Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday At the Movies


Monday's Movie is hosted by Sher over at A Novel Menagerie each Monday.


Movie: Gran Torino
Genre: Crime Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Nick Schenk & Dave Johannson

Gran Torino wasn't at the top of my list of movies to see, but the visiting in-laws were eager to see it, and so off we went to the theater. Two friends enjoyed a debate over the merits of the film earlier this month, one outright dismissing it because of the foul language and frequent ethnic slurs and jokes. The other was able to look beyond that, and appreciate the movie on a deeper level. Gran Torino is one of those movies that needs to be taken in context of the time period and the life situations of the characters. It is not your typical shoot 'em up movie. It tackles serious issues dealing with cultural and generational differences and similarities, as well as crime in urban areas.

Clint Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski, is a Korean War Veteran. He is stubborn and curmudgeonly, set in his ways. He keeps everyone at a distance, including his sons. Walt becomes unwittingly involved with the Hmong family that has just moved in next door when a gang tries to encourage the teenage neighbor boy to join them. Despite his contrary nature, Walt finds himself drawn to the family next door and their problems become his own.

Walt is a complex character. He is not instantly likable, but it is clear that he has built a protective shell around himself. The past haunts him and he has a good heart. While it took me a while to warm up to Walt, I immediately liked Sue Lor, played by Ahney Her. She was smart and undeterred by Walt's frequent attempts to push her away. Another favorite character was Father Janovich, the young priest played by Christopher Carley. Initially I thought he would be an annoying character but was soon impressed with his persistence and openness to hear Walt out.

I expected a slightly different ending, but was pleased at the direction the movie turned in the end. I have heard some say the ending was unrealistic, but I disagree. I felt it was quite fitting when all was said and done. I especially liked the added touch at the very end, Clint Eastwood singing the closing song, Gran Torino, a song he wrote along side his son, Kyle Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, and Michael Stevens.

As an aside, I may have to go back and watch it again just to count the number of times Clint Eastwood grunts and growls in the movie. Don't get me wrong; it fit his character, but I found it amusing just the same.

Rating: 3.5 Bags of Popcorn


Movie: Defiance
Genre: Drama, War
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Writers: Clayton Frohman & Edward Zwick (screenplay); Nechama Tec (book)

I knew I wanted to see this film the first time I saw a trailer for it. Defiance is based on the true story of the Bielski brothers, who helped organize refugees and fight the Nazis in an effort to rescue fellow Jews during World War II. The four brothers played by Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber, Jamie Bell and George MacKay, had only each other when they fled to the forest of eastern Europe in hopes of avoiding death at the hands of the Nazis. They never anticipated that they would be joined by several other Jews who were also fleeing for their lives.

Daniel Craig's character, Tuvia, steps in as leader, the refugees build a hidden community in the forest, determined to survive. Meanwhile, Zus Bielski (Liev Schreiber) is determined to fight against the Nazis, and he and several other strong and able refugees join him in the fight alongside the Soviet soldiers in exchange for supplies and protection of the Jewish camp. Fending off starvation and struggling to survive the freezing winter, the refugees have much to contend with, not to mention the threat of the encroaching German army.

One thousand two hundred refugees walked out of that forest alive when the war was over, thanks in part to the efforts of the Bielski brothers. The story itself is a powerful one, one of courage and hope against the odds. The refugees faced many hardships in their struggle to survive. They also faced moral dilemmas, learning from their mistakes. And yet I was left feeling Defiance could have been much more than what it was. I was underwhelmed. I do not think that the movie went deep enough. It only seemed to touch the surface.

Rating: 3.5 Bags of Popcorn

26 comments:

  1. You saved me this week!

    Please see my post!

    http://www.literaryfeline.com/2009/01/monday-at-movies.html

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  2. I like your poll! You have such cool ideas!

    I've heard great things about both movies. I expected Gran Turino to get a little more love from Oscar however. Defiance is very high on the list for us, for Daniel Craig, whom I love, and the topic.

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  3. I'm sure the hubby and I will be renting Gran Turino when it comes out. This was shot in Detroit, at least I'm pretty sure it was. Sounds pretty riveting. I had no idea about the background of Defiance. I will rent it when it comes out too.

    I like your Monday at the Movies!! Especially because I very rarely go!!

    Have a great Monday!

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  4. I really liked Defiance, though agree it could have gone into more depth. For me it was an enjoyable story that opened my eyes to something I knew little about. I hope to read more about the Bielski brothers in the future.

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  5. What a great idea to post about movies. I might start doing that, too, because I just saw a couple good ones.

    I also like your poll. And the little kitty pawprints to click on a link.

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  6. My daughter saw Gran Torino and really liked it. I had not been particularly interested before, but now I am. Thanks for the reviews!

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  7. My husband has been interested in Gran Torino, but I've been a little iffy about it. Thanks for the informative reviews of that and Defiance. I'm glad you've decided to add this feature, Wendy :-).

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  8. I like your new posts about movies! Gran Torino is actually one I'd like to see -- mostly because of Clint Eastwood.

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  9. Sorry that this is off topic...But I saw on Sandy's blog that you are seeing Phantom on Sunday! Love that show, I've seen it twice and would go again in a heartbeat.

    We go see Chicago in a week or so, and I can't wait!

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  10. I'd like to see both these movies, but after reading your take on "Defiance," I may wait for the DVD. Another complaint I've heard about "Defiance" is that it implies that more people could have survived if only they fought back (not taking into account that not everyone had these brothers' dubious skills, the options of a forest nearby, etc.). Ends up blaming the victims. As I've said, I haven't seen it.

    I do recommend "Slumdog Millionaire" as a next flick! Harsh, hard-to-watch opening, but really fun.

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  11. I heard good things about Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood certainly knows his limitations and strengths.

    Hopefully you'll get more reading time for Woman in White this week!

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  12. Sher - I am always glad to help, even if it was unplanned. :-) Thank you for the honor!

    Sandy - Thanks, Sandy! I really like Daniel Craig too. I hope you enjoy Defiance!

    Staci - I thought the Detroit setting was perfect for the movie.

    The hadn't really known the full story being Defiance going in, but I'm definitely interested in looking up the book it is based on now.

    Mariel - It was a tear jerker too! I think I might have liked it more if I hadn't been overloading on WWII movies lately, to be honest. Although it is a time period I am drawn to, it can get to be too much sometimes.

    Charley - I probably won't be able to join in every week, and I definitely need to improve in the movie review arena, but I do like sharing my love for movies with you all too.

    Aren't those paw prints adorable? I really like them too.

    Jenclair - I'm really glad I saw Gran Torino, even despite my initial reservations. I think it helped that I kind of knew what to expect going in so it wasn't such a big shock.

    Florinda - I think Gran Torino would be a good DVD movie, to be honest. It's not a must see on the big screen. At least I don't believe so. I don't know how badly Tall Paul wants to see it though.

    Terri - Thanks! Sher's idea of having the Monday Movie was all the encouragement I needed. :-)

    Melissa - I don't mind the off topic comment. :-) Except for the advertisement I received today on another post for a book. That wasn't okay. But has absolutely nothing to do with you. I'm just rambling.

    To your comment: I've been wanting to see Phantom of the Opera forever. My brother and I went to see a Phantom show years ago, but it wasn't the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart version, which really is the ONLY version I care about. I'm really excited about seeing it performed live.

    Chicago is so good! I hope you enjoy it. Hubby and I saw that a couple of years ago and loved it.

    Clea - That's an interesting perspective. I hadn't actually gotten that impression from the movie, but I guess I can see why some people might come to that conclusion. As you said though, not everyone had the skills and resources that these brothers did. Not to mention the two older brothers were already a bit rebellious--used to bucking the system and authority. I think location played a huge part in why the brothers were able to pull off what they did as well. They knew the forest well.

    There is one scene where two of the brothers are visiting the ghetto, trying to convince the elders to flee to the forest with them. Some of the people are very reluctant to go. If they go, the Nazis would punish those who remained by killing some of them. There was also a belief--or rather denial that the rumors of death camps were real. The information being passed around was spotty at best and not always the most accurate. And I'm sure people didn't want to believe that their fellow human beings could be so cruel. And that's only part of it.

    I didn't mean to ramble, Clea! I know I'm preaching to the choir here. :-)

    As for Slumdog Millionaire, I definitely do want to see that. I just bought a copy of the book too! I only wish my copy had the original title.

    Anonymous - Clint Eastwood certainly does at that!

    Speaking of The Woman in White, I think I'm going to head to bed now for a little reading time.

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  13. I've not seen any of the movies mentioned here but they sure sound good! I'm now aware of them :)

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  14. My husband and I were wondering which of these two movies to see and you've given them both 3.5 bags of popcorn - how am I going to decide now! :)

    One of these days I'll get to these but for now I still really want to see Revolutionary Road and Slumdog Millionaire first.

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  15. I cannot wait to see defiance. I haven't seen gran torino either, but I will more likely wait for the dvd of that one.

    3.5 bags of popcorn for both?! Hmm.

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  16. Like Alice, I've not seen any of these movies but your reviews made me want to watch them soon! :)

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  17. I definitely want to see Defiance! If you haven't seen The Reader or Slumdog Millionaire, you should! They're both really good.

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  18. It will probably be awhile before I get around to seeing Gran Torino and Defiance but they do sound interesting. These reviews are great btw!

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  19. Gran Torino wasn't high on my list either, but hubby and I have to alternate picks since we have very different taste (my last pick was Slumdog Millionaire, which I *loved*). But, I found myself really interested in the movie and really emotional during the ending.

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  20. Great reviews, Wendy. Gran Torino is actually a movie I wanted to see. Defiance, I'd like to read the book first, then maybe watch the movie.

    Shana
    Literarily

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  21. Alice - I'm not really surprised you haven't heard of them. I don't think they are quite as big as some of the other movies out there right now.

    Iliana - Haha! I wouldn't put much stock in my movie review ratings. I've got a better handle on book ratings.

    My husband really wants to see Revolutionary Road. We'll probably catch that one at some point.

    Serena - Gran Torino doesn't seem like a must see in the theater movie to me, to be honest. It is worth seeing though if you can get passed the language and ethnic slurs.

    3.5 falls in the good category for me, half way between good and very good. They are both very different movies from one another, but I enjoyed them about the same.

    Melody - I hope you get the chance!

    Monica - I reviewed The Reader a couple of weeks ago. I liked it quite a bit. Hopefully I'll get to see Slumdog Millionaire soon.

    Jen - Thank you! I am not too happy with them, to be honest, but they'll do. LOL I just don't feel comfortable reviewing movies. :-(

    Trish - My husband and I alternate too sometimes. :-) We both really want to see Slumdog Millionaire. Gran Torino was very emotional at the end. I was one of the people sniffling in the theater as the credits rolled.

    Shana - I will probably go back and read the book that Defiance was based on at some point. I hadn't realized ahead of time it was based on a book.

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  22. I really want to see Defiance but it is not out here yet :(

    My main interest initially was Daniel Craig himself (spunky) but when I saw the trailer and learned more about this movie I started to get a lot more interested.

    It is a shame if it only scratches the surface on such a complex issue. I will wait and see and let you know.

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  23. Caspette - I think you will like Defiance and hope you do get a chance to see it. Daniel Craig does a great job. :-)

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  24. I quite enjoyed Defiance despite it not being the type of film I would normally go and see. I thought the three brothers did a great job. Gran Torino is bout to come out in the UK and I saw some trailers for it last week. It's good to read a review of someone who has seen it as I was a little on the fence. Might just have to add it to my list of films to try and see in Feb.

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  25. Rhinoa - Yes, the actors playing the three brothers in Defiance did a great job, I agree. I am glad I went to see that film. If you do decide to see Gran Torino, I hope you like it. I didn't really want to see it in the first place, but am glad I was talked into it.

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  26. I really enjoyed both these movies. Gran Torino did have a lot of racial slurs in it, but it fit his charactor. Not that I think it's ok for people, but for the movie, it fit.

    I agree with you about Defience, they could have done more with it, but I still loved it.

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