Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend at the Movies and Monday Movie Meme: Gran Torino

A Novel Menagerie hosts Monday's Movie every week, and invites everyone to "write about any movies, television or big screen, that you’ve seen over the past week." This week, the suggested topic is "Your Favorite Movie of All Time." But if I got started on my fave of all time, we could be here for weeks. So I'll just say a few words about one of the movies I saw this weekend. Well, it did feature one of my favorite movie stars of all time.

The weather was pretty awful around here over the weekend. Messy and cold outside – but inside, that made for perfect movie-watching conditions. Also perfect football-watching conditions, but we won't get into that.

Our Netflix film of the weekend was Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's film from last year.

Gran Torino

USA, 2008

MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, and some violence.

Written by Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Cast: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, John Carroll Lynch

Synopsis (from RottenTomatoes.com):

[T]he story of a grizzled Korean War vet's reluctant friendship with a Hmong teenage boy and his immigrant family. . . . Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, an unabashed bigot who never heard a racial insult he didn't love. Bitter, haunted, and full of pride, Walt refuses to abandon the neighborhood he's lived in for decades despite its changing demographics as he clings desperately to a mindset long since out of step with the times. When his Hmong neighbor Thao tries to steal his prized muscle car as part of a gang initiation, Walt is forced to grapple with the world around him. . . . More than simply a racial morality tale, however, GRAN TORINO is about the unlikely bonds that people form to navigate the subtle complexities [of] every day life. . . . GRAN TORINO explores the challenging yet rich new world that can open up when individuals let down their guard, even if for just a moment. Estranged from his family and his church, and without any sense of personal peace, Walt offers all that he has to Thao and his family, namely wisdom and protection. When tragedy strikes the family, Eastwood allows a little classic Harry Callahan to poke through, but the surprising finale posits a hero that Dirty Harry would never have the guts to be. It's a potent symbolic gesture to Eastwood's own growth as a storyteller.

My Thoughts:

I've liked Clint Eastwood ever since I first saw him as Rowdy Yates in the old Rawhide TV show when I was a tot. A lot of his movies are a little more violent and raw than I really like, but I usually enjoy them just because of Eastwood's presence. Even so, I was a little dubious about Gran Torino because of the racial conflict aspect – and these days I tend to shy away from any film or book described as "gritty," "symbolic," or a "morality tale." At my age, I've had just about all the grit, symbols and moralistic preaching I can stand. So I wasn't certain about the movie, but I figured – hey, it's Clint Eastwood after all.

And I wasn't disappointed. Eastwood manages to find an enormous amount of humor and pathos in Walt's bigotry and insularity, without pulling any punches about its crudeness or offensiveness. And the developing relationship between Walt and his new neighbors is very appealing and fascinating to watch. The supporting cast is terrific, and includes quite a few new faces (well, new to me anyway). Both Bee Vang and Ahney Her as the young brother and sister deliver wonderful performances; and I especially loved John Carroll Lynch as Martin, Walt's barber and sparring partner in racial slurs.

I know I'm probably one of the last people on the planet to see this one, but it's definitely got my recommendation.

Did you see any interesting movies last week or over the weekend? If you've got anything to recommend, just leave me a comment or a link to your post.

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