Friday, 13 October 2017

Long(bow) Overdue

It's been... too long since I felt the urge to pick up a paintbrush. There's been some kitbashing in that time (and stuff that I'm pretty proud of, at that!), but I just haven't been of a mind to paint. Recently, however, I felt the urge, and I took another swing at some archers/hunters for the Choleric Order of the Yellow Bile that had been sitting, half-painted, on my desk for a couple of months.

I don't have a punny disease-based name for these guys.

I'm actually quite happy with these kitbashes. They're Frostgrave Cultist bodies and heads with arms from Perry Wars of the Roses plastics. I have something of a love-hate relationship with some of the Perry kits - the detail is exquisite, but sometime the pieces are just a bit too fine for my taste. Here, they work well (in my opinion, anyway!).

Fluff-wise, these guys are the scouts, saboteurs, and general 'dirty tricks brigade' for the Order, so I kept the use of yellow to just the hoods and a couple of sashes - my thinking is that these guys are better than most of the cult at infiltrating a crowd, and can whip off their distinctive hoods to blend in. Current plan is for the main body of cultists to have a more yellow-dominated costume, closer to those of the Magisters.

All in all, I'm actually quite happy to have the urge to paint again - these flew from the brush once I got started - and I'm reinvigorated on the Order front. Next up (once I figure out what kits I'm going to raid for parts with which to build the models) are probably going to be 5 Templars - slightly more heavily armoured guys to act as bodyguards for the Magisters, and whips to keep the brethren in line. Thereafter, just 10 cultists to go!


***
Disclaimer: All links to third-party sites are solely for the purposes of sourcing the models/components I have used or discussed, if anyone is so inclined. I have simply linked to the original manufacturer (but feel free to shop around!) and make no money from people clicking through.



Friday, 16 June 2017

LuchaScores: Action Packed

It's been a tad warm recently (to say the least!), so I've retreated from my attic lair to the cooler climes of the lounge. There, I've indulged in a few new movies – it's been a while since anything has really taken my fancy, but two recent releases have continued in the vein of a couple of my favourite movies of recent times, so I eagerly snapped them up!

Headshot 

Directed by: Timo Tjahjanto & Kimo Stamboel
Starring: Iko Uwais, Chelsea Islan, Sunny Pang & Julie Estelle

I really enjoyed Merantau. I bloody loved The Raid. I love The Raid 2, so when I saw Iko Uwais' new movie up for purchase, I jumped at it. The basic plot behind Headshot is a mysterious man (Uwais) washing ashore with a bullet in his head and a body covered in scars. In a coma, he is watched over by a young doctor (Chelsea Islan), and named "Ishmael" after the character in the book she is reading (no prizes for guessing what book that is, or what the last line of the film riffs on...). Soon, he wakes up, and finds his past catching up with him in the form of fistfights, gunfights, and whatnot.

HERE BE SPOILERS.

FOR SERIOUS. LAST CHANCE.

Right. Now that the kids are in bed, allow me to gush a little. This was a cracking little action movie.

First off, Iko Uwais actually got to do more acting here than he really has in a while, and while he's not going to beat out Daniel Day-Lewis to any awards, it was certainly better than I'd normally expect from an average martial arts film. He was fairly convincing as the confused amnesiac struggling with both excruciating head pain, fuzzy flashes of memory, and mobsters coming at him left, right, and centre. Chelsea Islan was good as the sweet, plucky, and eventually badass-when-the-chips-are-down doctor that befriends Uwais' Ishmael, and whose capture by the villains lures him to them, but the real hero of the piece is Sunny Pang as, ironically, the villain, Lee.

Lee is introduced in a manner that makes it clear just how dangerous he is. Not only is he shown to have the influence to organize a jailbreak, but his action chops (Sunny Pang is a veteran Singaporean actor and martial artist) are swiftly shown off, as is his cunning as he sends inmates running to their deaths to clear the way for his own escape. His crimes are hinted at from the off, and while it doesn't take long to figure out that he's kidnapping children to brainwash into loyal followers, the exact nature of this is drawn out until just before the final sequence, and it's an effective means of filling in the blanks for both Ishmael and the viewer, and emphasising how villainous Lee is.


Speaking of the final sequence, the film boasts some great fights, following the usual structure – nameless mooks, then sub-bosses with a bit more personality and their own gimmicks, then the final boss. None of the fights really match the intensity of those in the first Raid movie, which used its claustrophobic setting and the shockingly brutal and realistic nature of the fights to its advantage. Here, the fights are still brutal, but the shock value has diminished a little, and the choreography less inspired. What they do have is frenetic, breakneck pacing – while the outcome is never in doubt, Uwais gets messed up sufficiently badly and often that it is still genuinely exciting. Even when he's fighting a nameless mook, there's a palpable sense of tension, whether because the opponent is his equal, he's trying not to kill, or (in perhaps my favourite scene) he's handcuffed to a police interview room desk, and facing a mook with a machete.

I did particularly appreciate the sympathetic nature of the sub-bosses. A couple are shown to be assholes, but one is pleasant and philosophical about his fate, and another is conflicted about fighting Ishamel. Once the source of Lee's recruits is made clear, you do start feeling for them a tad, even while seeing them execute rival gangsters and cut ribbons off the hero. When the exact nature of the recruitment process is revealed, it's a bit of a wrench when they fall.

Overall, this was a stonker. The basic story was predictable enough, given the tropes involved, and the general approach an Uwais movie takes to plot development, but a host of good performances, nice character twists, and the expected quality of fight scenes more than made up for it. It's not The Raid, but then it'd have to be something really special to hit that level! I enjoyed it immensely, and look forward to director Timo Tjahjanto's next film, The Night Comes For Us, which stars The Raid badass (not that that narrows it down much) Joe Taslim alongside Headshot's Uwais, Pang, and Julie Estelle. Can't wait!

4 Luchas


John Wick: Chapter 2

Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Laurence Fishburne & Common

I did enjoy John Wick, despite all initial evidence suggesting I wouldn't. Keanu Reeves in a revenge movie about a retired hitman... everything smacked of a Taken-clone featuring a fading star attempting to prove they've still got action chops. There have been many of such movies, and aside from the original Taken, they're pretty poor

The original was a surprise hit with me – great action, simple story – and I was very pro-sequel.

SPOILERS IN 3...

2...

1...

As expected, this was a worthy sequel to the original. Keanu Reeves continued to be a pretty expressionless plank of a man (I find him eminently likeable... just not particularly compelling in some films – much like Kevin Costner, I can really only stand him in certain roles), but it works in the context of a recently bereaved retired hitman forced back into action.

My favourite part of the original was the mythos surrounding the underworld – The Continental, a hotel run by Winston (Ian "Lovejoy" McShane) in which the criminal fraternity can operate without fear of assassination or assault; the gold coins which seem to be the default currency for the various hitmen operating in New York; Winston himself, an enigmatic titan who wields absolute power within his hotel. Happily, the sequel took all these things and expanded on them. John Wick goes to Rome, where he is received in the Rome Continental by Franco "Django" Nero (marked out for that one) and asked one question before being given his room key (not going to spoil it, but it did please me mightily), and eventually acquires an arsenal from the in-house Sommelier (Peter Serafinowicz). I like the introduction of the Continental as a chain, operating under the same rules from country to country. Markers are introduced – faintly occult-looking icons bearing bloody thumbprints that represent unshakeable debts (along with no killing in The Continental, honouring markers is one of the two unbreakable rules of the underworld). We also learn about the High Table – the heads of the world's most powerful crime syndicates – and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), the kingpin of the syndicate of beggars and vagrants on the streets of New York, and see the rockabilly call centre that coordinates global assassination contracts. I was reminded of the 100 Bullets comics, with their criminal mythology of the Trust and the Minutemen – one of my favourite comics.

Plot-wise, where the first was about John Wick taking revenge, this was about his past catching up with him – an old marker given to a crimelord being called in in the form of a high profile assassination attempt against a member of the High Table, and the hijinks that ensue. Here, the basic plot actually works in the favour of the film – it really allows attention to be called to the quirks that make the underworld of John Wick unique, and is richer for it in my eyes.


The action sequences are (with a couple of issues that I'll get onto in a sec) spot-on. Like Headshot, they're fast, ferocious, and brutal, but with more of an emphasis on style and less on pure visceral impact. Gunfights take place in halls of mirrors and Roman tunnels, with lighting effects and muzzle flash illuminating the combatants. Fights tend to incorporate both hand-to-hand combat and gunfire – "gun-fu" – which is now standard for this kind of movie, but which I think John Wick shows off far better than most. From the outset, John Wick takes a licking and keeps on ticking – his badassery is clear. Unfortunately, when he's preparing for the initial hit, along with arming himself from the Sommelier's stock, he also buys a bullet proof suit. I was okay with this – it was a daft conceit in a slightly daft movie – and it didn't make him invincible. He brushed off some shots, but it was clearly skill not tailoring that was the deciding factor. That is, right up until he tucked his head under a lapel as he fled an ambush. Retreat was the sensible tactical move, and I like that he made that decision... I just can't get the image of him doing so while caught in a downpour without an umbrella... In fairness, I got over it quickly enough.

One of the big final scenes as he pursues the villain is in the aforementioned hall of mirrors. I really cannot express how much this trope annoys me. It's overused and lazy. Now, John Wick 2 does this gimmick better than most (although the only one I really like is in Tango and Cash – go watch it, thank me later), but come on, Hollywood, mmmkay?

By and large, everyone in it is good. John Leguizamo's cameo is a bit pointless, but he's in the first movie and I like John Leguizamo, so fair enough. Ruby Rose appears as a mute bodyguard to the villain. She's a good opponent for Keanu, but I don't know why she's mute. All I know about her is that she's Australian, so I choose to believe that she has an accent that would make her a shoe-in for the Crocodile Dundee reboot (come on, Hollywood, mmmkay?). Aside from Ian McShane, who I would, quite frankly, pay to watch build an Argos bookcase, the stand-out supporting actor is Common. As Cassian, the bodyguard of John Wick's initial target, his personal vendetta makes him a more interesting opponent than either Ruby Rose or the actual villain. There's a great scene where a fight brings them back into The Continental where Franco Nero tells them off and suggests they go have a pint. His fate (stabbed in the heart and left on a subway train with the warning that pulling out the knife would kill him but leaving it in might allow him to survive – a "professional courtesy") also gives me hope in light of the now-announced John Wick 3 movie and The Continental TV prequel series.

Speaking of those new expansions of the franchise, the word is that the High Table will become a more significant presence, as the stakes following the end of John Wick 2 keep rising. There also seems to be the suggestion that a trilogy is the extent of current plans – if true, this does please me. Much as I love the setting and the story, I do wonder how many times they can come back to it, and – like Justified – I'd like to see it end on its own terms, rather than burn out.

As an action movie, I'd give this a solid 4 Luchas. However, because of the world-building, and the mythology that's being slowly developed, I give it...

4.5 Luchas

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, There's a Pretty Mixed Bag...

So, the contents of the forthcoming Dark Imperium boxed set for the new Warhammer 40,000 8th Edition was just revealed.

I can't help but notice that the plague-infested mutant hordes that are making up the numbers in the Nurgle-worshipping Death Guard force are called Poxwalkers... the same name as my own shambling demonic hordes. In fairness, a bit of research just now revealed the existence of a Chaos artifact called the Poxwalker Hive that uses insects to create zombies (or something), so I guess Gee-Dub wins this round!

Going from the fluff, a zombie-type creature that's essentially a walking hive for demonic insects would be great... a 40K version of Mushizo from Ninja Scroll. Unfortunately these just look like they've taken the "Nurgle = bone spikes" motif from the Putrid Blightkings (elements I all but removed entirely from my own Plaguetouched), turned it up to 11, and crammed it into human-sized figures. In fact, the whole Death Guard figure range here seems to have gone that same way. Still, the actual Chaos Marines are more ornate anyway, and seem to weather the over-detailed storm better than the mutants (especially the guy with the tentacle-jester-hat and bionic arm, and the one bursting out of his gimp suit).

The flipside to that, in other, more positive, news, is that the new Space Marines have gone the other way! They seem more military and less ornate than many of their predecessors (it helps, not doubt, that the base set will be the 'vanilla' Ultramarines (or whatever other orthodox Chapter one wishes) rather than the more gimmicky Dark/Blood Angels, Space Wolves etc. I'm FINALLY getting the Marines I always wanted: bad asses that actually look like super-soldiers! This guy especially.

So, I guess... in the grim darkness of the far future, there's a pretty mixed bag...


Monday, 22 May 2017

A Morbid Taste For Bones

Having built up a rather hefty flock at this point, I decided that the next addition to the ranks of the Choleric Order of the Yellow Bile would be a couple of shepherds to lead them on their unholy and pestilential crusades.

What I wanted was two models in robes that could pass as vaguely clerical garb. What's more, I really wanted them to look a bit tatty, to reflect their less-than-salubrious existence amongst the faithful of the Order. Beyond that, some deformities to reflect the demonic influence they wield was desirable, but not a deal-breaker. Shopping around for a bit, I found loads of nice-looking necromancers and mages, but none that really hit the nail on the head for me. Then, Nick at North Star sent through some of the new Frostgrave releases for me, including the second pack of Beastcrafters – perfect.

Their fishy, Innsmouth-y look fit nicely into the predominantly Nurgle-inspired line-up of the Order, though I did clip away the existing sickle and club and replaced them with more traditionally wizardly staffs.

Painting was the usual swift combination of the by-now familiar colours, with the addition of a darkish grey for their jackets to contrast with the yellow of the cult robes. The combination works well for me, and means that I can always use them as Confederate cultists as well if I want to!

Currently nameless, and title-less for that matter. Time to hit the books on monastic orders...

Already on the workbench, 5 cult archers to lend a touch of ranged support to the force. They'll be followed, in some order, by 5 cult templars and 10 regular cultists.

  • 10 Poxwalkers – pestilence-ridden demons
  • 5 Plaguetouched – half-demonic berserkers
  • Dirty Frank – blind ghoul king
  • 20 Wretches (here and here)– ghoulish troglodytes
  • 2 Cult Magisters – corrupt priests

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Gribble

A quick post, this one, to catalogue the second batch of Wretches.


As with the first batch, these are Hobbit goblins from GW. Unlike the first ten, I painted these with a different base skin tone, slightly more green than brown, with the intent of mixing the two batches together for a bit more variety. The end result is... negligible!


Also unlike the first ten, I really didn't enjoy painting these at all – and lots of bitty little errors meant that I had to go back and fix more than one of them on more than one occasion. I'm glad they're done!

The Choleric Order of the Yellow Bile currently stands at:


Next up, a Wizard and his Apprentice in the form of two cult magisters, then the cult faithful.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

LuchaScores: Outrageous

Things I like: Manga. Wargames. Cyberpunk. Lucha Libre.

Things I have read recently: Infinity: Outrage – Kenny Ruiz, Victor Santos

No luchadores (alas!), but a stonking good sci-fi military Manga set in the universe of Infinity. Infinity is a sci-fi wargame setting from Corvus Belli that incorporates a heavy dose of both Cyberpunk and Manga influences – Ghost in the Shell meets Apocalypse Now meets a touch of Cowboy Bebop meets the Takeshi Kovacs series from Richard K. Morgan – and avoids playing too heavily into the generic tropes. Yes, we have a classic Americans-in-Spaaaace faction, but they're a somewhat old-fashioned force thanks to having colonized an isolated planet along with Cossack, French and Scottish settlers, making for a strange multi-cultural force... with werewolves. By contrast, the major high-tech power in the galaxy is a nation with heavy Oceanic, Brazilian, Indian, and Scandinavian influences... and a number of religious orders. It's balls-to-the-wall crazy, and massively fun.

However.

I really don't care for the game set in this universe. It's not that I don't recognize its quality – it's massively popular for a reason – I just can't get on board with it. So, when I saw that Infinity was going to put out a Manga, I was very pleased, and promptly pre-ordered it. The book turned up today, along with a limited edition mini (also very nice), and was rapidly devoured.

Art-wise, it's gorgeous. Classic Manga lines, but with a slightly European comic influence in presentation. Action sequences are clear yet dramatic – there were a couple of instances where I had to double-check that I'd identified the correct character amongst all the gunfire and chaos, but these were few and far between.

My immediate concern with tie-in fiction is that it can all-too-easily descend into a game of getting in as many references as possible, in order to satisfy as many existing fans as possible, and we did have the early "getting the team together" scene, which featured iconic troop types from a number of the game's usually rival factions. Despite this, it doesn't play out in that way at all, and while the various characters each get some screen time and a chance to show off their specialties, there's a deeper story at work behind the slam-bang action sequences.

It's a relatively short read, so the plot cracks along at a decent pace, but doesn't feel rushed except in a couple of places (which, in fairness, are not massive faults, but which could have been a bit more developed to the benefit of the plot). I do wish it was a bit longer, though. The ending, while satisfying enough, is a little predictable, and feels like the start of a series – it's got quite a 'prologue' feel to it. If a series does come from this, I will not be complaining!

4 Luchas

Monday, 24 April 2017

Scuttle, Scuttle

So, hot on the heels of Dirty Frank come his minions in the form of the first ten (of twenty) Wretches. These guys are simply the Hobbit goblins with a brown-ish paint-job. No conversions, save to remove a whip from one of them and to remove the slotta tabs.


I'm not a huge fan of the models, to be honest – the aesthetic is spot-on for what I'm after, but the sculpts themselves, being single-piece, leave a little to be desired. There are certain vague elements, especially around the ears, hair, and shoulders where distinction is rather vague, to say the least. Still, they paint up quickly enough, and are meant to be pretty grimy and grotty, so they'll do.

The little guy (far right in the above pic, and left below) is tiny – had I not got a couple of additional models on the Goblin King sprue to round out the mob to a full twenty, I'd have cherry-picked my favourites, and run with just ten.


As of press time, the Choleric Order of the Yellow Bile comprises:


To come, 10 more Wretches, a couple of cult leaders, and the faithful cult members. After that, I think a little break... if only to restock on brown paints!