zaterdag 20 september 2014
A new crop of news posts:
2001 much? Interstellar not only reminds me of Kubrick's classic in a visual way - in terms of both the look of space and the design of the featured technology - but also in the way it connects the vast recesses of outer space to things closer to home, that wonderful human condition, like mankind's destructive process of evolving and the emotional and psychological ties we share with the home that is our Earth. No artificial doorways to other realms here though, this time it's wormholes that do the same trick (unless they're artificial wormholes, which also wouldn't be a novel notion). It makes for a striking picture nonetheless, as this new poster above reveals. Surely stuff worthy of IMAX, unlike the few pitiful titles released in that format in the months prior to Interstellar's release. And hey, if Interstellar echoes 2001 strongly enough, at least they won't feel the need to pointlessly remake that much beloved movie.
Unlike this next classic...
There is some Jewish blood running through Huston's veins, but not enough to warrant him playing an ancient Jewish nobleman in that regard. Fortunately Huston is also a very talented actor, so that should put all other issues to rest in my mind. So far, Huston has astonished me with his grand performance of the battle scarred WW I veteran/skilled hitman Richard Harrow on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, while I've also enjoyed his parts in movies like American Hustle and Night Train to Lisbon. It'll be very interesting to see what he makes of Judah Ben-Hur, tormented by his Roman childhood friend, subjected to brutal slavery and enlightened by Christ. I could do without the latter component of the story, but it's hard to deny it's an essential ingredient to the story. It can't be delivered any worse - though some would say 'uplifting' instead - than the way it was in the 1959 film, and I still love that film despite it's in-your-face religious overtones. It will be even more interesting to see what Timur Bekmambetov makes of this as its director. This fairly straightforward epic doesn't really seem suited for his flamboyant, if not downright outrageous, visual and narrative style. Then again, considering the fantasy elements delivered by Ben-Hur's Christian subplot coupled with Bekmambetov's experience combining both the historical and the fantastic genres (see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Arena and the Night Watch films), it seems the studio has made the perfect directorial choice.
The elephant plight is in desperate need of some worldwide attention, as these magnificent animals (and rhinos, too) are now in more danger of extinction than ever, due to the alarmingly increasing levels of poaching caused by the Chinese hunger for ivory and their complete disregard for wildlife. So I'm glad someone is tackling the subject and I hope it will be released in time to turn the tide. As for Angelina Jolie as the director, it's a solid choice considering she's serious about the need to highlight disturbing subjects like these to the public mind. I for one believe her work as a UNESCO ambassador is certainly more than just another movie star calling to attention the plight of others merely as a hobby. I don't deny her a sense of resolve. However, her directorial talents are still somewhat under dispute. So far only one of her directed features has been released (it was In the Land of Blood and Honey, if you recall), and it wasn't a particularly good film. Her upcoming movie Unbroken seems more promising though. And hopefully it will fulfill those promises, so Angelina will use her growing knowledge of the ins and outs of the directing craft to even better use for Africa. The elephants really would benefit from a movie about the ongoing butchering inflicted upon them, and it would only be to their advantage if it turned out to be a good one.
woensdag 17 september 2014
Posting one news item a day keeps boredom away:
That's it, no more games. Are we ready for a war? Because that's what we're getting, if this trailer for the first part of Mockingjay is any indication. It surely enhances the scope of the Hunger Games world, which until so far felt a bit too limited to the actual Games of the title, rather than flushing out the wonderfully dystopian world surrounding them. Thanks to the lucrative popularity of the previous two installments, it's clear the studio sure provided the budget necessary to put this war on screen in a visually grandiose way. However, the trailer also makes no mistake in revealing that it's still mostly about the characters. That's good, as there's a lot of them we're emotionally invested in and we want to know their plight. However, in the case of the obligatory love triangle - truly a staple of the popular young adult fantasy genre that studios don't dare to shed, because it draws so many scores of screaming teenage girls - between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, here's to hoping that particular bit of character development isn't going to take precedence over the rest of the story, as it's obvious there's a lot more at stake than just the lives of three love smitten teens, and most of it is far more interesting to behold. Like hovercrafts shot down by explosive arrows!
I must admit I find this first post-teaser poster on the dull side. It's obvious Christopher Nolan still doesn't want to give too much of the plot away, so the new poster doesn't reveal any more than we already know, which is that Matthew McConaughey (pictured) plays an astronaut who travels through a wormhole (not pictured) with some scientists (not pictured) in hopes of finding a new planet for humanity to prosper on after they've made a mess of their own globe (not pictured, I think). The brave new world the protagonist encounters is seen on this poster - or so we are to believe judging from the trailer, which maybe we ought not to do - and it doesn't look too inviting. Maybe the tagline is deceiving us, maybe there's something else going on and we shouldn't judge a whole planet just by the appearance of a small region. After all, there's places on Earth that look like that too (which is where they shot the film, I reckon). Point is, this poster tells us nothing new about the movie. And since this is a Christopher Nolan movie, there's probably a lot more to tell, since they tend to be stuffed with exposition and plot angles. Can't say the same for the posters used to sell them to the audience.
Interesting bit of casting here. Hiddleston isn't the kind of name I had expected to see in this type of old-fashioned adventure flick. But then, neither was arthouse/independent darling Adrien Brody in the 2005 King Kong and that worked out well enough. Besides, information still is sketchy about what this movie's plot actually involves, apart from humans visiting the eerie, barely habitable Skull Island prior to Kong thrashing the Big Apple. We're still even unsure about whether Kong himself will make any appearance at all in this film. There will be ferocious creatures present though, that's been established. Wouldn't be much of a Skull Island without creepy crawlies eating people. Hiddleston probably isn't one of those snacks, as he plays the protagonist. But what kind of character that entails is still kept in the dark. Maybe a sailor or some other nautically experienced type of everyman. Whatever it's gonna be, I'm glad to see
zondag 14 september 2014
The haul of news from the last week:
Last trailer focused on the action, this one's more about the drama. Can't say it looks any better when given more substance. Rookie soldiers faced with the moral burdens of battle has been done since time immemorial. Same goes for small bands of soldiers stuck behind enemy lines on suicide missions (Saving Private Ryan is just the tip of the iceberg there, you know). Heck, even Brad Pitt has dabbled in that before with Inglourious Basterds. Big change here is that particular persona of his didn't seem to mind his hard times as much as this one, even though in terms of character there don't seem to be that many differences between Wardaddy and Lt. Aldo Raine. I really hope there's more to the movie that what the trailers are showing us. Though if we're comparing notes, that certainly was the case with Inglourious Basterds, which turned out to incorporate a whole lot more to the plot than just the bloody retributions exacted on Nazis we were promised (though that element surely was also retained, to a lesser extent). On the other thand, there's the example to the opposite, in which the trailer promised more than the actual film delivered, like on the recent forgetabble The Monuments Men. Let's just say this tank can still roll either way.
As the end credits for 22 Jump Street revealed, there's at least twenty more scenarios for the franchise's protagonists to get involved in. Of course the studio feels like trying out at least one more considering the success of that sequel. Will it be one of the outrageous possibilities offered by those end titles? Probably not, most of them seem a little too farfetched for any "serious" comedy flick. Doesn't mean there aren't enough possibilities for infiltrations taking zany turns left. Not that I need to see them. I have learned long ago that the number of sequels to successful comedies worth our while is pretty low indeed. Blatant regurgitation is their usual motto, a point the first film, 21 Jump Street (see the numerical pattern here?), already made both hilariously and painfully clear when the angry black police captain gave his poignant and speech about law enforcement officials just recycling old ideas ad nauseam, which was the movie at its most self-aware note. And here we have the prove studio execs do the same. Like we needed any proof...
I approve of this Batmobile. Not too realistic, not too unrealistic. Not too tacky, not too slick. Fits right into Zack Snyder's new DC-verse, while containing many a nod to past works, most notable Nolan's Tumbler design from the Dark Knight movies. The bat motif is not too obvious or overt, but definitely there. This basically is exactly the badass type of vehicle an angry billionaire would patrol the streets at night with to punish the guilty and protect the innocent, rather than doing drugs, banging scores of prostitutes and not giving a damn about the rest of the world because he is loaded, like real world billionaires prefer to do instead. Of course, we have yet to see it in action and discover its various funky gadgets - does it, too, feature a built-in escape vehicle and a self-destruct option, for example? - but in terms of looks and style this is right up Gotham's alleys. Good thing Hans Zimmer is still doing the music for the epic DC movies. Just add his stormy, percussive Dark Knight theme and this car is good to go.
Why change a winning team, the casting director of Serena must have thought? Cooper & Lawrence together have been the stuff of Oscars so far, and this movie clearly shows Academy Award aspirations, if the trailer is any indication. However, this movie is not directed by David O'Russell. Guess we'll find out whether it was the director that got the best out of his actors on Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle both, or whether it may have been the material after all. Susanne Bier certainly isn't a stranger in terms of character, since her movies often border on character studies, which equally seems to be the case on Serena. The language barrier doesn't seem to be present, as this is hardly her first English spoken film. This trailer definitely reaffirms the third time remains the charm.
I'm starting to get a sort of 'Johnny Depp vibe' whenever Robert Downey Jr.'s latest project is mentioned. As Depp revels in playing quirky oddball types, Downey Jr. now seems to stick predominantly to playing witty, scienctifically considerate charmers (e.g. Sherlock Holmes and Tony Stark/Iron Man) when it comes to big budget Hollywood movies. He does that well, so the part of Leonardo da Vinci seems perfectly suited to him. However, as has been the case with Depp for quite a while, it's getting a routine, which may lead to typecasting (though I bet Downey Jr.'s hefty pay grade will halt such thoughts on studio execs' minds). Of course, there's many other types of characters Downey Jr. plays in smaller films in-between blockbusters (the Oscar buzzing The Judge would be a current example), but those are not the ones most audiences will get to see so they'll learn to appreciate the diversity inherent in his talent. Considering he's now the highest paid actor in Hollywood, it is interesting to see him accepting a sidekick part for a change. Unless Da Vinci is actually the assassin, which I have a hard time believing, though there is some logic to that notion. But then, I never played the games so what do I know? Don't have time for games, too busy watching and loving movies. Like those starring Downey Jr., for example.
donderdag 11 september 2014
Year of release: 2001
Description: measuring almost 50 centimetres in wingspan, 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 very playable toy.
Qua action features it’s not totally original: there are the usual, somewhat cliché, 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. Although this is new for the JP III toy line (the other electronic Pterosaurs have poseable wings too, but they can’t flap them), it has been seen on the JPS1 Pteranodon as well as on the TLWS1 Giant Pteranodon (which was less of a giant than this beast is). Something not featured with earlier larger Pterosaur figures is the foldable wing option: the upper half of each wing can be folded inward (outward too, but that just looks stupid), 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 in.
Additionally, there are the sounds, four in total. Though two of them (the attack screech and the wound noise) were also featured on the smaller Pteranodon of this toy line, the other two are new. 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. 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.
Compared to the regular JP III Pteranodons, this creature sports a rather dark paint job. It’s primary colour is dark blue, which can be found about anywhere on its body. It also has black spots mixed in the blue, most notable on the wings. A lighter shade of blue is found on the hind part of the wings, as well as on the throat and belly of the beast. The Pterosaur’s back is adorned with metallic brown hues. It has small yellow eyes in scarlet red sockets, and a long pink tongue in its beak. The creature’s crest is yellowish beige, with small dark blue spots and stripes. The claws on the Pteranodon’s hands and feet are not painted in a different colour. A large dino damage wound is located on the giant’s back, showing red muscle tissue and white ribs. Like with other Hasbrosaurs, the wound cannot be covered up. Lastly, a small light blue JP III logo is found on the Pterosaur’s lower left wing.
Analysis: despite Hasbro’s poor jobs on most of their creatures, they totally got it right this time. This is by far the coolest and largest Pteranodon sculpt and makes one wonder why this figure is so great while the other Hasbrosaurs are such horrible abominations. The paint job, though rather gritty and dark, is not bad and provides a small glimpse into the conceptual artwork made for JP III (see the ‘Realism’ section of this review).
Granted, two of the figure’s sounds are recycled (something for which Hasbro is notorious) and none of the action features of this toy is really original, but it’s hard to think of something new when you’ve got five Pterosaurs in one toy line alone (most of them belonging to a species of which toys have been made for decades, the overly famous Pteranodon Ingens). Just be glad all of these features work properly. The biting beak is actually strong enough to hold figures, though Hasbro figures only (not Kenner’s because they are bigger and heavier). The wing flapping system is also a golden oldie and a first for this toy line. It’s great fun, and the sounds only make it more realistic. The folding wings were also featured on the small Pteranodon that came with the Eric Kirby figure, but look much better on this sculpt (and also save room, since this Pteranodon is big enough already). The quality of the sounds is quite good, and they can easily be produced. You don’t have to bash the figure to activate a certain sound, like with the stomping noise of the Ultra T-Rex. This decreases the risk of damaging this wonderful toy.
Unfortunately, even this beautiful sculpt has some downsides. Like with all of Hasbro’s work, it features a nasty wound on its back, which sadly cannot be covered up, so it’s damaged for all eternity. Also, the position of the feet looks a bit odd and due to the space required for the flapping mechanism and electronics, the figure’s body is a bit bulky. But other than that, it’s about as perfect a Pterosaur as you can get.
Playability: high. This is undoubtedly the most poseable and diverse Pteranodon sculpt of all the various JP toy lines. It can flap its wings and fold them in, has moveable legs and neck, it can open its beak and makes no less than four different sounds. It also helps this figure assumes a totally neutral pose. These elements combined make for one of the most playable Pterosaurs ever. However, it’s still an electronic figure, so if you want to keep it in working order you should take some caution handling it.
Realism: this figure is mostly accurate, though it’s quite oversized. Compared to Hasbro’s human figures (or even Kenner’s) this Pteranodon is stupendously huge. It’s not called an ‘Ultra’ Pteranodon for nothing it seems… Its paint job is very different from the Pteranodons featured in the JP III movie. However, concept art of that movie reveals an ‘Alpha’ Pteranodon character was conceived for the film, but was eventually dropped for some reason. The concept art’s colours look very similar to this creature’s paint job, so it seems Hasbro based this figure on the artwork for the Alpha Pteranodon that never made in into the final film. The smaller Pteranodon figure that came with Eric Kirby featured the same paint job, and was labelled an Alpha Pteranodon too, though it’s beyond doubt this large Alpha Pteranodon is the undisputed leader of the Pterosaurs.
Scientifically speaking, this figure is also quite accurate. There are some minor points of criticism though. The creature’s body is a bit large and plump, but this was of course done to accommodate the electronics and flapping mechanism. Also, the animal’s legs are a bit far apart and oversized. Interestingly enough, unlike the Pteranodons seen in the movie, this sculpt has no teeth, increasing accuracy, since Pteranodons did not have teeth in reality either (they’re called Ptera-nodon for a reason, meaning ‘wings and toothless’).
Repaint: no. However, the creature’s attack and wound sounds are reused from the regular electronic Pteranodon of this toy line, and would again be heard on the Tapejara figure of the JP III Wave 2 line. The Ultra Pteranodon itself would be repainted twice for the last two JP Dinosaurs lines.
Overall rating: 9/10. This is one of the coolest and most accurate Pterosaur models made for the JP toy lines, and it’s damn impressive due to its size and plethora of sounds and playability options. Also, it’s one of Hasbro’s finest pieces of work, which actually isn’t saying much since most Hasbro figures are rather disappointing by comparison. It’s highly recommended, though not always easy to get. It was given a wide release in the USA, but it’s sadly less common in other territories. Ebay usually provides a good and often relatively cheap solution.
dinsdag 9 september 2014
Overdue by a few days (by no fault of mine, I upheld my deadline as always), but here's my latest online column:
Boy, am I glad that is over and done with. And not because it was so dismally bad as some would have you believe, though the finale did leave a lot to be desired. But so did the rest of the season, so at least there is some inner consistency. There's a lot to be said against this last season in terms of story, but there were still several plot lines and especially characters I continued to enjoy and appreciate. And in that case, True Blood at least can boast a genuine ending, unlike most other shows that suffer increasing deteriorating ratings and heavy fan critique. The greatest thing about this finale is that it does indeed feel quite final and the show was permitted a decent send-off in that regard, rather than face cancellation and leave us all in the dark as happened to so many shows (and a lot of them deserved better). We can now all close the Sookie Stackhouse chapter of our lives peacefully, as to my mind any show should be ended. Of course, there were a few story threads that didn't feel wholly resolved and more of those that I felt should have been handled entirely different, but there's few shows that even get to this point without screwing a thing or two up. Only two recent examples of shows that were granted a final farewell sprung to mind, Breaking Bad and Spartacus. Admittedly, both of those ended on a superior note, but they were much more coherent in their quality throughout their run, while True Blood from the get-go tended to meander between well executed plot threads and those less so, featuring both wonderfully charismatic characters and their barely watchable counterparts. We'll have to make do without both, from now on. No more Maenad orgies, conniving witch covens and endless droning about who Sookie will jump into bed with this time, but also no more shrewd vampire politics, stupendously supernatural situations and Eric Northman. Not every blood type variety of Tru-Blood proved as delectable, but I still regret having to return to strictly human beverages again after seven years.
zondag 7 september 2014
More news posted at MovieScene this here few days:
As has been proven before on several occasions, Vin Diesel likes using social media to reach out to his fanbase (and movie news hungry editors like myself) about his current projects. It's good to see a Hollywood star keeping in touch with his followers himself rather than letting the Hollywood propaganda machine do that for him, though of course, we should not tell ourselves that anything Diesel posts isn't done with permission by the studios' promotional think tanks. This is the first we've seen of The Last Witch Hunter (not surprising, as it's still only half way through production). Doesn't show us much, but assures the Diesel fanatics their hero will play yet another gruff, masculine man of action, this time (partially) in a medieval setting. Whether the movie will be any good is hard to tell from just this single teaser image. The story doesn't seem all that inspired, combining ingredients from recent flicks like The Sorcerer's Apprentice (fantasy warfare in present day New York City) and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (witch hunters teaming up with good female witches to stop evil covens: plus the title of the film) without adding much novelty and seemingly swapping the element of humour for a more serious Gothic tone. The supporting cast seems decent enough, with the likes of Elijah Wood, Michael Caine and Rose Leslie. Especially the latter has her work cut out for her, as this is her first major Hollywood role. She had time for it apparently, now that her character didn't survive the last season of Game of Thrones.
I'm still not convinced of the need for a sequel to Horrible Bosses by watching this trailer. There isn't any really, other than the fact the predecessor made ample money to tell the studio a sequel might do the same. And so we basically get more of the same story, just with situations added and rearranged to some extent to let the audience know they're not looking at exactly the same picture. Again we have the trio of incompetent protagonists screwed over by their employer and plotting a revenge. This time it involves kidnapping rather than murder. Enter Chris Pine as the victim. And re-enter Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey as two of the titular bosses from the original who are somehow woven into the new plot, even though their story lines seemed to have been over and done with at the climax of the first film. How ingenious the ways of Hollywood story telling, just to ensure enough characters return to repeat jokes and make the movie seem repetitive. At least we'll have one new boss, played by Christoph Waltz. There's something new for you, though not enough to make you feel the need to go to theaters to see this film. Seems more like the stuff of illegally downloading on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Another example of a studio getting way ahead of itself by planning multiple sequels based on the hopes the first film, which is what this will be somewhat as it's clear by now we're dealing with a rebooted franchise, will do well with audiences. Reboot or not, it still stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though the guy seems way too old to do the stuff he used to do on the first trilogy by now. Rumour has it he will not be a killer cyborg this time though. But as always, it would make much more sense to work off guaranteed success rather than spending millions of dollars pre-producing two sequels that may get scrapped if the box office results of their predecessor disappoint. And isn't this exactly what happened on the last Terminator film, Salvation? That movie, too, was meant to take the franchise into new directions 9without the Austrian Oak, mostly) and spawn a new trilogy, but disappointing financial grossing put a stop to such plans beyond this single project. Down the drain went that second trilogy, leaving a poor standalone film in its wake. It wasn't a total financial failure, but scored last in the list of released Terminator films thus far. The studio (that is, a different one, as the previous owner went bankrupt) appears to feel adamant that by bringing Schwarzenegger back in a prominent role, whatever it may be, that critical element that guaranteed box office success (which it did, in the Eighties) will do so again. It didn't work on The Expendables 3 though, so they ought not get their hopes up too much. But apparently, they do. Hollywood will never learn it seems.
vrijdag 5 september 2014
It took a while for worthy news to appear online, but after a week of not posting any, I got back in shape:
Wow, the scope of this franchise certainly got a lot bigger. In fact, we can finally speak of a franchise now. Not that these are positive developments per se. It's happened countless times before that a cheaply produced movie that connected with an audience got one or more unwanted sequels that failed to do so again. Even though Monsters made its money back (it was hard not to, considering its shoestring budget) and its director, Gareth Edwards, has since gone on to dabble in big budget, heavy FX films like Godzilla and now Star Wars, I doubt many people will be familiar with the original movie when the sequel hits theaters. In fact, I kinda suspect this will be released straight to VOD and the home video market in the Netherlands. It hasn't got much going for it to warrant a theatrical release here. There's no big names in the cast, it's not released by a major studio and the Monsters franchise won't ring a bell to so many people. Apart from the home cinema market, this is really the stuff of film festivals and such (bet we'll be seeing this on Imagine 2015!). Considering Monsters: Dark Continent, too, is done on not that large a budget (though still considerably more than the peanuts its predecessor cost), that doesn't necessarily mean the movie is doomed in tersm of boxoffice. Wouldn't surprise me if this too made enough dough to excuse a third installment. Again without Edwards, who will be slaving away on Godzilla 2 in Hollywood by that time.
Though there's some good people in the cast, this movie doesn't excite me in the least. Man with a shady past and a talent of getting things done the violent way turns vigilante and fights the mob on his own. Nothing new here. Except maybe it's the Russian mob ingredient, as muscle flexing Russians are kind of a thing in the media right now. Denzel Washington seems very capable in the lead role. Also not a surprise, as this character bears similarities to his persona in Training Day, which, under the guidance of the same director, won him an Oscar over a decade ago. Seems like actor and director figured they might find similar success again doing a similar thing. At least Marton Csokas looks positively creepy as the Russian mob boss (which I know perfectly well he's capable of, as he's an underestimated character actor in my mind) and Chloë Grace Moretz sheds her Hit Girl image a bit by playing the victim for once. She makes a cute underage prostitute, enough for any middle-aged man to get sentimental over when she's taking punches in public. Of course, this movie will do well enough because people keep falling for runaway vigilantes effectively fighting a one-man war against crime. That's what we all wished we could do when it came down to it, eh? I bet Washington will succeed in his noble quest in The Equalizer, as there don't seem to be many surprises here otherwise. He'll probably die in the process though, or something like that. Unless they want to keep an opening for a second film. Remind me again, why did this typical action flick take precedence in IMAX over the visually much more intriguing The Maze Runner?
It took a while, but there's finally a Mockingjay teaser poster for Katniss Everdeen too. Virtually the entire supporting cast had preceded her until now, either in Capitol prisoner gard or full-on revolutionary soldier gear. Now that the main character has been added to the teaser campaign, it's high time the visually more enticing one-sheets were rolled out. If Catching Fire's poster campaign is any indication, it seems like Mockingjay will easily outdo it. Recurring theme of course being the Mockingjay itself, which already made its presence known on virtually all of the earlier ad artwork. It's done more subtly on this latest teaser poster though, but the message is pretty clear as it leaves little to the imagination that once again the nature of Katniss as a symbol for rebellion against tyranny (whether she likes it or not) is emphasized. And Jannifer Lawrence's backside looks good too, as always.