Monday, October 20, 2014
Monday, October 13, 2014
|Breaking lances with Will Hamersky & Rohan|
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Here's Gordon's complete speaking schedule:
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Since my reviews are always about the cool stuff, however, I’ll leave all that acting criticism for others (who as usual pan what I like and like what I pan, but again, there it is. They get paid for it and I don’t, so perhaps they’re on to something I’m ignorant of).
As usual, whoever does the props and armouring for these movies knows what they’re doing, and they do it well. From the credits it looks to be a lot of folks, but I give real kudo’s to whoever is actually in charge of the over-all look, be that the Director Guy Ritchie or the head of his Props department, or whoever. Everything looks great! Buildings, backgrounds, set dressing, props, weapons, clothing, background artists, you name it, and it not only was high quality, but it looked like it belonged there, and in fact looked like it grew there (even some of the clothes on some of the actors looked as though they’d been on them long enough to have enough extra passengers and life-forms to begin new planets). Well done on their part.
Minor Spoilers Ahead
Okay, the Cool Toys. They have them, and lots of them. In the first scene in which Holmes has to fight his way clear of things, one of the thugs he deals with has a nice little Webley top-break .38. Sadly (from what I could see, I could be wrong on this one) it was one of their post-WWI models of this size, but what the heck, Webley DID make such a beast in the late-1880’s, so it’s fine.
Chasing around Paris is always fun, especially if you get to shoot
All right, I’m done ranting. I’ll point out that Winston Churchill packed one of these cool Mauser pistols in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. They were in fact quite popular with British officers of the day, so it’s cool that the film includes them. But, come on, at least load them properly! (Oh sorry, I said I wasn’t going to rant any more on that one. Oops.)
I think that they rather made up for it, however, with the massive use of the usually-forgotten German Gewehr (just means “rifle”) 88, usually shortened to Gew. 88 or G-88, and sometimes known as the “Commission Rifle”. As the nickname implies, it was designed by a commission, and like the commission that came up with the camel, isn’t exactly what was ordered when the Imperial German Army asked for a horse. The Germans had adopted a product of the genius of Peter Paul Mauser in 1871, and again in 1884 with the Gewehr 71/84, a modification from single-shot to magazine-fed (this magazine being of a tubular variety, under the barrel as with a Winchester). However they tired of paying Mauser the royalties on his patents and decided to go around them, using a pinch of Mauser here, a dash of Mannlicher there (it used a 5-round “en-bloc” clip) and to top it of, a strange sheet-steel barrel jacket which was supposed to dissipate heat from the barrel, but instead tended to attract moisture and cause rust. When Mauser showed up with his much-improved Model of 1898, the German Army was more than happy to put their Commission Rifles into the hands of the second-line Landswehr troops and step up to a much better rifle, one which became the standard by which all others were judged for better than 50 years. Anyway…
The poor old Gewehr 88 performs sterling service in this film, both in the hands of the good guys and the bad guys. Dr. Watson in fact manages to shoot the henchman and wound him with his at a pretty decent range, something which the rifle was well capable of. Since one of the good things about the G-88 was that it introduced the famous 8X57mm Mauser cartridge (Mauser got his revenge there, since he didn’t actually design that round. Besides, it’s really a 7.92mm, or 7.9mm according to the German Army. The 57 stands for how many millimeters long it is), a round which was destined to give birth to virtually all of the military and sporting cartridges of the 20th Century. Even the American 30-06 is a variant, as is the modern 7.62 NATO round.
At any rate, the G-88 and the 8mm cartridge proved to be quite a serviceable combination, far superior to the French 8mm Lebel which it was designed to counter. (In 1886 the French had astounded the world by introducing the first smokeless cartridge, the 8mm Lebel, along with a rifle to go with it. The cartridge was revolutionary, the rifle pedestrian with no mechanical improvement over the German 71/84, but of course the French hung on to it until almost WWII while everyone else went on to much better things, the G-88 being one of them. The Germans, being the premier chemists of the day, weren’t about to let those darned Frenchies get away with stealing a march on them, so they came up with the 8 (or 7.9)X57 cartridge, a rimless bottleneck round which, as I noted above, was the progenitor of most of the military and sporting cartridges of the 20th Century.
I’m not much up on heavy artillery, so other than to say that they looked more like the WWI “Gustav” siege pieces made by Krupp than anything else, and that I think that they were designed in the 1890’s, I’ll give them a pass.
On the other hand, one of the weird “pocket artillery” pieces they used was definitely not around in the 1890’s, or even in the next decade, and that was the “Meinenwerfer” that the bad guys were using. Think “Trench Mortar” with wheels and you’ve got it. On the other hand, I doubt seriously that anyone since the making of “All’s Quiet on the Western Front” has had one in their movie, so what the heck. Maybe the TNT film “The Lost Battalion” with Rick Schroeder? Maybe not even then.
The final cool and wonderful thing is the rather odd “sub-machine gun” with which Dr. Watson arms himself in the German arms factory. What on earth it was supposed to represent is a bit of a mystery, though I have a few ideas.
To begin with, it’s obviously not firing full-sized rifle ammunition, as the top-mounted magazine (real magazine, not a clip, remember!) wasn’t nearly long enough to hold a full-caliber round. On the other hand, such a thing hadn’t been invented yet (though John M. Browning’s first experimental auto-loading pistol, in 1897 went full-auto on him when he tried it out, because he hadn’t thought of a “disconnector” which disconnects the trigger from the hammer sear. See, it’s actually easier to make a fully-automatic weapon than a semi-automatic one, so all of the laws on the books about such things are flat silly.) On the other hand, there is just possibly something that would almost fit the bill, that being…the Danish Madsen machine gun of 1902. The original patents were from 1899, so it does kind of qualify as a 19th Century machine gun, but what Dr. Watson was carrying isn’t precisely a Madsen, either. It looks like a strange bash between a Colt-Browning Model 1895 “Potato Digger” (wonderful name, what? But not something you would want to shoot off-hand), the Madsen and the Italian Villa-Perosa of 1916. Both of the later used the curved, top mounted magazines shown in the film, and the Villa-Perosa used the rather under-powered Italian 9mm rimless cartridge, but hey, it’s only a movie.
I do have to say, though, that the Madsen was one of the wonders of the world, mechanically speaking. Rather like a bumblebee, it really shouldn’t work, since the cartridge should have to “bend” to get from the magazine into the chamber. But they work like a champ, enough so that they’re still in use by Brazilian police when shooting up the slums of Rio. Talk about longevity, they haven’t made a new one since the 1940’s, but they’re still on the job.
Last but not least, I have to mention a quick cameo appearance by the immortal Gatling Gun as well, merrily firing black powder loads at our intrepid heroes. Gotta love it when a scene has firearms spanning half-a-century or more in it, all being used with equal abandon! Makes me feel all gushy inside, I must say.
All told, it’s a really good film from my perspective, with lots and lots of really cool, really arcane, weird and wonderful weaponry in it. Even the Cossack has a cool middle-Asian dagger! They trot out all sorts of unlikely and uninvented pieces for us to enjoy, very Steampunk in that regard, and quite fun. Definitely doing some “anachronisms” of technology by a few years, but it’s not a documentary, so why not? It’s fun, and definitely worth the price of admission. I know I’m planning on getting a copy when it comes out on DVD just so I can see what cool stuff is in the background that I missed!
* The last instance I can recall off-hand of their use was when an American sailor dropped one from the rigging of the Bonhomme Richard on to the deck of HMS Serapis, where it landed in a box of British hand-grenades and pretty much decided the battle. This was in 1778
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Friday, January 7, 2011
Jeff Bridges as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn does a great job of portraying a down-at-the-heels US Marshal from "Hanging Judge" Parker's court in Fort Smith Arkansas in the 1870's. Not by any means a "nice guy", but rather a former partisan ranger from the Civil War who had ridden with Quantrell at Lawrence, Kansas and probably performed some rather bloody work in the process. A man of few scruples and less patience when it comes to dealing with others of his ilk, he's a hard man, but also one who has the heart to do his absolute utmost to save the young girl's life when it's endangered. His armament of a pair of "Navy Sixes" is most interesting, being his outfit from his Civil War days carried as spares in pommel holsters on his saddle. (Of course they're not actually .36 caliber Navy Colts, but rather the larger .44 Caliber Dragoons, as they are definitely visually more impressive than the smaller, and smaller caliber, Navys.) His primary armament consists of the more modern "cartridge guns", a Colt Single Action Army revolver (probably in .45, one would imagine) and a Winchester '73 Rifle in .44 Winchester Center Fire (Colt had just begun chambering it's revolvers in .44 WCF the year before, so it's doubtful that Mr. Cogburn had managed to get his hands on one so quickly, but you never know).
Mat Damon's character, Le Boef, the Texas Ranger, is rather amusing in many ways. Dressed in rather outlandish getup for Arkansas he styles himself, rather, as a "buckskin cavalier", but is quickly put in his place by young Maddie Ross, the protagonist of the story. She points out that he looks more the "circus clown" than an officer of the law. What is quite nice about this is that he IS dressed outlandishly for that place, but it's a completely, totally period outlandishness which wouldn't have seemed nearly so out of place further West, say in the Rockies or Western Canada, but in Fort Smith Arkansas not so much. By the way, his Sharps Carbine is completely appropriate for a Texas Ranger, as they were issue pieces during the mid-1870's from the State of Texas which was using former US Cavalry weapons.
Maddie (Hailee Steinfield) of course carries her father's cap-and-ball "Colt's Dragoon", a large revolver which constituted Samuel Colt's first major commercial success in 1848-1861's production. Using the same frame as the larger Colt's Walker revolver (1847) purchased by the US Army and issued in the fading days of the Mexican War, the Dragoon is what made Colt a household name throughout the United States (though it was the smaller, handier Navy Model of 1851 which made Colt a household name throughout the world.) Never the less, it would be quite possible for Maddie to have carried such a revolver, it being her father's property, on such an occasion. Though outmoded by the more modern cartridges which had come out in the past 10 years or so prior to our story, it was still considered to be a powerful, reliable side-arm. Though somewhat slow to load due to it's use of "loose ammunition" (powder, ball and cap all placed within or on the cylinder separately) and therefore also somewhat less reliable than cartridges, it was still very much a deadly firearm, and for the first six shots the equal of anything then manufactured. Still is, in fact.
The only other firearm of note is the Remington Model of 1875 Army revolver which Ned Pepper carries. It's nice that he has emblems from playing cards on the grips, indicative of his sobriquet, "Lucky" Ned Pepper. (I also found it amusing that the actor who portrayed "Lucky" Ned Pepper shared the character's last name, he being Barry Pepper. Rather neat.) By the by, his "wooly chaps" were great! Perhaps not a common item in the Indian Territory in the 187o's (being more of a Northern Plains 1880's and later phenomenon) but from the point of view of defining the character from his comrades, quite brilliant. Besides, they LOOK very, very cool.
The horsemanship of the film wasn't too bad, and the horsemanship of Hailee Steinfield is superb. The girl can ride! Good for her, and good for the Coen Brothers for actually casting a girl who can not only act up a storm, but also ride like she was born in the saddle! Bully for them! Also the horse tack was great. Definitely of the period. Perhaps a bit new, perhaps a bit too "cowboy" for some of the characters, but definitely saddlery that was available in the time and place, and therefore further kudo's to the producers and their props and wrangler departments.
One of the things I have to also remark upon is that the shots fired SOUND like real shots being fired from a black-powder weapon, be it cap-and-ball or cartridge. The big, hollow "Whumph!" sound rather than the sharp crack of the modern smokeless blanks that had been so often used (or rather Foleyed in later) is proper, and to me at least adds a great deal to the "feel" of the film.
So there it is. An excellent film, a wonderful Western, and a great character study of people who have determination and indeed, "True Grit".