Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sergeants Rock

We saw Hacksaw Ridge Sunday night, Mel Gibson’s film about WWII conscientious objector Desmond Doss. It’s a good movie about an almost unbelievably true story, built largely around a bravura performance by former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield, but also featuring a great turn by Hugo Weaving as his father, a drunken and embittered WWI veteran. The biggest surprise for me though, was appreciating Vince Vaughn in a non-comedic role.



Vaughn plays Sgt. Howell, Doss’s platoon leader, who not only takes his recruits through basic training but on to the field of battle at Okinawa. But during his introduction, we get treated to the special kind of insightful and creative abuse so endemic to recruiting sergeants and drill instructors, at least in the movies.

Sgt Howell: I have seen stalks of corn with better physiques. Makes me want to pull an ear off, Private! Can you carry your weight?
Desmond Doss: Yes, Sergeant!
Sgt Howell: It should be easy for you then. Corporal!
Corporal Jessop: Sergeant.
Sgt Howell: Make sure you keep this man away from strong winds.

Or consider the following, as delivered to a completely naked individual:

Sgt Howell: Have you ever roped a goat, Hollywood?
Hollywood Zane: No, Sarge.
Sgt Howell: Have you ever looked into a goat's eyes?
Hollywood Zane: No, Sarge.
Sgt Howell: Good. That would be unnatural.

You can have a decent war movie without a colourful sergeant (Black Hawk Down did it, after all) but a good NCO makes a good movie better.

Full Metal Jacket - Sgt. Hartman is probably the gold standard for modern movie sergeants, probably due in no small part to R. Lee Ermey’s experience as a real life Marine Corps sarge. A perfect storm of well written content and the vocal delivery equivalent of CAPS LOCK.

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor. From now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be "Sir". Do you maggots understand that?
Recruits: [In unison in a normal speaking tone] Sir, yes Sir.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Bullshit I can't hear you. Sound off like you got a pair!
Recruits: [In unison, much louder] SIR, YES SIR!
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that day you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings. You are nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but I am fair. There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless. And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved Corps. Do you maggots understand that?

Heartbreak Ridge - Clint Eastwood’s tough-as-nails Gunny Highway is almost as abusive as Sgt. Hartman, but is committed to the development of his men, and actually deploys with his platoon during the invasion of Grenada. Plus, other than Sgt. York, not a lot of war movies have a sergeant as the main character, right?

Highway: My name's Gunnery Sergeant Highway and I've drunk more beer and banged more quiff and pissed more blood and stomped more ass that all of you numbnuts put together. Now Major Powers has put me in charge of this reconnaissance platoon.
Lance Corporal Fragatti: We take care of ourselves.
Highway: You couldn't take care of a wet dream. God loves you.
Collins: I know that!
Highway: You men do not impress me!

Gettysburg - Sgt. Kilrain is a Mick after me own liver and kidneys, a campaigner from the Auld Sod who admonishes his colonel, a former college professor, for walking instead of riding the horse he’s been provided.

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Colonel? Colonel, darlin'. Rise up, me bucko. (Chamberlain groans.) Oh, I'm sorry, darlin', but we've got a bit of a problem here, Colonel, would ye like to hear about it? Would ye wake up, sir? We got a whole company comin', sir. This way. I'll give ye time to wake up, but we've got quite a problem. Altogether, 120 men are comin'. We're to be havin' them as guests.
Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: (still half asleep) What?
Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Yeah. Should be here any minute.
Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Who?
Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Mutineers. Mutineers, Colonel, me lad. 120 men from the old 2nd Maine which has been disbanded.
Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: 120 mutineers? (gestures for Kilrain to keep talking.)
Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Yes, sir. Ye see, what happened was the enlistment papers on the old 2nd Maine run out. So they were sent home. All except these 120 fellows who'd foolishly signed 3-year papers. 3 years, that is. So these poor fellows, they got one more year to serve, only, you see, they thought they was signin' to fight only with the 2nd Maine and the 2nd Maine only. So, they, uh, quit. They resigned, ye see. 120 men! (Chamberlain puts his head down.) Colonel? Are ye all right?

Aliens - Sergeant Apone doesn't get a lot of screen time, but every time he is on screen he exudes discipline and proficiency. Another real-life sergeant, actor Al Matthews was the first black man promoted to E-5 in the U.S. army.

Sergeant Apone: All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I *love* the Corps!

Fort Apache - This one’s a twofer; you get Ward Bond and Victor McLaglen from The Quiet Man as Regimental Sergeant Major O’Rourke…

Lt. Col. Thursday: This Lt. O'Rourke - are you by chance related?
RSM Michael O'Rourke: Not by chance, sir, by blood. He's my son.
Lt. Col. Thursday: I see. How did he happen to get into West Point?
RSM Michael O'Rourke: It happened by presidential appointment, sir
Lt. Col. Thursday: Are you a former officer, O'Rourke?
RSM Michael O'Rourke: During the war, I was a major in the 69th New York regiment... The Irish Brigade, sir.
Lt. Col. Thursday: Still, it's been my impression that presidential appointments were restricted to sons of holders of the Medal of Honor.
RSM Michael O'Rourke: That is my impression, too, sir. Will that be all, sir?

...and Sgt. Mulcahy, respectively.
[in the storeroom at Meacham's trading post, the soldiers find boxes marked "Bibles" - Col. Thursday tells the men to open them - when they do, they find kegs of whiskey instead]
Sgt. Quincannon: Bibles, sir!
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: [Col. Thursday hands a cup to Sgt. Mulcahy] Sergeant, pour me some scripture.
[Sgt. Mulcahy dips the cup into a keg and hands it to Col. Thursday. He takes a sip and spits it out]
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: What's in this? Brimstone and sulfur?
Silas Meacham: You know what it is and I'm entitled to keep it.
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Your license may permit you to keep a medicinal store of whiskey, but this is no whiskey.
Silas Meacham: Perhaps you're not used to frontier whiskey.
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: I don't know... I've tasted most everything.
[to Sgt. Mulcahy]
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: Sergeant, you a judge of whiskey?
First Sgt. Festus Mulcahy: [looks around at the others] Uh, well, sir, some people say I am and some say I'm not, sir.
Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: [hands him the cup] Tell me what you make of this.
First Sgt. Festus Mulcahy: [takes a drink - makes a face at Meacham - takes another drink] Well, uh, it's better than no whiskey at all, sir.

And after being told to destroy the whiskey, and handing out cups to the other men:

First Sgt. Festus Mulcahy: "Destroy it," he says. Well, boys, we've a man's work ahead of us this day.

But my favourite probably has to be the straight and proper, cool and unflappable Colour Sergeant Bourne from Zulu, as portrayed by Nigel Green. His admonishment of the incarcerated preacher who tries to convince his guard to desert is delivered as coolly, professionally and impeccably as his bayonet strikes:

“Mr. Witt, sir, be quiet now will you; there's a good gentleman. You'll upset the lads.”

I don't know if Vince Vaughn's Sgt. Howell will resonate with me through the years the way some of these cinematic NCOs have, but he makes a worthwhile contribution to the canon.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Picture of a Man at Work

It's an old picture, torn from the pages of the September 1995 issue of Premiere magazine (remember that one? It's been off the newsstands since 2007) and tucked into a three-ring page protector. I rediscovered across it in the bookshelf cupboard in the Batcave while tidying up the other day.

It's a picture of Robert Rodriguez, one of my favourite directors. He's made a lot of movies I've really enjoyed over the years, most notably Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, probably the sexiest action pic ever made. He made his first movie, El Mariachi, for a reported budget of $7,000, on mostly borrowed equipment, which he financed by being a paid subject of medical experiments (and where he met the man he cast as the villain!).

His repertoire has a ridiculous range, second only to George Miller in my estimation, directing violent affairs like Machete and Planet Terror right alongside the family-friendly Spy Kids franchise. But while all of these facets make him cool, they aren't what make him one of my favourite directors.

It's his character.

Comic creator Frank Miller has a well-deserved reputation as a bit of a difficult crank to work with, and had expressed disbelief that anyone could adapt his own works in a satisfying manner. Rodriguez again used his own money and a volunteer cast to create a short based on Miller's brutal but brilliant noir crime story, Sin City. Miller loved it and agreed to co-direct a feature film with Rodriguez.

But the Director's Guild of America does not permit co-directing, so Rodriguez quit the DGA in order to make the movie in a manner that satisfied both himself and the property's creator. Although he did subsequently rejoin, it was a poignant statement about creative independence.

As evidenced in the Black Mamba commercial he shot for Nike with Kobe Bryant, Robert Rodriguez is someone who takes his work seriously, but doesn't take himself seriously.



But neither that anecdote nor a funny, self-aware shoe commercial is  what makes him  one of my favourite directors. And the picture always reminds of just what it is that distinguishes him in my eyes.

It was taken by Brian Smith during the filming of Desperado. Rodriguez looks just impossibly badass despite the fact that it is a staged shot. He wears cargo shorts and a grey t-shirt, accessorized by a fisherman's vest full of lenses, and a red bandana tied around his head kerchief-style to keep the hair out of his eyes. He has a bandage on his nose (covering the two stitches he got from an altercation with a viewfinder), but the most notable feature is the steadicam he is holding, attached to the harness on his chest. The dramatic backdrop, a flaming Lincoln situated mere feet behind him, completes the effect.


The accompanying article talks about his difficulty in moving from an indie film like El Mariachi to a big-budget actioner from a major studio. How he annoyed some reps from Columbia because he claimed he didn't know what an AD (Assistant Director) was. How he kept even this larger budget under control by casting a cameraman as a cancer patient. How he took a three day course in steadicam operation so he could take the shots himself to save both time and money.

The bulk of my admiration, though, comes from a single anecdote: with rapidly diminishing light, Rodriguez determined a superior angle to shoot a scene. His production assistant said there was no time to move the dolly tracks that would allow the camera to move laterally in a smooth enough fashion to capture the pan the director wanted, and said they would simply have to keep the shot they already have.

Rodriguez surveyed the ground, framed up what he wanted in his mind's eye and said, "Nah, get me a shopping cart and a steadicam, and I'll do it myself."

I don't know what I like more about this tiny tale, this microscopic Tinseltown fable; the fact that Rodriguez had such a clear picture of the shot he desired, or that he was able to come up with such a creative and unconventional way to get it.

Sometimes I struggle to determine what the heck it is I want, as I am sure many of us do from time to time, and when I do know, I will often take the path of least resistance to get it. Not every time, to be sure, but enough to annoy myself in retrospect.

Looking at that picture of a man who not only has a clear vision, but has equipped himself in a way that removes as many obstacles between him and it as possible is, to me at least, inspirational. That's why I tore it it from a magazine that I bought in Edmonton so I could have it in view on my desk in Mississauga while working in sales for Games Workshop.

This overly dramatic image of a man I have so little in common with is a great reminder of the importance of vision, the value of persuasion and persistence, and the notion that there are nearly an infinite number of ways to accomplish most things. Important ideas, these, and timeless.

So much so, in fact, that I think I will bring it to work tomorrow.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Coming Distractions

Under ordinary circumstances, I live in a high degree of anticipation for film releases. Marvel Studios alone has laid out three movies a year for the next three years, and as a result I am eagerly awaiting not only Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok this year, but also looking ahead to costume tests and casting details from Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Captain Marvel. And Star Wars and DC have their long term plans as well.

But 2017 has a special place in my heart.



This year's cinematic spectacles have a dual purpose; certainly they will entertain, some more so than others, but more importantly, they will serve as a buffer, a cushion, a form of psychic insulation.

They will hopefully keep me away from US news.

Like a lot of people, I followed last year's presidential election pretty closely, reading articles on the Washington Post and New York Times even as the Republican nominee mocked their reporters and dismissed their reporting. I watched in disbelief as a supremely unqualified and unsuited individual became the leader of the free world, surfing to power on a wave of populist disenfrachisement, and have been alternately astonished and horrified at his actions since taking office.

To make matters worse, the absence of any sort of viable middle in American politics means that both the right and left are getting more entrenched, and social media is filed with the smoldering wreckage of former friendships and shattered relationships.

Oh, make no mistake, we have similar problems here in Canada, especially in Alberta (carbon tax debate, anyone?), but they feel far more understated and much less, well, dangerous. And at least in Canada I can by a party membership and vote for a leader if I am so inclined, and try to exert some influence there, but south of the 49th parallel? If his own citizens are protesting in the streets to no avail, and he is trying to find ways to circumvent judges and attorney generals as they attempt to maintain rule of law, I'm pretty sure the ranting of one more foreign national, especially one from Soviet Canuckistan, is going to fall on deaf ears.

And if I stopped to think about it, this rise in populism, coupled with a global financial slowdown and underscored by military adventurism in the Crimea and South China Sea, would all probably coalesce into my wondering how people in the if my general sense of foreboding would be familiar to anyone who lived through the 1930s. Which is depressing and intimidating in equal measure.

So I'm taking a break.

I'm not going full cocoon, no ostrich-mode for me, but I have already reduced my intake of American news to headlines for the most part. I'm staying away from op-eds, and avoiding punditry altogether. I've determined there is little to be gained from it, so I am focusing some of those energies into the enjoyment of largely escapist entertainment for the remainder of 2017. With some careful scheduling, I can move from release to release like an orangutan brachiating his way through a rainforest canopy.

February

The Lego Batman Movie (who didn't love The Lego Movie, a kid's version of The Matrix?)
A Cure for Wellness (wow, this looks trippy)

March

Logan (final turn for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine after a decade and a half of awesomeness!)
Kong: Skull Island (great 70s esthetic, John Goodman, and a sequel featuring a fight with Godzilla!)
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Guy Ritchie doing a street level Morte D'Arthur? I'm in!)
Ghost in the Shell (boo whitewashing, yay cyberpunk manga adaptation with great art design!)
(also: When the heck am I going to find time to watch Iron Fist on Netflix?)

April

Colossal (just..watch the trailer, I can't synopsize it without wrecking it)

May

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (hope the soundtrack is good)
Alien: Covenant (guess I had better watch Prometheus, huh?)
Life (more scares in space)

June

Wonder Woman (cautious optimism based on a great trailer)
Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle (the sequel I am most surprised/delighted to see)

July

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Spider-Man's first feature in the MCU!)
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan's WWII film is perhaps the movie I am most stoked for)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (opens same weekend as Dunkirk and looks great!)
The Dark Tower (Idris Elba plays Stephen King's knightly gunslinger)

August

Baby Driver (caper film by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and what a cast!)

September 

Huh, the schedule must have shifted; I could have sworn there was something out in September I wanted to see... oh well, guess I will stay home one weekend and binge-watch Marvel's The Defenders on Netflix, huh?

October

Blade Runner 2049 (didn't want to see this, didn't think it needed making, but it looks SO GOOD)
(Also, Stranger Things Season 2 comes out on Hallowe'en!)

November

Thor: Ragnarok (guest starring The Hulk for the first time since Age of Ultron)
Justice League (I'll level with you, this might not even be good, but I have to go)

December

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (The Force Awakens was a lot of fun; can a new director stay the course?)


So there you have it: a year of insulation from the rancour and divisiveness of American politics. Just thinking about all these morsels of cinematic experiences has improved my disposition in the last few minutes!

Sure, there are some tumultuous times ahead on our side of the border too, with both the federal and provincial Tories casting about for new leadership, but with any luck things will stay a bit more civil and perhaps less surreal. In the meantime I will confine my perusings of happenings in Washington to the minimum, and have resolved not to get worked up about them.

Sometime in 2018 I will poke my head out of my escapist burrow and see how things are going in the lead-up to the mid-term elections, and with any luck, I will be strengthened by my sabbatical and more prepared to grapple with the issues of the day as well as the caricatures behind them.

And if not, sequels to The Incredibles and Pacific Rim are on deck along with Infinity War and an adaptation of Ready Player One that year, so my back-up plan is already in place.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Emotional Algebra of Images: Three Pictures > 30,000 Words

I can sum up the emotional circumference of the past week with three photographs. They are not completely comprehensive, as they do not address the stumbles and triumphs of the workplace, the impact of a friend's sad revelation, or the simple joy of reuniting with him and your other friends on a Saturday night. These three pictures circumscribe the highs and lows encountered in the course of navigating 1/52nd of a year.

The most whimsical is the oil painting of Batman that now hangs on the accent wall of the downstairs bathroom, colloquially known as 'The Batcan'. A friend tipped me to a Paint Night at a St. Albert bistro using my favourite superhero as its subject, and although it would mean going by myself, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and bought a ticket.



The stencil did most of the heavy lifting, but over the course of three hours, I slowly brushed black, white and indigo oils into the cloudscape that makes up the bulk of the picture, adding the other elements as directed by the instructor, Tyler. I bolshed up one of the bats something fierce, and it took me four separate attempts to get the reflection in the water to where I wanted it.

In the end, white paint tidied up my mangled chiropteran a bit, while black paint provided me the ability to make multiple attempts at the reflection. In the end, I am left with a painting I don't mind looking at, and which improves in quality the further I stand back from it. The picture of Gotham's Dark Knight reminds me what I can accomplish if I overcome my own inertia, set aside my social anxiety and venture out of my comfort zone a little bit.



The saddest image of the week are these two prints I bought in an unconventional fashion; the artist brought them to my door.



It was a summer day, perhaps five years ago; Audrey called me to the front door and I found a smiling young man waiting there, probably indigenous, wearing a backpack and carrying some art prints in a folder under his arm. He introduced himself and said as an artist, he was taking it upon himself to get his work out there by taking it the streets in the most literal sense possible, and was selling them door to door.

I was intrigued, and asked what the response had been like to this approach. He said that he was getting lots of good wishes, and just enough sales that he wasn't willing to quit just yet.

The young man opened his folder and showed me some of his prints, telling the inspiration for each title and the significance behind the aboriginal art style he was using. Now, I'm no artist or art critic, but I have been reading comic strips and comic books since I was 5 years old, and I have come to appreciate the fluidity and strength of a well done line, and these prints had those qualities in spades. There was a grace and elegance, a naturality that exuded from the art board he had drawn and painted them on.

We talked a bit about how he had made them, a combination of artist's pens and acrylic paint on artboard, and I commented on both the smoothness of this line and the precision of the circles. I don't remember how much he was selling them for, but it was peanuts less than $20 a piece for certain. Knowing how much Audrey enjoyed that style of art, I told him I was happy to buy two, on the condition he signed them, as he had not, up to that point. Apparently there are those who prefer the prints without the signature, and he was reluctant to compromise the possibility of a sale, but only too happy to sign mine.

He shrugged off his backpack, pulled one of his technical pens from the pocket and carefully printed his name at the bottom of each piece: Sterling Gauthier.

My memory is primarily visual, and I see those prints every morning as I get dressed, and that is the reason I recognized his name when the morning radio reported his death after collapsing on a bus last week.



Sterling was well known as both an artist and a stand-up fellow amongst those who work with Edmonton's homeless. Turns out he wasn't as young as I had supposed; passing as he did at 36 means he was probably 30 when I met him, but his positivity and exuberance gave him the mien of a younger man, and I remembered thinking of him as someone who might be in college.

I gather he struggled with drinking, and I don't know if he was living rough at that time or not, but he came across as articulate, passionate, determined and friendly, qualities the world needs more of now than ever, but he is gone.

The news report of his passing left me gutted, and I appreciate the two prints, "Free Spirit" and "Sky's the Limit", more than ever now. They are a reminder to appreciate the strangers that life throws into your path; you don't know their full story, and you may never get another chance to hear it.

The most uplifting picture for the week that was is that one of Glory at the Western Canada Winter Championships last week.


I still can't claim to understand the complex methods of progression in competitive Irish Dance, which make the initiation rites of the Shaolin 36 Chambers look like a weekend symposium. I do know you can't progress without taking first place in what is called a Trophy Dance, and you need to win at some lower levels just be allowed to compete there in the first place.

More importantly, I know Glory works harder at this than anything in her life to this point. I know she is at the studio 4 nights a week, (2 hours on Wednesdays), and has to log 2 hours of exercise, practice, or intense stretching at home on the weekend in order to be permitted to attend the execution classes run by some of the more experienced dancers.

I know she was limping when I picked her up from practice two weeks ago, and the thought of an injury preventing her from competing in a feis only  days away brought her nearly to tears. I know she has had several visits to a sports doctor and chiropractor since then, and that taking a couple of prescribed nights off to recover caused her pain in a way that no injury ever could.

I know one of the worst qualities she gets from her old man is an matchless ability to worry, and I know she didn't sleep well the night before her trophy dance, but she pushed through it and got first place for the first time ever.

She needs one more first-place win, in a different dance, in order to progress to the next level, but I know she's already done enough to make me as proud of her as I have ever been.

And best of all, I know she knows it.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Big Day of Tiny Battles

On Saturday, I played my first one-on-one game of Warhammer 40,000 in perhaps 8 years.

40K, as it is sometimes known, has been a part of Gaming & Guinness up through G&G IX, in Ottawa, but these are group games, usually involving 4 or more players. I played a smaller scale game with my friend Jeff and his son Connor some years back, but I just checked the date on my blog, and that is going back 5 years this March. Half a decade, already? Surely not.

I spent almost 12 years working for Games Workshop, the manufacturers of the game, playing it at least a couple of times a month while I did. But I played it before I worked there too, and afterwards as well. What the hell happened?

In preparing for this week's match-up, I may have found my answer.

Scott's wife called back in November and said that instead of getting him more models or paints or rules for Christmas (as he already has plenty; most of us adult hobbyists do!), she was arranging play-dates for him with friends that she knew had armies.

I thought this was a fantastic idea, and agreed, staking out the 21st, knowing that Glory and Audrey would be out of town at a feis. This week has been a frenzy of re-learned rules, uncrating of various armies and models, and no small amount of repair and touch-ups. Even digging up my old army lists and determining what to field took me a couple of hours.  

We had initially planned on a massive, all-day, 5,000 point Apocalypse-sized game, but layering those massive rules on top of a system I was already a couple of years rusty on seemed a bad idea. Thankfully Scott found the idea of 2 x 1500 point games just as agreeable.

Dusting off the wargames scenery, unpacking old models, selecting my forces; it all felt pretty good, but it underscored the primary reason that I don't play as much. This was probably 3-4 hours work spent just preparing for the game, outside of the hours spent buying, building and painting the models themselves.  And while multi-player games are possible, and even enjoyable, most miniature wargames are designed as a head-to-head, one-on-one pastime, so all that effort is spent on entertaining just two people, in the end.

Comparatively, I might spend the same amount of time preparing for a game of Spirit of 77, and that falls on me as the gamemaster. I have to pay a lot more attention while we play as well, since I have to direct the narrative (to some degree, at least). But that same amount of effort goes into entertaining a half-dozen people, including myself.

As I prepare to turn the page on my first half-century later this year, I have to wonder how much of a factor that this effectiveness plays in my gaming choices. Even if more of my friends played 40K, we are lucky to get together once or twice a month, and almost never in December. Spending gaming time with a single other person feels kind of like...splurging?

But let me tell you, there is a tremendously positive feeling to be had in splurging, so Saturday ended up being a hoot!


Scott brought his Orks over and we were ready to start gaming by mid-morning. His first opponents were my Tyranids: a ravenous alien swarm, ready to pit selectively bred troops and bio-engineered weapons against whatever the 41st millennium could throw at them.


The backbone of Scott's Ork army is an incredibly tough unit that I don't believe I have ever bested: 30 Ork Boyz, kitted out for close combat, led by a character called Mad Doc Grotsnik. Now, that many Orks running across the table at you is already a terrifying prospect, since you would need to kill 8 of them just to force a panic test, which they will automatically pass until their numbers dip below 10. When Grotsnik joins them though, he shoots 'em up full of fightin' juice which a) makes them fearless and b) makes them feel no pain, giving them the ability to ignore almost any wound on a dice roll of 4+. That's right: Orks on steroids.

My hardest battle when facing this particular mob is overcoming an ever-growing sense of futility.

But knowing they were coming, I could build my Tyranid list appropriately, stripping out the weaker, more numerous elements and making a list composed almost entirely of Genestealers (arguably the best hand-to-hand troop choice in the game) and Carnifexes (lumbering monsters that work like living tanks, able to shoot and melee). Against any other force I might have felt a little dirty, but as soon as the Doc hit the table, a feeling of justification settled over me like a cozy blanket.


We rolled a scenario that required us to designate an objective in our starting table quarter, and defend it while simultaneously trying to conquer that of our opponent. I placed a nest-looking piece next to the power station scenery we were using (a la sub-level 3 in Aliens), while Scott placed an Orky icon on the ground behind a hill he had covered with his shootiest Orks. 

After he deployed, I put a squad of Genestealers in the station itself, another by the nest, and Old One-Eye, a legendary Carnifex, behind the station to help guard it.


One lesson I have finally begun to apply to my wargaming is this notion of timing. Too many times have I run a unit out of cover, eager to get them into the fight, worried they might be left out, anxious at having paid precious points for something not providing an immediate return on investment, only to have them annihilated in due course. 

For this game, I not only deployed my best unit of Genestealers behind the crest of a hill, I actually held them back and left them there for the first turn, a degree of subtlety and nuance in my play that I found almost off-putting in its unfamiliarity.


Rather then waste time making his way toward the bridge or the ford in the river, Scott charged Grotsnik and his boys directly into it, losing a couple to the current, but saving himself at least two turns in getting to his objective.  It took me a turn or two to get my Hive Tyrant (the boss bug) and two of the shootier Carnifexes to the crest of the hill, but the mob was so big, I was actually able to shoot at it as I went, for all the good it did.


Meanwhile, Scott's Dethkoptas flew in from the flank and shot at my hidden 'Stealers, but the dice conspired against him, and he only managed to kill a couple of them. Furious at this failure, and well aware that the 'Stealers were holding up the rest of his army on that flank, he charged them into hand to hand to finish me off.

Well, given his target's specialization in this area, the assault phase didn't go that well for him. After dispatching the rest of the 'Koptas, the Broodlord and remaining Genestealers were able to dash across the river, engage his bike squad the following turn, and see them off as well.


On the opposite flank, another group of Genestealers made their way across the bridge, hoping to destroy or delay the light armour Scott was marching around in the form of three Killer Kans, miniature dreadnoughts. And although they all eventually perished, it took long enough that the two remaining Kans were effectively out of the fight.


No, the heart of the battle was at the heart of the table, where Grotsnik's PED-enhanced hooligans were frantically swimming through a raging torrent under heavy fire from the largest models in my army, relentlessly pushing forward.


As soon as I was able to, I charged my three monstrosities into the fray, thinking I could carve my way to the Doc and eliminate that Feel No Pain rule, and failing that, at least whittle them down to a more manageable number. Either Grotsnik would die, or nearly a third of my totals points value would!

Grotsnik wouldn't die.

I couldn't believe it! His Cybork body saved him from my Hive Tyrant's bonesword, and his frenzied Orks dragged my larger, tougher models down with their superior numbers and tireless choppers. True, there weren't nearly as many as there were before by the end of it, but he was still in a position to get to my nest and claim that objective.


As the Broodlord and his crew were joined by Old One Eye around the Ork objective, I threw my largest remaining Carnifex at the mob, and the Genestealers surged out of the power station to support him. But in my zeal, I ran the Chatterbug forward instead of shooting, which meant he was unable to assault! He was subsequently charged by the Orks, and Grotsnik's power claw demolished 192 points worth of bio-warmachine. 

My Genestealers whittled him down some more, but the Mad Doc and his now tiny retinue powered on towards the nest, and to victory if my sole remaining Genestealer squd couldn't stop him.


Grotsnik died within sight of the objective, pulled down by Genestealers, in a frenzied final clash I expected to find more satisfying, but I was too busy feeling relieved. A rare victory over the Mad Doc's boyz!

Then in our second game, he took my Valhallans to the 41st millennium's equivalent of the woodshed and tied a gawdawful whuppin' on 'em.



This, despite having the same deployment setup, despite having a river to impede movement and a diagonal axis along which to pour prodigious amounts of artillery fire. 


He walloped my Imperial Guard force something fierce, with a final score something like 10-3. 


Three of his points came courtesy of my doggedly committing subsequent waves of Conscripts to the fight in a futile effort to slow his advance by using Commander Chenkov's special rule,"send in the next wave". But he slaughtered them upon their appearance for three consecutive turns.

"Forward, you dogs!"
There were a couple of bright moments: I finally got to use my Chimera APCs often forgotten amphibious ability, and my Bom Squad Veterans piled out and took Scott's Ork Kommandos out in close combat! The same squad, aded by Konfessor Grigori, a Ministorum priest with an unremarkable profile but a double-handed chainsword to make up for it, almost managed to killed the Ork Warboss as well! 

Almost.

But his gobliny Grots wrecked my Leman Russ tank and his Dethkoptas blew up my Basilisk, and by the end of the game, not a single human was left alive, and the future truly was green. Well, whatever; my army still looks better. ; )




Still, one win each was a pretty good way to spend a Saturday, and a great return to full-scale battle games after a long absence! Long enough for us to notice how much sorer our feet and backs were afterwards, sadly...

Best of all though, Fenya had asked earlier in the week if she could have a game with me, since everything was already unpacked, and I was only too happy (ecstatic, really) to accommodate her!

I dusted off my Space Marines army, picked 1,000 points for her and a Tyranid force for me, and we started this afternoon, finishing up after supper. Some of those Dark Angels models have seen better days, and I bet it has been 7-8 years since I have played with any of them as well, having three other armies I use more often.


It took a while for her to wrap her head around it, and I had to make an effort to tell her where to find all the numbers I was referencing, in contrast to years of shorthand and memorized statistics and tables. She was diligent about wanting to know, to her credit.

Breaking for supper really seemed to help, and before too long she was moving through the sequence quite comfortably, needed only the barest prompting from me, and managed to have all my Tyranids off the table by the end of turn 5.

As we packed up the models and dice afterwards, I asked her what had made her want to play. She said she had always found the models and background intriguing, but mostly, it was because she wanted to see what had been such a big part of my life, both personally and professionally, for so long. 

I found this gratifying and a little ironic, since I had clearly taken it for granted and very nearly made it into something that I used to do.

She had a great time, and surprised me a little when she said she would like to get another game in at some point.  It appears that our basement may not have seen the last of Warhammer 40,000's grim, dark future. And that's no bad thing, I figure.




Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Good to be Got

It was Blue Monday today (allegedly), which also meant you could see a movie at Cineplex for half the Scene points it would normally take, so Fenya and I went to see La La Land.

It's a great movie in general; well composed, brilliantly shot, and great performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It's sweet without being cloying, not entirely predictable, they don't harp on the angsty notes for too long, and the humour is genuinely well done. It may be the most approachable and genuine musical I've ever seen, despite being an homage, but it wasn't my favourite part of the evening.



Before the movie, they played the trailer to The Shack, an adaptation of a religious novel (which is actually quite good) that centers around a man questioning not only his faith but his Maker after his daughter is abducted and killed; heavy stuff, especially for squishy parents like myself.

Immediately afterwards they played the animated Cineplex promo where the dad buys his kid some sort of a movie-balloon, which deflates before they can watch it. As he picks it up off the floor he finds a box under his son's bed labelled "Me and Dad", filled with similarly shriveled balloons.

I'd already been having a tiring and somewhat melancholy day. I was thinking about my dad a lot, and I couldn't tell you precisely why. I don't miss him any less today than when he passed five years ago, but he showed up in my  thoughts several times; randomly, unbidden, saddening but strangely welcome at the same time.

Dad liked movies in a different way than I do; he couldn't tell you the names of writers or directors, but there were scenes he would reference throughout his life that clearly resonated with him. Somehow a writer and a director and an actor (and a cinematographer and a composer and a light rigger) had captured on a piece of celluloid that depicted, in his eyes at least, The Way Things Oughtta Be.

Usually it would be John Wayne, whether putting the reins in his teeth and telling Robert Duvall to fill his hands in True Grit, or nodding solemnly after Ron Howard throws his pistol away at the end of The Shootist.

Coming home from work the airport late one night just before going to university, I came across him watching an old heist movie, where the mastermind had gathered a handful of disparate individuals together because each of them had the requisite tools or skills to ambush an armored car on its way to L.A. from Vegas: an elephant gun to shoot out the bulletproof tire, a torch to cut it open, a place to hide it under the desert sands. It's a ludicrous little film, but I stayed up with him until three a.m. to see how it played out, watching the tensions and suspicions grow until greed turned all the collaborators against each other.  Turning off the tv before heading off to bed, Dad nodded solemnly and pronounced that, "'Honor amongst thieves' is still the biggest con ever played, I figure."


Maybe that's why I look for a lesson in every movie, even the bad ones. We learn how to do things from our parents, it stands to reason this would extend even to watching movies, wouldn't it?

Watching La La Land with my eldest daughter, already awash in memory and sentiment, put me in a strange frame of mind. I wondered how much of what we were seeing was the same and how much was different. The "Filmed in Cinemascope" card that opens the film wouldn't have a lot of significance for her, nor the Technicolor look they gave all the primary colours; she's not old enough to have that sort of nostalgia.

Later in the film, after referencing Rebel Without a Cause, Gosling and Stone end up at Griffiths Park Observatory. I wondered if Fenya remembered it from the climactic scene in Bowfinger, another ludicrous little movie, but one I love, and which I had shown to her and Glory just last year.

I leaned over to point out the location to her, but before I could say a word, she whispered Eddie Murphy's key line from the scene: "Gotcha suckas!"

Flabbergasted and delighted, I leaned back in my seat, laughing softly. I don't know that I had ever experienced such a moment of crystal clear sympatico, a referential "Jinx!" of such tenuous provenance. I took off my glasses to brush away tears, mostly from laughing.

I shook my head to clear it and refocused on Gosling and Stone, but an hour later, the feeling remains, a bittersweet but satisfying sensation of connection that delights me in the presence of my offspring while lamenting the absence of my father.

It's good to be got.