The Way of the Word

20. July 2011

Review: Captain America, the First Avenger

USA 2011. Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper. Runtime: 125 minutes

In the first days of America’s involvement in WW2, frail Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) desperately tries and fails to join the army. He is simply not fit enough. At one attempt, he is noticed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who is working on a super-soldier program for the US government. Erskine considers Steve the perfect candidate and recruits him. The experiment is a success and turns the skinny little dude into a perfect specimen. Unfortunately, he will remain the only one, because Erskine is killed by a Hydra assassin.

As the only possible result of this experiment, Steve is considered too valuable to be sent to the front. Instead, he tours the country in order to drum up support for the war effort. But when Steve tours the front and discovers that his best friend Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) unit has been captured by the evil Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), he goes off by himself and frees them. His success earns him a series of field assignments that cover the entire war.

During this time, Schmidt, whose nickname is Red Skull because of a deformity he got as a result of his participation in Erskine’s prototype experiment, has built Hydra into a fighting force, mostly because he managed to get his hands on a superweapon called The Tesseract. In the final days of the war, the Red Skull decides to eradicate the US. As his plane takes off, only Captain America can get on board to stop the Red Skull’s plan.

Captain America is a dramatic, movie, it’s an adventurous movie, Americans might even consider it a patriotic movie.  But at the heart of it, it is not an American movie. As in, you don’t need to be American to like the movie or the characters. Yes, Captain America dresses like the US flag, but the values he represents go beyond the US, and therefore the character can resonate with audiences all over the world. There is no patriotic flag-waving in this movie. And yes, that is a plus. Instead, it’s mostly a movie about people.

It is, of course, the story of Steve Rogers, who is willing to selflessly lay his life on the line for what he thinks is right and important. Be that standing up against bullies of all kinds and sizes, or just risking everything to save his friend. All the while remaining clueless about some other things, such as Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell). Chris Evans rises to the occasion, presenting a more nuanced and mature performace than I thought him capable of. It is as if here, for the first time, he was actually challenged to play against type, and he is up to the task.

It is, surprisingly, the story of Abraham Erskine, a German scientist in US exile, who also wants to do the right thing. Stanley Tucci puts in an Oscar-worthy performance. In the short time he has, he infuses Erskine with so much humanity and makes the character so very likable that you are honestly sad when he is assassinated.

It is, to a lesser extent, the story of the Red Skull, whose job is to be two-dimensionally evil and give Captain America something to fight. Hugo Weaving is a very good actor, but he is overqualified for this role, which doesn’t require much more than chewing scenery.

And on the fringes, it is the story of the Howling Commandos, an elite fighting unit; of Bucky Barnes; and of Tommy Lee Jones as Nick Fury in everything but name (since the character of that name is played by Sam Jackson). Dominic Cooper puts in a very fun performance as Howard Stark, so much so that I’d want him to take over as Tony Stark when Robert Downey’s contract expires.

The story itself is very simple, almost simplistic, but it makes up for that in adventure, fun and excitement. It works even better for comic fans, because they are likely to catch most (if not all) of the Easter Eggs, such as the cameo of the original Human Torch, and Matt Salinger’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it uncredited cameo. (In the observation booth during Steve Rogers’s transformation.)

The special effects work fabulously. The most amazing one being skinny Steve Rogers, who is played by Chris Evans with the help of invisible (= not noticeable) CGI. The film is in 3D of course, but except for one moment (when Cap throws his shield at the audience), the 3D is (as usual) rather superfluous.

The downside: not enough Nazis. While the Red Skull starts out as a Nazi scientist, he disowns the Third Reich during his third appearance, after which it is all about Hydra. Apparently, Nazis aren’t evil enough anymore for a WW2 movie. While the logic behind this is obvious (Nazis might adversely affect merchandising sales, which must be avoided at all cost), it leaves a very sour taste.

All in all, however, Captain America is a very entertaining (although not very deep) movie. Joe Johnston is a hit-or-miss director, having delivered gems like Rocketeer and bombs like Jurassic Park III. Here, he is in Rocketeer mode.

Verdict: very recommended.


25. June 2011

RIP Peter Falk

Peter Michael Falk, born September 16, 1927 in New York, died June 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills, at the age of 83.

The actor Peter Falk was famous for two things. One of them being his glass eye, which he got after losing his right eye at the age of three. Which didn’t stop him from participating in team sports as a youth. He was actually considered a star athlete in high school. While the glass eye kept him from enlisting in the US armed forces during WW2, he did serve as a cook and mess boy in the merchant marines for a year and a half. After that, he initially signed up for Israeli army’s war against Egypt, but that war was over before the proverbial ink had dried. So he went back to university. Upon graduating, he tried to join the CIA, who rejected him because he had been a union member while in the merchant marines.

While working as an efficiency analyst for the city of Hartfort, he joined the local community theater. At the same time, he studied with Eva Le Gallienne; a class he lied to get into: Miss Le Gallienne only taught professional actors. When he was found out, and she told him he should be a professional actor, he quit his day job. Moving to New York, he became a successful stage actor. From 1958 to 1960, he also played small roles in movies.

His cinema breakthrough was the role of Abe Reles in the movie Murder, Inc. in 1960, for which he got an Oscar nomination. He got another nomination the following year for his part in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles. During the same period, he also did some TV work, which also got him award nominations. He won the Emmy in 1962.

In 1968, he accepted a supporting role in the Gene Barry TV movie Prescription: Murder, a role that had been rejected by Bing Crosby. Prescription: Murder was something original at the time: a murder mystery from the murderer’s POV. Falk was cast as Barry’s foil, the police detective Lieutenant Columbo.

(Pause for effect.)

Now, if you haven’t heard of Columbo, you’re probably from another planet, and even then you’re likely to know of the character. Peter Falk played the unique, polite and much smarter than he appeared detective from 1968 until 1978. It wasn’t so much an ongoing TV series, but rather a series of TV movie specials.  The longest seasons were 2 and 3, with 8 episodes each.  It was revived in 1989, for more TV movies and specials until 2003. The people who worked on it were a real who-is-who of Hollywood. Steven Spielberg directed the first regular episode in 1971. Robert Culp, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, John Cassavetes, Mickey Spillane, Richard Kiley and George Hamilto are only a minor sampling of guest stars. Falk’s Columbo quickly became one of the most iconic sleuths in fiction, ranking with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Sam Spade. In parallel, he continued to make movies (preferring smaller, independent movies) and act on the stage.

After a series of dental operations in 2007, Peter Falk rapidly declined into dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This is the point where I usually explain what the person whose obit I wrote here meant to me. In this particular case, I don’t feel up to it.

I mean, this is Columbo we’re talking about, you know. If you didn’t love Columbo, that’s proof that you don’t have a soul.

24. June 2011

RIP Gene Colan

Born September 21, 1926 in New York, died June 23, 2011 (aged 84), after a broken hip and complications from a liver disease.

Gene Colan studied art at the Art Students League of New York and began working in comics in 1944, drawing for Fiction House’s Wing Comics. He joined the US armed forces just in time for the end of the war, but spent time serving with the US occupation forces in the Philippines, where he rose to the rank of corporal and drew for the Manila Times. Upon his return in 1946, he produced a short story, took it to Timely Comics and was hired on the spot, where he worked as a staff artist until Timely laid off almost all their staff in 1948. Colan turned to freelancing, especially for the company that would become DC Comics.

Upon the beginning of the Silver Age in the 1960s, Colan quickly established himself as one of the greatest artists working in American comics. He worked on Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Iron Man and most notably Daredevil.

With Daredevil as his signature superhero work, he became something of a household name when he teamed up with writer Marv Wolfman on the horror series The Tomb of Dracula, a book that he had actively lobbied to be assigned to. His dark, moodily-brooding pencils that were complimented by the work of inker Tom Palmer were probably a greater factor in the book’s success than Marv Wolfman’s inspired writing.

In the 1980s, he had a falling out with Marvel Comics and instead worked more for DC Comics, on books like Batman, Night Force or Wonder Woman.

He quite literally kept working until the end.

Colan was a multiple awards winner, like the Shazam Award (1974), the Eagle Award (1977, 1979), the Sparky Award (2008) and the Sergio Award (2009). He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005.

Back in the Silver Age, Colan had his very own style. It was a dark, shadowy and moody style. Personally, I always felt that he worked on some books where his style didn’t mesh (Captain America, for example), but on the right books (Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Night Force, Nathaniel Dusk) it was really breathtaking. Colan is one of those few American comic artists whose work actually looks better when it’s stipped of the coloring, as you can easily see if you look at Marvel’s Essential Tomb of Dracula collections. He was one of the first artists who could make me excited for a new comics series: the only reason why I eagerly anticipated the coming of DC’s Night Force back in 1982, or that Nathaniel Dusk noir miniseries (1984) by a writer I didn’t know, were because it had Colan art, and he wasn’t doing superheroes.

In that regard, yes, it was funny: I was very much a superhero reader at the time, but I always felt that Colan was wasted on superheroes. His style was wrong for it, it was too different, too unique.  It was, in a word, distinctive, and by all accounts he struggled against the pressure from his higher-ups in order to keep it distinctive, rather than to conform to a house style or some momentary fashion. That alone should earn him respect and accolades. Of course, it helps that he was one of the best comics artists ever. His visual storytelling skills, his moody, shadowy and atmospheric style set him apart from most of his peers, and seriously, anyone who wants to work as a comic book artist should look at his work and learn from it.

Will he be missed? By those who knew him, certainly. I haven’t had the privilege, but I’m told he was one of the nicest people in the business. By the rest of us, his readers? Well, we still have the comics he drew to re-read and appreciate, and to make us thankful for everything he had to give to us.

21. June 2011

Review: Green Lantern

USA 2011. Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Blake Lively. Runtime: 105 Minutes

After being freed from his prison, the entity known as Parallax strikes against the Green Lantern Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison). Abin Sur escapes, severely wounded, to Earth, where his power ring picks test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) as Abin Sur’s successor. After a brief stint on the Lantern HQ planet Oa for training, Hal decides that he isn’t cut out to be a member of the Green Lantern Corps and returns to Earth.

Meanwhile, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is infected with a particle of Parallax energy and begins to metamorphose into a superbeing with incredible mental powers. Which he promptly uses to get back and people who he believes wronged him – such as his father (Tim Robbins). As Hal takes on Hector, Parallax notices the fight and decides that Earth will make a nice snack before attacking Oa. Hal takes off to Oa to ask for the Corps’s help, but since the Corps just got their butts kicked by Parallax, they are too afraid to commit. So Hal has to fight Parallax by himself.

I’ll readily admit that after the reviews I’ve seen, I went into Green Lantern thinking, “Please don’t suck, please don’t suck.” Perhaps because of my low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised.

That doesn’t mean the movie has no problems. It has plenty of them. It also has a charm, however, that makes up for several of those problems.

The main problem is that it’s too ambitious. Green Lantern is three very good superhero movies compressed into one: Hal coming into his own as a Green Lantern, Hal fighting Hector Hammond, Hal fighting Parallax. If the creators had focused on one of these story arcs, they could have made one hell of a movie. Perhaps the one thing that almost made me cry was seeing the glimmer of Hector Hammond’s potential being unfulfilled. The way Sarsgaard played the character hinted at the tragic and almost sympathetic villain character that could have been if the movie had given the character enough time to be developed. The training arc on Oa was a GL reader’s proverbial wet dream, or would have been if it hadn’t been so short. The menace of Parallax would have been far more threatening if the monster had been on the screen for more than the (felt) ten minutes of screentime that it had.

In that regard, Green Lantern is the poster boy for missed opportunities. The poster boy for “less is more.” Less would have provided the chance to focus and develop aspects of the story and the mythology.

That doesn’t mean that Green Lantern is a hopeless case. Sure, some things don’t make sense, and I hope that there will be a director’s cut with deleted scenes that will fix that. Some other things make no real-world sense, but they make superhero-logic sense, so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for that.

But the cast is charming, Sarsgaard is having fun, and the visuals…

… are spectacular. The visuals are what really sells this movie. Alien vistas, the entire Green Lantern corps in incredible detail. The energy constructs are cool and sometimes funny.

And Green Lantern is the first 3D movie that I’ve seen where the 3D actually works and enhances the film. (Well, except maybe for Tron: Legacy.)

So… what’s the verdict? Green Lantern fails completely in aspects of story and writing. The actors fight valiantly against a script that doesn’t give them the opportunity to develop their characters. But the visuals are cosmically spectacular, as they should be, and the entire film has something of a retro charm that in some places reminded me of those old Richard Donner Superman movies. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but I can easily see how, if my mood hadn’t been as fine as it was, the faults might have glared more at me.  It’s the proverbial popcorn movie. Therefore, I can’t in good conscience give anything but

Verdict: neutral.

20. June 2011

Im Zeichen von Kamel und Elefant

1995 besuchte ich Schottland. Die Gegend beeindruckte mich so sehr, dass ich ein paar Reiseartikel verfasste. Die nie veröffentlicht wurden. Auf der Suche nach anderen alten Werken stieß ich neulich auch auf diese Artikel, die ich den Lesern nicht vorenthalten möchte.

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Jeder hat schon von Inverness gehört. Es ist die Stadt am See mit dem angeblichen Monster, die Stadt am Loch Ness.

In gewissen Weise stimmt das. Inverness liegt am Fluß Ness, der in den Loch Ness fließt.

Inverness hat jedoch auch andere Seiten, von denen der durchschnittliche Tourist wenig bis nichts weiß. Oder wussten Sie, dass die Wappentiere von Inverness ein Kamel und ein Elefant sind? Das Wappen der Stadt ist am Gebäude des Tourist Information Centre angebracht. Warum Inverness gerade diese für Nordeuropa ungewöhnlichen Tiere im Wappen trägt? Darauf kommen wir später zu sprechen.

Das Tourist Information Centre im Stadtzentrum von Inverness ist der geeignetste Anlaufpunkt für alle Fragen zu möglichen Touren und Aktivitaten. Die meisten Veranstalter haben ihre Tour so eingerichtet, dass man die Tour am Tourist Information Centre beginnen kann.

Das Zentrum vom Inverness ist relativ klein. Selbst zu Fuß kann man die meisten wichtigen Punkte, wie z.B. die Einkaufspassage, den Bahnhof oder den Hafen innerhalb weniger Minuten erreichen.

Inverness ist der drittgrößte Ort in den Highlands. Trotzdem hat es nicht den Rang einer “City,” sondern ist nur eine “Town.” Der Grund? Eine “City” muß eine fertige Kathedrale aufweisen. Nahe des River Ness steht eine unvollendete Kathedrale, der nur die Türme fehlen. Angeblich ist der Boden zu instabil, um den Bau fertigstellen zu können. Aufgrund dieser Formalität muß Inverness immer eine Town bleiben.

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Loch Ness ist die Bekannteste unter den verschiedenen Touristenattraktionen, die die Gegend um Inverness zu bieten hat. Entsprechend gibt es sehr viele Angebote, die sich Nessies Umfeld zunutze machen.

Zwei Veranstalter, Inverness Traction und Jacobite Cruises, bieten fast identische Fahrten um und über Loch Ness an.

Die Coach & Cruise von Jacobite Cruises beginnt mit einer Busfahrt am Ufer des Loch Ness. Der erste Halt ist die seit 1980 bestehende Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition in Drumnadrochit. Die Besichtigung dieser Ausstellung ist im Preis inbegriffen. Anschließend geht es zur Ruine von Urquart Castle; die Besichtigung dieser Ruine ist ebenfalls im Preis inbegriffen. Von Urquart Castle aus geht es mit dem Schiff über Loch Ness und den Caledonian Canal zurück nach Inverness. Diese Tour dauert ca. 3 1/2 Stunden.

Inverness Traction bietet eine Halbtags-Tour an, die mit dem Angebot von Jacobite Cruises fast identisch ist. Der größte Unterschied: Die Tour von Inverness Tractions wird von einem Führer begleitet, der den Fahrgast auf alles Sehenswerte aufmerksam macht und die Bedeutung erklärt. Bei Jacobite Cruises hingegen erhält der Fahrgast keinerlei Erläuterungen.

Inverness Traction bietet darüber hinaus eine Ganztags-Tour an, die auch ausführlich auf andere Sehenswürdigkeiten um Loch Ness herum eingeht, sowie (in den Sommermonaten) eine Abendtour, die jedoch nur den Eintritt (im Preis nicht enthalten) in der Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition beinhaltet.

Die originellste Loch Ness-Tour bietet das Loch Ness-U-Boot Swatch. Es liegt am Steg vor dem Clansman Hotel zwischen Inverness und Drumnadrochit. Mehrmals am Tag legt die Swatch ab und führt den Fahrer und 5 Passagiere eine Stunde lang durch die Unterwasserwelt von Loch Ness. Eine Fahrt mit dem U-Boot ist recht teuer, und man muß sich seinen Platz im Voraus reservieren. Aufgrund der wenigen Plätze pro Fahrt ist die Swatch trotz des hohen Preises häufig ausgebucht.

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Auch Gordon’s Adventure Tours und Peter Forbes Tours bieten Ausflüge um den Loch Ness. Diese Touren sind jedoch sehr viel rustikaler als die oben genannten. Gordon’s Adventure Tours sind z.B. kombinierte Kleinbusfahrten/Wanderungen, mit Führer, durch die Gegend um Inverness. Der Kleinbus dieses Veranstalters fasst nur 13 Passagiere; diese Anzahl ist das Limit pro Tour. Samstags/Sonntags bietet Gordon’s Adventure Tours ein anderes Programm als Wochentags. Diese Ausflüge sind sehr beliebt.

Passen Sie auf, wann Sie buchen. In den Highlands gibt es keinen langen Donnerstag. Stattdessen schließen die Läden früher, und auch einige der Veranstalter (darunter Peter Forbes Tours) bieten am Donnerstag Nachmittag keine Ausflüge an.

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Die seit 1980 bestehende Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition in Drumnadrochit ist eine ausführliche Ausstellung zur Geschichte nicht des Ungeheuers von Loch Ness, sondern zur Suche nach dem Ungeheuer. Die Ausstellung ist eine audiovisuelle Präsentation der Beobachtungen und Forschungen die angestellt wurden, um das Rätsel hinter Nessie zu lösen. Die Ausstellungsstücke werden durch eine präzise getimte Tonbandpräsentation, die den interessierten Besucher von Raum zu Raum begleitet, erklärt. Für Besucher, die der englischen Sprache nicht mächtig sind, gibt es an der Kasse begleitendes Informationsmaterial in verschiedenen Sprachen. Die gesamte Präsentation nimmt ca. 40 Minuten Zeit in Anspruch. Die Ausstellung ist sehr neutral gehalten und macht keine Aussage darüber, ob es Nessie nun gibt oder nicht. Sie berichtet lediglich ・er die Suche nach dem Rätseltier.

Bei der Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition gibt es auch den (unvermeidlichen) Souvenirladen und ein Hotel.

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Eine der besten Möglichkeiten, Inverness zu erkunden, bietet der Guide Friday Tour Bus: Ein oben offener Doppeldecker-Bus, der eine Stadtrundfahrt mit Führung anbietet. Bei Guide Friday muß nicht im Voraus gebucht werden, man steigt an einer der verschiedenen Haltestellen einfach in den Bus ein. Wenn man eine der Sehenswürdigkeiten genauer betrachten will, steigt man aus und fährt mit einem der späteren Busse, die im 45 Minuten-Takt fahren, weiter. Das beim ersten Einsteigen gelöste Ticket bleibt den ganzen Tag gültig. Dadurch ist Guide Friday eine recht effiziente Möglichkeit, die Stadt und die Umgebung kennen zulernen. Denn Guide Friday Tours fäh nicht nur durch die Stadt; auch das Culloden-Schlachtfeld gehör zur Guide Friday-Route.

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Am 16. April 1746 fand auf dem Drumossie Moor, das heute als Culloden bekannt ist, die letzte Schlacht auf britischem Boden statt. Die Feldherren waren William of Cumberland auf Seiten der Engländer und Charles Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” für die Schotten.

Die Schotten verloren.

Obwohl die Schlacht bei Culloden eine Niederlage war, gehört das Schlachtfeld heute noch zu den Sehenswürdigkeiten der Gegend. Der National Trust of Scotland ist gegenwärtig damit beschäftigt, das Feld in den Zustand zurückzuversetzen, in dem es sich vor 250 Jahren befand.

Culloden gehört zur Guide Friday Tour, es ist von Inverness ab allerdings auch mit einem normalen Linienbus zu erreichen. Im Visitor Centre findet man außer dem unvermeidlichen Souvenirladen auch eine erklärende Ausstellung. Außerdem findet in regelmäßigen Abständen eine Video-Präsentation statt, die die Schlacht und die Hintergründe erklärt.

Als Besucher kann man das Schlachtfeld auch allein begehen und erkunden. An allen wichtigen Schauplätzen der Schlacht sind Tafeln angebracht, die kurz darstellen, wer wo stand. Empfehlenswert ist jedoch die Führung über das Schlachtfeld, die viel besser vermitteln kann, was wo wie und warum geschah.

1996 war der 250. Jahrestag der Schlacht von Culloden.

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Nicht mit dem Guide Friday-Bus, aber mit der gleichen Buslinie, mit der man auch nach Culloden kommt, kann man Cowter Castle erreichen. Cowter Castle ist allgemein auch als “das Macbeth-Schloß” bekannt. Auch heutzutage ist Cowter Castle noch etwas besonders, jedoch aus einem anderen Grund: es ist das einzige Schloß in England, das seinen Erhalt durch die Besichtigungen finanzieren kann. Der Schloßherr selbst führt die interessierten Besucher auf amüsante Weise durch das Schloß.

Außerdem soll es dort spuken.

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Wesentlich spannender als eine Fahrt über Loch Ness ist eine Fahrt  über Moray Firth: dort gibt es die versprochenen Tiere tatsächlich. Moray Firth ist der nördlichste Punkt, an dem Delphine zu sehen sind. Auch Minkwale, Seehunde und Kormorane kann man, mit etwas Glück, dort sehen. Das Wort Firth kann man übrigens am besten mit “Fjord” ・ersetzen.

Am nödlichen Ufer steht das Dolphin & Seal Centre. Dort kann man etwas über die Lebensgewohnheiten der Delphine erfahren. Man kann sie beobachten, und über Unterwassermikrophonen ihren Gesängen zuhören.

Oder man macht eine Fahrt über Moray Firth, entweder mit Moray Firth Cruises oder mit MacAuley Charter. Keiner der Veranstalter kann garantieren, dass Sie tatsächlich Delphine zu sehen bekommen, die Wahrscheinlichkeit ist jedoch recht hoch. Ein Tip: machen Sie die Fahrt vormittags und bei gutem Wetter; dann sind die Delphine aktiver.

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Wie bereits erwähnt, sind die Wappentiere von Inverness das Kamel und der Elefant. Für einen Ort in den schottischen Highlands sind diese Tiere recht ungewöhnlich. Sie finden ihren Ursprung in der Bedeutung, die Inverness einst als Handelsstadt hatte. Damals war Inverness ein Umschlagplatz für Waren aus den entferntesten Ländern. Einschließlich solcher Länder, in denen es Kamele und Elefanten gab. Das Wappen reflektiert diese Bedeutung.

17. June 2011

Auf der Jagd nach dem Ungeheuer

1995 besuchte ich Schottland. Die Gegend beeindruckte mich so sehr, dass ich ein paar Reiseartikel verfasste. Die nie veröffentlicht wurden. Auf der Suche nach anderen alten Artikeln stieß ich neulich auch auf diese Artikel, die ich den Lesern nicht vorenthalten möchte.

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Es gibt viele Vermutungen darüber, was nun tatsächlich im Loch Ness herumschwimmt. Ist es ein Plesiosaurier, der noch nicht begriffen hat, dass er seit 65 Millionen Jahren ausgestorben ist? Ist es nichts weiter als ein Werbegag? Eine Halluzination?

Was immer Nessie, wie die Einheimischen das Ungeheuer liebevoll nennen, sonst noch sein mag, es ist auf jeden Fall eines: ein Geheimnis, das immer wieder Neugierige an einen See lockt, dessen Namen ohne dieses Rätsel vermutlich kaum jemand kennen würde.

Die Einheimischen wissen um den Reiz ihres Ungeheuers, und geben sich reichlich Mühe, die Neugierde der Touristen zu befriedigen. So wurde in Drumnadrochit das Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre eröffnet, in dem der interessierte Besucher die Geschichte der Suche nach dem Ungeheuer erfährt. Ein Rundgang durch diese Ausstellung dauert ca. 40 Minuten. Die Ausstellung geht durch mehrere Räume, von denen jeder ein Kapitel der Suche behandelt. Die Ausstellung ist eine audiovisuelle Show, bei der eine Tonbandstimme (auf Englisch) die dargestellten Ausstellungsstücke erklärt.

Dabei bleibt die Ausstellung gegenüber der Frage, ob es das Loch Ness Ungeheuer nun gibt oder nicht, sorgfältig neutral. Der Besucher kann und soll sich seine eigene Meinung bilden.

Verschiedene Veranstalter bieten Rundfahrten um Loch Ness an, die man entweder direkt beim Veranstalter oder beim Tourist Information Centre in Inverness buchen kann. Zwei dieser Veranstalter sind Jacobite Cruises und Inverness Traction. Jacobite Cruises bietet eine 3 1/2 stündige Coach & Cruise Tour an. Diese Tour beginnt in Inverness und führt am Ufer des Loch Ness zum Exhibition Centre. Nach einem Rundgang durch die Ausstellung geht es weiter zur berühmten Ruine Urquart Castle. Nach der Besichtigung der Ruine steigt man in ein Boot um und fährt über Loch Ness und den Caledonian Canal zurück nach Inverness. Die Ausstellung und die Besichtigung der Ruine sind im Preis enthalten. Jedoch ist diese Rundfahrt eine reine Fahrt, bei der der Reisende auf sich allein gestellt ist; es ist keine Tour mit Führung, bei der einem Sehenwertes entlang der Route erklärt wird.

Inverness Traction bietet verschiedene Touren an. Es gibt die “Full Day Grand Tour”, die die gleichen Sehenswürdigkeiten abdeckt wie Jacobite Cruises. Da hier mehr Zeit zur Verfügung steht, reist man weiterhin noch nach Fort Augustus, St. Benedict’s Abbey mit dem Abbey Heritage Centre, Loch Tarff und Pringle’s Woollen Mills. Die “Half Day Grand Tour” stellt die gleichen Sehenswürdigkeiten wie Jacobite Cruises vor. Außerdem gibt es im Sommer noch die Möglichkeit der “Evening Tour”, einer reinen Busfahrt entlang des Loch Ness mit Besuch im Exhibition Centre und einem Stop bei Urquart Castle. Mit Ausnahme der “Evening Tour” sind die Besichtigungen im Preis enthalten. Inverness Traction hat gegenüber Jacobite Cruises den Vorteil, dass ein Reiseleiter auf sämtliche Sehenswürdigkeiten entlang der Route hinweist und ihre Bedeutung erklärt.

Und sollten Sie die Möglichkeit haben, fahren Sie mit Inverness Trachtion’s Jimmy Smith.

Die originellste Methode, die ein Tourist am Loch Ness nutzen kann, um Nessie zu suchen, ist das Loch Ness U-Boot Swatch. In diesem U-Boot haben außer dem Piloten noch fünf Passagiere Platz, die das Ungeheuer unter der Wasseroberfläche suchen können. Die Fahrt dauert ca. 1 Stunde und beginnt am Anlegeplatz vor dem Clansman Hotel. Für eine Tauchfahrt muss man vorher unter reservieren, da trotz des hohen Preises der Andrang sehr groß und das U-Boot stark ausgebucht ist.

16. June 2011

Die Delfine von Moray Firth

1995 besuchte ich Schottland. Die Gegend beeindruckte mich so sehr, dass ich ein paar Reiseartikel verfasste. Die nie veröffentlicht wurden. Auf der Suche nach anderen alten Artikeln stieß ich neulich auch auf diese Artikel, die ich den Lesern nicht vorenthalten möchte.

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Loch Ness ist nicht das interessanteste Gewässer bei Inverness in Schottland. Eine Fahrt über Moray Firth ist viel interessanter. Denn, anders als bei Loch Ness, weiss man bei Moray Firth genau, was dort schwimmt.

Moray Firth ist an der Stelle der britischen Küste, die den “Nacken des Wichtelmannes” darstellt: eine Bucht mit direktem Zugang zur Nordsee. Moray Firth ist eine ruhige und geschützte Bucht. Und gerade dies ist der Grund, weswegen Moray Firth die einzige in der Nordsee lebende Delphin-Population aufweist.

Moray Firth ist der nördlichste Punkt, an dem Delphine leben. Aufgrund der geschützten Lage von Moray Firth wird diese Bucht von den Delphinen als ein Ort der Ruhe geschätzt, an dem sie ihre Jungen aufziehen können. Sie bleiben das ganze Jahr hindurch. Forscher von der Universität von Aberdeen identifizierten bis jetzt 130 Tiere. Sie stellten auch fest, dass die Delphine von Moray Firth zu den größten der Welt gehören: sie werden bis zu vier Meter lang.

Und man kann sie sich ansehen.

Für den durchschnittlichen Touristen mit einem gewissen Interesse an Delphinen bieten sich mehrere Möglichkeiten, die Delphine von Moray Firth zu beobachten. Eine dieser Möglichkeiten ist das Dolphin & Seal Centre an der nördlichen Küste des Beauly Firth, das bis Ende September für Touristen geöffnet hat. Von hier aus kann man nach Delphinen Ausschau halten, sich über Unterwassermikrophone die Gesänge der Delphine anhören und sich über die Lebensumstände der Tiere im Moray Firth informieren.

Eine andere Möglichkeit ist, eine Bootsfahrt über Moray Firth zu machen. Vom Hafen in Inverness aus bieten zwei Veranstalter Touren an: MacAulay Charters und Moray Firth Cruises. Diese Touren finden das ganze Jahr hindurch statt, sofern das Wetter es zulässt, und bringen den Delphinfan näher an die Tiere heran als ein Besuch im Dolphin & Seal Centre dies zulässt. Natürlich können die Veranstalter nicht garantieren, dass man tatsächlich Delphine, oder eine der anderen im Moray Firth lebenden Tierarten, zu sehen bekommt. Jedoch ist eine Fahrt über den Moray Firth auch bei einem Misserfolg spannender als eine Fahrt über Loch Ness. Denn im Moray Firth leben ganz bestimmt die erwarteten Tiere.

Ausser Delphinen kann man, wenn man Glück hat, auch noch andere Tierarten finden. Dort gibt es nach verlässlichen Berichten ausser Delphinen Seehunde, Minkwale, Merganza und Kormorane.

Ein kleiner Tip: machen Sie die Fahrt möglichst am Vormittag. Die Delphine sind zu dieser Zeit aktiver.



In Inverness gibt es zwei Anbieter für Fahrten über den Moray Firth: MacAuley Charters und Moray Firth Cruises. Beide bieten Rundfahrten von ca. 90 Minuten Dauer an, die vom Inverness-Hafen aus beginnen. Die Leistungen beider Veranstalter sind generell identisch. Moray Firth Cruises verfügt über das größere Boot (ca. 90 Plätze). Vor der Fahrt gibt es eine kurze Einführung über die Tiere, die man im Moray Firth (mit etwas Glück) sehen kann. An Bord, und auch im Büro am Kai kann man Souvenirs kaufen.

MacAuley Charters hat ein kleineres Boot, gibt keine Einführung und verkauft keine Souvenirs. Jedoch gibt es, wie auch bei Moray Firth Cruises, an Bord freundliches Personal, das einem alle Fragen, die man eventuell stellt, beantworten kann und das auch eifrig mit nach Delphinen und Seehunden Ausschau hält. Beide Veranstalter verkaufen Tickets für ihre Fahrten direkt am Kai, oder auch im Tourist Information Centre in Inverness, wo Kleinbusse interessierte Passagiere auch kurz vor den Fahrten abholen.

Generell sind beide Veranstalter empfehlenswert.

1. June 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

It’s funny how some things develop sometimes. How the real world needs of the writer can influence a story, and actually make it better.

Case in point: Die Young. I’m writing without an outline. I know the crime, I know who did it, and I know why they did it. As I write it, I uncover the story just as the investigator, Shaw, does. And sometimes it surprises me.

Case in point: I recently had a scene where I needed someone to leave a building. If I’d ended the scene with that character leaving, it would have been glaringly obvious, a couple of pages later, why he left. At least to me, but I’m writing this assuming that the readers are at least as astute as I am. So I needed to extend the scene beyond that, but without forcing it, or at least making it seemed forced.

What happened was that the scene ended on a completely different major development, a development that I hadn’t planned, that I hadn’t foreseen, but that made complete and total sense.

Another thing was that I didn’t feel good yesterday. I was tired, distracted, preoccupied all day long. I decided to put that into the story: by giving Shaw some sleep-withdrawal, then have something happen, and let him wonder if he missed anything because he was too tired. The obvious answer is yes. 🙂

I also realized that I have accidentally created an extra viable suspect. I’ll have to nurture that character, just to see where it will take me.

Lastly, I realized that I overlooked something obvious. Because the case originally ties into the adult entertainment industry, I had Shaw begin his search for the endangered Amy Mason there. He hasn’t found her yet, nobody knows her. The obvious thing I overlooked: just because the bad guys work in the adult entertainment industry doesn’t mean that Amy has to work there. However, I’m not sure that this logic error is something that needs fixing. For one thing, the case is only two days old, story time. Shaw spent the first day looking for Diana Young’s killer, and the second day looking for Amy Mason. In the story, he has just woken up to day 3. Now, I could go back and add a line or two where he considers the possibility that Amy Mason might not be connected to the adult entertainment industry, or I could have him realize that over breakfast on the third day. I’m not sure yet which is better, but I’ll need to decide before continuing.

Frankly, I lean towards the latter, having him realize it. Shaw’s human, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t overlook the obvious. “I missed the obvious, but at least I only wasted a day looking in all the wrong places — places that I probably would have searched anyway, even if I had thought of it.” Something like that.

28. May 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Okay, if the right chain of unlikely coincidences should happen, this one has a very slim chance of not being completely impossible. If someone who knows Cassandra Peterson happens to see this and likes it and points it out to her and she likes it…

But, yeah: awesome idea that will never be.

I like Elvira (Cassandra Peterson). The character is funny, bizarre, over the top, sexy and, well, funny. I own her first movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on DVD. I’ve seen the second one, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the first. The reason is simple: Elvira is an over-the-top comedic character. But unlike the first movie, where Elvira began as the odd woman out and the situation became progressively more bizarre, the second movie had a scenario where everyone was so bizarre that Elvira fit right in.

A good Elvira movie needs to quote heavily from the horror genre, and it has to have Elvira as someone who stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. If everyone is as bizarre as she, then it’s overkill.

So what can we do to make a good and fun Elvira movie? It’s really quite simple:

Elvira Knows Why You Screamed on Friday the 13th.

Let’s quote heavily from the slasher genre, with some liberal sprinkling of Evil Dead and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A busload of teenagers, returning home from a sports event (or going to a sports event) finds themselves trapped on a small islet. They had only planned to pass through, but a flash flood tore down both bridges, effectively isolating them. There is only one house on the islet, a mansion actually, so the teenagers turn there for help.

The only person in there is Elvira, who, being her normal friendly and helpful self, offers the kids shelter. But something is weird about the entire set-up. Curious as teenagers are, they discover that Elvira is engaged in some strange magickal rituals that might involve the Necronomicon.

As soon as they discover that, they start dying. Since Elvira is the odd woman out, they of course immediately suspect her as the Slasher, and try to kill her in return. Which doesn’t work, but plays a part in establishing that Elvira is not the killer. As the outsider looking in, her help does turn out to be instrumental in uncovering the real killer. And about the magickal experiments she performs in her basement? Yes, it is the Necronomicon, but she’s not trying to call up demons. She’s trying to materialize Bruce Campbell.

At the end of the night, the bridges are being repaired, so the surivors can look forward to continuing on their trip. But what about Elvira? Will she get lucky? Will her summoning of Bruce Campbell succeed? Only his agent knows for sure…

25. May 2011

Review: X-Men First Class

USA/GB 2011. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon. Runtime: 127 Minutes

The year is 1962. Concentration camp survivor Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) has become a Nazi hunter. He is specifically after one person: Nazi scientist Klaus Schmidt (Kevin Bacon). His quest seems to come to an end when he discovers that Schmidt now calls himself Sebastian Shaw and is in Miami, FL.

The year is 1962. CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating the mysterious Hellfire Club, which is run by Sebastian Shaw. When she discovers things that are patently impossible (how can a man have red skin and a tail, and transport someone else 3000 miles within a few minutes?), she seeks out the help of a geneticist who specializes in mutation: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).  He agrees to help her out in this case, and they track down Shaw.

Arriving at the same time as Lensherr. Despite Erik’s best efforts, Shaw escapes. But Charles has a plan: Shaw has a team of superpowered mutants on his side. The obvious conclusion is that Xavier assembles his own team to deal with it. And so, Xavier and Erik find and gather a group of young, powerful mutants to fight Shaw’s group.

The situation becomes desperate when Xavier discovers that Shaw plans to manipulate the USA and the USSR into starting a nuclear war, which will reduce the world to ruins — but ruins that Shaw will rule. The newly formed, barely trained and still unnamed X-Men dash to Cuba to stop Shaw.

X-Men: First Class is technically the fifth movie in the series (after the original trilogy and the Wolverine movie). This is usually the point where I wonder: does the world really need another (insert franchise name) movie?

In this case, the answer is a resounding YES. X-Men: First Class easily outshines and outclasses not only all the previous X-Men movies, I would rate it second only to The Dark Knight. The movie does everything right.

Instead of a superhero movie, X-Men: First Class is a thriller where the protagonists happen to have superpowers. The stakes are high: the survival of the world. And the events actually happened, sort of: the Cuban missile crisis is an historic event, and it almost did cause a total nuclear war. The difference between the movie and the real world was that there were no mutants involved in the real world event. (That we know of. 😉 ) The movie does not rely on big, splashy special effects. Which means that when they do present a big splashy special effect (yes, I’m talking about Magneto raising a submarine from the ocean), it packs quite a punch. The chilliest and scariest moments, however, involve Magneto and a small coin.

X-Men: First Class focuses on the characters. This is mostly an ensemble piece, so it’s clear that not all the characters get equal time. At the center are the relationships between Xavier, Erik and, to an extent, Shaw. Vaughn doesn’t forget the X-Men, however. Each of the young mutants has their own storyarc, which is compellingly told and actually brought to a conclusion. The young actors who play the X-Men sell their roles completely. As the audience, you invest feelings into all of them, you want to see what happens to them, what becomes of them. Even in those cases where you know, such as Magneto and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), you can’t help an emotional investment in the outcome. Taking, for example, the moment when Mystique discovers that the boy she likes is just like everyone else and considers her real form ugly, that the only one who actually accepts her for what she is is Erik… you, as the audience, can actually feel her heart break.

It’s the bad guys who get the short end of the stick here, Riptide for example doesn’t get any lines at all. But it doesn’t really matter, because they only exist as foils for the heroes. The only villain who matters is Shaw — and that is because of his personal connection to Erik.

If Michael Fassbender weren’t already a star, I’d call this his breakout performance. His portrayal of Erik Lensherr/Magneto is compelling, conflicted, nuanced. His relationship with Xavier is a mutual brotherly love, two men who want the same thing, but because of their opposite pasts see the future differently. Xavier is a sheltered rich kid, who sees people as inherently good. Erik, as the concentration camp survivor, has seen humanity at its worst, and his views are colored accordingly. At the end, when the X-Men reveal themselves to the world, one man’s views will be proven right.

And the audience will see where Magneto’s coming from. Because Erik Lensherr is a thoroughly sympathetic figure. He doesn’t trust humans, and when the proverbial chips fall, he’s the one who is proven right.

The movie also manages to balance all that gravitas with a lot of humor. It’s a good kind of humor, though, the kind where you laugh with the characters and not at them. One of the funniest scenes is where the kids are in the CIA compound, showing off their powers. Kids will be kids. And let us not forget the cameos. One in particular had the entire audience howling with laughter. “Go f**k yourselves.” You’ll see what I mean, and you can’t tell me you didn’t laugh.

In summary: X-Men: First Class is an extremely well written, well acted and well-directed thriller with superpowered protagonists that manages to get the audience involved in the destinies of each of the characters. It ties neatly into the other movies (only two minor continuity quibbles remain unresolved), but stands out as the best of them. As a matter of fact, X-Men: First Class sets the blue-gold-standard for this year’s superhero movies — and frankly, I don’t think the others can beat it. Among all the other superhero movies, I rate this second only to The Dark Knight.

Verdict: extremely recommended.

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