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Old 97's act their age
"And I feel it slowing /And I feel it
slowing down," bassist Murry Ham-
through the Old Old 97'S
97's latest release, Drag It Up
Drag It Up. It's
the record's most Ne West Records
telling line, both
in terms of the band's sound and their
rock'n'roll lifestyle. Hard-driving
country rock has given way to quiet
and restrained balladry, and beer-
swilling and barroom brawling have
become domesticity and fatherhood.
At their peak, the Old 97's defined
the alt-country genre with up-tempo,
guitar-heavy country rhythms, catchy
pop hooks and just the right amount
of emo sensibility on 1999's Fight
Songs and 2001's Satellite Rides. Ken
Bethea's guitar churned and seared
beneath Rhett Miller's spirited vocals
and clever homespun tales of the
heartbroken and hopelessly romantic
ambling down Texas highways and
drinking in dingy bars.
On Drag It Up, the group's sixth
album and first for New West
Records, the emphasis no longer lies
in driving guitars and unbridled ener-
gy, but more on melody and atmos-
phere. Bethea's twangy guitar lines
meander lazily behind Miller's
melodies, which, though still catchy
and laden with hooks, are delivered
with breathy vocals, making Drag It
Up the 97's tamest record to date.
The band's new slower approach
on Drag It Up makes for some espe-
cially pretty melodies, such as the
mournful "No Mother," an appropri-
ately sentimental tribute to a friend
who was killed by a drunk driver last
year, and the simple heartbreak tale
"Adelaide." Others, however, like
gloomy lounge song "Smokers" and
the lugubrious "Blinding Sheets of
Rain," fall flat. On many of the slow-
er numbers, Miller's usually witty,
on-the-ball lyrics lack the poetic
punch of some of the 97's classics.
Only a few times do the old Old
97's show through, like on the boun-
cy "The New Kid" and the
unabashedly schmaltzy "Friends For-
ever," which features witticisms remi-
niscent of the bygone era: "I was a
debater / Was not a stoner nor an
inline skater / Was not a player nor a
player hater / I was just a bookworm
on a respirator."
The new Old 97's direction isn't
necessarily a bad one, but they seem
to have hung up their spurs and put
their trailblazing days behind them.
Rhett Miller's knack for creating
catchy melodies still exists, but the
band's youthful exuberance and care-
free abandon are, for the most part,
missing. They sound less like a group
of rowdy Texas punks and more like,
well, a group of first-time fathers.
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'GARDEN STATE' CREATOR TALKS ABOUT TV, MOVIES AND REAL LIFE
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By Puja Kumar
For the Daily
Zach Braff is probably best known as
klutzy doctor J.D. Dorian on NBC's hit
sitcom "Scrubs" but with the upcoming
theatrical release of the new film "Gar-
den State," he's sure to surprise audi-
ences with his maturity and ease both
behind and in front of the camera. The
scruffy, likeable New Jersey native
wrote, directed and starred in the
Twenty-nine-year-old Braff plays
Andrew Largeman, a frustrated Los
Angeles actor returning home to New
Jersey after a decade's absence to attend
his mother's funeral. While back home,
Andrew, ina sort of post-coming-of-age,
discovers himself and his place in rela-
tion to the expansive and sometimes
unfamiliar ideas of home and love.
"Garden State" adeptly deviates from
the template of twenty-something for-
mula flicks. The relationship between
Andrew and love interest Sam (Natalie
Portman) progresses at an awkward but
steady pace that is simultaneously inter-
esting and believable. Sam, a pathologi-
cal liar, epileptic and hamster collector,
meets Andrew in a hospital room after
an oversexed Doberman tries to mate
with Andrew's leg.
Inspired by Diane Keaton's character
in Woody Allen's classic comedy "Annie
Hall," Sam is, according to Braff, "so
happy and high on life and optimistic
and passionate and quirky and just dif-
ferent." Her fun-loving, character con-
trasts sharply with the drabness of
Andrew, who has been heavily medicat-
ed for depression since childhood.
Portman was Braff's first choice to
play Sam: "She brought somuch to the
character ... She's very fun and silly and
has so much energy and she laughs that
classic Natalie Portman laugh that's in
the movie a bunch. I mean, she's just so
fun and happy, and I think a lot of peo-
ple haven't gotten a chance to see that."
He also got his top picks with the other
actors in "Garden State," including Ian
Hokn, Denis O'Hare and Method Man.
For well over a decade, Andrew has
been heavily medicated for depression.
Through his character, Braff reveals the
possible dangers that go along with
overprescription: "I'm saying that
(Andrew) ... got comfortable on some-
thing that was way too extreme for what
he should've been on, and it just was
like, 'This is what I know. This is what's
comfortable to me.' And he stayed on
(the medication). I think there are proba-
bly a lot of cases of people that get really
comfortable on medicine and don't nec-
essarily need to be on it."
In the film, Andrew doesn't take his
meds during while he's home. The fol-
lowing events - falling in love, con-
necting with his father - make a bold
statement that mood-altering drugs don't
necessary aid or hinder emotions.
"Garden State" includes another ele-
ment of drug use - those which aren't
prescribed by doctors. The movie fea-
tures a frenzied party scene, which hosts
a whirlwind of cocaine, pot, alcohol and
ecstasy use. Impressing and highly
absorbing, the scene is free of special
effects - the small budget wouldn't
allow it. Braff explains how the scene
was shot completely in-camera: "The
camera is static and for 10 minutes,
everyone is moving around me, and I'm
totally frozen. And over 10 minutes,
you'll get, like, a minute of film."
Braff admitted that he doesn't like
cocaine and explained what he sees as a
prevalent assumption about actors:
"When I came back to Jersey after being
in L.A. and working as an actor, there
was this vision of my friends that I was
rich and drove a Porsche and had a man-
sion and did coke and (lived) this Holly-
wood lifestyle, and meanwhile I was
waiting tables like my character in the
beginning of the movie."
Launching a new film is risky, espe-
cially when simultaneously writing and
directing for the first time. Though Braff
has written several shorts, "Garden
State" is this Northwestern film school
graduate's first full-length project. When
asked to choose between acting and
directing, Braff pledges loyalty to both
sides of the camera.
"They're both challenging," he
explained. "If I had to choose at gun-
point, I'd choose directing. I like decid-
ing what goes into the final product.
One of the hard things with 'Scrubs' is,
sometimes you fall in love with some-
thing you do, or you love a scene, and
you see the episode and it got cut for
time or pacing and for the producer, who
shapes the vision of that show"
Just like the semi-autobiographical
content of "Garden State," the sound-
track is personal to Braff. "(The sound-
track) was the music that was really
affecting me, so I thought it would speak
to our generation." Braff wrote letters to
the bands on the compilation, which
range from the Shins to Iron and Wine,
and eventually he got "all the bands to
agree to be in the movie 'cause they
would see the scenes where there songs
were used." When shopping his script,
Braff included a mix CD of the songs he
wanted on the film.
Braff views the popularity of
"Scrubs" as a foot in the door to sell the
script and get attention from the press.
"The media's always been very nice to
me from 'Scrubs,' " he admitted. "I feel
very lucky, 'cause this is a small movie,
and the only way it'll get seen in the
middle of the country ... is if it has sup-
port of the media and word of mouth"
Preliminary screenings also proved to
be a useful promotional tool as well as a
rewarding experience for Braff as the
film's creator. "The best response, over-
all, is from (young) people. You know, I
went and showed the movie - I had a
lot of screenings of the movie with
quote-unquote young people in it, butI
went to a screening at UCLA, which
was all twenty-somethings, and I've
never had a reaction like that to the
movie. People loved the movie, but this
was like going to a rock concert,"
"There were people dressed up in
garbage bags at the screening .. They
loved the movie, and they got all the lit-
tle subtle things that you'd never heard
an audience laugh at, that like only
maybe someone in their twenties would
get, like they got, and it was just awe-
some. And so, I love the movie in that
people of all generations are responding
to it, but for me, when people in their
twenties really react to it and say, 'Wow,
I felt like that spoke to me,' that makes
me feel really good."
Check back next Monday for The
Michigan Daily's official review of