So anyway, back in the day (sometime around Nineteen Dickety-Two - never mind) I had a sweet-ass 1967 Mustang Coupe. Given my druthers (don't ask, it's a hillbilly-ism), I'd really want a '67 Shelby Cobra Fastback (Eleanor in Gone in 60 Seconds) - it may be the most perfect car ever made (you fuckin' Camaro enthusiasts can suck my fat, hairy ass). Anyway, my Mustang had a beefed-up 302 (I know Jack and shit about car engines and Jack just left) with all kinds of nifty bells and whistles for drag racing (I got it from a neighbor who bought it for his son when he was a teenager). It had flashy chrome wheels, leather interior (bucket seats), and the touchiest fucking power steering known to man (hand-to-God, you nudge it and the damned car would pull a 90-degree turn). My mom got me a new paint job as a high school graduation present (she wouldn't let me get red - thought I'd be a cop magnet; so I settled for this sharp midnight blue metallic). It died on me not long after I started my second year at Western - luckily, it wasn't long until I met a girl with a car - I shoulda married that one; oh wait...I did! I sold my Mustang to a guy at work for $650 about two years ago - not bad for a car that didn't run. But still, I'd give just about anything to have it back and to have the means to get it fixed up proper.
Which leads me to Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. Brad commented the other day that it's hard enough for anyone to put a single film together in a year, and Eastwood (at 78) did two!!! I didn't see Changeling - I'm sure it's terrific and judging by the two I'll bet it was his intended Oscar-bait film. But it just sort of seemed like rental material to me. Torino I was dying to see from the very first time I caught a trailer. It just had vintage I-ain't-gonna-take-no-shit-off-nobody Eastwood smeared all over it like gang graffiti on an inner-city bridge. Last time ol' squinty-eyes tried to make two in a year (a whopping two years ago with the Iwo Jima films - aren't people supposed to slow down as they get older?), the second one came out on top as the clear victor - ironic that, like this year (I'm guessing) that's not what he intended. I don't see Gran Torino running away with Oscar nom's and wins this year - but it's certainly one of the most entertaining and well crafted films of the year.
Eastwood stars (and directs of course - out of his last 21 films that he's appeared in, he's directed 15 himself, and has an additional six that he merely directed in that time) as Walt Kowalski - veteran of the war in Korea, recent widower, and one of the last Caucasian hold-outs (in an inner-city Detroit neighborhood) that hasn't run for the hills with the influx of minorities. The character of Walt is this interesting amalgam of Dirty Harry Callahan, Gunny Sgt. Tom Highway (I just lost some of you didn't I - if so, you're required to go rent Heartbreak Ridge now...NOW GODDAMN IT NOW!!!), and Archie Bunker. It's funny actually that the screenplay apparently wasn't written with Eastwood in mind...but frankly, having seen it I can't begin to imagine who else could play it. Kowalski is (at least vicariously through us - the audience) abso-friggin'-lutely hilarious. He's brash, he's hateful, he's bigoted and rude and has the restraint of a pissed-off bull. He's that mean old guy that everyone has met at some point or another - you know, always pissed, hates just about everybody. And he doesn't take any shit off of anyone - mess with him and he will fuck you up...verbally for certain, and physically if the situation calls for it. He's just lost a wife that he worshipped, has two sons that he's never connected with, hates at least one of the daughters-in-law, is disgusted by his grandchildren, and the world's getting too damned fast for him and to hell with trying to keep up. Much of the humor comes from Walt's ranting and grumbling - much of it racially motivated. Fortunately, you find yourself laughing not at all the racial slurs and prejudice, but at Walt's unabashed delivery of it - and more often then not...it's absolutely uproarious.
His life at this point is mowing his 5-square-foot patch of grass (with none other than one of those old rotary blade, non-electric mowers from the 50's), talking to his dog, chasing off or just ignoring the priest from the local church, drinking his beer on his front porch, scowling at the "chinks/gooks/slants" next door...and looking after his baby - a mint condition 1972 Ford Gran Torino - which it seems he purchased right off the factory where he himself "installed that steering column". His neighbors are Hmong (pronounced Mohng), Asian "hill-folk" (for lack of a better term) from various areas in China, Laos, and Vietnam. It's his baby that gets him more involved with his neighbors and serves as the focal point of the story. He slowly befriends the Hmong, first with the older daughter, Sue, then later younger son Thao (whom he "affectionately" refers to as Toad) after he, feeling pressure from a local gang, is coerced into trying to steal the Gran Torino. I love that Walt never gets any of the Asian names right - not that he can't, he just doesn't care. One girl (named Yua) he continually refers to as YumYum (and boy does she earn that moniker). Anyway, as penance for his indiscretion, Thao is forced to spend time with Walt - where the predictable bit of bonding occurs. This bonding however is played out so expertly and delicately that it never feels cliched or forced.
I really miss this Clint Eastwood. The man truly is the original Hollywood bad ass. It's a shame really that he's indicated that this is more or less his final appearance in front of the camera. This was such a gloriously entertaining - and yet simultaneously - touching and intimate film. My only gripe is that I wish he'd let an experienced film composer have a crack at his films - at least this time he didn't try it himself...he let his son do it *joy* (with old faithful Lennie Niehaus orchestrating (?) and conducting). Still...if Clint had two or three more films like this in him I doubt anyone would mind in the slightest. I highly doubt anyone is clamoring for a string of Grumpy Old Men - Kickin' Ass films, but seeing it done smartly, effectively, in the hands of a master - films like Gran Torino would always be worth my $5 or $10 of admission price - fuck it, my mom wants to see it too...I'll be glad to take the trip with Walt again. Damn I love movies like these - and GOD DAMN I MISS MY CAR!!!
I'm going to go find a corner and cry like a little girl now...