zaterdag 21 mei 2016

Today's Review: Quand on a 17 Ans

I've fallen a little bit behind on updating my blog with my latest reviews. Let's see whether I can undo some of the damage.

Quand on a 17 ans - recensie

This film, which in English speaking territories is released under the title Being 17, at first has all the hallmarks of your typical teenage drama. There's two seventeen year old boys and a fair bit of animosity between them. However, where usually there's girls or social status involved in explaining said strife, that is not the case here. In fact, there's no particular cause for their mutual dislike at all, it's just there. So we can imagine the horror on the one boy's face when his mother invites the other to come live with them. It's a generous but odd decision, considering their rivalry is there for everybody to see. It's not the oddest choice Quand on a 17 ans makes, since the intention of this film is showing the start of a homosexual relationship. You'll have a tough time believing this film, which takes place over a period of about 18 months, will see the relation between the boys change from mutual hatred and the occasional bit of violence to underscore that feeling, to genuine, physical affection between the pair.

Director André Téchiné - himself a gay man - is no stranger to both gay drama and teen angst. However, he felt the subject material needed the aid of writer Céline Sciamma to flesh the characters out to their best extent. Sciamma recently came off the teen drama Girlhood, which also showed rough relationships between youngsters (though all of them girls in that particular case), but despite the 37 year difference in age between herself and her director, she proves a right addition to make the teen dialogue that much more snappy and convincing. Aided by strong, not to mention daring, performances from both the young actors and their more experienced counterparts, the script goes a long way to make the unlikely transformation from one state of affairs to the other feel that much more real. Cinematography and editing do their bit as the movie moves from a snowy, cold opening to a warm and colourful close in summer, as a perfect (but rather obvious) metaphor for the change in teen moods.

Nevertheless, for the audience it's still a far cry from hate to love (especially a type of love this deeply felt) in just under two hours time. All the ingredients are there to make us convince this is transpiring, but it just moves too fast to make us feel it with the two main characters. It has the pretention, conscious or unconscious, of an emotional epic the likes of La Vie D'Adele (better known as Blue is the Warmest Colour in many regions), but unlike that wonderful film, it just cuts the time necessary to make it equally emotionally compelling for us by a third. We cannot help but feel things are rushed, even though the movie cannot be accused of being fast paced. A change in teen nature of this magnitude simply begs more illustration for full emotional immersion, it seems.

dinsdag 17 mei 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Velociraptor and Stegosaurus two-pack

Year of release: 2005

Description: the Stegosaurus stands in an active posture, with its body bent, its head and tail pointing towards the left, like it’s defending itself from an aggressor. Its dominating colour is light brown, which is found on its head, sides of the neck, flanks, all of the limbs and both sides of the tail. Its underside (throat, belly and most of the lower part of the tail) is coloured white. The top parts of the animal (top of the head and neck, the back and upper part of the tail, as well as all the back plates) is painted black. On either side of the figure several black shapes stick out of the main black colouring, running over the flanks and tail. The tail spikes are coloured white, while the figure's claws are not painted and it sports small black eyes (with white pupils) and a black JP logo on both upper 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. The figure is entirely painted beige, with the lower body parts being only slightly lighter in colour hue than the top parts which appear a bit more brown (especially around the head and neck). A series of thin blue stripes and shapes are found in a random pattern on the back of the head, neck, back, upper legs and front part of the tail. The inside of the mouth and tongue are painted black, while the figure has white teeth and cat like yellow eyes with black pupils. The Raptor sports black claws on its feet (but not on its fingers) and a black JP logo on both upper legs.

Analysis: and here's yet another dinosaur two-pack for you. This time the all too often repainted Velociraptor is paired with the less often repainted Stegosaurus, and both sculpts have been done much more justice before. The colour schemes on both figures are rather boring. The Raptor's is undetailed and overly simple, and the way the mouth is painted is just damn ugly. The Stegosaurus is not much better. If you feel the paint scheme looks familiar, you're right, since it appears almost a copy of the one used for the JPD2 Stegosaurus figure, except for the shape of the stripes sticking out of the black colouring and less detail on the plates. The used combination of colours, black and light brown, is also far less inspired than the green, dark brown and yellow combination we saw last time. Honestly, how often have we seen JP dinosaur figures painted in black and brown before? It has become almost a cliché!
As for which dinosaur would win in a fight, I'm inclined to bet on the Raptor. It has speed and agility at its side, as well as those nasty claws. The Stegosaurus might do some damage with its tail if it was fast enough, but would most likely meet an untimely end.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The Velociraptor teamed up with Alan Grant (first wave release), while the Stegosaurus was paired with Paul Kirby. Both figures have been repainted before for JP III Camo-Xtreme and JPD2: the Raptor would be featured again in this toy line, and would also appear in JP 2009.

Overall rating: 4/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, unless you don't own the previous releases yet. Both figures are adorned with dull and uninspired paint jobs, making this one of the less appealing dinosaur two-packs. Like most two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is not a rare set. It can still be found fairly easily, usually for low prices because it's just not very popular or sought after, for obvious reasons.

zondag 1 mei 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Triceratops/Tyrannosaurus 2-pack

Year of release: 2005

Description: the T-Rex stands in an aggressive 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. It's mainly coloured dark blue, though on its top parts (neck, back, upper part of the tail) it gradually changes into a greyer tone. The belly and throat are coloured light grey instead. The Rex has black colouring around and in its mouth, as well as white teeth and tongue. It also has small yellow eyes (with black pupils) and a white JP logo on both upper legs.
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. Its dominant colour is greyish green, which can be found anywhere on its body except for its underside (belly and throat) which is light grey instead. The figure is covered in various light brown and dark blue spots and shapes on its head and crest, back, flanks, upper legs and tail. Its parrot like beak, the three horns on its face and the two smaller horns on the cheeks are beige, while the Trike has small red eyes with white pupils. Its claws are not painted. It carries a white JP logo on each upper leg.

Analysis: oh, my! A new sculpt! And totally out of the blue! Knowing Hasbro like we do, they sure as heck didn't create this new Triceratops specifically for this repaint line, so it must be a previously unreleased JP III sculpt that finally got a release after all. Better late than never! It's a nice little figure, and fits in decently with the other miniature dinosaur sculpts that originally came with human figures. Due to its plump body and oversized head it does have more of a hatchling feel to it though, but of course hatchling Ceratopsians wouldn't be this well endowed on their head just yet: the neck crest and horns are simply too big for a baby Trike. Its paint job is fairly good. More use could have been made of the crest, but at least this sculpt isn't as monochromatic as some of the earlier Ceratopsian sculpts thanks to the various brown and blue spots.
The T-Rex however is a dismal failure. It has one of the most boring paint jobs ever conceived for a repaint. On first sight it even appears to be one single colour entirely. On second, this is not the case, but it's painfully obvious attention to details has been totally skipped. None of its claws are painted, and the facial features could have used a lot more work too. Maybe Hasbro made this particular repaint so crappy on purpose so the Triceratops got a better chance to shine. In a fight between the two, it would probably stake the Rex to death on those nasty horns. Good riddance!

Repaint: yes and no. While the T-Rex originally came with the Military General for the JP III line, the Triceratops has not been seen before. It's most likely a left-over sculpt from JP III, but there's no proof to support this theory, or proof to the contrary. This is really a mysterious figure and though it seems unlikely Hasbro produced it especially for this repaint line, it does add a little welcome surprise and intrigue to an otherwise dull toy line. The T-Rex, already repainted for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, would be featured again in both this toy line and JP 2009, as would the Trike be.

Overall rating: 7/10. Finally a set that does include something new! The Triceratops is a decent figure, but despite the shock around its very existence it's otherwise nothing special. The T-Rex however gets increasingly boring the more often it's repainted and almost drags the level of interest of this set down entirely. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found with little effort, usually for low prices because these two-packs are just not in high demand, even though this set does contain a new sculpt.

zaterdag 30 april 2016

Today's Review: Monsieur Chocolat

This one's near two weeks old now, but circumstances didn't allow me to repost it here until today:

Monsieur Chocolat - recensie

Monsieur Chocolat is one of those typical period dramas that tells a story of days of human degradation gone by more for the sake of the present day than for the desire to accurately reflect the times depicted. Though the director and writers proclaimed their intention of re-introducing a once famous French artist who by the dawn of the 21st Century had slipped into obscurity for a contemporary audience, the issues of race, though certainly a factor of Chocolat's life, are addressed far more strongly than they most likely were back in the days. Of course, Chocolat's entire career was based around his otherness and influenced more by the ignorant cultural notions of white audiences than they were by reality, but that didn't stop him from becoming one of the top theatrical artists of his day. And he was known to be proud of that achievement, even though much of his acts involved getting his arse kicked by a white clown.

But the blatant, painful melodrama of his life suggested by Monsieur Chocolat is more of an attempt to remind modern audiences of the insanity and humiliation on which his career was based rather than on actually reported events. Not to mention Chocolat's private demons involving women, booze, drugs and gambling, which add further obstacles to his career beyond simply attempting to add diversity to his stage acts. Basically, by adding all these other troubles, the writers make it clear that Chocolat is an artist like any other, dealing with the same pitfalls of fame that other artists experienced. It makes for rather generic situations beyond the ever degrading scenes of racial subjugation and does little to push Monsieur Chocolat above the myriad of similar films involving struggling performers of any ilk.

The performances, less so. Omar Sy may actually have hit a career high note in this one, delivering what certainly can be called his most convincing performance since Intouchables. He moves from merry clown entertaining women and children to broken, down-on-his-luck artist plagued by rampant racism seemingly effortlessly. Not to mention he and his co-star James Thierrée are equally matched, with the latter playing a perfect counterpart as the stage obsessed but otherwise grumpy and serious clown Footit, a total opposite to the light hearted Chocolat in many other respects beyond race. The duo makes for a strikingly different pair of personalities you could hardly imagine sharing the circus, though the ultimate break-up feels an inevitable event from the get-go. The circumstances involving their separation were not as 'black and white' as this film suggests though. Again, Monsieur Chocolat feels the need for distorting the truth to underscore the malign racism of the era. That message is well received, but the historical character of Chocolat is not aided by hammering home the message so harshly. However, thanks to this film, he is also not forgotten, so the makers succeeded in that regard as well.

dinsdag 26 april 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Spinosaurus/Tyrannosaurus 2-pack

Year of release: 2005

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. Its paint job is a combination of greys and greens, the former being found on its underside (throat and belly) and top parts (most of the facial area, neck, back and upper part of the tail), the latter being located on the limbs, flanks, underside of the tail, parts of the upper jaw and all of the lower jaw. The grey and green gradually morph into each other on the parts where there would otherwise be simple overlap between both colours. The sail is dark brown (almost black on first sight). The creature's claws have not been painted. The Spinosaurus has small yellow eyes with black pupils, white teeth, a pinkish beige tongue and the rest of the mouth is all black. A black JP logo is found 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. The animal is all coloured dark brown, except for the throat and belly which is greyish brown instead. A large number of small grey spots is found on the figure's back of the head, neck, back, very upper legs and front half of the tail. The figure's claws have not been painted. The Rex has small red eyes with black pupils, white teeth, a pink tongue and the rest of the mouth is all black. A white JP logo is found on both upper legs.

Analysis: 'Haven't we seen these guys before?'
'Well yes, they've been repainted often enough already.'
'But also these two paired together?'
'Erm... yeah, they've been released together only last year.'
'So what makes this second T-Rex and Spinosaurus two-pack so special?'
Truth is, nothing does. This is total 'been there, done that' territory. Same old figures, typical super predator versus super predator in miniature mind-set, not very appealing new paint jobs. Little focus on details: unpainted claws, ugly black inside of the mouth, too little interesting skin detailing (except for the spots on the Rex maybe). It's basically a big bore, as was the previous T-Rex and Spino pairing, meaning there's also zero progress. The sculpts are still averagely decent, so you might be interested if these are new to you, but the chances of that being the case are very slim considering how often we've seen these dinosaurs already.
Of all four JPD3 dinosaur two-packs, this is the least successful, considering the other sets featured previously unrepainted figures, interesting species combinations, and in one extreme case, a whole new sculpt. But hey, the kids will probably love more Rexes and Spinosaurs because they're big and badass and butch! That's probably the thought that went through Hasbro's mind. Cases like these make it shockingly obvious that real JP fans and collectors just aren't of any real interest to Hasbro execs. Oh well, there's still the new Triceratops sculpt in the other two-pack...

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The T-Rex teamed up with the Military General, while the Spinosaurus came with Amanda Kirby. Both figures have been repainted before for JP III Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, and would be repainted again for this line and JP 2009.

Overall rating: 3/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, nor are these paint jobs at all interesting. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found with little effort, usually for low prices – not surprisingly – because they're just not in high demand.

zaterdag 23 april 2016

Today's Review: Bezness as Usual

Another review up at FilmTotaal, with one more to follow in the same week:

Bezness as Usual - recensie

This is the type of documentary you don't go to the movies for. The type you expect to see on public access late at night. The kind of topic that doesn't really attract you unless you already experience a personal stake in it. For its own type, it's not bad per se, it just lacks the necessary angle for which it would be a boon to theater audiences on other occasions than festival screenings. That's nothing to be held against it, it's just the way it is. The main actual argument against it is it introduces a despicable man whose shenanigans we have to watch for a good ninety minutes. A man who we can't judge as anything but unsympathetic from the get-go, but who the protagonist feels the need to discover if there's other sides to him that justify his behavior, past and present.

Big surprise: not really, he's just an old con man trying to use his son as a business angle rather than feeling true fatherly emotions for. A hard truth to swallow, but one we saw coming miles away, which makes for little emotional intensity. Considering this movie is basically self-therapy for the director, a child of different ethnicities torn between loyalties to people on two continents, it succeeds in making the protagonist reach a new understanding, but the same doesn't hold true for the audience. At the same time, we get a glimpse of far larger events unfolding in Tunisia, as the threat of terrorism grows ever stronger, but this subject is only slightly touched upon. Bezness as Usual is a small scale drama unfolding between two people, anything beyond that, however intriguing, is not the point. Too bad, since it might have made for a more dynamic and less predictable documentary. The type you would want to see on the big screen.

woensdag 20 april 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Pteranodon/Compsognathus 2-pack

Year of release: 2005

Description: 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.
The Compsognathus is a rather skinny little critter, much smaller than the Pteranodon. It stands on a small base resembling a log or a rock, posed in an aggressive stance as if it's leaping off the base onto its prey, its mouth opened and its left arm outstretched. Its underside (most of the throat, belly and inner parts of the limbs) is coloured beige, while the rest of the body is mostly dark brown (particularly the tail, flanks and limbs). A tick black stripe runs from the back of the head over the neck and back almost to the end of the tail, with round shapes running out of it over the neck, flanks and tail. The Compy's teeth and inside of the mouth are white, while its eyes are yellow with black pupils. It has a black JP logo on both upper legs.

Analysis: haven't seen these figures in a while! After the countless repaints of the Rex, Raptor and Spinosaurus figures from the JP III line we've seen so far, you'd tend to forget Hasbro actually made other creature figures to team up with their human figures back in 2001. Two of these are packaged here together: the result is a mixed bag. It's good to see both figures again for a change, but the Pteranodon is still not a very good figure, especially considering the wonderful job Hasbro did on the other Pterosaur figures (why couldn't they just have repainted those...!?). It's larger then most of the other dinosaur two-pack figures since it originally came with the smaller Eric Kirby human figure and it was supposed to lift him into the air. This “action feature” (i.e. gripping claws) has been retained and still hardly works since prey figures just slip out all too easily. The folding wings feature also has been kept intact, saving space but looking silly and unrealistic. And the Pteranodon's new paint job is just ugly. Brown and white just don't go well together, and there's little variety or detailing in this figure otherwise (except for the eerie and weird purple tongue and red eyes).
The Compsognathus faired better for this set, but is also not as good as before. The signature green paint job which looked quite good on it has been replaced by a rather dull and uninspired brown paint job with black colouring on top, something we've seen before all too often. Details have been neglected (claws, inside of the mouth, etc.), but at least the sculpt is still pretty good and a lot different from the other smaller dinosaur figures JPD2 and JPD3 offer. As to who would be most likely to survive a conflict between the two, it depends on the situation. If the Pteranodon managed to swoop down on the Compy with stealth and speed it might be able to grab it or peck it to death easily enough, but the tricky little bastard would probably see it coming well in advance and choose to run and hide. It's probably better if both creatures stuck to eating what they eat best: know-it-all boys for the Pterosaurs and cocky Marlboro men for the Compies to feast on in large numbers.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The Pteranodon originally came with Eric Kirby, while the Compsognathus is one of two different Compy sculpts that teamed up with Alan Grant (the Wave 2 release). Both figures are first time repaints, and ironically enough also last time repaints in the case of these sculpts, though the exact same Pteranodon (identical sculpt and paint job) was featured with the Electronic Velociraptor figure of this toy line.

Overall rating: 6/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, nor are these paint jobs especially appealing. However, it's nice to see different sculpts repainted for a change instead of the same old Rexes and Raptors all the time. The Compsognathus is still a fairly good figure, the Pteranodon less so. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found with little effort, usually for low prices – not surprisingly – because they're just not very popular sets.