Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Job...

...Is great, but early training schedules play hell with my free time. Hence the weeklong absence. Ah, well. Here's what I've been up to recently:

Kicks quite a bit of ass in it's own quiet way. It's kind of amazing to see it and realize that almost NONE of Clint's dialogue from the film can be shown in the trailers in-full - often it's just one long stream of dated racist nicknames and cuss words divided up by verbs. The character isn't so much a bigot as he is an angry man of a bygone era, who doesn't quite "get" (or doesn't want to get) that these days the words mean more than the intent. He slings "gook," "chink," "zipperhead," "slope" and even "swamp rat" at his Asian neighbors both in anger and in jest; and if he's aware that those are all meant for different KINDS of Asian people he certainly doesn't care.

Clint (once again the star, director and song-composer) is Walt Kowalski, a recently-widowed 78 year-old Korean War vet getting by on barely-suppressed resentment of the world around him. His grown sons and their families are shallow yuppies who condescend to "the old man," his home is the lone well-kept dwelling in an automotive-collapse-blighted neighborhood that's become one-part ghetto and one-part immigrant gathering place for Hmong refugee families, and his only companions are his dog and his prized vintage Ford Gran Torino. The car becomes the target of a local Hmong gang, who try to use it's theft to "jump in" Tao, a good, fatherless kid who happens to be Walt's neighbor. When the gang fighting spills over onto his lawn, Walt beats the baddies back at gunpoint and finds himself a sudden figure of curiousity and hero worship among the Hmong.

It's not so much that Walt is humanized by the Hmong as it is he's given a second chance at a place in the world. In many ways it's a revenge-on-the-world fantasy for elderly tough-guys: Walt growls and seethes when his granddaughter wears a belly-ring to grandma's funeral and physically expells his son when they come for his birthday bearing "gifts" of a big-button phone... and retirement home brochures. He doesn't "get" the world today, and doesn't want to, but he's shocked to see how much better he "fits" with his Hmong neighbors. It's a well-observed bit of business, for example, that Walt's apprehension about his neighbors strange customs get shoved right back in the holster when Tao's sister Soo explains "my family is very traditional." THAT he understands. He also finds a measure of long-missing personal fulfillment in becoming a psuedo-grandfather to Tao, whom he divines needs instructions in the ways of man: Tool-shopping, job-getting and even girl-wooing. Of course, there's always that gang to deal with...

Whether or not it's among Clint's best films is up for some debate, but it's one of the best out there right now.

In 1950s Germany, a teenaged boy slips into an affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet) which last one summer and ends suddenly when she vanishes without a trace. Years later, as a college student studying the legally issues surrounding the war-crimes trials of former Nazis, he sees her again - as a defendant, charged with having been an SS Guard at Auschwitz. What's more, there are some creepy paralells with her alleged treatment of inmates and the crux of their onetime relationship - she insisted he read to her before sex. Then things get REALLY complicated...

It's a pretty dark but also pretty interesting character study, with the bulk of the film existing as a flashback by Ralph Feinnes as the boy now grown into an emotionally-stunted man. He's walking around with secrets of his own, concerning a mystery he's solved (and that, unfortunately, most of the audience will have already guessed WELL before he does) about his onetime lover that may or may not have made a difference at her trial. Winslet (who'll almost-certainly be Oscar nominated) gets to do most of the heavy-lifting; spending about half the film in some state of undress and the rest at different ages in pretty powerful scenes. Newcomer David Kross, as the boy, handles a difficult role admirably - though given the first act, this is one young actor I never want to hear complaining about how difficult his job is.