Studio: Warner Home Video
Summary: Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Korean War vet and Detroit autoworker. He is a grumpy, bitter racist who hates just about everything, especially his Hmong neighbors from Southeast Asia. But when events collide and Walt is forced to open his eyes, he sees that life and people aren’t what he thought.
Review: I can’t stand early Clint Eastwood films (“Hang ‘Em High?” No thanks), but his newer stuff just gets better and better. Eastwood is like a fine wine, improving with age. Who else in the industry could act, produce and direct himself in a film as brilliantly and non-self-servingly as does Eastwood? Especially in “Gran Torino,” a truly great film? He carves out Kowalski to be this nasty, cantankerous old coot with a permanent scowl and nothing to do, sort of like Dirty Harry on Social Security. He’s so bitter, you can taste it. No one likes him, and he likes everyone even less. But when some local thugs start to mess around with Kowalski’s Hmong neighbors and his beloved 1972 Gran Torino car, things change. Kowalski gets involved, as is his nature not his desire. In doing so, he finds out that life is much more textured than he thought, and people are not just the color of their skin or land of origin–or even who they seem to be at first blush. While that sounds trite, the move is not. It doesn’t come across as this moralistic love-one-another sermon, or even a parable about becoming a better person. And that’s thanks to Eastwood’s character development as well as his prowess as a gifted director. The film is not subtle, and it’s almost uncomfortably littered with racial slurs, but it’s not overly done, either. In fact, it’s brilliant. If this is Eastwood’s farewell to face time in front of the camera, he couldn’t have picked a better swan song.
Extra highlight: “Manning the Wheel” featurette
What to serve for dinner: Broaden your culinary horizons with a Hmong recipe–stir-fried baby bok choy with pork (http://www.hmongcooking.com)–and banana fritters (numkitchen.com) for dessert.
Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Pork
* 1/2 pound pork belly
* 1 bunch of baby bok choy (about 10 small heads)
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 chicken bouillon cube (Asian-style, or regular)
Cut the pork belly slab into 1 x 1/8-inch pieces and set aside. Carefully wash the bok choy, pulling each leaf off of the head. Cut each leaf in two, from tip to stem. Drain on paper towels. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork, salt and the bouillon cube. Stir-fry about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy and stir-fry about five more minutes. The dish is done when the meat is cooked, the bok choy leaves are limp, the stems are still a little crispy and a glossy glaze covers it all. Serve hot accompanied by fluffy jasmine rice. From “Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America” (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. water
4 firm bananas
3 c. canola (or other vegetable) oil
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Combine 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Gradually blend in water, beating with a whisk until smooth. Peel bananas. Cut each banana crosswise into three pieces, making a total of 12 pieces. Coat bananas lightly with remaining 1/2 cup of flour.
Heat oil in wok over medium high heat until oil reaches 375 degrees. Dip banana pieces in batter, coating completely. Cook four to six banana pieces at a time in the oil until goldens, three to five minutes. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve with ice cream, if desired.
What to talk about over dinner: Who is the least politically correct person you know? How are you not politically correct? How have you overcome your previous beliefs like Walt did? What was one experience in your life that turned your beliefs–any beliefs–around? What is your favorite Clint Eastwood movie, both acting and directing? Did you like the ending of “Gran Torino?” Do you know any cranky, narrow-minded people like Walt? What is the best lesson you took from this film? What is your favorite car? What is your most prized possession and why?