Because Clint Eastwood is one of my all-time favorites, I saw Gran Torino (2008) shortly after it came out and recall enjoying the movie, but not being enamored of it. I must be getting sappy because I watched it again last night and loved it.
The movie is based in Detroit and begins with a crusty retired autoworker (Eastwood as Walt Kowalski) burying his wife. When he returns from the funeral to his old, middle-class home, we see the neighborhood being over-run by Hmong Americans (an ethnic group from the mountains of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and China). His Hmong next-door neighbors are being threatened by Hmong gang, and despite Kowalski’s transparent bigotry toward his neighbors, he eventually warms to them and tries to help them succeed. Among the transcendent moments:
- A lady’s man. While trying to help the neighbor boy to court girls, Kowalski says that he might seem to know nothing about girls, but he had at a younger age noticed the most wonderful woman in the world, courted her, and persuaded her to marry him, and that should give him some credibility on the subject.
- A sinner. Kowalski’s dying wife had urged the local priest to get Kowalski to go to confession. Against all odds, the priest eventually succeeds and learns of Kowalski’s three sins – (1) he once failed to report $900 of profit for selling a boat (same as stealing, according to Walt); (2) he once kissed another woman at a work party while his wife was in another room; and (3) he wasn’t close to his two boys. Kowalski admitted that these failings bothered him every day of his life.
In the end, Walt, who was a Korean War hero, realizes that the Asian immigrants living next door to him reflect what is good and great about America, while his extended family seems to have no heart. The film, which was Eastwood’s biggest-grossing movie at $270 million, scored 80% with the Rotten Tomato critics and 90% with the audience. I’m with the audience and give it four out of four stars.
Regarding the movie, Click – one of my favorite philosophical discussions concerns whether a life in pain is worth living. For most people, the context for this discussion involves a person with a terminal illness. I, however, sometimes take these discussions in a different direction by asserting that I would rather not live those days when I am in the throes of a bad flu or cold.
Most people initially react by scoffing at my assertion because no reasonable person should want to die because of a relatively mild, temporary affliction. But then I explain that I’m not talking about dying; rather, I’m talking about fast-forwarding past those uncomfortable days. My point is that because of my low pain threshold, those days with a bad cold or flu are so bad for me that I would rather not live them.
An even easier example for me is the week or so following my motorcycle accident back in 1980, when I received a bad case of road rash that required my then-girlfriend to rip off the bandage several times a day and scrub the rash with a brush. No question about fast-forwarding past those days.
Last Thanksgiving weekend, I was having this philosophical discussion with two of my sons when the eldest, Bobby, told me that he had seen a movie called Click that is based on nearly the same philosophical premise. Although I was initially disappointed to learn, once more, that my original thought is not original, I was even more excited to see the movie.
Click (2006) is a sci-fi comedy drama starring Adam Sandler as a workaholic who receives from Christopher Walken a magical remote control that enables Sandler to fast-forward past times that he deems not worth living. Not surprisingly, Sandler uses the device too often and ends up missing most of his life. Critics note that the movie seems to rip-off, unsuccessfully, It’s a Wonderful Life and Back to the Future and give it a middling Rotten Tomato score of 33, but its audience likes it better at 72.
I like Click about the same as the Rotten Tomato audience and give it three stars out of four. Although it started slows (probably about two), it finishes strong (four stars) by making me re-think my life philosophy. Although I doubt that I will ever be able to soldier on through a terminal illness like my dad did, I will be a helluva a lot more motivated to get something positive out of all each one of my days, even those filled with, but not dominated by, pain or drudgery.
Although I got steered in the right direction with Click, I definitely took a wrong turn when my sons suggested The Campaign. This comedy starring Will Farrell and Zack Galifianakis is so disappointing, partially because it isn’t very funny, but mostly because neither star is worth rooting for. They are both losers and neither deserves to win. The cast includes Dylan McDermott, Jason Sudeikis, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd – what a waste! The Rotten Tomato critics give it 66% and the audience likes it less at 54%. They are too generous – I give it one star out of four.
Pure Country (2002) is a romantic drama about a country singer (George Strait) who loses his love for his music because his manager (sultry vixen Leslie Ann Warren) over-produces him with smoke and lights. Although the movie was a box-office flop ($15 million), it is a staple of TV (like It’s a Wonderful Life), and as I was watching it pre-Christmas with a couple of my sons, we found each other pre-discussing many scenes before they actually occurred. We loved everything about the movie, including Strait’s acting, but especially his singing. Although the Rotten Tomato critics scored it only at 20%, its audience scored it at 88%. The audience is correct because this is easily a four-star movie. P.s., Strait’s best friend in the movie is played by John Doe, who should be famous for his version of I Will Always Love You that plays on the jukebox in the famous Kevin Costner – Whitney Houston dancing scene in The Bodyguard. P.s.s., the father of Strait’s love interest is Rory Calhoun, a famous cowboy actor from the 50s and 60s. All of his movie-star looks are gone by the time of this, his last movie before dying in 1999 at the age of 76.
Red River (1948) is a classic Western directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne in his prime. The story revolves around a cattle drive led by an intense, hard Wayne until his adopted son (played by Montgomery Clift) leads a mutiny of the drovers. As with most great movies, romance is a critical component of Red River. Early in the movie, Wayne sacrificed a romantic relationship because of his dominant interest in establishing a cattle empire. At the end of the movie, he recognized the error of his ways and helped his adopted son avoid the same mistake. The Rotten Tomato critics love Red River – giving it 100% approval; the audience gives it 83%. I agree – four out of four stars.