Saturday, 7 January 2017

Helicopters unlimited

I have not done a blog post about diecast model helicopters for a while, so it’s time for an update...

Recently found out Altaya produced a series for Spain and France as a magazine part-work Helicopteres de Combat - similar to the Amercom collection, but with generally better quality models. What made the European list of helicopter models particularly interesting was the inclusion of a couple of British rotorcraft, along with an expanded range of continental company products, and iconic American versions notably absent from the Polish and UK editions.

First, I bought models of Aerospatiale SA-321 Super Frelon (trans ‘Hornet’), a Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche (certainly a big improvement over that earlier Amercom edition!), and a Piasecki H-21 ‘flying banana’ (an excellent model in navy blue). Later, as the Helicopteres de Combat series progressed, the choices got bolder, and soon, at long last, they produced an Aerospatiale AS-350 Ecureuil (‘Squirrel’). I already have a couple of larger and smaller-scaled A-Stars, but this is the first time anyone’s made a 1:72 scale edition. The grey Australian Navy model is better quality than some diecast helicopters twice its size.

The Kamov Ka-58 Black Ghost was a peculiar choice. A Russian stealth design to rival the now-defunct Comanche, the Black Ghost’s main claim to fame seems to be that it was pirated for a computer/ video-game. Like other Soviet-era military helicopters, it has distinctive co-axial rotors and no tail-rotor. 

My latest purchase is a Sikorsky CH-37B Mojave from this series. The Mojave is a big ugly beast of a heavy lifter (amusingly, the model is of an actual helicopter nicknamed ‘Tired Dude’), but its reign as the largest twin-engined cargo helicopter in the western world was short-lived, and the Mojave was eventually succeeded by a prototype of the Skycrane.  

I have a couple of smaller scaled versions of the Skycrane, including a red S-64 (from Corgi), and a CH-54 from Maisto (supposedly in 1:87 scale), but it’s good to finally get a Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe in 1:72 scale. This US army version of the familiar Skycrane comes complete with a container marked as Red Cross. The large model is a foot long, with rotor span to match.   

Another Sikorsky machine, the H-19A Chickasaw is a US rescue helicopter, complete with pontoon floats for landing on water. The model is just as sturdy as all the others I have that are made by Altaya, and its silvery finish contrasts with the British version of this helicopter, the yellow Westland Whirlwind in RAF colours, from the Amercom collection. 
The first British copter design specially built for the post-war RAF, the Bristol (Type 171) Sycamore HR.14 is a bug-like machine with a long tail-boom and three rotors. It looks great in diecast with a round nose, four-doors, and skylight cockpit. The model is a solid construction but highly detailed. It’s peculiar, and rather sadly ironic, that a French edition of the magazine part-work to produce this historically important RAF helicopter in a quality diecast model after the British version of that Amercom series failed to include a Sycamore.     
The Belvedere... even its name is good, as it sounds like a flying hotel! 
Best of all is the Bristol 192 Belvedere, the British tandem-rotor creation that lost out, sadly, in army purchase contracts, to the American Chinook. The fine Belvedere looks great on my display shelf, alongside 1:72 scale models of the Sea Knight, Shawnee, an HUP-2 Retriever, a British Airways Chinook (Corgi), and for contrast, smaller models of tilt-rotors like the Osprey, and the stuck-in-development AW-609 VTOL design.  

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Horror double-bill

“Sure it wasn’t just a bad dream?” INSIDIOUS - CHAPTER 3 (2015) is actually a prequel set in the haunted house before the Lamberts owned it. Motherless teen Quinn (Stefanie Scott) visits a psychic biddy (Lin Shaye), and then gets hit by a car. Soon, she’s possessed by big bad and causing havoc in her own bedroom. The creator of Saw and Insidious’ writer Leigh Whannell (who acts in this as blogger Specs) makes his debut as director here, conjuring pop-up/ drop-in frighteners, like phantom arms and legs that crave poor Quinn’s company in darkness.

A faceless crawler embodies otherworldly forces with a stranglehold on domestic reality, but horrible clich├ęs of night-vision POV-cameras spoil the atmosphere. Exorcist and especially Poltergeist are the obvious genre touchstones and this merely routine spook fest is a major disappointment. Insidious: Chapter 4 is due this October.

A simplistic haunted-house rationale is never quite enough for chillers like SINISTER 2 (2015), a sequel that works fairly well as standalone suspenser, although it’s not in same class as Sinister. “The aesthetic observance of violence” in 16mm snuff movies (surely the original found-footage format!) is a kind of gateway drug when a gang of evil ghosts practice their malignant influence upon the twin sons of heroine, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon - Catacombs, Wristcutters, One Missed Call remake), whose hobby is restoring furniture. A disused church is an unsolved-crime scene that’s best visited in daylight. Courtney’s boys squabble over the stash of celluloid reels and filmmaking equipment found in the cellar. Watching those collected ‘death games’ of the past inevitably threatens murder in the present. 

Ciaran Foy (maker of Citadel) directs episodic supernatural events in set-pieces imperfectly integrated into a predictable storyline. However, it’s wholly effective as it fulfils the expectations of a spooky drama with some well-timed frights. Prompted by mysterious, and seemingly omnipresent, entity Bughuul, the bad kids’ idea of fun is visually referential to Children Of The Corn so the ending soon becomes obvious. As usual in this type of broken-family scenario, real human villainy comes from the young boys’ arrogant/ abusive father - a bullying redneck intent on winning a custody battle by using all the crooked tactics he can muster.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

That dogs movie!

Hungarian movie WHITE GOD (2014) is a contemporary drama that, with an almost painful slowness, becomes surrealist horror. Lili loves her mongrel named Hagen but house pets are unwanted by the little girl’s father. Tragedy is a likely consequence of parental neglect, and Lili gets in trouble here nearly as often as the lost or abandoned barking-mad hounds and rabid strays in kennels. From a shelter in Budapest, various dogs form packs in a suddenly violent revolt against human indifference and cruelty.

This European production sets a new world record for the most dogs appearing in a movie but the main action focuses on Hagen. The homeless man who finds the mutt and sells it into a dog-fighting ring appears wholly unsympathetic, although he’s actually just as forsaken by a callous society as Hagen is. This is not Lassie Come Home, it’s a man bites dog world that obviously looks inspired by Hitchcock’s The Birds. However, social-political commentary on urban deprivation and victims of economic programmes is the filmmaker’s aim.

Some quite stylish cinematography is evident - particularly in scenes of the dogs on the loose through city streets, and for the canine version of parkour that energises Hagen’s chase sequences with animal-control cops. As Lili plays a trumpet in an orchestra, there’s an off-beat but strong ‘Pied Piper’ aspect to this poetic dark fairytale about thoughtless oppression and fierce rebellion.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Voices

Iranian director Marjane Satrapi’s first English-language feature, surrealist black comedy, THE VOICES (2014), stars Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, Deadpool) as Jerry, an everyday lonely psycho, who just happens to work in a warehouse that packages bathroom fixtures. He’s off his meds and soon collecting severed heads for his fridge at home. 

Jerry’s schizoid conversations with his dog and cat (the angel/ devil on his mentality’s shoulders), are rendered with CGI as mockingly cute, sketching out his brittle sanity in fantasy terms of live-action Disney meets Tex Avery.

With Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as prime victims, adding further influential voices to Jerry’s confusion, cartoonish domestic scenes of serial killer horror are contrasted with flashbacks to Jerry’s immigrant childhood and abusive parents. Despite the kidnapping finale; and tactical breach by cops at Jerry’s bowling-alley residence, this fable of tragicomic sociopathy finishes with a cheerful dreamscape sing-along playing through the movie credits.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Rigor Mortis

Asian movies like the fantastic Mr Vampire series, and Magic Cop (1990) - one of my favourites, in particular, provided fine examples of a Cantonese fun-fantasy style that helped create Hong Kong’s superhero-cinema brand as such a distinctive and fashionable model. RIGOR MORTIS (2013), the directorial debut of Juno Mak, is a superbly conceived tribute to that era of invention, with updated effects that make stunning use of CGI.

“So, you know that vampires are afraid of glutinous rice?”

Depressed actor Chin moves into a flat in a tower block of rundown housing, where he attempts to commit suicide. Although his hanged body invites evil spirits to possess him, resident spiritualist Lau ‘saves’ his life... 

Beginning with an exorcism fu action scene and eccentric performances of sympathetic characters, the setting of the cursed slum tenement becomes more than simply a backdrop for events. It’s both a symptomatic response to the general malaise of social deprivation and ultimately a vehicle for the negative energies otherworldly oppression. Another well-meaning sorcerer performs a ‘resurrection’ spell on the quasi-mummified husband of a grief-stricken widow. Non-hopping vampires stalk the corridors, acrobatic blood fiends jump from walls to ceiling, and spooky white-haired orphan boy Pak is the almost-mute witness to a crucible of encroaching apocalypse.

Although Rigor Mortis carries on basically light-hearted traditions of the memorable Mr Vampire cycle, domestic violence of the past has left its mark on a building where every day brings another trauma or tragedy and demonic forces (twin ghosts, unmasked zombie) muster madly against the luckless tenants, and so the movie’s plot also draws upon The Grudge and varied copycats. Furthermore, washed out colouring here adds a generally more sombre tone, and ensures the splashy use of vivid reds standout like punctuation and chaptering. This is an excellent blending of digital visuals, gloomy atmosphere, and marvellous horror stunts. It is astonishingly witty entertainment with the mesmerising power of dreams.