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.

zaterdag 16 april 2016

Today's Review: Mammal

Another review up, with more soon to follow:

Mammal - recensie

Why would a new mother abandon her child and husband? It's an intriguing question, usually surrounded with heavy social stigma, since any mother denying her maternal instincts is either downright abject or at the least a bad excuse for a person, or so society swiftly judges. Nevertheless, it happens and it begs an answer. Those looking for one will not find it in Mammal. In fact, though at first thought the movie seems to revolve around a mother who accepts a second chance for motherhood, that may be too much of a generalization. But some sort of connection, both emotional and physical, between two vastly different but equally lost souls, is certainly in order in this narrative.

Margaret abandoned her family soon after her son was born, and she now has been out of their lives for 18 years. When news about her son's disappearance reaches her, not much sorrow is demonstrated. Nevertheless, around the same time, she accepts a wild kid from the street, roughly the same age as her own child, to live with her. The big question obviously being why. A simple act of generosity? Or perhaps another shot at maternity, after foregoing that responsibility all those years ago? For a while, the latter option seems to be the case, but when things get overly physical between her and the boy, Joe, that theory doesn't hold up any more. If motherhood is indeed Margaret's objective, she has some odd notions of the concept at least.

Unfortunately, Mammal - the metaphoric title suggests a nurturing nature to their relationship based on maternal instincts, though there's also an undeniable social aspect to it as well, so one can look at it from both angles - is short on motivations. It's not Daly's intention to spoon feed us all the answers, which is fine, but there's simply too few of those concerning the various characters' actions to go around. Things happen as they do, while particular reasons are entirely up to the viewer to come up with. It makes Mammal a rather hollow film. Thankfully, there's strong performances throughout, which do make us care enough to stick with the protagonists rather than lose all interest entirely. We hardly get to know these people to the extent that we should for Mammal to deliver the gripping drama it feels like it wants to, but as fellow mammals we sympathize enough to feel some emotional connection to stick with them for a good hour and a half.

zaterdag 9 april 2016

800th Post!: Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: (Ultra) Tyrannosaur(us)

Year of release: 2004

Description: this larger T-Rex figure measures some 25 centimetres in length and stands just over 15 centimetres tall. The sculpts stands in an attack posture, with its tail bent upwards and its head slightly tilted up. Its legs stand wide 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, static is heard as well.
The overall colour of this Tyrannosaurus is dark green, with a black stripe running from its snout all the way to the end of the tail and numerous smaller stripes on its back, tail and neck running out of the larger stripe. Added to these colours are some light blue stripes on neck, back, limbs and tail. A thick grey stripe runs over the belly and underside of the tail. It’s got a pair of small red eyes with black pupils and the claws on both hands and feet are light grey. The tongue and inside of the mouth are painted pink, with white teeth. A black JP III logo is located on its right upper leg.

Analysis: this T-Rex would undoubtedly be regarded as the top figure of the JP Dinosaurs 2 toy line, being the biggest carnivore sculpt, but apparently Hasbro didn't think it worthwhile to do much work on it, probably under the impression it would sell well anyway so why waste additional money on it... Therefore, if this “new” paint job brings up a distinct feeling of déja vu, it's perfectly normal, considering the paint scheme is more or less identical to that of the JP III Ultra T-Rex, and the dominant colour is still green (though a darker variety of green this time). Close inspection and comparison between this Rex and its JP III counterpart reveals all the stripes and lines on both figures to be in the exact same spot, it's just the colours that vary. And to be frank, the red and brown colours looked better with green on the previous T-Rex. Light blue just doesn't suit a Tyrannosaurus at all. It's a real shame the designers put so little effort in this figure's paint job, considering its Camo-Xtreme predecessor got a surprisingly awesome new paint job that made the whole sculpt appear better than it was.
The paint job, though not very different from before, is the only new feature on this Rex, the rest is the same old same old. A lousy posture hindering playability, a lame and uninspired attack feature and weak electronics that don't just sound crappy, but break all too easily, making working specimens of this figure increasingly hard to find. This may be the biggest figure of this line, but it's also the biggest disappointment.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the JP III Ultra T-Rex figure. The sculpt has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and would be repainted again for JPD3.

Overall rating: 3/10. A near copy of the JP III T-Rex paint job, and zero improvement. 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 ago, but its numbers are in swift decline. You might still get one for a decent price these days, but don't expect this situation to hold much longer.

zondag 27 maart 2016

Today's Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

It's been a while, but I finally wrote another review for FilmTotaal. And this time, for a particularly big blockbuster movie, my first for this movie site:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - recensie

FilmTotaal is the biggest movie website in the Netherlands (no, really!), and in its case, users actually respond to critics' reviews. Often not in the most gentle manner, as there's quite a few trolls and/or generally loudmouth, obnoxious people haunting the site. Reviewers posting their opinion of overhyped blockbuster films like this one usually know they can expect to be firmly hated upon. However, for BvS, I gotta say there's only a few posts illustrating strong disagreement - to put it mildly - with what I wrote about the film. In fact, it seems the majority of users agrees with me: BvS is rather a disappointment. Not entirely bad (it still looks great and there's some good performances and lovely action, you know), but definitely a letdown.

Maybe the cause of its shortcomings is its director, Zack Snyder. He's been known to favour heavy topics surrounding flawed, traumatized characters living in unpleasant worlds filled with violent death. Even though he usually flavours said realms with a visually appealing, grandiose style of filming and fabulous artistry and dressing. Man of Steel, the movie to kick off this new DC Cinematic Universe which is meant to deliver some heavy competition at Marvel's doorstep, fit that bill perfectly, making the generally colorful and optimistic Superman a brooding alien refugee given near omnipotent power over his new neighbours, the human race. I liked Man of Steel. It made this God like character that much more identifiable by focusing on his lacks rather than his strengths. In its many philosophical moments, Man of Steel felt less like a superhero movie and more like a character study of a God living among man and contemplating his relationship with those who in all respects are so obviously inferior to him. Of course, that relationship is still explored in BvS, as the world now needs to cope with the existence of this powerful presence, a potential saviour to man. However, another type of hero has already been active for decades, it turns out.

For in BvS, the DC universe is supposed to be up and running for decades already. No starting from scratch here, as was the case for Marvel. For every character introduced, there is a long backstory that is teased, which in many cases frustrates more than it intrigues. Ben Affleck's Batman has been fighting crime for twenty years, and it has only made him darker. Crime has not been reduced, while his war on bad guys preying on the everyman has cost him dearly. No wonder he's grown so angry he's not averse to maiming and even killing criminals left and right. The Batman we've grown accustomed to was never a true killer, but Snyder's Caped Crusader has no such moral qualms anymore. And now there's this all powerful extraterrestrial policing the planet. A being Batman holds responsible for the invasion that laid waste to Metropolis and cost him employees and real estate. Affleck does a fine job portraying the sombre, disillusioned vigilante, but it cannot be denied that his explicit aim of killing Superman, who has since amply demonstrated he's on the side of justice, just feels wholly unjustified.

Meanwhile, as if the lethal rivalry between both tormented good guys was't enough to fill a two hour movie, Snyder introduces a younger version of classic villain Lex Luthor to pester them both. This evil tycoon, too, is haunted by a trauma involving his father, which is not enough to fully explain his demonic machinations in this film. What's more, Jesse Eisenberg's performance in the role is devoid of the 'wow' factor we would have hoped for. Applying a typical neurotic hyperactivity, Eisenberg is basically playing a nefarious version of his own Mark Zuckerberg. It doesn't make for a convincing baddie. Nor does Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman leave a lasting impression, which is also due to a lack of screen time (though 151 minutes certainly makes for a long piece already). Again, a shady past is implied but not explored. And so she leaves us confused by her transformation from uncaring socialite to warrior princess fighting for good.

Of course, with a subtitle like 'Dawn of Justice', adding more spice to your duo of core characters for a broader context is expected. So we also get this evil genius and a strong female heroine. But wait, says BvS, there's much more yet. A number of other super heroes is teased. But for ow, we simply cannot care. Worse, the still fairly investing story line of the titular protagonists is hindered by awkward attempts to set up bigger things to come, including an Apocalyptic nightmare of Batman wherein he's plagued by visions of a ruined world ruled by Superman (including insect warriors, I kid you not). Succeeded by a scene in which that same Batman is confronted with a temporal vortex and a warning from the future to stop someone doing something, totally out of the blue. Pointless material, as we already knew Batman was out for Superman's blood and this doesn't motivate him any more. Despite all the useless interruptions provided by DC's self-advertisement for coming attractions (to which we simply are not attracted), it's amazing we still at least care about the two iconic superheroes battling each other.

And their fight proves quite spectacular. Brutal, despite a lack of blood (PG-13 rating and all). But oh so dark and serious. Even Nolan's Dark Knight films, also not particularly light, optimistic fare, never lost sight of the need for a bit of humour and witticism. But Snyder tells such a gritty tale, there's simply no space left for those elements. Unfortunately, after the epic Batman/Superman throwdown, he however feels there is space left for another half an hour of three good guys battling an ugly digital monster. But this climax never feels near as climactic as the fight we expected to see and at least felt somewhat gratifying. As is usual for his approach, Snyder goes over the top much further than we would like him to have gone. Maybe he's not fully to blame for BvS' many shortcomings, a fair bit of it can likely be chalked up to DC interference for setting up the future. But that future does involve Snyder to a great extent, as he's already working on Justice League. We better hope he takes the failures of BvS to heart and lightens up a bit. There's gotta be more to the DC universe than angry heroes beating each other up...

dinsdag 22 maart 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: (Ultra) Pteranodon

Year of release: 2004

Description: measuring almost 50 centimetres in wing span, this flying giant 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 highly playable toy. It also has a pair of poseable legs to match. Action feature wise 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 flight style. 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.
The main colour for this large Pterosaur figure is a greenish beige, which can be found all over the body, except for the very top of its back, which looks to be more light grey. Dark red stripes and shapes of various sizes cover this main colour, mostly rather diffused to make it feel more natural. Most obvious are the lines on the wings, while obvious concentrations of red are found around the legs and on the head. White colouring is located on the lower part of the wings (on both sides). The pins in the poseable parts of the wings, just under the fingers, are painted black. The top of the crest on the head is painted light yellow, while spots of the same colour are found right under this, running from half way of the crest to the nostrils. The Pteranodon has small yellow eyes (with black pupils), a pink tongue and a black JP III logo on its left wing.

Analysis: apart from the T-Rex, another big prehistoric creature returns for JP Dinosaurs 2. This fabulous Pteranodon sculpt might have been neglected for Camo-Xtreme, but at least it didn't remain totally forgotten. It's still one of Hasbro's best works, very large and rather detailed, as well as equipped with various cool action features and sounds. Aside from the paint job, it offers nothing new of course, but with a sculpt this good, that can be forgiven. The new paint scheme is quite original and imaginative. The overall pale colour adorned with dark red gives the flying beast a touch of death, underscoring the danger of a Pterosaur this big (certainly compared to the small Hasbro human figures, which look minuscule in comparison to this critter!). The way most of the red paint is applied, in rather vague smears instead of the more usual definite lines and shapes, gives it a more naturalistic, authentic look instead of the obvious artificiality of the usual paint job. The white colouring on the lower side of the wings feels redundant though. It seems such an odd place for extra colouring, unlike the yellow on the crest which could indicate the animal's social status, willingness to mate or age (though it seems unlikely Hasbro actually considered such realism).
Even the best Hasbrosaur has a few downsides though, and this figure sadly does too. Most obviously there is the annoying dino damage wound which can't be covered up, making this Pteranodon scarred for life (literally). More attention could have been given to the claws on the toes and fingers, as well as the inside of the mouth, though it's acceptable as it is. The most lousy thing are the screws that hold both halves of the wings together, right under the creature's hands. They should have been coloured to match, but were woefully ignored, making them feel hideously out of place. Overall, this is a fine, solid paint job, but there's just a few irritable little things. It's an excellent figure regardless and definitely worth your while if you don't own this sculpt yet.

Repaint: yes. This is a first time repaint of the JP III Ultra Alpha Pteranodon figure. The creature would be repainted again for JPD3.

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, yet pretty appealing. Like the other big JPD2/3 electronic dinosaurs, this figure was common a few years back, but now it's running out fast. With luck, you can still find one for a decent price, but this may very well change in the not too distant future.