Movie Reviews 482 – The Fountainhead (1949)

June 18, 2021

It’s impossible to discuss The Fountainhead, the adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel, without discussing the author and her political and philosophical leanings, particularly the Objectivism system she created and touted in all her noted works The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged being the most recognized.

Objectivism is a conservative libertarian branch whose main tenet is that the moral purpose of one’s life is one’s own happiness. Period. No caveats, no situational conditions. While obviously a selfish endeavour, in and of itself this appears to be harmless until the consequences of such adherence to the philosophy are considered at which time it becomes easy to see the fallacy in the philosophy. I won’t go down the rabbit hole of a full political debate here as that would be a tome unto itself, but suffice to say that The Fountainhead is both illustrative of Objectivism and a cheat at the same time which I will explain later.

From a dramatic point of view the movie is exceptional with great performances by the three leads and some stunning composition pieces. It has been said that the film is better than the novel and I can certainly see that given the many dynamic visuals, including some fairly overt phallic imagery, enhancing the presentation in a manner that cannot be captured otherwise.

The story is about uncompromising architect Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) trying to get his modern building concepts built exactly in the way they were designed without any changes whatsoever. Unable to sustain his architectural firm as a result of his hardline stance he ends up toiling as manual labourer when he meets the equally obstinate columnist Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal). While the two fall for one another an opportunity for Roark separates them and Dominique, heartbroken, marries her boss the tabloid newspaper baron, Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey), although she does not love him. Always an admirer, but publicly his nemesis for the sake of his empire, Wynand comes to befriend and embrace Roark, putting everything he has worked for at risk. If the love triangle wasn’t enough of a burden on Roark, he is then faced with the prospect of seeing a building complex which he designed but was later changed and only being built because he trusted a hapless colleague with his plans. Furious, Roark destroys the building site with the aid of Dominique which puts him and his ideals on trial.

The main characters are all complex and develop as the story progresses, supplemented by other equally interesting supporting roles such as a power hungry architect critic (Robert Douglas), the hack that Roark trusts with his designs (Kent Smith), and the elder architect (Henry Hull) who believed in Roark when no one else would.

It’s an interesting plot and fun to watch but neither the egoistic manifesto it tries to argue nor the complex relationship we are supposed to embrace are realistic. If an argument is to be made that one should be able to do whatever they want in life it’s hardly fair using a benign endeavor like architectural designs as the example as there are hardly any victims other than the proponents themselves. Trying to make the argument for that mindset would have to include situations that actually have an impact on others otherwise the argument falls apart, making The Fountainhead one big cop out. Even the idealistic Dominique compromises when she marries Wynand so her credibility as an Objectivist poster girl is hardly exemplary. And lastly, having Roark’s ideals compromised because of his one altruistic deed cannot be considered as evidence that it was a misguided act of kindness. A fool makes for a poor bedfellow regardless of one’s beliefs.

While this movie fails in it’s main ‘objective’ (see what I did there?), it is nonetheless a fascinating character study and esthetically admirable which is reason enough to watch it.  If your goal is to be preached in Randian philosophy be sure to keep your own ‘objectivity’ on alert and at least you’ll come to understand why it is such a lost cause.

Movie Reviews 481 – True Legend (2010)

June 11, 2021

The trailer for True Legend boldly states that the film is brought to you by the same ‘creators’ of the Kill Bill films, The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger. While the film does share a number of actors from those films, the tie that binds them all is director Yuen Woo-Ping. While he was choreographer and fight advisor in those other films, it’s his directorial efforts that have a common thread which culminates here in True Legend.

 Looking at his filmography which lists films like Tai Chi Master and the original Drunken Master with Jackie Chan it becomes evident that he has often been associated with wuxia films that depict the unique ‘Drunken’ style of fighting. The title True Legend is more apropos than you would think as it is not simply referring to some arbitrary fictional character, but is a semi-biographical account, admittedly highly-embellished and CGI laden, of Su Can, a ‘truly legendary’ Qing dynasty folk hero who created the Drunken martial arts technique.

The film begins with an epic army battle in which the heroic efforts of general Su (Vincent Zhao) leads to the rescue of a royal prince warrior about to be put to death. Su’s success however also betrays his foster brother Yuan’s (Andy On) recklessness and ineptitude having left Su behind for dead. But when they try to reward Su for his bravery with a governorship he not only turns it down but requests that Yuan receive the honor.

While Su goes on to the simple life as a husband, father and martial arts instructor, there is one aspect of his relationship to Yuan which will haunt him. Yuan’s orphan status was the result of his father being slain by Su’s father who later took him to raise as his own. He had been killed because he had been practising a technique called the “Five Venom Fists” and used it for evil deeds. Yuan, now governor and practising the “Five Venom Fists’ himself pays a visit to Su and his family to avenge the death of his father.

The resulting battle leaves Su a broken man physically and emotionally and with his son in the hands of Yuen. It will take the love of his wife and the tutoring of elder gods to put him right again, but can he overcome Yuen who has now mastered the dreaded “Five Venom Fists”?

True to form, director Woo-Ping delivers masterful battle sequences, drunken style and otherwise. Martial arts favorites David Carradine, Michelle Yeoh, and Gordon Liu all have lesser but still significant roles which spice up the proceedings while Andy On’s ashen-faced Yuan makes for a formidable foe. While there were a few scenes that I consider CGI heavy, there are a lot of practical live shots to more than even out the film, many of those unsurprisingly nods to the latter films I mentioned. I was not impressed with the inclusion of a scene featuring brawny steroid wrestlers for the finale as I felt it took me out of the 19th century era setting (pretty sure there were no hormone enhancements back then) but again that was offset with Carradine appearing in that same scene.

Surprisingly, when you get to the bottom of the film the theme is really all about the importance of family, belief in one another, and overcoming doubt, anger and hopelessness. Well worth watching.

Movie Reviews 480 – The Spiral Staircase (1946)

June 4, 2021

I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Spiral Staircase from both dramatic film discussions circles and even a few horror ones although the ‘horror’ aspect is purely psychological as in movies like Gaslight along with a nod to giallo mystery gloved killers.

As an enraptured audience watches a silent film in a small theater, a woman who hobbles with limp is killed by a man who has snuck into her closet in an apartment above. As the cacophony of the murder scene dies down there is concern for one particular movie patron, Helen (Dorothy McGuire) who is a mute. This is because it is the third such serial murder in which all the victims have been women and all with one physical impediment or another.

Helen is but one of the hired hands and nurses who take care of the elderly and dying Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore) in a mansion owned by Professor Albert Warren (George Brent). The cantankerous old woman terrorizes most of the other aides but has a soft spot for Helen and along with a few others urge her to leave the area while she still can. This sentiment is shared by Helen’s beau, Dr. Parry (Kent Smith) who has only recently, and controversially, set up practice in the area. The household also includes the professor’s half brother Steven (Gordon Oliver) who has only recently returned after some troublesome past episode and is now having an affair with the Albert’s secretary, the Oats as live-in servants handy-man husband and his wife the cook (Elsa Lanchester) who imbibes a taste of brandy whenever and however she can get her mitts on some, and lastly a nurse who is loathed and constantly prevented from doing her very job by Mrs. Warren.

The cast of characters are almost all potential suspects as the cherubic Helen tries to go about her duties. We know she is being stalked as evidenced by shadows outside and peering eyes within the house but mystery is skilfully played out with both red herrings and hints. There are backstories thrown in such as the mysterious traumatic event that psychologically scarred Helen into silence and a rumoured murder a long time ago that Mrs. Warren coyly alludes to. The tension does not end even after the culprit is revealed as circumstances are such that the assailant still holds the upper hand.

While there are a few similarities to Wait Until Dark in which Audrey Hepburn’s blindness leads to her victimization in that film, the motives and mindset are completely different here. I did notice one scene that could easily have been an inspiration for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but again from a story and plot point of view there is no comparison. 

Aside from one awkward dancing dream marriage sequence  this is a top notch, edge of your seat thriller from beginning to end.

There have been multiple remakes over the years, none of which I have seen, with the most notable being a 1975 version which seems to have universally dreadful reviews. The one that piqued my interest is a 1961 version with Elizabeth “Bewitched” Montgomery but seeing as it was a Made For TV movie I suspect it will be hard to find if it was ever released on home media at all.

As many readers may have noticed I usually opt to include an image of the original film poster artwork but when I came across the one shown, a newer unique adaptation, I was just mesmerized by how it beautifully captured the essence of this film. While I’ve included it here I did so reluctantly as I could not find the name of the artist who I would not only have provided attribution but also asked permission.

Movie Reviews 479 – Banlieue 13 (2004)

May 28, 2021

I thought I’d go for something a little bit different as far as movies go and I think my selection of Banlieue 13 (or District 13 as it is marketed for English audiences) foots the bill. In fact, given the number of running chase scenes, martial arts kicks, and the multitude of parkour leaps and bounds, feet figure predominantly here.

In a supposed near future city of Paris in 2010, politicians have erected a barrier around the worst of the city’s crime laden districts, the titular Banlieue 13, in order to isolate the area which is now pretty much lawless and in the hands of criminal organizations. The authorities have effectively given up on the area, throwing the baby out with the bathwater by effectively imprisoning the innocent residents along with the undesirables.

Operating as a social justice warrior and vigilante, Leïto (David Belle) gets in the way of Taha (Bibi Naceri), a ruthless B13 kingpin. With Leïto on the run and both too smart and too quick to capture, Taha abducts his sister Lola (Dany Verissimo-Petit) as bait. In a daring rescue Leïto not only frees Lola, but has the chase gang led right to the doorsteps of the local police forces, underpowered as they may be. Rather that getting a sympathetic hand, the indifferent police chief not only arrests Leïto, but acquiesces to Taha’s demand that he hand back Lola as well. This inconceivably betrayal enrages Leïto who kills the corrupt chief landing him lengthy prison term.

As bad as the situation is, things take a turn for the worse when an armoured car is hijacked by Taha who suddenly finds himself in possession of a destructive ‘clean’ bomb which is now in a 24 hour countdown to detonation. Called in to disarm and retrieve the bomb is elite ‘hands on’ police officer Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) but without knowledge of B13 layout, he needs help. The solution? Pair him with the incarcerated Leïto of course.

The dynamic duo strike a bargain of sorts, adding Lola’s rescue to the plan. But as soon as Damien and Leïto enter Taha’s lair, they sense that something is rotten in Denmark, or at least with the story of the bomb. Leïto, pointing out the discrepancies to Damien have them hatching out a new plan but success, if any is to be found, relies on the men trusting one another.

Produced and co-written by Luc Besson, known both for his action flicks like La Femme Nikita or Léon: The Professional, and the right touch of comedy as in the offbeat  Wasabi, B13 has John Wick style action chases and battles, and plenty of oddball characters like Taha’s second in command, the mountain sized, aptly named K2 (Tony D’Amario). Besson relies on his oft employed theme of authoritarian mistrust and the need for trust among friends. The leaps of faith that the characters take hoping from building to building are matched by the leaps of faith they must take with one another, and just as potentially dangerous.

I also managed to squeeze in a viewing of the sequel, B13: Ultimatum, reuniting Leïto and Damian once again in the B13 battleground, this time corralling the outlaw gangs for a united front against a ploy to abolish the area. While the novelty of the characters has worn off and there are no big surprises this time around it is just as action packed as the first and equally enjoyable.

Movie Reviews 478 – Wrong Turn (2003)

May 21, 2021

While film sequels are not confined to the horror movie genre by any means, they are especially plentiful when it comes to blood laced fare.  Franchises like Halloween, Puppet Master and Hellraiser boast more than ten movies (and counting) and there are hundreds of other horror films that have scored a hat trick of follow ups and reboots. The one thing in common with all of these brands is that they brought something new to the slaughter table. A character, setting or concept that grabbed our attention, and one that (admittedly often purely for monetary reasons) the creators could expand upon and rely on an audience waiting in anticipation for more.

Given the above I am at a loss in understanding why Wrong Turn continues to be revisited, releasing a seventh film, a reboot of sorts, just this year. I mean even the asinine Evil Bong series of films had, well … an evil bong, and as silly as it is, it is something that differentiates it. While there is a thread of sorts in the Wrong Turn series, it is nothing more than featuring inbred, mutant hillbillies preying on unsuspecting travellers in a remote location, in this case the West Virginia Appalachian range. Sound familiar? It should be as that is the basic premise of well established films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Rituals, even a smidgeon of Deliverance.

I’ve been hanging onto my unwatched Wrong Turn series of DVDs for years and only got around to watching them this past week when the title cropped up in a podcast. I have the box set with the first three films and the fourth as a standalone DVD so I basically went on a Wrong-Turn-a-Thon binge. As I suspected from the outset, these are all a pastiche of threadworn clichés, which in and of itself is OK, but without even a microscopic molecule of novelty.

The first film sets the tone as a bunch of young adults looking for some leisure time fun head into the mountains and, after a Wrong Turn to their destination, find themselves the target of a family of cannibal inbreds who have been human hunting in the area for years. From that point they get knocked off one by one and all that is left for the viewers to do is figure out who will be the final girl/boy standing if they haven’t figured that out already. The only thing to enjoy (or not) is what novel manner in which the victims die and the reciprocal deaths among the country bumpkins. 

Viewing the series as a whole (at least those first four that I watched), each has an opening sequence featuring a quick surprise kill before going into the main story. There is a tenuous link suggesting the inbreds in all the movies are from the same family (well aside from being inbred to begin with of course), one in particular called “Three Finger” with a maniacal laugh showing up in all the films.

Now I’m not going to suggest for a moment that these films do not deserve a viewing as they do have decent production values, and if it’s just cool ‘killz’ you’re after they do deliver. But even beyond the recycled themes, there are plenty of groan worthy moments that all these types of movies tend to share such as people making clearly terrible decisions and poo-pooing obvious signs of danger. In these particular films other distractions include the mandatory references to Deliverance and to the other films I’ve mentioned, the “Damn I’ve got no cell phone reception here” line, and the requisite “Look there’s a cabin! we’re saved!” false hope.

For what it’s worth, the roundup of the others in this series that I’ve watched each have a small twist to the basic story. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End  has the prey as contestants in a survival reality game show, Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead throws escaped prisoners as secondary threat, and Wrong Turn 4 : Bloody Beginnings is set in the frigid winter with most of the action taking place in a decrepit abandoned sanatorium.

If you want to hear more ‘Hicksploitation’, to coin the phrase that I’ve borrowed from the aforementioned Really Awful Movies podcast (one of my favorites) you can listen to a review of the latest reboot in the series here:

Movie Reviews 477 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

May 14, 2021

While there are many Western films including spaghetti Westerns that are deserving of the accolade ‘classic’, one of the earliest I recall that made an impression on me was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  It embodies everything we look for in a Western including a crucial shootout, one that even hints of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly cliché characters (and being filmed only a few years before that film leads me to wonder if Sergio Leone borrowed the notion from this, although admittedly that’s a bit of a stretch).

The core of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is pure oater gold, starring the one name synonymous with Westerns, the Duke himself, John Wayne. It also stars one of my all time favorite actors, Jimmy Stewart, who went on to a second career of sorts in Westerns, bringing  his ‘goody two shoes’ ethics developed during his early films working with director Frank Capra. 

In fact, this film borrows the essence from the Capra-Stewart production Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Young lawyer Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (Stewart) suddenly finds himself washing dishes and waiting on tables in the small frontier town of Shinbone when the stagecoach transporting him out west is held up by the ruthless outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), leaving him roughed up and penniless. Taken in by a diner’s Swedish owners, it is their daughter Hallie (Vera Miles) who treats Ranse’s wounds and starts falling for him, much to the chagrin of the only man in town willing to keep Valance and his boy’s in check, Tom Doniphon (Wayne) who has been courting Hallie.

While Ranse sticks to his pacifist ‘no guns’ policy as he tries to get the town to abide by his ideals of law and order, a vote for statehood brings things to a head when opposing cattle ranchers try to shoehorn Valance as a state representative. Not only does Ranse find himself unwillingly elected but his arguments also smother Valance’s shot for the second seat, ultimately leading to the inevitable showdown and emergence of the legend of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”.

Aside from the great storyline with an equally exceptional wrap-around sequence which takes place years after the main events, the film boasts an array of other talented actors including Woody Strode, John Carradine and the then still up and coming trio of Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin and Denver Pyle. There is an entire comedy side motif highlighting the spineless town marshall who is scared of his own shadow (much less taking on Valance), and another routine with the well intentioned town newspaper editor helping Ranse as long as a bottle is within reach. Without going into spoilers (and there is a doozy one here), Wayne’s character is always in the shadows and his actions end up being pivotal to the end results whether it be the romantic elements or the political ones.

For my money this tale of humble heroism, dreams fulfilled and shattered with one bullet, stands on its own when compared to other classics like Rio Grande and Stagecoach, all directed by John Ford. If nothing else, you’ll get to hear the Duke call someone ‘pilgrim’ over and over, so much so that it became his trademark thereafter.

So go out and watch this one …. Pilgrim!

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (1940)

May 7, 2021

In the days before horror icon and Maine resident Stephen became the undisputed “King” of book sales, there was one particular author whose name always appeared on bookstore shelves, garage sale tables, and associated with films and television productions ad nauseam. That name I saw everywhere was Agatha Christie which I presumed to be some post war scribe churning out books out at the very time I first grew cognizant of her name. In actual fact the array of titles I saw all around me were written much earlier but steadily remained popular titles well into the seventies and eighties, and which retain an ardent following today. 

A veritable mystery writer juggernaut with well over a billion copies of her novels sold in the English language alone, Christie is most often remembered for her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marples series of novels including titles like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Having acquired an ever growing taste for Noirish, pulp mysteries I decided it was high time to read one of her books to see what the fuss was all about.

When I set out to close this personal Bucket List item I started perusing sales of her books in online markets I started searching for the title Ten Little Indians which for some reason or another was a familiar title stuck in my mind at the time. I quickly found someone selling a copy And Then There Were None, and scooped it up. It only became clear to me the next day that what I had purchased was in fact an alternate title for Ten Little Indians after all. Even more surprisingly (and a bit shocking) was learning that the real original published title of the novel was the decidedly non PC Ten Little Niggers, a now unimaginable racist and derogatory title. Thankfully the story itself is much more civil and not at all associated with the bleaker reference of the original title of which only a passing mention is made in the book.

On the one hand the story is as simple as can be in which ten totally unrelated individuals from different occupations and classes find themselves lured under false pretenses to visit an island off the English coast. Arriving by boat eight of them find that their supposed host is nowhere to be found and only a servant couple, the latter being the last two of the decade, just as puzzled as to the circumstances of the gathering.

With but a few clues including a poem in each bedroom of the host mansion and an ominous recording in which each of the ten are accused of having murdered someone in the past, one by one the visitors are killed in mysterious ways leaving those surviving to analyze the situation and consider which of the others are prime suspects if not another individual hidden on the island.

Readers get an introduction to most of the characters as they make their journey to the island, the pretenses under which they believe they will be welcomed and just a hint of a past indiscretion that will be the reasons for them being included in the lot. Once the first body drops before their very eyes the questions and suspicions begin as well as a ritual of disappearing little Indian china figures representing the victims.

The transparent plot however is enveloped by a much more complex layer regarding the very notion of what is ‘guilt’ and the definition of murder, not only those committed on the island but more so those acts committed long ago by the current unwilling participants. The ever changing list of suspects is reminiscent of the classic Twilight Zone episode The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, shifting onto another person every time the current predominant suspect dies.

Making matters even more intriguing, the rather short novel has the events on the island end without the matter being settled, only to be then addressed in an epilogue where the facts of the mystery are dissected by Scotland Yard. Presenting the evidence found after authorities investigate and the deeper background checks of all the victims, the solution is finally revealed in the contents of a letter found in a bottle adrift at sea.

While I can’t say that this was a spellbinding whodunit as I read along, it was intriguing enough from the array of characters involved and waiting for the next victim to fall. The big reveal at the end (a bit of a cheat mind you) was a huge surprise.

Rocket build: Estes 1:100 Saturn V

April 30, 2021

I imagine that every rocketeer has wanted to build a Saturn V rocket at some point. 

Despite being over 50 years old, it remains the most powerful rocket ever flown with approximately 3.4 million kg of thrust that will only be eclipsed in the next few years with projects such at the SLS and SpaceX’s Starship. But more significantly it was the rocket that fueled our imagination and expectations during the heyday of space exploration, and the rocket that made possible the apex of space exploits, landing men on the moon.

Controlled by the most rudimentary of computing systems that would be considered crude today, it was none the less majestic and awe inspiring to all who followed the exciting space race of the sixties. Building on the frenzy of the prior Apollo and Mercury missions (dwarfs by comparison) Werner Von Braun’s ambitious magnum opus Saturn V was the vehicle that finally achieved the coveted end goal in 1969 with the landing of the Apollo 11 Eagle.

I finally got my hands on an Estes kit many years ago when a local retailer slashed prices on their stock, jumping at the chance to pick up this kit for $50. Still a hefty sum for a mere low power kit, but well worth it considering the contents and makeup of this complex design. Having the kit was one thing, building it was another as it is not for the faint of heart, requiring skill, dexterity and above all, a lot of patience and time. 

The instructions booklet runs 15 pages and it should be studied in detail before you start. There are more than 90 parts and over 40 decals not to mention priming and painting which in this case also means lots of tedious masking. While a lot of it is standard fare for rocket builders with a few kits already under their belts, the many vacuformed wraps and parts will be new to many and require extra care.

I didn’t set out to write a blog on this build initially, but once I started building it and noticed a few issues with the kit I thought it might aid others and give them insight in what they can expect, see how I addressed specific issues I encountered and more importantly, view the results of those remedies. I did scour the internet myself for some of these and not surprisingly found others that encountered those same issues while not really providing solutions or even what they ended up doing to solve the problems. As I only started documenting my build after I started I did not have photos of the beginning, but I did start noting and capturing once the issues started.  I will not go over everything, only the more unique and problematic areas.

Before I start commenting on the build I want to be clear that this is for the 2010 release of Estes 1:100 scale #2157 kit. While it has had a number of resissues and reboxes, there have only been minor changes. Sadly, the Estes site itself only has instructions for the 1998 variant and not the exact instructions in my kit, but they are fairly close. (The Step #s I mention in the following paragraphs however do match those in the online instructions.)

Now onto the build!

The first issue I encountered was sliding in the 1” reinforcing ring into the bottom [Step #4]. The only purpose of this ring is to hold back the assembly of plastic F-1 engines that are for display purposes only and removed when flying the rocket. The outer diameter of this ring is too big to cleanly fit into the body tube.  There is another piece of this same coupler tube used as the shoulder for the ‘nose cone’ LEM module that needs to be ejected for parachute deployment so you will definitely want to make sure that one is not too tight before a flight. In both cases I had to slowly sand the interior of the body tube to make a snug fit. I used a large grit to begin and then used finer and finer grits to end up with a nice smooth surface. I was worried that sanding cardboard like that would end in a rough surface but was pleasantly surprised to see that I could get a fairly decent smooth one with a lot of slow, fine sanding.

The very next step [Step #5] is the construction of the ‘ejecting’ stage with that second tight fitting coupler. This shoulder is built by having two centering rings glued to opposite ends of the short coupler, the resulting doughnut ‘puck’ then securing a longer tube over which a conical paper shroud (cowling) is shaped.

The problem is that the outer diameter of these four centering rings are much too small making it impossible to glue into the outer couplers. In order to glue them I first got a clear acetate sheet (wax paper could be used as well)  to use as a gluing surface and then after letting the centering ring drop into the tube applied four tacks (drops) of wood glue. Making sure the centering rings were flat on the surface of the acetate I let these dry overnight. Then when dry the next day I applied a liberal amount of 5 Minute epoxy all around the inner wall, allowing the epoxy to seep and fill the gaps. Make sure a weight is on top of the coupler so that it is firm to the surface and the epoxy stays within the inner wall of the coupler. It should not stick to the acetate and when the epoxy is dried (leave for at least an hour, longer if using other epoxies), it can be removed, turned over and repeat the procedure for the other side.

Once both sides are done the inner tube can be installed and then the shroud. These steps were repeated for the upper stage coupler [Step #7] but in that case the fit was much tighter to begin with so the epoxy ‘gap fill’ may not be needed.

The styrene F1 engines come in three parts: two nozzle halves and an engine feed supply tube ‘pipe’ that needs to be glued vertically. But the opposing surfaces for the supply tube are not very flat and it can be tricky to glue then just right. To make sure they will fit into the bulkhead later I first lightly glued all 5 supply tubes and then used that bulkhead to hold them in the proper position as the glue dried, making sure that the supply tube clue stub points and those of the nozzles are all in place. Once dried and held in place I added epoxy glue to the supply tube-nozzle joints for a solid bond. Be sure to paint the nozzles before gluing them in place on the bulkhead with the plastic nozzles.

Next come those daunting vacuformed wraps. Care must be taken even when just cutting them from the sheets. When using a blade the cut tends to move easily from side to side risking cutting into the parts. I ended up using scissors very slowly to cut them. One side of each wrap must be cut as close to the point where the styrene extrudes, but be sure to leave as much ‘flat’ surface on the other end as you will need that for gluing the other end onto.

The good news was that the wraps were perfectly sized to wrap exactly around the body tube. But that also meant gluing it and holding the ends tightly together at the same time. I used Tamiya Extra Thin model glue which secures it in place immediately so had one shot at this. The advantage of the Tamiya glue is that it seeps nicely into any gap for a better hold. I practiced beforehand placing the wraps and keeping the overlaps as tight as possible which helped.

For the inner stage wrapper where there are long pointy extrusions for fairings the mold unfortunately had other protrusions which meant I could not keep the styrene between all those extrusions and have one nice flat piece. This is a terrible decision on the part of the mold makers. Seeing as I was worried that the recommended 2mm spacing to use when cutting around those extrusions may not be enough to adhere to the body tube I left much more styrene around those. In hindsight I should have made that as small as possible and then used filler to ‘fillet’ them to the tube.

The biggest problem with the wrappers is that the instructions are not clear on the location of the inter stage wrapper. In Step #1 we are asked to mark off 18-⅜ from the end of the tube (and later extend the mark all around the circumference in Step #4). But in the diagram for Step #9 where we glue that wrapper it is unclear which part of the wrapper is supposed to align with the mark. It is clearly not one of the ends of the wrapper. I found a number of other builders asking this question in online forums but never found a concrete answer. The only thing I could do was to take a reference photo of a Saturn V and then use proportional scaling to try to determine the location.

My alignment calculations indicated that the bottom of the inter stage wrapper should be 14-¼ inches from the bottom of the tube. But later when applying the vertical red “UNITED STATES” decals, there was some overlap with the protruding ridges. I should point out that my calculations could still be correct and it is the decal sizing that is an issue, but to avoid this problem the bottom of that wrapper should be lowered at least ¼ inch, placing it at an even 14 inches.

One last thing to keep in mind when gluing the wrappers is to pay close attention to the alignment lines that are marked in Step #9. Later in Step #15 half rounded dowels will be used to connect between the stages and you want those as aligned as possible.

The fins are made by gluing two vacuformed halves together which means that only the fine glue around the edges will be holding them together in Step #10. Since the ‘depth’ of the fins at the outer edge is basically the thickness of the styrene itself I cut up some of the discard styrene to fit inside and glued those extra holding surfaces in first. This gave a nice big and solid glue point that make the fins much stronger, all the more important as those fins will likely take a bit of the landing load after a flight.

For Step #11 where the fins are glued into the large conical engine fairings I carefully cut out the fin slots making sure I only cut well within the allotted area. Then for each pair of fin and fairing (I numbered them to keep each pair separate), I kept inserting the fin and observing where extra sanding was needed for a good fit. It is important to note while doing this that the root edge of the fin should end up aligned with the lowest point of the contoured edge of the fairing and the top of the fairing. This was a tedious ‘fit and file’ process but I was able to get a perfect fit this way. Once the fitting was done I applied some Tamiya Extra Thin glue which seeped along the edges to hold the fins and fairings firmly together.

One thing that kept on coming up in researching this kit was that many flyers were reporting that the bottom of the styrene on the engine fairings would burn and melt away from the heat of the motor exhaust. In order to remedy that I carefully carved some ⅛ inch thick balsa wafers that I polyurethaned then glued to the bottom of the fairings. I perforated the bottom styrene to make sure the epoxy glue I used would go through the perforations and then also added more epoxy in the cavities, spreading the epoxy over the perforations on the inner side. I then sanded rounded edges on the balsa pieces to make them less noticeable. As they are on the protruding edges of the fairings, I also glued in lightly curved sections of cardboard to close the openings, nicely aligning the cardboard counter to match the body tube.

To build the tower the instruction would simply have you glue two of the leg assemblies onto the skirt while upside down. I did not like that as it was difficult to determine whether the leg endpoints would then align with the mounting holes on the capsule. instead I used a little clay in the capsule holes to temporarily hold the legs on and capsule, the glued the assemblies to the skirt while standing upright. Not only was I sure that it would later align with the holes, but I could glue the ‘partial leg’ pieces this way as well. The support ring in the kit was a bit too small to sit tightly within the centre X braces so while it lay on a piece of wax paper I applied epoxy all around the ring basically making it a thicker doughnut which was also a lot stronger.

The instructions call for launch lugs to be raised slightly using some of the spare flat strips of wood provided. I found those lugs to be too close to the body tube so I raised them a bit further by using yet another layer of strip. I would suggest that you basically look along the sight of the lugs and raise accordingly.

When it came to painting the rocket I used some rattle can white primer and followed that by a coat of white paint. Unfortunately I experienced one of those cases where a few spots exhibited the dreaded paint ‘crackling’ that inexplicably occurs on occasion. (I’ll never figure out why just a few isolated spots have it while 90% of the rest of the rocket are fine.) That meant a lot of resanding, priming and painting once again. With the white done I opted for airbrushing the black portions given the complex scheme. I used green masking tape and some paper to isolate the paint spots and while I got a decent paint job out if that I would recommend using something like Tamiya tape for masking as the many protrusions did produce a few bleed through spots that I later had to sand back to get to the white.

The last paint step was airbrushing the silver for the LEM and bottom fairing. This time I did use the Tamiya tape and that masking came out perfect. Before applying all those decals I gave it a few coats of undiluted Pledge floor wax (the seasoned modeler’s secret!) as a clearcoat base and protector. I used Microscale Micro Sol over the decals, especially in those places it lay along the ridges, and was surprised on how good a job it did in having the decals conform to the uneven surfaces.

Even before building it I wondered if I would ever dare to fly it, given that any flight always comes with risks no matter what. But as I can’t count it as a true rocket in my arsenal unless I fly it at least once, I will do so at some point once normal flying operations resume at our local club or I can at least get to another launch. As I know this kit was already under powered for the recommended Estes D motors, I plan on flying it on an Aerotech composite E motor.

I must say that while there are some imperfections I’m still thrilled at how nice the completed kit looks. It’s a lot of work to be sure, but one of the nicest rockets out there and given it’s history, one that I hope every rocketeer eventually owns, if not this particular kit, then one of the others available.

Please feel free to add your comments and other suggestions for this kit as I hope it will someday others about to build this kit.

Movie Reviews 476 – Mama (2013)

April 23, 2021

I first took notice of Argentinian director Andrés (Andy) Muschietti when he directed both parts of the feature releases of Stephen King’s It. I loved those remakes and despite the long running times felt I could watch even more. (Yes, I heard that there was much more filmed and edited out there, and yes I hope that an extended and complete version of It is released someday). I pledged to myself that I would check out his other films but incredulous as it sounds Mama is the only other feature length film he has directed so far.

Most of his other works have been shorts and it was a very short Mamá that caught the eye of Guillermo del Toro who liked it so much he got Andy to make this feature length version which del Toro produced along with Barbara Muschietti, Andy’s sister, frequent collaborator and not coincidentally also a producer of the It films.

After some financial shenanigans have gone awry and murdering his wife, a panicked father takes flight with his two very young daughters and decides to ‘end it all’ when they find themselves in a remote cabin. But just as he is about to take the life of one of the girls he is interrupted by some swirling force.

It is only after five years of searching that the man’s persistent brother finds the girls, now feral savages and still living alone in the cabin, but alive and well. Unlike the girl’s father, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), a wannabe rocker, do not lead a life of luxury and in order to gain custody must allow visitation rights to another aunt and Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) who is assessing the great psychological and emotional stress and injury the girls have undergone.

The girls have created an imaginary caretaker, “Mama” who still has a hold upon them. The elder of the two, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) begins to adapt but the younger Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) remains hesitant and emotionally isolated. After Lucas suffers an accident that puts him in a coma, it is up to Annabel to deal with the girls and some weird goings on in the home. But it’s Dr. Dreyfuss interviews and hypnosis sessions with Victoria that reveal something much deeper than the effects of isolation that is gripping the children.

A borderline fantasy/horror ghost story, the heavy load is carried out by Annabel and Victoria who is really stuck in the middle of wanting a normal life while unable to ignore the mostly unseen phantom. When the entity is visible it is a decidedly creepy visage and we slowly learn of a tumultuous past which resulted in the spirit haunting the family now.

While I can’t say that I enjoyed this as much as It as the story employs a number of worn tropes, it is still a solid film with some outstanding acting, particularly from Charpentier. The creepy scares are a bit hit and miss, but the intrigue in the plot is more than enough to overcome the bumps on the road and it does get better as the story shapes itself.

Movie Reviews 475 – Gun Crazy (1950)

April 16, 2021

I knew nothing of this Film Noir other than the fact that I liked the seductive artwork on the DVD. While not the best artwork, I could not ignore the scrumptious esthetic of a pulp mystery. None of the actors, writers, producers or the director were familiar to me and researching them afterwards it seems that Gun Crazy was the pinnacle of their respective careers. Digging a bit deeper I did discover that one of the writers, Millard Kaufman, was in fact the late, great Dalton Trumbo, on the infamous Hollywood blacklist at the time and either using a nom-de-plume or a ‘front’. With that being the only notable characteristic I wondered if I was going to enjoy this feature from one of the Poverty Row studios as much as I enjoy big budget Noir classics.

As one can imagine, the “Gun Crazy” sobriquet is indicative of a gangster tale and in that sense this film delivers the criminal elements it advertises. But the title is more apropos than one would imagine as the two main characters have very unique psychological rapports with guns and are literally ‘gun crazy’ but each in their own way.

We begin with Bart (John Dall) who was an otherwise good child but with a fixation for guns which gets him into trouble with the law. A spur of the moment attempt to steal a gun earns him a stint in reform school but he becomes a model citizen thereafter, even going so far as enlisting in the army to be a shooting instructor as he has become a master marksman.

Returning to his home town to visit his sister and boyhood friends, one now a sheriff, the other a newspaper reporter, his world changes the night the reunited men hit the local carny and take in the ‘crack shot’ show on the midway. The ‘star’ is Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) who ends the spectacle with an audience challenge at the end of the act. Bart not only takes the challenge but falls for her and ends up joining the travelling show.

When the couple later face some hard times Annie convinces Bart to engage in some petty crimes which of course later leads them to becoming a notorious headline grabbing couple with the FBI hot on their tails. The ever escalating crime spree and near escapes brings Bart back to his hometown and an ultimate showdown with his friends, family and the hand of the law.

The driving narrative is Bart’s hesitancy to use guns against any living thing, much less innocent lives, a lesson he learned early in life. On the other hand Annie’s reaction with a gun in hand is to shoot first and ask questions later. Their shared fascination for guns is diametrically opposite when it comes to endangerment of others.

I thought that the story was going to go down well worn the path of a callous and greedy woman coaxing her man to obtain the luxuries she desires and on the surface it seems that way for much of the film. But there is another layer, one of genuine love and affection that nicely complicates the plot and elevates this from being just a cheap action film. I like how it addresses how friends and family deal with a loved one falling into a life of crime and is not just about the main characters. Call it a proto Bonnie and Clyde without the blood and color.

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