Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Stalk This Way

I'm a fan of the 'Eastern European Apocalypse' settings of video games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and Metro 2033 (not to mention the Pripyat level in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - perhaps the single finest game level ever made!), and the original inspirations for them - Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic (set in Canada, mind you) and Dimitry Glukhovsky's Metro 2033 novels.

I do love the Lead Adventure minis designed for these kinds of settings, but I much prefer to work with plastic than with metal. So, when I was mucking around with some spare sprues recently, enjoying a bit of kitbashing for kitbashing's sake, I started slotting together some Warlord Bolt Action WWII and modern plastics (from their zombie range) to make some modern-ish figures. Pleased with the fit of the pieces, I decided to take a little break from Fantasy and indulge my interest by building some Stalkers.
There is a clip in that AK... honest!

I started off with what I had lying around - Warlord USMC and Airborne (acquired as part of a half-arsed attempt to build a Crimson Skies-style 'fractured USA in the 30s' force. Unfortunately, these guys didn't have the cold-weather feel that I really wanted, so I bought some Winter Soviets, giving me a ready supply of greatcoats and fur hats.I also grabbed some modern special forces as a source for weapons and less old-fashioned-looking kit.

This guy, then, is my first completed Stalker, and incorporates parts from pretty much all of my source kits: greatcoated body, satchel, and spade from the Soviet infantry, rifle arm from the special forces, head and backpack from the USMC, and left arm from the Airborne. All goes together nicely, though my one real gripe is that the neck joint is a bit on the tight side for the USMC heads. The special forces arms are a little more slender than the WWII stuff, but not so much that it's glaringly obvious.

Painting was a doddle - my wash-heavy style isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and it suits post-apocalyptic figures more than it would some (F&IW French, for example...). I wanted something civilian, but vaguely military (military surplus, really!) with the kitbash, and carried this through to the painting - mismatched gear, a military-looking green poncho on top of the rucksack, civilian cap etc.

Just noticed the mote of dust on top of his hat... Curses!

The only real bugbear was weathering the boots and the bottom of the greatcoat to look grubby - easy enough to apply, but it took a couple of attempts to stop it looking as though he'd been wading through a river of mud!

All told, I'm really happy with him. The mix of modern and WWII parts worked out to give the overall effect I was after and I'm pleased that I trusted to my gut and added a few more pouches (much like a Rob Liefield character design, you can never go wrong with more pouches) to lend a feel of being seriously prepared. Mixed in with the other couple of Stalkers I have under way, he's going to look like a real grizzled survivor of the Zone.

I'm now starting to doubt that there is actually a clip in that rifle...

*** 
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.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

LuchaScores: Off the Beaten Path

I have a soft spot for movies that take established genres and transplant them to a different setting, preferably a quirky or unusual one. This is probably why I like Bruce Willis' Last Man Standing as much as I do - a transplant of Kurosawa's Yojimbo from feudal Japan to Prohibition-era Texas, by way of Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns. So, when I saw news on Jesse V. Johnson's Savage Dog, a revenge movie set in Vietnam between the French Indochina and Vietnam wars, my spidey sense started tingling...


Savage Dog

Directed by: Jesse V. Johnson
Starring: Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Cung Le, Juju Chan, Vladimir Kulich & Keith David 

Savage Dog is the story of Martin Tillman (Scott Adkins), an Irish boxer, ex-Legionnaire, and ex-IRA man. We first meet him in the jail of a rural police outpost where he fights in bare-knuckle boxing matches for the benefit of the prison's overlords, a corrupt group of ex-Legionnaires ruled with an iron fist by The 13th Warrior's Vladimir Kulich, and including Chilean martial artist Marko Zaror, and a Vietnamese Army officer played by former MMA fighter Cung Le. Thereafter, chaos ensues, with Tillman going from bare-knuckle prison fighter to one-man-army.

SPOILERS.

What can I say? I really enjoyed this film. Sure, the acting wasn't always great, and some of the CGI used during the fights was a little shonky, but it was great fun! The villains were villainous, the hero was... effective, if not heroic, and the setting lent it something that set it apart from most B-Movies of this type.

Looking for a moment at the villains, I can't remember the last time a movie like this did such a good job making them stand out. You expect a certain 'levelling up' in movies like this - with the hero progressing from low-level mooks to sub-bosses, and thence to the big bad - and we get it to a degree, but each of the 'sub-bosses' are distinct characters. There's the cowardly older Petain supporter who acts as the cabal's accountant, a former Spanish Blue Division killer (Zaror), an ex-SS man in hiding (Kulich), and a Vietnamese paratroop officer (Cung Le). I appreciated the variety of backgrounds, and the Foreign Legion offered a logic for why such a disparate group would be all together (something often missing in movies like this). Vive la L├ęgion, says I! There's also a surprising complexity to them - Kulich's SS man has a difficult relationship with his daughter (Juju Chan), who is, almost inevitably, Tillman's love interest and motivation for going on a revenge spree; Cung Le's officer is just doing it to get money for his family, and even though Tillman gives him the chance to walk away (which would have deprived us of one of the best fight scenes in the whole film), he still throws down. Marko Zaror's Rastignac is the most irredeemably villainous of the bunch, a knife-fighter known as "the executioner", and represents the sternest test for Tillman. Surprisingly, as the Big Bad, he's a little bland - a generic psycho, really. Cracking fighter, though!

"Don't smile... don't smile..."

Scott Adkins as the hero is good enough. The real hero, for me, though, is the setting. The entire plot of this movie could have been transferred to a classic Wild West or present-day setting (man goes on rampage against corrupt cattlemen/rogue special forces unit/crime syndicate/PMC outfit etc.) and it'd have been OK. Post-French, pre-Vietnam War Vietnam is great, though - the lawlessness and presence of huge amounts of firepower (any film that has an MG-42 being fired from the hip gets an additional half-star in my book!) make sense! It's also much prettier than New York's mean streets, the cowtowns of the Southwest, or the nameless Eastern European countries where a lot of equivalent movies take place. I really want to watch it again in a double-header with The Rebel, a Vietnamese movie set during the French colonial days in Vietnam (also highly recommended).

Still, it's a B-Movie. It's never going to win awards for acting or storytelling. What it is, however, is a standard story elevated by its villains and its setting. It's got flaws - the pacing is a little off at times, and Tillman is a fairly unlikable protagonist. I won't ruin it, but the conclusion of his feud with Zaror seems... excessive. Fitting, given the title, but I'm not sure how necessary it was. Speaking of the conclusion, there's the vague hint of a sequel, as the MI6 man who has been hunting Tillman (long story short, his sniffing around is what drives Kulich and the gang to release him from prison) recruits him for devastation and hijinks in the conflicts to come. I, for one, welcome more hijinks.

3.5 Luchas

While browsing for more films like Savage Dog, I stumbled across Buffalo Boys which, while a little sparse on information, looks to be an Indonesian western featuring two brothers taking on the VOC in the 1800s. The initial art releases are right up my street, and I'm looking forward to seeing more about it...



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.