly problematic, the premise behind it and the execution of some of the real world sequences, and, really, all of the fantasy scenes are only flawed because of the potty humor, aimless subplots, strange-for-the-sake-of-being-strange side characters, and the likes of Mike White holding a snake with explosive diarrhea around his neck, which surrounds and bookends them. By themselves, the moments that I’d consider free of said “problems” are actually quite good and easily the best stuff Hess has ever done.

For instance, the “Yeast Wars” excerpts are totally odd – a mixture of bad and crazy – but they completely work in the context of film. As the representation of the scribbles of an adolescent boy, it only seems logical that Bronco’s seed and his gonads be a central concern to the plot of the book, or that the villains’ main defenses take the form of “surveillance does”, Cycloptic minions and deer’s that shoot rockets and lasers from their ass. The “Yeast Wars” sequences (and the clips from the lesser Chevalier bastardization “Brutus & Balzaak”) are anchored by the wonderful Sam Rockwell, who’s Bronco is like a smarter version of his Zaphod Beeblebrox from “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” (2005), and is totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen him play with his portrayal of the lisping tranny Brutus.

Make no mistake, “Gentlemen Broncos” is not a movie without issues – it has humungous problems of epic proportions in it’s narrative: the film could lose a good half-hour if not more, be no worse, and probably better, for one – a sad fact, with the film clocking in at only 87 minutes. And, often the production feels like it’s trying too hard to be quirky, oddball and unique – not in the “Yeast Wars” moments, which are intentionally “out there” and wouldn’t work otherwise – but in the dull real world. Dare I say that Hess was trying a bit to hard to recapture some of the weirdness that made “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) successful, and, honestly, that hurts “Broncos” overall far more than it helps. But, even with, or even in spite of its troubles, as a film “Gentlemen Broncos” is a massive improvement for Hess and his team, partly because of the characters and the cast. Unlike Napoleon, the bland nerdy archetype, or Nacho from “Nacho Libre” (2006), the disturbing caricature that was more offensive than funny, Benjamin has real depth, raw emotion and true spirit. Maybe it’s Angarano’s performance that brings these qualities forth – I don’t discount the possibility; it is entirely probable that the more-than-capable actor, who’s heads and shoulders more talented than either Jon Heder or Jack Black, brought the intensity and strength to the character all by himself. But, stupid as I am, I like to think that Hess is actually growing as a filmmaker, and consciously made those choices to write the character, and direct the actor, in such a way as to give Benji more substance.

Perhaps then it’s actually a culmination of all the little elements – the few excellent cast members, the less artificial characters, and most of all the insanity that is “Yeast Wars: The Bronco Years” (and to a near-equal extent “Brutus and Balzaak”) – that makes “Gentlemen Broncos” more satisfying than I expected. That must be it, because as a whole, the film almost totally fails. “Broncos” is still less than the sum of its parts – a film that was better left as a trailer – but, moments, especially “Yeast Wars” and it’s companion, had me cracking up. Is it enough though to laugh at a few smartly idiotic sequences, and is the film something that I’d recommend? No, not exactly. It is however a better movie (at least party) than I think most critics thought it was. Audiences didn’t (yet?) connect with “Broncos” the way that they have with Hess’ other work while it was in theaters, but perhaps that will change with home video. I’m just happy that unlike “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Gentlemen Broncos” has less catchphrases and nonsense to repeat, so if it does catch on, I won’t have to listen to hordes of morons blabber about “tatter tots” and mumbling “gosh” all day long.

Video

“Gentlemen Broncos” 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 transfer is a beast with two heads. The real world scenes are nice looking – natural, with minimal, but film-like grain, strong and supple contrast, appreciable depth and gobs of detail in plenty of scenes. The texture of the speakers jacket at the Cletus Fest is ripe with intricate patterns, and close ups often reveal plenty of facial detail. Colors lean towards more drab tones in daylight (which is fitting for the winter atmosphere), but certain primaries, particularly in clothing, are bold. Nights and interiors are warmer, bathed mostly in yellows and browns. Blacks are strong too, and in the daylight “real world” scenes, the image approaches that 3D look that often so pleases. The more fantastical elements are much brighter, more colorful, sharper (and yet, sometimes, softer, because of the CG or a focus pull for more dramatic effect) and the whole visual aesthetic is pushed to an overdone feel – high contrast imagery, with blistering whites, overly-hot skintones and too bright colors. A few sequences – a trailer and the main feature at the film premiere “Yeast Wars” – are pillar-boxed VHS quality standard definition, and look terrible, but still, this all within the intentions of the filmmaker and not a fault of the disc itself. Overall, “Broncos” looks much better than I expected, and thankfully Fox’s Blu-ray accurately reflects the director’s vision without the addition of extra DNR or edge enhancement.

Audio

Fox has included three audio tracks on “Gentlemen Broncos”: a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) mix, and two dubs via French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. For the purpose of this review I listened to the default DTS-HD lossless mix. The result is a satisfying, but not totally impressive experience. One must consider that much of the film’s limited sound design – near silent rears and minimal bass response for a majority of the runtime – is largely intentional, and what wasn’t exactly intended, we can chock up to the miniscule budget. However, the important aspects of “Broncos” mix remain strong. Dialogue is clear and smartly presented within the front soundstage, dynamics are quite good and while LFE and surround channels are usually quiet, in a few scenes both do what need be done. Like the video, this is a technically proficient presentation, and the fantasy sequences shine far greater than the mundane typically “real world.” Still, no matter if we talk about the whimsical or the day-to-day – and certainly overall – I’d rate this mix relatively well.
Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.

Extras

“Gentlemen Broncos” sports a decent amount of bonus material, including an audio commentary, a “Making of” featurette, deleted scenes, and the highlight of the disc, a collection of Blu-ray exclusive behind-the-scene mini-docs vignettes. Supplements are sourced from a mix of 480i/p (SD) and 1080i/p (HD) video.

I may have gotten more than I expected from the film itself but the audio commentary included on “Gentlemen Broncos” is about what I was ready for – a convoluted, almost-pointless discussion about the production. writer/director Jared Hess takes the reins with his wife and co-writer Jerusha Hess and director of photography Munn Powell offering far less remarks and even less insight. I’d recommend that you skip this track – it’s just not worth the time, as I honestly didn’t find much of the commentary interesting, funny or relevant in any way.

5 totally bizarre and awkward deleted scenes (SD) runs for 5 minutes 53 seconds total runtime are included here. They don’t serve to advance the plot, or offer any jokes of note, nor would any one of these scenes have added anything to the film had they not been cut. In other words, skip these wisely removed scenes that are more fit for the rubbish bin than the space they take up on this Blu-ray disc. The scenes included are:

- “Cup Size” runs for 52 seconds.
- “As a Husband and Wife Should” runs for 1 minute 18 seconds.
- “Face Massage” runs for 39 seconds.
- “Brutus’ Cave” runs for 1 minute 13 seconds.
- “Daysius Confrontation” runs for 1 minute 51 seconds.

The “‘Gentlemen Broncos Outtakes Reel: A Buttload of Keepsakes” (SD) is another medley of scenes – this time, slip ups and flubs and a whole lot of worthless bloopers – more fit for the dump than anywhere else. Admittedly, some of the stuff here is funny, but at 8 minutes 48 seconds it runs way, way too long.

“One Nutty Movie: Behind-the-Scenes of ‘Gentlemen Broncos’” (HD, 15:29) is what amounts to a “Making of” featurette, but to say that it’s a good mini-doc would be pushing it. Rather, this is more just a jumble of nonsensical snippets from backstage, which lack focus and don’t really tell you much about the work that went into the film. Sure, there’s cast and crew interviews interwoven throughout, but, more than anything else, this is just an odd featurette, but, one that is watchable nonetheless.

There are some Blu-ray exclusives, far more interesting and entertaining than anything else here, and by far the best extra of the whole disc are an assortment of 18 mini-docs – short vignettes and webisodes – that don’t necessarily delve much deeper into the production of the film, but are at least quirky enough to be fun, and at the same time give a little peek behind-the-scenes. The 18 clips (SD/HD) are detailed below:

- “The Art of Relaxing” – Jemaine Clement in character talking about how after writing a stressful scene in one of his books he likes to do a series of “relaxing” exercises. 1 minute 41 seconds.
- “Sam and Jared Green Screen” – Sam Rockwell and director Jared Hess mess around in front of green screen. The best part of this featurette is the end where Rockwell remarks, “For more crap like that, get on the… what’s it called… world wide web. Whatever. Google it – I don’t care.” 1 minutes 2 seconds.
- “Jemaine Look Alike” – Clement talks about his curious resemblance to director Jared Hess. 50 seconds.
- “VHS Film” – Hess talks about the art of shooting a movie on VHS. 1 minute 21 seconds.
- “Edgar Oliver Intro” – a short video with the playwright/actor. 1 minute 10 seconds.
- “Richard Wright, Jesus and Dino” – production designer Richard Wright talks about the difficulties of creating a fabric Jesus, who’s riding a dinosaur. 51 seconds.
- “Sam and Jerusha: Creative Process” – Sam Rockwell interviews co-writer Jerusha Hess about her creative process, which apparently consists of more eating and sleeping than actual writing. 1 minute 1 second.
- “Sam and Edgar Snack Table” – Rockwell talks about the wonders of the Craft Service table. 1 minute 31 seconds.
- “Mike White’s Teeth” – actress Jennifer Coolidge admires “Mike White’s white teeth. 1 minute 1 seconds.
- ““Mike White’s Yeast Facility” – actor/producer “Mike White talks about the director and his peculiarities. 1 minute 28 seconds.
- “Turkey Testicles” – Scott the Prop Master talks to a man over the phone that specializes in turkey testicles. 1 minute 18 seconds.
- “Dart Gun” – Scott the Prop Master returns to demo a dart gun, which the cast and crew then play around with. 1 minute 4 seconds.
- ““Mike White’s Hair” – a discussion on White’s wig for the film. 1 minute 15 seconds.
- “Sam Gun Practice” – Rockwell returns to talk laser blasters and demo gun tricks. 59 seconds.
- “Sam’s Smoothie” – Rockwell talks about “Galaxy Quest” (1999) and the difficulty of being threatening while drinking from a straw. 1 minute 3 seconds.
- “Edgar Oliver Wrap” – a look at shooting the actors last scene in the film. 1 minute 29 seconds.
- “The Spurlock Trio” – a trio of brothers who were all extras on the film discuss the “extra hierarchy” on set. 1 minute 25 seconds, in high definition.
- “Chance of a Lifetime” – A production assistant gets to be a pryo for the day, in charge of manning the detonator for a key scene. 1 minute 45 seconds, in high definition.

Bonus trailers (HD) included are for:

- “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” runs 2 minutes 18 seconds.
- “Whip It” runs 2 minutes 17 seconds.
- “(500) Days of Summer” runs 2 minutes 22 seconds.
- “Fame: Extended Dance Edition” runs 2 minutes 34 seconds.
- "AFI" promo. 1 minute 2 seconds, in 1080i.

Fox also includes their standard bookmarking feature. A bit more advanced than the regular bookmarks one usually sees on Blu-ray discs, Fox has used the formats BD-Java technology to remember where you left off even after the disc has been removed from the player, even if you do not specifically tag your last viewed scene with a bookmark.

Packaging

The film arrives on a Dual Layer BD-50 and is housed inside an Elite Eco-box. “Gentlemen Broncos” is locked to Region A.

Overall

I admit, I was expecting the worst going into Jared Hess’ “Gentlemen Broncos”, but, honestly, the film isn’t terrible. It isn’t great either, but compared to my thoughts on the writer/director’s other projects, “Broncos” is a genuine delight (that’s only because I hate “Napoleon Dynamite” and the sight of Jack Black shirtless makes me vomit, so take my passing admiration appropriately). I can’t outright recommend “Gentlemen Broncos” as the film is just too polarizing. But I can suggest that you seek out the trailer, see if the film interests you in anyway, and act accordingly. If you want to give the film a peek, with surprisingly strong video, equally impressive audio and the fact that the high-def release also has some great exclusive bonus material, Fox’s Blu-ray is definitely the way to go.

The Film: C Video: B Audio: B Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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