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It’s all covered

State speaks to a generation

By Olga Robak
Managing Editor

Zach Braff’s film education at Northwestern University did not go to waste. He may initially only be associated with the funny guy on NBC’s Scrubs, but there is a very large and creative brain hidden behind the comical façade.

Braff’s recently produced creation, Garden State, is a simple film about complicated people, and it is a brilliant debut.

Braff wrote, directed and starred in Garden State, a coming-of-age story that has been compared to 1967’s The Graduate. Both stories concern themselves with young men on the brink of a new life. But while Dustin Hoffman’s Ben submerges himself in sex, Braff’s Andrew Largeman (Large) takes himself out of a haze of prescription drugs and submerges himself in life.

Garden State’s brilliance shines through with every line, every image and every twist of the plot. The film speaks to an entire generation of people diagnosed with behavioral disorders, treated with Prozac and told that only drugs will make them happy.

Large, an emerging actor trying to establish himself in L.A., returns to his New Jersey home after a decade of absence for his mother’s funeral and to face his estranged family. Despite the distance, Large has not been able to separate himself from his father, a psychiatrist treating his own son. While in Jersey, however, Large decides that a break from his medication is overdue and discovers his daily routine of resignation and monotony disrupted by old and new acquaintances.

Natalie Portman plays Sam, Andrew’s somewhat unconventional but incredibly likeable love interest. Sam’s sincerity and vivid character make her the complete opposite of Large, complementing all his shortcomings. Portman is able to bring out both traits without injecting any unintended naivety.

Peter Sarsgaard brings to life the character of Mark, Andrew’s high school friend who stayed behind in his hometown. Mark is yet another character full of great aspirations and fruitless resignation who refuses to involve himself in useless get-rich schemes while wasting his life away.

These three main characters help each other understand life during Large’s four-day stay at his childhood home. They manage to do so without preaching or spoon-feeding moral solutions to everyone’s conflicts. Braff’s film explores all sides of this seemingly dysfunctional triangle and allows for a fulfilling resolution of the conflicts.

Garden State is a film for Braff’s mental contemporaries, just like The Graduate was for the ’60s generation and Fight Club was for the late ’90s nihilists.

The film brilliantly captures the atmosphere of today’s 20-somethings in a way that, like any film bound to become a cult classic, makes its viewer both tear up with passionate understanding and happily grin at the scenarios it presents.

Kicking it

By Olga Robak
Managing Editor

Most copies of Shaolin Soccer will, after a few months, end up in the $5.88 bin at Wal-Mart. This is will be an unfortunate turn of events for the film which, despite cheesy kung fu and what some may call a simplistic theme, is incredibly entertaining and well-made.

Shaolin Soccer, produced in Hong Kong in 2001, was scheduled for hit U.S. theaters almost two years ago, but its release date, as well as title, kept changing.

The bosses at Miramax, the film’s U.S. distribution company, thinking that Americans had no knowledge of the ancient art of kung fu, were going to be treated with the more digestible title of Kung Fu Soccer. The producers finally settled on keeping Shaolin in the title, but the release date was yet to be determined. The film, which was first screened in January 2002 at the AFI Film Festival, finally premiered to limited audiences on Apr. 2, 2004 and never made it to the majority of movie markets such as Tampa.

And what a shame.

Stephen Chow, who wrote, directed and starred in the film, creates in Shaolin Soccer a modernized tale of good versus evil that incorporates kung fu, soccer, dance, humor and everything that Ben Stiller’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story wanted to be but never was. And while the presumably witty dialogue may be lost in translation, the fact remains that Soccer is, in itself, a good film.

Chow’s direction is flawless, combining ancient martial arts with 21st century computer animation. He beautifully draws parallels between the practices of Shaolin monks and today’s modern China. His inspiration comes from such kung fu legends as Bruce Lee and such modern filmmakers as Steven Spielberg (in a scene very reminiscent of Jurassic Park).

Unfortunately, what good things can be said about the film cannot be said about the DVD on which it’s being released. It does hold both the U.S. release and the Chinese version of the movie (each available with subtitles or dubbing), but that sums up the entire package. The disc has practically nothing else: no extras, no documentaries, no deleted scenes. It’s hardly surprising, but nonetheless disappointing.

So, as the Wal-Mart bin remains the ultimate destination of many kung fu films, Shaolin Soccer will too, one day, grace the bottom of this infamous barrel. And while it’s certainly not a waste to purchase the DVD now, waiting these few extra weeks may not be such a bad idea, either.