Friday, December 4, 2009

Emory Movie Mania Screening Tonight

On tonight's Movie Mania agenda--Grand Torino. Discussion will be lead by Dr. Ephi Betan from the Argosy University psychology department. 7:30p @ Emory University, White Hall 205. Free and open to the public.

Here is my original review of Grand Torino:

Clint Eastwood is a squinty-eyed old coot. And he plays one in his new film Gran Torino in which he stars and directs. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski who we meet at his wife’s funeral. Walt growls, uses profanity in every day conversation, is alienated from his sons and grandchildren, and hates the baby-faced priest who has taken on the dying wish of Walt’s wife for Walt to go to confession. Seemingly the only thing Walt has loved in his life is his wife, his dog, and the Gran Torino in his garage, a car which he helped build working in a Ford factory most of his life.

Walt lives in a deteriorating Michigan neighborhood in which Hmong immigrants have moved. He scowls at them and wonders why they are here, while they stare back and wonder why he won’t leave. One night, Thao, the Hmong teen-aged boy living next-door, tries to steal Walt’s prized Grand Torino. Thao’s actions are spurred by the threats from his cousin’s gang. Walt catches Thao in the act and at the same time runs off the gang after Thao. To Walt’s chagrin, Thao’s family, including his sister Sue, are grateful and so begins Walt’s uneasy relationship with his neighbors.

This movie has all the trappings of what I have deemed a “quintessential negro” movie where a benevolent white person takes on a minority person and, in the face of racism and adversity, helps the minority person reach his full potential. So what’s the twist here in a sea of similar films? Walt is unlikeable. He hates that his son sells non-American cars. Every word out of Walt’s mouth is some sort of put down or racial epitaph. Spook, gook, dragonlady, zipperhead, toad…the list goes on and on. And except for his actions in helping Thao and befriending Sue, Walt doesn’t much change his personality. He routinely teases Sue and her family about eating dog meat, even though he scarfs down Hmong food which he comments is better than jerky and Pabst Blue Ribbon. He calls Thao a pussy and chastises him for not pursuing a girl, while at the same time teaching Thao handy skills and getting him a job. So what spurs Walt to help this Hmong family and make an ultimate sacrifice, when he can’t even talk to his own offspring? Walt is seemingly moved by some sense of common humanity, thoughts on life and death, and perhaps a sense of atonement for those he killed during the Korean War.

With Gran Torino, Eastwood has created a compelling character study in a film that rages, yet is quiet in its examination.

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