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Brüno

Directed by Larry Charles
It was the best of times, it was the würst of times.  

I have to admit that I laughed hard at times in “Brüno” but I also cringed a lot – and, on balance, the cringing outweighed the laughter.  There will probably be many people who have this kind of reaction but it’s also like a social litmus test as the parts that invoke laughter and cringing are probably different for different audience members.  It really depends on whether you find actual homophobia funnier than blatant faux racism, or whether you are more amused by Brüno hitting on Ron Paul in one hotel room or Brüno having fairly graphic and inventive sex with his little person boyfriend in another.  

There’s nothing even remotely approaching subtlety in this project about a flamboyently gay Austrian television celebrity seeking his fame and fortune in America after a fall from grace.  Much of the content of the movie is actually difficult to describe in detail or accuracy within a column that appears in anything other than an adult magazine.  This is a film that doesn’t shy away from frontal male nudity any more than it shies away from simulated sex acts and assorted sex-related paraphernalia.  

In “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” Sacha Baron Cohen used the title character to lampoon and offend the right hand side of the political spectrum, as well as much of Central Asia.  Ever ambitious, in “Brüno” he seems intent on offending as many people as possible, at one point appearing on a talk show with a predominantly African American audience with an adopted baby named “O.J.” that he supposedly acquired in Africa in exchange for an Ipod.  In another scene, he uses his Mexican household staff as furniture during an interview with Paula Abdul.  

The basic premise here is to shock the audience, both with the staged antics and with the reactions of unsuspecting people who are drawn into ill-fated encounters with the fake character.  On a personal level, I find the latter to be annoying as I am not generally amused when people are targeted in ways that ruin their own leisure pursuits.  I may not agree with some of these people any more than Cohen or his characters might, but whether it be the audience at a rodeo or an ultimate fighting match, these are working people trying to relax and recreate and I don’t enjoy watching them have their experience ruined for the sake of a partisan joke any more than I would want Rush Limbaugh loudly gate-crashing my afternoon at the movies.  With these and the “Jackass” movies, I tend to appreciate the joke more when the characters are primarily hurting themselves or poking fun at institutions and societal norms with their own antics, rather than dragging others into the process.  But there could be a 15 minute re-edit of this movie that would have me rolling in the aisles.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Directed by David Yates
I’ve never really been very happy with the Harry Potter movie adaptations.  I’ve read all of the books and I enjoyed them with a page-turning enthusiasm that was helped by having grown up reading the British children’s literature series that they seem reminiscent of, along with assorted classic fantasies.  But the books are very linear, taking place over the course of entire school years, and the movies have never seemed very good at capturing that passage of time.  Additionally, several of them have felt more like cinematic exercises in illustrating the text, rather than successful attempts at retelling the stories in a stand-alone form.  I conferred after tonight’ screening with a colleague who has not read the books, and he was having a hard time appreciating the storyline.  

In “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” Harry and his friends are back at school at Hogwarts during an extended security lockdown intended to keep out the dreaded Death-Eaters, cronies of the Dark Lord Voldemort (yes, I typed his name!).  But this is the sixth of seven years of British-style secondary education, and the books were written to reflect the aging and maturing of the characters.  So much of the action is slowed or interrupted by side-stories in which Harry, Ron and Hermione are either infatuated with or annoyed by assorted crushes and love interests.  And the major disappointment for a movie that alternates attempts at light amusement with conspiratorial intrigue is that much of it just seems flat and torpidly paced, which isn’t appealing in a movie that also clocks in at over two and a half hours.

This is a film that seems to focus more on background gimmicks and set-piece details than it does on storytelling.  There’s nothing here that seems especially noteworthy in a series that has at times been quite eye-popping.  It primarily just feels like a place-holding episode and a narrative setup to the two-part adaptation of the seventh and final book.  

Daniel Radcliffe (Potter) has recently been quoted in the media as finding his earlier performances hard to watch.  Given time, this one might join the set.  I’m way ahead of him by already being disappointed.


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