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00569 – Garden State

MovieHype00569 – Garden State

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Review of Garden State

Tribute to Ben Stein

Episodes I and II revisited

I’ve been trying to write a screenplay, but had no clue how to go about it. Laureate recommended Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field. Great stuff. One of the things Syd suggests is to break down the movies you watch and see the forms the screenplays take.

So, perhaps it was inevitable that my first attempt at doing all that—watching Garden State last night—would be doomed to overanalyzation. Because, I just can’t get my head around this film. But, I did like it, a lot. It confounded me, never doing what I expected, but in a subtle way, not for shock.

Garden State is written and directed by and stars Zach Braff, better known to most at J.D. on Scrubs. Braff pretty much plays Andrew Largeman as a depressed J.D. here, and I mean that as a compliment to his acting. A second-rate actor, Andrew is back from L.A. after 8 years for his mother’s funeral. And no, I haven’t begun to tell you anything about the film.

By far the best thing on screen is Natalie Portman as Sam. Sam reminds me of Portman’s Marty in Beautiful Girls, if that girl had been knocked around by life a little bit, and decided to become a pathological liar. Every scene with her is a joy to watch, and Andrew and Sam share a natural shy chemistry.

The rest of the cast is great (including Bilbo Baggins, I mean Ian Holm, as Andrew’s psychiatrist father), but they are so overshadowed that I felt resentful when they took time from the two leads.

I could talk about this movie forever and not get anywhere, so let’s cut to the chase: will you want to see this? It depends on where you’re coming from. Garden State is sweet and funny and doesn’t feel like a chore to watch. If you’re a teenager, the impulse will be to see the message as profound. As for me, I’m not quite sure. At times I felt like the movie bordered on greatness, but at times there were too many quirky characters and side plots, purely for Indy Movie Street Cred sake. It’s not that all the side plots weren’t interesting—they were—but I’d have rather watched them in a different movie, and concentrate on Andrew and Sam. If you’re young and majorly depressed, you should relate well here. The rest of you should enjoy Garden State as well, if not quite as much.

HYPERION’S RATINGS (based on #121)

Suspension of Disbelief Index (0-10): 2. A few too many coincidences, but they strive for realism.

Genre Grade: Call this an Indy Dramedy: B. Not as funny as it could have been, not as focused either. Not bad, though.

Pantheon Percentile (% of films this is better than): 71. I have a feeling I could watch this a couple more times and not get tired.

The Genius of Ben Stein

So, I’m watching Ferris Bueller the other day, and noticed something that had thus far escaped me. First of all, Ben Stein (the boring teacher) totally ad-libbed all his scenes. That monologue about the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Made it up as he went.

Second, the most famous lines are “Anyone, Anyone?” and “Bueller…Bueller?” But what comes before “Bueller” is just as funny in its own way. As Stein is reading off the names, he says an incredible number of names before getting to Ferris: “Adams…Albers…Anderson…Atkins…Azwoski...” Then Stein gets to “Bueller,” and gets that hilarious speech from Simone:

Um, he's sick. My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious.”

Stein thanks Simone, and then skips directly to Fry (Cameron, Ferris’s best friend). What most people miss here is that 1) There couldn’t possibly be that many “A” names, and 2) It’s unrealistic to go directly from a “B” name Bueller to an “F” name Fry. Just a little thing, but a classic moment often overlooked in the other hilarity.

EPISODES I AND II REVISITED

Lastly, I want to talk a bit about Star Wars. I found out my sister hadn’t seen the film, and so we spent a week watching all five in original release order: 4, 5, 6, 1, 2. Having seen them all freshly, I’m convinced that 20 years from now there will be a critical reevaluation of the two most recent installments.

I think that many things were at play when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. There was the unprecedented hype and anticipation. To people who grew up on Star Wars, Episode I felt like it might be one of the defining moments of our lives. It would be very difficult for anything to live up to that.

More importantly, the original trilogy came to most of us when in our younger, more formative years. It was able to have an impact that the same stories couldn’t have later in life. One of the biggest criticisms of Episode I was that it was too childish. But we forget, the original Star Wars movies were designed for the younger audiences (that older ones picked up on it was somewhat unexpected at first). Because we grew up with them, we didn’t notice as much.

Another big criticism of both new films, especially I, is the accents; of the Viceroy, the Gungans, and specifically one Jar Jar Binks. I admit, Jar Jar doesn’t work for me that well, either. But accents are always a gamble. British C-3PO was originally supposed to sound like he was from Brooklyn. Yoda—the most beloved character of all time—sounds like a dyslexic Grover. You pull those voices out of context, and they might sound stupid too.

Back to Jar Jar: he’s supposed to be comic relief like C-3PO and R2D2, and to a lesser extent Yoda and the Ewoks. All these have a special place in our hearts. But Jar Jar is reviled. I cannot see how anything is different, except the circumstances. It is just as likely that were the characters reversed, we might have embraced Jar Jar and rolled our eyes at the puppet.

I’ve also heard that the originals were better because of the tactile experience of the scale models. This proves my point. No one in their right mind can say the technological achievements of Episode I and later in II are anything short of revolutionary. To have all digital sets that are photo-realistic, and ditto characters is at least as big an evolutionary jump as the special effects wizardry the first time around.

Well, I could go on and on. The dialogue does lack in I for great lines, but Episode II is full of them. The stories seem complicated, but when you pull IV, V, and VI out of context, they do as well.

(Then there is the C-3PO incident. In Empire, Boba Fett is about to shoot a squawking C-3PO on the back of Chewie, when Darth Vader stays Fett’s hand. That doesn’t make sense until Phantom Menace, when we learn that a young Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO, and realize that as early as Empire, Lucas was showing us that Vader had some humanity left. We just didn’t know it then. Goose bumps.)

The real reason I wanted to write, though, is to talk about a moment in Attack of the Clones, and why it elevates the film to possibly the best of the five, so far.

The seminal moment in the series has always generally been considered the cat-walk in Empire, when Darth Vader reveals he is Luke’s father, and asks Luke to join him. (The second biggest would probably be Vader looking at his son in Jedi, in horrific pain at the hands of the Emperor, and making that pivotal switch back to the good side of the Force.)

I submit to you that Attack of the Clones has a more important moment, however. Before that, though, how about learning that Yoda—wise Yoda—is the one that delivered Storm Troopers to Palpatine, let alone how foolish Yoda and the Jedi Council must be not to realize that Palpatine is the Sith Lord. I mean, how many coincidences do you need? At the very least, with Yoda’s pointy ears you’d think he’d hear the evil music that plays every time Palpatine shows up!

Best of all: Anakin goes to rescue his mother, and she dies in his arms. Many say this is the moment when Anakin begins his turn to the Dark Side. It isn’t. Later, a distraught Anakin reveals that he not only killed the male warriors (which could be justified, given their proclivities), but he killed the defenseless women and children too. This, dear Reader, not the death of his mother, is what turns Anakin.

I need to say this again: Anakin slaughtered woman and children, and what does Padme do? Does she bring him to justice? Castigate him? At least try to get him to see he’s done wrong and cannot continue on this path? No, she comforts him, and soon starts wearing skimpy outfits and kissing him! (On a side note, I wish I could find a girl who would support me if I killed a whole village. Maybe I should add that to the list.) This is the pivotal moment of the series, and partly why Attack of the Clones is the best film. Revenge of the Sith promises to be even darker, and I can’t wait.

May the Force be with you,

Hyperion

September 3, 2004

Credits

Thanks to Kimbo for the tickets

Thanks to Aslan Elvira and the Wolf for getting copies of the Star Wars films

Thanks to Laureate

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