July 2013


imageIt makes sense that The Wolverine is set predominantly in Japan given how much bowing it does to other movies. There are nods to First Blood, The Karate Kid, Lost in Translation, Kill Bill, and You Only Live Twice to name but a five.

For those unfamiliar with the X-Men / Wolverine canon, Hugh Jackman plays the titular role, also known as Logan, an essentially immortal mutant who has enhanced healing capabilities allowing him to recover from most injuries and wounds. As an added bonus, he has admantium claws that sprout from his knuckles, which comes in very useful when fisticuffs ensues.

The story begins with Logan in a Japanese prison camp outside Nagasaki, just before the bomb is dropped. He rescues Yashida, a kindly Japanese officer, and shields him from the blast, saving his life. We then jump to the present day when Logan is living rough and noising up rednecks who make a shoddy job of hunting bears. He’s tracked down by Yukio, a mutant who can see how people die, who persuades him to travel to Japan to reunite with a dying Yashida who has a proposition to take Logan’s immortality and allow him to die a normal death. Logan is none too keen on the idea and is eventually diverted by his efforts to protect Yashida’s daughter, Mariko, from the kidnapping exploits of the Japanese mafia and a bunch of somersaulting ninjas. During this time, Logan discovers that his healing abilities are suddenly not all they were cracked up to be and despite his refusal of Yashida’s offer, death might well be waiting round the corner for him after all.

It’s perhaps a consequence of the PG-13 rating but most of the action is full of quick cut shots to eliminate the presumed fountains of blood that would be erupting from being on the receiving end of a Wolverine claw swipe or the stabby bit of a samurai sword. Cue multiple instances of wounded henchmen doing somersaults for no particular reason. A greater issue, however, is the indulgent approach to the key set pieces, all of which go on for far longer than is necessary and contribute to the movie’s very generous running time of 135 minutes. A scene on top of a bullet train probably takes the same length of time as actual travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Of course, this has nothing to do with the restrictions of the rating and everything to do with the fact that no one is whispering in director James Mangold’s ear to explain to him that there is nothing to suggest from the storyline that the film should be any longer than an hour an a half long.

To the credit of Mangold and the screenwriting team of Christopher McQuarrie, Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, very little of the bloated running time is dedicated to backstory. Instead, key information is delivered through brief flashbacks and even if a viewer doesn’t understand everything in its entirety, they’ll pick up enough to make sense of what they’re watching. Less impressive is the denouement and final revelation which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been surprised by something at least once in their life.

Jackman is good in the lead role and it’s impressive that he can turn his clawed hand to the action hero / comic book genre with such ease. The supporting Japanese cast are less convincing and seem happy to conform to stereotype.

Fans of the series will no doubt find plenty to enjoy, particularly a two-minute preview of the next X-Men movie tucked away in the middle of the end credits. However, the casual viewer may find it and the constant bows a more frustrating and dizzying experience.

essoI’ve written about inspiration a few times on these pages. In fact, since restarting this blog and posting about my publications, I’ve written about it in some detail, convinced as I am that this is something anyone other than myself would be interested in reading.

When people ask me where I get my inspiration, I used to joke and say I get it from a little shop on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. The thing is, that’s not even my joke. I think it’s Iain Banks’ joke. Proof, if ever it was needed, that inspiration doesn’t come easy to me when I have to steal someone else’s joke about the source of inspiration.

The reality is, inspiration is everywhere and perhaps my problem isn’t so much in being inspired but more in recognising I’ve been inspired.

The two poems published today on Northwinds came to me in two different ways but both could easily have been something I did precisely nothing with.

I had to drive past the house that became The House of Too Many Things about fifty times between October and December 2012 before I finally got the message. People decorate their homes, gardens and yards at Halloween and Christmas, but this particular house took it to the extreme and had soon garnered the titular nickname by me and my family. At night, it must’ve easily been the brightest thing in town and the whirring of its electric meter must’ve been among the loudest. It seemed like there was hardly a square inch on the property that wasn’t occupied by an illuminated inflatable something or other. During the day, though, it was a far sorrier sight and it was this contrast that finally slapped me across the head and kept doing so until I wrote something about it.

The other poem – Esso Roadmap of New England (1940) – is about exactly that. It was a map that was given to me for my birthday in 2011 by my then girlfriend, who is now my wife. I love maps. I love old maps. But what I didn’t realise was how much I loved the stories that are held in the musty smell and in the creaking folds that threaten to snap like twigs when the map is laid out. There’s something about history soaked into paper that appeals to me. Whose hands had this map passed through to get to me? But again, I used to be quite happy to leave it like that, to be satisfied that these stories would exist only in my head. This 71 year old map, predating America’s involvement in WWII, conjured up thoughts of a very different age, of when maps were actually used and useful, during times of boom and bust. In the end, I really couldn’t not write about the person I imagined to be the map’s original owner.

Northwinds is a new publication for me and one that impressed me very much when I was scouting for places to send my work. The quality of the content is matched by a wonderful look and feel, from the ease of navigation to the black & white photos of its contributors. It’s an ezine that has already made it to my favourites list and one that I know I’m going to visit time and again, even when I don’t have an urge to read my own name. And on a kinda interesting “it’s a small word, isn’t it” type way, Issue 5 features the work of Mercedes Lawry, a name that will be recognised by regular readers of a certain Waterhouse Review.

You can find both poems by clicking this link:

http://www.northwindmagazine.com/contents/7/?issue=7

Despicable_Me_2_posterWe’ve all been there, I’m sure. You reach a certain age, early teens or so, when you still get up on Christmas morning with the usual sense of eager anticipation, still feel that tickle in your stomach when you see all those presents waiting for you under the tree. And okay, so the first few you open are confusingly sensible — where last year you may have got a Domino Rally, this year you’ve got socks, or last year you may have got a snooker table, this year you’ve got socks — but somewhere in that big ole stack of pressies, there’s just got to be something good. And then you maybe have three or four still to unwrap but you get a different feeling in your stomach. It’s not a tickle. It’s a combination of realisation and dread. It’s not going to get any better. This is it. And from here on in, this is always going to be it. Christmas equals socks. Maybe later on that day, you become fixated with the knowledge of your own mortality. Merry Christmas.

So. Despicable Me 2, then.

I had high hopes. I confess that I hadn’t seen the original but I’d heard good things about it and the trailer for the sequel made me smile with those yellow critters babbling away with what seemed like a foreign language version of Barbara Ann. That should’ve been a hint right there, that the trailer gave away nothing about the plot because now I’ve been exposed to it, the plot really should belong to a much higher numbered sequel.

Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has turned his back on villainy and embraced jam and jelly making. He’s approached by the AVL (Anti-Villain League) to assist them with tracking down the baddie who had recently stolen an entire Arctic laboratory full of a secret deadly substance called PX-41. Kinda like Rambo. Kinda. The minions, it seems, aren’t that great at making jam or jelly so Gru reluctantly agrees. Traces of PX-41 have been found at a shopping mall so Gru and AVL agent and love interest Lucy (Kristen Wiig) set up a bogus cupcake store so they can investigate and probably save the world or something.

It’s not that it’s bad, as such, it’s just not very good. And it’s a bit all over the place. And kind of a mess. And so very tired. And not really all that funny. And quite boring.

But hey! There’s the minions, right? The minions will surely save the day.

And to some extent, they do. They’re funny in the same way that Mr Bean used to be funny and it’s so very clear that the makers of DM2 know that without them the movie would stink a lot ranker than it already does. They’re given a huge amount of screen time, to the extent that the main narrative of the film is rendered even more inconsequential, so it’s hard not to speculate that maybe we’d have been better off binning the rest of the movie and just had the minions doing their thing for an hour and a half instead, perhaps with the underused Steve Coogan in it more than he was, too.

Visually it looks very nice, much like those wrapped-up Christmas presents, but no more than we should reasonably expect these days. Rise of the Guardians, a far worse movie, looked about as good, as did Hotel Transylvania, which I was reminded of more than once during DM2’s 98 minute running time. That said, I saw it in 2D and saw nothing of any great importance that would’ve been better with an additional D.

It’s all a bit of a letdown, really. At least with Christmas you get a turkey dinner afterwards. Here there was just a sad stumble to the foyer where everyone was putting on a brave face while they tried to convince each other that it was better than it actually was. We’ll keep telling ourselves that but deep down, we know the truth. We wear the socks.