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.

In a Better World

In_a_better_world

The Danish film In a Better World caught me by surprise. Compelling and intense, it weaves together the stories of Anton, a doctor who works for an NGO like Doctors without Borders in Africa and his family in Denmark and Christian, a boy who moves to Denmark after his mother dies. Anton’s son Elias is a victim of bullying until Christian defends him. The two boys become friends, but Elias is troubled by Christian’s violent streak. Christian believes might makes right and takes pleasure in revenge and plotting. He doesn’t know when to stop or that the unexpected can make a plot go awry in terrible ways.

Anton lives part of the year in Denmark, where he tries to reconcile with his wife Marianne, and part of the year in war-torn Africa where women are sliced open by a Chieftain called Big Man. Anton is a highly ethical man who tries to live non-violently and to teach his son the same.

Lonely and fascinated by Christian, Elias is too weak to refuse and stop his friend from his escalating violence. The film depicts the consequences of missing fathers.

 

I liked the film’s tone and the opportunity to travel to two new settings, Africa and Denmark. Roger Ebert criticized the film for cutting between the two cultures of Africa and Denmark, however, as someone who splits her time between cultures I found no problem with that choice.

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.

One Tree Hill, Season 4, 5

I finished watching the finale of season 4 of One Tree Hill. It’s been a high-octane season and I felt it was wise to have the characters’ senior year run across two seasons. That decision allows the writers to create more stories and postpone the problems of a post-high school year on a show that is set in high school. I did think the three prom related shows got tiresome and the actual prom had too much violence for my taste. I really did not need to witness Peyton get attacked again by her stalker.

As usual for One Tree Hill, the finale ends with a bang, a cliffhanger with plenty of adrenaline so I wanted to see how season 5 began. Well, I turned to Netflix to stream the season 5 premiere and was disappointed to discover that it’s unavailable. I put the DVD in my queue, but I’m miffed that it’s not available for streaming.

Thoughts on Season 4:

  • Deb has become too much of a caricature and joke. She’s also disappeared. It seems they don’t know what to do with her.
  • I’m glad Peyton and Lucas are together.
  • It took too long for Dan to be revealed to at least one main character as Keith’s murderer.
  • The Clean Teen storyline was interesting, but could have been better. They didn’t need dorky T-shirts. Too bad Glee preceded this show as I think these writers could learn from Ryan Murphy, especially if he does get a Christian character in this season, on how to handle such characters with complexity and respect, which is so much more interesting.
  • Why hasn’t Brooke taken responsibility yet for the cheating. That she’s let Rachel get expelled is deplorable, but she doesn’t completely see that yet.
  • I see from Netflix that the show will jump from senior year to post-college. While I understand how that allows the writers to keep all the characters in the same city, which wouldn’t happen in a small North Carolina town with no college, I do feel cheated. My friend Sally who gave me four seasons of DVDs with the idea of hooking me, has found the post high school seasons lacking. I’ve caught just one or two episodes of season 8 this summer and boy, is Haley and Nathan’s son poorly written. What an obnoxious brat. Clearly, a child who gets too much attention.
  • i do like that the show is edgier than most young adult programming, but I also am so aware that these actors are 25 not 18.
  • I continue to find the absence of adults just weird. Were we really supposed to buy that Mouth would get away with not calling his parents when he was imprisioned in Texas? Now that episode was an example of how the audience is often asked to buy a very far fetched set up, to enjoy the humorous pay off of the whole gang crashing a small town Texas prom in funky 70s dress. I do think One Tree Hill asks a lot of its audience and wonder if it isn’t too much and sort of an affront since they know their viewers are teens.