Saturday 24 October 2020

Film Review: 1917, 2019

Finally got around to watching this film, having originally intended to do so, pretty much, from when it first came out, some time last year. But despite seeing trailers at the pictures that whetted the appetite, we never actually got round to it. At the time of writing this, however, we'd started out watching The Devil's Own, with Brad Pitt and Harrison Fjord, on Amazon Prime. But didn't get along with that at all.

1917 was much more enjoyable and entertaining. Far from perfect, but at least engaging enough we watched it all, and mercifully nowhere near as annoying as Americans getting dewy-eyed about all things Oirish, even 'Da Troubles'. 

Lance Corporals Tom and Will set out through the wire. [1]

I won't synopsise the plot beyond the barest sketch: two men are sent to take a message across no man's land to a nearby unit, cancelling the latter's planned attack, scheduled for 6am the following day, which intelligence suggests is a trap. One of the two lance-corporals given this fool's errand has an older brother who's an officer in the potentially doomed attacking force, as extra motivation.

It's a strange movie, mixing modern views on The Great War - over representing certain ethnic groups ahistorically, and foisting modern values on to characters (and ignoring class hierarchies, etc.) in a not entirely convincing manner - with an obvious desire to render aspects of WWI believably. 

Van Halen's 'Jump' comes to mind ... 'Go ahead, and  Jump!' [2]

Cameos from a number of famous British luvvies include brief turns from Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedictus Cucumberpatch, whose performances sit a little oddly in contrast with the two main protagonists, who are - to me at least - unknown. I found them, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, rather lacking in charisma, which lessened any emotional investment.

During the longish trip through no-man's land they prattle away in a manner that I found pretty odd, for two soldiers in fear of their lives in potentially enemy occupied territory. This is followed by an aerial-combat interlude that seems both a bit far-fetched in its ultimate outcome and somewhat heavy-handed. Given what the movie depicts, I found it all strangely flat and uninvolving. I still enjoyed it enough to watch the whole thing. But it's far from being a classic.

Mark Strong, one of the better known faces in the cast. [3]

Reading a bit about it online after seeing it, I discovered that there was something of a fuss being made over the entire film being shot in such a way that it was, or appeared to be, just two continuous takes. I have to say I didn't notice this at all. Nor was the film as a whole particularly groundbreaking in any way, technically or otherwise. At least not in ways that I found notable. Indeed, whenever I became aware of the artifice of the movie, it was usually mostly for looking or sounding somewhat derivative, as is so much modern culture. Or else seeming a bit contrived, such as the aeroplane crash, or the hand-to-hand fight in a barn/warehouse.

Hitchcock is famed for the kind of directorial sleights of hand some seem to be lauding 1917 for, and when he does it - as overly stylised as it very often is (as in the movie Rope, for example) - it's both noticeable, impressive and very beguiling. Here it's more workmanlike, to my mind. And occasionally the balance tips rather too much towards form over content, as during the 'lit by flares' townscape sequence.

Very visually striking... seductively so, even? [4]

All in all, I'd say this is a rather odd and unbalanced film. One minute looking like a shoestring buddy movie - esp. during one segment of their amiably chatty cross-country ramble though no-man's land -  the next like a military epic. And, whilst eminently watchable, it's both patchy and a bit incoherent. And it certainly overlays an overly heavy dose of 'our times/views' over the historic elements, rather weakening its appeal for me.

Learning a bit about the story's roots in Sam Mendes grandfather's WWI experiences was interesting. But, alas, the film itself didn't really get any of that personal aspect across, for me. So, in conclusion... worth watching, perhaps. But I'm certainly not raving about it! And I'm kind of glad we didn't fork out the exorbitant sums cinemas charge these days to see it.


[1] One of the best things about this film are the mise-en-scene; this one, as they go across no man's land, is very well realised, visually.

[2] At least it does for me. But there are reasons: Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist, recently passed away, and I've been studying Jump and other Van Halen songs with many of my drum pupils since then, in tribute. Eddie's brother Alex Van Halen is/was their drummer, and a very, very good one. A great camera angle, for this shot, by the way. Technically it's a well-made movie.

[3] Sadly not even Strong, Firth or Cucumber-patch can save this film from its own 3rd Millenium failings, chief of which is to treat history to PC Bowdlerisation, and foist local/contemporary sensibilities on other times and places. Indeed, their cult of personality film-star presence might even contribute to such problems, as good as they undeniably are as actors. The particular scene in which Strong's character first appears is, to me, a pretty bizarre and implausible one. Yet it's essential in the overall development of the film.

[4] But looking more like a scene from a pop video than real WWI. The whole scene, despite the mud and ruins, is way too pristine. Where's all the detritus of war: materiel, clothes, dead bodies, etc?

Thursday 22 October 2020

Film Review: Enemy at the Gates, 2001

The first time I watched this I quite enjoyed it. The second time, I couldn't even finish it. It irritated the feck out of me! My major issue with it is the Hollywood himbos/bimbos casting: Jude Law, Joe Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are all just too g'damn pretty for Russian proles. And the whole thing winds up being, despite the dirtiness and blitzed settings, too clean and soft.

The production is pretty impressive, and I love war movies set on the Ostfront, just for their subject alone. They have to annoy me quite badly, as this has wound up doing, to put me off multiple viewings. Ed Harris is better and more believable as ruggedly Aryan German sniper, Major König. And there are several cameos from actors I sometimes dig, like Ron Perlman and Bob Hoskins. But neither shines here.

Pretty boys, er... I mean comrades... at war.

The real Vasili Zaitsev.

I think what's worst about this film is the foisting onto it of the whole romantic schtick, with the love triangle 'twixt peasant sharpshooter Vasily Zaytsev (Law), bespectacled intellectual Commisar Danilov (Fiennes) and Tania Chernova* (Weisz). It kind of spoils a film that perhaps should've concentrated on the military side of things, as Shaving Ryan's Privates did. It's a real pity, as there are a number of great scenes/set-pieces. On that topic, this link is interesting, as it shows a few images pertinent to the production side.

* I like it better that way... (titter)

The basic setting of this movie, amidst the ruins of the siege of Stalingrad, and how we meet Law's Zaytsev character (based, albeit very loosely, on a real Red Army sniper), and the duelling snipers element, are all good. But the movie fails to deliver on its grittier promises, descending into a schmaltzy romance, and seriously turning me off. Don't get me wrong; I find Weisz attractive, just not in this context. 

I'll probably give it another try some time. But the last viewing put me of so strongly I don't see it being any time soon. Very disappointing.

Action man Ed Harris... now that's better!

Amazingly Harris like 1/6 action 'doll' of Major König!

Misc: Current Armour, on the go...

Oldies and newbies.

With a nice kind of symmetry, here's a bunch of older models, and my current crop. Amongst the older ones, the first WWII mini-military model I made on returning to these ol' hobbies, the 1/76 Airfix Panther, in late-war 'ambush' type camo'. This remains one of very few completed models, thus far. The vast bulk of my kits require varying degrees of painting/finishing.

The latest bits of building, today and yesterday, were the rear bins on the newer Airfix Panther, and a second go at the mortar crane/winch, on the B&P Sturmtiger. Whilst I was at it, I also changed the Sturmtiger's upper casemate access hatch handles to wire ones. Looks nicer, methinks.

Rear stowage bins on ye olde Panther, one open.

I really took my time and had a look at a load of ref for the second attempt at the winch. And I think it's come out okay. Nicer, indeed, than the one on the ACM Sturmtiger. I also roughed up the 'fenders' a little, and added some dings and hits to give the ol' beast a more worn in look. I'm looking forward to painting the Sturmtigers. I think I'll go for one of those late war funky three colour disc camo' patterns.

Winch deployed inboard this time.

Suitably chunky for this rather oversize model.

From behind...

Sunday 18 October 2020

Kit Build/Review: Airfix 1/76 Panther #2

White Milliput zimmerit goes on to the hull.

On this second build of an Airfix 1/76 Panther I haven't bothered detailing the box contents or initial build. Instead I've just jumped in at the point where things get more interesting (to me, at any rate!), with detailing the kit. This is part of a current series of 'panzer wrecks' for the battlefields of my putative 20mm WWII wargaming collection.

Rear turret access hatch open.

Chipped zimm...

Zimmerit on the turret as well.

After applying the white Milliput zimmerit to the major areas, I decided to detail a number of other aspects of the kit. Mostly this meant opening a number of hatches; in addition to the easy commander's cupola hatch. In fact nearly all the crew hatches are open. I suspect they all baled out - and sharp-ish, as they haven't destroyed the tank, as per reg's - after hitting a mine and coming under fire once immobilised. The driver's vision hatch and the rear turret hatch (is this the 'loader's hatch'?) both required rather more effort! But I think the results are worth it. 

Both main turret hatches are open.

Driver's hatch also open, as are the two upper hull hatches.

Note different zimm' patterns on turret and hull.

Zooming in on the turret a bit.

Hull glacis up close.

Keen observers might spot that the turret and hull zimm' patterns are different. I've seen this often enough on photos of actual WWII German tanks. But I didn't follow specific reference. I also removed the turret lifting eyes and replaced them with bent stretched sprue, which I think looks a helluva lot better. In addition I scratch-built towing clevises (clevii???), a tow-cable, and added some tools and spare track.

Note missing rear road wheel.

I've scored the kit itself just two and a half 'kreuz this time. Maybe that's a bit harsh? But it is pretty poor. The tracks, for example, are so bad as to be unusable, f-f-f-frankly. Still, it does make a usable base kit for having fun like this with, albeit in the slightly smaller 1/76 scale, as opposed to my preferred 1/72.

Added details: tools, tow-cable, turret lifting eyes, etc.

Am I therefore wasting my time polishing a turd? Perhaps... I've even ordered several OKB Grigorov 1/72 resin Panther track sets. They look amazing online. I want the tracks on this to look nicer than is possible using the awful rubber band jobs that come with the kit. I also took the trouble to make sure the wheels went on without recourse to the oversized 'cap' type doodads that Airfix supply. 

I'm quite keen to add a jack and maybe a bucket at rear. And I may well add the rear stowage bins. Or perhaps jus one? And have the other 'missing in action', with no zimm' where it was... hmmm!?

Saturday 17 October 2020

Book Review: I Somehow Survived, Ed. Klaus Förg

This is an English translation of a recent book originally published in Germany, which collects the testimonies of five Bavarian survivors of WWII. All were over 90 at the time their tales were collected, the oldest being 106! Four are military personnel, whilst the fifth is a Norwegian woman, who - depsite her socialist father being forced into hiding, and her mother winding up in a camp - married a young German in the Kriegsmarine.

In the foreward Roger Moorhouse notes that this is part of a trend of recent years of allowing the voices of Germans into the pool of English language recollections, and as such a useful balance to years of largely one-sided history. I would qualify that a bit by saying that, whereas whilst most postwar German testimonies came from the bigwigs, or their friends and families - from Albert Speer's famous 'struggle with the truth' to the memoirs of people like Doenitz or von Ribbentrop, the latter's son writing his father's memoir - there have indeed, more recently, been concerted efforts to hear the voices of the 'everyman' (and woman) participants.*

My favourite of these is the first and longest, in which Georg Weiss recounts his arduous and colourful Ostfront service. Other stories include the long peregrinations of Sepp  Heinrichsberger, who, serving in France, winds up a POW in America, before undergoing a postwar oddysey in his quest to get home. Franz Blattenberger, an artilleryman, has a similar tale about his lengthy flight to ultimate postwar freedom, in which a keynote is the randomness and luck of survival. And Siegfried Schugman was a frustrated Luftwaffe man, who never got his wings, but wound up glad of it.

All in all, an interesting and very easy read. I read the entire thing in just one day, and that whilst also doing numerous other things. There are no truly mind-blowing or even very shocking revelations, to be truthful. Especially not if you've read a lot on WWII, as I have. But it is always refreshing to hear the German side of the story. The recollections seem pretty open and candid, and the supporting photos help reassure one. But - and no disrespect to the researchers or contributors - this is verbal or anecdotal history, and must therefore be treated with a certain amount of caution and circumspection.

Still, fascinating stuff.

* In respect of the latter, Tim Heath's several books on women's experiences in the Third Reich spring to mind.

Monday 12 October 2020

Kit Build/Review: Revell 1/76 T-34/76, 1940

This is my second 'panzer wreck' build, after the FoV 1/72 Pz III. Only this time it's a Russian tank. It's  also 1/76, for starters, so smaller than my other 1/72 T-34s. But as a battlefield wreck? And a thing in itself? Well... whatever! As they say these days.  

Sprues... inc. ol' Matchbox diorama base.

And the rest.

Vinyl tracks... eugh!

Lacking internal detailing, other than teeth.

Didn't document much of this build.

Gorilla gel superglue sorts vinyl tracks.

Felt pen 'print' template on plastic card, for inner turret hatch detailing.

Added the gun breech, so the open hatch view isn't utterly bare.*

I've built it to look it took a hit or two, conked out and was abandoned. So apart from the shell penetrations and minor wear and tear, it's not in too bad shape. The surviving crew baled out, hence the open hatches, and someone's taken a few bits - the hull m.g. and two fuel tanks are missing - but it's mostly in pretty good shape. 

* Doubtless extending too far into the turret space, but I think it'll look better than empty space.

Hull MG has been removed. Commander's hatch open.

Missing rear mudguard and both fuel barrels, port side.

I did it in this manner on account of the model leading me this way. I thought about having the rear engine access hatch and the engine grill covers open as well. But that presented too any tricky challenges. I'd like to build a real humdinger of a wreck, but, ironically perhaps, a better base/donor kit would make that easier. 

I have a third model on this particular pending pile (I have terrible piles!), that I'd considered either doing as a wreck, or maybe even as a tank being built, which is an Airfix 1/76 Panther. I have the Nürnberg Panther factory book, and quite fancy doing a diorama of a hull under construction in a workshop. But I might entirely scratch-build that, and use the Airfix kit for a battlefield casualty.

Anyroad, re the T-34... TBC...

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Kit Build/Review; 1/72 Forces of Valor Pz III ausf N

This is my second kit from this company (the first was a King Tiger), and I like it. I bought it 'cause I wanted to build a knocked out tank. So I had a look through several of my Panzer Wrecks titles. I was somewhat surprised how few Pz IIIs there are in the editions of the Panzer Wrecks series I happen to have.

The main bits.

Strange how they have the commander figure on the track sprue!

More bitzenbobz...

Very nice finely moulded running gear!

And the last bits, inc. instructaloids.

A contender for the most paltry decal sheet ever?

Prepping parts for the running gear.

So I wound up using images of Pz IVs, instead. The kit has schurzen, on both turret and body. I noticed many tanks lose their body armour, and yet retain the turret armour. Numerous wrecked Pz IV in the books I was referring to are in this state: schurzen up top, but not below. 

I also wanted to create battle damage, and this kit, quite chunky, presented some challenges in doing that. I also wanted numerous hatches open. Again, not always easy, with this kit. For example, the styrene behind the turret side hatches is very thick. So instead I had the schurzen open, instead. 

A combo of mine damage and a shell penetration ...

... have upset this side.

This side is mostly unscathed.

The wheels as supplied are mostly on two pairs of large strips, to make construction easier. Sometimes I would go with this type of arrangement. But in this instance I knew I wasn't going to go with it, for two reasons: first, the joining parts would be all too visible, and detract form the realism o' the resulting model; second, as a battle-damaged tank, I want the wheels all wobbly and out of alignment.

Turret cupola surgery.

The bulk is built.

Getting into detailing some battle damage.

The commander's hatch is designed to be open. But I didn't want to use the commander figure. The tank is going to be empty/abandoned. I sawed off the 'bucket' below the cupola. I also modelled the storage bin at the back of the turret open, and put some crew gear in it.

Battle damage wise, this tank drove over a mine, throwing off the track. Once immobilised, it's been hit low in the hull, rught where the mine blew up, more or less. There's a shell penetration in the lower forward hull, which has blow a return roller off, and some bent fenders and schurzen, and a few smaller caliber penetrations in the turret armour. The return roller that's been knocked out of position has also come apart, and some of the wheels near the point of the two impacts are knocked out of alignment.

Starting to add stowage.

Turret bin open...

Some growage of stowage. Plus opening turret schurzen.

Poor scribing this side.

Track sag.

Track sag is always a nice touch. but it's not always easy to achieve, and depends to quite a large degree on the type of track the kit uses. This kit has tracks of the better than average but won't glue with model glue variety. I had to glue them using Gorilla Glue superglue gel. The tracks are decent enough looking, detail wise. And I'm pleased with the overall effect.

Much more drastic track sag.

Adding some detail/interest to the rear engine deck.

I really want to start finishing some of my models. This one is intended to be a diorama. But hopefully also one I can still deploy on a wargame table, if desired. Most of my builds thus far have been with mid to late war stuff in mind. But this is finished in earlier war dark grey. I'm hoping I might learn to get better at single colour paint jobs. At present it's just blocked in. Weathering and shading are yet to be begun.

Started work on a base.

Halford's grey basecoat.

Revell dunkelgrau, decals, and a little blocking in of colours.

I don't think I'll be buying the Revell dunkelgrau spray can I used on this again. It took most of the rather small can to do this one model. And at about £5 a can, or thereabouts, that's simply too much. I don't know if I'll regret it, but I decided to put the decals on - using transfers from my spares box - at this stage. I'll work on shading and weathering over and around them, being careful not to obscure them altogether.

I'll end this post for now with a few more pics of the tank as she looks at close of play today. There's still a long ways to go. But at least I'm further on with her than with most models I post, where I more or less stop once construction is complete. I must get better at finishing stuff!

I'm quite pleased with progress so far.

Markings make such a difference!

The open hatches add some interest.

I like this view from the rear, with added suff, and open turret bin.

Just need to work on making the paint job more interesting!

To conclude, I really like the two Forces of Valor models I've built so far. They're less than half the price of certain other brands; Dragon, for example, have long been very expensive. But more recently, and rather depressingly, Revell kit prices at my local shop have gone up to similarly over-inflated levels. These FoV kits are, currently, cheaper than those hoary ol' Airfix 'vintage classics'!!! And they build into really quite good models, esp. with a bit of effort. It's a shame the range is, at present, really rather limited.