January 10, 2009

Taking It Home: Gran Torino

"Minnesota Nice", indeed...

If Minnesotan screenwriter Nick Schenk needed any validation that his insightful screenplay for Gran Torino hits home with his fellow statesmen, I hope he happened to catch the comments about the film on a local radio show the other morning. I listen to an extremely conservative morning show on my 10 minute drive to work most days. It wakes me up for the day ahead - gets my blood pumping and my voice warm as I talk back to the outrageous commentary coming out of my car speakers. It's a one-sided debate, and I always win.

Anyway, this station was one of the promotional sponsors for Tuesday's night advance screening of Gran Torino, one of the best films of 2008. If you've seen the movie you know why a Fox News affiliate would be promoting it, and if you know Minnesota you'd know why Gran Torino is so comfortably set here (I'm ignoring the Michigan debacle for now). Chatting about the screening and describing his "knee-slapping", hootin' and hollerin' laughing spells during the movie, the morning show host boasted, "He reminds me of me....yeah, his character is me. So what? I'm proud of it."

He was talking about Walt Kowalski, of course, the racist, mean-spirited, ignorant, war-traumatized, hard-drinking, violent xenophobe whose vocabulary consists of grunts, growls, and unprintable epithets. Welcome to Minnesota, where hometown audiences haven't laughed this hard at a character's antics since the wood-chipper scene in Fargo.

The pitch black, George Carlin-inspired humor in Gran Torino wouldn't be so disturbing if it weren't so obviously grounded in reality, as evidenced by the warm embrace from the audience. This is how we are here, and "if you don't like it, go back to where you came from." It takes one to know one, and Minnesotans know Walt Kowalski well (look up the last name "Kowalski" in a Twin Cities phone book and you'll literally have pages of names to sift through). In fact if Clint Eastwood had given his character the appropriate accent, he could have slipped unnoticed into many a Minnesotan neighborhood.

Which is why it's so sad that tax rebates sent the production to Michigan, where the story feels familiar but yet out of place, like seeing Kevin Garnett wear a Boston Celtics jersey. Minnesotans were still heavily involved in the production of Gran Torino, however, including a number of local Hmong who took advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime last summer during the film's open casting call in St. Paul. Among the many eventual cast and crew were Bee Vang (who plays a main character, Thao), Sonny Vue (who plays Thao's gangster cousin, Spider),and Dyane Hang Garvey, the Hmong nonprofit director who served as the chief technical adviser for the film. Her role was to simply supervise Hmong cultural traditions, and the fact that she was involved at all means Gran Torino will introduce the Hmong to the rest of the country with at least some measure of accuracy (the killing of chickens is a tenuous local stereotype).

Beyond a penetrating introduction and indictment of these Minnesotan cultures - the "Walts" and the Hmong - Gran Torino also delivers provocative commentaries on religion, family, and war, no doubt a byproduct of Schenk's influences in writing the story. Although Walt's disillusionment with the Catholicism adhered to so faithfully by his wife is amplified by a pestering young priest, it's obvious that he has issues with organized religion in general (a wisecrack about Lutherans will fall flat outside of the Midwest). The symbolism of sacrifice at the film's end is a little overcooked (not only because a white male is once again the savior figure), but the conversations Walt has with the priest throughout the film are nonetheless poignant and probing.

At a deeper level, so are the discussions and implicit inferences about the cost of war. Both Walt and Thao have scars in their past, even though Thao may not have experienced military combat firsthand. His war experience is happening around him in his neighborhood, but his natural reflex is to retreat inside his shell, not reach for a gun and a six-pack of PBR, as Walt does with ritualistic discipline. Both actions have their consequences, but Walt's is the one that haunts me more. Considering over a million Americans have served, and possibly been traumatized, in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last several years, I'm concerned that many of them will go on to be the Walts of the 21st century.

I've only examined a few of the many social issues present in Gran Torino, and I have to say I'm proud that this movie was born and bred in Minnesota (it should be required viewing for everyone here). It's not a perfect film, but if you can tolerate non-actors acting and you're willing to look a little deeper than you may be used to, I think Gran Torino truly has the potential to enrich your outlook on the world.

What did you take home?


  1. Daniel, I took home the exact opposite reaction, which you can read here, if you'd like.

    I must say, I was disturbed when I wrote about "Gran Torino." Now reading about the radio host who is tickled at how much Walt reminds him of him, and is "proud of it," I'm even more disturbed.

    In short, "Gran Torino" can reflect the truth about racism in this country and have us sickened by Walt's behavior. Or it can reflect the truth about racism by having us cheer Walt's slurs as if they're no big deal. It can't do both at the same time.

  2. Thanks for those thoughts, Jason, and for your excellent offense on Gran Torino.

    I hope I've made it somewhat clear that I'm defending the accuracy of Gran Torino above the quality of its production. The radio show host's words speak for themselves, and, I'm afraid, for other Minnesotans as well. The Hmong have had a difficult history here (and in their homeland, for that matter) and overcome amazing obstacles, yet their refugee status has made them even less popular than the immigrants who have come here voluntarily. A misunderstanding of their culture (as Walt displays) is the primary reason for the prejudices held against them, but their segregation, mostly in St. Paul, impedes the process of cross-cultural understanding.

    Anyway, can it accomplish both of the things you mention? I would argue yes, if only because I can't lump everyone in this country as either a hard-core racist or a comfortable egalitarian. People progress and regress, and I think they will respond to this film whereever they are on the spectrum.

    Either way, I'm highly encouraging Minnesotans to see this movie and I hope they join the discussion.

    Also, I'm not sure why but I feel like I should provide the disclaimer here that I thought Crash was the best movie of 2005. I'm sure that will come up, and I'm almost sure people will fall in line with Gran Torino in the same place that they fell with that movie.

  3. can it accomplish both of the things you mention? I would argue yes, if only because I can't lump everyone in this country as either a hard-core racist or a comfortable egalitarian.

    In theory. I just think this film is sneaky. I don't think Clint had it in him to be a genuine asshole in what is perhaps his final screen appearance. If I were to introduce the character as 'sold' by the film, it would be something like: "I'd like to introduce you to Walt. He can't complete a sentence without using a racial slur. And that's bad. But he's a good guy. You can learn a lot from him." I hope I"m not the only one who sees a fat contradiction in that. In the end, I think the movie relies on Clint Eastwood's reputation as much as anything. ("It's Clint. It's okay.")

    As for you comment about "Crash" ...

    I thought about that film, too, which is part of the reason I mention Haggis in my review. But, get this, "Crash" was one of my favorite films of that year, too. It's on-the-nose, sure. And it oversimplifies. And maybe it is a film to make whites feel better about themselves ("Don't worry; everyone is racist!").

    But for all its faults, I think it's equal-opportunity in its insults and exaltations. And if nothing else the acting is a hell of a lot better.

    That said, maybe in light of my "Gran Torino" disdain I should take another look at "Crash" and make sure I'm being consistent. Good thoughts.

    Keep up the good work here, and I hope I see you back again at The Cooler.

  4. I have trouble taking Eastwood seriously anyway (I enjoyed his war films, found Million Dollar Baby overrated but entertaining, and Mystic River offensively overwrought and trite - Space Cowboys may be my favorite of his films, simply because it's so irredeemably silly that it can't descend into self-pitying pathos) but the trailer for this film didn't help.

    Between Eastwood's employment of the Batman voice, the sloppy cutting of the preview, and the seeming goofiness of the movie, I'm inclined to think it's not going to be very good, though reviewers seem to be disagreeing with me (they often do when it comes to Eastwood).

    Jason, what are your thoughts on Archie Bunker?

  5. Thanks for continuing the discussion, Jason. I would agree it were sneaky if I were to believe that Walt is redeemed by the end of the film. While I believe his racism is borne out of defensiveness more than outright hate, I wouldn't go so far as to call him a good guy, regardless of his final act. But as the proposed savior and hero of the story, sure, there is room to interpret it as a major contradiction.

    Crash is similar on a number of levels but is probably a better film because of the production quality (as you mention) and the universality of it; I don't think Gran Torino will be as relatable to those who are being exposed to the Hmong for the first time while watching this movie.

    But for all of my defenses of Crash over the last three years, I owe it another viewing as well. Before diving into the blogosphere I had no idea it was as reviled as it is.

    MovieMan, I was completely surprised by Eastwood here - both his acting and his direction of the movie. I really wasn't taken by Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby or Letters From Iwo Jima, though I did think Flags of our Fathers was underrated (and I skipped Space Cowboys for the same reason you liked it).

    But yeah, he has a flair for the melodramatic, and I've actually been surprised that critics have been as positive on this movie as they have been (despite my glowing recommendation in this non-review). Anyway, I still think you should see it even though you'll have to tolerate, haha, the Batman voice.

  6. MovieMan: My thoughts on Archie Bunker are that I have none. I'm savvy enough to get the reference, but I've never seen an episode. Of course, my knee-jerk response is to note that "All In The Family" was a show of the 70s. That isn't to imply that people like Archie go away. But I watch "Gran Torino" and suspect that many who cheer the movie now will cringe at it 20 years later. But then of course I think that, because I cringe at the movie now.

    Daniel: Funny. Before I went back here to check in on these comments, I posted my original review of "Flags of our Fathers," which I didn't care for in the least. Feel free to check that out and, if you're not tired of me already, give it some praise in the comments section.

    As for the hatred for "Crash" ... Keep in mind that the backlash against any film with any kind of success is pretty immediate on the blogosphere. Sometimes even being named as a potential Oscar nominee is enough to get everyone to turn against it. Which is sad. One of the things I feared with my "Gran Torino" review is that I'd come off as someone pissed off about the praise for the film, rather than someone who is genuinely pissed off about the movie, and would be if it was the No. 1 movie at the box office or headed straight to video.

    But I tried to silence that doubtful voice a bit too. I wrote it like I saw it. My hope, of course, is that one develops regular readers who can detect the sincerity of any review (pro or con) based on context. And now I'm rambling off topic ...

    (p.s. I added you to my blogroll today; my mistake in that I thought I'd added you there long ago. Keep up the good work.)

  7. I will definitely check that out, Jason, especially because FooF is the only Eastwood movie I've found worthwhile in years.

    And I didn't get any sense that you were coming out against the critical reaction to Gran Torino, only to the production and content within it. It's an important distinction, to be sure.

    And I'm honored to link you as well - thanks for the add.

    I normally don't solicit comments...but I'm hoping this movie creates more discussion here - about any of its themes, not just cross-cultural relations. Box office winner this weekend, so I'm guessing a number of people have seen it...

  8. First let me say that I have yet to see Gran Torino, but I was pretty incensed by the trailer which seems to legitimizing not only racism but also the right to bare arms, two cornerstones of American society that I don't care for. This notion of a "good racist" just makes me sick...

    I'll definitely check back in after I have seen the movie.

  9. Kathie,

    To be fair, racism and the right to bear arms (which is a part of the Bill of Rights, and a right which people of all races and ethnicities take part of) are hardly equivalent values. As far as the trailer endorsing racism, in terms of Walt's Asian neighbors it seems to show him realizing they're people too, though I'd have to see the whole movie to determine if that's correct.

    Also, (and I say this in a spirit of lightheartedness since I have penned spelling and grammatical errors like nobody's business) the right to bare arms is a right I zealously and patriotically exercise every summer when I go to the beach (along with the right to bare back, bare legs, bare chest and torso - unfortunately - and bare feet...)

  10. I'm dying for you both to see this, especially you, Kathie, as someone who can look at it with the perspective that I think is sorely lacking in the many online discussion I've seen about this film. Also, I didn't come away thinking Walt was a "good racist". And MovieMan, thanks for loosening it up with some clever wordplay, haha.

    But I have to make some points here, addressed to no one in particular.

    The greatest misunderstanding is that this is Eastwood's movie. I disagree. Eastwood himself admits that he didn't change the screenplay, and I have to take both his and Nick Schenk's word on that. As such, GT is ALMOST entirely Schenk's creation (there isn't a lot of room for Eastwood to translate the characters to screen much different than they're written). The slurs in particular are not Eastwood's addition but Schenk's, and they are accurate and, in my experience, commonly used here.

    Moreover, there is a significant knowledge gap about the Hmong. Much of the criticism about this movie has been the acting. But the whole point was to cast Hmong! For crying out loud, Bee Vang saw an add in the "Hmong Today" newspaper and attended the open casting call on a whim. What do people expect?

    Well, if they don't know anything about the Hmong, they probably expected other, experienced actors to play those roles, so long as they "looked Asian". But that would have been a disgrace to the culture, and frankly, an offense to see. For a refugee group who has no homeland and has struggled to establish themselves in this country, the Hmong can hardly be criticized for not having developed their cultural niche in Hollywood like so many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean actors and directors. This is the first major American film to star any Hmong, let alone be about them.

    I just think a majority of people outside of this state are completely misunderstanding this movie. That's easy to say since I'm here, but judging by the morning show host that I quote and the people who I've talked to here that have seen it, there's nothing but realism in this film. But of course, Kathie or anyone else here, feel free to put me in my place.

    End rant.

  11. I read the "Taking It Home" piece here several days ago, and have read the comments as well.

    My thoughts on the film can be found here and a far more spoilery collection of thoughts here.

    As for the debate between this film and Crash, I'll take Eastwood and Schenk's film, unhesitatingly. Here the racial component is more like an obstacle--think John Wayne's embrace of Natalie Wood near the end of The Searchers, extended over the course of two hours.

    As for the treatment of racism itself, I'd say Gran Torino is vastly more realistic and intelligent than Crash. Paul Haggis had Don Cheadle using highly "insensitive" (at best) comments toward his Hispanic lover.

    I agree with the comment that Eastwood being the central character makes whatever "roughness" of the protagonist a smaller factor than it would be if a more unlikable actor took the role. However, I don't see Walt Kowalski as truly "hateful" in his actions. If he were truly hateful he would not have intervened when Sue finds herself in trouble about half an hour into the film; he would have laughed at it the spectacle.

    I side with Daniel about the ensemble cast: that is an interesting story about Bee Vang seeing the ad in "Hmong Today." Ha! I give Eastwood extra credit, then, in that he went for "the real thing." The other actors are raw, "green," etcteras, but they all do their jobs. Eastwood's had his fair share of star-studded scenery-chewery dramas in the last five years or so. The lack of a Morgan Freeman or someone more recognizable makes Eastwood's presence in this verisimilitude of the neighborhood more acceptably realistic to me.

    Kudos to Movie Man for the "right to bare arms" comment. Haha, I was thinking the same thing.

    And finally, I'd suggest that people--and perhaps especially young people (I'm 23)--consider that Kowalski is an old man, not to mention a decorated war veteran. This hardly expunges whatever sins he has committed throughout his life, including the most traumatic ones in the name of fighting a war, but I must admit I've been slightly puzzled by the lack of empathy critics, professional and blogger alike, have seemingly had for the character. Another point I believe Eastwood and Schenk are trying to make is that Asian cultures tend to value elders (Yasujiro Ozu's cinema in part explores the prickly reality of families in Japan, and is of course fascinating for many reasons apart from this). Elders may not share the values of the youth, but they are to be respected. It's interesting to look at Kowalski's two sons, and their children, and how uninterested they are in him (he's not painted as the easiest fellow to get along with, either) and to see it as a contrast to the Hmong youths' appreciation and love for their elders, contrast yet again by the entirely rebellious (and in a way, Americanized) Hmong gangbangers.

    Anyway, this is my favorite Eastwood film in a long time. I agree that this seems to be at least born out of the screenwriter, as Daniel writes, but as I write in my review, the film couldn't be more Eastwoodian in many, many areas.

  12. Well, Daniel, you wrote a sobering and at the same time "grateful for it" exploratory essay as an apparent follow up to the actual review. (you assigned the film an "A" I believe)

    I love this proclamation:

    "Welcome to Minnesota, where hometown audiences haven't laughed this hard at a character's antics since the wood chipper scene in FARGO." You commence to discuss the film's making in the Minny area, as well as it's pre-eminence in the social underpinnings, inherent in the "everyman" character of Walt. You also (rightfully, methinks) contend that GRAN TORINO deals with "religion, family and war." And you also make an interesting point the ending being "overcooked" in its symbolism of sacrifice.
    I stated my own position on the film at another site today:

    "Although I admit I was not quite as appalled as Jason Bellamy was with GRAN TORINO,(almost though) I still think he makes some cogent objections. The film is deliriously entertaining, but you almost feel like slapping yourself afterwards for guffawing at the racial slurs and narrowmindedness, and the stereotyped views of the military, and the influx of immigrants in a xenophobic zone. The film is well-made from a technical standpoint (although that flies in the face of the far more important issues being dissected here)and I think Mr. Eastwood as Walt is commanding. But as Jason Bellamy suggests, these elements go for naught in the light of damning allegations against the essense and spirit of the piece, which could do more damage to cross-culture relations than it's screenwriter could have imagined.

    It's fun, but it's a cowering guilty pleasure.

    But I see where you are coming from too Daniel. I read where another blogger contended that Asians laughed the hardest at the film's racist humor, and someone else argued that the film was less about racism than about live, death and loyalty.

    It's food for thought, in any case.

  13. Daniel, quick comment on your rant: I actually suspect that part of the problem with this film is that Eastwood changed too little. I'm not just talking about the screenplay. I think he settled for bad takes.

    No matter who wrote it, it's Eastwood's movie. (It's not like he's a rookie getting pressure from the studio.) If he elects not to change the screenplay, that's just as much of a decision as rewriting it.

    On that note: We shouldn't expect these novice actors to be Marlon Brando. Honestly, I think they perform better than most veteran actors would if saddled with the same lame dialogue.

    And that's the thing: Eastwood should have been listening to this movie and thinking: "Does this sound right?" Most of the time, the answer was no. (To move away from the Hmong... How terrible is the moment when the white cops tell the white priest he can't stay in front of the gang house? Painful.)

    Eastwood's "Changeling," also shot as written, has a similar problem in that every few minutes you're stumbling over redundant dialogue or entirely unnecessary scenes. This is on Eastwood.

    Frankly, I'm surprised he isn't more anal about the process. Then again, he never gets slammed for it, so why should he be.

    Reading more and more praise for "Gran Torino," what pisses me off most isn't the race issue. It's that Paul Haggis can make "In The Valley of Elah" and get thrown under the bus for one, yes, VERY on-the-nose scene at the end. But Eastwood's film is packed with on-the-nose scenes from start to finish. I can't even begin to articulate here how far superior "Elah" is to "Torino."

    Anyway, there's MY rant! Thanks for listening.

  14. Did I spell something wrong?

    Anyway, I wasn't trying to say that racism and the right to bear arms were equivalent values, but they do go hand in hand. If you don't think so, go to the next gun show in town.

    I lived in Frogtown for 15 years and there were plenty of Walts around sneering at the Hmong, practically right in their face.

    Fortunately, here in MN no one is baring arms, at least not outside.

    I still haven't seen the film, so I'll shut up. I just needed to defend myself a little.

  15. Alright, let's keep this going!

    Kathie, ah those dang homophones - somebody always gets you on them, though I don't think it was meant to be a serious jab. Well I'm still anxious to hear your thoughts on GT, though I'm not really in suspense. Especially now, considering your time in Frogtown (for non-Minnesotans, a St. Paul neighborhood in which many of the Hmong first arrived and still live), I can't imagine you'll be anything other than disgusted, as I was - not by the film, which I celebrate, but by Walt, whom I also recognize.

    Alexander, I would agree about Crash to the extent that the epithets didn't seem to come naturally from the people who were saying them. Eastwood breezes through them, which is kind of disturbing (and thinking about it, John Carroll Lynch doesn't seem so comfortable with his words as the barber). Also, great points about the lack of another recognizable actor like Freeman, and especially the cultural observation about elders. I love that thought.

    Thank you, Sam. Yes, this would get a lenient "A" from me, as I would take into consideration the acting situation I mentioned earlier.

    And I did see that thoughtful comment you left at Jason's review, where an outstanding conversation has taken place. Food for thought is an understatement, I would say!

    Jason, yet again you deliver an incredibly cogent comment. I admit, I've settled for what Gran Torino is, instead of what it could be. You're right - Eastwood likely could have made the same movie a little better. And man, great call on the cop scene.

    Here's a question maybe related to the acting - do we all know that the white kid escorting Sue on the street is Eastwood's son in real life?

    Changeling, well I found it one of the worst movies of the year for the reasons you list, and more.

    It may be too exhaustive to explore here, but I would be interested to read your defense of Elah, which I found well-acted in some respects but too long and otherwise disappointing. Emotionally, Stop-Loss took more out of me, but that's neither here nor there. I only gave Elah the one shot in the theater, and that was over a year ago so my reasoning is pretty weak.

  16. It may be too exhaustive to explore here, but I would be interested to read your defense of "Elah," which I found well-acted in some respects but too long and otherwise disappointing. Emotionally, Stop-Loss took more out of me, but that's neither here nor there.

    Actually, after I left my comment yesterday I was thinking that this might be a good excuse to run my pre-blog review of "Elah." Maybe I'll do that next week. Stay tuned.

    I'd recommend a second chance (I do think that's one of those films that was framed too narrowly as an Iraq War film). Then again, so much of my reaction is based on Tommy Lee Jones' performance -- which I suspect either hits you or doesn't.

  17. Heck, you might as well just do full week devoted to Haggis screenplays while we're talking about all of them - just please don't mention Quantum of Solace.

    Jones was terrific, to be sure, but I think I was also impressed by some of the smaller players like Victor Wolf. Man, looking back at that cast I have to admit I forgot people like Brolin and Brent Briscoe (one of my favorites since A Simple Plan) were in the movie. Just goes to show how much of it stuck with me I guess.

  18. Kathie,

    It was the "bear" vs. "bare" thing, but like I said, in a spirit of lightheartedness (I've done much worse).

    I still don't think it's fair to equate racism and gun-owning; it isn't only white people who own guns, nor is it just conservative white people - though they may be the most outspoken gunowners. At any rate, the right to bear arms is a part of the Bill of Rights, and while racism was condoned in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights has generally been the fount from which expansions and recognitions of civil rights have emerged. In some ways one could say these racism and gun rights are in opposition to one another - it's my understanding that one of the first things to go in the wake of Reconstruction was the right of black citizens to bear arms.

    Now, I don't own a gun nor am I involved with or especially enamored of gun culture, I just don't think this confluence is fair.

  19. Alexander, great post on this film, which I've not yet seen. Though I'm still skeptical about this movie (and concur with Jason's points about Eastwood's surprising sloppiness - hell, even the trailer is extremely sloppy), you've at least warmed me up to it a little more (particularly in your comments tying the interestingly complex relationship the neighbors may hold towards Eastwood vis a vis Ozu).

    Also...damn, you're even younger than I am. Suddenly I feel like Walt Kowalski...

  20. If it makes you feel any better Daniel, the audience was similar here in progressive LA.

    I enjoyed the movie, not as much as you, but the audience reaction was disturbing. They enjoyed Clint's character a little TOO much.

  21. Interesting inclusion of gun ownership in this discussion. I don't think I have anything significant to add about it at the time being, but it was an angle I hadn't otherwise considered.

    And regarding the sloppiness, thinking more on it I remember that Eastwood is known to rush production unnecessarily, and reading some interviews with Bee Vang, he makes it seem as though he was cast a week before shooting and many of his lines were memorized in the minutes before the camera started rolling. I guess that's Eastwood's deal, not sure why. One take and that's it. I remember Malkovich saying the same thing about Changeling.

    Craig, it makes me feel a little less crazy, but otherwise it's pretty troubling. And I have to note, if I haven't already, that I laughed quite a bit during this movie as well - often at Walt's ignorance (but not his blissful ignorance), and especially during the scene where Thao meets his boss in the construction trailer.

  22. Always glad to see some love for this one. This is probably the film I have the most personal investment in for 2008. No other movie last year sparked such a passionate reaction in me...and I get defensive over it quickly. The jaw-droppingly shallow reactions that many have had to it suggest an inability to look beyond the surface. If you can't get past the racist slurs, then you missed the point completely.

    Yes, Walt is a racist. Yes he often says reprehensible things. But that alone does not make him a bad person. He is a product of his time and his circumstances, but he is a good person at heart, as evidenced by the gradual friendship he builds with the Hmong family next door. He almost doesn't notice that he's doing it. In the end it's not about race, it's about people. Whether Walt ever realizes that lesson or not is up for debate.

    As for audience reactions well...yes, the earlier part is quite funny. Would it have been as funny if it weren't Clint saying those things? Who knows. But what makes Walt so interesting is that he really means no harm by what he's saying, it's just all he knows.

  23. Thanks for your impassioned comments, Matthew. We'll stand up together for this one as one of the better movies of the year.

    I do think that Walt did mean some harm by some of his behavior and language, but I understand what you're saying about being a product of his time and the war (which I think is being overlooked, and which I tried to point to in my comment about Iraq War veterans).

  24. I still have to maintain that you're seeing an important aspect of your local culture brought forth to a national scale and are somehow equating accuracy and/or importance with quality. Just because the Hmong deserve to have their story told (and by Hmong actors) doesn't mean that a weak script, weak acting, weaker directing and the weakest singing should all be forgiven and forgotten. In particular, I found this quote nearly offensive:

    "Much of the criticism about this movie has been the acting. But the whole point was to cast Hmong! For crying out loud, Bee Vang saw an add in the "Hmong Today" newspaper and attended the open casting call on a whim. What do people expect?"

    They expect a professional director ("He's efficient!") to be able to get his actors to not perform worse than teen soap stars, for one.

    I don't blame the actors, as you might infer, though. They were appealing. I blame their "2 takes and a cloud of dust" director, who either should abandoned that philosophy or seen the light and put a director in his place that wouldn't have used it in the first place.

  25. I take issue with any aspect of "Gran Torino" being referred to as "weak." It's one of the strongest films of the year, especially in terms of directing.

    I truly believe that this film will be appreciated for the masterwork it is in the future.

  26. On that point we agree, Fletch, even though I didn't bring up Eastwood's misdirection until two comments prior to yours (Matt, I can't agree with you all the way on that part of your last comment!). But I understand what you're saying. My reckoning was mostly that, as crazy as it sounds, I would have preferred to see accurately cast Hmong actors do a poor job than generically cast Asian actors do a great job acting Hmong, regardless of who was directing.

    In any case, I still think we're continue to talk past each other about my perspective on movies in general (not just the local connection to this one, as you are right about). The term "quality" is one that can usually be agreed upon in objective terms, but as you know, my "social significance" hang-up throws everything out of scale. I've found some very well-made movies to be forgettable and/or meaningless to my perspective on life. Even last year, I docked No Country for Old Men with a 3/5 in significance. It was a brilliantly produced movie in every way, but I didn't give it an A+ because I didn't find aspects or insights from it that would add much to my outlook on life.

    I'm not saying Gran Torino is a better movie than No Country, but in terms of "social significance" I consider it a more important one. In my opinion, there is much more you can learn about the world from Gran Torino, and I think many more ways in which it causes you to consider your own life.

    So I'm not sure if I'm doing anything here again other than defending my judgment on movies, but I guess we'll keep going back and forth on this with different movies! I appreciate your thoughtful comments anyway.


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