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Old Fart Movies

I went to see two movies this weekend. Elle took me out to dinner and a movie Friday night. (Is she swell, or what?). The movie was Gran Torino. Before I get into the movie, a sidenote: she was hesitant about this movie because she wasn't sure I would like a Clint Eastwood movie. I have no clue where she got that idea. After the movie we were having coffee and she said she was surprised I liked Clint Eastwood.

I just looked at her and said "Elle, I'm a GUY! Of course I like Clint Eastwood."  Even some of  the most pacifist, sensitive, I-am-so-above-being-a-guy guys I know put all that aside when it comes to  Clint Eastwood. I also explained to her that most men my age have been Clint Eastwood fans since they first saw Kelly's Heroes.

Not to be too recursive about it, but I was surprised she was so surprised..

Anyway, it was a pretty good movie. It had some false steps at the beginning, including the Eastwood characters granddaughter, who was a little too much of a caricature of a spoiled teenage brat. And I'm sorry, as much as I like Clint Eastwood's movies, and appreciate his talents as a director, he doesn't have much range as an actor. Since his character was a hot-tempered old man, this wasn't much of a problem for most of the movie. But in the opening scene at this wife's funeral, he reminded me too much of Philo Beddoe from Every Which Way But Loose.

But for most of the movie, Eastwood's acting deficiencies were compensated for by the script and the talent of the other actors. Especially
Ahney Her who completely charmed my socks off as a young Hmong woman.

I haven't said much about the plot. Eastwood plays a crusty, racist old Korean War vet who lives in a neighborhood in (I think) Detroit that has gone downhill since he first moved in. Most of the movie is about his relationship with  a Hmong family that moves in next door and about the Hmong gang that harasses and terrorizes them. One thing that was done well was the way the movie handled different aspects of his character. It would have been tempting to either have him unrealistically sweet and tolerant, or to just let him be Dirty Harry.  Gran Torino avoided both of these pitfalls.

Roger Ebert in his review perfectly explains what is good about this movie, better than I could :

Eastwood doesn't play nice. Walt makes no apologies for who he is, and that's why, when he begins to decide he likes his neighbors better than his own family, it means something. "Gran Torino" isn't a liberal parable

(Emphasis mine.)

The other movie I saw this weekend was The Wrestler. Like Gran Torino it was about an aging, flawed man and how he deals with his aging and flaws. That's why I titled this entry "Old Fart Movies". This post is getting long and The Wrestler really deserves a review of it's own. So for now let my one-word opinion suffice: WOW.

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I liked Gran Torino a lot. I have a couple of problems with it though. I feel like the end of the movie was completely telegraphed by the opening scenes. The fact that it opens at a funeral and then the priest talks to Walt about confession seemed way too transparent. I think that was done to draw the viewer in though and to establish Walt as someone we should get to know. I really liked the humor in the movie also. Although the jokes and comments made by Walt were quite abrasive and offensive, his banter with the barber and with Sue made his offhanded comments seem quite benign. I like how his insults were a way of sizing up the person he's is talking to. I might just be drawing too much of a parallel with my own sense of humor, but it seemed to be that he expected his insulting remarks to be returned in the same fashion. He respected the personality of someone who could "hold their own" against his demeanor. Another gripe I had was the song during the end credits. Clint Eastwood should not sing. I also thought it was pretty silly how much he "growled" in this. I think he growled in this as much as he squinted in his earlier movies. His squint is legendary, his growl is just comical. Overall, I thought it was a great movie though. I appreciated the obvious similarities between the place in Walt's life and in Eastwood's career and even though the narrative was predictable and some of the supporting characters seemed out of touch with their real life counterparts ( Sue's "date" and Walt's granddaughter) the character study was so expertly done that it more than makes up for the movie's few flaws. I have loved watching the way Eastwood's characters have developed over the span of his career. He went from "the man with no name" to Harry Callahan to William Munny in Unforgiven to Frankie Dunn in Million Dollar Baby to Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. Gran Torino is one of the few English language movies that I am looking forward to owning on DVD.
Like I said, this movie succeeded pretty much in spite of Eastwood's acting. The squinting and growling were what prompted my "Every Which Way But Loose" comparison. I'll give him credit though, for not having an orangutan in this movie. It just wouldn't have fit.