woensdag 31 juli 2013

Today's Mini-Reviews: Before Midnight

Before Midnight: ****/*****, or 7/10

Third installment in Richard Linklater's Before romance trilogy (for lack of an official name), that began with Before Sunrise (1995) and continued with Before Sunset (2004). We revisit the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), 18 years after their first all too brief encounter in Vienna and nine years after their second equally short sexual interlude in Paris, that left them with twin girls. Now they meet up again in Greece for vacation as an almost genuine family, which causes long simmering emotions to stir, both for good and for bad. Though they agree their life as a semi-divorced couple (they were never married to begin with) with two adorable but ever attention seeking children leaves a lot to be desired – he has problems dealing with his vicious real ex-wife and connecting to the son he sired on her, while her career is at a crossroads and as a devout feminist, she is bothered by the feeling society wants her to totally give herself to her children instead of being successful – they do still deeply care for one another as is evident when they visit Greek friends where it seems their love life is the most sweepingly romantic of all of them. However, when they are given a luxurious hotel room for one night, their differences and mututal feelings of lack take over, causing quite an argument between them. This film is quite amazing in that it's basically a few scenes of the two protagonists and a few minor characters engaging in endless conversation about ordinary things, yet it's totally compelling due to the completely believable performances, the fast paced, realistic, and often witty and snappy dialogue and the relatibility of it all as these are totally regular folks experiencing everyday problems. An education in minimalist filmmaking, each scene can take up to 20 minutes with no more editing, music or other movie trickery than needed so you can really flow with these characters. The romantic tone of the piece is underscored with a little help from the beautiful small town Greek settings and landscapes, except for the hotel scene – which takes place entirely in an ugly, modern, eerily lit boring white room – which of course is the only location where Jesse's and Celine's relationship turns into bitter strife and mutual reproachment, until they seem to reconcile at an outdoor restaurant a little while later. The neutral zone between man and woman might as well be a battlefield for dominance, Linklater suggests, but if both parties really care for one another and aim for simple understanding, nothing can stand in the way of true love.

zondag 28 juli 2013

Today's News: Williams still interested in the galaxy, far, far away

Hot off MovieScene:


This is about as good as news around Episode VII can get at this stage. At least Williams never contributed to the increasing lack of quality in the Star Wars franchise, unlike some other people who were deeply involved. In fact, his scores for the prequel trilogy proved about as grand as the ones he composed for the original trilogy. Themes like Love Across the Stars (Episode II's sweeping love theme) and Battle of the Heroes (Episode III's epic Jedi duel theme) to my mind are as beautiful to listen to as the likes of the classic Princess Leia's Theme (Episode IV) or the bombastic Imperial March (Episode V), even though they may not be eligible to be considered as iconic because the movies they were made for are just not on the old levels in terms of quality. Williams has always delivered fabulous, rich scores for any film he's worked on, all the way from the Seventies straight until this day. There's no reason to fear he won't pull it off again. If there's someone who can successfully bridge the old trilogy, Lucas' prequel trilogy and now J.J. Abrams' new sequel trilogy, it's this guy, I have full faith in that. All other elements like plot, action and character development aside, in this regard Episode VII couldn't be in better hands. I don't need Kathleen Kennedy's or Abrams' own ass-kissing terminology to remind me of that. Williams' wonderful soundtracks have spoken for themselves throughout the years.

And just so you know, here's my top-5 of Williams' themes. Nobody should not be familiar with these awesome scores. Enjoy!

5: The Clash of Lightsabers
From: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

4: The Lost World Main Theme
From: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

3: Raiders March
From: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

2: The Throne Room/End Titles
From: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

1: Welcome to Jurassic Park
From: Jurassic Park (1993)

zaterdag 27 juli 2013

Today's Mini-Reviews: downfall of the rich and powerful

Iron Man 3: **/*****, or 5/10

Most disappointing of the Marvel Studios movies so far. Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) took over the director's chair from Jon Favreau who did the first two installments. Maybe it's Black's tendency to go over the top a bit too far, maybe the writers and producers just got terribly lazy in the creative process after the sucess of the predecessors, but Iron Man 3 proves a dud. Tony Stark finally has found a decent equilibrium between his eccentric playboy life and his public role as the armored superhero Iron Man, but soon his world is turned upside down after he deliberately picks a fight with the vicious terrorist leader Mandarin (“played by Sir Ben Kingsley”) who wounded his former bodyguard Happy (still performed by Favreau himself at least). The Mandarin comes down hard on Tony, destroying his mansion and seemingly obliterating his various armors. With only his wit, his engineering skills, his insufferable character flaws – he was never more irritating than he is here – and the aid of some kid in a shack, he soon turns the tables and confronts his new nemesis and his silly army of exploding people, only to find out the situation is not what it appeared to be, as the Mandarin is just a fraud (way to ruin a classic bad guy, Marvel!). Another adversary, A.I.M. leader Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is behind it all, out to revenge himself on Stark, literally for making him cry ten years earlier (now that's what I call a solid motivation for aiming to conquer the world!). During the film's climactic showdown, Tony can fortunately count on his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to save his ass, plus he had another 40 armors inexplicably hidden up his sleeve. Iron Man 3 pretentiously delves into semi-philosophical territory when it keeps asking whether the suit makes the man or vice versa, but the fact is we simply don't care. All we knew was that Robert Downey Jr. made Iron Man and now sloppy writing has allowed him to be unmade, for which Downey reportedly received the sum of 50 million (!) dollars, probably for looking the other way as it happened. At least Stark is basically still the same after four films, as it was clear what audiences wanted and expected from the get-go. The same can't be said for the Mandarin, whose presence was alluded to in the prevous two Iron Man films, but all of a sudden proves to be someone else entirely halfway through the film. Don't trust the trailers for this film that insinuated that we were in for a major epic villain played by Kingsley, since that's all a lie and you'll end up disappointed. Blame it on the Chinese involvement, as Iron Man 3 was co-produced with Chinese studios to cut costs (Downey's salary had to come from somewhere after all). And in such a case, you simply can't afford to have a Chinese villain claiming to be after the destruction of western civilization. Interestingly enough, the Chinese market received a slightly different cut of the film including scenes not seen in the regular version, to make it even more attractive for Chinese audiences. Iron Man 3 bodes ill for the rest of Marvel's Phase 2, but there's gotta be better upcoming movies to make up for this huge letdown. Ant-Man maybe? 

The Great Gatsby: ***/*****, or 7/10

Another visual feast by Baz Lurhmann (Moulin Rouge, Australia). The fifth version of the classic book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and definitely the most extravagant, as we would have expected from Luhrmann, who always tends to lavishly overstylize his films. This is his first foray into the realm of 3D, and fortunately it's a successful one at that. From a narrative viewpoint, the movie predictably feels less intriguing. In the early Roaring Twenties, war veteran Nick Carraway (a rather dull Tobey Maguire, as is the norm) moves to Long Island, next door to a giant mansion belonging to the seemingly incredibly wealthy but enigmatic Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio, another one of his hugely rich and influential but emotionally tormented big screen souls). Drawn to the unreal world of fabulous upperclass decadence, Carraway soon gets his taste of high society as he attends one of Gatsby's unbelievably amazing parties. Gatsby soon purposefully reveals himself to Nick and recruits him to arrange a meeting between himself and Nick's attractive cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a long lost love of Gatsby from before the Great War whom he lost contact with and who has since gone on to marry a rich but quite dislikeable land owner (Joel Edgerton). Hoping to respark their love thanks to Nick's involvement bridging their past, Gatsby and Daisy soon reunite and haphazardly start an affair that can only end in tragedy. But despite his attempts to basically bang a married girl, you hope Gatsby succeeds as he is a sympathetic character, once a boy who came from nothing but worked himself up to incredulous heights, while still favoring the lower class folks who live decent lives worth living, instead of engaging in the monotony of endless partying. Gatsby appears to make a stand for the poor, hard working labourers with his understanding attitude and actions, which can only lead to his downfall from the rich ruling classes and their corrupting power over everything and everyone. But what a downfall it is, shot with such dynamic vibrancy and wild colour schemes, presented in three jaw-droppingly beautiful dimensions! Nevertheless the blatant melodrama at the core is hard to be effectively sugarcoated, even in Luhrmann's elaborate ways. The Great Gatsby emulates its titular character, in the sense that it's packed with bombastic bravoura and laced with visual flair throughout, detracting you from the lack of a refined, satisfactory plot, which is notably absent if you care to see beneath the mask of its sensational appearance. Beneath the surface it's all fairly hollow, but not without a certain charm. This movie is a feast to behold as much as the parties it depicts would no doubt be a thrill to attend, but ultimately, it proves a fairly forgetful experience in the long run. And so Hollywood can keep remaking Fitzgerald's novel once every few decades to ever more spectacular results.

vrijdag 26 juli 2013

Jurassic Park Series 2: Capture Cruiser

Year of release: 1993-1994

-Overhead Strike Net
-Dino damage roof section

(Note: the reviewer is not an expert on cars, so any incorrect technical terms or lack of detail in this vehicle's description ought to be disregarded.)
Description: this four wheeled vehicle's most obvious feature is the big black net, attached to a long yellow bar on either side, held together by small yellow protrusions. On the back of the car there's a dark grey handle: pulling this forward makes the beams raise upwards, capable of gyrating in a 110 degree radius approximately, causing the net to cover anything in front of the car. There's also a dino damage feature: the entire roof section (which is also coloured yellow) can be torn off, exposing the driver's seats. These seats are dark grey, with a big boxy beige control panel between them, and there's also a dark grey steering wheel. The vehicle's underside is all dark grey, while the rest of the Cruiser is beige instead. The wheels are black.
At the back of the car, there's a black piece of equipment on either side: the left side sports what appears to be some type of gun, while a radar dish in found on the right side. Both pieces can be rotated insofar as the design of the car allows, and are only there for show: they do not provide any action features of their own. Between both pieces, under the net when it's not in use, there's storage space for equipment, or human figures (though there's no real place for them to sit or stand). On the front of the car there's a dark grey bumper, and two lights on top of the wind shield. The car comes with various stickers for ornamentation, including four stickers with camouflage colours (one for the roof section, three for the wind shield, including a big one with the JP logo on it). There's also lights stickers, two for the front of the car, and two at the back, and stickers with red and black stripes for on the front of the yellow beams holding the net). There's a compass sticker for the driver's section of the car, and lastly a big sticker with the number '14' on it, as if there's at least 14 Capture Cruisers (or other Park vehicles).

Analysis: after the success of the first JP toy line, which featured two neat cars (and in case of the Jungle Explorer one absolute classic), Kenner got inventive for the second toy line in the vehicle department and made a cool motor cycle and a buggy. They also came up with this Capture Cruiser as a third car, but obviously put less effort in it than in their other new vehicles. As such, the Capture Cruiser isn't a very good car, with a weak design and even a lousy paint job (who would drive a beige and yellow car in a green dinosaur infested environment? It's not going to go unnoticed!).
The main action feature, the overhead strike net, works via an interesting mechanism though. It doesn't launch or drop a net on creatures, it pulls one over them (which does make it a close range weapon). Pulling the handle at the back of the car makes the net swing over any prey in front of the car. This mechanism works well, but it doesn't fully cover most animals (though it does restrain bigger ones like the Young T-Rex at least for the most part). Smaller prey has little trouble slipping out from under it. Also, even if the Cruiser does manage to trap an animal, what then? This car has no equipment to really knock them out. A tranq missile launcher or some similar device is surely missed here. There is the gun like piece of equipment at the back of the car, but that's only there for show and doesn't have an action option of its own unfortunately. Even more annoying is the fact the bars and protrusions holding the net together are really fragile. The plastic tends to break easily so you should be careful with it if you don't want it to get broken, in which case it's best to use the net action not too often.
Like most vehicles of this size, the Capture Cruiser also comes with dino damage. In this case, the whole roof section can be ripped off by a nasty dinosaur. It's best to use this when the net is deployed though, otherwise the bars get in the way. Though not the most original of action options, at least this dino damage works as it should, and isn't prone to get broken. When you remove the roof, you see just how little there is to this car: it only has dino damage and the net for action features, and is pretty boring and empty otherwise. There's only room for two figures, and most figures don't really fit in the seats because there's so little leg space. Only the smaller Kenner figures (like Tim Murphy or Ellie Sattler) are capable of sitting in the seats. The only Dino Tracker that fits is Jaws Jackson, even though this is supposed to be a Dino Trackers vehicle. You can of course put other figures in the back, but there isn't any real place for them to sit or stand (there's none of those little pins inside that fit in the small holes human figures have in their feet, so they can stand in certain places). Also, if you do throw them in the back, they're usually covered by the net; not much of a gratifying place to sit for sure.
Unlike the other JPS1/2 vehicles, the Capture Cruiser just wasn't given much thought in the design process. It lacks either originality or usable action features, it has overly fragile parts, and not enough interactivity possibilities with other figures. And it just doesn't look good: the designers didn't even bother with bashing out a decent paint job to obscure their flaws. This vehicle only fetches the high prices it does because of its rarity, but surely not because it deserves to be spent a lot of money on.

Playability: less than most other vehicles. The main action feature is supplied by the overhead strike net, and that only partially covers targets, but there's no means of subduing or restraining then (even a clichéd function like a rocket launcher or something would have helped a lot here). Also, it doesn't fully cover dinosaurs, smaller ones will have little trouble escaping from under it. Like most vehicles, the Capture Cruiser comes with dino damage, and pretty extensive in this case, but that's only good when the net is in use in front of the car, because otherwise the net gets in the way of the dino damage section. Also, the plastic parts that hold the net are quite fragile and can get easily damaged so you can't really play rough with this vehicle if you want to keep it intact. The limited space for human figures in this car is also a nuisance, since only a few figures really fit well in the driver's seats.

Realism: a vehicle like this was not seen in the JP film, but it's not unlikely a similar vehicle was in use in Jurassic Park, for trapping loose dinosaurs. However, it would surely need backup from other vehicles or humans with decent weapons to function really well because of its limitations. Also, its paint job stands out too much in a jungle environment (even though it comes with some camouflage colour stickers).

Repaint: no, the Capture Cruiser is a new vehicle. It would not be repainted for later JP toy lines. However, it would be repainted for Kenner's Congo line, for which it was redubbed simply as 'Net Trap' (and for which it was given a much better paint job, featuring jungle green colours).

Overall rating: 4/10. This is one of Kenner's most disappointing vehicles. It has a dull paint job, a half decent design (the net mechanism is nice enough, but the rest of the car simply isn't) and some parts are easily damaged. None of its features can't be found on other vehicles, which often make better use of them. To top it all, this car is one of the rarest Kenner sets, and often goes for stupendously high prices (particularly MIB samples), usually much more than it's worth (especially considering intact loose samples aren't easy to find). If you do happen to stumble on one, be sure you don't pay more for it than you think you should, otherwise you might find yourself severely ripped off.

Jurassic Park Series 2: Jungle Runner

Year of release: 1993-1994

-Firing Grappling Hook
-Dino damage roll-bar

(Note: the reviewer is not an expert on buggies, so any incorrect technical terms or lack of detail in this vehicle's description ought to be disregarded.)
Description: this four-wheeled buggy sports a black undercarriage (including driver's seat, which has room for a single human figure) with dark grey wheels, which are poseable independently from each other and bounce back on rough off-road terrain. The vehicle's upper parts are all painted in a dark green colour with beige stripes over it. It has various metallic grey highlights: rotatable steering handles, side flaps on both sides to keep the driver from falling out of the buggy, a big 'rib cage' like grid on its right side to hold small creatures or accessories, and a removable roll-bar (which is a dino damage piece) at the back with lights on top. It also carries a big, detachable black gun on top of the roll-bar, which holds a metallic grey grappling hook (with four hooks), attached to the gun by a black piece of string. On top of the gun there's a small grey button: pushing it makes the hook being fired over a distance of over 30 centimetres, unless you remove the string to increase its range.
For decoration, this set comes with various stickers: there's two small computer screens (one showing a map of Jurassic Park, the other an infra-red picture of a Triceratops being targeted at a distance of 25.7 metres). On both sides of the roll-bar there are JP logo stickers, and there's also a big sticker with the number '2' on it (so it's likely the Park holds more than one Jungle Runner). Aside from the stickers, the front part of the vehicle is adorned with non-removable black ropes.

Analysis: JPS2 not only introduced the first motor cycle to the JP toys realm, but also its one and only buggy. Despite its small size, this little car comes with a variety of options to make it worth our while, packed in a sweet design and a decent camouflage paint job (though with an abundance of grey that doesn't really go well with dark green).
The most obvious feature is the roll-bar at the back of the vehicle with the big gun on top. The roll-bar can be torn off by a vicious dinosaur, while the gun is also detachable for use separately from the car. This grappling hook gun is not really original (a very similar weapon came with the JPS1/2 Ellie Sattler figures), but it works well, even though limited by the string it's attached to (which does help for bringing captured prey in). It works best on smaller figures, which can be carried on the grid after they're subdued: even though this grid is pretty big considering the size of the buggy, it's best suited for hatchlings or accessories of human figures, and not so much for dinosaur figures. When not in use, the grid can be flapped inward, also partially protecting the driver's seat, though when folded in there's no place for the driver itself.
As to who should be the driver, there's some confusion. The back of the vehicle's box shows Sgt.“T-Rex” Turner playing driver, but in reality he's a lousy match because he doesn't have enough space between his legs to really fit on the saddle. Of the three Dino Tracker figures (this vehicle belongs to the Dino Trackers/Evil Raiders spin-off line), the only one that is a decent pairing with this car is Harpoon Harrison. Whoever the driver is though, he's protected from falling off the buggy by flaps on either side (though in case of the right side this is redundant when the storage grid is in place). Being an off-road vehicle, such precautions are a clever move. The bouncing wheels mechanism clearly shows the Jungle Runner is designed for tracking dinosaurs on rough terrain which would be unsuitable for other vehicles. These wheels that can move separate from each other are also a useful feature, as well as original, since no other JP vehicles come with this option. A feature like this, along with its small size and unique design, make the Jungle Runner stand out from other Jurassic Park vehicles, and give it a character all its own.

Playability: rather good. This car comes with dino damage, a gun to both hit and grab creatures, additional storage space and realistic wheels to aid it on rougher terrain where other vehicles would be useless. The wheels themselves are also moveable enough to push the buggy a fair distance away when given a nod. Extra touches like the computer screen stickers and the side flaps also help overall playability options and make the buggy look good.

Realism: a vehicle like this was not featured in any of the JP movies, but it's not an unlikely piece of equipment for Park Rangers on Isla Nublar to use off-road in order to capture or track escaped dinosaurs. The independent flexibility of the wheels adds realism, since this is a common feature in real life vehicles similar to this one. Even though it's solely an invention of the Kenner designers' part, this is one of the more realistic JP vehicles.

Repaint: no, the Jungle Runner is a new vehicle. It would not be repainted for later JP toy lines. However, it would be repainted for Kenner's Congo line, for which it was redubbed the 'Trail Hacker'.

Overall rating: 7/10. This is a neat vehicle with a cool design and more action features to it than you would suspect at first glance. It's a rather common JPS2 set, and can usually be found and acquired at low costs, so you shouldn't think twice about getting one for yourself.

Jurassic Park Series 2: Strike Cycle

Year of release: 1993-1994

-Firing Capture Claw
-Detachable sidecar

(Note: the reviewer is not an expert on motor cycles, so any incorrect technical terms or lack of detail in this vehicle's description ought to be disregarded.)
Description: this big and heavy motor cycle consists of the bike itself (two wheels) and a sidecar (one wheel) that carries the vehicle's main utility for taking on dinosaurs, the capture claw. Both the cycle and the sidecar sport a largely dark green paint job, covered with orange stripes, while all of its highlights (capture claw, steering handles with front gun, scope, firing button, parking breaks and pulley) are painted metallic grey, as is the chassis under the driver's seat, which is more shiny by comparison (almost silver). The wheels are all black; the seat is light brown, with space for only one human figure. The cycle itself is adorned with parts of a dinosaur skeleton (it appears to be a medium sized carnivore), the upper jaw and arms on the front, and its backbone at the back, all held together by small brown ropes (none of these parts can be separated from the cycle). The sidecar doesn't have ornamentation like this, but delivers the action features of this set instead (the front gun above the bike's skull is only there for show, it has no action options).
On top of the sidecar there is a grid with a scope on it, which can be flipped up, revealing a small button underneath. Pushing this button releases the capture claw, which is attached to the pulley at the back of the sidecar by a black string, allowing the claw a firing distance of some 40 centimetres (unless you remove the string of course). There's a little handle on the side of the pulley: rotating this towards you makes the claw being reeled in, along with any unfortunate prey it may have captured. On the bottom of the sidecar there are two little legs or breaks which can be retracted (only simultaneously), so the sidecar can stand on its own when it's not attached to the cycle. It also makes the whole set-up of bike and sidecar together more steady, though the cycle can't really move when the breaks are retracted.

Analysis: aside from the wide originality in prehistoric vermin JPS2 unleashed, this line also delivered more diversity in ground based vehicles. JPS1 featured two cars only (and a chopper, which isn't land based), while this line not only added a third car, but also a buggy and this motor cycle (the first JP cycle, but certainly not the last). It's a pretty cool vehicle, but could have been more inventive in terms of weaponry.
The design is quite butch and makes no mistake we're dealing with a bad guys' vehicle here. The poor dinosaur which was killed to make this bike sport a more nasty look shows the Evil Raiders' handiwork, while the paint scheme of 'military' dark green with sharp orange stripe patterns also hints at carnage and mayhem (dark red stripes would have left even less to the imagination but might have been too graphic). Skinner is the best choice to drive this bike (which is also why he's pictured on the box), since the other Raider, Dr. Snare, has a big trench coat that kind of gets in the way when he's sitting down on it. Most of the other human figures don't have enough space between their legs to really fit on this vehicle.
The detachable sidecar, which looks less menacing, carries all the action of this set. Even though the capture claw can also be fired when the sidecar is attached to the bike, it's more convenient when the sidecar stands on its own and the bike doesn't get in the way. The firing mechanism works really well and the claw has a decent firing range, but it's only fit for trapping smaller figures (like the JPS1/2 Raptor, also pictured on this bike's box). There's not much room between the claws' arms for bigger prey. It's not the most original weapon either: JPS2 Harpoon Harrison comes with a very similar piece of equipment (and the principle would be used in various following toy lines). However, the pulley which allows for captured prey to be reeled in is something we wouldn't see again, and adds to this capture claw's effectiveness. The scope on top, which also protects the firing button, is a nice extra touch as well, and the same goes for the little breaks on the bottom of the sidecar which allow it to keep standing up straight for use when it's not attached to the bike. A shame the cycle itself doesn't come with a similar device, since it can't stand up on its own when separated from the sidecar but lies down or has to be parked up against something.

Playability: pretty good. Though the only real action comes from the capture claw, the various little extra touches aid the overall playability. The wheels are moveable enough to push the bike a fair distance away when given a push. It's clear more thought was given to the sidecar then to the bike though, considering the cycle can't stand on its own without the sidecar and most figures don't really fit on it. Also, you can take detaching the sidecar from the main cycle as dino damage, even though it's not intended as such.

Realism: motor cycles weren't featured in the first JP movie, but neither were the Evil Raiders. The whole design of this vehicle comes from the imagination of the Kenner toy designers. Therefore, it's not surprising the bike features a bit of an over-the-top feel, with the dinosaur remains as ornamentation, the big capture claw gun, and another gun attached to the steering handles. It does fit in perfectly with the whole notion of the Evil Raiders though, given the funky design of those figures themselves.

Repaint: no, this is a new vehicle. It would not be repainted for later toy lines.

Overall rating: 7/10. This is a decent vehicle with various fun features, but nothing particularly special (and certainly less iconic than the JPS1 vehicles). It's one of the most common JPS2 sets, and can be found fairly easily, sometimes for low prices. As such, don't hesitate to find one of your own.

donderdag 25 juli 2013

Today's News: Sentinels are coming!

Posted this tidbit of news the other day:


These are some fabulous, artistically appreciative posters! Gotta love the throwback to the good ol' propaganda style of the regimes of the Thirties that proved a definite inspiration here. And why not after all? With X-Men: Days of Future Past the franchise journeys into much darker territory than it has so far on the big screen. Sure, there have been incidents of violences and mutual attempts at genocide from both man and mutant in the series at numerous turns, but nothing as bleak as the comics on occasion explored. This is the first time we see just what the X-Men are fighting for, or better yet, what they're aiming to prevent: a future where mutants are a social minority on the verge of being purged by the ruling race that deems them a threat to its own existence. Rather than getting their hands dirty themselves, mankind had delegated this glorious task to machines with awesome power not all that dissimilar from their targets, coupled with a convenient off-switch (or are they?) should problems arise in their simple programming: destroy all mutants! The notion of one race/species overthrowing another it deems inferior or threatening of course hearkens back to the saddest pages of past human history, while this film is set both in the now (of sorts) and in the future, indicating man may not have learned so much from its past. Which is of course also a sad aspect of genocide: despite the mass cullings instigated by vast propaganda machines that produced posters such as these, mankind still hasn't alwasy learned from the past and repeated such abhorrent mistakes throughout the 20th century. At least in the Marvel universe, we have superheroes like the X-Men that fight for all kinds and creeds of man to stay safe from such atrocities. Unless they too are targeted for termination: Days of Future Past will show us just what happens then...

By the way, someone inform me whether it was a conscious decision on Marvel's part to have 'Trask' be an anagram of 'Stark'? I doubt there wasn't, as Stark Industries basically turned from creating weapons for profit to producing inventions and devices for the benefit of mankind when Tony Stark donned the Iron Man suit, while Bolivar Trask - who, it appears, will be played in this film by Tyrion Lannister Peter Dinklage: quite a surprising bit of casting, as the two look nothing alike, but with such a capable actor, I'm not complaining! - and his family got ever more obsessed with mutant genocide, Sentinels being one of their results. Seems they went the opposite route. Too bad there is no Stark Industries in Fox's branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there still is that alleged connection between the X-Men and the Fantastic Four that will supposedly witness its first link crafted in this flick, so who knows just who might come to the mutants' aid in this dystopian alternate universe?

woensdag 24 juli 2013

Today's Mini-Reviews: giant robots, Kaijus and super-villains

Pacific Rim: ****/*****, or 7/10

Guillermo Del Toro's epic hommage to the Japanese 'Kaiĵu' movies, produced on a bigger budget than all such giant monster movies of the last fifity years combined. Del Toro obviously has a great love and respect for the genre, resulting in a very catchy action flick, undoubtedly the best American counterpart to its Japanese predecessors. One might almost say Hollywood has redeemed itself for the 1998 version of Godzilla, but such a statement had better be held back for another year, until the next American reboot of Godzilla hits theatres in 2014. In the meantime, Pacific Rim works well as an appetiter to the big G's resurrection. An extra-dimensional rift opens on the bottom of the Pacific and huge beasts come pouring out, wreaking havoc on mankind as they lay waste to cities and obliterate our armed forces. Humanity quickly sets aside its internal differences and joins forces in creating big robots to fight the creatures on their own terms. Piloted by a pair of human Avatars, these so-called 'Jaëgers' effectively combat the beasts, but the life of a Jaëger pilot as Del Toro reveals is filled with personal loss. When the monsters emerge ever more rapidly from the Breach, as it is named, Jaëger command develops an intricate and dangerous plan to halt the Kaiĵu threat once and for all. Del Toro briefly explores the history of the first Kaiĵu assaults and the development of their robotic antagonists and afterwards spends more time getting us invested in the human characters than is usual for this type of film. It does make the movie feel like its dragging its feet for a while, until he unleashes the action the audience craves with a vengeance, resulting in over an hour of nigh endless monster bashing. Unfortunately he cannot help but inserting a few characters that are supposed to deliver some much needed comic relief to make sure we don't take it all too seriously, but sadly these characters – stereotypical geeky scientists as ever we've seen them – are so mind-boggingly annoying (Charlie Day particularly) they make you wish for a Kaiĵu to step on them to end their endless whining. Del Toro's talents are beter suited in delving deeper into a world where Kaiĵus are not only a threat to world peace but also big business: toy companies produce action figures of them, creepy cults worship them and in Hong Kong, a 'Bone Town' is established, a black market for Kaiĵu products for shady purposes, similar to the disgusting existing South-East Asian trade in animal parts. Run by Ron Perlman (always a joy when paired with Del Toro), some of the funniest, wittiest and anatomically most unsettling scenes take place here. Though the dealings and the history of the Jaëgers are fleshed out to the fullest, their enormous alien adversaries, ever the most important ingredient in a Kaiĵu film, do remain somewhat underexposed by comparison. Unfortunately their motivations – they're really foot soldiers out to cause as much damage to mankind as possible, in order to pave the way for an invasion from their (smaller) intelligent overlords – remind us of the recent Shyamalan flop After Earth, a movie we'd rather forget entirely. Usually, Kaiĵu are more antiheroes than full-out villains, but Del Toro opts to keep them a simple threat to be wiped out instead of embuing them with a more sympathetic character like their forebears Gojira, Gorgo and Rodan, who were always the victim of human (nuclear) folly, transforming them into avenging gods to remind us of our place in the world. The movie is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda, two people who only too well understood the need to layer their creatures and make them charm you so you feel more for them, but in this instance, Del Toro decided not to go with such wisdom. As a result, Pacific Rim at best is a highly likeable action flick, but not necessarily an apt lesson for western audiences into the true nature of the Kaiĵu genre. Then again, there's only so much you can do with the notion of giant robots bashing giant monsters. Let's say Guillermo gets as much out of that premise as we could hope for.

Despicable Me 2: ****/*****, or 7/10

Simply fun sequel to the animated surprise hit of 2010. Gru and his legions of minions are back, but no longer driven by the need to exact evil schemes on an unsuspecting world, as Gru (still voiced with a outrageously hilarious accent by Steve Carell) has taken to his role as a father figure for his three orphan girls Edith, Agnes and Margo quite seriously. The big question on the girls' minds of course is – much to Gru's chagrin – 'when will there be a surrogate mother too'? Apparently several thousand minions are not enough to fill that particular role, so Gru has to endure countless matchmaking on their part. Fortunately for him, he quickly finds himself abducted by agent Lucy (Kristen Wiig returning for the sequel, but voicing another character) of the AVL, the American Vampire League Anti Villain League, who means to recruit him to smoke out a threat to world peace apparently hiding in a shopping mall, potentially posing as one of many goofy shop owners. Gru hesitantly accepts the job, if only to escape his girls' endless romantic pestering. Needless to say, Lucy and Gru soon get romantically entangled while attempting to stop the outrageously stereotypically Mexican baddie El Macho (Benjamin Bratt) from completing his vile scheme to unleash thousands of vicious purple monsters (most of them harvested from Gru's own minions) on mankind. Though the plot leaves little room for narrative surprises, the infectious charm of the characters and a plethora of witty jokes for young and old make for a thoroughly enjoyable animated flick. As before, it's the endearing minions that steal the show – a fact that has already been confirmed to deliver them their own movie next year, which may not be such a good idea – but thanks to the effective emphasis on Gru's own plot line, including a flashback to his youth which is both sad and superbly funny, it also becomes ever more evident just what a droll character he is himself, considering he spends most of his time without his minions and vice versa, while the movie doesn't end up either boring or less hilarious whenever either party takes center stage (also thanks to Wiig's obvious enthusiasm). Though more attention on an original plot would be welcome for the unavoidable next installment, I can unabashedly say I'm looking forward to a Despicable Me 3 regardless. Preferably with both Gru and minions together once more instead of one or the other.

dinsdag 23 juli 2013

Today's Column: why I love to go to the movies on Texel

After returning home from vacation, I penned this column for MovieScene:


Call me lazy, since this is basically just an exposé about my sole cinematic experience on Texel this year, sort of hiding that I wasn't particularly inspired to write something more engaging/engaged because I was too busy basking myself in the sweet sunlight. Basically, I just couldn't be bothered. That said, I do believe there's something to be said for the more relaxed, calm and simple approach Cinema Texel takes to showing their movies, either consciously or unconsciously. It's just so different to the way we see movies at the bigger, really commercial theatre chains. It's a matter of independence most likely. They can programme their movies however they like since they don't have to cater to an a bunch of suits in an office 100 miles away (though I do realize the guy who owns this theatre also owns the one in Schagen, but does that constitute a theatre chain already?). Apart from going digital (and getting 3D-ed in the process), which they had to since 35mm movies aren't produced in the Netherlands anymore, little seems to have ever changed for De Vergulde Kikkert. Just the way I like it. I hope it stays this way forever over there. Now back to the basking.

maandag 22 juli 2013

Today's News: Hot off Comic-Con 2013

A double portion of news today from MS, but Comic-Con tends to have that effect everywhere on the Internet:



So we have a new trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Avengers 2 got itself a name and hence, a lot more speculation for the fans to endure for the next few years. The former news is the least intriguing, since this trailer would have been released around this time of big summer blockbuster movies anyway, to get people excited about the upcoming big winter movies. It's a good new trailer, with more emphasis on character and emotion than on story and action like the teaser featured. It's agreeable to see Catching Fire won't ignore such pivotal aspects, even if they lead towards a major Twilight-y love triangle - you know, the type with one girl and two boys, and nobody seems to opt for a simple threesome - we can't care less about. The notion of another Hunger Games with Katniss as the star seems redundant, but is a vital strategy for the regime to kill off the champions of the resistance against its regime, and of course this time it won't be just teenagers killing each other, as they have rebellious plans of their own. Blatant recycling of plot elements seems absent for now. And with a stellar cast like this (Philip Seymour Hoffman!) this is still a sequel to look forward to, despite all the teeny aspects.

Naturally it's the second installment of The Avengers, fortunately still directed and written by Joss Whedon, that we can look forward to even more. We'll have to wait a while longer for it, but we still have ample Marvel movies leading up to it (though it seems Ant-Man will now follow this finale of Phase 2 instead of precede it, thus paving the way for Marvel's Phase 3). But with 50 years of Marvel Universe history there is plenty to think on as details slowly dripple in. One such detail, a major one in fact, is the official title, which now has been revealed to be Avengers: Age of Ultron. It leaves no mistake who the villain of the piece will be: the genocidal, haywire android Ultron, originally built by Henry "Hank" Pym (Ant-Man/Yellowjacket/Giant Man/wife beater). In this post for MovieScene I suggested Pym will most likely be established in Avengers 2 via his connection to Ultron, and afterwards fully fleshed out in his own Ant-Man flick, but time has already caught up with that, as it has now been confirmed Pym will not be present in Avengers: Age of Ultron at all. Whedon has stated the origin of Ultron will be explored via other means, the most obvious idea being Tony Stark will create the misantropic machine instead while assembling new Iron Man suits (after his last single adventure he needs some after all). This remains to be seen no doubt. Maybe Whedon will surprise us, as he has done before in the past (he's a fairly talented writer after all). The other big question now is whether Ultron will be portrayed by a guy in a suit - he is rather anthropomorphic so it's not inconceivable - or whether he will be a fully computer generated character with the voice work done by some incredible actor. My best bet? Get Andy Serkis to perform his usual mo-cap magic. You can't go wrong with that route.

But where's Thanos in all this? Great idea, Whedon, getting us all worked up on a villain-to-end-all-villains and then seemingly ignoring him! Or could he be in Guardians of the Galaxy after all...?

zondag 21 juli 2013

Today's Mini-Reviews: Zombies, zombies everywhere!

World War Z: ***/*****, or 7/10

Huge big budget blockbuster adaptation, albeit loosely, of the Max Brooks novel of the same name. More serious in tone, the film explores the consequences of a viral pandemic that turns its victims into zombies, only driven by the urge to infect more people. A star vehicle for Brad Pitt, World War Z follows an ex-UN employee who is blackmailed by his former superiors into tracking down the origin of the plague in exchange for the guarantee his wife and children are protected from the terrors of the outside world. Unfortunately, it turns out it's not so easy to pinpoint just where the virus originated, necessitating him to travel around the globe whilst following various breadcrumbs in hopes of finding an answer, and if possible, a cure. Of course, this results in an array of close calls with ravenous zombies in various major cities, including New York, Philadelphia and Jeruzalem. The movie incorporates both close encounters with only a few zombies as well as major zombie offensives against large human populations as seen through Pitt's eyes. It's the former that make for the most suspenseful edge-of-your-seat moments, while the latter gobble up the vast majority of the FX budget, as we see zombie armies attacking helicopters and city walls in force. Such scenes look grandiose and work equally well as further examples of ever active post 9/11 paranoia, but ultimately feel hollow compared to Pitt's more personal experiences up close with the creepy undead. However, in those instances, these zombies just don't appear as frightening or disturbing as those of previous zombie flicks. In fact, if you're watching the TV-show The Walking Dead on a regular basis, World War Z offers little you have not seen before (save for zombie attacks on a bigger scope) and certainly isn't as poignant as a parable showcasing the failure of humans to work together for mutual survival, nor delivers it any moments of intense horror and gore that can match that show's contents. As an exploration of the legitimacy of our fears for pandemics, this movie also proves less effective as more scientific accurate fare the likes of Contagion: think of it more as the silly popcorn variety of that more intelligent type of flick. In addition, Brad Pitt is much too big a movie star to convincingly play the everyman out for basic survival and answers in a world overrun by the living dead. A less well known actor would have worked better for this movie's purposes, but in this day and age of ever increasing numbers of Hollywood flops, studios are afraid to make summer movies that cannot benefit from having big names to draw in audiences. World War Z witnessed its fair share of production problems, including a need for drastic rewrites and 20 million dollar reshoots of its entire third act. To the credit of those involved, you wouldn't think this film experienced such obstacles, as it has a fairly solid ending – including a surprising method of avoiding zombie contact – that still leaves ample room for an unavoidable sequel or two.

Warm Bodies: ****/*****, or 7/10

Zombies admittedly are having a big break on the silver screen this year. While World War Z is the sort of epic flick meant for the usual audiences blockbuster movies are made for, the zom-romcom Warm Bodies should attract crowds looking for more unusual horrific fare, and even – gods willing – teenage girls that want to fill the gap left by the finale of the Twilight movies by exploring similar themed films. Fortunately, the fact this movie combines thematic elements from the horror genre with all the qualities of romance is as far as the parallel between Twilight and Warm Bodies ought to be drawn, as the latter is a delightful off-beat comedy that hopefully will stay a one-shot instead of being milked for many more movies to come. The film follows R (Nicholas Hoult of X-Men: First Class and Jack the Giant Slayer fame), a teenage zombie male who does what zombies usually do: incoherently move about the place looking for people to eat, either alone or in a pack with his undead friends. One day he happens upon the brains of a living teenage boy, and after devouring them finds he is attracted to his girlfriend Julie (Teresa Palmer), the sole survivor of the zombie attack that claimed her boyfriend's life. Hiding her from the other living corpses, R soon displays amorous behavior towards her, or attempts at such as good as any dead boy could make, and because of these sudden feelings appears to regain his past humanity slowly but surely. Eventually the plot allows for a certain degree of romance between the pair which is developed compellingly enough to make it rise above its ludicrous premise. The problem the fledgling lovers face is how to overcome the prejudices dominant in a world where one group in society aims to eat the other. Matters are complicated by the fact Julie's father (John Malkovich) is the stern and uncompromising leader of the human survivors, while the rise of a subspecies of zombies named 'Bonies', zombies so far gone they have lost every shred of humanity and form a danger to both humans and regular zombies, also is cause for concern. Can R and Julie's mutual love for each other bridge the differences between both groups in time for man and dead man to overcome their hatred and unite against their common foe? As the movie draws towards its close, the plot focuses more on action and the expected preachy messages, but it's the first half of the movie that makes for a wonderfully funny viewing experience totally worth your while as R, via voice-over, details his dreary everyday life, illustrating a zombie's daily routine to hilarious results. While people who might fear the love affair between live girl and dead boy is not convincingly carried through, they're in for a nice surprise. In fact, it turns out there's not so much difference between the awkward experiences of young love as seen through a dead boy's eyes as there is from a living one. Few guys who tried to hit on girls in their teen years won't recall similar instances of acting odd in front of the opposite sex that made them wish they were dead, right?

zaterdag 20 juli 2013

Today's Mini-Reviews: Man of Steel goes on a Night Train to Lisbon

Night Train to Lisbon: ****/*****, or 7/10

Adaptation of the original novel of the same name by Pascal Mercier, chronicling the life and times of a young Portuguese doctor named Amadeu de Prado during the years of the oppressive Salazar regime. His political and philosophical trials are recounted through his journals as read long after his death by a Swiss professor played by Jeremy Irons. A timid and dull man, Irons one day saves the life of a woman attempting to commit suicide, who walks out on his life as sudden as she entered it, leaving him the diary and a train ticket to the Portuguese capital. Impulsively leaving his life behind, the professor takes his chances and travels to Lisbon in order to explore this life so different from his own. The vast dissimilarities in life style and character of the boring old professor compared to the adventurous, politically engaged young doctor are rather overstated to carry the point across that freedom and personal convictions are wasted if one does not make ample use of them during one's life, as Irons does not but Amadeu did: though it led him to an early death, he did live a wild and challenging life as the professor soon realizes when he seeks out those that knew him personally. Now all in their old age, his remaining family and friends enlighten the old man as to who Amadeu really was and what he accomplished. Many a great character actor is encountered as the movie progresses through the various view points of Amadeu's inner circle, including Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Lee, Bruno Ganz and Tom Courtenay. Interestingly enough (and potentially insulting towards the people of Portugal), none of them are Portuguese and nor is Jack Huston who plays the young Amadeu. However, their contribution as highly capable actors to informing us about the harsh and dangerous life of political dissidents under the brutal rule of Salazar and his secret police makes for a compelling glimpse of past Portuguese history, which isn't a subject of movies as often as it deserves to be. The movie also serves as a not so subtle tourist brochure to present day Lisbon, with its beautiful sunlit cityscapes and its treasure trove of historical architecture, ancient churches and appetizing dinner establishments. And unlike in Amadeu's time, there's no sinister right wing agents out to arrest you for disagreeing with the current political powers-that-be. No wonder Irons' character eventually opts to stay to escape his own dreary, disillusioned life in Switzerland, which is only shown as grey and rainy during the course of the film.

Man of Steel: ****/*****, or 7/10.

Under the producing talents of Christopher Nolan, Superman undergoes the same treatment to make him grittier – or more 'with the times' – as his fellow DC veteran Batman underwent for Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Director Zack Snyder has shown to be rather talented in adapting the works of more ingenious men into big blockbuster movies, e.g. 300 and Watchmen. As a result, Man of Steel proves a slick, dark and modern look at the iconic comic book character, the most 'super' of all superheroes. Nevertheless, the movie still leaves something to be desired, as illustrated by the fact the film works best during its quiet moments of comtemplation as to how a near omnipotent alien life form walking amongst us humans would live and act. Raised by human foster parents after his biological ones got blown to smithereens along with his home planet of Krypton, Clark Kent/Kal-El (Henry Cavill beefed up considerably) has carefully learned not to show off his awesome powers, as they would make him an outcast, a mutant destined to be hated and feared by the society he means to protect (if some of these thematic ingredients sound familiar, it's because Hollywood has jumped on this bandwagon before in other superhero franchises). Moving from one false identity to another in search of inner peace, Clark soon finds the exact opposite when firstly a sexually attractive female raporter named Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and secondly some of his fellow Kryptonian survivors pay him a visit, the former in seach of the truth about this mystery man, the latter desperately after a weird skull shaped MacGuffin that would give Krypton a second chance, but only at the expense of humanity. Clark soon has no choice but to reveal himself to everybody and fight for his surrogate fellow species against his own kind led by the ruthless General Zod (Michael Shannon having a ball playing a rather bad man who can't stop shouting), who has a personal score to settle with the last remaining member of the -El family. What started as a thoughtful and intriguingly calm, impressionistic superhero movie exploring the nature of superhuman powers in an all too human world (similar to the likes of smaller budget films á la Chronicle) soon erupts into a huge, undoubtedly super-expensive visual effects extravaganza as a big battle between Earth's armed forces against the vastly superior extraterrestrial legion commences, with Clark caught in the middle, forced to finally accept his otherness from both parties and donning the traditional red and blue garb we all know (sort of, as there's no underpants in Nolan's world). This time his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) was kind enough to save the knitting patterns for the suit in his son's spaceship computer banks, probably anticipating a hugely muscled guy in a super tight suit would be just what Earth required to convince its inhabitants of the practicality of a 'Super-man'. Unfortunately the film is released mostly in 3D, while the movie is shot largely through handheld means, rendering the majority of the battle sequences' 3D effects a failure, if not excruciating on the eyes. And sadly those battle scenes make up nearly all of the film's final hour. Overall, Man of Steel is a crystal clear attempt to rejuvenate the Superman franchise applying the Dark Knight's formula, driven by its uncanny ability to bring in the biggest bucks, crafted in an all too similar style that leaves the titular character devoid of his usual comic book feel and charm (not to mention sense of humour), maybe for the better too considering the alternate approach attempted in Superman Returns didn't work out so well. This tactic doesn't prove to be as appropriate for Supes as it was for the Caped Crusader, but works well enough, though definitely more so in the bold first half of the film that relies more on the subtle exploration of a lonely Superman's place in the contemporary world than it does on the overabundance of loud digital action that follows it. One thing is for sure: with this particularly dark brand of superheroes, the upcoming Justice League movie is gonna be pitch-black.

donderdag 18 juli 2013

Today's Mini-reviews: feel-good and feel-bad

Quartet: ***/*****, or 7/10

Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut brings together a top-notch cast of grand British actors, all of old age but none of them showing any signs of deterioration in terms of acting abilities. At Beecham House, a home for retired musicians, the success of the annual concert in celebration of Verdi's birthday is endangered by a new arrival. Jean (Maggie Smith), a diva with a history, has no interest in returning to the stage, but her former co-singers (Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins) and her estranged ex-husband (Tom Courtenay) have to convince her otherwise in order to save their home financially. Trouble is, they too are hindered by the ups and downs of geriatrics, making for many an endearing moment. A fine cast lifts this otherwise mediocre feel-good film to greater heights, though the typical string of 'old folks' jokes and the fairly predictable outcome of past romantic entanglements never make for remarkably emotionally compelling angles. Apart from the use of real (ex)musicians in the supporting cast and their appropriation of the works of the grand classic composers, it's the main quartet of actors that carries the movie and provides most of the fun; Billy Connolly especially as a rather eccentric and cheeky old man, filled with naughty charisma and ever ready for witty, sexually charged repartee, who never stops to hit on every female he encounters, no matter her age. Michael Gambon also delivers some laughs in his role as an insufferable concert planner plagued by short term memory loss and a general obnoxious and insensible loudmouth attitude. Ironically, the final quartet the title hints at, and the movie in fact builds up to, is left out, so we never get to hear just how good of a singers the main characters are, which is a bit of a downer considering the plot keeps boasting their vocal prowess and their acting talent alone is considerate enough to make you wonder just how talented they are in other departments. However, it's clear this movie is not about the quartet itself, but the long and difficult road towards it. And with a good cast, all actors so clearly enjoying themselves to the fullest, plus the plethora of vocal performances already present in the picture, such closure isn't actually warranted.

After Earth: **/*****, or 3/10

M. Night Shyamalan's worst movie to date, but you can blame its failure on the Smith family, since this is another attempt of Will Smith's to launch his son into stardom. If the gods are just, it ought to backfire seriously. Set in a distant future 1,000 years after humanity has abandoned Earth for making it uninhabitable (as humanity is currently doing), it centers on a father, a battle hardened military officer called Cypher Raige, and his teenage son Kitai, desperately attempting to follow into his father's footsteps (as Jaden Smith is doing himself here, to no avail). Mankind has settled on a different planet where it got into a conflict with an alien race (briefly mentioned but otherwise not shown) who unleashed monsters called Ursa, blind predatory creatures that hunt via the detection of human fear. Cypher led the vanguard in defeating the creatures when he found a way to shut out all sense of fear and became the ultimate Ursa slayer. Unfortunately for his family, and the audience, he seems to have destroyed all other human emotions too, as this is without a doubt Smith's least compelling performance ever: all trace of the charismatic Smith of old has gone, leaving him a sour, dull character. Call him a poor man's Vulcan (he makes Zachary Quinto look like Kolinahr material!). You would feel sorry for Kitai, were it not that Jaden's acting is still humongously subpar as well, not likely to get better any time soon. En route for some good father/son bonding, the Raiges crashland on Earth, which is populated by strange creatures and plagued by harsh geological and climatological phenomena. As Cypher says, 'everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans'. It seems the people that made this movie don't understand just how evolution works and how long it takes. For one thing, if there have been no more humans around for a milennium, how come everything has evolved to kill them? It's just the first in a long line of plot holes that riddle this movie like Swiss cheese. The wounded Cypher – Will Smith spending the rest of the movie sitting down and looking gloomy – sends his frightened son out to retrieve a distress beacon from the ship's tail section, which crashed a 100 miles away. Fortunately for Kitai his father is able to watch and comment on his progress the entire time, so he can endlessly point out what he's doing wrong and what an idiot he is. If only Smith had told his son he can't act for shit before making this movie, it would have saved him a lot of money and spared us 100 minutes of audiovisual agony. Might be Smith had an ulterior motive in making this film though, since it seems laced with Scientology propaganda. Smith's rumoured interest in that cult seems confirmed throughout the movie when he gives long speeches on banning fear and keeping your emotions in check for your own mental and physical health, meant to inspire his whiny son but delivered while he's directly looking into the camera as if he's indoctrinating the spectator. It doesn't work though, since the viewer is too smart to take this bad film seriously, while his son has no time to take in all his lessons anyway as he's continously running for his life from digital giant baboons, digital giant eagles, digital giant cats and other terrors of poorly rendered digital environments until he reaches the tail section – which looks like a few pieces of plastic covered in toilet paper – where he comes to the conclusion there's an Ursa stalking him. Will Kitai defeat the monster, save himself and his father and become a true space ranger? Will his father actually care? Will we? To save you time and money you might otherwise have wasted on this so-called movie, here's the answers: yes, no, no. A predictably happy end cannot be avoided as father and son are reunited, but Cypher still doesn't look like a proud father, and the viewer is simply too concerned with locating the nearest exit to care. Despite the absence of the dreaded plot twist, poor Shyamalan's career seems ever less likely to recover. We can only hope our own future will look nothing like this. That said, I know what the future will hold for this movie: endless hating and being made fun of. But hey, Smith's Afterbirth makes it so easy...

vrijdag 12 juli 2013

Today's News: Mendes does Bond again

Here's a MovieScene quickie I did late last night:


Good news as far as I'[m concerned. Sam Mendes is a great director, Daniel Craig is a good Bond, John Logan is a solid writer (Star Trek: Nemesis not withstanding) and Skyfall kicked ass. So I'm all for it.

Off on vacation now. See you next week!

donderdag 11 juli 2013

Today's News: LXG getting the TV treatment

Here's another bit of news I posted on MovieScene:


A TV show based off a graphic novel series, what will Fox think of next?! Just as is the case with their rivalry with Marvel Studios, Fox continues to be one step behind the more innovative and imaginative production companies. After all, shows adapted from comics have already been pioneered by others, most notably The Walking Dead, with Marvel now following suit with their S.H.I.E.L.D. series due this fall. Oh well, if there's quality involved, I will not complain about Fox being late to the game. But will there be? After all, Fox has already adapted The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (commonly referred to in brief as LXG) before for the big screen, exactly ten years ago to this week. Apparently it didn't prove a very faithful adaptation. I honestly wouldn't know, since I have yet to read the original LXG by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (I can't read everything you know, and I'm currently still working my way, slowly but surely, through A Song of Ice and Fire). I must say, I enjoyed the movie for its fabulous look, its dynamic action scenes and its intriguing cast of characters, many of them played by notable character actors (Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Naseeruddin Shah, Jason Flemyng), but I agree a movie that changes the make-up of its story and characters and even adds one or two for its own purposes isn't very loyal to its source material. Hopefully Fox will do better in that regard this time around, though I fear that won't be the case, knowing it's penned and overseen by someone who wrote that hideous Green Lantern flick a few years back. It's not a good sign when a show based on a graphic novel is run by someone who hasn't shown to do justice to comic books when adapting them to an audiovisual medium before. However, let's not get too desperate before we know how the pilot has been received. That will still take a while, and in the meantime there's still plenty of good television, comic book based or not, to behold on the small screen. Too much good TV shows in fact these days, and only so little time! Can you blame me for not getting around to reading graphic novels anymore...?

woensdag 10 juli 2013

Today's Review: Do Not Disturb

Here's another review I wrote for MovieScene this week:


I wanted to like this movie, but it didn't make it easy for me to do so. It wasn't until the end that I found it to be truly deserving of the genre description 'comedy', by which time it was kinda too late anyway. A French remake of an American movie is also kinda odd: it's usually the other way. Currently, Intouchables and Das Leben der Anderen are undergoing such treatment, only because Americans can't be bothered to read subtitles. It seems the same is true for the French. Maybe the original movie, Humpday, simply didn't get a French dubbed release. It was a small indie movie after all, so it's not inconceivable. But this remake truly proves that "us" Europeans are no better than those Yanks when it comes to remaking movies for our own convenience. We'd do well to remember that every time we complain about the Americans running off with yet another one of "our" Euro-classics. And hey, sometimes those do work! Just look at Let Me In and The Girl with the Dargon Tattoo, good remakes both, though like any remake, not really needed in the overall scheme of things, especially if you're willing to sit through a language you're unfamiliar with. You could call Do Not Disturb a good remake, since it follows the original Humpday plot line so closely. However, in that case you ought to say Humpday just isn't a terrific movie...

dinsdag 9 juli 2013

Today's Review: Monsters University

Here's my latest review for MovieScene, of a certain recent Pixar movie no less:


The review basically says it all. If you're too lazy to go through 900 words, here's as good a summary as I can ever give you: Monsters University is a fun Pixar movie, but it's not a particularly good Pixar movie. Though the movie looks great and is filled with all kinds of likeable little details as well as good jokes for both adults and kids, the story leaves much to be desired, as it's filled with every kind of college cliché imaginable, simultaneously being all too predictable. It's not a sheer work of genius as Pixar used to deliver (the predecessor Monsters, Inc. among those), but it's just a damn entertaining piece of work regardless. I guess that's all we can hope for from Pixar from now on, now that Disney's dominion and its tight creative grip is choking the originality out of the animation studio, thus having ended its golden age. But hey, we'll always have Monsters, Inc.! And The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo. Plus Ratatouille. And let's not forget the Toy Story trilogy. Or Up, or Wall-E. There's a lasting legacy for ya. Too bad about all the upcoming sequels to those...

zondag 7 juli 2013

Jurassic Park Series 2: Tanystropheus

Year of release: 1993-1994

-Two pieces of capture gear
-Collector’s Card # 45

Description: this bizarre animal looks like a snake with four small legs, since it has a very long neck and tail sticking out of a relatively small body. When neck and tail are stretched to their fullest extent the Tanystropheus measures a good 30 centimetres in length. The creature stands in a walking posture, with its hind left leg and front right leg moved forward and the other legs posed back. Its mouth is opened, revealing two sets of grizzly fangs and rows of smaller white teeth as well as a big pink tongue. The body and legs are made out of hard plastic, while the tail and neck are composed of softer material to accommodate the figure's flexibility for its constricting action.
Tanystropheus features a two-colour paint job, with dark green paint covering most of the upper part of the animal (most notably on the upper part of the tail, back, neck, upper legs and upper part of the head) and a lighter shade of green dominating its underside. The further down you get the lighter this green gradually gets, until its almost beige in colour on its belly. The darker green also runs in seemingly random patterns over the figure's flanks and legs. Due to the different material, both shades of green are brighter on the beastie's body than on the neck and tail. The tiny claws of this figure are not painted. It has small black eyes, and a beige JP logo on its left hind leg, along with the number .13.
Tanystropheus comes with two pieces of capture gear, both coloured metallic grey. The smallest of the two is your average cuff like tag, which can be attached to various body parts, like the tail or any of the legs, but the neck seems most obvious. The other piece is substantially bigger and consists of a long piece of “wire” with a cuff at one end and another one in the middle, and a large muzzle on the other end. The muzzle fits over the creature’s head, while the two cuffs can be put around the midsection of the neck and tail respectively, provided the creature's neck and tail are bent in the right position.

Analysis: has anyone here ever heard of the Tanystropheus? Well, it seems some Kenner toy designers have, because they came up with this awesome figure, a bold and inventive move since it's likely most consumers would never have known about this animal. Still, Kenner released it (the same thing cannot be said for equally unknown creatures like Ornithosuchus and Scutosaurus which were sadly denied a release back in 1994), and thank heaven they did, because this is one of the most interesting and coolest figures of the Series 2 line. It has a good paint job, though with a little too much emphasis on green. Its head sculpt looks nasty, quite dragon like.
Tany's attack feature is his constricting action, found in its tail and neck. Both are fully poseable and can be wrapped around other figures' limbs or even bodies, as if the Tanystropheus is some kind of big anaconda snake suffocating its victims before devouring him. In this case the huge teeth are a bit out of place, since constricting snakes don't have such teeth, those would only get in the way; therefore it's also odd this animal is nicknamed 'Cobra', since Cobras don't constrict their prey, they use venom instead. But since Tanystropheus isn't a snake, the poetic license is justified, more so because Tany can also hold (limbs of) small figures, like hatchlings, with its teeth. Tany's action feature is basically an improvement over the constricting bodies of the JPS1 Coelophysis figures, whose bodies were much too small to be really wrapped around other figures, not to mention their fragility which made playing without damaging them a challenge. Tanystropheus' body is much bigger, and can take on larger prey, but is still vulnerable (though not as much as the Coelophysis figures). It's quite susceptible to paint wear because of the softer material the neck and tail are made of.
The capture gear is very unlikely, since it isn’t able to fully restrain the animal. Though it might keep the neck, tail and head in check, the Tanystropheus can make a run for it since its legs are still free for use. Some sort of limb restraints would have been necessary here. Also, the position of the tail when the capture gear is in use seems very awkward for the creature, and makes it look damn silly.

Playability: good enough. All four legs are poseable, though the creature looks best when they’re in their usual position. The mouth unfortunately can’t be closed. Both the tail and the neck are bendable, but it’s better to be careful when bending them, since they’re quite fragile. Especially on the tail's part it often occurs that the metal wire inside breaks through and sticks out. Also, the paint on the rubbery parts of this sculpt is very vulnerable to paint wear. The capture gear is okay, but it only adds to the possibility of paint wear if you attach it to the figure. If you want your Tany to stay in good condition, you better not play rough with it and you avoid using its capture gear on him. However, since the poseability of the neck and tail is this figure's main attack feature, paint wear is basically inevitable if you want to play with it at all.

Realism: this Tanystropheus figure is surprisingly accurate (though Tany wasn't seen in any of the JP movies). Compared to human figures it's about the right size, and its neck is as long as its body and tail combined, as was the case with the real life creature. The only thing that is way off is the head, mostly because of the huge fangs, a feature Tanystropheus did not have in reality (though it does make him look mean and butch in this case).

Repaint: no, this is a new figure. However, it would be repainted twice. First, it would become the Chaos Effect Tanaconda, and the second time it would be repainted for the first JP: Dinosaurs line. In both cases the figure would come with the same capture gear as this JPS2 Tany comes with, but repainted.

Overall rating: 8/10. A highly original choice, and an excellent figure, though with flawed capture gear and being somewhat prone to damage. It's not the most common JPS2 dinosaur, since it was only released in the USA and in extremely limited numbers in Europe. As such it can be hard to find, often with varying costs, but it's definitely worth your while.