As a believer in his debut, Napoleon Dynamite, I wanted to love Jared Hess’ latest feature Gentlemen Broncos. Unfortunately, though, it’s made hard to love. The story of an aspiring sci-fi novelist’s quest to prove that his idol stole his idea for a book, the film manages a few hilarious moments but comes up short in terms of substance and scope. Jemaine Clement is terrific as the pompous idol, author Ronald Chevalier, and supporting performances by Sam Rockwell and Jennifer Coolidge, should satisfy most of you. However, a few blips on the comedy radar only emphasize how disappointing the overall film can be. I think I understand what Hess has been trying to do, sincerely finding the irony within a culture of un-ironic individuals. It worked better in Napoleon Dynamite, because the title character was also a universal character, someone we’ve either been or someone we’ve known in our lives. The characters in Broncos (I never saw his sophomore film, Nacho Libre) feel less developed. I’m not giving up on Hess at all. There are still some crafty and clever set pieces within this otherwise mixed bag, and it’s entirely possible that Gentlemen Broncos will find its cult audience once it arrives on DVD, which is probably when you should experience it.
On a completely different note, but also part of this year’s Fantastic Fest lineup, is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. An unusual but altogether poetic and artful portrait of a notorious British prisoner, the comparisons to A Clockwork Orange are accurate but also half the story. Based on the real-life prisoner who borrowed the name of movie star Charles Bronson for his own cell block persona, Tom Hardy is electrifying and terrifying as the man himself. Refn and Hardy take what could have been a typical biopic about a relatively insignificant figure, and instead burst onto the screen with haunting visuals and pure intensity. Playful and sometimes funny, Bronson is more than a crime flick and more than a snapshot of 1980s English life. This film is pop art, a wicked nightmare that is true to the hellbent sensibility of a real man known as “the most violent prisoner in Britain.”