The Wolverine at Event Cinemas, Macquarie Centre

Not the best there is. But pretty good.

I think the first comic book I read as an adult was the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine mini-series, and it is still one of my favourites. So I was very pleased when I heard that The Wolverine was going to be based – to a greater or lesser extent – on this series.

It turned out to be a lesser extent. But that didn’t matter, as I really enjoyed the film. I’ve seen reviews describing it as ‘good but not great’, and commenting that the character-driven first half is better than the action-driven second half. I’d have to agree with this. But, well … it’s Wolverine. And even half a character-driven Wolverine movie is worth seeing. Furthermore, there were still character elements in the action-driven half.

I thought the relationship with the 1982 mini-series was interesting.

Obviously, they were both set in Japan. There have, of course, been many Wolverine stories set in Japan. And I’m not familiar with any of the more recent ones (by which I mean anything in the past 15 years. Or more.) So it could be that there were lots of other references that simply passed me by. But I’m going to assume, unless I learn otherwise, that none of these was a particularly strong influence on the movie.

So … set in Japan. And with many of the characters from the mini-series (and elsewhere in the canon), but having totally different personalities and backstories. Yukio, in particular, was really a new character, who just happened to share a name with one from the comic. Fortunately, I liked the new version. And Mariko was made a bit more kick-ass. I’m less sure how I feel about this. Yes, it’s good that she wasn’t totally a damsel-in-distress (although somewhat), and I liked they way she was written and acted. But one of the interesting things about Mariko from the comics (at least the ones I’ve read) is that, in a world of superpowered women, she has no particular combat skills, and yet is an incredibly strong (in every sense but the physical) person. And some of that was lost in her translation to a more standard action-film-heroine.

The plot was, of course, completely and utterly different. But more interesting was that it was thematically different. The 1982 series is about Wolverine fighting to overcome the darker side of his nature – striving to be a man, rather than giving in to the beast. Summed up, I think, by lines like ‘No matter how hard I strive for inner serenity, I screw up. So why bother.’ And then ‘I may never be what I ought to be, want to be — but how will I know unless I try?’

But the movie was more about accepting the past, and moving on to the future. Letting go of grief, and regret, and loss, and guilt. Rejoining the fight. Which is also a strong story (if, at times, dealt with in a rather heavy-handed and unsubtle manner – yes, I’m looking at every scene that involved Jean Grey.) Of course, seeing as how my favourite film in the world is Casablanca, it’s not altogether surprising that this is something that worked for me …

Another interesting change was that, in the film, Logan is very much an outsider in Japan. He doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t understand the customs, and so the story has a bit of a stranger-in-a-strange-land element to it.  Which I hadn’t expected, and it took me a while to come to terms with, but eventually I decided I liked it. Although, again, less subtle than the comic, where he is much more knowledgeable, but not – quite – an insider.

But for all the differences, there were still occasional echoes from the mini-series. The opening story with the grizzly bear was clearly drawn from it (if slightly changed in the details), and there was a later scene, where Wolverine has been shot full of arrows, which I found strongly reminiscent of a panel from the comic. Ditto some of the Ninja-on-the-rooftop shots, although that is probably more generic Wolverine-in-Japan. Even the train fight may have been partially inspired by the bullet train scene in the comic.

Speaking of which … for all that it is being lauded, that scene didn’t really do much for me. It’s not like I haven’t seen plenty of fights-on-the-top-of-a-train before (e.g. in numerous Bond films), and this was just at a higher speed. Big deal. Although with the amount it was being talked up, I had been expecting it to be part of the climax of the movie, so I was rather surprised when it turned out to be quite early on.

I thought Hugh Jackman seemed distinctly more bulked-up in this movie than he had previously, and to be honest, I didn’t really like the result. Since seeing the movie, I have read an interview where he said that this time round, he finally felt that he had achieved a proper Wolverine physique. Perhaps so. But maybe it just goes to prove that what works on the page of a comic book doesn’t necessarily work in real life. At least for me. (Also, all the bulking in the world won’t turn him into the Wolverine of the comics. He’s too tall. And too good looking.)

But all of these criticisms (and I haven’t even mentioned the plot holes!) are just quibbles, really. Because, at the end of the day, what I was hoping for in this movie was a character-driven story about Wolverine, with enough action to keep things moving, a romance with a female lead I actually liked, and a sense of redemption at the end. And The Wolverine delivered on all counts.

Favourite moment

Wolverine: ‘Hip replacement.’

(Also most of his scenes with Mariko.)

My un-favourite moment would be [spoiler – highlight to read] Wolverine throwing Noburo out of the window, and admitting he didn’t know there was a pool below. The man was a creep, but that didn’t make it right to be willing to casually murder him. [end spoiler]

Bechdal test

Pass. Three named female characters, who do talk to each other (a bit) and not always about a man (albeit briefly).


(Probably being a bit generous here. But Wolverine is one of my favourite comic book characters, and I’m really, really glad that the movie wasn’t terrible.)

Much Ado About Nothing at the Cremorne Orpheum

Most of the updating to a modern setting worked. But not quite all.

Although I was very keen to see Much Ado About Nothing, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it, since I couldn’t really envisage Amy Acker in the part of Beatrice, and I was only so-so on the idea of Alexis Denisof as Benedick. But I actually really enjoyed her performance: aside from a couple of not-very-funny pratfalls, she really made me believe in the character. He was good as well, but I truly believe that Beatrice is much the more difficult part. In every production I have seen – and there have been some real dogs! – Benedick always manages to get laughs in his two soliloquy scenes, but Beatrice is much harder to get right. My favourite actors in the roles would still be Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh (film) and Pamela Rabe/John Howard (stage) – with an honourable mention to Sarah Parish/Damian Lewis in Shakespeare Re-told (I would love to see them do the play properly) – but Acker and Denisof were far from disappointing.

Though oddly enough, the one scene that didn’t quite work for me – and I can’t put my finger on why – was the post-wedding ‘Kill Claudio’ scene. Somehow, the emotional range just didn’t quite seem to be there.

Aside from them, the rest of the cast were good, but not outstanding. I liked Hero, and although Claudio didn’t really convince me as being a decent human being, that is always going to be a challenge with this play. Leonato, Ursula and Margaret were all fine. I quite liked Borachio, although I couldn’t really see the point of turning Conrade into a woman (unless it was purely so they could put in a sex scene). Sean Maher made a reasonable Don John, though seeing him as a (clean-shaven) villain gave me flashbacks to his line in Firefly – after being referred to as a criminal mastermind – ‘I’m thinking of growing a big black mustache. I’m a traditionalist.’ I was a bit underwhelmed with Dogberry and Verges, but they’re not really my type of humour, so they need to be done very well for me to find them funny – and cutting some of the better lines didn’t help.

But I think the only real disappointment would be Don Pedro. There was nothing actively wrong with the performance, but he didn’t seem to have any real presence – no sense that the was The Most Important Person In The Room. At times, he was almost overlookable. And while he’s not one of the key protagonists, I think if he ends up sidelined, then the play rather loses it balance.

For the most part, I felt that the modern setting worked very well. Clearly it helped that Joss Whedon has a lovely house and extensive garden! And there were some nice touches. I particularly liked the fact that Leonato having everyone stay at his house meant that (even though it was a large house) he had to put Benedick and Claudio in the room of a (not-appearing-in-the-film) little girl. The look they gave each other as they were shown in was priceless! Since IMDb tells me that Joss Whedon has an 8-year-old daughter, I’m guessing that this room – with its twin beds, soft toys, and dollhouse complete with Barbies – received little to no set dressing for the film. (In the context of the film, I guess it’s best not to ask who the room’s actual owner is – clearly not Leonato’s daughter, since ‘Hero is his only child’, and presumably he wasn’t putting guests in the room of a servant’s child!)

The arrival of the Prince’s men in large cars was less dramatic than the horseback entrance in Branagh’s film, but it was effective in a different way. And I liked the fact that Don John and his people were initially in plastic wrist restraints, which were cut off before they entered the house. The use of a smartphone to show video of Don John’s capture at the end was also a nice touch.

And I don’t think I have ever seen a production quite so awash in alcohol!

But one of the challenges of putting Shakespeare in a modern setting is whether the plot and dialogue actually clash with the surroundings. And I think Much Ado has three key problem areas in this regard:

  • The repeated emphasis on Hero’s virginity
  • Following from this, Leonato saying it would be better if she were dead
  • Benedick agreeing to Beatrice’s demand that he kill Claudio

(I don’t include Claudio’s rejecting Hero at the altar. This can work in a modern setting, if you treat the issue as not so much about virginity, as about having sex with someone the night before she is marrying someone else.)

‘Kill Claudio’ actually did kind of work. It still seemed a bit odd and unrealistic when Beatrice first said it, but when Benedick went back to his room, and got out a gun, I realised that of course (a) this is America, and people do have guns; and, more importantly, (b) they have all just come back from a war, so maybe killing people isn’t really such a foreign concept. And in any case, given Benedick’s initial reaction to Beatrice, I don’t imagine you are really meant to see it as a completely normal action.

But unfortunately, the emphasis on Hero being (or not being) a ‘maid’ did jar, and Leonato’s speech about ‘Do not live, Hero’ was completely unbelievable. Not only was all of this dialogue left in – and I’m sure some of it (especially Leonato’s speech) could have been cut – but it was further emphasised by the scene from the very start of the film in which it was clear that Beatrice, at least, is not a virgin. This created a clash that I found it was quite hard to overcome.

I found it interesting that Joss Whedon decided to place Act V Scene ii (where Benedick tells Beatrice he has challenged Claudio, and which finishes with them hearing the news that ‘Don John is the author of all’) after Act V Scene iii (in which Claudio hangs an epitaph on Hero’s tomb). Kenneth Branagh did the same thing in his film. Maybe it’s an inversion that often happens (like swapping the first two scenes of Twelfth Night), but I don’t think I’ve seen it in any stage production. What bothers me about this change, is that the visit to the tomb happens at night. So Benedick doesn’t go to see Beatrice until the next day, rather than pretty much immediately after challenging Claudio. And yet in the intervening 12+ hours, he’s somehow failed to hear the news – very much out of the information loop. Furthermore, Beatrice was shown with Hero, clearly aware of what was happening, during the night of the tomb visit (I think it was the same in Branagh’s version). So why doesn’t she let Benedick know? Unless she’s so pissed off with Claudio that she wants Benedick to kill him anyway. But that seems rather deceitful (to Benedick), and it isn’t really supported either by the words, or by her demeanour. So I really can’t see any reason for swapping the two scenes around – and plenty of reasons not to!

But in spite of these concerns, I still really enjoyed the film!

Favourite moment

Don John casually pinching a cupcake when leaving the wedding.

Though I also liked pretty much every scene set in the room Benedick and Claudio were sharing.

Bechdal test

Pass. There are a number of named female characters (one more than in the play, due to Conrade’s gender swap!), they do talk to each other, and it’s not always about a man.



The Maids (Jean Genet, translated by Benedict Andrews and Andre Upton): Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Theatre

Great performances, but the play didn’t really work for me

I didn’t actually know anything much about this play before seeing it. And, to be honest, the play – as a play – didn’t really do a huge amount for me.

But the performances were amazing. Seeing Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert together on stage was incredible, and they went through so many changes of mood and pace and tone that we saw a truly bravura performance from each of them. (I did have a little bit of trouble with Isabelle Huppert, because I always find accents challenging, and the dialogue was sometimes at such a pace that I missed some of it.) But equally impressive was that Elizabeth Debicki, in the smaller but key role of ‘Mistress’, was able to hold her own with two such powerful presences. Obviously this was partly due to professional and generous performances by the two stars, who were willing and able to step back when the play called for someone else to take the centre. But when Elizabeth Debicki was the focus, she truly owned the stage.

They also took the technically interesting approach of having a large video screen above the stage, displaying feeds from various cameras around the stage. Some of these were fixed – e.g. in the mirror, showing closeups of the actors when they were using it – but some focused on different places, ranging from closeups of flowers on the floor to a shot from the ceiling when Isabelle Huppert was cavorting on the bed. Apparently they didn’t always follow the same cues every night – though presumably some of them were fairly constant. It added an interesting extra dimension to the production.

Favourite moment

I actually can’t think of any one line or scene that particularly stood out to me.

Bechdal test

Well, duh. Only three characters, all female (although technically only two of them actually had names). Some of the time was spent talking about a man (the unseen ‘Master’) but mostly not.