Saturday, 18 November 2017

Hasegawa TBF-Avenger Eggplane #2

I bought a pair of these cutesy little Eggplanes donkey's years ago, at a Duxford IWM airshow. I built the first one some time back, and made a right hash of it. So I'm hoping my second attempt will be a bit better! Here goes...

Main bodywork assembled. Primed in Halfords matt grey.

Alongside my older build of the same model.

This time around I made a bit more effort (only a litle bit, mind) to smooth out some of the seams/joins. But I'm still not much of one for filling gaps. I find the tubes of filler paste/putty too messy, and liable to make things worse rather than better. Milliput is my favoured solution for filling, but it takes ages to cure. And I'm a bit impatient most of the time!

TBF Avenger #1: (Rather dusty!)
Note canopy misting, obscuring cockpit detailing.

As you can see from the picture above, of my first build of this model: masking the canopy is very laborious. 

But it is also quite Zen, and pretty satisfying once done. Last time around I masked both the inner and outer framework - i.e. two sets of masks, both internal and external - painting the inner surfaces green, and the outer blue. 

But all that hard work was for naught, as you can't see anything inside the cockpit, thanks to a mysterious misting of the 'glass'. Damn!!!

I thought that this time I might spray the colours on and then add Humbrol Clear later... perhaps even at the end? Doing it at the start seemed pointless, given the massive amount of handling that the complex framework masking inevitably entails.

Actually, having said this... in the end, I simply (!?) masked the outer framework, and then cleaned the inner 'glass' with isopropyl alcohol, before hand painting it with Humbrol Clear. 

After chatting with a buddy I also decided I could do the inner green frame painting on the outside of the 'glass' (and pretend I'd meant to do so all along!).

Canopy and cockpit areas masked.

These Eggplane models are probably about 20+ years old. Some of the decals have really deteriorated. On the last model some were so fissured with a kind of craquelure that they simply dissolved when placed in warm water, prior to application. This time I not only got the instrument panel in the cockpit on, but also the little propeller transfers. Fingers crossed this time I'll get all the decals in place!

The decal sheet. In a poor state due to old age!

As with my last TBF-Eggplane build, I made seatbelt straps. Previously I used Milliput. This time I used thin plastic-card. Milliput allowed me to make the straps more flexible, and shape them better to the seats. Plastic-card resulted in bigger, bolder straps, with a much more 3-D effect. I also detailed these a little better, with metal clips on the waist/belt straps. 

Hopefully I won't screw up the cockpit glass this time, and you'll actually be able to see inside!

The straps...

... chunkier than my previous attempt.

Note also tiny decals on prop' blades.

These Eggplanes are, of course, very silly. But they're great fun. I think I'll be getting more at some point. Maybe some Zeros? Or perhaps the Lockheed Lightning (at the top of the planes pictured below), in shiny silver, with the groovy twin-boom layout? I'm even tempted to go non-WWII, and do a Tomcat, or perhaps even a Space Shuttle... Hmmm???

Best finish this first.

I'm guessing this was the Eggplane range at the time my models were made.

This is the more modern packaging for the same model.

Righty-ho... Part II

After a brief hiatus, I managed to get in a few dribs and drabs of time almost every day, over the last four or five days, and have really moved the model on. Below is the masking for the white underbelly, and then the grey midriff. Note the use of blue-tac to mask areas that would later require gluing.

Canopy and engine masked.

Various areas blue-tac'ed.

The white underbelly, and the green inner canopy, painted externally.

Masked and sprayed in the midriff grey.

Despite the slow down I did a little bit almost every day, even if at a snail's pace! It's probably good to take masking and spraying slowly. 

Midway through spraying the grey, the aerosol ran out; the consistency of the new grey paint I had to nip out and buy, Humbrol acrylic, was - despite much vigorous shaking of the can - a lot thinner and more watery than the previous can. Annoying!

Working on detailing some of the sundry elements still to be glued in place.

It took several coats to get a decent grey coat on over the gloss white I'd sprayed prior to that. With the white underbelly and grey mid section in place, it was time to do the darker blue of the upper body/canopy, and upper wing surfaces. I did this using a standard Vallejo blue, mixed with a little water, applied with the airbrush.

Dammit! Every time I use the g'damn airbrush I have to break it down completely and clean it repeatedly, as it always seems to be clogged up, with insufficient airflow. It makes airbrushing rather onerous. 

But, after much cleaning, re-asseming, breaking-down again, and re-assembling again, etc, etc... Finally, and all of a sudden... boom! Once the blue has been sprayed on, and all the masking  removed, the model looks really different, and quite near completion.

 I added the few remaining bits and bobs: rockets, prop, wheels and aerial/antenna, and presto... looking pretty good!

The post-masking tape 'reveal'... a satisfying moment!

Mercifully the canopy came out much better this time around.

You can actually see the trouble I went to, detailing the interior.

So, all that remained were the decals, and a little bit more detailing, paint-job wise. As with my previous eggplane, some of the decals simply disintegrated. Fortunately the larger stars and bars type ones - I decided to use the blue and white only versions this time, for a little variety - held together. 

The I.D. numerals, however, simply crumbled. So I was forced to make a mask, and hand paint them. I did this also for the black bars on the upper wings near where they meet the fuselage.

Masking I.D. numerals on the tail-fin.

Adding the paint.

All the stars are in place, the black bars on the wings also...

... and the tail numbers.

Not perfect, nor even 100% finished. 

But good enough for me to get this post online!

'Fast and bulbous...' as a certain Cap'n once said.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Film Review: Churchill, The Hollywood Years, 2004

Yep, that's no balkenkreuz... Nil points!

Having just posted two five star/balkenkreuz reviews, I thought it was time I posted something a bit more harshly critical, just to show I'm not someone who loves everything I see, without any critical faculties whatsoever. [1]

However, one thing I would like to say, before getting on to the meat and potatoes, is that I don't ever want to be drawn into personal attacks and mudslinging. The web is full of such stuff, and I detest such goings on. I may criticise someone's point of view, or their performance, or whatever. But by and large if someone has something out there to be criticised I admire that person for their achievement, even if what they've achieved is not to my tastes.

Anthony Sher as Hitler. A Jewish actor as der Führer? Hilarious! If only...

Anyway, to business: I'm extremely glad that I paid only £1 for this DVD. Even at that low price I feel robbed. I spent, or rather wasted, 84 minutes of my life watching this dreadful dross. At least it's relatively short. Thank heavens for small mercies. I should've followed my instincts: one look at the cover was enough to tell me this looked like rubbish. But I allowed the idea, suggested by the title, to fool me. 

The idea of rewriting Churchill's life and achievements in a spoof Hollywood style is a basically sound one. One does get tired of seeing the Yanks rewriting history with them winning everything singlehandedly. Not only did Bon Jovi help capture the first Enigma (U-571), but they also staged the first massed daylight bombing raids (The 1,000 Plane Raid) [2]. Apparently this film is intended as a riposte to such things. I didn't notice. Perhaps in part because one of the references was to Pearl Harbour, another truly dreadful film I've seen, but wish I hadn't.

Hollywood does a far better job of sending itself up, in the 'Nam themed spoof Tropic Thunder.

The trouble is, as much as such a film needs to be made (Team America is a similar but better executed idea, as is Tropic Thunder), the execution in this instance leaves a lot - pretty much everything - to be desired. The acting is bad, the script is bad. It has the production values of a budget made-for-TV affair, when it needs to look epic, even if (hopefully) epically comic [3]. But I didn't laugh at all during this film. Truth be told, it was so bland and nothingy I couldn't even summon the energy to groan. Although there was plenty to groan about.

A portion of the British cast might be referred to as 'comedy royalty' [4]. Whilst many of them have done stuff worth seeing, in other (largely very different) contexts, the result here is decidedly less than the sum of the parts. None of the characters have any depth or dimension of any kind, other than to be facile and irritating, and consequently I couldn't have cared less about any of them. Indeed, one kind of wished that they might all be hastily dispatched, in some amusing manner [5]. No such luck. 

Churchill and Eisenhower.

Maxim magazine is quoted as describing this film as 'comedy genius' [6]. Comedy genius!? Dr Strangelove is comedy genius. This rubbish makes Tropic Thunder, which is merely quite funny, look like comic genius. I can remember practically nothing about it, which I regard as a small mercy. I do recall one godawful sequence, when Churchill (Christian Slater) and Denzil Eisenhower (Romany  Malco) take to the stage and perform a lame-ass rap version of The Siegfried Line. [7]

In my Amazon UK review of this I said I would give this no stars if I could. It's rubbish. The idea is excellent. Sadly the execution is woeful. And on here I do have the freedom to give it no stars/balkankreuz. Do yourselves a favour, watch Soft Beds, Hard Battles, Tropic Thunder, or better still, Doctor Strangelove, but don't waste your time (like I did!) on this tepid gutless bilge.


I haven't seen this yet, but it does look both sillier, and therefore probably funnier, Jackboots On Whitehall:

[1] Anyone who knows me personally knows that I can be a deeply critical, indeed, a downright ornery son of a gun. But that's amongst friends and family. In 'public life', even in the backwaters of small scale military blog land, one should be polite.

[2]  We should of course let them have the credit for these raids, as they were directed against civilian targets. Although in the Hollywood/American version what's bombed is a Luftwaffe factory.

[3] It was made in about twenty days, and you can tell.

[4] I'm pretty strongly anti-royalty, and agree with Thomas Paine: 'monarchy in every instance is the popery of government.' And I find it an inappropriate form of praise for anyone who's actually done anything commendable, as opposed to being born into a position of privileged eminence.

[5] Somethihg like the pills producing fatal flatulence that feature in Soft Beds, Hard Battles would've been about right.

[6] Mind you, Maxim has never been my first port of call for acutely insightful film reviews. And, to be fair, the full quote might've actually run thus: 'this film's utter crap, what they needed was some sort of comedy genius to rescue it'. 

[7] You can imagine the scene in a West London pub: 'We need a prominent black character... Denzil Washington? I know, let's get someone much cheaper, and they can be Denzil Eisenhower!' As to the attempt at an asynchronous musical schtick, it's funny when Marty McFly starts shredding at the 1950s College hop. But here, like everything about the film, it just doesn't work.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Film Review: The Vietnam War - Ken Burns, Lyn Novick (2017)

Ken Burns' The Civil War is rightly regarded as a classic, and - in America at least - is revered not just in itself, but for the way it helped reawaken an interest in that bloody cataclysm of the mid-nineteenth century. That series was about five years in the making.

'Grunts' on patrol.

Local peasants hiding in a ditch (soldiers in the background).

The Vietnam War took twice as long to produce. Why was this? Well, I reckon the proximity to the present has to be a major contributor; the Vietnam war took place only 50 odd years ago, as opposed to Civil War, which was more like 150 years ago. And consequently, with many of those involved or affected still alive, it's still very much a live issue, touching many a raw nerve.

I watched the series as it got its UK premiere on BBC4, as a series of double-bill instalments. And I was glued to the TV each Monday evening whilst it ran. Rather intriguingly, LBJ - Lyndon Baines Johnson - who became president when Kennedy was assassinated, and was responsible for the major escalation of the war in Vietnam, was also the chief architect of the 'Great Society', a vision which included the creation in America of National TV institutions akin to our BBC, namely PBS and NPR (Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio). 

Lyndon Johnson.

Tricky Dicky: Richard Nixon.

And Ken Burns appears to be the American heir to David Attenborough, in relation to Attenborough's influence as head of BBC2, when he commissioned such landmark documentary series as Civilisation. These serious minded 'sledgehammers', as they came to be known, epic documentary series that really took their time to examine a subject, were subsequently taken up even by commercial channels (e.g. ITV's superb World At War), and now, with Burns, have crossed the pond. Interestingly, Ken Burns has even been described using the very same compliment/epithet that's so often been bestowed on Attenborough, a 'national treasure'!

The anti-war movement grows, Stateside...

... polarising feeling amongst fellow Americans.

Listed below are the episode titles and brief synopses, which I've taken from the Wikipedia entry on the series:

1. Déjà Vu (1858 – 1961) - After a century of French occupation, Vietnam emerges independent but divided into North and South.

2. Riding the Tiger (1961 – '63) - As a communist insurgency gains strength, President Kennedy wrestles with American involvement in South Vietnam.

3. The River Styx (January '64 – December '65) - With South Vietnam near collapse, President Johnson begins bombing the North and sends US troops to the South.

4. Resolve (January '66 – June '67) - US soldiers discover Vietnam is unlike their fathers’ war, while the antiwar movement grows.

Vietnam was very much a helicopter war, for America.

Awaiting aerial rescue.

Casualties were taken from battlefield to hospital in as little as 15 minutes.

5. This Is What We Do (July '67 – December '67 - Johnson escalates the war while promising the American public that victory is in sight.

6. Things Fall Apart (January '68 – July '68) - Shaken by the Tet Offensive, assassinations and unrest, America seems to be coming apart.

7. The Veneer of Civilization (June '68 – May '69) - After chaos roils [sic] the Democratic Convention, Richard Nixon, promising peace, narrowly wins the presidency.

8. The History of the World (April '69 – May 1970) - Nixon withdraws US troops but when he sends forces into Cambodia the antiwar movement reignites.

9. A Disrespectful Loyalty (May '70 – March '73) - South Vietnam fights on its own as Nixon and Kissinger find a way out for America. American POWs return.

10. The Weight of Memory (March '73 – Onward) - Saigon falls and the war ends. Americans and Vietnamese from all sides search for reconciliation.

Tim o'Brien, in Vietnam.

Tim o'Brien now.

The series uses a mixture of documentary footage from the times and interviews with participants from all sides and levels, plaiting together the various threads concerning the roots of the war, and the experience of it in Northern and Southern Vietnam and back in the U.S. Starting out with the story of France's decline as an imperial power, and their eventual loss of Vietnam, which split itself in half in the process of shaking off colonial rule. 

In all just shy of 80 people are represented, in talking heads style interviews, ranging from civilians to soldiers, and insurgents to the political or military bigwigs. Some of the soldiers of both sides are remarkably eloquent. And some of them just have a certain charisma; in an interview for Vanity Fair Burns said “I have this recurring thought that, if some evil genie took away all our interviews but one, the one we would keep would be John Musgrave, and we’d make a different film and call it The Education of John Musgrave”.

John Musgrave before 'Nam...

... and after.

There are many great characters making many pithy observations in this excellent series. But somehow Musgrave stands out, with his quiet delivery, and the control of his clearly very deep feelings. Another character who exerts an uncommon power, and as a casualty of the war, a power from 'beyond the grave', is Denton 'Mogie' Crocker, who we follow by proxy, through pictures, his letters, and interviews with his family.

But it's not all just about the Yanks. We hear from the Vietnamese of both North and South, and those who were caught between the two. The Vietnamese character who sticks in my memory most, stood out from the many others by dint of not having Nguyen (pronounced 'Win'!) appear anywhere in his name, oh... and his shock of white hair! He was author and former North Vietnamese soldier Bảo Ninh. But in fact there are many interesting testimonies, both from ARVN and other South Vietnamese sources, and those who sided with the Communist North.

Nguyen Nguyet Anh drove trucks along the Ho Chi Minh Trail...

 ... for the North Vietnamese Army,’68-‘70

The ten episode series clocks in, Stateside, at just short of 18 hours long. The version aired on the BBC is shorter. Much shorter; at just ten hours, I'd call that too much shorter. When you're dealing with true quality, as with Burns you usually are, I always prefer to get more, not less. It seems to me the BBC is losing its way. It used to be more typical to hear of things working the other way round: we'd make a film, and then when the Americans got hold of it they would trim off what they considered to be the fat.

I'll definitely be seeking ways to see the full length version. 

Tran Ngoc Toan served with the ...

... South Vietnamese Marines, '62-75.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the series, 'there are scenes covering 25 battles, ten of which are detailed scenes documenting and describing the action from multiple perspectives'. An excellent NYTimes online article (find it here) breaks down one particular battle sequence from the series, Binh Gia, which falls into the 'multiple perspectives' category, in detail. Going through this helps one realise why it took Burns, Novick and co. a decade to make this series, and drives home what an achievement it is.

Thích Quảng Đức, Buddhist monk, self-immolates in protest. [1]

'General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon.' [2]

One of the most recognisable images of war... ever. [3]

After watching the series twice, once on TV, and then again on the BBC iPlayer, I started to Google it, to see what kind of response it was garnering. It was both very sad and yawn inducingly predictable to find elements of the U.S. right frothing at the mouth over it, seeing it as a liberal attack on American patriotism. 

Burns himself says that his role as a filmmaker isn't contributing to the defence of the nation per se, but to the quality of a culture that makes the nation worth defending. Touché! Merrill McPeak, a high ranking USAF figure, who took part in the war and this series, is one of those particularly eloquent servicemen, and he's clearly sympathetic to Burns' desire that the series might have a healing, reconciling effect, but concludes, in an interview elsewhere '[It's] Not going to happen.'

Keith Harris in 'Nam.

Keith Harris now.

In an interview with Gabrielle Gurley, for The American Prospect, Burns also says that in making The Vietnam War 'we didn’t have to say these people are right; these people are wrong. We just said, listen to all of this ... We have no political axe to grind. If you look at the underwriting credits, I went out and got funders from across the political spectrum.'

I originally gave this four and a half balkenkreuz. I mean, it's very good. But it's not perfect. Then again, in the real world, what is? Precious little. After seeing the series two, and now getting on for three times, however, I want to give it five. I think the massively cut UK version merits just four stars; not for the quality of what's on screen, but for the vast amount of what's lost. The American full fat version, I'd definitely give five stars.


Ken Burns.

Burns himself became eligible for the draft in 1972 (the year I was born, as it happens!). Aged 11 when the U.S. involvement in the war started, and faced with being forced to take part in it when he didn't believe in it ideologically, thus has extra personal resonance. A quite long article online, from The Washington Post (here) goes into some detail about these issues, and Lyn Novick's role in the production, and is interesting reading.


[1] Read more about Thích Quảng Đức.

[2] This is another of those iconic images thrown up by this terrible conflict. Read more about it here.

[3] Phan Thi Kim Phuc is the naked young girl at the centre of the picture, taken by photograher Nick Ut. If you read about her you'll discover that she's now living in Canada - also, interestingly, the country Americans could go to in order to avoid the 'Nam draft - and is still undergoing surgery as a consequence of the napalm attack in 1972, 45 years ago.