Movie reviews

Gran Torino
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Review by Tony Sheppard

Almost a guaranteed slam dunk for vintage Eastwood fans, Gran Torino is entertaining and also marks a key moment in film history as it is probably his last onscreen performance. It's also one of my favorite films of the year (as a late 2008 release).
Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Ford auto worker, who keeps a perfectly preserved 1972 Gran Torino fastback in his garage but drives a truck that better matches his utilitarian demeanor. His wife has just died and the movie starts at her funeral, as Walt displays his distaste for family members and just about everybody who crosses his curmudgeonly path. He's a bitter old man with a sharp tongue. Much of the film's humor is derived from Walt's endless put downs, rampant political incorrectness, and unapologetic ethnic epithets.

But it's too easy to label Walt a racist – he's more a product of his generation and upbringing. Yes, he calls his Hmong neighbors almost every imaginable Asian slur, but the film goes to great lengths to show him being equally unpleasant with his own family and equally inclined to label even his good friends based on their ethnicity and heritage. In one memorable scene, he tries to teach his young Hmong neighbor how to "speak like a man" and it is clear that such crass language can even become a sign of endearment to Walt, as he continues to call people otherwise outrageous names after we know that he has come to like and admire them.

And the racist tones, while prevalent, are relatively shallow compared to the deeply held values of his generation – hard work, integrity, and providing for family. When Walt is impressed by somebody, he admires them for something they do and not for who they are. This individual level of evaluation runs counter to the blanket assumptions of a true racist, who would judge purely based on group membership.

"Gran Torino" reminded me of two seemingly unrelated movies. Others have said this is like Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" in old age, but Walt seems more reminiscent of William Munny in "Unforgiven," a man who has killed in his past and who would rather be able to put that experience to rest. Walt also reminded me of Kanji Watanabe from "Ikiru" (Akira Kurosawa, 1952). Watanabe is a hard-working man who has reached the end of his life, only to realize that he has little to show for it except a family who are fondly contemplating their inheritances. Both men, in a time of crisis, turn their thoughts toward selfless acts that will have a lasting benefit to their beleaguered communities.

I'm not only a fan of most of Eastwood's work, but I character studies about pivotal moments in people's lives. I think the term "coming of age" often gives the sole impression of teenage sexcapades when, in fact, one can come of age at almost any stage of life. In "Gran Torino," we are graced with the coming of age of two men, one at the start of a life and one at the end, and it made my day (!).

Bride Wars
Directed by Gary Winnick

Review by Katie Monson

"Bride Wars" reinforces the negative stereotypes about "Bridezillas" and women in general. Cattiness, jealousy, passive aggressive behavior, and the inevitable cat fight all make their way into this movie at a very predictable pace.

The film stars Kate Hudson ("Fools Gold," My Best Friends Girl") as Liv Lerner, a very out-spoken lawyer, and Anne Hathaway ("Get Smart," "The Devil Wears Prada") as Emma Allan, a teacher who repeatedly allows everyone to walk all over her. Best friends since childhood, the two women have been planning their June weddings at the famous Plaza Hotel since having tea there with their mothers as young girls. When each of their respective boyfriends propose, the women go to see Marion St. Clare (Candice Bergen), a very well-connected wedding planner who has some well-placed contacts at the Plaza and manages to find three wedding openings available in June. Who can plan a wedding at the plaza in less than a year? Unfortunately there is a mix up and both girls' weddings end up on the same day. The passive aggression and cattiness abound after this with digs at the Liv's past as a chubby girl and much more-blue hair and orange tans also make an appearance.

In my opinion, I found this movie boring, hokey, and predictable. There are so many photo montages, which do nothing for the story, that they got to be irritating. Kristen Johnston, who is normally adorable and funny, just got old after 30 seconds on-screen. One of the few good parts of this movie was seeing Steve Howey move on from his role in "Reba," but as a good comic actor, he falls a little short and spends almost no time on-screen. There are a few moments in "Bride Wars" were I found myself laughing-but not many.

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