Bruno (US - BD)
Gabe frowns his way through another Sacha Baron Cohen prank movie...
Flamingly gay Austrian fashion reporter Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen) is fired from his TV reporting duties after disrupting a Milan Fashion week catwalk, and his lover Diesel (Clifford Bañagale) leaves him for another man. Lost without love or fame, Bruno travels to the United States with stars in his eyes, hoping to become "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler". He is accompanied by his assistant's assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten), and a documentary film crew. Bruno’s journey takes him from a failed TV extra, to a failed celebrity talk show host, and a failed celebrity sex tape participant. Bruno also fails to bring peace to the Middle East, and fails to legally adopt an African child.
A sense of humour is an incredibly personal thing, which is why it’s very hard to critique works of comedy. I can say with ever ounce of sincerity that Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t my thing, but I really respect him as a performance artist/comedian. Prank comedy mostly just makes me unpleasantly uncomfortable. I enjoyed some of Ali G’s awkward interviews, but once Baron Cohen takes his characters into public I find myself squirming instead of laughing. I know that the joke is on me, but I’m not any more affectionate because of it. I like the idea of Baron Cohen revealing the disturbing underbelly of the American psyche, but when he defaults to Jackass-like pranks for the sake of gross-out comedy I completely lose interest. Baron Cohen’s characters also work much better without plot and character development, and like the Ali G and Borat feature films, Bruno features a narrative structure that wastes time between hijinx. In the case of Borat I was just uninterested, in the case of Bruno I found myself genuinely bored. It feels like Baron Cohen isn’t really trying for most of the film, or at the very least he’s running very low on ideas. Apparently, the greater point of the film has something to do with parodying the obsessive pursuit of fame, and America’s disturbing disapproval of homosexuals, but it’s mostly lost in a mix of embarrassing public stunts and fellatio miming.
The biggest problem at this point in Baron Cohen’s solo career, which will probably trouble everything he does from here on out, is that it’s hard to buy any of his celebrity based pranks as genuine anymore. He’s just too recognizable a personality. Sometimes the celebrities, usually the lower rung D-celebrities to be exact, will say something so insipidly stupid they can’t possibly be faking, but overall the whole thing feels pretty well put-on, which robs the production of the necessary spontaneity. More critically alarming is the fact that Baron Cohen has lost the all the underlying sweetness that made Ali G and Borat so charming in their idiocy. He’s still able to bring up some good points throughout the film by casually pulling shocking admission from his interview subjects (the scene where he tests a series of parents on their willingness to make their children famous is particularly shocking), but the process mostly ends its arc mean-spirited. It’s interesting to see a talk show audience turn against Bruno for being a single gay parent (which is clearly not a crime), but the best intensions are dissolved when he’s painted as an idiot that should have his child taken away. I know this is the kind of thing Cohen’s fans adore, but I personally find it terribly disappointing. The UFC climax is a brilliant little surprise, but overall I did not enjoy much about the film.
All this said, I’d love to see these guys tear into the Westboro Baptist Church people for a solid 90 minutes.
The picture quality, and the general design of Bruno is low-key. Frankly, no one should be expecting high definition glory from this particular Blu-ray release. The whole thing is shot using source lighting, and the HD video is only as sharp as the lighting allows. Grain is a constant, but it’s pretty thin, and the general frequency of compression noise is no worse than expected from any HD documentary. Obviously things get ‘worse’ during the darkest moments. At the very least the blacks are picture perfect during even the most muddied sequences, and the colours are bright even when infiltrated by fizzy noise. Bruno’s loud wardrobe is a good source of intense, and dynamically contrasting hues. Details are just as inconsistent, again due to source lighting. There’s no edge-enhancement or DNR artefacts, excepting a few short insert scenes shot with SD cameras, or those made to look as if they’re playing on a television.
Mockumentaries, like the documentaries they mock, are not made for stylized or exciting sound. The point is the accurate portrayal of the audio that occurred on site, and usually mono sound design is sufficient. For the most part this Blu-ray’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is wasted on the subdued source material, but there’s no clearly unintended distortion in the audio, beyond the clear difficulty of maintaining consistency on public streets or loud television studios. The stereo and surround channels feature a few incidental background noises, but most of the non-musical aural moments are cleanly centered. The surround and LFE channels are given a decent work-out during the between scene musical cues, which are usually of the Euro-pop/Techno variety. Not only does the thumpy bass punch effectively, but sections of the musical tracks are perfectly placed into specific rear channels.
So video and audio quality aren’t enough to really suggest a Blu-ray purchase over a DVD, but the Blu-ray exclusive ‘enhanced commentary’ is a pretty big selling point. Despite the limits of my crappy Profile 1.0 I was actually able to watch Bruno with the enhanced pop-up video commentary activated, because Universal was nice enough to make it an alternate title on the disc. This is clearly due to the fact that the commentators, Cohen and director Larry Charles, stop the film every once and a while to make a point without talking over sections of the film they also want to talk about. This is the ideal way to view the film because the behind the scenes story is much more interesting than the film itself. The out of character stories sound a lot funnier than the stuff Cohen pulls off in character. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of PiP footage from the behind the scenes problems Cohen and Charles are discussing, most of the pop-up video is the commentators sitting in the commentating room. With the enhanced commentary activated the film runs 1:48 instead of 1:22.
The extras continue with two ‘alternative’ scenes (5:40, HD). I suppose these scenes were exchanged because the Paula Abdul and Ron Paul scenes severed the same basic purpose. This is followed by 11 deleted scenes (one of which is a Blu-ray exclusive, 40:50, HD), and eight extended scenes (one more Blu-ray exclusive, 22:40, HD), none of which would add too much to the already exhausting film, but some of which probably could’ve replaced the narrative bits. The extras are completed with and interview with Lloyd Robinson (5:30, HD). Robinson is a real life talent agent/producer type that helped Bruno at the beginning of the film. It’s a nice glance behind the curtain of the production. Robinson was apparently entirely fooled by the situation, but found everything amusing after the fact.
So then, Bruno isn’t a game I was up for playing, but I don’t hate the film enough on a conceptual level to complain too far beyond my own personal point of view and taste. Those that enjoyed the film may wonder why anyone would spend the extra cash on a Blu-ray release over a DVD release, based on the low-key video and audio presentation, might be excited at the promise of the exclusive video enhanced commentary track. I actually enjoyed the enhanced commentary much more than the film, especially the behind the scenes stories of the dangerous process of teasing violent homophobes. The Blu-ray also features a few exclusive deleted/extended scenes, but these are mere pock marks within a sea of other exhumed sequences available on the DVD release.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French and Spanish, DVS Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: Enhanced Commentary, Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes, An Interview with Lloyde Robinson, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Elton John, Paula Abdul, Sting
Genre: Comedy and Documentary
Length: 82 minutes
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