Friday 28 September 2012

Star Fleet Terrain: That's no moon! Part 2/2

Very simple, this bit. Once you've got your bits of polystyrene and foam, and you surplus golf balls and whatnot all coated in sand (or not, in some cases), get out the paint, and go to work. I chose to leave a couple of these planetoids mainly one colour, with some slight streaks of lighter shades, evoking some of those planets one sees the Enterprise orbiting in The Original Series. I prefer the look of the smaller things to the appearance of the large planet, so I may revisit it at some point. For now, however, it will be just perfect for the "Explore a Strange New World" scenario, and these little bits and pieces will be lovely for the "Ambush" scenario. So here's a few examples of what you can get with a very little effort, but which will make all the difference to the look of the ol' gaming table. Look forward to seeing these in forthcoming battle reports. Part 1 is here.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Star Fleet Terrain: That's no moon! Part 1/2

Wait, yes, it is. Phew! Back to my regular terrain-centred roots today, folks. I want a few more bits and pieces to decorate my starscapes, and to share this with those of you who fancy doing a spot of beautifying. I had a rummage round and found myself some balls that were hiding in drawers around the house. I know that a lot of folk swear by those polystyrene balls you can find in craft shops, but I'm a recycler first and foremost, so old golf, ping-pong and snooker balls are today's subjects, as well as some rather larger bits and pieces. Grab yourself some fine sand, Green Stuff or similar, PVA glue, polystyrene cement or superglue, water, an old brush, and some bases and stands.

Right, grab yourself a ball and secure it to a base of some sort. Use a bit of metal or a piece of plasticard rod to elevate the moonlet slightly. Glue the base to this, and secure the area around the support with some GS. Leave the concoction upside down. I surrounded my moons with paint pots so that they'd be all right until the glue and Greenstuff had set. Once this is done, mix some water with PVA and apply it to the moons. Then sprinkle fine sand over them. Wait for this to dry, then touch up any "bald" bits, and then secure the lot with some more dilute PVA. Once that has dried, you can undercoat the moon, and then get to work painting it.

Obviously, this sort of technique can be applied to all sorts of shapes and sizes for the gaming table. You can tear up some chunks of polystyrene to make asteroid fields, or use a small globe to make a large planet for your little ships to zap! and pew-pew! over and about. Next time I'll get these little fellows painted and place them on the table in the attic. Until then, folks, enjoy these WIP shots.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Star Fleet: Second Battle of the Adelphos Nebula

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! My brother and I once more ventured up to the distant reaches of the galaxy (well, the middle attic) to blast one another to atoms with Phasers and Photons, Disruptors and Drones. Following the previous Battle of the Adelphos Nebula, Star Fleet had dispatched a stronger force to control the area, removing the frigate, and reinforcing USS Enterprise with USS Lexington, aboard which sat a commodore. The Klingons were in no mood to lose the region, and so had sent in a D6 Heavy Cruiser and a C7 Heavy Battlecruiser. We switched places this time, with my brother taking the Federation and me taking the Klingon side.

In the first turn the Klingons aggressively seized the Initiative, heading forward with the C7, and sending the D6 on a telegraphed flanking manoeuvre. Some harmless Drone fire did little damage to either side.Then the Federation forces took the Initiative, but long range fire with more weaponry still did precious little damage. We both forgot about Special Actions, so neither side did much preparing to be attacked or anything else.

In the third turn, my Klingon ships concentrated their fire on Lexington, reducing her shields almost to nil. The D6 had swung round behind the advancing Federation ships, aided by her superior manoeuvrability, and was firing point-blank into her rear. The Federation vessels continued to concentrate on the Klingon Battlecruiser to no avail. Some critical damage was done to the D6 with secondary weapons.Her engineers managed to repair the damage to the Weapons Systems, but not to the Crew areas. At this point I gave my brother some well-meaning advice, which turned out badly. The Federation cruisers were both in range and arc to fire their Photons, but I recommended to him not to fire them this turn, as next turn they would be at point blank range, and would be more likely to hit. Next turn I remembered that this was "three-dimensional" space, so I could zoom right past the Federation ships. Next time, I shall keep my big, fat, Klingon mouth shut!

Remembering that Special Actions existed, I ordered All hands on deck! for the Klingon Battlecruiser and Overload Weapons! for the Heavy Cruiser. After the smoke had cleared, USS Lexington was crippled and the Battlecruiser's shields were down. The Battlecruiser managed to repair all damage in the End Phase, as did the Heavy Cruiser. In the next turn, the Klingons deliberately headed away from USS Enterprise, intent on regaining shielding and appropriate firing arcs prior to re-engaging. My brother's rather too smart for that, and so in Turn 6, Lexington having been blasted to pieces, Captain Kirk ordered Maximum Warp Now! which would see the Enterprise safely away, able to inform Star Fleet of the disastrous loss of the Lexington and Commodore Um.

The following photos were staged after the battle, so may not be wholly accurate representations of the fight. I forgot something, fetched it, forgot something else, fetched it, and then realised I had forgotten the camera. Not wishing to trespass on my brother's good will further, I decided I would just do my best to remember locations as well as I could! A future battle should see a more sizeable clash as the Federation sends in more ships to secure this significant border area from the diabolical Klingons. You know, I've never trusted them since they killed my boy? Wait, no, that's a future film-Kirk's boy. Sorry, I'm easily confused about who I am! Next time, however, we may give the Romulans a go, since they have Klingon hulls in their service. I suspect we'll go for about 500pts a-side, or 2-3 ships. Enjoy the pics now, folks.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Star Fleet: Battle of the Proxima Asteroid Belt

Two heavy Klingon warships run into four light Federation vessels. Who will come off the better? In the snivelling Federation corner a Burke-class Frigate, an Ortega-class War Destroyer, a Texas-class Light Cruiser, and a Kearsage-class New Light Cruiser. In the bold and glory-seeking Klingon corner a C8 Dreadnought and D5W New Heavy Cruiser (represented by another model). I thought I'd have a go at increasing the number of models, and seeing whether I could handle the complexity. The answer was pretty much no, as I still keep forgetting Special Actions.

As usual the two sides started out in opposing corners. I popped some asteroid fields in the middle of the table, thinking that this time I would force myself to use terrain. The Klingons took the initiative, Boosted Energy to Shields, and the Federation captains all ordered All Power to Engines. Both forces sallied forward. Some desultory long-range Drone fire at the C8 and the Kearsage-class did nobody any harm. The Klingon shields went back to normal at the end of the turn.

In turn 2 I forgot to have the D5W do anything, but the C8 ordered All Hands on Deck, and opened up on the Oretega-class and the Kearsage. The Ortega-class used her Federation Special Ability, and saved all the incoming Drone fire except the last, losing her Anti-Drone capability. In retrospect, she should not have lost a point on her shields, although incoming Klingon fire had almost destroyed her shields (down to one point) by the end of this turn. The Kearsage caused some Critical damage (level 1) to the C8's Weapon systems, worse damage to the Crew (level 2) and very bad damage to the Shields (level 4). The Texas-class split her fire between the two Klingons, and devastated the D5W. I am still too happy to throw my Klingons forward, when I should be dancing about and using their superior range. Anyway, the C8's All Hands on Deck! order saved her bacon, with the Weapons and Crew Criticals repaired.

In turn 3 the Federation took the Initiative, and the Ortega-class and Texas-class used High Energy Turns to get on the Klingons' tails, while the Burke-class and Kearsage-class reloaded Photons. The C8 and Kearsage both ordered All Hands on Deck, the latter falling back 4". The Texas-class and Burker-class got behind the D5W and really roughed her up. The Ortega got behind the C8, did some damage, and launched a Suicide Shuttle, but was then punished by being reduced to 1 point of Damage, leaving her Crippled. A single Phaser blast from the Kearsage administered the coup de grace to the D5W, taking her out quietly. The C8 repaired all critical hits and Kearsage failed to repair damage (level 1) to her Impulse Engines. The crippled Ortega-class ironically repaired her Impulse Drive.

In turn 4 the Federation again took the Initiative. The C8 ordered All Hands on Deck! and retired 4”, and the Kearsage-class gave the same order and advanced, reversing the sequence of the previous turn. The Ortega-class launched a Suicide Shuttle. The C8 lost her shields as the Federation ships closed in, with her as the only remaining Klingon target, she received concentrated firepower with the Kearsage-class' Photons causing heavy critical damage. The Suicide Shuttle hit the C8, causing some slight damage. In the Damage Control phase the Kearsage-class repaired her damaged Impulse Drive. The C8 repaired a lot of damage, but not all, and things looked bleak for her at this stage.

In turn 5 the Klingons regained the Initiative. The C8 ordered Boost Energy to Shields. Since she had suffered critical hits to her Shields, I'm not sure if this is possible, but the book doesn't say it's impossible! She proved unable to fire owing to a combination of Crippled (which means a ship may fire only one weapon system) and Weapons Critical 3 (which demands the rolling of a 4 on a D6 prior to firing a weapon). The Texas-class reloaded her Photons, and all ships concentrated fire again on the Klingon vessel. I stopped the game here since it was plainly just whacking a piñata at this point.

Oh, preferences, folks: bald reportage as above or comic faux-historical recitation as before?

1) Stop throwing Klingon ships forward, especially when they are outnumbered. It negates their bonus for being attacked as it lets the enemy outflank them.
2) Lots of small ships are handy to have around, as they can swarm around the enemy's flanks. Something to bear in mind when I expand my Klingon force: those little 75-pt ships could be wonderful!
3) Dreadnoughts can take a lot of damage, but concentrated firepower will make them crash into the nearest Death Star after a while.

Pictures of the battle (with some tags from that Star Trek font):

Monday 24 September 2012

Lexington-class in progress

I ordered a few bits and bobs for a friend's birthday the other day, and decided to treat myself to a Lexington at the same time. It arrived the other day, though not with the whole of the order, so I shall give Mongoose a ring later on to sort that out. I lament once more the switch from resin to metal: I still find the nacelle struts a devil to fit in place. You can see below that I have been reduced to deploying a great ring of GS around the strut in an attempt to secure it. Painting is in progress, so while I wait for the GS to cure, I present some in-progress photographs of Lexington beside her near-sister, Enterprise. I'm toying with buying some of those decals one hears about, as my lack of appreciation for my painting of such small details is overwhelming my fears as regards applying decals to such uneven surfaces. Enjoy!

Thursday 20 September 2012

The sick did what they could, and the living suffered what they must

Book II.
47. Of such a kind were the funerals conducted in the winter, the end of which closed the first year of the war. The subsequent summer beheld the Peloponnesians and their allies, Archidamus of Sparta as before leading two thirds of their soldiery, invade and ravage Attica. However, before many days had passed the plague began to appear among the people of Athens. It is recorded to have broken out elsewhere, in Lemnos, for one, but no disease ever recorded was so virulent and deadly to humankind as this plague. No doctors could treat the sickness. Indeed, their rate of mortality was all the higher for being exposed to the sufferers, who became gradually more violent, and in the end filled with blood-lust, mordantly attacking those who wished to help them. Appeals to the gods were of no avail, and in time these were abandoned, the erstwhile suppliants crushed by the gravity of their misfortune.

48. The disease is said to have originated beyond Egypt, in Ethiopia, and to have fallen upon Egypt and the rest of North Africa, and then the majority of the Persian Empire. It then fell with destructive swiftness on the Athenians, first polluting those who lived and worked in the Peiraeus. At first there was suspicion that the Spartans had polluted the waterways, but when it reached the city proper and the number of deaths grew, this notion was disproved. Now, anyone, doctor or no, may describe the origin and causes he suspects led to this disaster, so different from natural death. I myself will describe the symptoms, serving as a precautionary and salutary guide to those who are unfortunate witnesses to any future outbreak. For I myself very nearly was carried off by the disease, narrowly avoiding death at the hands of one of its sufferers, and I saw a great many of those who had to be slain to preserve Athens.

49. All agree that insofar as other sicknesses are concerned, the year was remarkably healthy; although anyone who was already sick, being hampered in flight, was necessarily captured by the new sufferers and added to the swelling number of the sick. In several cases, healthy men were first seized with a feeling of burning within their heads, and suffered inflammations around their eyes and within and around their mouths, their breath becoming a foul stench. These signs were followed by sneezing and a hoarseness of the voice, which descended to the chest, leading to fits of coughing. Thereafter it descended to the belly, generating vomiting of every sort of bile known to medicine, combined with great distress. When the sufferers had no more to vomit up, they would wretch emptily, convulsing violently. These convulsions would sometimes end swiftly and again would on occasion continue for a while.

The body itself was cool to the touch, and in colour pale, with the skin in some areas breaking down as though the sufferer was already dead. However, just as with a fever, the infected felt such a burning heat they could not bear to have even a light sheet cover them, and many threw themselves into the water tanks, and attempted to quench the burning with copious drafts of water. It was all the same whether they drank much or little.

They could not rest, nor could they sleep. The body was wasted by the disease to a degree, but the sufferers' strength did not leave them. By the sixth or seventh day, in almost every case, the disease took their reason, although some of them persisted as long as nine days before they were no longer men but animals. For the disease, having destroyed man's capacity to reason, and his ability to love, left untouched his cupidity and hunger, leaving him with an unthinking desire to fill his belly, even with the flesh of other men. He became insensible to many kinds of pain. For often could one observe a sufferer dragging himself toward one, having lost a leg, yet still intent on feeding his brutish appetites.

50. The nature of the disease was so unprecedented as to baffle description, and the violent change so introduced did break the spirits of many who were even unaffected. It was remarkable in one way, as whereas birds and animals would feed on dead bodies, in this instance they would avoid them, or if they did feed on them, themselves perished gradually in a similar fashion. This is demonstrated by the scarcity of the birds at that time, and in the case of dogs, this could be more closely observed as they dwell among men.

51. These were the general characteristics of the disease. I pass over many uncommon symptoms, as one man would suffer this and another man that oddity. During the reign of the sickness, there were no other ailments, or if there were, they would be ended by this disease. For once the disease was contracted, very few passed through the sickness and recovered. In many cases, when the sick began to attack their doctors and families and friends, they were restrained. But if this proved ineffectual, as it did in almost every case, the only remaining recourse was to kill the sufferer, who now had but the mind of a mad dog, before he slew those whom he once had loved. The most terrible spectacles to behold was when a woman or child suffered from this malady, as they too would leave behind their kindly and passive natures, becoming violent, and hurling themselves even onto outstretched spear-points in a mad attempt to bite and feed.

For when the disease had felled many hundreds of Athenians, it became necessary to arm the citizenry and to fight against the sick, as they would otherwise have imperilled every person in Athens. The police first attempted to employ their arrows against the sick, but it became apparent that the resistance of the infected to pain demanded harsher measures. For this reason every man took up weapons, while the elderly men and women and children locked themselves up in houses. The heavy infantry and skirmishers were much engaged in the bloody business of cutting down the sick. This was not just a horrible business to behold, but on account of the bestiality of the sick, wounds that were normally mortal very frequently did not slay them. The only certain measure was to crush the head or cut it from the torso. This was both sickening and also heavy work. If one of the sick got too close, and bit one of the soldiers, he then knew he would become sick. Many men who fought in the battle-line would grow sick, and some would suddenly turn against their fellows in battle, precipitating a general flight, leading to more men joining the ranks of the savage sick.

52. The troubles of the Athenians were greatly worsened as the city was crowded with refugees from the countryside, who has crowded into the city to escape the Peloponnesians. No houses having been available to house them, they had lived in ramshackle huts, which were indefensible when the sick fell upon them, tearing them to pieces. Many took refuge from the sickness in the temples, and the temples to Aesculapius were often filled with the sick, so when they fell to savagery, the suppliants were among the first to suffer as a result of their piety. The normal funerary customs could no longer be observed, so overwhelmed was the city by the disaster, and when slain, the sick were heaped up in piles, some being buried, and others burned. Lacking the material for their own pyres, some would steal wood from the piles of others, and others would throw corpses onto an already-burning heap of wood, and flee.

53. The plague was also instrumental in introducing much thievery and immorality into the city. Whereas men had heretofore been restrained by shame and custom from indulging their desires, the threat of imminent death stripped away their restraints, leaving a careless audacity. They beheld the sudden changes of fortune, both in the prosperous who fell sick, and in the poor who inherited the property of the dead. They therefore decided to steal every pleasure from life in the short span that might be left them, gratifying their lusts, condemning as worthless their bodies and wealth.

None concerned himself with matters of honour, everyone fearing he would lose his life before he could attain it, and so instant pleasure came to be seen as honourable and expedient. They beheld the demise of all, and felt that piety and impiety were alike ineffectual, while believing he would not live to be called to account in the law courts. Instead they believed that they had already been condemned to die, and so resolved to take pleasure in what life remained to them.

After this, there is a lacuna in the text, but we know from scholiasts and other historians, notably Plutarch and Xenophon, that the Peloponnesians retreated from the siege when they began to suffer the effects of the plague. The Athenians may have lost as much as one in three of their population, and Thucydides recounts that the city, which was to suffer two further recurrences of plague in the next several years, one of which carried off Pericles, did not recover until it mounted the Sicilian Expedition a decade and a half later. It is more reasonable to remark that with such a diminution of population at such an early stage of the war, that Athens never did truly recover from this disastrous plague. The disease has proved impossible to eradicate, and recurred many times in the ancient world, for instance in Rome in 293 BC and the Antonine Plague or Plague of Galen that lasted from 165-180 AD. As indicated by Jenner in his pioneering work of...


Those of you wondering why I am ripping off Thucydides may be demanding an explanation. A friend of mine has suggested a little literary contest, which you can read more of here (please note that you have to be a member to access that part of the site). In short, to participate in this I have taken a historical event, the Plague of Athens, and very slightly altered Thucydides' words so that rather than fearing a disease, the Athenians are now having to slay zombies in order to survive. I dashed this off rather quickly, but I fancy it might be well-received for two reasons. First, it's getting some friendly comments on the two sites I have posted it on. Second, a lot of wargamers like fiddling about with zombies, and I have never heard of them being sent against hoplites before. I did read an amusing tale of zombies and Ancient Egyptians once, mind you. So there may be some scenario-fodder here for some of you. If you did enjoy the above, I really recommend to you the man whose work I am stealing. Thucydides is a wonderful read. If you thought it dreadful, all flaws are mine, and you should go read Thucydides!

Wednesday 19 September 2012

The Glories of the Silver Screen

I have lately found that my burblings on the topic of cinema have attracted a damned sight more notice than my incoherent mumblings on the topic of toy soldiers. I like toy soldiers, and do not mean to abandon them. I was away from home the other evening, and saw a cross-eyed TV representation of some fantasy battle (on Lewis, British viewers) with figures of wildly different scales taking adjacent places on the same battlefield. I have been unable to do anything with my 6mm models of late for one very simple reason: I have no brushes. Ask any wargamer what brush to get with a Lottery win, and s/he will almost certainly say "Kolinsky sable" or something along those lines.

I have no desire to buy hairs plucked from some corpse, nor to support the assassination of some poor little chap. I feel bad enough when I see a dead badger on the roadside, let alone when someone farms critters for fur or our government lazily decides to murder brock rather than respond sensibly to a medical situation. Sorry. I find the deliberately cruel murder of badgers very upsetting, and it has thrown me off my stride. I was talking about the question of brushes.

I am in a stupid situation. I don't own a pig or a goat. We do have a rabbit. So I am in the ridiculous situation, since our dear Spot sheds fur faster than Speedy Gonzalez with Telogen Effluvium, of having to choose as a source of hair for paintbrushes either my own beard and head hair or rabbit fur. As I have suggested, I am not keen on murder, and there is only one way to be sure that animal hairs don't come from corpses: personal inspection. I have a copy of a rather depressing volume from about a decade ago, which lists human profits from animals' suffering, and gives a figure of about 29% of ovine wool being from dead sheep. Given sheep hang about to be drained of milk, I can reasonably predict that sable and similar critters are in rather higher demand for dead bits and bobs.

Anyway, as things stand I have several battalions of 6mm Napoleonic Brits (let alone Frenchies!), and I cannot paint the little beggars. I do not have, nor can I find in any art shop, a set of small-bristled paintbrushes to allow me to paint the faces (let alone the hands) of the models. I am all set to look online for some synthetic bristles. Drop me a line, folks, if you have any in mind. It is a hard life, attempting to combine a disinclination for any animal cruelty with a desire to paint anything! With luck in a few days I shall have some more painted thingummies to show you!

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Tell me why I don't like Mondays!

Really, Mondays should mean nothing to me. I have not had a job since 2005, and I cannot even get myself an interview for another one. It isn't a lack of education that holds me back. Call me conceited, but I fancy that if you read a few entries on this blog, you will be able to observe that I haven't totally lost the capacity to correctly place the semi-colon. Mind, if you hate split infinitives, you'll probably already want to murder me. Well, Latin ain't English, kiddo. The problem I have with Mondays is that I have nowt to do of a weekend (or a week), yet every Monday marks the recurrence of that day on which I have most evidently nowt to do.

Today it was made doubly empty. I am unemployed, and I have been unemployed for nigh on a year. After that length of time the government gives up on you. So last Tuesday I went to see my advisor, and she rang up G4S, those chaps who screwed up security for the Olympics, to make me an appointment. You get palmed off on the private sector, you see. "Jolly good," they said, "We'll see him on Monday at 10am." She warned me this would take about 2 hours, and let me know that they'd send me a letter confirming this. I ambled homeward.

On Saturday we received a letter. Almost inevitably (even though this is 2012), my dad and I share a surname. Somewhat less inevitably, we share a forename. So a letter sat on the table, awaiting Dad's return. He was out at a school reunion. When he got back, he had a look at the letter, and I had already gone to bed. It said that the appointment was at 2 o'clock on Thursday and would last about an hour. It wasn't the same day, the same time or the same duration, and the original letter had warned me not to absent myself from proceedings or I should forfeit my benefits, so the only safe thing to do was conclude that I had two meetings on two different days, each lasting two distinct periods. So I rang these folk up earlier. Several times. I got no reply, so set off on the eleven-mile (or so) drive to the appointed centre.

Obviously, the appointment for Thursday was the right one. I wish to thank the Chancellor for so wisely selecting an oblique way of allowing the Treasury to partially offset petrol taxes. On arrival, after it had been established I was there on the wrong day at the wrong time, the lady who met me, having inquired how far I had come (which left me feeling somewhat as though I was attending a bare-bones Royal Variety performance), bestowed on me some money, doubtless paid for by you taxpayers (I hereby thank you all), to partially offset my travel costs. What could be better than wasting your money (by government decree) on a Monday?

Some may think my tongue acid. Perhaps they didn't just partly fund a futile trip that could have been forestalled by a smidge of common sense and a short telephone call. I shall let you know how this Thursday thing goes. Let us hope that no alterations to time or date are commanded.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Film round-up: Dredd, Total Recall, The Possession, Anna Karenina

Let's do this in reverse order, eh? Anna Karenina is beautifully filmed, stylistically and visually gorgeous. Usually I say "But despite this, Prometheus isn't that good." Contrarily, the whole thing is very well done. It's impossible to say that it's a delight, as the central tale is tragic. Shockingly, I have not read the book, so I can only say that the screenplay (by Tom Stoppard) is well-crafted, and filled with skill. The Possession is perfectly fine, although I have to say that horror films aren't really my thing. While watching it I broke off from chuckling at moths flying down throats to remark to myself that it's unseemly and unwise to make a film extolling the virtues of exorcism when mentally ill people and epileptics are still dying from attempted exorcisms by the ignorant. I really don't think I entered fully into the, ah, spirit of things. There are some intentionally comic juxtapositions, such as the Hasidic Jew who's listening to his iPod, his earbuds' wires concealed by his dangling hair. Worth a look, if you have a spot of free time.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Total Recall remake. When I heard that they were remaking this story, I quite got the wrong end of the stick. I hoped that they would take Dick's original short-story and rework it into a quite different film from the Arnie flick. Don't get me wrong! I love Arnie's Total Recall: it's preposterous and self-aware of that very ridiculousness. I just assumed that they were going to do something different this time around. Sadly, they couldn't be bothered to rewrite the script quite that much. The most fun you can derive from this is "Spot the Actor": hey, Sulu! Woah, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle is the evil American ruler of the Federation of Britain! The Federation of Britain appears to include France and Germany. Incidentally, our Britannic thanks to our EU partners, especially the financially superior and more populated Teutonic one, for letting us be nominally in charge of this future EU, even if we have an American running us. Is that piece of casting a none-too-subtle criticism of Mr Blair in his persona as lapdog or total coincidence? God alone knows.

Back to the film, sadly. Rather than take Dick's story and do something novel with it, the chaps behind this remake decided to remake Arnie's film. We had fair warning of this in the adverts prior to the film's release, so I cannot blame anyone except my own optimism for going to see this turkey. Every scene seemed to be recreated: where Arnie had a prosthetic woman's head, Farrell has a hologram, where Arnie met a three-breasted lady of negotiable affection, so too did Farrell, where the baddie did this, the baddie did that. They've shuffled some characters and altered some minor points, but that's about it. They have stripped all the comedy out of the film, though, and that is an unspeakable mistake. A couple of tips for film-makers: if you strip all the jokes from a comedy film, then do not add in a skyscraper-cum-lift that takes people to work in London from their homes in Australia. That goes double when the lift goes through the core of Earth.

Furthermore, if you establish that the air of almost every part of Earth is toxic, it is a good idea to establish first how the poisons are kept out of London, and second . . . second, well, here we go. The Secret Rebel Base is in an abandoned church or cathedral. OK. That almost certainly isn't air-tight, but let's say Princess Leia or Han Solo covered it with sealant. If you make a big thing of sending the hero through a decontamination chamber, you have established in the viewer's mind that the air outside is dangerous. If baddies then break the windows and storm the building, the viewer realises that the bad air is now inside. So don't get people to ignore gas masks at this point. It would be fine in an Arnie film: this is the man who breaks into a gun store and steals a billion machine guns so as to rescue Alyssa Milano. He makes silly films. You have decided (foolishly) to make a serious film. Rein yourself in. Those M&M ads they run before films feature the three leads advertising the film, and poor Farrell seems to realise how piss-poor this remake is. He is reduced to saying that the vision of the future is very pretty. It is very pretty, just as Prometheus was very pretty. Unfortunately, it's rather worse than Scott's mess.

Don't despair, folks. If you want a good action flick, look no further than Dredd. It is pretty, and it combines this arresting visual quality with a tight storyline. If you have seen Watchmen, you may remember a defenestration early in the film. The assassinated character pauses in mid-air, evoking the comic source. Just so in this adaptation does the drug Slo-Mo permit the film-maker two opportunities. First, the original comic-book panel style can be copied, allowing those of us who have seen 2000 A.D. a spot of nostalgia. Second, if you use slow-motion photography to have someone thrown off the top of a 200-storey tower block, with them experiencing everything at one hundred times normal speed, you do get some use out of this current craze for 3D. As a grouchy old man of 31, I am still hoping it trundles off shortly, as it simply serves to slightly increase the price of my cinema ticket for no real gain most of the time. This time, though, I was content to pay the extra pound, Scrooge though I am.

Anyway, there is no wandering off or wondering for these characters. There is an ungodly amount of shooting, and a fair amount of blood for a modern film. Though if you compare the original Total Recall to Dredd, then you will say there is comparatively little gore and nastiness these days. The plot is simple and effective: Dredd and the rookie Anderson must vanquish some naughty drug-dealers. A friend has asked me to compare it to The Raid, an Indonesian flick about SWAT troopers fighting their way up a criminal-occupied tower-block. I will when I acquire a copy of The Raid. If you hated the tediously heartfelt and dull remake of Total Recall, you will enjoy the gravelly sincere violence and acting of Dredd.

Saturday 1 September 2012

First Blood: a few thoughts

Somehow I had never got round to watching the first Rambo film. I missed it as a little boy, forgot or postponed watching it when I got older, tried to watch our VHS copy a few months ago, and discovered that it had never existed; a case of mislabelling meant we had two copies of the first sequel. I had seen trailers and read reviews of the most recent Rambo flick, and had seen the third film, in which Rambo rescues the Colonel from Hot Shots! Part Deux and blows up a Soviet armoured brigade in Afghanistan with the aid of the Mujahideen. After seeing that, I realised that the actor playing the colonel had been chosen because of his part in the Rambo films. I do wonder how much airplay that Afghanistan-set film gets these days, now that the soldiers and vehicles being shot up and blown up are not villainous Soviets. I digress.

There are a few films such as this. I have never seen Titanic, nor Avatar. I do fancy seeing the latter, although I keep missing it when it's on the telly. Titanic, however, has nothing that strikes me as worth my time, so I expect to go to my grave ignorant of the film's details. I tend to trust my gut on these things. I once was compelled by a girlfriend to watch What Lies Beneath, and it was just excruciating. She had insisted on watching a favourite film of mine, American Psycho, and after about ten minutes had dragged her legs in front of her body, and was clutching them tightly with her arms in a classic defensive posture. I turned the film off and she was quite pleased about that. One of my housemates and friends at the time had a love of horror flicks, and he enjoined us to watch Cannibal Ferox (or perhaps Cannibal Holocaust). I kept a close eye on her, and after about five minutes we abandoned that one, too. Such films are not for everyone - especially not for people who find American Psycho too unnerving!

Clockwork Orange and Blue Velvet are a pair of films, the subject-matter of which dissuades me from viewing. Obviously, that's quite different from my reaction to Titanic, which simply fails to excite or interest me a jot or to the film of The Da Vinci Code, which was just appalling. I did watch that, mistakenly thinking that there was a good comedy to be had from such a thunderingly bad book. I tried to read it, and got no further than a chapter or two in. I expect that there is a good comedy in all that faux-sincere, turgid prose, but that film was not it. I went to see Tomb Raider with some friends, and to this day it is the only film that still makes me remember it strongly enough to wish I had just left my friends to suffer it alone. Perhaps my problem was never having played the game, but then again, my friend, Si, who was a fan of the series, thought it every bit as dreadful as I did! I caught the end of it the other day, as my young lady is a bit of a fan, and was surprised to see Daniel Craig in it.

I'm not typically a pushover when it comes to awful stuff like that. For instance, she started watching Desperate Housewives the other day, and I retreated upstairs and read some Gibbon for half an hour! I returned and we both watched Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and laughed ourselves silly. I really recommend that film to you, if you have a funny bone!On that cheery note I wish you all a pleasant Sunday! Maybe you should pop on an old film and take it easy.
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