Monday, 29 September 2014

The Most 80s Superhero Of All

As some of you may know, the Ocelot and Herself host a regular film club night here at the Pouch, inflicting a varied range of films ancient and modern on our little circle of movie-loving frenz & fam.

Tonight we'll be watching something that passed many of us by when it first came out, 1984's Purple Rain, starring Prince (real name: Mr Prince).

I have no idea what it's about but based on a quick look at the poster, I think it's about a sort of superhero on a motorbike. Like Ghost Rider.

Here's how I think it will go:

Rebellious loner Rick (Mr Prince) works by day at Pinkman's Auto Spares, overseen by the tyrannical Mr Pinkman (James Tolkan), but by night he attends illegal motorbike racing nights at the edge of town, adopting the glamorous identity of the Purple Rain, competing against his overbearing rival Buff (Bill Paxton) and his goons for the affections of good girl Jennifer (Kim Cattrall). Only his flamboyant friend Broadway (Bronson Pinchot) knows who the Purple Rain really is, and together they must steer a path through Pinkman, Buff and the sinister land developer Crisko (John Lithgow) to save the town and win Jennifer's heart.

I'm sure that's it. Gonna be awesome.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Breaking Bede

I've said it before and I'll say it again. And I'm saying it now. Almost now. Just after this bit.

Anyway. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Internet stole my idea. I came up with a funny pun combining an acclaimed US TV show about a high school teacher cum crystal meth dealer with an innocent, well-loved UK children's show. Worth a three second chuckle when I shared it on Facebook, I thought.

But when I chanced to google 'Breaking Bod' aforehand, I found I wasn't the first person to come up with idea, nor even the second. Tch I say.
Undaunted, I went for 'Breaking Bude', only to find someone else had already done a spoof video of the same.

'Breaking Bard'? Long since been done.

So what am I left with? This:

'Bored middle-aged (25) monk Bede moonlights from his job scraping down vellum parchments to secretly brew up the strongest mead in all of Northumbria. But the jealous, unstable Brother Tostig is intent on taking over the distribution of the highly prized Blue Brew, leading to a tense confrontation with quills in the scriptorium, just after Compline.'

It's like being one down from the infinith monkey.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Fifteen Films

OK, so I was nommed (I believe that's the appropriate contraction of nominated; do let me know if I've got that horribly wrong) by Jason to list 15 films I like.

As per the usual disclaimer, this is by no means my absolute favourite Desert Island Discs top fifteen of all time, but a bunch of fillums off the top of my head (OK, after a full day of agonising) that I like, or have liked. There's a mix of blockbusting summer smashes that you'll all know, a few Christmas in front of the telly favourites, a smattering from my formative years that had an impact on me at the time, and a sprinkling of la-da-dah silent/black and white/furrin movies to prove that I'm a right proper cineaste. I did an evening class about mise-en-scène and everything.

Unlike some list websites I could mention, you won't have to keep clicking NEXT past endless ads to get to the goodness. It's here in one glorious chunk, just for you.

And to have my cake and eat it, I'll also be name-checking similarish films as I go along. So Kirsty, let's start with my first choice…

Safety Last (1923)

Hooray for Harold Lloyd! This is the one with him hanging off the clock face halfway up a building (a stunt he performed with a below average number of fingers and thumbs), but to be honest I could've picked any number of other Lloyd's classics with similar high-rise antics. Chaplin might have the popular rep and Keaton the critical appreciation, but Harold Lloyd's silent Peter Parker adventures are my favourite.


Metropolis (1927)

It's very very old, black and white, silent and German, but hang in there! Oh, it's also very very long, especially now they've released the unearthed fuller length version, discovered in an abandoned bunker in Santiago or something. The sets and modelwork are beautiful, straight out of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, and there are so many incredible scenes - the workers toiling at the giant dials, the factory becoming the face of Moloch, the decadent dance of False Maria at the Yoshiwara club and of course the iconic transformation of proto-Threepio machine into woman. Make sure you watch the longest possible version for the recovered Thin Man and devil footage.

Touch of Evil (1958)

Written, directed and co-starring Orson Welles, it's no Citizen Kane game-changer, but just watch that opening 200-second tense tracking shot and soak in the goodness. Ignore Senor Heston's OTT brownface makeup and enjoy a grotesquely padded Welles as the corrupt cop and Marlene Dietrich's drawling fortune teller. And watch out for the naughty lesbian biker, played by The Exorcist's voice of Pazuzu. For another uber-long opening shot, see The Player by Robert Altman

"He vas some kind of a man."

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

I could have easily chosen Monte Carlo or Bust, The Great Race of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. I love those all-star comedy films of the 60s. They all smoosh into one film in my mind, probably starring Tony Curtis, Eric Sykes and Phil Silvers.

"It's buried under a big W."

The Great Escape (1963)

Representing all my favourite war films from The Longest Day to Kelly's Heroes, what's not to love? It feels about 5 hours long, but not a moment is superfluous. Who can hear the tragic strains of Elmer Bernstein's theme for the doomed 'mole' Ives and not choke up? And am I the only one to have spent far too much time trying to figure out a way for Steve McQueen's motorbike to get over that bloody wire fence?

"Two hundred and fifty?"

Jaws (1975)

Though I could have picked Raiders of the Lost Ark as another of Spielberg's gems. A perfect movie. And so rewatchable. I still can't watch the 'head in the boat' scene though.

"Show me the way to go home…"

Excalibur (1981)

Hey, like the Arthurian legends, opera and men fighting in exceedingly shiny armour? Fancy seeing her from Prime Suspect in next to nothing, doing magic? Want to see Captain Picard, him from Taken and him from The Usual Suspects all in one film? What about the bestest Merlin ever (sorry Knight Riders) in his shiny shiny skullcap?

"A dream to some, a nightmare to others!"

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

Thumping John Carpenter soundtrack? Awesome chop-socky action from stunt gods Al Leong and Jeff Imada? Kim Cattrall in fancy Chinese makeup? The immortal David Lo Pan with lights coming out of his face, Thunder blowing his top, the Hell of the Upside-Down Sinners and Kurt Bloody Russell? Check, check and check again. Highly quotable, highly watchable. Keep your Romancing The Stones and your High Road To Chinas, this is my favourite adventure romp of the 80s.

"You ready Jack?" "I was born ready."

Aliens (1986)

Yeah, I know you're supposed to prefer Ridley Scott's original Alien, but this is where it's at for me, especially if you were a teenager as I was when it came out on video. Endless fun revelling in the marine's bravado and watching their rescue mission to the rain-soaked colony planet go down the acid-dissolved drain. Nothing tops Ridley + Loader vs Alien Queen.  Watch the extended version for a cameo by Red Dwarf's Captain Hollister. And some cool machine gun sentry things.

"Game over man!"

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

One of those films best seen with a bunch of friends, aged about 15, on a third generation pirate videotape. Love how it shifts tone abruptly two thirds of the way through and transforms a harrowing horror story into a glorious 'victim fights back' splatter fest. Gotta love Bruce Campbell.


Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The original Tarantino masterpiece and never equalled. With an unforgettable soundtrack and iconic movie moments (the slow walk, Blonde's little dance, the dog story), I took some convincing to eventually get down to the Picketts Lock Odeon and catch it (thank you , Messrs Over and Twine), but it was worth the effort.

"You gonna bark all day, little doggie?"

Chasing Amy (1997)

More plot than Clerks, less goofy than Mallrats, more restrained than Dogma, this one is my favourite Kevin Smith film. Jason Lee's irritable comic book 'tracer' Banky, Joey Lauren Adams' husky voiced Alyssa and Ben Affleck's conflicted Holden, plus of course Jay and Silent Bob. Not enough comic references but hey J

"Archie was the bitch and Jughead was the butch. That's why Jughead wears that crown-looking hat all the time."

Memento (2000)

He's got no memory! And is covered in tattoos! And the film is show completely out of chronological order! Genius. As a rule of thumb, watch anything with Joe Pantoliano in it. Also features Trinity from The Matrix being very naughty. My favourite scene: when amnesiac Leonard 'comes to' whilst running - is he chasing someone? Or being chased? For more running scenes, see Run Lola Run.

"Now.. where was I?"

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Torn between this and Shaun of the Dead (but not World's End). I think Fuzz just edges Shaun out for sheer rewatchability, from the bogus Chinatown plot to the recurring swan gag, to the foreshadowing to the meaningful surnames to the greatest bromance scene ever filmed. Watch every single commentary on the DVD.

"I'm a slasher… of prices!"

The Avengers (2012) or Marvel's Avengers Assemble if you're the sort of person who gets John Steed and Captain America easily confused

The culmination not only of a decade-long movie arc to bring Marvel's biggest (non-mutant) superteam to the screen, but also many a comic lover's childhood fantasy of seeing all their heroes in a movie that didn't suck (I'm looking at you, 1997's crappy Justice League of America). Any film where a CGI Hulk upstages lovely Loki Hiddleston has the right stuff. I fear the inevitable backlash  from whichever Marvel movie finally breaks this glorious run of interlocking blockbusters, but am enjoying a golden age of comic movies for as long as it lasts.

"Puny god."

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Trader’s Survival Kit

Anyone who’s ever manned a pitch at an event, from a trestle table of cakes at the village fête to an oil-stained tarpaulin piled with vintage bike parts at the motor show, will have their own list of vital kit to pop into their car or van before setting off. Whether it’s an emergency bag of icing sugar to sprinkle on the butterfly cakes or a spare pair of wellies for when the heavens open, the gear in the trader’s survival kit is composed of those must-have bits and bobs that can make the difference between a pleasant day’s trading and series of minor niggles that can make the whole affair far more trouble than it should be.

Wargames shows are no different in this regard, with many traders made up of small one- or two-man (or woman!) bands, self-starter businesses who may well have started as wargamers themselves and have simply evolved their own survival kit through trial and error. Should you be considering running a stand at a show for the first time, you might like to take note of my personal survival kit below, and adapt it for your purposes.

Tea Tray – Chances are you’ll want a cup of something hot and brown to keep your caffeine levels at their peak, so a tea-and-coffee run will be required at some point in the day. Chances are also that you’ll be fetching more than one cup if you’re lucky enough to have (or be) a Trader’s Friend (see later). You may also be supplementing your liquid intake with a much-needed bacon sandwich from the very same snack bar or school canteen, which could well be several rooms or flights of stairs from your trading stand.

All of which adds up to a long walk through a crowded venue and multiple sets of doors, carrying various wobbly hot things threatening to spill from your grip and over a nearby demo game of the Yangtze Incident, swamping the besieged Royal Navy and the encroaching Red Chinese alike in a deadly monsoon of tea and bacon.

As you can’t rely on the caterers having - or being willing to relinquish their precious supply of – tea trays for you to walk off with, you would do well to bring your own, if only to spare the plucky crew of HMS Amethyst from an ignoble and overly caffeinated end. If you forget to bring a tray with you to the event, simply trot over to the bring and buy stand early on, purchase the cheapest old boxed game you can find and use the upended lid. If catering for six or more people, I suggest buying an old Axis and Allies expansion set.

Money Pouch – Ah, the faithful money pouch. Your single most important piece of kit. Sturdy, capacious and stylish, this multi-pouched item of apparel rests snugly around the waist like a toolbelt-cum-apron housing notes, coins, pencils, business cards, keys to your display cabinets, spare slotta bases and all manner of oddments that the trader should keep handy. Wear it front-on in the classic style and make use of its twin pockets to rest your hands casually in between sales, or – as I like to do to occasionally mix it up – wear it slung round over one hip, like a sort of money holster.

How we survived those first few shows without money pouches I can scarcely credit, our trouser pockets bulging with unsorted denominations, nipping back and forth to the Special Secure Cash Box Under Our Coats after every sale, trying to remember who last had the key to the box.

For alerting me first to the all-round handiness of the money pouch, my thanks go out to the inestimable Andy Lyon of Ainsty Castings, for proudly displaying his own pouch in the business’ colours and looking very pleased with himself indeed, even if the material did turn his hands a fetching shade of green by the end of the day.

Cling Film – If your business involves hundreds of small objects in packets dangling from large display stands, transporting your goods from show to show runs the risk of spilling and damaging your precious wares all over the Bradthorpe high school gymnasium floor at the at the annual Voulge! wargames show.

This is where the ingenious use of industrial sized rolls of handy cling film comes into play, with traders simply wrapping each display stand completely in several layers of low density polyethylene, securing those fiddly packs of models and scenery snugly in place without the worry of them coming loose in transit, or the necessity of stocking and unstocking each stand laboriously by hand before and after the show. Plus it’s fun to use. The use of other food-sealing materials for the transportation of wargaming goods, including tinfoil, greaseproof paper and very large tea-towels, has proven less successful.

Trader’s Friend – Perhaps the most versatile of items in the trader’s survival kit is the friend, helper or minion. Whilst running a stand by oneself may seem a reasonable idea at first, there will inevitably come a time in the show when you need to absent yourself from the stall to get something to eat, answer the call of nature or nip across the hall to pick up that copy of Tiny Taches:  a painting guide to Para miniatures, 1976 – 1982 you spotted on the bookstand. Rather than leave your pitch unmanned with all the attendant risks, this is where the trader’s friend comes into their own.

Ideally able to form rudimentary sentences and armed with a passing knowledge of your goods and their prices, the friend should be able to carry out simple functions like working out what change to give from a twenty pound note for the ‘Beginner’s Set’, finding items hidden in the arcane stockpile system behind the table and engaging potential customers in a basic discussion of the relative merits of chain shot versus canister.

Friends’ services can often be purchased for the entirety of the wargames show for a pittance, often as little as a root around your ‘broken bits’ box at the end of the day and the chance to parade around in a money pouch of their very own.

Helena Nash has been a trader’s friend for five years.

An edited version of this article first appeared in Miniature Wargames #377, September 2014