127 Hours: The Little Film that could

February 13, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

When James Franco first came onto the scene, I didn’t think much of him. I remember when he was Peter Parker’s love/hate BFF, and then later he impressed me as Harvey Milk’s lover in Milk. Living in the Southwest, when I heard of the true story of Aron Ralston, the canyoneer who cut his own arm off to save his life in Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon, I didn’t think much of it. People are canoyneering and climbing all over the Southwest everyday; a person close to me even lost a family member who fell from local rocks. I’d been curious to see this one, especially with my wife heading on a canyon adventure soon.

In the opening credits when i saw Danny Boyle directed, I knew I’d see something special. The opening sequences with the highly saturated film appealed to me, and the attention to the details of what Ralston actually wore was done well. When Franco went out into the Utah desert he met up with the only two characters two are actually significant in the film (if you can call it that since most of the film is just him alone). I was pleasantly surprised to see Amber Tamblyn as one of the lost women he comes upon and spends a few hours enjoying a canyon dip with. All offer characters, including an older looking Treat Williams, as his father, are seen in hallucinations and flashbacks.

The flashbacks were done well and the balance between Franco’s plight and his memories were done well. Moreover, the angles Boyle uses, such as when Ralston takes inventory of his gear on top of the boulder. The only time the hallucinations bothered me was right before he cut off his arm and he sees everyone he knows on the couch watching him.

Boyle’s interpretation of Ralston’s isolationism bothered me because the purpose behind his lonesome adventures weren’t well explained. His past relationship with the blonde was fine but what caused her to leave him? Because he enjoyed being alone? Even in the stadium in his flashback, he felt alone. But it was never explained.

His cutting off his arm and fun discussion of getting a real tool (Leatherman, anyone?) rather than a cheap knock off headed the audience towards the natural conclusion. I would be surprised by the audience who wasn’t aware than he lives, and this film didn’t watch as if anyone was waiting to see what would but happen but more of HOW it happens in the film.

The angles, makeup and acting of Ralston breaking and subsequent sawing off of his arm were so realistic that I’ve heard of people who became sick in the theatres.

While the whole loner psyche and boulder metaphor, for me, worked very well, I was still bothered by the hopelessness of his situation (even after he escaped out of the canyon into a ranger helicopter), but Boyle wrapped everything into a neat bow for me with his epilogue that included a real life Ralston, his current wife and newborn, and footage of him continuing a journey of adventure — just this time with people definitely knowing where he was going.

The editing award could go to this little film, but it’s a little film. I’d be surprised if the Academy gave the nod to 127 Hours for Best Actor or Best Picture, As for score, it’s up in the air often but with Reznor and Zimmer on track to fight it out, Rahman’s nominee in that category may be his award. Same with Best Song, Rhaman’s up against Randy Newman. Good luck with that. As for me, Firth has the Best Actor tied up but Franco deserves all the accolades for this fantastic little film.

CC image posted by Digital Trends.

Oscar Review: The Fighter

February 03, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

The Fighter is a supposedly classic boxer film in the vein of Rocky or Cinderella Man, set as so many films have been in the past decade in the outskirts of Boston, MA. Dicky Ecklund’s, as a has been boxer, (played by Christian Bale), only claim to fame is fighting Sugar Ray Leonard and then dropping out of the sport and into a life of drugs and crime, while his younger half-brother, Wahlberg’s “Irish” Micky Ward, hopes to become the next welterweight champion of the world. Trained by Bale, Wahlberg loses bout after bout through the family’s negativity towards him. His mother Alice, played by Melissa Leo, and his plethora of high-haired, poured into jeans sisters focus on Wahlberg’s downfalls rather than praising him when he does well. Half of the time Bale doesn’t even show up to spar with Wahlberg because he’s off in a crack house getting high with a forgettable ruffian group. His career’s on the skids, and frankly, I don’t see Wahlberg’s character caring enough about that.

The Fighter

The shift occurs when he meets Charlene, a bar maid played well by Amy Adams, and asks for a date. Leo, his manager, immediately becomes jealous as another woman steps into her son’s life –not so much because he’s her pride and joy, but because Charlene shows Micky that he can be great if he can get out from under the shadow of his has been boxer brother and overpowering manager mother. Adams realizes his career is on the rocks and his own family calls him a “stepping stone” boxer, or one that other boxers use and knock out, to better their own records on the way to fame. She immediately butts heads with Leo and tries to help Wahlberg find his true potential.

While ultimately he does find that potential and does win the championship, Wahlberg’s Ward doesn’t seem to really care. There’s no high emotion scene between him, Leo, and Bale, nor does he have a major falling out with Adams. (There’s a minor bout between them when Wahlberg reneges on his agreement to stop training with Bale, but he doesn’t convince the audience that he cares to win her back.)

What makes this a great film isn’t about overcoming adversity or even Bale’s Ecklund’s fight to get clean (it’s less of a challenge to get clean while incarcerated than on the streets of Massachusetts), and while a non-fiction bio pic won’t necessarily have grandiose unrealistic scenes, this film does have a great supporting cast. Adams perfectly plays the lost-in-the-city, never escaped through education, bar maid who falls in love. Leo’s Alice comes off as the over protective mother who ultimately loves her sons too much, and Bale. Well, Bale dropped weight for the role, and literally became Dicky Ecklund. Having already won the Globe and SAG Award, I wouldn’t want to be up against him for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this award’s season. Leo and Adams are boxing it out right up there, too, with their nominations for The Fighter’s Best Supporting Actress award.

This film will take home acting awards and maybe a few others albeit there are other films in the running who are more apt for Best Picture (from the safe Kings Speech to the critical favorite of Black Swan or the lovely The Kids Are All Right).

The Fighter’s title is a misnomer in that general audiences may consider this a boxing movie in which the star wins some, loses some, overcomes adversity, and then makes it big. But this film isn’t about that, nor do I think Wahlberg, playing Micky Ward, is even the title character in the film. In some ways all the major players are The Fighter.

Oscar Review: Black Swan

January 30, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

When I first heard of Black Swan, it wasn’t yet the critical sleeper hit of 2010. It was an Aronofsky, whose work, such as Requiem for a Dream and Pi, I respect very much. It wasn’t the sunniest direction nor was it for the widest of audiences but it was a style that set him squarely as one of the best contemporary directors working today. Then we added the double feature of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis to the mix, and who can’t win? Portman’s been in the business more than half of her life and has been a favorite of mine from films like Garden State while Kunis’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall showed that she could work outside of Topher Grace’s basement on That 70’s Show.

Black Swan is a ballerina narrative that explores the true nature of the ballet. The mainstreamed version of this ballet explores light versus dark while focusing on the light, while Aronofsky’s version examines the true nature of the doppelganger and sinisterness of the black swan. In the film, Portman’s work over several years in the company landed her as primo ballerina edging out the aging ballerina played by Winona Ryder. Kunis is the most recent addition to the company from the west coast (think contemporary, edgy, passionate west coast versus traditional, structured east coast dancer). Portman immediately finds herself jealous of Kunis and is compared to her often by Vincent Cassel, the company’s director. The relationship between these two is dichotomous in that Portman’s perspective of their relationship is fleshed out albeit the audience is never truly sure what is fantastical and what is reality as their relationship develops throughout the narrative.

The play on the dual nature of this character is demonstrated by Aronofsky through his use of dance studio ballet mirrors and Portman’s Nina who shifts between black swan and white swan through the multiplicity and separation of reflective images in those mirrors. Even in the penultimate climax scenes, mirrors are effectively used to demonstrate how this will all end. And it will all end as Nina’s battle to be both the white swan and black swan on stage will quickly permeate her life off stage, and with that Aronofsky has created a critical favorite that continues to build momentum towards Oscar greatness.

(CC) Nathaniel R

Oscars: The Kids Are All Right

January 26, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

The best picture nomination, The Kids Are All Right, fell under the radar of many, while, for me, it caught my eye because it’s a classic story of love, relationships people have, the rites of passage.

Nic & Jules are just a normal couple working and living in a relatively nondescript California hillside city with their two children. Nic is a successful doctor who met Jules when she came into the emergency room one evening. They have what seems to be a normal relationship with their children, Joni and Laser, played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson respectively. Until Joni turns 18 years old and the younger Laser begins to pester her. See, Joni and Laser were born through artificial insemination from the same sperm donor; each Nic, played by Annette Benning, and Jules, played by Julianna Moore, birthed one of the two children. Laser, who is going through the throes of male adolescence in a house full of women, seeks out something more. He think that something could be filled in the form of his sperm donor, played well by Mark Ruffalo.

The Kids Are All Right by Suzanne Tenner

Joni, who is now 18, is convince to help Laser hunt down their “father”, Paul, who runs a co-op nearby, and is portrayed as Ruffalo usually is – a fun loving, dorking yet handsomely attractive man desirable by the women who surrounds themselves with him. This should not include Jules, but the true conflict occurs when suddenly Jules hops into bed Paul’s bed. This key narrative plot is the bane of my existence, since Nic and Jules seem happy. The subtle undercurrent of wanting more ripples through both Jules, who is shadowed in her trying to start a landscape design company by her more successful doctor partner and Laser who is becoming his own man without a male role model. While this idea of infidelity bothers me in what seemed to be a relatively loving relationship, and Ruffalo’s appeal isn’t convincing, I do think this ensemble cast of these three talented actors pulls off a well-acted film.

Maybe that subtle uncertainty is what makes this film the quintessential coming of age relationship film. Benning and Moore’s relationship is more than convincing (notwithstanding their awkward proclivities) while Joni’s carefree, smoothly coming into her own is a nonissue as she prepares to break out own her own. Although the 21st century’s ideals of “marriage” and relationships in nontraditional families is played smoothly and without awkward societal reasoning, it still bothers me, a heterosexual male, that Nic so easily cheats on her wife and her family, while my lesbian friends who saw this film agree that Nic’s actions are their own hidden fears that they’re not good enough for their own partners simply because they are not male.

Ruffalo usually plays Ruffalo and this film is nothing new, albeit Benning and Moore shift convincingly into their rules; Annette Benning deserves her nomination although she is up against a world of competitive talent in the likes of Natalie Portman, in the critical favorite Black Swan and new comer Jennifer Lawrence the protagonist from Winter’s Bone. While I fear the Best Picture nod will not go to this little film, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg have a better chance of walking off with the Original Screenplay award given it’s already successes earlier in the award’s season.

Blue Valentine: A Review

January 23, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

Driving to Blue Valentine tonight I felt this anticipated nervousness. See, I was alone, going to an Art Theatre at night, and knew this would be heavy drama. I’d watched Gosling’s Half Nelson when it was garnering Oscar attention in 2006, and I knew that if this film came close to that amount of pain then I’d walk out afterward awkward and exhausted. I almost expected it, but pleasantly, that didn’t quite happen. It’s not that the film wasn’t heavy drama (because it was) nor was it overly dramatic (it sure did hit close to home as a married couple struggling to live with a young daughter, but the film was done well.

Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams

The movie chronicled the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) cutting between their initial meeting and their sadly married lives five years later. I know Gosling mostly from his art house films (others can’t divorce him from his work in The Notebook as Noah, the main love interest pining away for the girl), and he does not disappoint as Dean who begins his relationship as a high school dropout, idealistic full time blue-collared worker. In the later cuts in their relationship he’s gone from a young, handsome man with a full head of hair, good eye sight, and a quick smile for everyone to later in life when we see him as a painter, with heavy glasses and a receding hairline. The glasses work very well for his character, and he uses them to hide behind as a hurt man trying to win back the love of a woman no longer interested. His hairline leaves the audience imagining him literally pulling his hair from his head every night trying to find ways to relive that early spark that has left with his easy smile.

The film opens with him carrying the young daughter, Frankie, outside to locate their beloved family dog who Cindy finds along side the road having been hit by a car. Frankie is shipped off to Grandpa’s so mom and dad can bury the dog, and it’s evident that the death of the carefree family pet sets a tone for the film and decline of the relationship between these two trapped people. See, Cindy had potential. We see her taking care of her grandmother and trying to not jump when her father yells across the dinner table at her mother (a mother who later in the film is unexplainably absent –I assume dead).


Cindy wants to be a doctor, but before she met Dean she was in another relationship and had unprotected sex (against her better judgment and with a man she quickly ejected from her life). Dean woos her in his own quirky way with a night walk about in a nondescript town that suggested middle Pennsylvania (but was actually filmed in New York) where he plays for her the title song (which surprisingly has it’s own hype since no one in Hollywood can find its origins).

The film cuts between this new romance and the morass of late marriage; the camera uses warm, golden colors to demonstrate the heat of attraction early on while the late marriage shots have a cool, cadaverous blue tint. I was almost relieved when Frankie was ejected through the middle of the film but quickly I felt almost embarrassed as Dean attempted to solve his marital woes. See, he’s a good man. He works hard and claims that he only wants to put food on the table and hang out with his girls. What’s wrong with that? For Cindy, a lot. She’s fallen out of love with him, and Cianfrance (the director) doesn’t try to explain it away; he just lets it marinate. Dean’s not a fighter; he has a temper. He argues that he’s a good husband because he never hit(s) her (and I find it ironic that his nonaction causes her to physically hit him at the climax of this enigmatic anger) and somewhere Cindy regrets getting pregnant and not going to medical school.

Ryan Gosling

The sharp angles and close cropped shots in the film clearly demonstrate the caged, hopelessness of the marriage. Dean fights so hard for what he knows is right and, frustratingly, he only makes it that much worse. When Frankie reemerges at the conclusion of the narrative, my heart goes out to this man who is so good with her–a man who is forced to walk away towards a firework celebration exploding above the concluding camera shots; Cindy holding Frankie back near her own father’s house while Dean’s forced to walk into the distance. A question of future hopelessness or the inevitability of the dual nature of people and how the treat each other.

Update: Ok, I’ve had 18 hours to think about this film, and I’m annoyed. Dean never hits Cindy; he’s a good dad. He works hard for his family. She falls out of love. It’s heart wrenching especially given that he doesn’t seem to be blamed. He tries. He rents a room (with a gift certificate they have) at a motel where the only room left is the themed “future” room (that reminds me of the offspring of hotel room in Hotdog and all of the Star Trek movies put together. There he tries to reinvigorate their physical relationship where we see Cindy accept his advances; when he realizes that she’s given just her body, he stops. They both pass out drunk and in the early morning she is called off to work. She leaves him there, and the audience is given no explanation. He needs to find his own way home (two hours away). The theme of the hotel room, the “future”, is apropos, and there’s no way that escaped Cianfrance’s camera. I wish Dean ran back for Frankie, and I’m frustrated he didn’t. But that ending wouldn’t’ve worked. The hopelessness of love would’ve been lost in the abuse of a failed future.

Oscars: The King’s Speech

January 14, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

It’s back. Oscar Season.

Well, if you know anything about time, you know this time of the year is when I force myself to see as many Oscar worthy films as possible. I tend to review each one I see; this works better once the nominees are announced but if I wait, I’m dead. See I got a fam, too. A wife. A kid (too young to go with me!). I got myself a honey-do list, too. There’s always a few I’ve already seen pre-Christmas that I tend to not revisit here on the ole review blog (although I got a surprise from you, my dear reader, later. Can ya wait?), and there are always some I see early that don’t make the cut. Let’s hope this first one up made the cut.

King’s Speech. See, I could’ve seen like four different films today and would’ve gone with Blue Valentine (not sure if I can deal with Gosling again, but that Williams is a dream) if it were out. It’s not. So I let my friend Liza pick, and her mum’d seen The King’s Speech recently and can’t stop raving. So there I was. Sitting in a theatre with mostly people older than me, and a few idiots (who I heard after the film saying “who’s Winston Churchill?”).

My closest relationship to modern British Monarch knowledge is my cousin’s obsession with Diana and my viewing (and my review) of 2006’s The Queen with Helen Mirren. My knowledge of WWII is a bit better and I appreciate the historical implication on today’s world more than many of my friends, but beyond that I went into this film naked.

Colin Firth is like Tom Hanks for me, which means that people think he’s talented and I mostly don’t get it. As for Geoffrey Rush, I dig the man. Then there’s Helena Bonham Carter as (Queen) Elizabeth.

The film details King George VI’s ascension to the throne through Britain’s declaration of war on Hitler’s Germany. George (known to his family and friend, and throughout the film, as “Bertie”, as in Prince Albert, Duke of York) was known by his stammer, which frightened him to no end since his brother, David (Edward VIII) wasn’t necessarily the kingly type (played well by Guy Pearce).

Many speech therapists have tried to help Bertie and all’ve failed. Elizabeth (who in a very fun scene with Rush’s wife calls herself “Liz”) patiently searches for people to help her husband reach his potential. She finds Lionel Logue, a speech therapist , with his unorthodox methods (including forcing Bertie to meet in his offices and calling him Bertie in the first place).

The film itself is (even without knowledge of British history) relatively straightforward. It’s the challenge-meet the sage-fight lots with him-realize he’s right-become awesome-make wife and kids proud-save the world-and life happily that you expect. But with Rush and Firth at the helm, it works. And works well. Firth’s performance as this frustrating, stammering man who realizes the future and his own courage, would steal the scene, if he weren’t surrounded by two other of the most talented actors of his age: Rush & Carter.

Together, this trifecta makes the King’s Speech a two hour journey through a well-developed, emotional journey of a modern monarch. Throw in a subtle yet awesomely played Churchill, and Princess Margaret and (the future famous Queen) Elizabeth II playing at the ankles of the Third & Monarch of the House of Windsor, their father.

Firth’s performance is seamless. Carter’s future is that of Helen Mirren & Maggie Smith’s, while Rush continues the wonderfully eccentric performance, like his Phillip Henslowe. See this one. Bring a friend and pee first.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Firth & Carter in The King’s Speech

Movie Review: MILK

February 06, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

I had first heard about Harvey Milk several years ago when researching LGBT children and came across Harvey Milk High School. I knew very little of him, and when I heard that Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch were teaming up again after Into the Wild I was ready to see it. I recently finally sat down alone to focus on the historical film. Set in the 1970s Castro area of San Francisco, this film began with shots of the Stonewall Riots and the California reactions before moving into the simpler life of two men who’d just met played by James Franco and Sean Penn.

Sean Penn's Harvey Milk celebrates his big win.

Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk celebrates his big win.

The chronology of Van Sant’s film covered half a decade as Milk slowly emerged as a voice for the gay and lesbian population of the Castro during this politically charged time. A population materialized around him that included Hirsch who played Cleve Jones one of the biggest gay rights activist of present day and the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. Josh Brolin (who I still can’t forget was in The Goonies) played Dan White the suggested closeted, religious family-man politician who assassinated Milk and then Mayor Moscone. Brolin did a nice job as a White albeit the film subtly suggests he was gay himself and fearful of his own identity; that message was relatively ambiguous. Franco, Diego Luna (playing Jack Lira jokingly called “Mrs. Milk” by Jones), and a cast of ensembled characters flesh out an ominous plot that caught me by surprise.

The propositions and events of 1978 mirror today’s events in California, Arizona and elsewhere as even three decades later this group of people still do not have their rights. This was most shocking for me, and for that reason alone, it’s one of the best movies of the year. I think MILK deserves the best picture Oscar over Benjamin Button although I’ve still not see Slumdog Millionaire, the critics underdog darling.

Penn’s performance here mirrored his I Am Sam’s performance from 2001. He was able to immerse himself in these roles to the point where Penn disappeared and Milk became reincarnate. His nomination as Best Actor may be overshadowed by the come back kid, Mickey Rourke.

With 8 nominations this year, this film’s sure to win awards. Brolin has a shot, Gus Van Sant is in a battle of heavyweights, and the screen play is a viable candidate. Strong scores and costume design should fade into the background of the film’s narrative. They both do so here, and they both have a strong shot at winning. See this film.

Oscar Review: The Reader

February 01, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

Been waiting to see The Reader for several weeks now because I am a huge Kate Winslet fan. I’ve not seen all her films, and she doesn’t make Titanic anymore bearable. One of my favorite films of hers is Little Children albeit I still don’t know anyone who has seen it except for me. So I’ve been eager to see some Winslet love. She’s, once again, up for an Oscar this time for playing Hanna Schmitz, an SS guard who was one of six female guards who didn’t stop the death of over 300 prisoners in a burning church. In this film, Winslet the no-nonsense older woman matter-of-factly begins an affair with a young man (played by David Kross and as an adult by Ralph Fiennes) that lasts a summer before she disappears from his life, only to emerge as as on trial SS guard when he’s a law student. This is where their relationship reemerges and only later ends in death.

Winslet’s performance was spot on and wonderful, and Hanna’s biggest secret hidden only from the young Kross and not the audience is not that she’s SS but that she illiterate. How this plays out gives us the title of our film, The Reader. As Fiennes records audio books to mail to her in jail after she allows this secret to be used against her in court.

The Reader

You know those movies that just bug you and you can’t get over because of all of the holes and unanswered questions? This was that movie. Now while I adored Winslet and was ok with Kross, Fiennes and the story bugged me. Hanna felt so naive during the trial, and even as she answered that they couldn’t unlock the doors to release the women from the burning church, I wanted to yell “Why Not!?” but we never know why not. To me, this felt like half a movie held up by Winslet’s performance.

This film is nominated for Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Achievement in Cinematography, Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Adapted Screenplay. I believe Winslet can win the Best Actress category if the Academy doesn’t play it safe with Streep or the black sheep Hathaway pulls an upset. Benjamin Button was a better Adapted Screenplay and Daldry is up against stiffer competition for Director. I did notice the beauty of the Cinematography, but the competition there is daunting, as well. Chances are 2 out of 5 wins.

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The not so curious case of Benjamin Button: A Review

January 18, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

I am a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Great Gatsby is one of the best half dozen books yet published in this world, so I walked into Benjamin Button kinda curious of what would happen. I am well aware that millions of dollars were thrown at this film (a ton at the headliners salaries alone). Think Pitt, Blanchett, Ormond, Swinton. Pitt’s face is across the front cover of the poster so you do not forget you’re going to see his film, although in the actual film he didn’t do much for me. It’s difficult to be such a big budget film and not be enjoyable, and I don’t see many places where they could’ve trimmed the 160 minute film but I think I wanted to think more. I didn’t have to think, which made more time to listen to the squeaky theatre seat near me and never forget I was watching Blanchett and Pitt romp around the middle of the twentieth century.

Pitt & Blanchett

Pitt & Blanchett

Don’t get me wrong. The screen play adaption was done well, the original is on my shelf, and I am curious enough to pick it up, but, as I said, Pitt just plays Pitt for me. Blanchett does wonderfully well, but not Oscar-worthy well (think Aviator’s Kate Hepburn toned way way way down). I did appreciate the juxtaposition of Pitt’s remarks about her blue of Blanchett’s eyes and then his foray with Swinton (who scares the hell outta me with those coal black eyes, pale pale demeanor and skin, and those androgynous features) albeit I hated the banality of the hummingbird who appears twice in the film (this is NO Zemeckis feather motif!!).

If you appreciated the special effects of Forrest Gump or the makeup of other period pieces, then this will be ok for you, too. Since I didn’t even realize Caroline (one of our narrators) was played by Julia Ormond, she must’ve been ok since, for me, she disappeared into character. The characters who age (or some who fail to) are relatively convincingly painted to look their ages, although some ages effects annoyed me when it came to Pitt. Another key player (to a degree) was Captain Mike (Jared Harris) who I appreciated for who and what he represented: an askew father figure in some ways as whimsically absent as Mr. Button (Jason Flemyng) is painstakingly present.

There are no real spoilers here. He dies. She dies. That’s it. But do we care? Some audience members cried, but my question was why? We know the end. I suppose for the same reason people still cry and gasp when Juliet stabs herself in the gut, but for me this film was Forrest Gump meets The Notebook, and it’s one notebook that’s fun for a night and quite forgettable in the long haul.

Gran Torino: The Best of 2008

January 17, 2009 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

Been seeing previews for Gran Torino and it looked like a cross between Million Dollar Baby andDirty Harry. The early trailers weren’t doing much for me, but then the secondary trailers had some nice plot development and intrigue. I was more interested in catching MILK or The Reader today, but something drew me to this movie. And you know what that was? It was the BEST MOVIE OF 2008.

Yes, I declared this now. The nominees aren’t out yet even, and I am usually more reserved in my reviews. I just can’t be that reserved here. I literally walked out of the film and wanted to sit in the car and sob. Sob like a little baby.

We know Eastwood is good. He’s always been good, although his gravely voice was off putting (much like Bale’s in another much hyped film). In this film Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean war veteran, who’s stuck in back a 1/2 century. His wife recently died, his self-absorbed sons and grand children just suck, and the catholic priest is played by a boy (Christopher Carley) who looks like he just got his driver’s license, although through his tenacity the audience can’t help but want to pinch his cheeks by the second hour in. Eastwood’s gravely snarl is punctuated by the Hmong people who’ve overtaken most of his Detroit suburb. Ever Asian racial slur you could imagine is used by Eastwood in this film and the man sitting next to me scoffing at everyone one were both quite bothersome. It felt overdone to a fault (no I do not hear people actually talk like this anywhere.)

Eastwood saves the life of Thao (Bee Vang) from a local gang and begins to teach the boy to be a man. Thao bugs the hell out of me, not because he’s a “wimp” so much than his mannerisms, haircut (which he could’ve easily changed in a hilarious barber shop scene!), and fact that his true transformation never really comes to fruition except at the very end of the film (and that’s even a week show of it).

I understand this is an Eastwood vehicle all around (included his real life sons), but , for me, Thao’s sister, Sue, stole the show! Introduced as the youngest in a house of women and the older, bossy (well meaning) sister of Thao, Sue is the vehicle who brings the racist and reluctant Walt into the Hmong culture, her home and her people. Ahney Her playing Sue has never acted before, but I was surprised at how refreshingly she holds her own through her seamless banter with one of the most talented actors of his generation. Typically, I am writing these reviews after nominations have been released, and I have no idea if Her will even receive a nod, but here I assert she deserves the nod. Now, for some, being nominated (especially in a first role), is the reward itself, and we both know that Her’ll be up against some talented and experienced actresses. If nominated, I fear she will not win.

Gran Torino

Spoilers….Now earlier I mentioned that I sobbed in the end. True. Totally true. This hardass who beats a Hmong gang member, shoves his fists through glass windows, and pokes guns at asians and blacks alike, would be expected to seek out retribution in the same manner as he lived his life through the film. This wasn’t true. This isn’t how it ended. He made a decision for his new family and friends, made good with his dead wife and her priest, and found peace in salvation through his sacrifice of himself for Thao & Sue.

The ’72 Gran Torino that Eastwood never drives in the film weaves itself through the narrative as a harken back to a time when Walt worked for Ford (and put the drive shaft in on the line himself), an american car company, when his wife was alive and his sons weren’t as self-absorbed as they’ve become. Back to a time before when American was “American”. As Walt progressed, developed, and opened himself to Thao, Sue, and his neighbors, the Gran Torino became a symbols of manhood of Thao (who was given permission to take it for his first date) ad a rite of passage for him, as he is given this car, by Walt, in his will at the resolution of the film.

Sue’s simple survival of the rape and beating, Thao’s slow progression to manhood and succession, the priest’s realization of what living and dying really means, brings together a neighborhood, a people, and everything that Walt once felt stratified his neighborhood and his contemporary and disgusting life. A life that he finally lived for those around him, who he came to love.

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