12 January 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Film

When Clint Eastwood makes a movie, I watch it. When Clint Eastwood is in the movie, it is bonus points. Ever since Mystic River, I have been borderline-obsessed with his films. I have gone back and watched many of his older films, and have many sitting on the shelf that I am trying to get to. So, when I first heard that he was directing and starring in Gran Torino, I couldn’t wait. It finally opened wide this weekend and made it to St. Louis. So, with my two favorite movie watchers* with me, I went.

Gran Torino opens with Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood, standing at his wife’s funeral. He is a sour, scowling old man. His two sons Steve and Mitch are sitting in the pew complaining about how he is disapproving of their children’s dress. One grandson is wearing a Detroit Lions football jersey, and his granddaughter is wearing an outfit not fit for public, let alone a funeral. Next, we meet Father Janovich who gives the service. Father Janovich is also a persistent force in the film. Following the funeral, they all go back to the Kowalski house. Here we see that Walt’s grandchildren are scared of him, as are his children and their spouses. Walt is basically a crotchety old man that scowls and grumbles about everyone and everything.

To get away from it all, Walt and his dog Daisy go outside. This is where the story really begins. His neighbors are a Hmong family. The family consists of Tao and his older sister Sue that live with their mother and grandmother. They are celebrating the birth of a new child in the family. Walt makes his feelings of the foreigners clear. From this point, there are enough racial slurs to tide me over for some time. From this point on, most of the story focuses on Walt and his relationship that forms with the two children next door. Tao tries to steal Walt’s prized possession, his 1972 Gran Torino, to prove to his gang member cousin that he is not a spineless as they think. He fails when Walt catches him. The family is then dishonored by Tao’s actions, and he is sentenced by his family to help Walt for an undisclosed amount of time. In the mean time, Sue is walking home with a white guy, named as Trey, and runs into trouble with a different gang. Walt happens to be driving by, and helps the situation. Later, I found out that the white guy is Clint’s son Scott.

On the drive back home, Walt realizes that Sue is a good girl, and he digs the whole to start burying the hatchet. Also, Tao and Walt bond over tools. This puts the hatchet in the whole. After Tao is released from his punishment, he still helps Walt. This buries that proverbial hatchet. Now, Walt tries to make a man of Tao. He introduces him to talking like a man, via the local barber. He gets him a job working construction.

Finally, Walt realizes that the gang is a problem that Tao and Sue cannot over come themselves, and the neighborhood is not willing to take a stand against them. But, Walt being a Korean War veteran, he will.

Clint Eastwood knows what he is doing behind a camera. His use of light in a few key scenes was great. The score was good, and I thought it was by Clint who has done his own scores for awhile, but it was actually done by his son Kyle. As much as I loved this film, I think most of it had to do with the fact that I appreciate Clint Eastwood’s acting and directing. No other actor could have played Walt. Clint, also, had a rough time carrying the movie, since all the Hmong actors were almost unwatchable. I wonder if they filmed the movie in reverse order, since it seemed that they got worse. During one of the final scenes, I had to choke back a laugh at Tao. It was funny, but the scene was meant to be serious. Verdict: While I loved this film, my wife was only slightly entertained by it. If you like Clint Eastwood movies, you are going to see it anyway. With a running time under the two-hour mark, Gran Torino is worth the watch in theaters.

06 January 2009

Bedtime Stories

Well, this past weekend, my younger brother and his girlfriend came to visit his two older siblings. They wanted to go see Bedtime Stories, which I was glad to hear. That allowed me to talk my better half into seeing it. So, the four of us went to a theater that I do not usually attend. This was due to the fact that said brother and girlfriend are not early risers at the rest of us.

Bedtime Stories opens with a quick “fairy tale” about the history of the hotel. This is also the only time that Jonathan Pryce is seen on screen. He is the father of Skeeter and Wendy. He has his own hotel. But apparently he is not a good business man, and he gets bought out by Hilton-esque hotel baron Barry Nottingham, played by Harry Potter Alum Richard Griffiths. We then jump to current times.

Skeeter, played by Adam Sandler, is still working for the hotel chain even though he is still at the bottom of the corporate ladder. While attending the birthday party of his niece Bobbi, he is asked by his sister Wendy, Friends’ Courtney Cox, to watch Bobbi and her younger brother Patrick while she goes to Arizona to seek employment due to her school being shut down. Skeeter is to watch them at night, and Wendy’s friend and co-worker Jill, played by Keri Russell of Felicity fame, will take them to school and bring them home.

That night, Skeeter is asked to tell a story, as his own father used to do. The next day, the ending comes true. So, this gives Skeeter an idea. He tries to rig the stories’ endings. This backfires as he realizes that the children control the ending. It was entertaining to see how each ending was slightly twisted to make it believable. For instance, the first night it rains gumballs. The next day, while stopped under an overpass, it begins to “rain” gumballs. But as the scene backs out, you see that a gumball delivery truck is wrecked into the railing, spilling the gumballs into the rain down below.

In the meantime, his rival Kendall, played by Guy Pearce, is dating Barry’s daughter, Paris wannbe Violet. He is set to take over the newest hotel in the Nottingham chain; a job that Skeeter wants and deserves. After a slight oversight by Kendall, Skeeter and he are in a competition to come up the best them for the new hotel. So, as Skeeter tries to lure his niece and nephew into telling a story where he wins and has a great idea, Kendall and his fellow conspirator Aspen, played by Xena herself Lucy Lawless, find out where the new hotel is going, and exploit that.

Each night the stories grow a little more absurd, but it is Disney. Along the way, Skeeter misinterprets some of the endings and the meanings. This allows for some hilarity to ensue. Again, since it is a Disney movie, Skeeter and Jill have to fall in love. That comes into play at the end.

Most of the budget would have had to go to special effects and sets required for the story sequences. That is too bad. While the concept of the story is not bad, the script was a bit too childish. There was little offered to the parents who were no-doubt in the audience with their children. As far as actual laughter, I laughed a few times. Not as much as I would have expected from an Adam Sandler film, but I did laugh more than my wife. She thought the funniest part in the film was the guy snoring behind us. Apparently, he was really tired; that is what he told the wife. Verdict: A rental is more than enough for this child film. If you choose to avoid it all together, that is also okay.

05 January 2009

Seven Pounds

Well, Seven Pounds is by far the worst Will Smith movie I have seen. The wife and I were discussing whether we were even going to see it after the bad reviews and sub-standard box office run it was having. After I looked back and realized that the last two years have started off with Will Smith movies, we decided to go for it. Bad idea. Luckily, we got up early, drove to the closest AMC, paid only $4 a piece, and got free popcorn with our Movie Watcher card. That is where the fun ended. I have strung spoilers throughout the following paragraphs to spare you watching this. If you feel you must see this film without knowing it all, you can go to the last paragraph for the final thoughts.

Spoilers Start:
Will Smith plays Ben Thomas, an IRS worker. It opens with Ben calling 9-1-1 and asking for an ambulance to his location for a suicide….his. Then, we go back. This is getting old. I am tired of this trend. It is no longer fun, thrilling, or surprising. It is boring, expected, and down right unoriginal.

1. Ben is seen calling and verbally abusing poor blind customer service agent Ezra, played by Woody Harrelson. After trying to make him cry, cuss, or hang-up, Ben hangs up.

2. Ben then goes to a hospital to meet Emily Posa, played by Rosario Dawson. She needs a heart transplant. He gets more involved with her. I will expand on this later.

3. While at the hospital, he sees a young boy that needs a bone marrow transplant.

4. Next we meet George, a hockey coach for Latinos. I am not sure what he needs medically, but Ben is able to help.

5. Ben then goes to meet with a social worker that he has a history with, Holly. We find out later, that she needed a kidney, and he donated his.

6. While in her office, he finds a lady that needs to get away from her abusive husband, but she can’t. Ben gives her is house.

7. To round out the seven, his brother, the actual IRS Agent Ben Thomas, needed a lung, and Will Smith’s Ben donated that.

Why would he do this you ask? Well, it turns out that while text messaging and driving, Will Smith’s Ben Thomas, whose actual name is Tim, wrecks into a van that flips and kills seven people, including his life. So why seven pounds? Because of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice! DUH! Who didn’t know that? That is part of the problem with this movie. Not enough people are going to get the reference. I didn’t at first until my wife said it was a Shakespeare reference, after she looked into it. I then remembered the Merchant of Venice. I have not read that play in years.

But, I will get back to the movie now. Emily is a sweet person who is way behind in her taxes and bill paying for her medical expenses. Well, Ben falls in love with her, and because he is an aero engineer, he is able to fix her antique press that no one can. That way, she can get back to making cards and invitations like she did before her heart started to give out.

On a fateful night, after sex, Ben goes to the hospital to ask the chances of Emily’s survival. He is told slim-to-none. He then calls his childhood friend Dan, played by Barry Pepper, and tells him it is time. Ben then goes back to his room and kills himself. We are then supposed to figure out that Dan is a lawyer and that he is in charge of making sure the right people get the right bodyparts. So, now, a man has selflessly sacrificed his life so you can live. Now, he will just be forgotten. The burden of that will never weigh on you. That is not selfless. That is selfish.

Spoilers Over:
This is the second joint venture with director Gabriele Maccino and Will Smith. The Pusuit of Happyness was infinitely better. This was writer Grant Nieport’s first major movie. Other than this, he had done a few episodes of 8 Simple Rules and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. He should stick to television. While it was nice to see Weeds’ Andy Milder in a movie, I would not recommend wasting the two hours on this film. To the wife's disappointment, no bomb went off to kill everybody. Verdict: Just read the spoilers I left up top and be done with it. That is why I do this: To save you money.