Garden State (2004)

gardenstate1Garden State was written and directed by Scrubs star Zach Braff before he made it big, while he was still struggling to get into the business. It’s one of those deep blue funk movies where a person has to find themselves in the giant mass of humanity. Andrew Largeman’s mom just died from drowning in a bathtub. He hasn’t seen his dad (Ian Holm) for about a decade because they haven’t really been on speaking terms. Now he lives in L.A. across the vast expanses from his native New Jersey. He works in a very zen Vietnamese restaurant and surreal daydreams clutter his apathetic mind.

The question is what will shake him out of his despondency because the death of his mom is only the inciting incident. As it is with a small town community, he’s constantly meeting all the old acquaintances from his high school days. Most are impressed by his foray in acting even though he hasn’t made much a career of it yet. The people he reconnects with include his old friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who works at the cemetery and doesn’t have much of a life except smoking weed. Then there’s Jesse who made a killing off Silent Velcro and now has all the time in the world for parties in his huge mansion.

That’s not what does it though. It’s when Andrew is sitting in the doctor’s office, hoping to get checked, because he’s been having headaches after being off the meds he’s been prescribed all his life. There he meets Sam (Natalie Portman) for the first time, and he’s never the same. She’s a scatterbrained, off-the-wall personality with a lot of energetic pizzazz. That about covers it except she also has epilepsy and is a compulsive white-lier. But in her Andrew finds a genuine spirit, who can revitalize his life, by giving him sympathy in his pain, while also brightening up his everyday reality.

gardenstate2On his last day in New Jersey, Andrew obviously wants to spend the time with Sam, but it ends up turning into a daylong treasure hunt as Mark tries to track something down. It isn’t much, however, it’s the thought that counts, and on their odyssey, Andrew is finally able to let go of a lot of the hurt and pain he’s been harboring. He’s ready and willing to forgive his father.

Then, there he is in the airport terminal getting ready to leave Sam for L.A. He has to get back and he promises to call her, but he seems to remember he’s a different person now. It’s a delightfully sweet ending to the film and we absolutely want it.

gardenstate3Braff’s wistfully apathetic demeanor is so wonderfully personified by a memorable soundtrack including alternative rock groups like Coldplay and especially The Shins. His brand of acting is really just playing a wet noodle, but he does it well. Those beady eyes of his constantly scanning back and forth nervously around the space he inhabits. And the film certainly has some dirtiness around the edges, but our main couple is so endearingly sweet. I respect a film that respects its characters such as not needing to show them having sex all the time, but it can paint their romance in more playful, soft, even intimate shades. Andrew takes drugs and curses, but only to dull the pain or express his bitter frustrations. Sam’s the kind of girl who states that she’s not innocent, confirming our suspicions of just the opposite. We appreciate both of them exactly for those reasons. He rides an army issued motorcycle with a sidecar for goodness sakes, and she gets teary-eyed over a deceased hamster. They’re quite the pair.

3.5/5 Stars

The Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star_Wars_Episode_III_Revenge_of_the_Sith_posterRevenge of the Sith was the film that all Star Wars fans were looking forward to. For the younger generations, it meant the closure of the trilogy we had grown up with. For older fans, it meant that the Star Wars saga might finally be complete in some sense of the word. All movies linked together in this crucial last piece that smoothed out any last ambiguities about how Anakin Skywalker evolved into the feared Darth Vader.

It was a pretty big deal because it would either close the series on a controversially sour note or with the type of visceral storytelling George Lucas inundated us with in the 1970s. This certainly is no Empire Strikes Back (the darkest film of the original saga as many know), but it was probably the most enjoyable installment of the new trilogy and that is the most genuine of statements. As pure fans we liked it, and it was a worthy installment full of action as well as personal conflict.

Is it even necessary to go over the plot of Star Wars? Before anyone answers, I will give a recap more for my own sake than anything else. The Clone Wars are still being waged against the Separatists and the tides are slowly turning. Anakin is now even more renowned as he continues to team up with his Jedi Master and mentor Obi-Wan. But Revenge of the Sith quickly turns into a story of inner turmoil and political unrest with young Skywalker caught in the middle.

He is secretly married to Padme, taken under the wing of Chancellor Palpatine and then called on by the Jedi Council to spy on the Chancellor. It’s a web of confusion, anger, and fear going way back to his mother’s death, visions of his wife dying and perhaps his unfortunate nickname “Ani” leading to masculinity issues. Anyways, that is the situation that he finds himself and ultimately Palpatine (as we always guessed was Darth Sidious) poisons Anakin, who slowly turns against his friends and the Jedi Council.

Although we always knew this moment was coming, it is still so satisfying and painful to see it play out. It leads to some sad deaths (ie. Mace Windu) and some of the most epic lightsaber battles, going so far as to pit friend vs. friend against the backdrop of lava and John Williams’ score.

It is very hard not to appreciate this moment in the narrative where we finally see how the Empire came into being. How Anakin became Vader. How Luke and Leia were split up and how Obi-Wan became a hermit in order to protect the boy. As far as the films go, the original trilogy will undoubtedly remain the favorites, but that does not take away from the entertainment and emotional energy of this film.

Sith take Revenge and Jedi simply Return to put things right. Now I have to go back and watch the original films because I would not mind a happy ending about now. The beauty is that the bleak conclusion of this film is not the end of the story. Thank goodness we still have Yoda.

4/5 Stars

Pickpocket (1959)

6593f-pickpocketposterThis French film directed by Robert Bresson, begins with voice-over narration of a man recalling his past. Michel is a nondescript person who was down on his luck. Then, one day he ineptly tried his hand at pick pocketing and was caught. He got off and over time he sharpened his skills and teamed up with two other men. They successfully bring in a great deal and it becomes Michel’s livelihood. At the same time Michel’s mother is becoming ill and he meets a young neighbor named Jeanne. Michel’s best friend is falling for this girl while Michel himself is continually tempted to steal. This leads to a little trouble from a police inspector and yet he stays out of jail.

However, after further discussion with the chief and Jeanne, Michel leaves Paris. He returns later still impoverished, to find Jeanne with a child but unmarried. He resolves to support her and yet after trying to work, he reverts back to his past vice. This time his guard is down and he winds up in jail. Jeanne comes to visit him a great deal and through this devotion he realizes they both are in love with each other.

This film has simple but intriguing topic. Sometimes the pick pocketing scenes are shown almost as a choreographed dance which is done so fluidly. Overall Pickpocket has a striking resemblance to Doestoevsky’s Crime and Punishment but it reflects the wonderful simplicity of Robert Bresson’s realistic style. Is it just me or does Marika Green look like Natalie Portman in black and white. I certainly think so.

4.5/5 Stars