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.

zaterdag 18 juni 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Electronic Velociraptor with Micro Pteranodon

Year of release: 2005

Description: this Raptor figure stands in a dramatic pose when boxed, showing all its primal predator prowess, its body straight upwards, its legs wide apart and its ferocious claws ready for action, while its head faces upwards and is turned to the right, jaws wide open (and not capable of being closed). The tail is bent in a sort of 'S' shaped fashion. This sculpt has proto-feathers on the back of its head, following the design change of the Jurassic Park III Velociraptors as compared to the Raptors seen in the first two movies. Accordingly, it has a nasal ridge on each side of its head. A dino damage wound is located on the upper base of the tail, revealing some of its tail bones and dark red muscle tissue. Inside the wound a button is found: when pressed this produces a snarling sound. On its back this creature has a small lever, activating the slashing claw action feature. This also produces an eerie shrieking noise.
Apart from the figure's underside (the belly, most of the lower part of the tail, the inside of the upper legs and part of the throat), which are coloured beige, this Raptor looks quite green. Most of the animal is coloured dark green, most notably all of the head apart from the lower jaw, the back and the upper side of the arms and tail. The remaining body parts are painted in a much lighter shade of green, which is found mostly on the legs, underside of the arms and part of the neck. Dark green stripes also run over the legs. The proto-feathers on the back of the head are yellow, as are the eyes (with black pupils). The tongue and parts of the side of the mouth are pink and the teeth are white. The claws on both hands and feet are painted black while the figure carries white JP logos on both upper legs.
The Pteranodon is rather large for a creature that originally came with a human figure. The second half of each wing can fold in and out, and when folded to their full (realistic) length, the figure has about a 15 centimetre wing span. It has a small hand on each wing, which however is situated far too much towards the end of the wing and should have been placed closer to the body. The Pterosaur has two long legs which end in claws that can grip human or dinosaur figures' limbs as if it is lifting them off the ground. It has a rather thick plump head on a rotatable neck. Most of this figure sports a brown paint job, mostly a darker shade of brown, though there's also a lighter shade mixed in on various parts of its body (most notably on the chest, arms and head). The underside of the figure (lower side of the wings, tail and most of the legs) is white, which gradually shifts into light brown the closer you get to the arms. The claws on the hands are painted black, while the Pteranodon has red eyes, a purple tongue and a small black JP logo on both the upper and lower side of its left wing.

Analysis: once again it seems Hasbro thought a JP toy line would be incomplete without a decently sized Velociraptor figure, so they bashed out yet another repaint (instead of creating a new figure). This sculpt was used only the year before, but either Hasbro forgot, didn't care or thought kids wouldn't remember (but most likely all three options combined). This Raptor is very green, which actually suits it rather well, considering green was never really a “Raptor colour” as the previous Raptor figures in this colour indicated. The dark, murky quality of the used combinations of green is rather reminiscent of the scrapped Camo-Xtreme Tropical Velociraptor and so this latest try might make up a little to some people for the loss of that particular figure. The creature is also pretty detailed, as all the claws and the proto-feathers have been taken care of. The yellow on the Raptors' back of the head is a nice little touch, and it would have been nice if a similar colour scheme would have been added to the head (particular the nasal ridges) since this still looks a bit dull. Compared to the Camo-Xtreme Night Raptor, the two sounds have been reversed again, so they're in the same order as they were on the original JP III figure. And the good old slashing claws remain the same: cute, but not particularly effective.
The Pteranodon is much more disappointing, considering it is a total reuse instead of just a repaint. If you already own the Pteranodon and Compsognathus two-pack of this toy line you'll find it a boring and unneeded addition to your JP dinosaur collection. And the paint job is, again, very bland. It makes good prey for the hungry Raptor, if the Pterosaur was ever stupid enough to get too close to it's vicious claws.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of JP III dinosaur sculpts. The Pteranodon originally came with Eric Kirby, while the Raptor was originally the Alpha Velociraptor of the JP III line. The Raptor has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, and the exact same Pteranodon (identical sculpt and paint job) was featured in the Pteranodon and Compsognathus two-pack of this line. The Raptor would be repainted again for JP 2009, but for the Pteranodon, this would be its last appearance (so far).

Overall rating: 5/10. The Raptor looks decent and is fairly detailed, but otherwise no different than before. The Pteranodon, already suffering from a lousy paint job, unfortunately is identical to the other Pteranodon figure of this toy line, making it redundant and uninspired. Like the other JPD2/3 electronic dinosaur figures, this two-pack was very common a few years ago, but has since become increasingly hard to find, despite not being a very popular set. If you really want one, patience is certainly required, but fortunately it doesn't necessarily require a lot of cash once you've found it.

zaterdag 11 juni 2016

Today's Review: Warcraft

Up to date again.

Warcraft - Recensie

Judging from the on-again, off-again subtitle The Beginning, it's clear Universal Studios hopes for this first entry into the Warcraft film franchise not to be the last. A ton of money has been thrown at the screen on a project that has been in development for nigh a decade to entice both fans and ignorant audiences alike, but the best intentions regardless, it's unlikely the film will sit well with the latter demographic, while it remains to be seen whether it'll be to the liking of the former. After all, the gamers are simple spectators on a quest played by Duncan Jones and his team, rather than their own. General viewers meanwhile get treated to a grand and supposedly rich fantasy universe for which they have a tough time developing a feeling, considering Warcraft only forms the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The World of Warcraft is vast and extensive, yet a film franchise has to start somewhere explaining it all. The Beginning addresses the origin of the wars between Orcs and Men, so it is said in the opening narration. Which also proves a major spoiler to the movie's own plot, considering the outcome of it all has already been determined. While much of the movie follows a minority of Orcs attempting to establish a truce with the world of Men they just invaded, with that opening statement in mind, there's few narrative surprises in store for us. Which doesn't mean we don't feel for this peaceful, noble Orc warriors, who find themselves a pawn of a sinister force's greater schemes to suck this world dry of life like it did their own home before. Brought to life by the latest motion capture innovations, the movie follows the new path of creating convincing digital characters based on intense acting performances, in the same style as the recent Planet of the Apes movie so successfully. It works, as these are some of the finest Orcs we've seen on the big screen thus far.

Alas, the same cannot be said for their human counterparts. The noble knights and conniving warlocks of Azeroth aren't nearly as interesting to behold as their fresh enemies, a victim of both dull, generic fantasy writing and uninspired performances. Though there's definitely a pool of talent assembled here, none of these actors truly seemed to have affinity with the exotic subject matter. All the silly spells and swashbuckling sword moves can't change that, and there's plenty of both to go around. In fact, Warcraft fanatics will recognize plenty of everything from their beloved games much to their enjoyment and to the detriment of ours, the casual viewers not acquainted with this realm. Especially in the first thirty minutes of the movie, the plot travels from one outlandish location to the next without allowing us much room to absorb it all, get to know its rules or develop a sense of geography for the whole. While names like Ironforge and Stormwind are no doubt iconic nomenclature to the fans, they never rise above the sound of generic fantasy to inexperienced ears. Same can be said for the other inhabitants of Azeroth: Dwarves, Elves and the like are briefly seen here and there but otherwise play no part.

Undoubtedly there's more to the World of Warcraft than what's shown here, but for the general audience, what realms are served never really click. It all looks fabulous but none of it makes us truly care on the same level as the Lord of the Rings movies did. Whether the fans will absorb this take on their beloved franchise as much as they did their interactive equivalent remains to be seen, but the studio better hope they do. Other audiences at best get a decent two hours of generic fantasy entertainment out of it, but nobody will be converted to the Warcraft cause. Which, considering the cost of this hugely expensive movie, might easily suggest The Beginning will also prove the end for the Warcraft film franchise.

woensdag 8 juni 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Electronic Triceratops with Micro Velociraptor

Year of release: 2005

Description: this four legged rhino like dinosaur is easily recognizable by its large head with the round crest around it and three horns on its face, two large ones above the eyes, and a smaller one on the snout. It has a beak resembling a parrot's. The crest is adorned with small black spikes sticking out of it (16 in total). It has a sturdy body, about twice the length of the head, ending in a short thick tail. Very noticeable, this figure sports a dino damage wound on its left flank, showing white ribs and red muscle tissue. A small button can be found in this wound, which when pressed produces a low howling growl. A second sound can be made by pushing the tail upwards, which also causes the head to rise upwards, as if attacking something with its horns. This second sound is more aggressive, like a hissing growl.
This Triceratops has a rather dark paint job. Its body is mostly coloured grey, covered with thick dark grey spots and stripes on its back, legs and tip of the tail. Its underside (throat, belly and lower part of the tail) is painted bright beige. Its head is coloured in a much lighter shade of grey, except for most of the lower jaw section, the areas around the horns, and the outer most parts of the crest, which are also coloured in a darker grey. The creature has small red eyes in dark grey eye sockets, while the horns and beak are light beige. The figure has a pink tongue, but the inside of the mouth isn't painted. White JP logos are located on both upper hind legs.
The Velociraptor stands in a stalking pose, its right arm and leg stretched outward and its head raised upwards with its mouth open, as if it means to jump on something. The tail is raised upwards and bent at the tip. Its underside (throat, belly and front half of the lower tail) is painted white, while the rest of the body sports an orange paint job, except for a thick dark red stripe running from the snout over the head, neck and back to about half way the tail. On either side of the figure, three smaller red stripes run out of the main red colouring over the flanks. The hands are also painted in this red colouring. The figure has white teeth, a very light pink tongue and inside of the mouth, cat like yellow eyes with black pupils and black JP logos on both upper legs.

Analysis: if a repaint is ever long over due, that would be the case for this particular sculpt. Triceratops is one of the most famous dinosaurs ever, yet the JP III Triceratops sculpt has been oddly neglected in the previous repaint lines, which is all the more shocking considering this is one of Hasbro's most accurate and appealing sculpts. JPD3 finally corrects this mistake and gives the figure a decent new paint job, kinda reminiscent of a rhinoceros, which would already be the first contemporary animal this creature would be compared with. The new paint scheme is not overly imaginative or exciting, but suits the beastie pretty well. It could have used more details on the crest, as well as painted horns, but it's a fine paint job as it is. Otherwise this figure remains the same: predictable but adequate head butting action, some nice dinosaur sounds and the typical uncoverable dino damage wound.
The Micro Raptor is of less interest, mostly because we've seen this sculpt all too often already and it's still boring. It also lacks details, most notably the claws. The only possible redemption this figure offers is the overall paint and colour scheme, which is remarkably similar to the scheme seen on the classic JPS1 Electronic Velociraptor figure. It may not have been done deliberately (knowing Hasbro that seems unlikely), but it does give a little shock of recognition to older JP toy fans who fondly remember that particular Raptor figure. Were it not for this particular point of interest, this paint job would rank right up there with the most forgetful Hasbro paint jobs in existence.
By the way, the Triceratops would either trample or skewer the Raptor to death in a fight between the two. The Raptor better ignore this herbivore if it knows what's best for it.

Repaint: yes. The Triceratops is a repaint of the JP III Triceratops sculpt. The Micro Raptor originally came with the JP III Alan Grant figure. The Triceratops is a first time repaint, and would be repainted again for JP 2009. The little Raptor has been used for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, one other set in this line, and would also be used for JP 2009, making it one of the most often repainted Hasbro sculpts.

Overall rating: 7/10. The Triceratops is a fine repaint of one of Hasbro's more successful sculpts. The Raptor is nothing special, though its paint job could be seen as an homage to JPS1. Like the other JPD2/3 electronic dinosaur figures, this two-pack was very common a few years ago, but has since become harder to find, though this set is probably the easiest to find of the six JPD2/3 electronic/micro two-packs. If you want one, you might need to practice patience a bit, but it shouldn't require much money once you've found it.