dinsdag 24 november 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus Rex with Dino Hunter

Year of release: 1999

-Dino Damage skin piece
-Three pieces of capture gear
-Bow with two Arrows

Description: this repainted Young T-Rex figure is a recast of its JPS1 counterpart, comprised of much harder and less flexible material than its predecessor. At first glance it looks like an otherwise unchanged sculpt though. It stands in the same fully neutral posture, and still includes dino damage: on its right flank a piece of skin can be removed, revealing a dino damage wound underneath, showing white ribs and red muscle tissue. The wound patch itself is largely symmetrical in shape. The Rex’s small two fingered arms are its only poseable body parts.
The Tyrannosaur's paint job also looks a lot like the one from the original figure. Except for the underside (throat, belly, lowest part of the tail) which is painted white, the whole figure is coloured light brown. It features various shapes of dark grey surrounded by beige edges on various parts of its body, most notably on the tail and upper legs. Additional grey and beige stripes are found on the creature's neck and torso, while spots of both colours are located on its head. The figure has black eye sockets with white eyes (and black pupils), while the inside of the mouth, including the tongue, is painted red and sports white teeth. The claws on both hands and feet are black; it has a line of dark spots running down over each toe (so three lines on each foot). On its left upper leg, the figure is marked with a black JP logo, along with the number .22 and a small Site B logo. This is very odd, since none of the other JPD1 dinosaur figures carry these extra markings: the Site B logo was only reserved for TLW figures, and the numerical system for the Kenner system already had the JPS2 Utahraptor marked as .22.
Three pieces of capture gear come with the T-Rex. There's the required tag, which comes with many dinosaur figures and is quite big in this case: it fits well around the creature's neck. It also comes with a leg restraint, which can hold on to both legs simultaneously. Lastly, there is a big muzzle which can go around the figure's jaws, effectively disabling them, while also covering the eyes, so the Rex can't see what's going on. All three pieces are coloured in the same shiny metallic grey paint job.
The Dino Hunter stands in a somewhat unusual pose, with his left arm held back and his right arm held close to his chest. The position of the arms facilitates him holding his bow. His left leg is posed in a forward move and his right leg backwards, as if bracing himself while using his weapon. He wears a brown jacket with golden “armour” like highlights on his arms and chest. On his left upper arm he sports a JP T-Rex badge (the black Rex skull and arms in a yellow circle, most famously being part of the classic JP logo). Additionally, he wears green trousers, adorned with a brown gun holster on his right hip and a grey knife holster with a brown knife handle sticking out on his left lower leg. He has black boots, and wears a tan cowboy hat with a green band on top and the right flap turned upwards, revealing a second JP T-Rex logo. He has brown hair, ending in a short pony tail, brown eyebrows and black eyes, and carries a rather smug facial expression.
This Hunter comes with a bow and two arrows as his main action feature. The bow is a triangular, mechanical looking weapon (not the old-fashioned Robin Hood style wooden bow) with some protrusions sticking out, most notably a large tip up front and a rectangular plate right under this, sporting a handle on the left side so the hunter can hold it, and a little hole to “load” an arrow on the right side. A long transparent wire is used to launch arrows with: this wire runs over the bow in such a fashion that it appears there's actually three wires instead of one. The bow sports a silver paint job. Two different arrows come with it, a long one with a cone shaped tip and a shorter arrow with a flatter tip. Both arrows are metallic grey in colour and have a tiny incision at their ends so they can be loaded in the bow by sticking them through the small hole and pressing the incision around one of the strings. Pulling the string backwards thus launches the arrow. The figure also comes with a small black backpack for storing the arrows when not used. It's basically a hollow basket with straps on it so he can carry it on his back.

Analysis: not only smaller classic dinosaur figures return for the first JP: Dinosaur toy line, it also witnesses the return of the dinosaur prince, the former Young T-Rex from the very first Jurassic Park line (though the 'young' part is left out this time, but it's still not the size of a fully grown T-Rex). The creature appears very similar to its iconic forefather, but things are not what they seem... This is not merely a repaint, it's actually a recast. The old flexible 'real feel' dino skin has been replaced with stronger and harder material. Unfortunately, this was a bad decision on the designers' part, since it mostly kills the 'crunching' action mentioned on its box, as well as the dino damage option. Pressing the neck to make the jaws open just doesn't work any more; in fact, the jaws can't really be opened much at all. It even has trouble clutching the Dino Hunter between its jaws. So there goes this dinosaur's only attack option... Which leaves us with its most vulnerable point, the dino damage wound. The wound piece is still there, in the same spot as before. However, because of the new material the figure is made of, it's very hard to remove the wound cover, and even harder to put it back. Remember the difficulties with removing the TLWS1 Pachycephalosaurus' wound piece? Same thing here, but even worse! This sadly doesn't leave the T-Rex with much, except for being a decently sized good looking figure.
The paint job is also very similar to the one used on the old JPS1 Young T-Rex, which was also coloured light brown with a white underside and grey stripes and shapes on its back, but the additional beige colourations are new. Details like the inside of the mouth and the claws are not forgotten, while extra features like black eye sockets and spotted toes enhance it further. Still, it's not the best of paint jobs. It seems overly festive but dull at the same time, like confetti with all the happy bright colours removed. Overall, changes have been made to this T-Rex that shouldn't have been made, and the set suffers from it.
That leaves the Dino Hunter to clean up the mess a bit. Former Sgt. T-Rex Turner (this time actually paired with a T-Rex!) has been demoted to random 'dino hunter', but at least his paint job doesn't look the worse from it. His new colour scheme actually is a nice change from his rather dull original paint job. The position of his arms is still a bit of a nuisance, but works well in combination with his bow and arrows. This weapon works as it did before: it takes some practice but it can actually launch arrows, though these would do little damage to the Tyrannosaurus (though as we have established above, Rex won't bite back much any more). The backpack still comes in handy for storing unused arrows. This figure may not be the most likely dino tracker to pair up with the T-Rex, but it's nice to see an actually complete JPS2 figure return for a change, instead of just Jaws Jackson's head stuck on a TLW figure.

Repaint: yes. This is a repainted recast of the original JPS1 Young T-Rex (already repainted for JPS2 and as a TLW Exclusive), with repainted (and also recast) dino damage, and capture gear first seen on its JPS2 counterpart. The Dino Hunter is a JPS2 Sgt. T-Rex Turner repaint, with accessories from that same figure. Both figures would not be repainted again.

Overall rating: 6/10. Though this Tyrannosaurus is still a good figure, its paint job is nothing special and the new material it's composed of effectively kills both the biting action and the ease with which the dino damage could previously be applied. The rest of the set is okay, though also not particularly appealing, but at least not with butchered action features. This set is not the easiest find of this toy line, especially in MIB or complete condition. It could take a while to track it down, plus a fair amount of cash to acquire it. You might very well find it to be unworthy of the effort.

zondag 22 november 2015

Today's Review: The Program

Second review for FilmTotaal released this week (but penned last month):

The Program - recensie

Whoever considers this 'the Lance Armstrong' film is wrong, despite it being the only non documentary feature film about the former sports legend thus far. Thing is, at its core it's not about the seven-time Tour de France winner. It's about the journalist who exposed him after years of persistent digging. It's even based on the guy's book. So naturally, Armstrong isn't depicted in a flattering way and that's putting it mildly. The infamous cyclist is portrayed as an absolutely single minded, appalingly arrogant fraud throughout the piece, with little to no redeeming character qualities. Simply said, a total dick. Now, of course nobody will deny that aspect of his character exists. But it can't have been all he ever was/is. After all, he became an inspiration for millions. With the solely negative traits he's endowed with in this film, it's not likely he would ever have been that widely admired. But to the brave, heroic journalist who risked his career and maybe even his life to bring the man down, Armstrong was utterly evil. So that's the Armstrong we get on screen. An Armstrong devoid of nuances, a character from somebody else's pages rather than his own book of life. Which rules The Program out as the biopic it claims to be. But then, history is written by the victors. Which Armstrong himself ultimately didn't rightly turn out to be.

More was to be expected from director Stephen Frears. His previous work showed him most interested in the human side of things, the choices and thoughts that make people who they are, rather than who they seem to be to the rest of the world. The Queen is the best example, where he showed the Queen of England to be just as limited a human being as the rest of us, and therefore a relatable character. The same doesn't hold true for Lance Armstrong, who is portrayed far too one sided and excessively obsessed a character to feel really real. Good performances not withstanding, since Ben Foster does an intense job at playing the star cyclist. Perhaps too much so, going over that top rather than staying right under it. Of course, Chris O'Dowd gives less of a notable performance, thus making him feel more real in the role of the intrepid reporter, which also makes him feel more human than his antagonist, as is the film's intention. And when you say O'Dowd, comedy is the first thing that springs to mind. The Program often feels like it is just that, especially in its first half. After all, we shouldn't take one of the greatest frauds ever too seriously, the film suggests. Too bad, I would have loved to have seen a movie that explains just why Armstrong did the things he did, rather than this film which only shows what those things were (which we basically already knew), rather than their motivations. But why would we need to know why a total dick does what a total dick does, right?

zaterdag 21 november 2015

Today's Review: A Family Affair

Reviewing for FilmTotaal continues:

A Family Affair - recensie

This was one boring watch. I had a tough time sitting this one out. I can't imagine why this would be the opening documentary for the IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam). It was just stale in every way. Stilistically it was a dud, mostly consisting of archive footage and talking heads. Worse thing, I couldn't care less about the topic. Grandmother is a cold hearted bitch and the whole family hates her. So of course the director, her grandson, would want to know why. But that is exactly what we just can't put our finger on. It's just the way it is. Bringing her back from South Africa to confront the rest of the family is a bad idea for everybody. It's not helping anyone discovering new perspectives, it just confirms that grandma doesn't care and nobody cares about grandma. Even the director is eventually antagonized by her ongoing manipulations. Which get particularly awkward when she declares she's in love with him. Yeah, right...

A Family Affair's biggest problem is its subject just proves wholly annoying. This is one mean old woman. Not someone you want to watch for the better part of two hours. I did, and I didn't enjoy it. As far as I'm concerned, this affair had better be left to the family itself. Why bother audiences with it? Especially in theaters, when it lacks the punch to be big screen material. This sort of documentary is usually seen late at night on public television. Or on documentary festivals for a one time screening. But not as an opening feature for the world's most prestigious documentary festival.

vrijdag 13 november 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Stegosaurus with Dinosaur Hunter

Year of release: 1999

-Dino Damage skin piece
-Four pieces of capture gear

Description: as is usual for Stegosaurs, the most noticeable thing about this creature is the double row of plates running from its neck to halfway over the tail. In total, this sculpt carries 22 plates (one of them on the dino damage piece), all varying in size. Additionally, at the end of its tail there are the four spikes Stegosaurus uses to defend itself with. These spikes are also the main ingredient of the action feature this sculpt is equipped with. Pressing the two back plates behind the dino damage piece together causes the tail to swing around, giving this beast the opportunity to knock figures down. This mechanism works fairly well, though it gets damaged easily. This animal's dino damage piece is located right above the right front leg: removing this piece reveals white ribs, a shoulder bone and red muscle tissue.
The Stegosaurus assumes a sort of walking posture, its left hind leg in a forward move and its right hind leg moved backward. Its front legs are neutrally positioned though. His head is posed to the right, as if the animal is looking down at something. Green is the predominant colour of this figure’s paint job. The entire upper part of its body (upper part of the tail, back, neck, top part of the hind legs, upper part of the head) is painted dark green, including all the plates, though the larger ones on its back (not on its tail, since the figure’s tail section is composed of a different material to facilitate the attack action) are toned even darker green. The creature’s flanks, sides of the tail and head and most of the legs sport a much lighter shade of green, while its underside (belly, throat, lower jaw, lower part of the tail, inner part of the legs) is coloured bright beige. The spikes on the end of the tail are painted dark green at the base, which gradually changes into beige too. The Stegosaurus has very small yellow eyes (with black pupils and white irises), and a black JP logo on its lower right hind leg. The small claws on its elephant like legs are not painted in a different colour.
This figure comes with four pieces of capture gear, which can be assembled together to form a hind leg and tail restraint. It basically shackles the legs, which via a wire are connected to what can best be described as a box that goes around the tail, keeping the animal from using its spikes. This also makes the tail attack option a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-capture-gear action: pressing the plates together makes the Stegosaurus whip its tail, break free of the box and smash it in two. It doesn’t get rid of the shackles though. All pieces of capture gear sport the same shiny silver metallic paint job.
The Dino Hunter stands in a largely neutral pose, except for his right leg which is moved slightly forwards. He sports an almost military outfit, namely a light blue shirt with a black vest and dark blue straps over it, as well as light brown gloves, dark blue pants with light blue stripes in an asymmetrical pattern suggesting camouflage on them, and black boots. He also has a pair of black sunglasses on. He has a stone cold facial expression and brown Elvis like hair. He’s got some detailing on his pants, though it’s hardly noticeable because it’s coloured in the same blue as the pants themselves: on his left leg he’s got one pocket, while on his right leg he has a knife as well as some damage to his pants, indicating he’s had a close call with a hungry carnivore.

Analysis: the only other larger dinosaur figure of the first JP: Dinosaurs line is brought to you from the TLWS1 line instead of the original JP toy line. It's the Stegosaurus, and boy, did they do little with this figure! The sculpt itself remains unchanged, which is for the best compared to the Tyrannosaurus JPD1 brings us, which was recast so badly it had no action features to speak off left. Stegosaurus fares better in this regard: both the whipping tail action and Dino-Damage (Trade Marked, according to the box) wound work as well as they did before (which in the latter's case means it keeps falling off on its own accord). The paint job is very similar to the one seen before, but with different hues of green being used. Unfortunately, the green we had was fine, while these other greens are kinda ugly together. It also lacks painted details, like the big nails on its feet and such, but this is of course common for this line (though at least the T-Rex got more than its fair share of detailing). It would have been nice to see a Stegosaurus coloured something other than green for a change (this is the third time in a row!), but apparently the toy designers can't come up with different colour schemes for this species. A shame, but not a loss we can't overcome. The animal comes with the same capture gear as before, which still does what it's supposed to do: either contain the animal's tail or be destroyed by it, your choice.
The Dinosaur Hunter has undergone a small change compared to its original sculpt: he has had a head transplant. This does give us some variety, considering we already saw both the head and the body before in this toy line. Fortunately they go well together. The figure's paint scheme remains the same, but this time blue is used instead of grey. An interesting choice of colours, but not different enough to make it stand out next to the original figure, unlike the other Ajay body repaint from this line. Sadly, this figure does not come with a set of weaponry, so he can only hope the Stegosaurus' capture gear will keep the beast in line. Wishful thinking...

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the TLWS1 Stegosaurus figure, with repainted dino damage and the same capture gear as its TLW predecessor. The Dinosaur Hunter is a TLWS2 Ajay repaint, with a repainted head sculpt from TLWS1 Peter Ludlow. Both figures would not be repainted again.

Overall rating: 6/10. This Stegosaur's paint job is not as appealing as before, but not a complete atrocity either, and it's still a very nice sculpt regardless. The same thing basically goes for the Dino Hunter, though it's a shame he doesn't come with any weaponry like the other human figures of this line. This set is not the easiest find of this toy line, especially in MIB or complete condition. It could take quite some time to track it down, plus a decent amount of money to get your hands on it.

zaterdag 7 november 2015

Today's Review: The Green Inferno

Second review for FilmTotaal is up:

The Green Inferno - recensie

Another dud. Granted, a cannibal movie isn't for most audiences to begin with. The number of people with a morbid interest in seeing one human being graphically killed and devoured by another isn't particularly big. Of course, horror afficionados are the target audience here, but they too won't like what they see. For a movie that claims to want a return to the gore and social commentary of the Italian cannibal movies of the Seventies and Eighties, there simply isn't a lot of cannibalism in The Green Inferno. Number of people brutally murdered, cut to pieces and ingested, spoilers!: just one. A good fifty minutes into the film, which only lasts just over ninety to begin with.

But at least it's a particularly gory death that feels indeed strongly reminiscent to those old movies this movie is inspired by, like the infamous Cannibal Holocaust. Unlike most other deaths in the film, which are generally caused by arrows shot through the neck. But what of the social commentary on the appetite of the mass media, which also formed a strong ingredient back in the old days of cannibal gonzo? Problem is, the movies of the present day simply aren't as bloodthirsty as those in the early Eighties (unlike television, but that's another matter entirely). Sure, there's still plenty of gore in horror movies, but as graphic as the original cannibal movies? Not to mention acts of genuine animal cruelty are (fortunately!) outlawed today. So in The Green Inferno it's social media that is critiqued, rather than the violence in fellow contemporary movies and the audience's desire for ever more murderous thrills. The use of mobile phones and live streaming employed by naive activists that think their actions can actually change anything in the Third World where corrupt government officials and big corporations break their own laws for profit every day, backed by private militias. Activism via social media is no good in such scenarios, says director Eli Roth. Such comments on the use and abuse of the media are as far as The Green Inferno goes, before Roth finds it necessary to take a stand against female genital mutilation. A noble endeavour, but considering such acts are hardly practized in the Amazon rainforest, it feels awkwardly out of place, just an added sensational bodily horror show detracting from the actual cannibalism. As if eating people isn't horrific enough.

It certainly isn't in The Green Inferno. This is not a cannibal movie like its predecessors, it's a mixed bag that just happens to have a few acts of cannibalism in it. And it's a boring bag at that, with annoying cardboard characters you want to see chopped to bits but which you are denied to see die those expected brutal deaths (except for that one guy). Horror fans will be bored, while the rest of the audience won't bother anyway. If Roth thinks cannibal movies will return thanks to this flick, he's mistaken, his less than subtle hint at a sequel notwithstanding. Considering the movie had a hard time finding distributors and was shelved for the better part of two years before its release, tells you cannibal films are likely a thing of the past, and probably for the better.

vrijdag 30 oktober 2015

Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Electronic Velociraptor

Year of release: 1999

-Three pieces of capture gear

Description: the electronic Raptor of the first JP Dinosaurs line sports a wholly different paint job than the regular Raptor figures of this series. Its back, topside of the tail, neck and upper part of the head are painted dark brown. This colour is also found on the sides of both upper legs. Triangular shapes run out of this colour over the rest of the body. The flanks, sides of the tail, rest of the legs, arms and most of the head are coloured dark yellow. The belly, throat and lowest part of the tail are painted beige. The creature has grey claws on both hands and feet, including the infamous sickle shaped claws on the feet. It has light yellow eyes with cat like black pupils, white teeth and a red tongue. The edges and inside of the mouth are also coloured red. On its left upper leg the figure sports a black JP logo.
This Raptor stands in a fully neutral pose, with its long tail slightly tilted up. It has a more robust look to it compared with the regular Velociraptors of this line and has a bigger, rounded head. Its mouth is opened and can’t be closed. Unlike with most other Raptor figures the claws on its hands are turned inward as if the beast is holding something. This was most likely done to make the creature look more menacing when the attack action is activated, and to help them grab other figures. Pulling the creature’s legs back (or pulling only one leg back, as the legs are interconnected) makes the arms move away from each other as if the Raptor is preparing to strike. Releasing the legs causes the arms to revert to their original position like the critter is clutching some prey between them. Activating this strike action also causes a loud attack scream to be heard.
This Raptor comes with three different pieces of capture gear. There's the typical cuff like tag with the JP logo on it, as well as an arm piece that can hold both arms together. The big third piece can fit over the Raptor's back. All three pieces are painted shiny metallic grey.

Analysis: this line doesn't only return old and familiar regular dinosaur faces from the classic days, but also some electronic ones, including this repaint of the often fondly remembered JPS1 Electronic Velociraptor. The sculpt has not been changed and comes with the same effective attack option as before, trapping unfortunate human figures between its arms, while producing a terrifying strike shriek. This sound has been greatly improved and is now very noisy, adding to the figure's overall intimidating feel. It's much louder than even the JPS2 Utahraptor sound, which was the same shriek but didn't sound loud enough to come over as really frightening despite that figure being a huge awe-inspiring Raptor. This JPD1 figure basically tells us what the Utahraptor's shriek should have sounded like.
The paint job of this electronic Velociraptor copies the paint scheme of its predecessor but uses harder colour contrast making the used colours stand out more. It's not a very original paint job (in fact, it's largely identical to the one featured on the regular JPD1 Wave 1 Raptor figure, which does add some consistency to this toy line), nor are the used colours very appealing together. Details, however, have not been omitted. Painting both the inside of the mouth as well as the edges around it is new for this line and a definite nice touch. The eyes could have used a different colour than yellow though, since the rest of the face is mostly the same colour, so they don't stand out much.
Unlike the original JPS1 Electronic Raptor, this figure comes with capture gear. None of the three pieces were designed for it of course, but at least they fit. The arm piece works pretty well, and even provides some dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraints action. Pulling the legs back causes the arms to separate, which often (not always in one take) makes the arm piece detach as well. The tag is just the standard little nuisance, the sort of thing people keep misplacing, severely annoying collectors who try to get the figure complete when in loose condition, all the while not having any real function but to tell folks this is a JP figure, which of course anybody can see by the JP logo on the figure's left leg. The big back piece is an odd addition to the set. Though it fits, it doesn't really restrain anything. Originally a head piece was attached to it, but that didn't fit on this Raptor so they discarded that. Now it just sits there on the figure's back, feeling (and being) out of place.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the old JPS1 Electronic Velociraptor, with repainted (and in the back piece's case, slightly retooled) capture gear from the TLWS1 small Pachycephalosaurus and TLWS2 Ornithosuchus figures, as well as the typical tag found on many dinosaur figures from various JP toy lines. The figure would not be repainted again.

Overall rating: 6/10. It's still a decent Raptor sculpt with excellently enhanced sound FX, but the paint job and capture gear aren't the best around. This is probably the most common electronic dinosaur figure from this line, but still not necessarily an easy find, especially MIB or complete.

woensdag 21 oktober 2015

Today's Review: Ramon en het Paard van Sinterklaas

Here's my first review for FilmTotaal. Same business, different employee.


The first Flemish Sinterklaas movie is definitely modeled after the Dutch formula. Which is not surprising, since until so far, the Flemish kids had to make do with the myriad of Dutch Sinterklaas titles. And those proved succesful enough to finally convince Belgian producers to develop a Sinterklaas product of their own. And since only one Dutch Sint movie is produced this year - usually it's two, sometimes even more - why not return the favour and release it in Holland? They need not have bothered. Not that Ramon en het Paard van Sinterklaas is particularly bad (though it's certainly not a good family film that wins the hearts of all family members, as it's really only fun for kids), but it doesn't add anything to the slate of Dutch movies covering the topic, other than certain long running characters in Sint's Flemish entourage that the Dutch kids aren't at all familiar with. And most of them aren't so much fun to watch they'll stick in kids' minds for very long.

Aside from that, the film feels very much like its Dutch counterparts. Sint and co. are preparing for their trip up north, something goes awry - in this case, Sint's horse and its attendant are kidnapped - but all ends well and the festivities can procede as they always do, full of mirth and merriment. Add to that a cast of supporting characters (but no children, interestingly enough) to spice things up a bit and you have a thirteen-a-dozen Sinterklaas flick. In Holland, it's good to keep the kids occupied for a good 90 minutes. However, there's so many side characters in this film, that it ends up nigh two hours in length. Too long for the parents, and as it turned out at the press screening where the target audience was represented as well, also quite a challenge for the kids to sit through without getting overly restless. So there at least is a difference with the Dutch method: the Flemish take their time. Other than that, if it wasn't for the accents and the presence of Antwerp, you'd hardly think you were watching a foreign Sinterklaas picture. I would have preferred something more distinct from the Dutch takes on the subject.

The big question on most parents' minds of course is: how are the Belgians portraying Zwarte Piet? It's a white guy in make-up, the blackness explicitly stated to be the result of crawling up and down chineys, just as he was always supposed to be. Good approach. However, thicker layers of soot might have been applied, since this particular Piet (and there's only one of him here) obviously hadn't seen a chimney for months. Which might as well be true, as I doubt he's doing much chimney diving at home in Spain. Nevertheless, when you call a well established character Zwarte Piet and the first reponse he gets from a child is 'is that Zwarte Piet?' because there's so little black on him, you know you're confusing kids needlessly. I'll say no more on the matter than that I applaud the Belgian intentions but their execution still leaves room for unnecessary debate.