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.

South Shore, Most Violent Neighborhoods

The Seventh Most Violent Neighborhood in Chicago is my father’s old neighborhood, South Shore. All of these are tough to watch because but this is the one neighborhood I have memories of. My grandparents lived here up till the 70’s and we’d visit often. Their apartment was near Rainbow Beach.

By the way, Barak and Michelle Obama held their wedding reception at the South Shore Country Club.

Chicago: 10th Most Violent Neighborhood

My brother just told me about this series of short documentaries looking at the tragedy of violence in parts of Chicago. Each focuses on one of the 10 Most Violent Neighborhoods in the Second City. Back of the Yards is number 10.

I agree with the reporter than if you don’t understand the problem, you can’t solve it.

CBS Evening News

After a top notch look at the hospitals caring for the shooting victims in Chicago, CBS Evening News interviewed Rahm Emanuel about the increased murder rate this summer. I found the piece disappointing. Since I live near Chicago, I know the statistics and the stories, such as seven year old Heaven Sutton’s murder. She was caught in the crossfire while she was selling snow cones and candy on the street with her grandma.

One shortcoming of the interview was its brevity. It seemed to last 2 minutes so by the time the problem was identified and Emanuel clarified Scott Pelley‘s depiction to his own liking as politicians do, there was little time to discuss how to address this problem. The other big problem was that Pelley just played softball with the mayor, whose chief of police is cutting the budget so that while in the past, when the murder rate went down, Chicago had 5 detective units, it now has 3. Also while after a shooting police strike force would move in, now they don’t.

Emanuel didn’t say much specific. He defended his new chief in spite of the poor results. He also went on a tangent about how it’s all about values and called for gang bangers to step away from children so that they don’t get hurt. His call seems unrealistic. Why would you assume a criminal is going to make it easier for someone shooting him to get shot? It’s incredibly naïve to appeal to a sense of valor. While the problem, like all crime, is a matter of morality, Emanuel had no plan on how to inculcate values. Pelley didn’t bother to question him on that. Pure softball.

Perhaps it’s not a national issue so Pelley went easy on Emanuel. Yet if it’s not a national story it doesn’t belong on CBS Evening News.  I wish Pelley would watch the BBC’s Hard Talk to sharpen his interviewing skills.

Marin conducting a different interview

Later Chicago Tonight did a splendid job on the same issue. Elizabeth Bracken recapped the issue and Carol Marin interviewed two aldermen, who’ve come forward questioning the new police strategy. Marin asked all the right questions and the interview never felt like a T-ball game. Pelley can attain this level and should.