Category Archives: Films

Miyazaki/Ghibli Retrospective: Spirited Away

By Sam Giddings

What can I say about Spirited Away that hasn’t already been said?  It won the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature Film” in 2003; that probably sums it up nicely.  It’s an animation of sublime detail, vivid characters, and genuine warmth.  With Spirited Away, Miyazaki crystallised his place as one of the most brilliant animators of all time – arguably even one of the greatest directors of all time.

Spirited Away is a simple tale told with beautiful complexity, an absorbing mix of the familiar and the alien.  After exploring an abandoned theme park with her parents, ten-year-old Chihiro finds an enormous buffet.  As her parents tuck in to this decadent feast, Chihiro continues her exploration of the eerie site.  Night falls, and Chihiro returns to find her parents have now turned to pigs, in a deliciously spiteful nod to the closing stages of Pinocchio.  As a nearby derelict bath-house springs to life, Chihiro finds herself trapped in a fantastical world of bizarre creatures and spirits set around this aquatic hub, trying to restore her parents to human form.  Her parents’ gluttony always remains the underlying motivation for all that befalls Chihiro, but the film transcends this simple beginning to touch on aspects of self and identity, of home and of responsibility, and of wonder.

Perhaps it is this wonder that is the single most astounding facet of Miyazaki’s most critically and commercially successful film.  Chihiro soon loses her name, starting to forget who she is and why she is staying in this world of talking frogs, spirits called No-Face, and spider-limbed boiler attendants.  Chihiro is given the new name “Sen” by her peers, and manages to secure herself a job in the bath house so that she can stay, avoiding detection by the evil with Yubaba who holds dominion over it.  Sen tackles her new responsibilities with the straightforward acceptance only children possess, and it is through her eyes that we, the audience, truly appreciate the magical brilliance of the bath-house and its world.  It is almost a curious inversion, her stoic approach conflicting with our own continuing surprise as the unfamiliar spirit world is revealed to us.  Sen acts as a raw, unpolished prism, her unassuming innocence gently luring us into the perfect oddness of Spirited Away.

Written down, this sounds like a ridiculous sequence of events, but rest assured – woven together in Miyazaki’s deft hands, every action and consequence obeys a curious logic.  Never does Sen’s new world feel over-elaborate, or explanations far-fetched – Sen’s adventures consistently delight with their rich layers of imagination and persistent subtlety.

In many ways, Spirited Away is a culmination of all that Miyazaki has created before.  The heart of My Neighbour Totoro mingles with the epic scope of Princess Mononoke to create a perfect, singular episode of cinema.  It is more focused than Princess Mononoke, more ambitious than Totoro, and daring in ways that most conventional films are not.  The appeal of Spirited Away is truly familial, with plenty of beautiful moments for both parents and children alike.  I cannot recommend it enough if you haven’t seen it, and if you have, well – perhaps this retrospective is reason enough to dig it out again.

Next week John O’Connell takes a look back at ‘Grave Of The Fireflies’


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Miyazaki/Ghibli Retrospective: My Neighbour Totoro

By Steven Wright

My Neighbour Totoro is one of the greatest family films of all time, in my opinion, of course. But it depresses me how many people have never seen it. You really have no excuse, with there now being a multitude of versions in many different languages, although the original subtitled version is my personal favourite.

The story is so simple, almost coming second to the wonder of the world and the fantastical creatures within it. It tells the tale of Satsuki, Mei and their father, who are moving to a new house in the beautiful Japanese countryside, while their mother, and wife, recovers from a nameless illness. The house resides beside a forest with a massive Camphor tree at the heart of it, which we later find is home to the keeper of the forest, Totoro.

The story does not really feature much else besides the kids interactions with the forest spirits, all the while their mother is hoping to come home. The biggest plot point is near the end, when Mei runs away after an argument to see her sick mother, leaving Satsuki to ask for Totoro’s help to find her.

A lot of the scenes do nothing to drive the plot forward, instead favouring on building the characters and the relationships between them. But these are some of the best scenes in the film, with most of them featuring the loveable little tyke, Mei. One scene for example, features Mei picking flowers for her father who his stressed with work,  and placing them one by one on the desk beside him. Although it sounds like nothing, it’s so well directed and animated that is speaks volumes about the characters, giving them, like the roving forest around them, room to grow.

It’s these interactions between the family and the spirits that make the film so memorable. Mei, again, is the driving force behind these interactions with her inquisitive nature getting her in lots of places she should not be. From catching a soot sprite in the most adorably cute manner, to chasing the little magical Totoro-like creatures into the forest and eventually falling through the camphor three onto the belly of the sleeping Totoro.

I adore the way Miyazaki has animated the children, perfectly capturing their innocence and wonder of everything that happens, and he has transferred this care into the spirits. Whether it’s the soot sprites, the little Totoro’s, the big Totoro or the psychedelic Catbus, they are all so full of character. The biggest difference to Western animation is the fact that these characters don’t speak – besides the guttural yell of TO-TO-ROOOOO, of course.

This is the first of many things that defy the classic recipe of a children’s animation. Gone are talking lobsters, gone are the Princesses, gone are the songs and most importantly, gone are the villains. This is something that I did not pick up on throughout my many viewings of the film, having to be told recently by a friend, and it really is a huge thing.

Although the film does not have a villain it does not suffer for it, instead having some real human worries in it; Satsuki worrying about the health of her mother when an alarming telegraph turns up; the disapearence of Mei, and the finding of a little girls sandal in the lake is genuinely worrying; all of these scenes are very adult, almost too real for a standard kids film.

And yet that’s why it’s not just a film for the children, it’s something that adults can love too. Miyazaki understands this and can walk the fine line between cute and  deep, with a lot of his films having deeper meanings. One theme that I have noticed as being present in a lot if his films is nature, and it is present in Totoro, although in a lesser way than the likes of Mononoke.

I could gush about My Neighbour Totoro for hours as it is such a special film, balancing humour, magic, wonder, love and just downright fuzzy warmth. I have to stress: if you have not seen it then please do, because even though it’s 22 years old, and even though it’s a cliché, this film is a timeless classic.

Next week, Sam Giddings takes a look back at ‘Spirited Away’


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Review: Shutter Island (15)

By Adam Roche

Of course, Martin Scorsese has done genre thrillers before, most notably ‘Cape Fear’ back in the 90’s, but I must admit to being rather perplexed by his decision to direct ‘Shutter Island’. After all, he’s now an Oscar winning director (at long last), and his output in recent years has leaned more towards a director interested in drama and biopics, than someone willing to indulge their inner fanboy on a throwback to their formative influences.

This, of course, is the beauty of Scorsese’s legacy thus far. Defying convention since the beginning, he has arguably produced the most diverse and consistent body of work of any living director. So although his decision to direct ‘Shutter Island’ is a surprising one, it isn’t altogether unbelievable.

‘Shutter Island’ is the story of Ashecliffe, a hospital for the criminally insane containing 66 patients, located on the eponymous island. When one of it’s patients, a multiple murderer called Rachel Solando goes missing, US Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are assigned the case. They arrive to find a seemingly impossible mystery, and worse, an apparent conspiracy involving illegal experimentation and communism. Soon, Teddy begins to experience horrific hallucinations which include his wife, who was murdered several years before by an arsonist who may or may not be on the island amongst the patients. When it becomes apparent that the doctors are hiding evidence of a 67th patient, Teddy begins to suspect that the patients are not the only prisoners of Shutter Island…

The story is complete hogwash, but it’s rollicking good fun, gothic and intense, with every ingredient present; the malevolent hurricane sweeping the island, the lone lighthouse on a rock, the dank corridors of the asylum itself, and of course, the wacko collection of gawping loons that inhabit its cells. You want sinister, you got it. Ben Kingsley (in a welcome return to form) almost steals the show as the eerily serene Dr Cawley, along with Max Von Sydow as Dr Naehring, the grinning surgeon whose past may be in conflict with Teddy’s own.

Of course, he has cast Leonardo “The Frown” DiCaprio again. It’s all well and good to have a muse, but it’s becoming a little overdone now. Seeing that this is DiCaprio’s fourth outing for Scorsese in 8 years, it’s becoming a little difficult to accept him in these roles. True, he’s a wonderfully gifted actor, but with little diversity in the roles he’s taking, it’s becoming almost a foregone conclusion that he will be putting on the moody, unhappy, intense performance that is fast becoming his stock in trade. Perhaps with Scorsese’s upcoming projects (biopics of Frank Sinatra and Theodore Roosevelt) Scorsese should bite the bullet and cast around for someone else, or at least someone inbetween. Even when DeNiro was Scorsese’s golden boy there were breaks. Plus, the roles were far more diverse. Put Rupert Pupkin against Jake LaMotta and the contrast is blinding. That said, this is by far DiCaprio’s most accomplished performance for Scorsese yet. Within the space of the film’s two hour running time, he goes convincingly from freshly confident to rabid confusion. By the film’s close it’s hard to believe that this was once Jack from Titanic.

Where the film does fall down is in its middle section, which does seem to sag and groan under the weight of its intentions. After a brisk, mysterious opening, we are suddenly stranded with a few confusing flashbacks and hallucinations. Whilst they definitely add to the feeling of dread (one in particular being almost reminiscent of ‘The Shining’) they are not given any context till later in the film, and so initially come across as a little indulgent. That said, the film does reward the patient viewer with revelation upon revelation in the film’s final hour, building up to a frenetic climax that will hijack the complacent viewer like crazy.

There is no doubt that this was an odd choice for Scorsese, but after having watched it, it’s not hard to see why he chose it. Sometimes we all need to stop being serious and do something mad. To quote Henry Hill: “Those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean they were suckers”. If Martin Scorsese wants to direct a schlock-thriller every ten years, then at least we can be thankful that it’s something as much fun as ‘Shutter Island’. It seems that blowing off steam is a good thing.

After all if you don’t, you might just end up losing your mind.


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Review: Ponyo (U)

By Adam Roche

In a Miyazaki film, nothing is formulaic and anything goes. For some, his films can be a relatively disorientating experience, but only because the power and breadth of his imagination fuel stories and characters that dare to go to places usually unseen by Western audiences. Surrender to it, and a whole new world awaits with every film. With Miyazaki’s latest film, ‘Ponyo’, perhaps he has crafted his most charming, and crucially, his most accessible tale yet.

‘Ponyo’ is the tale of Brunhilda, a fish-girl who lives in a craft at the bottom of the sea, belonging to her father, a former human who has renounced his mortality. Longing for adventure, Brunhilda escapes to the surface, where she becomes stranded. Sosuke, a local boy, rescues her, believing her to be a goldfish, and renames her Ponyo. They quickly bond, and Sosuke is shocked to find that she can not only speak, but declares her devotion to him too.

Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, rises from the ocean and reclaims her, but unable to control her desire to return to Sosuke, resolves to fetch Ponyo’s mother, the benevolent spirit of the sea. Ponyo escapes again, and using her father’s magic elixirs, turns herself into a human child and returns to the surface to seek out Sosuke. This magic, however, causes an imbalance in the oceans, which begin to rise and swallow up the land.

To give any more away would be spoiling things. As you would expect, subsequent events occur that would be hard to imagine for yourself.

Along with ‘The Princess And The Frog’, this is turning into a stellar year for animated features. ‘Ponyo’ features not only an enchanting array of characters, but some of the most ravishing animation that Miyazaki has yet produced. For such a waterlogged film, the surroundings never lose their beauty or their intricacies. One of the most remarkable things about it, is that this feels like water with weight. It’s evident in the way the tides slop and slurp at the houses and bay walls, how the gentle movement of the ocean’s surface gently nudges and pushes at Sosuke’s house in the latter half of the film.

When Ponyo returns to Sosuke having become human, we are treated to a bravaura sequence where she runs across the crests of the coming waves as they rush to envelope the land. It’s a truly breathtaking scene; heavy, rushing waves juxtaposed with Ponyo’s flittering, almost hummingbird-like sprint, as an astonished Sosuke watches, goggle-eyed from a car that is itself fighting and gasping its way along a rapidly drowning road.

And yet, the weight and texture of the film can also be found in the film’s quieter scenes, such as the echoed clomp as the lid is placed on a noodle pot, or the sight of a stray octopus finding its way into the living room through an open door. There is so much to see and enjoy in the film that simply listing its attributes would take a writer with far more time on his hands than I can lay claim to.

‘Ponyo’ no doubt lacks the dark edges of ‘Spirited Away’ or ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, but make no mistake, this is a full-fledged Miyazaki fairytale, equally as worthy as any of his past works. Just because the smile never leaves your face when you watch it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t got everything. Darkness comes in greys here rather than blacks; Sosuke’s father who never seems to be home, the cold fright of wondering if your mother made it across the water, and the tight gnawing hope that Ponyo doesn’t end up as sea-foam should Sosuke make the wrong choice…

Ravishing and adorable, ‘Ponyo’ is another wonderful addition to Miyazaki’s legacy. Magical and fascinating enough to be the entry-level film for all newcomers, and yet full of the rich beauty established fans have come to expect. (And psst, it’s my new favourite…)

To celebrate the release of ‘Ponyo’, Electro Candy are proud to bring you a retrospective of Miyazaki and Ghibli’s work beginning next week, featuring guest writers taking a look back at their favourite Miyazaki/Ghibli films and moments. Next week, Steven Wright takes a look back at ‘My Neighbour Totoro’.


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Review: The Princess And The Frog (U)

By Adam Roche

For all their good intentions, the Disney of today is not the Disney of my childhood. Maybe this is a result of my now being mid-thirties, my childlike naivety slightly more jaded than it was, but the excitement and magic that a Disney film could produce in a young me seems to have disappeared at around age thirteen (year not disclosed…). This was when you could only see a Disney movie if it was on at the cinema, or on the TV, usually around Christmas.

They were all main events, from the still stunning songs of ‘The Jungle Book’ to the spectre of Maleficent’s horned dragon demon in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, from the pure, joyful fairytale brought to life that is ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (a spelling smudge that still makes me shudder) to the pitch black nightmare of Lampwick’s transformation from screaming child to donkey in ‘Pinocchio’. Disney has certainly produced some indelible moments of cinema, animated but nonetheless magical.

Of course, after Walt’s death in 1966, the studio lost its way slightly, and wasn’t rejuvenated until the 90’s, which saw critical and box-office triumphs such as ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Beauty And The Beast’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’ going some way to erasing the memory of ‘The Black Cauldron’, ‘The Fox And The Hound’ and ‘Oliver and Company’. However, complacency once again set in, and soon we were asked to love ‘Brother Bear’, ‘Hercules’, ‘Home On The Range’ and an endless slew of movies devoted to each of the characters from Winnie The Pooh.

Once Pixar hit it big, Disney decided that hand drawn animation was going the way of ‘Top Of The Pops’, and canned it altogether to concentrate on the newfound money-spinner that was computer generated animation. They jumped in feet first with ‘Chicken Little’. One hopes they landed on something sharp.

However, what Disney didn’t understand was that people didn’t really care how a film was animated, they just wanted a good story. People want to be charmed by Disney, and when they weren’t, they went to the next best thing: Pixar. What sets Pixar apart from other animation houses is that they don’t reach into their bag of technical tricks and fit a story around whatever’s in their fist. They spend months and years crafting stories and characters people want to see, then work their technical magic around creating a cinematic experience from that story. Other animation houses take note.

With Michael Eisner rightly ousted as head, Disney suddenly did a very smart thing. They brought in Pixar honcho and Toy Story director John Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer. He immediately decreed a return to hand drawn animated features. Lasseter is a personal friend of animation godfather Hayao Miyazaki and recognised that reopening this division of Disney would not only herald a new beginning for the ailing studio, but would be an excellent way of spotting and nurturing future talents. The first project announced under Lasseter’s guidance was ‘The Princess And The Frog’.

Although the above prologue is a rather lengthy piece of history, it’s also a necessary one. It has to be understood how important this film is in Disney’s history. This isn’t just The New Disney Movie. This is a company embracing its heritage and taking one on the chin, admitting it’s errors and trying to put things right. This film is an apology for all the guff it’s produced in the name of innovation, holding up its hands and saying ‘You know what? You were right. Why change a winning formula?’. For that reason alone, ‘The Princess And The Frog’ deserves your attention. But that’s not the only reason.

Set in 1920’s New Orleans, the film follows a prince named Naveen from the land of Maldonia, who is transformed into a frog by an evil voodoo magician, Dr. Facilier . The frog prince mistakes a waitress called Tiana for a princess and has her kiss him to break the spell. However, instead of breaking the spell, the kiss turns Tiana into a frog as well. Together, the two of them must travel through the dangers of the Bayou to reach a voodoo queen named Mama Odie, who may be able to break the spell. Along the way they befriend a trumpet playing alligator called Louis and a Cajun firefly named Raymond.

At first glance it may seem like standard Disney fare: plucky heroine – check; prince – check; amusing sidekicks – check. What you won’t be reckoning on, however, is just how stuffed to the brim with charm and beauty this film actually is. Without any hesitation, I can honestly say that ‘The Princess And The Frog’ is a modern masterpiece. Watching it, I suddenly realised that that child in me that thrilled to those Disney moments never went away. To quote Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, ‘It’s the pictures that got small’. Watching this movie is a truly magical, awe-inspiring experience.

Firstly, there’s the villain. Dr Facilier is evil beyond words. He wants blood, and when the frogs escape, he doesn’t resort to wisecracking. He calls upon his voodoo overlords and conjures a collection of hideous shadow creatures to pursue them malevolently across the Bayou. Voiced by Keith David, he’s as solid a villain as Disney has ever created, right up there with the Queen from ‘Snow White’ and Maleficent from ‘Sleeping Beauty’. What Disney lost sight of in recent years is that scary is good. Kids like being scared. It means they’re invested.

Then there are the songs. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one for Disney musicals, especially when the songs are crowbarred in there just because they’ve managed to get Phil Collins to write them. Of course the soundtracks to classics like ‘Snow White’ and Pinocchio’ stand alone because they’re standards, but seriously, can you remember the songs from ‘Brother Bear’? ‘The Princess And The Frog’ has a soundtrack written by Randy Newman (who thankfully doesn’t sing them). Set in the height of the Roaring Twenties, each is a jazz spiced classic, upbeat , joyful and raw. Each is a memorable, toe-tapping piece of starlight that, crucially, moves with the story itself.

And then there are the chances that Disney has taken on the plot. Suffice to say I won’t be giving anything away here, but let me tell you that fans of storytelling are well served here. It’s packed with delightful side characters: Big Daddy the millionaire, who for once isn’t the conniving, greedy stereotype often associated with wealth in kid’s films; Raymond, the lovelorn firefly with the Cajun drawl, who not only provides one of the film’s genuine shock moments, but also a wonderfully realised story arc involving his love for an unattainable night light; Louis, the alligator who longs more than anything to be human so he can play jazz in public; Lottie, Tiana’s spoiled, slightly deranged best friend who yearns for the fairytale life, even though she can’t see that she’s living it already, and who provides one of the film’s most heartwarming laughs at the close of the film.

And how does it look? It’s Miyazaki-Goes-West gorgeous. His influence is clearly felt, especially on the wider, more detailed shots of New Orleans itself and the subtle movement of the characters. For proof, see the detail and dazzling beauty of Mama Odie’s treehouse as the sun spills through in the climax of her brilliant song ‘Dig A Little Deeper’, trickling across and through thousands of tiny, coloured glass bottles, or the way the ornate river steamer slides down the orange evening river towards New Orleans.

Of course there’s more. I could tell you about the wonderful drifts into art-deco style animation as Tiana imagines her dream coming true to the strains of ‘Almost There’, the sight of a gazillion fireflies lighting up the way through the Bayou towards Mama Odie, of how two frogs get three grown men to beat the hell out of each other, of the terrible fate of Dr. Facilier and of the everlasting impression it makes in stone… You must forgive me. For a moment, I was a child again.

If you loved ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’; if you hated ‘A Goofy Movie’, ‘The Rescuers Down Under’ and ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’, you’re going to be happy. What Disney have pulled off here isn’t just a nice new cash cow. It’s a studio in resurrection, completely back on form with a film that easily holds its own alongside the seven little guys and the wooden boy. Charming, beautiful, scary and magnificent, ‘The Princess And The Frog’ is the reason Disney once more rules the roost. Boys, you done good.


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Showgirls 2…. Seriously!

By Adam Roche

Egad! As if the first movie wasn’t atrocious enough, Geoff Schaff, a “producer” with seemingly gluttonous appetite for condemnation has gone ahead with ‘Showgirls: The Return’, and you can see the trailer right here. I insist you watch it, as to be completely honest, you wouldn’t believe me if I tried to tell you how Vinegar-In-The-Eyes-Painful it truly is.

Before you do though, please accept a smidgen of a warning. It’s strictly Not Safe For Work, featuring a writhing, naked girl crawling from a bath, and not leaving much to the imagination in her attempts to mimic the movement of the Lesser Spotted Bathroom Floor Slug. It also features her ‘Murder By Dumbbell’, both referring to the instrument used, and to the Jedward wannabe who carries out the crime (mostly against acting).

There’s neon! There’s a hotel! There’s a grainy shot of Vegas! There’s Sapphic coupling! There’s… a pair of eyes…?

In fact I dare you to watch it. It might, just might, outstrip the original in sheer, crapulent lunacy!

Geoff Schaff, one gets the feeling you may not see that money again…


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Review: Gentlemen Broncos

By Adam Roche

So far, Jared Hess has allowed us into his mind twice. The first trip was with ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, a virtually plotless, yet charming film about outsiders in the midwest that became an instant cult hit. The second was ‘Nacho Libre’, his prospective “big hit” with Jack Black as a Mexican wrestler, who spent much of the film mugging and not enough time making us laugh. So how does the scorecard stand? One hit, one miss. We’re about evens. But what does ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ do to tip the scales?

The plot, such as it is, concerns Benjamin (Michael Angarano), a home-schooled, morose teenager who aspires to be a sci-fi novelist with his tales of ‘The Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years’, an epic space fantasy revolving around Bronco, a kind of intergalactic Rambo, and his battles against the villainous Daisius.

His mother, Judith (Jennifer Coolidge), a wannabe fashion designer, encourages his hobby and sends him to the Cletus Writer’s Festival, which is holding a competition to find the best unpublished manuscript. There, Michael meets Dr Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), an established sci-fi novelist whom Michael has hero worshipped his entire life. Behind closed doors, however, Chevalier is struggling to find inspiration and is about to be dropped by his publisher. As a judge for the Cletus competition he reads Michael’s entry and submits it to his publisher as his own, with small detail changes, and is shocked to find that it is a massive success.

Meanwhile, Michael becomes involved with Tabatha (Halley Feiffer) and Lonnie (Hector Jimenez), two aspiring filmmakers who want to produce a low budget version of ‘The Yeast Lords’, and with Dusty (Mike White), his new found friend as part of the Guardian Angels program.

Playing out against all this are the fictional adventures of Bronco himself (Sam Rockwell) as he struggles to regain control of the yeast, and to reattach his gonads. Really.

For fans of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, this film will satisfy your cravings for the bizarre, for the gaudy and the idiosyncratic. In fact, if I have to name my main criticism with the film it’s that the film is positively drowning in weirdness. It’s all very well to be offbeat, but when every single character is an outlandish freak, it’s hard to relate, and by turns, hard to care about any of its protagonists.

The film’s greatest strengths lie in the performances of Sam Rockwell as Bronco, and Jemaine Clement as the snivelling, desperate Chevalier, a creation so tawdry and fashion-blind, and yet so endearing that he is the film’s keystone. Most of the laughs come from Rockwell as Bronco as he goes from hillbilly action man in Michael’s book, to prancing, Barbarella-esque, transsexual superhero in Chevalier’s. His battles against the cyclops’ and the surveillance deer are the stuff of the surrealist’s wet dreams.

And yet, from the trailer, it seemed as though we were going to get something… else. For starters, Clement and Rockwell aren’t in it nearly enough. In fact, Clement almost disappears after the first half and doesn’t reappear until near the end. What looked to be a battle of wills and wits between Chevalier and Michael over ‘The Yeast Lords’ turns out to be something quite different. The meat of the film concerns Michael and Judith’s home life, punctuated by Lonnie and Tabatha’s horrifically amateur attempts to create a movie masterpiece, whilst Michael watches his story being pillaged by everyone he comes into contact with. The battle between Michael and Chevalier takes up the final ten minutes of the film, and is resolved a little too quickly by a rather disappointing touch of deus ex machina.

Whilst ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ produced laughs from inflections of speech and offbeat characterization, ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ relies on Clement and Rockwell, who aren’t in it enough to keep the laughs coming. The only jokes it produces without them concern snake shit and vomit, which have to make you wonder if Hess isn’t the big kid you thought he might be.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the film. It is certainly entertaining and charming in its own way. It’s just a shame that Clement and Rockwell are given such limited screen time. Also, it really needed a couple of normal folks to measure the freaks against. That said, if you don’t mind leaving your brain at the door and saddling up with Bronco for 90 minutes, you’d be hard pushed to find stranger adventures of a writer on celluloid this year. ‘Napoleon’ has a friend on his side of the scales, albeit one who only just tips the balance.


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