zaterdag 29 augustus 2015

Today's Column: Book or phone?

Another month, another column:

Column: Het boek of de telefoon?

Not my finest piece of work, but hey, I'm on vacation so I 'tis not the season to be fully inspired. It's that time of the year to lie in the sun all day and wasting away the hours at your leisure, reading some smashing book or stuff. Which I did, when I wasn't taking country excursions, doing some local shopping or chasing stormy supercells and getting woefully drenched. There wasn't as much sun as I had hoped for, I must admit, but that severe thunderstorm made up for it a bit. At least it wasn't a regularly rainy day, but an exciting reminder of nature's awesome power and a death defying road trip to boot. Yes, this, too, one can experience at the beautiful quiet isle of Texel.

As for the non-issue addressed in my column, against my better judgment I took my new smartphone with me, to keep in touch with whomever I felt I needed to keep in touch with and check my mail more often than was necessary. I spent more time on my phone than I had hoped to, but mostly the slow loading time of is to blame for that. That site at least proved a useful tool, considering the erratic weather patterns. I didn't watch any movies on my phone, not even some silly YouTube shorts in some lost hour or two. I did visit Cinema Texel this time. I felt I had too, since my last visit was a year ago and I happen to really like this small but idyllic comfy venue. My movie of choice: Ted 2. Not the best choice, but at least there was a major Jurassic Park reference and the evil, greedy Hasbro toy company was made out to be the bad guy, so that scored points with me. This week's film program wasn't stellar to begin with, though at least the theater proved fortitious enough to skip showing that dreadful Fantastic Four movie (which I already had the sincere displeasure of seeing the week before). A light yarn was the best way to describe the time I had at the movies on this year's visit.

Nevertheless, this trip to Texel made it obvious that no movie can compete with nature's raw power and destructive beauty. And nature proved it is no match for smartphones, since despite almost drowning in torrential rainfall myself, my phone, which I brought with me to capture the stormy event on camera, returned home in better shape than I did. It appears it's kinda waterproof.

dinsdag 18 augustus 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Baryonyx and Dinosaur Tracker

Year of release: 1999

-Two pieces of capture gear
-Shot gun
-Stun prod

Description: Baryonyx assumes a walking posture, with its left leg moved forward and its right leg posed backward. Its tail is not bent as much as the other Bary figures, since this figure's card is large enough to accommodate its overall length. Its back and neck are covered in rows of small bumps, while a single small horn is found on the snout. It is equipped with a whipping action: pulling the right leg back and forth makes the head spin around, as if the creature is thrashing its head. This also features a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraint-gear action: when the capture gear is on, the Baryonyx can break free by thrashing its head left and right. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws, though the mouth can’t open really wide so most figures won’t fit.
This dinosaur figure sports brown colouring on its back, neck, head, upper part of the tail and the very upper part of the limbs. This brown gradually shifts to green, which is located on the flanks and the underside of the creature (belly, throat, lower jaw, lower part of the tail) for the most part, as well as on the rest of the limbs. The figure carries randomly patterned black spots all over its back, neck and upper tail, and features a small black horn between its nostrils, as well as blue circles around its white eyes (with cat like black pupils). The claws on both arms and legs are black, while a black JP logo is found on the right upper leg. The figure also has white teeth and the inside of its mouth, including its tongue, is red.
This Bary comes with two pieces of capture gear, which form a sort of harness around the creature’s upper body and restrain its arms and head. However, it wouldn’t stop the creature from just walking away. Both pieces are painted in dark yellow, an unusual colour for capture gear.
The Dinosaur Tracker is a broad shouldered, butch looking figure of a man, sporting a brownish yellow field suit with numerous pockets, wearing a brown shirt underneath the suit, brown arm patches, black utility belts, an almost golden ammo belt around his torso, black boots and a pair of black sunglasses. He also has black hair and a Elvis like hairdo. He stands with his legs wide apart in a bracing pose with his left leg stretched forwards and his right leg backwards. His head is a bit too small compared to his body. Pressing his legs together makes his left arm move, so it looks like he’s making slashing moves when holding one of his weapons.
He has three different weapons, none of which are capable of action features; these weapons are mere props but they’re much more realistic than most of the weapons that come with human figures. The Tracker carries a stun prod with a cross shaped end, as well as a shot gun and a machete. All weapons are coloured dull grey.

Analysis: the first JP: Dinosaurs line introduced a new concept, namely pairing human figures and their accessories with basic dinosaurs instead of hatchlings, making for the bigger dino/human 2-packs of this line (and similar sets for JPD2). For the time this was unique, a little bit of originality in a line consisting solely of repaints. One of the first such sets was this Baryonyx with Dinosaur Tracker set. It's an interesting pairing of figures, though as far as compatibility of action features goes, not the most successful match. The Tracker is too big for the Bary to clutch between its jaws and viciously spin it around, nor is his arm chop movement sufficient to take down the carnivore with whichever of the three weapons he holds. You could say this makes it a draw.
As far as the paint jobs go, this is not a bad set. Though the Bary's paint scheme is identical to that of its TLWS2 predecessor, the colouration has improved. Green and brown fits the Baryonyx well, even being reminiscent of the paint job of the old JPS2 Baryonyx. Also, the figure's details have not been forgotten this time: the claws on both hands and feet, the horn on the snout, the inside of the mouth, it's all painted. It even got some extra detailing round the eyes, though these themselves are less pretty, being simply white. Another improvement for this figure is the fact that it's tail is more stretched out due to the bigger packaging, which means that it is better balanced this time around and can stand up on its two legs more easily, while the tail doesn't hit the ground. Unfortunately this is only the case when its capture gear is not applied. The gear itself got a yellow paint job, which makes it stand out among all JP capture gear. It also adds some extra colour to this set.
The Dino Tracker paint job is not all that different from the original colouring on TLWS1 Peter Ludlow. It's somewhat darker, but overall pretty close to that we got before. Nothing has been added to this human figure, though the JP logo on his right arm has been removed for some reason. His arm chop action is still a solid feature, though it only works on smaller prey. The tall and handsome Tracker makes for a good addition to the small team of human figures of this toy line, but otherwise there's little worth of interest to him, since the Baryonyx is definitely the biggest draw of the set. After all, this line is all about the dinosaurs, eh?

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original TLWS2 Baryonyx, including that figure's capture gear repainted, along with a TLWS1 Peter Ludlow repaint, including all of Ludlow's accessories save for the Raptor hatchling. Neither the Bary nor Ludlow would be repainted for later toy lines (though Ludlow's head would also be seen on an Ajay repaint in the Stegosaurus with Dinosaur Hunter set of Wave 2 of this toy line, which also featured a single brown Baryonyx figure).

Overall rating: 7/10. A decent set, with an effective and appealing, though not very original, paint job. This set is definitely harder to find than most other JPD1 Wave 1 releases, especially in MOC or complete condition. It probably will require a fair amount of patience and cash to acquire it.

zondag 9 augustus 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Ornithosuchus

Year of release: 1999

-Two pieces of capture gear
-Dino damage tail

Description: this bizarre slender reptilian creature assumes a walking posture. It sports a monochromatic paint job, basically being all beige. The underside of the figure (its belly, lower part of the tail, part of the lower jaw and throat) is coloured in a darker tone of beige (almost light brown or orange), which gradually shifts in the regular hue. A large number of red stripes run over its back, tail, flanks, neck and head. The inside of its huge mouth is all red including its tongue, while the figure has white teeth, including a total of six large teeth, almost fangs; two of these stick out of the upper jaw, four out of the front of the lower jaw. The Ornithosuchus has small white eyes with black pupils and carries a black JP logo on its right upper leg. The creature’s claws are not painted in a different colour. The inside parts of the dino damage area are bright red, while the pin sticking out is also beige.
The Ornithosuchus is equipped with a thrashing action: moving the right hind leg makes the head spin round. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws. Ornithosuchus also comes with dino damage: it features a removable tail section, revealing blood tissue and a pin (resembling a bone) sticking out, on which the tail can be pinned back.
The figure also comes with two pieces of capture gear, a small chain to restrain the limbs (though only two of them at the same time, not all four), as well as a large muzzle to keep the creature from biting. It doesn’t stop the beastie from thrashing its head though. Both pieces sport a shiny metallic grey paint job.

Analysis: another cool non-dinosaur figure from a past toy line returns for JP: Dinosaurs 1. Despite it not actually being a dinosaur, Ornithosuchus adds some wonderful variety to the line, while also giving people who missed it the first time round another chance to get a hold of this rather rare and quite sought after figure. The Ornithosuchus sculpt has not been changed and remains as cool as before, with a great but violent take on the classic dino damage feature and a funky head move which doesn't look like a serious attack option unless it has some prey firmly ensnared between its powerful jaws. It comes with the same capture gear as before, though with the more common silvery grey paint style.
So, as with most other JP: Dinosaurs figures, the only new thing in this set is the paint job. It's simple to say the least. It's largely a single colour, except for the red stripes, which fit the creature well, as if it's soaked in blood stripes after gnashing its way through a carcass much bigger than itself. It also has a sort of camouflage quality to it, like a tiger hiding in long grass. This new colouration might not be as appealing as the more colourful previous paint job, but it still works. However, the stripes are applied in much the same way as on its predecessor, so it scores little originality wise since it's basically the same paint scheme (which is not a first for JPD1 of course). And as is common in this toy line, some details are overlooked, like the claws. Also, white is just not a decent colour for prehistoric eyes. But overall, this is not a bad paint job despite its simplicity.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original TLWS2 Ornithosuchus, including that figure's capture gear repainted in a more standard colouring. The figure would not be repainted again. Interestingly enough, a second Ornithosuchus repaint was originally planned for release for this line along with a Roland Tembo repaint, but it didn't happen, though small quantities of packaged samples have popped up, indicating it got at least passed the prototype stage.

Overall rating: 8/10. A minimalistic but surprisingly effective paint job, though not significantly special either: like most other JP: Dinosaurs figures, it could have used some more work. The figure itself is as good a sculpt as ever. Despite this figure being a Wave 1 release, it is definitely harder to find than some other JP: Dinosaurs figures for some reason (one thing that comes to mind is general Ornithosuchus popularity), but it's worth a try, especially if you don't own the previous incarnation of this sculpt (which is still the rarer and cooler figure of the two).

zondag 2 augustus 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Baryonyx

Year of release: 1999

-Two pieces of capture gear

Description: Baryonyx assumes a walking posture, with its left leg moved forward and its right leg backward. Its tail is bent towards the right, mostly so this figure fits on its card. Its back and neck are covered in rows of small bumps, while a single small horn is found on the snout. It is equipped with a whipping action: pulling the right leg back and forth makes the head spin around, as if the creature is thrashing its head. This also accommodates a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraint-gear action: when the capture gear is on, the Baryonyx can break free by thrashing its head left and right. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws, though the mouth can’t open really wide so most figures won’t fit.
This creature sports a rather intricate and detailed paint job, especially for JPD1 standards. It's mostly brown, save for its underside ( lower jaw, throat, belly and lower part of the first half of the tail) which is beige instead. The brown colouring is darker on the tail and limbs, probably because these are made of different, softer material. Around the eyes, on the back of its head and on its back and front part of the tail, a total of eight small orange stripes are located. Additionally, thin dark brown stripes and swirls are found on the back and tail of the creature, including one that runs in a full circle around the base of the tail near the anal region. On both upper legs, a series of light pink spots and shapes is found. The dinosaur has white teeth, a red tongue, yellow eyes (no pupils) and a black JP logo on its right upper leg. Its claws on both hands and feet are not painted.
This Bary comes with two pieces of capture gear, which form a sort of harness around the creature’s upper body and restrain its arms and head. However, it wouldn’t stop the creature from just running away. Both pieces are painted in a metallic dark grey colour.

Analysis: this Baryonyx seems to have gotten luckier than most other JP: Dinosaurs 1 figures and, other than them, was blessed with a more elaborate an inspired paint job by some creative designer. Though it's still far from a perfect figure (it comes with a bit of a poorly developed and unoriginal action feature and it keeps falling over), this paint job at least makes it stand out in this line. It works well on this figure and gives it a sort of murky and muddy appearance, as if it's been spending too much time fishing in swamps (which wouldn't be unusual behaviour for this particular species of dinosaur). The little details like the pink spots and vague dark brown swirls give it extra character.
Like any JPD1 figure, it does miss some minor detailing though, most notably the horn on the nose and the unpainted claws: in the case of the latter, given the big single sickle shaped claw on each hand, it would have been nice to see these painted at least, since they remain ever a Baryonyx trademark. Also, the lack of painted pupils gives the eyes a demonic touch, as if this is an especially sinister animal. Aside from these minor complaints this is certainly one of the best repaints of the line, though not necessarily one of the best figures.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original TLWS2 Baryonyx, including that figure's capture gear. A second Baryonyx repaint was released for this line along with a Peter Ludlow repaint.

Overall rating: 7/10. An interesting paint job, missing some details but definitely more original than most other JPD1 paint jobs. The figure itself is okay but nothing special. As one of the rarer Wave 2 releases, this figure is much harder to find than most other JP: Dinosaurs 1 figures. It usually fetches rather high prices, also because this sculpt is just not very common in general so it is more sought after (even though it's certainly not the best sculpt around). You better decide for yourself whether this one is worth tracking down and spending fair amounts of cash on.

woensdag 29 juli 2015

Today's Column: Franchises fighting their past

Another month, another column of mine:

Column: Franchises in gevecht met hun eigen verleden

Nostalgia is key in the current Hollywood strategy. Of course the studios are eager to get the new generations acquainted with classic fare it might not have bothered to check out on their own accord - if their parents think it's awesome, it can't really be, right? - but at the same time, the existing fan base and its substantial financial potential are not to be ignored. So today's new istallments in major franchises like Terminator, Jurassic Park and Star Wars are drenched in the stuff that generates that good ol' feeling for the older fans. Old actors return, old oneliners are uttered throughout and old locations are revisited. Not to mention old plot lines are blatantly rehashed, as with the disappointing Terminator Genisys. However, the nostalgia of these new films only brings to mind the truly classic installments, ignoring those sequels that didn't either turn a profit or please the fans. Do we want to be remembered of less than stellar fare when we can set our minds on the glory of the true undying classics that preceded them? Maybe not, but it sure as heck doesn't help the consistency in these franchises. They're not remakes, or even reboots. They acknowledge what happened before happened in the same universe, but they refuse to acknowledge all of it, leaving us with major questions. What has become of Isla Sorna? Did Ripley not die, but was it a hypersleep dream? Terminator Genisys uses the Trek way out and states the current story takes place in an alternate time line, which is supposed to be a smooth way to ignore Rise of the Machines and Salvation, but makes for an overly convoluted whole in the Terminator franchise. So that wasn't the smartest move, or the most respectful since there are still plenty of fans - myself included - who actually didn't think so little of Rise of the Machines and Salvation.

Basically Hollywood is suggesting to us which films we should remember fondly and which had best be forgotten. But why should the studios dictate what is canon and what isn't? Isn't that up to the fans who embrace these franchises and the stories they tell, taking the good with the bad? The case of the recent 'recanonizing' of the Star Wars universe, to make it work more in Disney's favour, is a poignant example of how a studio is appropriating a franchise for its own gain rather than the fans'. Thirty years of Expanded Universe, mostly written by fans who turned their love for the space saga into a profession, is brisquely declared 'non canon', even though many stories are actually more intelligently crafted and more emotionally compelling than some of the canon entries. Such rewriting of history won't stop the fans from appreciating the good stuff and detesting the bad in the future. They'll make up their own mind on what things they will lovingly look back at.

Judging from the lackluster box office results and the poor audience reception, Terminator Genisys might not be one of those things...

woensdag 22 juli 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Young T-Rex

Year of release: 1999

-Leg cast

Description: this juvenile Tyrannosaurus has long slender legs, tiny teeth and a small head compared to adult Rexes. It does have the odd little two fingered arms seen on larger Rexes though. This figure stands in a neutral pose except for its tail, which is bent to the left somewhat. Its lower right leg hangs loose (though still attached) and can be twisted around, as if it’s broken or damaged in some way. The leg cast can be applied on the leg by sticking the pin on its inside in the little hole in the figure’s upper right leg. That way the twisted leg will “switch” back and the animal’s leg is healed; at least, that's the general idea. The Rex’s mouth can also be opened and closed. This animal comes with one piece of capture gear which can cover its head, like a muzzle. It’s coloured metallic dark brown, as is the leg cast.
The Rex itself sports a light beige or pink colour, which can be found on the tail, flanks, head and limbs of the figure, and is brightest on the upper part of the legs and the front section of the tail (it's almost white there). On the underside of the creature (belly, underside of the tail, throat, lower jaw, lower parts of the arms and legs) the colour changes from a fairly bright hue of pink to a darker tone in a gradual way. The back of the figure is painted in a brown colouring, running all the way from the snout to the tip of the tail. Stripes and spots in the same dark colour can be found on the flanks, tail, legs and head. The Rexling has small white claws on its fingers, white teeth, a red tongue and cat like white eyes with black pupils. On its upper right leg (above the dino damage feature) it has a black JP logo.

Analysis: since there are no really big T-Rex figures in this first JP: Dinosaurs line, this almost screen accurate baby T-Rex got repainted twice for it to fill the obligatory Tyrannosaurus vacancy. Unfortunately, one of these two Rexlings got a lousy paint job, and it happens to be this one. To be harsh but fair, it's just plain boring. It has little appeal, and the use of colour combinations (brown combined with a sort of reddish pink) is pretty ugly. What's worse, the paint scheme is almost identical to the one on the previous junior T-Rex figure, spots and stripes all in the same place (but on that figure, a more appealing paint job was applied), so it doesn't score in the originality department either. As has happened to a lot of JPD1 dinosaur figures, some details were left out, most notably the claws on its feet. Oddly enough, the claws on the fingers did get a different colour, simple white, but this looks just as silly as the big soulless white eyes this repaint got.
It's a damn shame the paint job is so poorly done, since this is otherwise still a pretty decent figure. It looks very close in shape to the little T-Rex seen in the TLW movie, and such a likeness hasn't been seen all too often in JP dinosaur action figures. The leg action is a fun option, and also nigh on movie accurate, though it has its downsides (leg cast covers only half the leg and looks silly, leg often swivels back on its own accord, leg is somewhat fragile, etc.). Basically this is a good figure ruined by an ugly paint job. Fortunately the second Junior T-Rex repaint of this line fared better.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Junior T-Rex, with repainted accessories from that same figure. The figure would be repainted again for JPD2, and would also be featured a second time in this first JP: Dinosaurs line in a dinosaur/human 2-pack.

Overall rating: 5/10. It's still a good, largely movie accurate sculpt, but the colouring is very dull and uninspired, and the paint scheme is so similar to its predecessor that it also fails as an original paint job, since it just isn't. This is one of the more common JPD1 figures and it can still be found more easily than most of the other figures from the same line, not surprisingly often for lower prices.

zondag 19 juli 2015

Today's Review: Inside Out

Look at little me turning Pixar's Inside Out inside out! Or as much as you can in a general review of under a thousands words in length.

Inside Out - recensie

This may be a turning point for Pixar. The naysayers who wrote off the studio ever since Disney took over often seemed right in their sweeping generalizations that Pixar's truly creative days of imaginary wonder where done. Sequels, that's what was in store for the audience ad nauseam. It worked well on Toy Story 3, few will deny. Not so much on Cars 2 though, or even Monsters University. So a new original project was definitely desperately needed to show Pixar has lost none of its dreaming potency, and this is it. Inside Out is as emotional and beautiful, not to mention innovative and soulful an animated movie as they come, and especially as they used to come in this company's own case.

It's not as perfect as the likes of Wall-E or Toy Story 3, I'll have you know, since it has some little flaws. Like Monsters, Inc. and Up, that makes it a classic Peter Docter movie. Those films, too, featured the occasional emotional highs that went coupled with some whimsical additions that had a bit of a trouble fitting in the whole. It was especially vexing in the case of Up, where the movie just never got as powerful as it proved to be in its first act. Inside Out equally knows a few moments where the magic diminishes, most notably when it concerns the elaborate logistics of the brain (though personally I found the forgotten imaginary friend rather an obnoxious sort as well, though I appreciated the notion). Docter has learned something from Up's experience though, saving the emotional climax for the end of the film. And it packs quite a punch, as Docter delivers his message that it's okay to be sad. Quite a rebellious act, since the movie still flies the banner of the Mouse House which usually tells us the exact opposite. While still an undeniably happy end, it's unlikely anybody will restrain their tears. As Docter says they shouldn't.

So is this a definite comeback for Pixar? The list of upcoming projects still consists mostly of sequels, with the only original tale for the foreseeable future presented by The Good Dinosaur. I'm more than a bit skeptical about that one, judging from the first teaser and its overly retro dinosaurs parading through near photo-real landscapes. I doubt an Inside Out 2 is out of the question, considering the film is doing fine at the boxoffice. Still, I like to think the naysayers remain in the wrong, and there's still a few tears of joy to be spilled over Pixar's films in the next few years.

And otherwise we'll still have the shorts preceding the main events. Hopefully they'll be as delightful as Inside Out's Lava, which also gets those eyes wet and thus perfectly warms us up for the main course to follow.