Shockingly similar reactions

I finally got around to Zach Braff's Garden State (2004) and Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973), and I got pretty bored with both films. This probably has less to do with the quality of the movies (they're not terrible as much as merely adequate) and more to do with their influence on films since they came out.

I tried to watch Garden State once before, but about a half hour in I was bored enough to just go to bed. This second time, I was wide awake, but still had to force myself to plow through the first chunk of the film where the protagonist is still unemotional and no one likable has even come into the film. As it gets going, however, more personality comes across as Braff and Peter Sarsgaard lose the loathesome behavior and really breathe life into an otherwise bipolarly boring/overly poignant script. And as much as I like Natalie Portman, she once again proves why I have no idea why I like her so much. She does better with smaller films since she's not a very big actress (neither physically or acting-wise), but she's still not that spectacular. I couldn't help but compare her crazy character to Kate Winslet's in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and see her coming extremely short in creating an interesting and attractive character out of weird behavior. I still like you, though, Natalie.

And like most folks my age, I have a copy of the Garden State soundtrack. It features of mix of new indie bands and mellow older songs that are the hallmark of quirky independent film lately (extra reading from the Culture Warrior). Unfortunately, the moments when this music shows up for 30 seconds are some of the best parts of the film if only to break up the silent, static shots of Zach Braff staring into the camera blankly. Sorry, but the brief soundtrack probably shouldn't be the best parts.

I think why I'm had so much trouble liking this movie is because it seems like it's everyone's favorite film ever. But like its hipster cousin Once (2006), I was merely whelmed* instead of inspired. I liked it okay, but the overly excited hype made me feel bad about not liking it more.

At the end of Roger Eberts retrospective on Mean Streets, he states, "In countless ways, right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows, Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies." I certainly saw that. But besides being an early example of the small scale crime drama, it gets a little boring. Perhaps because it was so pioneering, it feels cliche. But I think it's also evident that this is one of Scorsese's earlier films, since this feels a little like a less sleek and less fun Goodfellas, although with a healthy dose of remorse. (Oddly enough, one of my biggest complaints with Goodfellas was the lack of remorse.)

There are some good performances, with De Niro playing a dumb member of the mob who gets into money trouble. And the frequent fights set to upbeat pop or traditional sounding Italian music were the most entertaining parts for me (Scorsese classic contrast!). The fights looked sloppy like real fights actually look which brought more realism to the film than anything else. Although the ending violent shootout had some humorously bright colored blood spraying out of bodily orifices which made me laugh hysterically. Perhaps this wasn't the intended response. In fact, I don't think I really responded as strongly to any other part of the film as I did with this scene. I should probably seek out more spectacularly gory horror movies.

Anyway, the downfall of both films was that they both spent a lot of time on unlikable characters doing tedious things, which compels me find something else to do while watching the movies rather than give my full attention. However, both films had some intriguing, if inconsistent, performances and soundtracks that are awesome and carried me through the film when nothing else did.

All in all, I don't think I'll ever seek these movies out again. They just don't appeal to me. But don't worry. I feel bad about it.

P.S. Movie highlights: Garden State features Jim Parsons in a knight costume. Mean Streets features the same opening credits song as Dirty Dancing. Again, I think I was missing the point of both films. Oh well.


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