Gran Torino

I’m still scratching my head as to why two friends recommended I see this film. They just raved about it. It sure isn’t my cup of tea. Starring Clint Eastwood, who also directed and produced it, Gran Torino shows Walt Kowalski, a tough curmudgeon whose wife has died who’s just a pain in the neck to his two sons and grandkids and neighbors. The person he’s closest with, and he isn’t that close to, is his barber, with whom he trades insults and profanity. There’s young, out-of-step priest who tries to connect with Walt, but the grouch has no patience for this cookie-cutter stereotype.

Next door to Walt live a family of Hmong refugees, whose lives Walt is forced to become involved with. A gang of about 5 Hmong guys terrorize the neighborhood. Walt’s teenage neighbor Thao is a bit wimpy and thus a target for his cousin’s gang. The gang forces Thao to try to steal Walt’s classic 1970s Gran Torino, but Thao is caught. When Walt sees the extent of how Thao gets pushed around by the thugs, the teaches the boy how to “man up.” All this moves to a showdown between Walt and the gang.

I felt all the actors overdid it. There wasn’t one subtle role. Too bad Toshio Mifune’s not around to teach how to be tough and subtle. The only natural performance came from Ahney Her who played Thao’s sister.

Replete with stereotypes and clichés, I couldn’t buy what I was seeing. Except for the end, Walt is in a foul mood about everything. Everything. I’ve seen this sort of grump in bad movies but never in real life.

There’s a good message about sacrifice and breaking through one’s racism, but since few are as biased as Walt, most audience members will just see themselves as better than the hero rather than in the same moral boat. I don’t need that. The Two of Us is a much better movie about racism. Yojimbo is a better film for action and defeating a gang.

Glee as of Late

I’m catching up on Glee episodes and it hasn’t been as fun as it used to be. I’m staying with the show out of loyalty. While the stars are just as talented, the story lines aren’t grabbing me. I mentioned earlier my skepticism over Burt Hummel as a senator. Now we’re to believe Sue‘s desperately wants to be a mother. I just don’t buy it. I feel Sue’s pregnancy is mainly a gag, just as Finn and Rachel’s engagement seems like a contrivance that grew out of boredom in the writers’ room. I really don’t buy Finn’s depression or ennui or that a kid his age would find marriage as a means of fulfillment. It doesn’t ring true.

Then I was disappointed with Rachel’s dads. They should have introduced those characters earlier. Now after all these years, they are on camera, having never come to her performances or intervened when she was suspended, which showed them to be lax at best, when clearly they’d be helicopter parents of the first degree. I also wished one of them was Black as I found that line in the pilot so funny, the one about how they didn’t know who the real father was. Jeff Goldblum was fine, but after three years whomever they got had to be great. The writing was decent, but not great.

A major disappointment for me as a Glee Project viewer has been how Sam, Damien and Lindsay have been given overly stereotyped minor roles. They’re the sideshow in the sideshow of McKinley High and haven’t been accorded the role of say new characters like Sam or even Blaine. I get that all the characters are over the top and stereotyped, but it’s a fine line and in this case has disappointed.

I’m not a big fan of Michael Jackson and could do without a second show emphasizing his music. Early on in that episode Rachel voices my indifference and I thought the show would serve to blow us away and win the non-Michael fans over. It really didn’t.

I really didn’t like the storyline with Will as an incompetent Spanish teacher. He’s too conscientious for that. He’s the kind of guy who would have gotten up to speed early on if he wasn’t up to a teaching task. It was clearly an excuse to bring on Ricky Martin. I liked the idea of a show with Latin music, but take the time to come up with a good storyline. It’s not hard. Make Martin a new teacher in the department. Also, the writers need to know about their arena. In K-12 most everyone has tenure. If you don’t get it by year three, you’re stupid not to leave. It’s a sign they don’t want you.

As for the plot line with Kurowski (I think that’s the spelling) attempting suicide was worth covering, however, was lost amidst all the other plot lines. It’s alright if that kind of event is a show stopper. It’s a major deal in any setting and it leaves people numb. Here it came off as a PSA and in fact, I find Glee’s gotten too overtly didactic. Let the drama teach. Embed facts more naturally as they did in Boston Legal, or leave them out.

I haven’t stopped believin’ in Glee, but could. I hope things don’t come to that.

One Tree Hill

This teenage soap is something of a guilty pleasure for me. I’m hooked, yet I know this is far from top drawer drama. It’s not as good as The Gilmore Girls or Everwood but this look at a clique of high school kids in North Carolina is satisfying enough. The premise is original. Half brothers, one beloved, the other abandoned begin as rivals. Nathan grew up with his father and mother with all the affluence of the upper middle class, while Lucas and his mother Karen, have struggled to make ends meet since Karen was blown off by Dan her high school boyfriend.

Seventeen years later wounds and rivalry are still acute. Dan is a smug, over-privileged jerk who makes a good villain. Girl next door Haley, edgy artistic Peyton and party girl Brooke provide romantic interest for the boys. There’s all the high drama of a soap: car accidents, elopements, betrayals, murders, teen pregnancy, single parenthood, you name it.

I’m just in the middle of season 4. I’d have missed the show entirely if it weren’t for Sally’s urging and DVDs.

Certain aspects of the show are so far fetched. In an era of hover parents, only Dan is obsessed with his favorite son. Peyton’s father is usually at sea and her mother’s dead. Brooke’s rich parents are either traveling, off-camera arguing or in California where they relocate. Jake, a teen single father, has parents who take no part in his custody battle and very little in helping with his daughter. Rachel joins the cast in season 3 and it’s a mystery why her parents bought a house in Tree Hill as they too are vagabonds never coming home. Who tends the lawn? Who gets a repairperson? These kids never have to deal with any homeowner problems.

Oh, I really can’t believe that while Peyton drove all night to check on her father’s safety when she learned his ship was in a storm, he doesn’t show up for weeks when a creepy imposter stalks and attacks her.  When he is on camera, Mr. Sawyer is a normal concerned father. Implausible.

I do love the literary quotations that often begin or end an episode. I’ve posted a page of them at Ruined for Life.