Monday, November 26, 2007

Three in a row

I spent the night flight from Heathrow to Incheon (Seoul) watching movies, because I couldn’t get to sleep.
First up was the latest in the Oceans saga: yet another complicated piece in which George Clooney and Brad Pitt barely do anything except look pretty. There’s no woman in their team this time; instead the baddie has a chief executive who’s a woman (Ellen Barkin). She gets her comeuppance, of course, as does the baddie. It didn’t help that the engine noise from the plane was a constant background to the soundtrack of the movie, which is one where everybody mumbles a lot. I have no idea what most of the dialogue was about, and it probably didn’t matter. The heist was a typical convoluted affair full of improbabilities. And of course the eleven beat the baddie at his game without blinking an eyelid.
Bruce Willis barely blinks in Live Free or Die Hard either - he doesn’t have time. The body count is high, the stunts (particularly with cars and helicopters and an Air Force bomber) are over the top but magnificent, and the story of course follows the usual pattern. However, there’s a lot of humour (not too much of it directed at recently deceased baddies); a nasty character who manages to fall from a helicopter and survive; various computer hackers who talk in computerese and frequently leave Willis wishing he’d gone to computing school somewhere along the line; an extremely vicious young woman baddie (Maggie Q) who almost beats Willis by using karate against him; and a sidekick played by Justin Long. The sidekick is a computer whiz kid who finishes up being babysat by Willis for most of the film and who finally comes into his own in the last stages. Between babysitting he manages to provide a lot of the humour, a lot of (impossible) computer wizardry, and prove to be a likeable companion. As always all the computer whizzes type like there’s no tomorrow, and the insurance bill for what’s left in the wake of Willis’ doings rises into the billions. The Grapes of Wrath, as you’d expect, is as gloomy as it was when it was made in the late thirties. Henry Fonda gives a performance of considerable surliness, and a few tender moments with his ‘Ma,’ (played with great humanity by Jane Darwell.) John Ford directed it, and it’s wonderfully photographed in black and white. What makes the film still appealing are the performances: Fonda and Darwell are great, but the minor characters have a charm and even eccentricity that’s suitable to the story, and warm-hearted as well.
The distress felt by Oklahoma farmers who are pushed off their land after several years of drought is strongly conveyed, and the difficulty of getting work in California is equally well done. I suspect Steinbeck’s story has been altered somewhat for the movie version - the ‘Reds’ are seen as villains, and for once the Government is a benevolent provider (but only towards the end).
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