Friday 22 July 2016

Film Review: Battle of Neretva, 1969

It's great that nowadays we can now get hold of films from Eastern Europe and what was once 'behind the iron curtain' pretty easily. I recently enjoyed the five film Russian epic, Liberation, and I also have the legendary Come & See in my pending pile.

Battle of Neretva is a multinational effort, released in 1969, about Yugoslav partisans under Tito, and follows the fate of these Communist guerrillas as they fight the Germans and their various allies, who include Italians and Chetniks.

There's a great scene near the beginning of the film showing numerous italian troop types disembarking from a train.

In some ways this film suffers from propagandistic oversimplification, markedly more so than the Soviet Liberation series. And yet it also shows both sides, sometimes even with a degree of equanimity. It certainly doesn't baulk at depicting the horrors of war, and inhumane acts are committed by both sides.

Orson Welles as the Chetnik Senator.

And in showing the Chetniks - lead by Orson Welles! - it reflects the ethnic and political divisions within a country that was made up of many nationalities, and was being fought over by even more nationalities, some indigenous, some not. The Chetnik army is mainly tribal cavalry, which is interesting to see.

Despite the poor transfer quality (from video!) [1], some pretty wooden acting, a soundtrack that - despite the film thankfully being subtitled [2] - has the feel of being dubbed, being rather long (and feeling it), and not being particularly smoothly constructed, in narrative terms, Battle of Neretva still has much to recommend it.

Yul Brynner, as engineer Ivan Vlado, and Lozje Rozman (also an Ivan!) [3].

For starters there are a number of decent actors, some familiar to us (from the world famous Orson Welles and Yul Brinner, to what might be called the WWII famous, such as Curd Jurgens and Hardy Kruger), some not. Then there's the epic scale of it. And finally there's the story it tells, of a very multinational conflict in a theatre of war generally ignored in the Western movie tradition.

It's out of this latter aspect that the best aspects of the film derive: some of the mountainous landscapes, with patches of forest and ancient towns and villages, are really amazing, and much of the fighting occurs in daunting terrain, or appalling weather. There's lots of snow and mud!

Milena Dravic, as partisan comrade Nada.

The real McCoy... scary!

Women are active participants, which is interesting, as is the theme of the partisans looking after their wounded, including the 'typhus people'. Typhus sufferers are portrayed almost as one imagines medieval plague sufferers were viewed, as 'holy madmen', particularly in the character of Bosko. Aspects of the folkloric parts of the indigenous cultures - folksongs, costumes and dances - are also included, which is also interesting. 

The uniforms and equipment are as diverse as the mixed ethnicities. Some will be annoyed by the use of Russian (and even American!) tanks as German - there a few tanks disguised (fairly poorly) as Tiger I's. But on the other hand, in terms of small-arms and artillery, it's quite impressive. The frequent use of Axis MG34/42 type guns in a mobile hand-held Rambo-like manner is quite something!

A German Sherman!

A German T-34!

Not sure if the car is genuine Axis/German materiél. But at least they tried to disguise some of the T-34s as Tiger Is. 'Tis only a pity they didn't do more in that line.

The combat scenes are spectacular. No expense was flared, and large amounts of Russian armour and other vehicles were used. Many of the battles are odd in one way or another, for example with individuals duelling over long distances. But they are, for the most part, large in scale, pretty (sometimes very) exciting, and generally quite impressive, if not always entirely credible. There are also several non-combat set-pieces that are pretty stunning.

So, all things considered, a very mixed bag. Hopefully one day we'll see a better version, in terms of image and soundtrack quality. But it's an interesting film about an interesting and less well-known (to us) part of WWII. 

Definitely worth checking out.


[1] When the DVD arrived I initially thought it might be a pirated copy, as the images of the stars - even those used in the cover montage image, but especially those that comprise the trio of 'portraits' atop the cover - looked grainy, as if they'd been photocopied! 

[2] As with most Eastern Bloc/Eastern European subtitled films I've seen thus far, the subtitles aren't brilliantly done. They are, however, at least a lot crisper (and thus easier to read) than the film image itself!

[3] Slovenian actor Lojze appears on the right of the three cover portraits; under his picture German actor Hardy Krüger's name is given!

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Kit Build & Review: Revell 1/72 Sopwith Triplane

This is only my second WWI aircraft model, and, as with the first, a Sopwith Camel, I'm almost surprised to find myself favouring British hardware over German! A trip to see the Shuttleworth Collection inspired me to buy and build this kit, with a view to making it look something like theirs.

The Shuttlworth Sopwith Triplane, incompletely restored, as it was when I visited.

Actually that ended in creating a few difficulties, as that particular plane recently crash-landed, and still wasn't fully restored at the time I saw it. So I had to seek out further reference pics online, so as to check a few details. The Shuttleworth Sopwith Triplane still hasn't had the cowling on the nose repainted, or the prop put back on. And she has wire-spoked wheels, as opposed to the usual solid wheels you see on Sopwith fighters.

The undersides of the wings are very nearly white, in my pics from Shuttleworth. But I noted that most Sopwith Triplanes, including this one prior to the crash, usually have that creamy latté colouring on the undersides. I'm not sure what I'll do; leave it white, or go for the coffee colour?

Masking viewed from above...

... and below.

After spraying the underbelly etc. white, I masked those areas off, ready for a coat of chocolate brown. It was quite a while between doing the masking, and, today - finally and for the first time ever! - using my (fairly) recently acquired airbrush.

I mixed Vallejo acrylics in the reservoir of the airbrush, and diluted the resultant colour with a little water. Although I was chuffed to finally start airbrushing, I wasn't altogether happy with the colour. So I boldly mixed a better shade, and hand painted a diluted layer, almost a wash, over the airbrushed coat of paint.

I'm now fairly happy with the colour I achieved, even though it still doesn't quite match the colour on the postcard of the plane that I'm referring to for ref. I'm leaving it here for the night now. Hopefully tomorrow I'll finish the landing gear and prop. Then it's just decals, rigging, and (perhaps?) some weathering.

The kit itself, probably quite an old tool, so to speak*, is OK. Like the Sopwith Camel it's a simple, minimal kit. There's some flash to be cut away, and ejector pin nodules to remove, or holes to fill. Parts fit OK, but with some gaps or less than ideal alignment. But these kits are cheap, quick and easy to build, and good fun. I intend to build more!

* It struck me that this phrase might aptly describe many an ageing modeller, myself included!

An older version of the model, at least in terms of packaging.


Lassitude won out tonight. I had hoped to do a fair bit more to the Sopwith Triplane. But all I did was attach the prop and the landing gear, and touch up some little details paint-wise. Decals, rigging, detailing and weathering will have to dance attendance upon time and energy!

I do like the 'chocolate triplane' look!

The pilot can be seen better in this shot. Still plenty to be done!

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Film Review: Stalingrad, 1992

I first saw this film in an execrably dubbed version, several years ago. Because my memories of that weren't good at all, I hesitated over buying the 'fully restored' version. But I'm ever so glad I did. It really is superb.

The film tells the story of a group of soldiers who we meet on leave in Italy, 1942, after their return from active service in North Africa. Most of the key characters whose fate this film charts are at a beach, looking after their former platoon commander, who is a near basket-case, wheelchair-bound and raving. Late for a medal presentation parade, they meet their new commander. They don't all get off to the best of starts.

'Rollo' (Jochen Nickel), playing cards with Lupo (J. Alfred Mehnert).

Leutnant Hans von Witzland (Thomas Kretschman) on parade with his new charges... nice trousers!

Witzland, distributing awards to his new men, addresses Obergefreiter Fritz Reiser (Dominique Horwitz)

Aboard a troop train their new commander, Leutnant Hans von Witzland (Thomas Kretschmann, perhaps better known to contemporary audiences as ships Captain Englehorn, in Peter Jackson's King Kong remake), informs them that they're on their way to Stalingrad. Grizzled older combat veteran Unteroffizier Manfred "Rollo" Rohleder (Jochen Nickel) bets their green and squeaky-clean new officer that he'll outlive him.

All of this sets up the film for the groups arrival at the front, where they immediately see all is not well, as they pass hordes of wounded who are clearly neither happy nor well attended to. Leutnant Witzland tries to protest when he witnesses the maltreatment of Soviet prisoners, but is laughed off by a creepy senior office in specs, Hauptmann Haller (Dieter Okras), who we'll see more of later.

The Germans attack the factory.

Fritz, none too pleased to be carrying the flamethrower, by the looks of it.

At this point, after Witzland meets the brass (during a prayer meeting!), the movie moves into the combat zone proper, with a fierce and bloody attack on a factory complex. I personally think it's supremely well done. Gear nuts and uniform fetishists - and let's face it, how many wargamers and modellers aren't both? - will love the authenticity of the costumes and materiel. [1]

Things then get, and remain, very brutal. The soldiers we are following soon find themselves cut off, and a small group enter the sewers to try and connect with their parent unit. I'll leave off the narrative exposition at this point, since, as ever, I don't want to spoil things for readers who haven't seen the movie as yet. What I will say is that the soldiers we are following find themselves in plenty more tight spots, and there's a good deal of footage showing the winter biting hard, including another superb combat sequence.

A Pak 38, small arms, and magnetic mines, against T-34s and Russian infantry..

Vilsmaier doesn't spare us any gore.

Vilsmaier has said himself that he sought to depict the full brutality and ugliness of war, and knew that he might well offend some in doing so. Perhaps ironically, whilst the film is relentlessly grim, and undoubtedly intended as an anti-war tonic, something to shock us and prevent us repeating history, it could be argued that it might be as attractive to new viewers for its 'war porn' brutality [2] as for anything else.

During their jolly jaunt in the subterranean sewers - one of several stunning locations - Edgar Emigholz (Heinz Emigholz) is severely wounded. The group attempt to get him treated at an understaffed hospital...

... spirits and temperatures plummet.

Vilsmaeir's wife plays the only female with more than a minor role, as a Russian soldier whose path crosses with our group on several occasions. The film is very good in that, although we follow the Germans, it doesn't really take sides, but simply shows the conflict in all its bestial intensity. We see plenty of Russians, and their civilian population, and the Germans range from humane and heroic to barbarously brutal, with many of them simply enduring their suffering in mute disbelief, as do all parties.

Whenever the odious Hauptmann Haller appears, you know it's not going to be good.

We first meet a young Russian kid, Kolya during the factory battle episode, after which he appears to abscond in the confusion of battle. Then, later, we meet him again.

This film doesn't really seek to address Nazism as such, except in one or two very brief moments. But there are many other films that do explore that issue. This film, like Das Boot [3], doesn't set out to examine that subject so much as the fate of the ordinary man, as a soldier, caught up in something appalling, and, very largely, out of their control. 

Having said this, Stalingrad doesn't duck the issue of complicity in inhumane atrocities, with one particularly gruelling scene forcing the men we're following to dirty their hands irretrievably.

After the snow fight...

Fritz, Ge-Ge, Hans and Rollo.

All in all, superb. And thank goodness there's now a decent subtitled version, so we can experience this film as it was intended to be seen.


The most important thing when watching this movie is, I feel, to get the right version. I think the dubbed version is nigh on unwatchable, turning a superb film into a (frozen) turkey. In case it helps, the new version, pictured at the top of this post, is copyright 2014, says it's 'fully restored', and makes a point of mentioning thats it's in the original language, with subtitles. 

The one to avoid, at least in the form I have a copy of it, has a cover more like the image shown below. Not only do the dubbed voices sound disembodied, but there are no subtitles for the expository texts, or the moments when Russian is spoken, or even the speech by Hitler that the soldiers listen to on the radio after the battle for the factory.

[1] There's an interesting wiki type website here that lists the weapons you can observe in the film.

[2] From the apparently earnest Saving Private Ryan, or the HBO Pacific mini-series, to the more overtly wish-fulfilment fantasies of Fury or Inglorious Bastards, it cannot be doubted that some viewers will get off on the violence depicted in war films.

[3] The older of my two versions claims Stalingrad was made by the same production team that made Das Boot. The newer version doesn't make this claim/connection. I glanced at production credits for both films, and couldn't see Vilsmaier named in the Das Boot credits. Does anybody know who, if anyone, worked on both?

The real McCoy...

... Stalingrad pays a moving tribute to all who suffered in this infernal cauldron.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Kit build/review: Revell 1/72 Sd.Kfz. 7/1 w flak & trailer

I built one of these some while ago (see my earlier post here). Somewhat more recently I went back to that as yet unfinished model and drilled out loads of holes in the rear side panels. I enjoyed this model - both the original build and my drilling odyssey - so much I decided I wanted to build another.

This time I resolved to start the model by drilling the holes in the side panels, as opposed to removing them from a near finished model, with the risk of damaging them, as I did last time. I also drilled out the flak gun barrels in advance. I imagine I'll go back to the older model and do this as well. Mind you, doing that to an assembled gun - the tiny thin barrels are so flimsy at this small scale - seems fraught with risks!

This time I got all the side-panel drilling out of the way at the start!

The superb running-gear assembly: crisply and cleanly moulded, well designed; goes together like a dream.

Like so.

I'm not sure, but I think I read somewhere that this kit had been retooled recently. It does feel a little different from the previous model I made. Any differences, if there are indeed any, are probably for the better. And in an already excellent kit, that's quite something! The design and fit of parts, especially the running-gear and tracks, are superb. And these tracks are hands down my favourite of any kit I've built thus far.

Regarding the tracks; the instructions say to soften them in warm water. I find they don't necessarily need this. But, having said that, on both occasions of building these models, the tracks have come apart in several places. Perhaps the softening step would prevent this? I suspected it might make the problem worse, so didn't bother. Might well try it on another build tho'. Hmmm?

Completing the chassis.

Beginning assembly of the cab.

There's plenty of nice chassis detail, with winch, fuel tanks and exhaust, etc., all nicely formed. One day I'll really go to town on one of these, and paint it more obsessively. But on this (and the last) occasion, I'm keeping it relatively straightforward. 

Barrels drilled out.

Holes drilled on the rear deck gun platform.

Upper bodywork ready for construction.

Brush painted cab interior.

What's that box to the left of the seats? A battery, perhaps?

I painted the cab interior at this point, as I did last time as well. I'm thinking that on this occasion I might build the vehicle as if parked, with the sides down, manned and ready to fire. So I may well have the cab doors open this time. I might even paint some of the chassis elements a bit - fuel tanks, winch, etc. - although I won't go overboard, as these will be wargaming pieces, not display models.

Some time later... I did go ahead and paint some of the chassis detail, etc. I enjoyed doing so, and felt it was looking ok, but... well, you'll see later!

Painting the chassis...

Having considered modelling the sides down, I went instead with 'up', like my other version!

A view of the cab interior, and all those holes I drilled!

Applying more paint to the underbelly.

Ready to commence building the flak 38.

Mid-assembly. It's a terrific little kit within a kit!

Atop a cork, for easier handling.

Preparing the trailer for construction.

I'll have one of the panels open, with ammo boxes inside, and sundry stowage on the roof.

Building a wire 'A-frame' stand for the trailer...

... in situ.

White plastic foot and hinge fittings added...

... and more supporting doodads at rear.

At this point our preparations for our imminent move to a new home took precedence. I did actually do more on the model (and this post!), but the update was lost during one of the many super-crappy network coverage outage moments we suffer from in this locality.

Consequently I've lost the part where I base-coated all three components parts - 1/2-track, gun, trailer - with the matt grey car undercoat I'm using, and instead I'll end this post with the kit in her dunkelgelb dressing, as she currently stands.