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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Gran Torino



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#1 of 35 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted June 01 2009 - 06:20 PM

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Gran Torino

Release Date: June 9, 2009
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Double-disc Blu-Ray case with cardstock slipcover
Year: 2008
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h56m
MSRP: $35.99

Video
1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:11080p high definition
AudioDolby TrueHD: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 5.1 (dubbed in Quebec), Spanish 5.1, Portuguese 5.1Stereo
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese (movie and select bonus material)


The Feature: 3.5/5
Recently widowed Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is one cranky S.O.B. Even when he keeps his mouth shut about things like his granddaughter's navel piercing or his son's Japanese-made car, there's no questioning his disapproval. His razorwire glare and low growl would scare off a junkyard dog.

Most of that misanthropic charm is reserved for his neighbors, Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia, whom Walt calls "swamp rats" when he's feeling generous. His whole neighborhood is in fact Hmong, making him the minority in a place he never would have imagined. Though his complaints about the situation seem limitless, he leaves his neighbors alone if they do the same.

The unspoken arrangement has held up, until members of a Hmong street gang send the neighbor boy Thao to steal Walt's prized possession, a 1973 Gran Torino. Thao's botched attempt brings the gang back to persuade him into a second try, which quickly turns into a tussle that bleeds into Walt's front lawn. If Walt had known it was Thao behind the attempted robbery, he probably would have let the gang have him, but instead he breaks up the fight and sends the thugs running. His unintentional act of heroism makes him the toast of the neighborhood and begins a steady stream of food and flowers on his doorstep. Though all of the neighbors' offerings are quickly discarded, Walt does accept one thing - Thao, who is sent over to work off his debt for the attempted theft.

While the quiet and tentative boy is slow to impress Walt, his spirited and gregarious older sister Sue (Ahney Her) easily befriends him and becomes his unofficial guide into the Hmong culture. Though Walt is shocked to realize he actually has more in common with his immigrant neighbors than members of his own family, he doesn't resist the truth either, allowing genuine care and friendship to develop where he previously nurtured ignorance and anger. He eventually offers Thao help and guidance in the only way he knows how - showing him how to fix things around the house, helping him get a job, and offering some useful, if a bit terse, dating advice.

If only the street gang were so open to change. It still has its sights on Thao and is determined to make his life hell. Of coures Walt can dish it out too and makes a formidable defender, but it will take more than simple retribution to put an end to things. The trick will be how to leave Thao, Sue and their family out of it.

Returning to acting after a four-year absence (though he has of course stayed busy behind the camera), Eastwood again takes on a role he was born to play. Primarily drawing upon his Dirty Harry street cred, Eastwood's Walt Kowalski is both seriously menacing and uncomfortably entertaining, a sort of ass-kicking Archie Bunker. Though the relationship arc between Walt and Thao is predictable, as is Walt's change of heart in general, Eastwood as director shows once more he's skilled at making the familiar seem fresh - or at least not stale. In fact Eastwood's greatest asset is himself as the lead actor. The professional inexperience of the Hmong co-stars is obvious at times, there are some gaps in logic (which Eastwood has been known to overlook in favor of emotional impact), and the final act too heavy handed in the Christian metaphors, so it's ultimately down to Eastwood's performance to impart the necessary credibility and resonance. And that it does, allowing us to overlook many of the film's shortcomings, and making it really the number one reason to see "Gran Torino". Though it may not be Eastwood's best directorial work, it's a serious reminder of what we've been missing these last four years. Though Eastwood didn't garner the Academy Award nomination many were expecting, it's a performance he deserves to be proud of and, if he chooses to do so, a great note to leave on as an actor.


Video Quality: 4/5
The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. Black levels are deep and inky, though there is consistent, if slight, black crush throughout, giving the image a higher than normal level of contrast and somewhat limited shadow detail. Skin tones can also be a bit variable, though nothing seems to veer too off course; colors in general can have a slightly desaturated quality. Detail is good though, with textures in skin and object surfaces distinct but not quite as sharp as I've seen in other transfers. Fortunately, there appears to be no excessive digital processing like edge enhancement.


Audio Quality: 4/5
The Dolby TrueHD audio track (which some will be pleased to hear is the default) offers a pleasant, immersive experience thanks to effective use of the surrounds for environmental effects. The sounds of wind blowing through the trees, passing cars from a not-too-distant major thoroughfare, and reverberation through a church sanctuary all contribute toward a subtle but satisfying surround experience. LFE is minimal - if present at all - though bass activity is sufficiently deep and full. Dialogue is clear, but I often had trouble understanding lines from both Vang and Her. It wasn't so much an issue with accents (which are minimal) as it was poor enunciation.


Special Features: 1.5/5
A meager set of extras tends toward the promotional in nature and offers few insights into the film.

"The Eastwood Way" (19m17s): Documentary offers the usual background on the production, including how Eastwood got involved and the challenges in finding Hmong actors, as well as some background on the Hmong people. The write-up in the menu system promises more information about Eastwood's directorial style, but it amounts to little more than talking heads about how easy he is to work with.

"Manning the Wheel" (9m23s): Cast and crew talk about their interest in cars and the significance of the movie's Gran Torino.

"Gran Torino: More Than A Car" (3m27s): A short visit to the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, where various participants are interviewed about their interest in cars.

BD-Live: At the time of review, only a streaming theatrical trailer was available.

Digital Copy: Download a digital copy for playback on the computer or portable device. Compatible with both Mac and Windows.


Title Recap

The Feature: 3.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 1.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

A film with familiar narrative and emotional arcs is basically redeemed by Eastwood's great performance. The Blu-Ray release offers a very good technical presenatation but a disappointing set of extras.
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#2 of 35 OFFLINE   MikeM

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Posted June 02 2009 - 11:35 AM

The Feature: 3.5/5?? Only 3.5??
Wow. It was my favorite film of the year by far.

#3 of 35 OFFLINE   Southpaw

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Posted June 03 2009 - 05:21 AM

My only beef is with the paltry special features. How can a box office hit like this receive such treatment?
Oh yeah, this is Warner...a collection edition ala 300 and I am Legend is in the pipeline I'm sure....

#4 of 35 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted June 03 2009 - 09:48 AM

I wouldn't be so sure. Some of Eastwood's catalog titles are pretty sparse on special features too. If Warner ponies up a double dip, I wouldn't expect it for about 5 years, so that the title can gain some historical significance, not to mention a devoted following.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#5 of 35 OFFLINE   Joe Karlosi

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Posted June 03 2009 - 09:52 AM

I thought it was an exceptional film. I'll probably be picking up this BD.

#6 of 35 OFFLINE   Oswald Pascual

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Posted June 04 2009 - 02:59 AM

I was disapointed with this Eastwood movie, I thought the story was good, not great but good however the acting was very poor. Clint did a very good role as Walt but the Hmong charecters are vital to the film and their performance to me is what killed it. It sounded to me like they just read lines instead of acting them out. I know this may not be the popular view of the movie, but it is my take on it. The only reason I think this movie did as well as it did goes to one man and that is Eastwood for being able to carry this movie on his own.

#7 of 35 ONLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted June 04 2009 - 04:50 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oswald Pascual
I was disapointed with this Eastwood movie, I thought the story was good, not great but good however the acting was very poor. Clint did a very good role as Walt but the Hmong charecters are vital to the film and their performance to me is what killed it. It sounded to me like they just read lines instead of acting them out. I know this may not be the popular view of the movie, but it is my take on it. The only reason I think this movie did as well as it did goes to one man and that is Eastwood for being able to carry this movie on his own.
You're right, it's not a popular view of the movie, but you're welcome to your opinion about it.Posted Image





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#8 of 35 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted June 04 2009 - 05:12 AM

Quote:
It sounded to me like they just read lines instead of acting them out.
I had the same impression. I think they both have a lot of promise though - they just need a little work on their delivery and "inhabiting the role."
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#9 of 35 OFFLINE   Marko Berg

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Posted June 04 2009 - 08:30 AM

I'm not sure if this should go in a thread in the Movies section, but since we're already talking about the film as opposed to the high-def release...

I went to see this film in the theater some time ago, and I never had a problem with the Hmong actors' delivery of their lines. I don't know if it was intentional or merely incidental, but I thought their admittedly awkward performances, on occasion, provided a nice contrast to Eastwood's character. The differences between Eastwood's and the Hmong actors' delivery only added to the movie. Personally, I thought the sometimes quiet and subdued, and sometimes clumsy, acting emphasized the cultural differences and the history of the characters; all Americans but with different backgrounds, and I thought that served the film well, making the individual characters more interesting.

Regardless of everyone's opinion of the above - thanks a lot Cameron for the review of the BD.

#10 of 35 OFFLINE   Jon Martin

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Posted June 04 2009 - 09:03 AM

If you think the extras on the BD are lacking, they dropped "The Eastwood Way" for the standard DVD. It is only the two car featurettes.

#11 of 35 ONLINE   TravisR

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Posted June 04 2009 - 11:03 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marko Berg
I don't know if it was intentional or merely incidental, but I thought their admittedly awkward performances, on occasion, provided a nice contrast to Eastwood's character. The differences between Eastwood's and the Hmong actors' delivery only added to the movie.
That was my view on it too. The young man isn't Marlon Brando but there was something about his 'mistakes' that made me enjoy his performance more than I might have if he had been a trained actor.

#12 of 35 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted June 04 2009 - 02:41 PM

The untrained actors made it a lot more realistic to me. I personally thought the movie worked even better on the second viewing. Great film but once again I'll be waiting for the price reduction or picking it up used.

#13 of 35 OFFLINE   Rob Foss

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Posted June 05 2009 - 04:13 AM

>>>>>The Feature: 3.5/5

Hate to say it but this is one of the poorer reviews I've read. Too many net critics, not just HTF's, are hopelessly exaggerating minor issues & completely failing to grasp what this film is really about & why it's been such a huge success. It's depressing & unfortunately a reminder that just because you have a website doesn't make you an expert.

#14 of 35 ONLINE   TravisR

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Posted June 05 2009 - 04:18 AM

^ I think the movie is excellent and would rate it higher than 3.5 (although I hate the star rating system) but Cameron is just giving his opinion on the movie and not claiming to be an expert. Different strokes for different folks.

#15 of 35 ONLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted June 05 2009 - 04:48 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
>>>>>The Feature: 3.5/5

Hate to say it but this is one of the poorer reviews I've read. Too many net critics, not just HTF's, are hopelessly exaggerating minor issues & completely failing to grasp what this film is really about & why it's been such a huge success. It's depressing & unfortunately a reminder that just because you have a website doesn't make you an expert.
In defense of Cameron, I think you're being a little harsh as film appreciation is a subjective matter and therefore, you will always have various opinions regarding any film. Even the greatest films of all-time have their detractors as there is no written formula used to grade a film from the perspective of whomever is watching it.




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#16 of 35 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted June 05 2009 - 05:25 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
It's depressing & unfortunately a reminder that just because you have a website doesn't make you an expert.
And just because someone doesn't share one's view of a film doesn't make them an amateur. I think more highly of Gran Torino than Cameron, but I also know Cameron to be a careful and thoughtful reviewer.

Also, he's not alone. Despite the film's general success, a sizeable minority of professional critics had problems with it. They included Ty Burr at the Boston Globe, Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune, and David Edelstein at New York Magazine. None of these people should be considered the last word, but they're hardly beginners.
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#17 of 35 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted June 05 2009 - 06:05 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by TravisR
^ I think the movie is excellent and would rate it higher than 3.5 (although I hate the star rating system) but Cameron is just giving his opinion on the movie and not claiming to be an expert. Different strokes for different folks.

Agreed.

It always shocks me at how many internet readers have never gasped the idea that reviewers give their own opinion. I'm really not sure why readers go into a review and expect and sometimes demand that the reviewer match their own opinions.

#18 of 35 OFFLINE   Southpaw

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Posted June 05 2009 - 09:31 AM

That's why I don't even read what the reviewer thinks of the film. Well, I guess I read it sometimes but I don't care.
I only read the reviews for the technical A/V review and grading and the listing of special features. It's invaluable for me to know ahead of time which featurette is worth watching or if a commentary is worth a listen.

#19 of 35 OFFLINE   Rob Foss

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Posted June 05 2009 - 10:03 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Elliott
Agreed.

It always shocks me at how many internet readers have never gasped the idea that reviewers give their own opinion. I'm really not sure why readers go into a review and expect and sometimes demand that the reviewer match their own opinions.

Neither am I but that wasn't what I was saying.

OBVIOUSLY it's his opinion. Where did I say it wasn't? Oh that's right, I didn't.

Honestly, it never ceases to amaze me how people respond to any criticism of a reviewer by whining 'It's his opinion!' as if somehow I were suggesting it wasn't.

I'm criticizing what I regard as a sloppy review, with lousy generalizations & exaggerations,which fails to come to terms with why the movie works so well with viewers. Gt didn't make $250 million - & a $148 million of that in the US alone - for nothing.

Now if the reviewer doesn't like the movie that's fine. What I object to is a poor analysis of the movie & that's what I think this is.

Okay?

Carry on!

#20 of 35 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted June 05 2009 - 10:21 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Foss
What I object to is a poor analysis of the movie & that's what I think this is.
Would you be willing to favor us with an analysis you deem better?
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