Death bedevils a super guy
MORTALITY lies at the heart — quite literally in one especially sanguinary scene — of The Wolverine, the sixth instalment in the X-Men film series based on the Marvel Comics characters.
The action takes place some time after the previous film, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), in which Wolverine’s sometime romantic interest Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) dies at his lethal hands. She appears in dream sequences in the new film.
So Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is even more of a lone lupus than usual, and while this film is in one sense a sequel it can be seen as a stand-alone feature centred on this remarkable character.
We start with a flashback to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. Logan, a prisoner of war, uses his body, with its mutant powers of regeneration, to save the life of a young Japanese officer. We move swiftly to present-day Canada, the Yukon region, where a Neanderthal-looking Logan walks into a bar to bait some hunters who have killed a bear. I am a fan of such scenes — nude Arnold Schwarzenegger walking into a redneck bar in Terminator 2 is the benchmark — and this one is up there with the best.
Logan’s pursuit of justice for his ursine friend is disrupted by a samurai swordwielding Japanese woman, who shows the rednecks a trick or two.
Yukio (Rila Fukushima) has been looking for Logan on behalf of her dying employer Mr Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), head of the technology conglomerate that bears his name. He is also the young officer Logan saved in 1945.
And so Logan and Yukio head to Tokyo, where they are soon immersed in an all-out war involving Yashida’s family (he has decided to leave his fortune to his beautiful granddaughter rather than his ruthless son), the Yakuza, a mysterious group of samurai warriors and, just for good measure, the toxinimmune mutant known as Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).
It is Viper who does something to Logan that undermines his superhero powers, making him not just vulnerable but possibly mortal, a development about which his feelings are ambivalent.
Jackman brings a winning laconic toughness to a role he clearly enjoys playing. He also spends most of the film shirtless, a wardrobe decision sure to have wide appeal.
The Tokyo setting adds an exciting dimension to the action and there are some stunning set pieces — a pitched battle at a wedding, a fight on a bullet train — that show director James Mangold ( Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Girl, Interrupted) can mix it with the blockbuster set. The result is a thoroughly entertaining action thriller. THE funny, clever and thought-provoking French film What’s in a Name? is difficult to review at length because it’s like an onion or a set of matryoshka dolls: there are layers within layers and to reveal too many of them would spoil the surprise.
Indeed the film that popped into my head as I watched was that marvellous Laurence Olivier-Michael Caine two-hander from 1972, Sleuth, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and adapted by Anthony Shaffer from his awardwinning play. Both films excel at producing rabbits just when you are convinced the hat finally is empty.
So it was pleasing to learn, on doing some reading, that Sleuth was one of the films co- directors Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patelliere studied in preparation for this project. I also learned that, like Sleuth, What’s in a Name? is based on a play, written by Delaporte and de La Patelliere (I like to watch films with as few preconceptions as possible, so do the research after seeing them).
The film opens with a pizza delivery man zipping through the streets of Paris on a scooter. He arrives at an apartment block and has a bewildering confrontation with one of the residents, who is outraged at the price of the pizzas. His confusion only grows when it emerges he is at the wrong flat and the man at the door has not ordered pizza.
The man at the door is Pierre (Charles Berling), a Montaigne-worshipping professor of literature, a thinker who puts his faith in words and for whom ‘‘ corduroy is like a second skin’’. And it is at the book-crammed flat he shares with his wife, Elisabeth (Valerie Benguigui), a high school teacher, that this film’s delightful confusion reigns.
Elisabeth’s brother Vincent (Patrick Bruel), a handsome, successful real estate agent, arrives for dinner. He comes bearing fine wine and ultrasound images: he and his young wife, Anna (Judith El Zein), are expecting their first child. Anna arrives a bit later.
Also present is Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec), a professional trombonist who has been Elisabeth’s best friend since childhood. He was taken in by Elisabeth and Vincent’s mother, Francoise (Francoise Fabian), who looms large late in the film, and raised as part of the family.
Vincent is all charm and goodwill, sweettalking Elisabeth and ribbing Pierre and Claude. The scene is set for a convivial evening of family, friends, food, wine and laughter. Then Vincent drops a bombshell: he intends to name his son Adolphe.
At first the others think it’s just one of Vincent’s jokes, but when he convinces them