Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gentlemen Broncos (Jared Hess, 2009)

The woefully untalented want to exploit you, the exceedingly powerful want to violate you. Or is it the other way around? Whatever. Is there any end to the degradation the creatively blessed must endure in order to get their voices heard in a world controlled by mindless vulgarians and their child-molesting allies? If it's not one thing, it's something else. And if it is in fact something else, when will something completely different come along and show us what something else looks like? Art. What is it? And what makes it so darned artistic? These, and many other non-erroneous questions, are answered in Gentlemen Broncos, a film by a bunch of people who live and work in and around an area known as the Utah-Idaho Conglomeratic Atmospheric Territory, a.k.a. U.I.C.A.T., or Ewww-eee Kaht, as it's pronounced on the mean streets of suburban Boise (its de facto capital). Even though the land the territory sits on is millions of years old, that doesn't mean Jared Hess (human deadpan dispensary) is over his head. Sure, he's only been alive in the U.I.C.A.T. for a fraction of that time, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been carefully observing the sheer ridiculousness of the regions current inhabitants. An unopened love letter to fashion and science fiction, the qu...Don't do it! Do what? Use the q-word in correlation to Gentlemen Broncos. What are you talking about? I've always been respectful to the LGBT population. Not queer, you uncoordinated fanny bandit. I'm talking about "quirky." So, using quirky to describe a Jared Hess film is a no-no? A huge no-no. I mean, you had an interesting take on the film going and you had to go and ruin it by using the q-word. Well, you called me an uncoordinated fanny bandit. Yeah, but I was trying to be edgy. Kinda like those unjustifiably disaffected teens who post pictures of SS officers and car accident photos on their tumblrs.
On their tumb-what? Never mind. Anyway, while I loved Napoleon Dynamite, for some strange, or maybe, not-so strange, reason I skipped Nacho Libre (Jack Black as a Mexican monk/Luchador trying to save an orphanage rubs me the wrong way). Well, I'm happy to report that Jared Hess and the house that dang built are back doing what they do best. What that is exactly has yet to come to me. But I'm sure sometime over the next five or six hundred paragraphs I'll be able to succinctly state what it was that made this vomit-laden, hand cream-stained film stand out from the crowd.
Kicking things off with a cool opening credits sequence, one where the cast and crew are represented by the covers of various sci-fi paperbacks (if you watch the film a second time, you'll notice the covers are all pretty apt), we're quickly shown the makeshift cover of "Yeast Lords," the sci-fi novel that will alter the course of the lives of a small group of quir...I mean, eccentric characters who call Saltair, Utah home (it says here that Carnival of Souls was shot in Saltair).
Boasting a picture of a weaponized deer as its cover, the book is the work of Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano), a gifted teen who lives with his mother Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), a fashion designer, in their dome-shaped house. Invited to attend something called "Cletus Festival," a writer's camp for young writers–it's the best writer's camp in the state according to Todd Keefe (Josh Pais)–Benjamin starts his journey of self-discovery by getting  on a bus; but not before being told by his mother, "Remember who you are and what you stand for." You should think about this line a bit when it's uttered, as it sums up this film's message in a nutshell.
On top of being budding writers, it would seem that all the kids on the bus are homeschoolers; which is...yeah, a thing, I guess. School at home, eh? Who would have thunk it?
The moment we've all been waiting for is...I'm sorry, I meant to say, the moment I've been waiting for is about to occur. And here it comes. Yes! We have Halley Feiffer! Boom! Exploding onto the screen like an angelic mist, Halley Feiff...Whoa, hold on. Who the fuck is Halley Feiffer? The hell? I can't believe you just interrupted my flow like that. Well, I'm not going to let you start blathering incoherently about some actress we've never heard of without giving us some clues as to where she fits into the Gentlemen Broncos universe.
Fine. As he's about to start eating his lunch at the Kozy Cafe, Benjamin is introduced to a vision of loveliness named Tabatha Jenkins (Halley Feiffer), a fellow author who specializes in French mysteries. Even the name, Tabatha Jenkins, sets my heart on fire. And why wouldn't it? I mean, "Tabatha" is alluring and exotic. Yet, "Jenkins" contains just the right amount of Welshness. Huh? You see, a Welsh name like, "Jones" doesn't contain enough Welshness, while "Llewellyn" contains too much...Welshness, that is.  
Gesturing toward her lady area with a sheepish brand of self-assurance, Tabatha Jenkins asks Benjamin if she can borrow some money to buy some tampons. Are you sure she asked to "borrow" some money to buy some tampons? Oh, I'm sure.
How about Tabatha Jenkins' sheepish lady area gesture, did that really happen? You better believe it did. Hot Diggity! I think I'm falling in love with Tabatha Jenkins as well. Like you, I find tampons to be titillating to the max. Oh, and just in case you're wondering, a tampon is a plug of soft material that is inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood. They should make a male tampon, because I just creamed my jeans.
Jumping Jehosaphat!!! Tabatha Jenkins didn't buy some tampons. She and her filmmaker pal Lonnie (Héctor Jiménez) bought snacks instead. I don't understand. She says they were out of tampons. But I'm not buying that. After all, Utah's state motto isn't the Tampon State for nothing  (check their license plates if you don't believe me). Just kidding, the state's motto is "Industry." Which, actually, in a strange sort of way, is still tampon-esque, if you think about it. According to Medical News Today, the feminine hygiene product market is worth billions of dollars every year.
If hearing Tabatha Jenkins say the word "tampons" wasn't hot enough for ya, you should see her when she gets an impromptu hand massage from Benjamin while her orally endowed dandy fop of a friend breathes on her exquisite neck. It's downright orgasmic. Are you sure this film was made by Mormons? I know, right?
Once settled in at Cletus Fest, Tabatha Jenkins comes over to Benjamin's room to hang, or, to use her words, "get to know you better." (Even the way she stood in the doorway of his room was erotic.) Telling him that he won't get anywhere as an author unless he let's people beside his mom read his work, Benjamin reluctantly allows Tabatha Jenkins to read Yeast Lords, the epic tale of Bronco (Sam Rockwell) and his equally epic struggle reclaim one of his gonads, which has been stolen by Lord Daysius (Edgar Oliver), an evil mad scientist who commands an army of cyclopses.
As she starts to read Benjamin's manuscript on his bed, we're quickly ushered into the sci-fi world of Yeast Lords. Strapped to a table in a lab, the hirsute Bronco is bemoaning the loss of one of his gonads. Stolen by Dennis (who is also played by Edgar Oliver from Oddities), one of Lord Daysius' clones, Broncos' gonad is apparently going to be used to breed a new race of super-soldiers. Breaking free thanks to his pet Lynx, Korlaxx, Broncos grabs the jars that may or may not contain his missing gonad, and then...well, Tabatha Jenkins stops reading at this point.
Played with pompous perfection, right down to the bluetooth earpiece (which he never uses), the mom jeans and bizarre accent, by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), sci-fi author/artist (the man draws a mean cyborg harpy) Dr. Ronald Chevalier is Benjamin's hero. At Cletus Fest to be a judge (the winning manuscript will be sold in select bookstores nationwide) and teach a class on suffixes ("The Power of the Suffix"), Dr. Chevelier reads "Yeast Lords" after spotting it on the floor of his hotel room.
Why was it on the floor, you ask? Well, his publisher had just rejected his latest book (some claptrap about a moon foetus), so he threw all the manuscripts on the floor in a fit of rage. While all the manuscripts had bland notebook covers, the one with the battle stag on the cover caught his eye. Picking it up, we're sucked back into the world of Yeast Lords where Bronco is trying to sew his junk back on. Approached by a bald woman named Vanaya (Suzanne May), Bronco is, at first, weary of the top heavy cue ball. However, after smelling her breath (it smells like homemade licorice), Bronco agrees to let her and her brother Kanaya (Johnny Hoops) tag along.
Just as Bronco, Vanaya, and Kanaya are about to lay siege to Lord Daysius' primary yeast factory, Dr. Chevalier stops reading. The look on his face says it all. Two people, besides his mother, have now read parts of Yeast Lords, and it's safe to say both think it's fucking awesome. While Tabatha Jenkins and Lonnie Donaho buy the film rights to Yeast Lords, Dr. Chevalier straight-up plagiarizes it. Using his talent with suffixes, Dr. Chevalier simply changes Bronco to Brutus, and proceeds to call the book his own.
If you thought Sam Rockwell was great as Bronco, you should see him as Brutus. Replacing his long beard with a neatly trimmed blonde mustache, Dr. Chevalier's version of Sam Rockwell is preening ninny who hates cyclopses. Actually, I think Brutus hates surveillance does just as much as he hates cyclopses.
It should go without saying, but I thought Halley Feiffer did a terrific job as Tabatha Jenkins, the complex woman who takes a liking to Benjamin, or, I should say, takes a liking to Benjamin's book. Don't worry, she realizes the error of her ways by the time the comeuppance is being handed out. At any rate, I recommend that you pay special attention to the trailer that appears before the screening of Lonnie Donoho's ultra-low budget version of Yeast Lords, as it gives you a taste of Halley Feiffer's range as a performer. In the trailer, for a film about a ranch hand, Logan (Michael Angarano), who is pursued romantically by Daisy (Halley Feiffer), the sister of his fiance, Halley rides a horse, wears a scrunchie face while submerged in a hot tub, ingests pills in a nightgown, and reclines on a sports car in what some might construed as an excessively leggy manner; I would never construed that, but I can see how some people might view it as excessive.
As she finished doing all these things, I decided right then and there that if Halley Feiffer isn't in a movie, I ain't watching it. Of course, this only applies to movies made after the year 2000. 
Sure, things start to go off the rails once Mike White shows up in a blonde wig (he plays Dusty, Benjamin's guardian angel), but the film's message about staying true to yourself remains loud and clear. Altering the content of his book (which was written as a tribute to his father), Benjamin eventually stands up against the forces that are trying to exploit him; and he does so while wearing one of the pieces from his mother's nightgown collection, "Decent Beginnings." Filled with scatological humour (snake poop, dog poop), vomit (Tabatha Jenkins swallows puke while wearing a fur vest at one point and Bronco uses pink, fire hose-quality projectile vomit to defeat a battle stag), Gentlemen Broncos is profoundly stupid, yet at the same time, a wonderfully entertaining and heartfelt movie.


  1. Honestly, I don't know about this one. The filthy word "quirky" is just too much a part of these filmmakers vocabulary. Specifically going out of their way to be "quirky," boring "ironic" (of course its "geeks" doing science fiction), all while peddling the same after-school special message of "be true to yourself." Things are a lot messier than that. What if you don't know who you are? Yes, its only a movie. I just see this supposedly "quirky, independent film" view of life to be severely lacking. And extremely trite and put-on. Not just with the Hess family, but with a lot of this generation of American "independent" (with huge budgets) filmmakers.

    Maybe it was all the Bergman and Tsukamoto as a sad-eyed teen.

    "Carnival of Souls" would be a better Utah film. That thing is brilliant.

    As an aside, I don't understand supposedly disaffected teens posting photos of Nazis and mangled corpses, either. I'm guessing they are mostly white and well off, too. If they really wanted to show faces to evil, they'd show photos of Dick Cheney and the stock market. I guess that's not nearly a shocking. Dumbasses.

  2. I don't remember how I got roped into watching this one. But I'm sort of glad I did, as it turned out to be a refreshing change of pace from all the movies filled with murder and rape.

    My dashboard is littered with mangled corpses. Of course, I could simply un-follow all those blogs. But them again, I'm too lazy to do so. ;)

    I overheard a news story the other day detailing the Mongolian stock market. Weird, wild stuff.

  3. Excellent films that are not filled with graphic murder and rape:

    Ingmar Bergman: "Sommaren med Monika" ("Summer With Monika," 1953)
    Ingmar Bergman: "Gycklarnas afton" ("Sawdust and Tinsel," 1953) misdeeds are implied
    Ingmar Bergman: "Ansiktet" ("The Magician," 1958)
    Ingmar Bergman: "Såsom i en spegel" ("Through a Glass Darkly," 1961) misdeeds are implied
    Ingmar Bergman: "Tystnaden" ("The Silence," 1963)
    Ingmar Bergman: "Persona" (1966)

    Knowing a little about your likes and dislikes, I'd start with "Summer with Monika." It features an outstanding performance by Harriet Andersson. Oh, and she is exceptionally leggy and emotive in the film, if that entices you at all:

    My personal favorite performance by her is definitely the absolute genius she displays in "Through a Glass Darkly." But "Summer with Monika" is a better starting point if you haven't watched a ton of Bergman.

  4. You weren't kidding around regarding Harriet Andersson's legginess. Dang! She is exceptionally so. :)

    Anyway, yeah, I can give Summer With Monika a whirl.

    As far Bergman goes, I've seen Cries and Whispers, Autumn Sonata, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, and the SCTV parody of Persona.

  5. The French and Saunder's Bergman parody is funny, too. If you are going to mention Bergman parodies. Bill and Ted doesn't really count. But young Keanu is kind of barren and angsty in how vapid he is, I guess.

    I've seen only a quarter of his films, so like twenty or so. Still a long way to go.

    Of all the actresses Bergman worked with, Harriet Andersson brings the greatest raw power and emotional energy to her performances. Simply overwhelming in "Through a Glass Darkly."

  6. I hate to be the bearer of bad news:

    He definitely left a sizable body of work. I guess he's filming Lina Romay running around naked up in heaven now.


    I saw this AV Club headline on my FB feed and immediately thought of you. :(

    I just look at cat pictures and Christoph Waltz gifs on Tumblr. Total opposite of what you are describing!

    I haven't seen Gentlemen Broncos. Love Jemaine, but the memory of Napoleon Dynamite is too strong. Mom jeans!

  8. @ido: Note to self: Ido, not a Keanu fan. :D

    Don't worry, you didn't bear any bad news, the news of Jess's death was gleamed on Tumblr; I knew something was up when I started seeing these pics of Jess all of sudden. :(

    He's filming Lina running around in nothing but black hold-up stockings.

    Karim Amir: Thanks. Jess Franco is probably my favourite director of all-time.

    Weird. I just saw a Christopher Waltz gif on my dashboard like five seconds ago (it was taken from his recent appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show).

    I read somewhere that there wouldn't be an internet if it weren't for porn and cats.

    Oh, yeah. I recall your disdain for Napoleon Dynamite. :D

  9. Loved this movie, it is certainly Jared Hess's weirdest movie (and thats saying a lot!) but it's funny can't be denied. Hey, i really recommend checking out nacho libre, it's hilarious. Seriously!

  10. Fine. I'll watch Nacho Libre. ;)

  11. @Yum-Yum: If you sit through that abomination, then you should watch a real luchador film staring the king himself, "Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro" (Santo vs. The Vampire Women, 1962).

    Its got El Santo and vampire women in it. Need I say more.

  12. Let's just say, Nacho Libre is not a high priority. I hope that puts your mind at ease.

    Oh, I'm writing Santo vs. The Vampire Women down. :D