Tuesday 31 October 2017

Film Review: Fury, 2014

I just finished watching this. For the - I think? - fourth time. Each time I watch it, I like it a bit more. The first time I watched it, I just thought the 'macho pose' factor, and the final scene - gunfight on the Sherman corral - were just too much. More on this particular episode later.

In the picture above the cast/crew of Fury are, l-r: Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena, Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman (behind Pitt), and Shia LaBeouf, as, respectively: Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis, Trini "Gordo" Garcia, Don "Wardaddy" Collier, Norman "Machine" Ellison and Boyd "Bible" Swan.

However, with each new viewing I think it's a better film. The ending is a bit, er... no, make that very OTT. But I've gone from finding it merely ridiculous, to enjoying it for what it is, cinematic overstatement. And the characterisation? Well, the macho factor is hard to acclimatise to, and the Hollywood tradition of using 'good ol' Southern boy' accents as a shorthand for gritty authenticity, still irks me. Just less so. [1]

What makes the film better with each viewing are, for one thing, the abundance of little details. It's taken a long time. But these days it's much more usual for WWII movies to depict not just weapons and equipment more accurately, but also combat environments generally, and all the stuff that goes with them; bombed-out towns, refugees caught in the crossfire, behind the lines scenes, etc.

Director Ayers and Pitt, in a muddy camp scene.

And despite the über machismo caveat, the cast in this film are actually pretty good, giving good performances. Watching the extras on the DVD one realises that meeting real WWII veterans, and going to movie 'bootcamp', with genuine military guys on hand to train them, all had salutary and useful effects on the actors. And I think these things help make Fury better than it might, at first glance, appear to be.

Initially I thought some of the actors rather wooden.

On first veiwing I thought it was a pretty dumb film, frankly. Populated by wooden caricatures. But there's a degree of sad truth in the way men gravitate towards defined roles under duress. So the characterisation might not be as two-dimensional as I originally thought. Certainly the mixture of brutality and camaraderie, or the good and bad sides of humanity, as brought out by warfare, aren't easy or comfortable viewing. But in that respect, this film depicts war honestly and authentically.

Two major themes that resonate most compellingly within the film are: the struggle between the degrading animalistic violence of war, and our more civilised compassionate side; and the family like bonds that develop under such extremes of duress. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier is, both literally and metaphorically, the father figure in the tank (and the tank is the family home!). He dishes out tough love, but he earns the respect and loyalty of his crew.

'Wardaddy' in one of his several father figure roles, helping 'Machine' pop his cherry.

'Wardaddy' as bad dad, making Norm' pop a cap in a defenceless Kraut's ass.

In his role as father figure, 'Wardaddy' helps Norman 'Machine' Ellison both gain experience and lose his innocence, in two notable and significant ways: scoring with a pretty German girl, and killing a German POW. Both scenes are really quite troubling, in their own different ways. Some have said they find the interlude with the female German civilians improbable. Well, I dunno... my reading of war diaries (and histories), from conflicts in all eras suggests that fraternisation, all the way to intimacy - both consensual and otherwise - is very normal.

Whilst the moral issues in the film are certainly very complex, even if initially they appear to be handled rather too simplistically, there are technical aspects that military buffs such as us model-makers and wargamers are bound to love. Shot largely in England, they used Bovington's Tiger 131 for the deadly encounter with that famed German tank. How many films are spoiled because of inaccurate matériel? It's clear that Ayers and co really wanted authenticity, probably in all aspects, but certainly in terms of gear. And that really helps the movie.

Bovington's Tiger, 131, is magnificent.

Whilst Ayers tried to avoid CGI, he did use it for tracer round effects

A very moody production shot; location, Oxfordshire!

Shermans, also supplied by Bovington, in action.

Fury takes a hit. Fortunately not fatal.

The final shoot-out with 'Jerry' is brought about when Fury rolls over a mine and loses wheels/track. Their platoon, reduced to just one vehicle from four, after the encounter with the Tiger, is supposed to hold a cross-roads/sector. Given the suicidal circumstances, the seasoned crew want to get out. Jaded old 'Wardaddy' - with shades of a deathwish - wants to stay. Young 'Machine' decides to remain with him, after which the old crew are shamed into staying also.

The claustrophobia of conditions within the tank is superbly conveyed

'Gordo' drives whilst viewing the outside world through a tiny periscope vision slot.

The commander in his turret; looks quite roomy compared to the other crew areas.

Whilst this segment of the film is, well, speaking candidly, fun, from a shoot 'em up point of view, it's both rather silly, and - partially in consequence of the former fact - morally troubling. It really reminds me of the old Westerns, with the cowboys wasting hordes of faceless Indians. And the double standard in terms of the value of life, between 'goodies' and 'baddies', is only enhanced by the alternation between the constant noise and combat as Germans are massacred, and the moments of solemn silence whenever one of 'our boys' cops it. Whilst this is undoubtedly televisually very powerful, it's also a dramatic conceit that's both morally dubious, and highly unrealistic.

The ending owes much to this sort of thing.

And don't just take my word for this: Bill Betts, a British Sherman tank veteran, admires certain scenes in Fury, such as the Tiger pasting the Shermans [3]. But here's what he said about the end: 'I thought the film showed accurately how tough life could be in a tank, but the final scene where the crew hold out against a battalion of Waffen SS troops was too far fetched. The Germans seemed to be used as canon fodder. In reality they would have been battle-hardened and fanatical troops who would have easily taken out an immobile Sherman tank using Panzerfausts.'

The German cannon fodder, arriving at the crossroads.

This film does have its faults. But, where I would've given it three out of five stars/balkenkreuz after my first viewing, and four after viewings two/three, now, on the fourth time around, I have to confess I love it. And so, to reflect that, whilst my heart wants to give it five, I'll settle for four and a half: I do love it, but it's certainly not perfect. Indeed, it's fairly flawed, in some respects. But I love it nonetheless!


Lafayette Green Pool, the original 'Wardaddy'!

[1] Having said this, I learned, during my online research for this review, that the nickname 'Wardaddy' was in fact the real nickname of a U.S. tank commander. And the 'real' Wardaddy, one  Lafayette G. Pool, was indeed a Texan (he even allegedly wore cowboy boots in preference to army issue boots!).

[2] Here's a short movie about Tiger 131's involvement in the filming of Fury.

[3] Betts also recalled, in relation to the scene showing the execution of a german POW, disarming a 55 year old member of the Volksturm, only to learn later that he was shot. Read the full article here.

Sunday 29 October 2017

1/72 Armourfast Shermans

Armourfast themselves sell these kits for £7.50 per box; I recently acquired four of their several different Sherman variants at Euro Miniature Expo, for £6.75 each. Considering you get two tanks per box I think that's pretty good value, in terms of cost per tank.

However, these are most definitely wargaming models; Dragon or Trumpeter they ain't. If you're buying tanks for a wargaming army, as indeed I am, the fact they're cheap, simple to build, and - due to their simplicity and lack of fine detail - robust enough to withstand frequent handling, are all potential pluses.

Simple kits = easy/quick build.

Assembly line in production!

'Finescale' modellers, looking for display-case suitable single vehicles should look elsewhere. For myself, I don't mind - in fact I quite enjoy - the detailing and/or conversion of my models. Fabricating my own detailing for these Armourfast Shermans has been a fun project. 

I started by adding all the 'eyelet' type rings; I think these are for lifting the tanks during transportation, but possibly also they're for mounting cables/stowage, etc. After that I made the 'wire-frame' style doodads that I suppose are for covering/protecting the headlamps. This was harder, and more time consuming. I'm currently pondering how I might add track-tread detail, to the visible fore and aft portions of the tracks.

Wire eyelets added.

At the rear of the turrets I opted to use styrene for the final eyelets.

The models not only lack detail, but come without decals. Armourfast sell some suitable stuff by Black Lion via their website. They also stock/sell numerous add-ons, such as stowage and the like, for detailing their tanks. The extra costs in these areas, plus the time you might choose to spend working on these very basic kits to enhance them, make them more costly in real terms than the box price might suggest. But they'll still come in cheaper per tank than the more high end models.

Headlamp protection, attempts #1 and #2: left, too big/thick; right, too fiddly to mass-produce.

Left, nigh on invisible, right, too big!

Attempt #3, using plastic-card. Much better.

I also recently purchased a box of Plastic Soldier Co. Shermans. These come three to the box (this said, my box - bought at local charity shop for £5 - only had two!), and are slightly more detailed, with more pieces to assemble: of particular note, the Armourfast running gear (wheels and tracks) are one piece castings, lacking tread detail (which can be a nice aspect of the various Sherman types), whereas PSC are three piece, with much better detailed track. But, in the end, the PSC kits end up costing the same per tank, roughly, as Armourfast models.

Tow-cable eyelets added to all six U.S. Shermans [1].

Scrtach-building a pair of sirens.

The sirens in situ.

Rear lamps were also added.

The M4A2 75mm variants got several tools added at rear.

The M4A3 105mm (centre) have less rear detail; M4A3 75mm (right) sport large stowage bins.

So, if you're looking to build quick/cheap larger forces, Armourfast are, economically, a wise choice. If you find the fun of kit building resides in off-the-shelf hyper detail, buy a different brand. If you like detailing stuff yourself, as I do, then the limitations of these models present an interesting challenge. All told, balancing the lack of detail against value per model, I'd rate these at four stars/balkankreuz.

Halfords matt grey undercoat.

Viewed from the rear.

Humbrol acrylic olive Drab aerosol sprayed on.

And from behind...

So, that's how they look at present. The losing of my Images of War reference - I bought a book dedicated to pictures of Shermans in WWII at the recent Expo, specifically to help me detail these kits - is very galling. I'll return to these at some point soon, to add more stowage, populate them with some figures, add decals, and then, finally, weather them, etc.


[1] I've built the Armourfast Sherman Firefly variant, a British type, but they're not covered in this post.

Saturday 28 October 2017

1/72: Allied Vehicles, various

In order to get another post in, after yet another hiatus, here's one about a few recent builds. I've still been making German stuff - I have a whole heap of Pz IIIs, IVs (some of these can be seen on the shelf below the titular Allied Vehicles of this post, in the pic above), and a few SdKfz 251s, all currently on the go - but I've also made a start on various Allied/enemies bits and bobs. 

As well as in the region of 10 various different types of Sherman tank (more on these soon), by several different model manufacturers, I'm really getting into the rear-echelon stuff. On the middle shelf pictured above can be seen, l-r, an Austin K2 ambulance and Fordson WOT 1A (both from an Airfix RAF emergency vehicle set), a load of Academy American vehicles (Dodge WC 54 ambulance, 2.5 ton truck, Willys Jeep, and Clarkson tractor), and a Russian Zis 5 BS fuel tanker, by AER/PST

Experiment #1 in making headlamps: punching
discs from plastic card with applied foil.

Clear plastic 'glass' added. Original grey styrene 
headlamps visible above (notably smaller!).

Scratch-built headlamps attached to cab, and masked, along
with windows. Note also addition of bar and disc.

I put a lot of effort into some of these, not just making plastic windscreens, but adding extra details, such as foil and clear plastic headlights, and various other odds and sods. However, as is typical with me, none are really 100% finished. Nor, I have to confess, am I that happy with any of them. But hey-ho. They're near enough finished, and I might as well try and enjoy them for what they are. My perfectionist streak shan't be allowed to rob me of the small pleasures these small treasures can/ought to provide!

Component parts of the Fordson WOT 1A.

Blocking in driver and interior colours. Fiddly painting
assembled interior! Couldn't fit the driver in either.

Constructing wing mirrors.

Opted for thinner wire supports for mirrors.

Fordson assembled: wheels weathered; note added
pipe and handle on water cannon.

The wheel weathering looks better on this side. Note also
added torch on left of cab.

Masking wheels prior to RAF grey/blue base coat.

Base coat applied.

Starting to block in other colours, and some detail.

Wheel hub masks removed.

Headlamp interlude: adding lamps to ZIS 5 BS.

Foil superglued in place. 

Glass superglued in place. K2 ambulance in background.

The finished headlamps. I'm reasonably pleased by 
the results. Prob' ought to be covered tho'!

Gloss varnish applied, pre-weathering.

And viewed from t'other side.

Hmmm? Not too chuffed with pin-wash/weathering.

Dull and messy looking. 

Pin wash not sitting in recesses satisfactorily.

The gloss varnish, rather ironically, dulls the metallic
colours on the water cannon.

Headlamps and searchlight torch foil and 'glass' unmasked.

I couldn't find much in the way of decals for the Fordson WOT 1A. And I might've put the wrong ones in place of registration plates. I just used a 7 numeral form a random sheet for the yellow plate. And I had to paint the RAF roundel by hand, mostly, after an attempt at freehand concentric masking failed, on attempt #1. As per usual, my clear plastic glass never satisfies me, coming out too mucky - from the gluing process - without resembling real 'scale' dirt.

RAF roundel: blue circle masked (2nd attempt!), 
white and red hand painted.

Window mask of ZIS 5 BS removed.

Weathering, although very basic, worked better on this vehicle.
Fire  extinguishers need a bit more detailing.

Fordson WOT 1A, ZIS 5 BS, and 'Katy' K2 ambulance.