From the List of Shame File #8: Garden State

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

While some movies I haven’t seen because I just haven’t gotten around to them, there are some that I actively avoid. Garden State was one of the latter. The problems I had with watching the film are admittedly my own, but I was driven away by the incessant need of some of my high school classmates to rave about the film and bombard people with the soundtrack.

As both an indie film and indie music darling, the hype around Garden State was ridiculous. What kept me away was not a desire to give into something popular, but the fear of disappointment. There’s only so many times (2, I think) you can be told that something will change your life without becoming disappointed if you don’t immediately adopt a new religion (or at least, haircut) after seeing it.

So after delaying the inevitable for seven years, what do I think? I can say I absolutely loved it, with a few caveats. First, it almost feels like a lot of other movies I have seen in the interim, what with the indie music soundtrack and the listless male lead (Greenberg, etc.). In fact, come to think of it, it almost seems like an early mumblecore film.

In later years there was a lot of criticism about the female lead, played by Natalie Portman. Nathan Rabin of The AV Club noted the character Sam as a prime example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a trope of a character that I am growing weary of seeing. As he stated in his creation of the term, “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

However, in the end, none of this matters. The hype, the criticism, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, none of it. What makes Garden State special (and something I’m not sure I would have truly recognized at the selfish age of 17) is that it is such a personal film. In watching it, you can immediately connect with writer/director/actor Zach Braff. As the writer’s cliché goes, the more specific the details, the more universal the story (or something like that), and Garden State is no exception.

Besides being a minor inditement of overmedicating people’s emotional problems, the film’s core is about the emotional journey that Braff’s character takes, stepping into maturity in a place he hasn’t been since he was a kid, something far too familiar to college grads these days.

I’m really glad I held out on Garden State, because I think I got so much more out of it now.

And yes, the soundtrack is really good.

From the List of Shame File #5: The Darjeeling Limited

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

I’ve been told that I need to see this movie for awhile, not only because it is a Wes Anderson film, but because it features India as a very much beloved starring character (for those of you that do not know, I LOOOVE Indian culture). I can usually take or leave Wes Anderson’s films, although I admire his unique style of directing, but I have to say I did enjoy The Darjeeling Limited, more than The Royal Tannenbaums, and slightly less than Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The film actually sets out to tell a fairly straight forward narrative. Three brothers, suffering from various neuroses that may or may not have been caused by their mother, find themselves traveling through India by train in an attempt to reconnect with each other a year after the death of their father. At first this film seems a little too familiar, with Westerners seeking personal enlightenment in the third world, but due to a crafty screenplay this doesn’t happen. We don’t get too many scenes of tourists praying at predetermined destinations recommended in a guide book.

The brothers never react to India as tourists either. They’re clearly not at home, but there is a comfort and familiarity in their actions that suggests they’ve all been through this before. And although brother Frances (Owen Wilson) is adament about keeping to his planned itinerary, the film recognizes what everyone in reality already knows about schedules. They never work. Enlightenment occurs off the beaten track.

When Frances, along with Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody), get thrown off the train due to accidental prescription drug induced shenanigans, they find themselves stranded with little else than their belongings packed in their father’s variety of suitcases. It is the chain of events from this point that really starts to change the brothers, how they come to terms with past events, how they relate to each other, and the next steps they want to take in their own lives.

Ultimately, this is a story about seeking understanding and the only way to do that is by letting go completely. Letting go of the past, surrendering preconceived notions of yourself, and even your expectations of others. The Darjeeling Limited combines all these facets and at the end, the audience feels these characters are in a better position then before.

The film meanders slightly, but I feel it provides the perfect allegory to a true life pilgrimage. We always seem to find ourselves in the strangest of places, and under even stranger circumstances. I celebrate any film that understands that.

From the List of Shame File #3: In Bruges

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

Why I missed it: Although it did come out on my birthday in 2008, at its widest US release it was less than 250 theaters, and getting to an arthouse theater from school (without a car) was kind of a production. Also I tend to dislike Colin Farrell.

Why I finally decided to watch it: We were in Bruges last month!

Review: In Bruges is a tight little comedy-thriller about two hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who are sent to hide out in Bruges, Belgium, by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). For those that may be unaware, Bruges one of the best preserved medieval towns in all of Europe, with many buildings that are hundreds of years old (or more) still in use today. It is also a popular vacation destination for Brits. The film starts with Ray and Harry’s arrival in Bruges, and all the scenes but one take place within the medieval city.

The entire first act of the film is more or less Ray and Ken sightseeing Bruges, and their easy camaraderie is so captivating that it’s easy to forget why they are here, which makes the phone call that starts act two very jarring (in a good way). Overall, the film has very few plot twists that usually enhance my enjoyment of similar films (Lucky Number Slevin comes to mind), but the dialogue is so good, and the characters round enough to completely make up for it. A very watchable film, in addition to the main plot, Ray has encounters with a film shooting in Bruges, a skinhead, and a dwarf. I would describe the tone of this as Tarantino-esque, though the dialogue is not as masterful as Quentin’s. I also very much enjoyed the small scale of this film, only 6 or 7 characters have names, and it makes everything that happens between them very personal.

Also, I love watching movies that make use of a particular backdrop, especially when it’s one I am familiar with, like Philadelphia in National Treasure, or New York in the Ghostbusters films. In Bruges is no exception, and it was really cool to see places I had just been (and have my own pictures of) featured so prominently in the film.

Worth it? Absolutely, and that goes for both watching In Bruges and visiting in Bruges!