Volume 78 - Number 30 / December 24 - 30, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

By ED KOCH

“Gran Torino” (-)
This film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a bad soap opera from beginning to end. I went to see it because of the near unanimous rave reviews it received. In the opening line of her New York Times review, Manohla Dargis wrote: “Twice in the last decade, just as the holiday movie season has begun to sag under the weight of its own bloat, full of noise and nonsense signifying nothing, Clint Eastwood has slipped another film into theaters and shown everyone how it’s done.” Ridiculous.

The movie opens with Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) in a church burying his wife. His two adult sons, whom we quickly learn are wastrels, sit nearby speaking snidely about their father. After the funeral the cantankerous, narrow-minded Kowalski retreats to his Michigan home and his secluded existence. The only joy he seems to derive from life are provided by his Labrador, Daisy, and his 1972 Gran Torino.

Hmong immigrants have moved into Walt’s formerly all-white Michigan neighborhood, and he is now the last white homeowner. The Hmong are a hill tribe from northern Vietnam, Laos and China, many of whom fought on our side during the Vietnam war and left the country coming to the U.S. as refugees when our troops departed back in 1973. Two Hmong occupants in the house next to Walt’s are Thao (Bee Vang) and his sister, Sue (Ahney Her). These decent teenagers are taunted by a violent gang of Hmong immigrants, led by one of their cousins, who engage in drive-by shootings. Walt becomes the protector of the Hmong family living next door.

Throughout the picture Walt, who is Polish, and his Italian barber friend insult one another with infantile racial slurs. I guarantee you that Eastwood would never have made a movie that included comparable slurs against Black Americans nor should he have. A young, naïve, Catholic priest, Father Janovich (Christopher Carley), is thrown in for good measure in an attempt to lure Walt back to the church which he now reviles.

The plot and the acting leave a lot to be desired, and I believe I could have written a better story and certainly better dialogue. This is no Christmas gift from Clint Eastwood. Avoid.

“Doubt” (+)
John Patrick Shanley’s film is certainly worth seeing, but it is not as good as his 2004 award-winning play on which it is based.

The plot centers on whether or not Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) made sexual advances toward an adolescent, black male student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), at a Catholic school in the Bronx. The school’s principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), believes he has based on her observations, but she has never seen the two in flagrante delicto. Her observations are bolstered by Sister James (Amy Adams) a young, naïve teacher at the same school.

Donald’s mother (Viola Davis) recognizes her son’s sexual ambiguity. In a conversation with Sister Aloysius, she tells her of the danger the boy faces as a result of his own father’s animosity and physical violence toward him. Donald’s mother does not want her son dismissed from the school nor does she discourage his friendship with Father Flynn.

So, did Father Flynn engage in unacceptable behavior towards Donald or was he simply seeking to protect the only non-white child in the school from racial discrimination? In one scene, a boy knocks Donald’s books and papers to the floor. Following the film my two companions and I discussed the question of pedophilia. One of us believed he was guilty and two did not. If you see the film, let me know what you conclude.

The actors in the film are all very good, particularly Viola Davis as the child’s mother, but the performances of the cast in the original play were outstanding. Their ability in their very Bronx, Irish-inflected accents to bring the lives of ordinary people to life and express the battle of their minds was extraordinary resulting, I believe, in a much greater impact on the audience.

HS said: “I didn’t see the play so I can’t compare it with the film, but I really liked the movie. Meryl Streep was great as the mean old bat, and Philip Seymour Hoffman again demonstrated his versatility. Viola Davis and Amy Adams were quite good.

“My take on what happened was that Father Flynn may have shown sexual ambivalence in the past, but that his behavior with Donald was correct. Of course, no one knows for sure, that is the point of the movie. But Hoffman (Flynn) was much more caring than Streep (Sister Aloysius), the principal. Anyway, that’s what the producers wanted you to think. In the end, the principal turns out not to be so bad. After all, how could a move close with us hating Meryl Streep.

“I am not a Catholic, but I believe that anti-Catholicism is the last remaining type of socially approved discrimination, except for anti-Morman sentiments. You wouldn’t dare say about Blacks, Jews or gays what is said about Catholics and their beliefs. Anti-Semitism has been called the socialism of fools, but hostility to Catholicism is the socialism of fools with attitude.”

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