Sunday, 20 November 2016

So, I started modelling again.....Part 2: Tankie, Teef, and a Tinboy

What the hell, lets make a series. Not necessarily a weekly thing, I don't create to a rota, but what the hell.

Let's talk about the tankie. I was putting the finishing touches on this when I last posted, and to recap, its a bitz box job, rather a true scratch-build. There are three major components, the resin tracks, a central hull being made from off-brand lego, and a turret from a crappy tank toy. These where then dressed with mix of resin, white metal, plasticard, anything that fit really. I call it "Tankie", as its cute much the same manner as the Metal Slug tank, but its more of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle with the rear door. The project then turned into another rust painting exercise, I like how it came out, but I think I over did the orange. Then again, we've had Mad Max: Fury Road, and that was a bright as a supernova, so why not?

Oh, and I've been practising teeth, with mixed success. I pulled this somewhat badly glued together boy out of the bitz box, and got some new paint. Its not a great job, but at least its game-worthy.

As for other projects, I'm planning to slowly build up to a Stompa/Gorkanaut type/thing. I did make some progress on that, but I dropped it, so its been shelved in 17 different pieces. I plan to come back to it once I've had a bit more practice, or I stop feeling daft. Whichever happens first. For the meantime, in a no doubt shocking turn of events, I'm doing some robots. I am continuing to experiment with painting techniques here.

There's a few more, but they aren't really ready to show yet.

Back soon.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

So, I started modelling again.....

OK, as I've mentioned in previous posts, its not been a great year for me. I don't feel I can discuss it here, but its coming to a logical end. Things may be improving finally, but I've needed to get a new hobby to distract myself. As it turned out, an old hobby. I went back to model making, something I've not really done for three years. To provide context, like numerous Nottingham nerds, I was a big fan of Games Workshop games. I played Orkz, still have a quite expansive army, but I went off the hobby. There are various reasons for this, but the main reason was the most recent Ork codex, followed by the head-in-bum stupidity that was their Warhammer reboot. I'm not quite over those things, so I don't think I am gonna be commanding an army in WH40K any time soon. However, after some light toy customisation, I found the process of creation to be very relaxing. So, I rummaged through my still very expansive bits box, and went to town.

Not to sound too much like a prat, but its nice to remember you are good at something.

First off, is the bandit, which I suppose in rules terms would be a Looted Wagon or Rhino. The main hull is a Space Marine Predator, of the hairy-chested Space Wolf chapter, if I recall correctly. While a Predator is a main battle tank, for real life money reasons, its based on the Rhino transport. The turret and guns were long gone, but it was only a matter of filling the holes and bolting on new bits to make into an APC. Several of the new parts, such as that big ram, come from a company called Ramshackle Games. If I post more photos, you'll see more of their stuff. Also had a happy discovery during painting; orange is a great way to do rust.

Smokey here is however pretty much solid Games Workshop. There are fairly modern plastics used here for the head and shoulder pad, but its mostly old school white metal. I'm still experimenting with paints and remembering techniques, so he's not quite done. The armour is painted in the same manner as the tank, more-or-less, but the skin is a “Vallejo Game Color Goblin Green”. That was a little odd to work with, as it basically inks itself as it dries. I need to remember how to do teeth....

Another project I'm working on is “Tankie” here. Its much more a scratchbuild, in that while the tracks are resin, the main body is lego, and the turret is off a cheap tank toy.

More to come, if I feel like it.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A Brief Review Of Doctor Strange

Sorry, I know its been a while.

Well, its a Marvel film, do we need to say any more?


You can go now.

Oh, we do, sorry.

Right, Doctor Strange is the latest in the generally very consistent Marvel canon, and one of its smaller scale entries, as its an origin story for a single character. Like last year's Ant-Man, its almost a throwback to the “Phase 1” films, and has a fairly light connection to existing plot threads, excluding a mid-credits sequence and a rather notable name drop. This was probably for the best as this film attempts to place hand-wavy magic into a world of soft sci-fi, a tough sell at the best of times. This film however pulls it off, creating utterly beautiful action sequences that feel like lucid dreams. I do want to see this film again in 3D, I feel it would add to the effect, rather than than be a cheap gimmick, which is high praise from me. Its also a generally slick production with a strong cast, and a general feeling of competency. Benedict Cumberbatch is another great casting choice, fitting into the role as well as Robert Downey Jr. did with Tony Stark, and the beard is a massive boost to the man. The remainder of the cast do well with what they have, the narrative progressing in a solid manner for the genre, and there is no obvious weak point in the entire enterprise. 

This however is not quite the same as saying Doctor Strange is a great film in its own right. Something about it didn't click with me. There is where the comparison to Phase 1 comes back. Those were always entertaining films, but I didn't love any of them until the Avengers assembled. Doctor Strange has so much going with respects to its core concept that its almost surprising it works as well as it does. But we are still in a position where the rules of the world still need to be explained, and this undermines the concept of danger. The formula of the Marvel films, or perhaps just the genre at large, also shows through. Doctor Strange doesn't look like any other Marvel film, including Thor, but it has a similar feel in places, and the same sense of humour. You'd be daft to say this film was identical to say Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America, but you can pick out common themes. If you'd been inclined to sketch out a plot for this film beforehand based on the trailer, you'd probably have got the specifics wrong, but I wouldn't be surprised if you got the broad strokes. The ending was a surprise, however. Doctor Strange, while quite trippy could have been a lot stranger, perhaps to its benefit. Then again, to misquote someone, you have to have your feet on the ground, before you can build castles in the sky.

And, you'll forgive me if I don't open the can of worms that was casting Tilda Swanson as the Ancient One. She does a good job, but that's a topic for another day.

All this is however is me attempting to draw a line between the merely good, and the exceptional. Doctor Strange is good, and there's nothing wrong with that. While I don't wish to make comparisons with the distinguished competition, this film certainly handled magic a lot better than Suicide Squad did, and remains infinitely more watchable than some films about superheroes released this year.

The Verdict
Doctor Strange is exactly what it looks like, no more, no less, and that's just fine.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A Review Of Suicide Squad (2016), With Some Spoilers

 Image Copyright Warner Bros. Used under fair use provisions.

In the weeks leading up to its release, Suicide Squad was looking to be a repeat of Bats v Supes. There were repeated reports of trouble behind the scenes, reshoots and reedits, as the trailers went from dour to paint factory explosion. People involved started talking against film reviewers, such as Cara Delevingne whom said not to listen to critics, they don't like superhero films. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 26% at time of writing(1). Some frankly insane fans started a petition to close that website, based mainly on that, before the film was even out. And all the while, the film was trending for a record breaking opening weekend and a sharp drop off. This is all despite an honestly interesting idea, and it being a genre first. Its the dirty dozen, but with super villains. Its DC's answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. But is it any good?


Suicide Squad has quite blatantly been tampered with during production, not enough to ruin the experience, but they probably should have left it alone. Its a cake they took out the oven too soon, only for the cook to cut bits off, shove it back in, and cover it all in day-glo icing. There's still enough sugar sprinkles and chocolate chips to salvage the mess, but its not a top tier product. Suicide Squad is not as funny or as colourful as the trailers make it look. You've probably seen all the good jokes already, and I suspect the bad ones to be from the reshoots. Tone is inconsistent, never feeling quite natural, and frequently punctuated with popular pop music. The positives, such as they are, suggest a darker and more elegant Director's Cut. They've basically put LEDs and chrome rims on a hearse with this film, and then painted it pink. Key scenes seem to be missing, replaced with clunky exposition, while character motivations are a mess. Its a hard movie to make an emotional connection with, good or bad, and is therefore unsatisfying. Be it the studio, the editor, or the director, Suicide Squad shares so many flaws with Batman V Superman I don't blame anyone whom was bitterly disappointed by this film.

On a more specific level, I can't work out why Harley Quinn, and by extension The Joker, are in this film. I mean, obviously, they are there to draw in fans, but narratively it makes no sense. Harley is just a mortal woman with a baseball bat and a mental illness in this world, and yet she's on a team with a professional assassin, a man whom controls fire, and a sorceress. There's nothing she does the other squaddies don't do, and is an absolute liability at all times, so there's no narrative reason for her to be there(2). If this film had been about an attempt to capture The Joker or similar, then, yeah, she'd be on the team, but this isn't what the plot is. I'd also like to make the surprising, and somewhat worrying, complaint that they seem to have romanticised the relationship between the two. Something that was explicit in the cartoons that created her was that Harley was in an abusive relationship, her affection being largely one-sided and taken advantage of frequently. She is a battered wife, and therefore both sympathetic and somewhat blameless for her part in The Joker's horrific crimes. In this film, their relationship is much more even, and she ends up being much less likeable as a result. And to be honest, the scenes with both could have been excised from the film with little effect. This film is so fundamentally confused about its own existence, that Harley, or for that matter, everyone, lacks a coherent arc. The inevitable world building scenes are also a problem, Batman showing the same disregard for his secret identity as he does in the Justice League trailer.

Does Suicide Squad get anything right? Well, while its clearly not the single vision it should be, the film does end up being the better of DC's films this year, not that this is strictly saying much. Having little prior investment in a majority of the cast, I was less immediately hostile to their depictions than Zack Synder's wrong-headed approach to Superman. I also found Jared Leto's Joker to be less immediately irritating than initial reports suggested. Certain characters, like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Will Smith as Will Smith(3) honestly do shine. Margot Robbie is a star in the making. And throughout, there's the sense that there was a better movie in there, somewhere. Its a confused film, but unlike Synder's work, its more interesting than aggressively stupid.

The Verdict
Suicide Squad is not overtly terrible, but its close. Its also a fair distance from being good. There are many basic story telling flaws present, and while the film is interesting enough to distract from this, its not something that's going to do well in repeat viewing. If you are a diehard DC fan, you'll find something to like, but don't be daft and start criticising the critics. Its good for one watch, and maybe a Director's Cut. But it ain't Guardians of the Galaxy.

Foot notes
  1. Which means 26% of reviewers gave it a positive review, BTW. Not that it scored 26 out of 100.
  2. You can make similar arguments about Captain Boomerang, but he's an original member of the team from the comics, and a world-class bank robber. He's got as much reason to be there as anyone.
  3. Not a typo.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Opinion Piece: My Opinions Of The Batman. Again.

Right, I said I'd do some effing opinion pieces, didn't I? Well, I struggled a bit, given my new business demanding a lot of my time, and disqualifying some 90% of my ideas on grounds of potential bias. But sometimes, you get that spark of inspiration, and the need to do something else with your brain. So, here's a ramble about why I think Batman really needs to take a back-seat in Warner Bros attempt to make a cinematic universe, and will hopefully finally express my mixed feelings on the character.

Image Copyright Warner Brothers etc.

The thing about Batman at this point is that he's undemanding in terms of SFX, and you've got a bounty of material to draw on. He's easy. While Bats does fight alien ghosts of a Tuesday, he's basically on the level of James Bond. He's a gadget guy, prefers not to be shot, doesn't use guns because of his origins, and most of his foes are of that nature. He's a rich dude whom trains his mind and body like a champion. Depicting him in live action is only as difficult as you want it to be, whereas characters with actual Super Powers, especially the weird looking ones, only really became possible with CG(1). Narratively, he's also easy to get behind, being the archetypical grim and gritty superhero. Even before Frank Miller and Alan Moore took a swing at him, Batman was a guy whose parents were murdered in front of him as a child, and overcame unimaginable loss to start a quest to end crime, but decides not to take human life for fearing of becoming what he hates. He's just enough of an everyman to be easily empathised with, flexible with tone, and the psychological aspects are endlessly fascinating. Furthermore, the character has arguably the best selection of colourful villains, many being evil counterparts or reflections of Batman's personality. Its the best possible material to adapt. It resulted in arguably the greatest cartoon series of the 90's. The most memorable TV series of the 60's. Some spectacular video games. And two genre defining films by Chrisopher Nolan. If you've ever been anywhere near the Superhero genre, you know this, I do not have to explain further. This foundation is so strong that people say Ben Affleck is the best bit of Batman V Superman, despite the myriad flaws and troubling characterisation associated with that film.

Like the guns and vehicular homicide, but more on that shortly.

Batman however has some problems, ones which mark the DC universe and the expectations of viewers. The simple truth is that not all characters are Batman. Especially the grimdark version Frank Miller codified, and a large subset of comics fans tend to hold in high regard. Not every superhero works the same way, or operates in the same context, but yet WB and many others treat the character as the gold standard of the genre when it comes to live action adaptations. This is kinda daft. you get a homogenisation of the genre, where a bunch of wannabees end up imitating the wrong things. See the comic book industry in the 90's, or what happened to anime after Neon Genesis Evangelion came out.

Its for this reason why Arrow isn't called Green Arrow. Why Man of Steel was essentially Superman Begins, via Zack Synder. Why Bats V Supes took its inspiration from the Dark Knight Returns. And why we have a TV series that's basically about Batman before he was famous, even though there's no obvious narrative there, and it presents all the problems of a prequel. This is also why, I think, the Marvel films get stick for their lighter tone and lack of memorable villains. Yes, the latter complaint is reasonable(2), but the first bit isn't. Marvel has shown another way of doing things, where antagonists are obstacles to be defeated, not more important than the lead characters. There is an ingrained mindset that these things should be serious, one that is slowly breaking down, but not fast enough to avoid hobbling the new DC film series out of the gate. Warner Bros in recent years has only really managed to produce Batman films, or films that fit into a similar Venn Diagram. They haven't been able to do Superheroes that don't fit that template, and even then, the Batman movies are patchy. They've basically got it into their heads that the dark and gritty is the only way to go, something a lot of fans encouraged, its difficult for them to change tracks now(3). It will be interesting to see how Suicide Squad works out, with the rumours of comedic re-shoots and increasingly technicolour advertising. But, then again, Bats is in that too.

I thought there was a “no jokes" policy.

Then there's the whole “unfortunate implications” business. Going by recent films alone, it would be easy to view Batman as a mentally unbalanced billionaire whom uses his money to beat up the under-privileged, as opposed to spending on Police and Social Programs. A violent power fantasy bordering on Fascistic, excused by a childhood tragedy. The character's origins as detective whom eschews guns on principle, gets lost in translation. This is what happens when you repeatedly invoke “darkness” and “realism” on a character whom dresses like a rodent to fight a murder clown. You can only push it so far before the whole edifice comes crashing down. Yes, this is a train of thought that utterly defeats the point of the guy, and can be contradicted by citing specific comics and scenes, but its an argument that can be made(4). The Dark Knight, for example, is probably still in my top 5 Superhero films, but you do find a certain Right Wing circa Dubya Bush feel to events. This is a film where the hero flies into another country, does an “Extraordinary Rendition”, beats up a guy in a Police interrogation, and hacks every phone in Gotham in an attempt to find a single person, although he does step back from that. This looks more dirty than heroic, if you are of that mind. You can say I'm reading too much into it, and maybe. But then again, the Ben Affleck version is even worse, a multiple murderer whom brands criminals, humanity and reason apparently absent. He's just a lump of brutality, deciding to eliminate Superman for reasons that can only be described as hypocritical. And don't forget, the 1989 Batman was pretty killy too.

Pretty deliberate attempt at murder there.

What I'm trying to say here is we don't need another Batman film. At least not without a pretty comprehensive reworking. The realism angle has been drained dry, and the direction Synder took was unpleasant. And while I will always enjoy The Animated Series, the best thing for the character and for DC, is just put him in the background for a while.

  1. Yes, Superman did a good job in 1978ish, but that was at the upper limit of practicality and money at the time. Note how long it was between that film and Spider-Man.
  2. That said, DC cinematic villains stopped being good circa 2012. Note I said 2 Nolan films.
  3. Although, Batman: The Brave & The Bold does exist.
  4. Like how Indiana Jones was unnecessary in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Nottingham Robot Company Has a Facebook

Hi there loyal readers. My apologies for the general lack of updates. This is of course due to my new business venture, and a family matter, both of which demanding more time than I ever expect. Things probably aren't going to get better on these fronts any time soon, but I'm going to try to knock out an opinion piece or two by the end of the month.

In the meantime, The Nottingham Robot Company has a facebook page, please take a look if this interests you.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Review Of Deadpool(2016), On Blu-ray, Some Spoilers

Near my home

Deadpool is a movie Fox didn't want to make. It was gonna have a high rating, "R" in the American system, when Holywood logic said such things were unpopular. Furthermore, the character was intimately associated with the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, although the titualar Deadpool had been changed almost beyond recognition. The actor whom played him, Ryan Reynolds, was a comics fan, and clearly wasn't happy about it, as he spent the following years pushing for a more faithful adaptation. Things had to have taken a personal angle for him, as he starred in the similarly terrible Green Lantern. He must have felt some need to atone, reclaim his nerd pride. Eventually, test footage was leaked, with Reynolds making vague implications he did it, and the resulting cheers got it green lit. Then its budget got cut just before filming. Then it made some massive gross ticket sales. It actually. took more than Man of Steel, a Superman film. The original and most recognisable Superhero. The year isn't over yet, but at the time of writing it hovers around #3 of the American cinema rankings, with similar performance worldwide. And this is fully deserved.

Because Deadpool is, in a very specific way, the best X-Men film.

Now, I made this assertion to some friends, and it was a bit controversial. There are good X-Men films, although the ratio of good to bad is not a favourable one. The films certainly deserve credit for addressing prejudice and oppression, and this film is closer to top tier episode of Family Guy(1) than social commentary. Deadpool however succeeds in completely and utterly capturing the spirit and tone of the source material, juvenile as it is. The other X-Men films, especially the Brian Singer ones, tend to feel a step removed and samey, standard Hollywood. Be it superficial stuff like costumes, or bigger stuff like the Sentinels, the X-Men films have never quite embraced the quirks of the comics. This film does does. In fact its probably the most effective Marvel adaptation which Kevin Feige didn't have a hand in. Deadpool is, as near as it makes no difference, the comic book version. He's a hideous mercenary specialising in endless chatter and inventive obscenities. He's a fighter, whose resistance to injury allows for slapstick violence that would make the late great Rik Mayall proud. And he knows you are watching, that this film breaks the X-Men format, and the actor playing him has a few troubled productions on his IMDB page. They famously CG his mask to give it facial expressions. This personality shines like a beacon, and played into the masterful marketing for this film, a majority of which is happily on the disk. But does that make it an actually good film? Let's watch the uncensored trailer again.

Here be swears, BTW.

If any of that made you laugh, you will like the film. Its very good at what it does, and no, those aren't all the good jokes. The film is consistently funny, often taking a scattergun approach, and quite happy shift comedic tones in an instant. As a character, Deadpool as the potential to be as irritating to us as he is to the supporting cast, but much has been done to balance him out. For a start, as this basically is an origin story, we spend a lot of time with the pre-pool-less-violent-but-still-chatty Wade Wilson and his lovely love interest Vannessa, played by Firefly actress Morena Baccarin(2). The chemistry between the two is fantastic, as she isn't the serious girlfriend, she's almost as daft as he is. Both have a lot of pain in their lives, and basically the same sense of humour. And she does not take her eventual role as damsel lying down, so a thumbs up there. The other characters vary between functional and good. I do like Colossus as the straight-man Vanessa isn't, and as a thematic contrast to Deadpool. TJ Miller's performance as Weasel should be completely superfluous, he's a comic relief character in a film where the lead character tells more jokes in one scene than Jack Synder's entire career, but makes an impression with a few very memorable lines. Negasonic Teenage Warhead has a very cool name, and a pleasing antipathy to Deadpool. The villains of the piece, “Ajax” and Angel Dust, aren't quite as memorable, if competent in their roles, and this leads to possibly the film's main problem.

In my place of work....

When you get right down to it, Deadpool the film isn't too dissimilar to the X-Men and 2000's superhero flicks it periodically mocks. Action scenes are relatively few, take place in some fairly generic locales, and are perhaps pedestrian when compared to some of the stuff we've had this year. Its an origin story mixed with a revenge story, and is fairly conventional when viewed that way. Its doesn't really reach for anything difficult, its more about being funny instead. Yes, the film plays cancer and the resultant human experimentation scenes pretty serious, but its not really what the film is about. You don't necessarily notice this as an issue because A) it is very funny, B) that really should be enough, and C) the film jumps around its timeline. It makes the film seem slightly cleverer than it actually is, and I would say suffers slightly in repeat viewings through this. That, and the jokes getting old, of course.

The Verdict
You need to have the right sense of humour to enjoy Deadpool, but its seems there's no shortage of it lately. Fans of the character can rejoice in that they got it right. Fans of superhero films will have a good time. People whom think that superheroes need a little bit of ego deflation will probably enjoy it, although its not a satire of the genre. People whom feel superheroes should be serious need not apply, however. Not a perfect film, and maybe we won't remember it in 18 months. The best superhero comedy remains Kick-Ass, and its not quite a match for Guardians of the Galaxy, but Deadpool is just what we all needed.

Foot notes
  1. A.K.A an actually funny one. Possibly involving the Chicken.
  2. There is similarity in the two roles, but I'd say she was enjoying this role a bit more.