vrijdag 26 augustus 2016

Jurassic Park 2009: Dino Battlers: Spinosaurus VS Tyrannosaurus Rex

Year of release: 2009

Description: the small Spinosaurus figure stands in a walking posture, with its left leg posed forward and the left arm raised, its mouth opened as if roaring and the end of the tail bent pointing to the right. It sports a typical three-way paint job. Its underside (throat, belly and most of the lower part of the tail) is painted greenish beige. Most of the head, the sides of the neck and tail, the flanks, the tip of the tail and the limbs are coloured brown. The back of the head, neck, back, sail and most of the upper part of the tail is painted green. It features several greenish beige stripes on the head, neck, back (including the sail) and tail. The claws on the hands and feet are not painted. The inside of the mouth is painted red, while the creature carries white teeth and has small red eyes with black pupils. The Spinosaurus carries a white JP logo on both upper legs.
The T-Rex stands in an active posture, its head curved to the left and its arms outstretched as if attacking something. The tip of the tail is bent pointing upwards and to the left. It has small pads on its feet to give it extra support. Its predominant colour is grey, which is found not only on all of its underside (lower jaw, throat, belly, limbs, lower part and tip of the tail) but also on most of its back and on the upper legs. The rest of the body (the rest of the head, the neck, the flanks and the rest of the tail) is orange. It features several dark grey stripes and spots on its head (around the eyes), the back, the forearms, the lower legs and the front half of the tail. The claws on the hands and feet are not painted, nor are the pads under the feet. The tongue and inside of the mouth is painted red, while the creature carries white teeth and has small green eyes with black pupils. The Tyrannosaurus carries a white JP logo on each upper leg.

Analysis: good idea, Hasbro! Let's pack the same two miniature big predator figures together... again! It's only been done a bunch of times before so who will know or care? Of course us JP fans care, but apparently we don't really count when there's the potential of making money off kids around. So we are cursed with yet another crappy set of repaints, once again with totally unappealing paint jobs. The used combination of colours is ugly on both figures, though it's definitely worst on the Rex. Grey and orange are just not meant to be used together as this figure successfully demonstrates. Also, the lack of painted details is appalling. Neither figures have their claws painted and the pads on the Rex's feet are woefully neglected. There's just nothing in this set a collector could want, except to add the set to his/her collection to make it complete.
So, assuming anybody cared, who would win this conflict? The Rex is the likely choice. Not because it is the dinosaur king as some zealous fanboys keep reminding us, but simply because it is a much heavier figure and easily knocks over its opponent.

Repaint: yes. The T-Rex originally came with the Military General for the JP III line and has already been repainted over and over again for Camo-Xtreme, JPD2 and JPD3 and would be used several times again for this toy line. This Spinosaurus sculpt was paired with Amanda Kirby for the JP III line and has likewise been repainted often enough for Camo-Xtreme, JPD2 and JPD3. In JP 2009, this would be its only appearance though.

Overall rating: 2/10. Same old same old. Not very impressive sculpts repainted and packaged together too often already, and these paint jobs aren't great. There's just nothing of particular interest in this set, unless you don't own either one of these sculpts yet. This set is not rare and can still be found rather easily. Since this set was a Toys'R'Us exclusive that might change some day, but probably not for the next decade.

vrijdag 5 augustus 2016

Jurassic Park 2009: Dino Battlers: Triceratops VS Tyrannosaurus Rex

Year of release: 2009

Note: this particular set comes in two variations, both more or less equally common. This review concerns the set with the darker coloured dinosaurs, which is generally regarded to be the original, while the set with the brighter coloured figures is usually seen as 'the variation' of the two.

Description: the T-Rex stands in an aggressive posture, its head curved to the left and its arms stretched out. The tip of the tail is bent pointing upwards and to the left. It has small pads on its feet to give it extra support. While the underside (lower jaw, throat, belly and lower part of the tail) of the Rex is coloured white, the rest of the figure is painted light brown. The creature features two big dark brown stripes on its back, and a third at the base of the tail. Additionally, brown bands are found on the figure's lower legs (two each), arms (one each) and tail (three near the tip). The pads under the feet are painted in this same dark brown colour, as are the claws on both fingers and toes. The tongue and inside of the mouth are coloured red, while the teeth are white and the Rex sports small cat like yellow eyes with black pupils. It has a white JP logo on each upper leg.
The Triceratops appears to stand in a brace-for-impact posture, its head (almost as big as its torso) held low to the ground (and slightly posed to its right), the front legs more or less in the same position, while the left upper leg is stretched backwards. The tail curves to the right. Most of this creature's body, including the head, is painted grey, while its underside (throat, belly and the first half of the lower part of the tail) is light blue instead. On its back and tail the figure sports some vague green spots, while a trio of red spots covers most of the head crest. The beak and the horns (including those on its cheeks) are painted beige. The Trike has small green eyes with black pupils and a white JP logo on each upper leg.

Analysis: Dear Lord, not this T-Rex again! As if we haven't seen this sucker enough in the previous repaint lines, Hasbro thought it a good idea (or they likely just didn't care at all) to present us with this particular sculpt four more times in their JP 2009 line. This is one of them, and compared to some of its more zany repaints out there, its paint job is rather conservative, being a typical brown on top, white below and some dark stripes to complete it all. It's just not a very interesting or imaginative paint job. Also, it's a shame to see the claws on the feet painted in the same colour as the feet pads, since now it looks as if the two have melted together. The Triceratops also isn't a very successful release. After its surprising first appearance in JPD3, the shock of this most recently released sculpt has disappeared and it's now as conventional as the rest of these repaints. Its paint job is rather dull, though it uses much more very different colours than you might think at first glance (grey, blue, red, beige and two different shades of green). But the result just isn't very appealing.
In combat between these two, the Triceratops would probably emerge victorious considering those nasty spikes which it could use to stake the Rex to death. The Rex just isn't much bigger and would have a hard time getting a good bite out of the Trike unless it took it by surprise. Whoever wins, as far as the quality of this two-pack goes, we lose.

Repaint: yes. The T-Rex originally came with the Military General for the JP III line and has already been repainted over and over again for Camo-Xtreme, JPD2 and JPD3 and would be used several times again for this toy line. The Triceratops first popped up in JPD3 for which it was used twice. Its appearance on JP 2009 remained limited to this two-pack.

Overall rating: 4/10. Not a very appealing set of paint jobs. The sense of 'newness' experienced for the Triceratops when it first appeared in JPD3 has waned, and by now everybody is really sick of this damn T-Rex. There's just nothing of particular interest in this set, unless you don't own either one of these sculpts yet (which in the Rex's case seems unlikely by now). This set is not rare (in either variation) and can still be found rather easily. Since this set was a Toys'R'Us exclusive that might change some day, but surely not for the next few years or so.

woensdag 3 augustus 2016

Today's Review: Madeliefjes (Sedmikrasky)

Another one up, this one an oldie:

Madeliefjes - recensie

Ideologically, Sedmikrasky still makes sense. More so than ever, in fact. Designed as a feminist act of rebellion against patriarchal political systems, there's a lot to say for it when such systems are on the rise again. Now that so-called strong willed men are elected to office (or otherwise just grabbing such positions for themselves) around the globe, it's no surprise women's rights, hard fought and well earned, are slowly but surely diminished, even in democratic territories. So why not re-release a movie that fought for female independence fifty years back? Maybe because it is dated as heck in all other regards, for one thing.

Sedmikrasky deals with two young women tired of being told what to do by old men and turning the tables on them by questioning everything taken for granted and stopping to adhering to social rules. That sounds pretty hardcore, but the eventual acts of rebellion ultimately prove rather tame. They start by luring cuckolds into dates and humiliating them in public by acting like spoiled brats and messing with their food (a lot!). Soon, things get a bit more serious when they add burglary to their nefarious behavior. Still, that's about it. And all of it is executed in a subversively childish manner, which makes it hard to take seriously fifty years down the road, as we've seen much worse in cinema since. Though we can sympathize with rebels attacking an oppressive system, these two women are mostly just absurdly annoying, making for a good 73 minutes that prove hard to sit through.

What's worse, at least for general audiences, avant-gardist director Very Chytilova applies some mindbogglingly experimental cutting and photography, which makes for a wholly inaccessible movie. Everything is overly stylized, as if filming a dream. What's a modern audience to make of all this weirdness? Movie buffs and art lovers at least will appreciate the constant switching between colour palettes, the abrupt editing and the odd camera angles, not to mention the historical context which makes this film a classic in its own right, a prime example of its tempestuous zeitgeist. But without bearing all that in mind, little remains to provoke thoughts or aspire the latest generation of feminists, aside from good intentions.

woensdag 20 juli 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: (Ultra) Tyrannosaurus Rex

Year of release: 2005

Description: this larger T-Rex figure measures some 25 centimetres in length and stands just over 15 centimetres tall. This Rex sculpts stands in an attack posture, with its tail bent upwards and its head slightly tilted up. Its legs stand far apart from each other. This Rex is pretty skinny and has little body mass. It’s mostly head, limbs and tail. A very large dino damage would is found on its right flank, showing white ribs and red muscle tissue. The upper piece of exposed rib is actually a button which activates a shrieking roar, as if the creature is in pain. A second roar, more aggressive and imposing, can be made by pulling its right arm down: when doing so the mouth will also open. A third sound, the stomping noise, can be made by having the T-Rex stomp on the ground. The sound quality of all three sounds is not very good, some static is heard as well.
This (Ultra) T-Rex sports a darker paint job than its previous incarnations. Except for its underside (throat, belly and lower part of the tail), which is coloured light grey, all of its body is painted dark grey. The darkest parts of grey are found on the head and back, while the tail and limbs are of a slightly lighter shade of grey. Red stripes run from the neck over the back to the end of the tail, while there are also a few of them on the upper legs. The stripes on the back are more pronounced because the torso section of this sculpt is composed of harder material. The claws on both hands and feet are painted very light grey, almost white. The Tyrannosaurus has a pink tongue and inside of its mouth, as well as small red eyes with black pupils. It carries a white JP logo on each upper leg.

Analysis: the not so impressive Tyrant King of Hasbro returns a third time to do a quick cash grab from kids and collectors alike! At least this time the paint job is totally different, instead of a pale copy of the original JP III Rex like the JPD2 release featured (though it's also not nearly as ingenious or appealing as the Camo-Xtreme Canyon T-Rex's paint scheme). A darker and grittier colour scheme is found on this T-Rex, hinting at its status as a terrifying large carnivore with big nasty pointy teeth. The combination of dark grey (almost black even) and red stripes also makes it look a bit like a possible Camo-Xtreme Lava T-Rex. It's a good paint job, but also a bit too simple: just dark grey with a few small red stripes and a light grey underside. For such a big sculpt, more detailing would have been appreciated.
Aside from the new paint job, this Rex is otherwise no improvement over its JPD2 predecessor. It's still a big but skinny creature standing in an awkward posture that hinders playability, with an unimaginative and ineffective attack feature, and the same old sounds of crappy quality with weak electronics to support them. It still features silly stomping sounds which can only be activated by bashing the figure's feet to the ground, only speeding up the process of the electronics inside dying an all to quick death. Even though JPD3 is a fairly recent toy line, it's quite common for MIB samples to be unable to produce sounds, and it ain't just the batteries being dead. Overall, the new paint job is the only potential worthwhile thing in this set.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the JP III Ultra T-Rex figure. The sculpt has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2.

Overall rating: 5/10. A different and dark paint job for this T-Rex, which suits it well but is a bit bland. The sculpt itself still is quite disappointing for a big figure. Like the other big JPD2/3 electronic dinosaurs, this figure was common a few years back, but, in terms of availability, its numbers are in swift decline. You might still get one for a decent price now, but don't expect this situation to last much longer.

zaterdag 16 juli 2016

Today's Review: The Man Who Knew Infinity

Took a while (vacation will do that), but here's a long overdue review for your approval:

The Man Who Knew Infinity - recensie

Mathematics is generally considered by mainstream audiences as a rather dull topic, but movies about mathematicians often have little trouble finding an audience. There's an odd fascination with the socially awkward minds of geniuses who spend their entire live crunching numbers, or so the success of A Beautiful Mind or more recently The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game has proven. However, with the success of such films, there's a risk of such biopics finding themselves limited to a specific formula. A misunderstood genius+a harsh, unaccepting society+British acting talent=boxoffice success, such a formula might state. Problem is, these geniuses in question were anything but formulaic people so there ought to be a little more to it than generic writing to make modern audiences fully appreciate their work. Case in point, the legendary Srinivasa Ramanujan and the feeble The Man Who Knew Infinity.

The mathematical wonder Ramanujan was born a poor Indian with an uncanny gift for understanding numbers and dreaming up formulas way beyond the comprehension of his social environment in the early 20th Century. It took a while for his talent to be recognized and even longer for it to be put to good academic use, when he finally moved to Cambridge. There he baffled the minds of his fellows in the short years that remained to him. What made this incredible mind tick? The Man Who Knew Infinity unfortunately is more concerned with focusing on the culture of discrimination Ramanujan faced at academia. In the movie, the misunderstood genius spends most of his time being subjected to racist exclusion rather than getting any work done. And so he stays mostly misunderstood to the audience, who can't begin to comprehend just how unusual his formulas were and what grand ramifications they had for the world of mathematics. Ramanujan is just repeatedly stated to be a genius, and that's that.

Dev Patel portrays this specific genius and does an adequate job carrying the movie as such, but his talent is basically wasted as the ongoing victim of racial slurs who just keeps looking miserable and unhappy. As the genre's conventions have it, it's up to the assembled British talent to keep the movie alive beyond that. With Jeremy Irons as Ramanujan's close friend Hardy, the film does have one great card to play in keeping us interested both in Ramanujan's plight and mathematics in general. The movie is as its most interesting when Irons graces the screen, guiding us and the protagonist through the academic world and mathematical lore of the early 1900s and sharing many an intriguing anecdote about both. These scenes make for the film's most interesting moments, which are constantly hindered by Ramanujan facing yet another insult regarding his cultural roots or skin colour. We get it, racism is bad. Unfortunately, more emphasis is put on this particular message than we would care to hear. Suffering is after all a trope of the genre and worked for its predecessors: as Turing struggled with his homosexuality in The Imitation Game and Hawking with his debilitating condition in The Theroy of Everything, so Ramanujan is subjected to the racism of the day.

Which is too bad, since an unusual mind like Ramanujan's didn't deserve to be explored in such a generic period piece as The Man Who Knew Infinity. The movie carefully stays within the boundaries of the genre rather than, like the man it honours, exceeding such boundaries. It drones on endlessly about the poor man's plight rather than making us fully appreciate his work, his field of expertise and his lasting legacy. The Man Who Knew Infinity, sadly, is rather a predictable and dull movie, which hinders general moviegoers to consider mathematics something other than just that exactly. Well, at least Jeremy Irons tried...

zaterdag 9 juli 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: (Ultra) Pteranodon

Year of release: 2005

Description: measuring almost 50 centimetres in wing span, this flying behemoth is undoubtedly the largest Pteranodon figure of all the JP toy lines. Because of its size there’s also room for a broader range of actions and sounds, making it a very playable toy. It also has poseable legs to match. Qua action features it’s not particularly imaginative: it's mostly the usual Pterosaur options. First, there is the biting beak: pressing the crest makes the beak open as if the animal is snapping at some poor piece of prey. Second, there is the wing flapping mechanism. Third, the fold-in wings: the outer half of each wing can be folded inward (outward too, but that just looks silly), as if the creature is adjusting its flying pattern. It looks very much like the Pteranodon is diving towards its victim when the wings fold inwards. Additionally, there are the sounds, four in total. The attack screech can be heard when activating the biting action by pressing the beast’s crest. The wound noises are produced by pushing the button in the dino damage wound (located on its right flank, revealing four white ribs and red muscle tissue). The other two sounds can be made by pressing the button on the back which makes the wing flap. Pressing it once and releasing it, or pressing it several times over, produces flapping sounds, while pressing it a bit longer activates a swishing noise, as if the Pterosaur is swooping down on its prey.
Green is the colour of choice for this Pteranodon. Except for its underside (lower half of the throat and belly), which is painted white, virtually all of the body is green. The torso, hands on the wings and base of the wings are coloured dark green for the most part, while shapes, spots and stripes of this colour are also found on the rest of the figure, most notably on the wings. Light green covers the remaining body parts, most obviously on the rest of the wings, the head and the legs. Neither shade of green could be called dominant though, both gradations of green play an equal part. The top half of the crest on the head is painted blue, covered with dark green spots, while below this blue colouring blue spots are found on the base of the crest. The figure has a long pink tongue, small yellow eyes with black pupils and a large white JP logo on its left upper leg.

Analysis: just a year after its JPD2 repaint release, this big Pteranodon sees the light of day again for JP Dinosaurs 3. Why ignore a good sculpt if you can milk it dry after all? But if repainting has to happen, then it's preferable seeing good sculpts getting a makeover. This Pteranodon has a solid new paint job: though green is an unusual colour for Pterosaurs, it suits it well enough. The paint scheme is not that dissimilar to that of its JPD2 predecessor, but not an exact match either and the colour use is definitely a completely different thing. The random interplay between both shades of green works well and gives it a sort of natural chaotic look. The blue coloured crest is also a good addition, maybe hinting at this Pterosaur's social status or desire to mate (though that's undoubtedly not the feeling Hasbro was aiming for). Overall, some extra detailing might have been nice, like differently coloured claws on hands and feet, or the inside of the mouth, but this paint job looks good regardless. Too bad the dino damage wound remains ever present, but surely we got over this nuisance by now. All original action functions are also still in use, including the biting beak, flapping and folding wings and the four different sounds. However, as is the case with the other electronic Hasbrosaurs from JPD2/3, the used electronics are of poor quality, making it increasingly difficult to find specimens in working order. A real shame, but this sculpt provides enough fun otherwise.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the JP III Ultra Alpha Pteranodon figure. The sculpt has been repainted for JPD2 prior to this third release. So far, it has not been repainted since.

Overall rating: 8/10. This is still one of Hasbro's finest sculpts, impressively sized and loaded with playability features. The new paint job is quite different, but also rather good. Like the other big JPD2/3 electronic dinosaurs, this figure was common a few years back, but, insofar as availability, its numbers are in swift decline. With luck, you can still find one for a decent price, but don't expect this situation to last much longer.

dinsdag 5 juli 2016

Today's Review: A Long and Happy Life

Another review up:

A Long and Happy Life - recensie

Director Boris Khlebnikov conceived of this film as a modern day Western set in Russia, inspired by the classic High Noon. With that knowledge in mind, you can easily recognize it as such, though for those with less prescience in regards to A Long and Happy Life, most of the ingredients are there for all to see. There's the lone hero, the rough but beautiful landscape, the love affair, the oppressed mob and of course the climactic shootout. All in just 77 minutes.

But the aspirations of an American Western aside, this is first and foremost a contemporary Russian social drama. So naturally, things don't proceed as they usually would. Unless you're versed in Russian arthouse, where the plethora of problems plaguing the nation, despite Putin's claims to the contrary, are placed front and center. Then you know full well what's in store. Corruption and the inevitability of its winning the day are the central themes of A Long and Happy Life, as they are in many similar films from Khlebnikovs peers. Sascha, who manages a small collective farm in the cold north of Russia, is all too eager to be bought by his superiors to split up the farm so the land can be used for something more productive. The dough gives him the opportunity to abandon this God forsaken place and move to the big city with his girlfriend. However, when the farmers under his command refuse to be moved as the state leaves them with next to nothing if it happens, Sascha's conscience gets in the way of the life from the title he envisioned for himself. Moved by their plight and their trust in him, he resists the officials, refuses the money and fights to keep his farm open. A hopeless battle, he knows, but as an honest man he must fight it anyway.

Now, honest men, those are hard to find, so says Khlebnikov in this fatalistic little film. The farmers sure don't turn out to be such men, as they quickly search for ways to get out, each man for himself, with as much money as he can make of it. And so Sascha soon finds himself fighting the good fight all by himself, betrayed by everybody. Tension mounts and it's obvious things cannot end on a happy note, but rather in a violent showdown only. Such is life is Russia these days, according to Khlebnikov. The point is well taken, but would have been better served by a different lead actor. Alexandr Yatsenko is well suited to play a corrupt underling, but makes a feeble impression as a lone hero. He simply lacks the necessary charisma for the part and so we're not sold on his switch from bored city boy wanting to leave the country to rebellious protector of the common folk. Which is also hindered by the small amount of time Khlebnikov puts into things, in obvious pun intended contrast to the title, since this film is naturally far from long and happy. But if you expected it to be, you are likely not familiar with Russian arthouse. Or Westerns for that matter.