maandag 30 december 2013

Today's Column: just a taste of what cinema employees have to suffer through while everybody else is having fun

 2013's final column on MovieScene is now a fact:

Words alone cannot adequately express the chaos the Holidays cause in movie theaters, but I decided to give it a try anyway. The picture you see in this column, which is not one I shot myself (no cosy blue chairs in my theater!), reveals only a tame glimpse of the mess we have to clean up in over fourty theater rooms each day, but the thought behind it should be clear: people are having a ball, and they care not what happens to their stuff when the lights go on again. Of course we know what we get ourselves into and this is our job so we ought not complain about it too much, but the levels of utter disregard in terms of cleaning up one's own garbage, the sheer disinterest in and disrepect for the theater employees and the total decadence the Christmas vacation inspires in popcorn sales remain ever staggering. Even though my company apparently has reached record levels of attendance (again!) last Friday, this year is no 2009-2010, when we had Avatar to survive. One thing is for sure: as popular as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug may be, it won't keep audiences coming for another three months on end like that movie did back then. Good thing too, since the last thing the global environment needs is another 'Afvaltar'...

Only had to clean up puke twice this week. That's good news, believe it or not. Now for the second week. If you think that one's easier, think again.
Oh well, wouldn't want to end the year on a note of despair, so here's a funny picture:

zondag 29 december 2013

Today's Mini-Review: Daybreakers

Rating: ****/*****, or 8/10

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill
Directed by Michael & Peter Spierig
USA: Lionsgate, 2009

You'd think that after 80 years of vampire movies there's little 'fresh blood' to be added to the genre, but Daybreakers proved such pessimist thinking wrong. Containing one of the most intriguing premises I've ever come across, this film puts a wholly different spin on the notion of the undead thriving on the blood of their human victims. In the not too distant future, a viral outbreak has turned most of the world population into vampires, while regular human beings have become quite the endangered species. Since the vamps need human blood to survive while they are as immortal as usual, blood shortages are increasingly threatening the societal status quo (which remains remarkably human in appearance). A hematologist (Ethan Hawke) works tirelessly on a synthetic blood substitute, experiments which continue to fail, partially because the CEO of the company that controls the 'real deal' (a deliciously sinister Sam Neill) is rather keen to keep making the big bucks off rich vampires that can afford genuine blood. Vampires or not, money is still the driving factor behind it all, to the detriment of civilization. The situation is getting ever more untenable as poorer vampires are so desperate they start feeding on each other or even on themselves, causing them to mutate into crazed bat people (a funny take on the ever present relationship between vampires and bats, which otherwise plays no significant part in this film); freaks that are brutally exterminated by the authorities. Hawke's sympathetic scientist, made vampire by his brother against his will, proves a guilt ridden person determined to change this upside down world for the better and sympathizes with what few humans remain free, continuously hunted by the vampire military as they are. After aiding a group of humans evade capture, he is contacted by an underground resistance movement, led by ex-vampire Willem Dafoe, that aims to develop a cure for vampirism, the only viable way for both humans and vampires to survive their impending doom. Hawke accepts their invitation and joins their cause, which soon pits him and the rebels against Neill's profit driven tyranny.

Daybreakers' strongest moments are found in its first half, as we explore a world where vampirism is the normal state of being and society has evolved to accomodate it. Since the vampires of Daybreakers adhere to many of the archetypal characteristics of the genre, they also cannot abide ultraviolet light, and therefore “life” takes place at night, so commonplace items like houses and cars are designed to protect against sunlight. In other regards, this world differs little from our own, as the vamps work in order to pay their bills, buy their blood and live their immortal life. The disturbing imagery of humans forcefully strapped to transfusion tubes and slowly drained of their life essence in huge factory like environments successfully evokes comparisons to how we ourselves as a species treat animals in the bio-industry for our own basic needs without allowing them any shred of dignity and natural behavior. The vampire world is living in its 11th hour, close to self-annihilation caused by plain and simple greed of those in power who prove unwilling to change for the common good, in some regards echoing our own inability to alter our ways for the better in fear of loosing what we gained. In the second half of the movie, Daybreakers sheds such symbolism and largely replaces the exposition of its fascinating dystopia in favor of more trite and true action scenes and an overabundance of traditional gore (it's still a horror film, you know!), including some almost orgiastic blood baths of famished vampires feeding. Whether society is ultimately changed for the better is left somewhat ambiguous, as the movie underscores the notion that vampires, for all their superior physical strength, are still always all too human in their limited line of thinking. Though it's a pity the movie doesn't end as strongly as it started, it doesn't undermine Daybreakers' position as one of the more ingenious vampire films to date, a far cry from the currently popular image of these undead as sexy hunks to appeal to teenage audiences.

zaterdag 28 december 2013

Today's Top-10: Dinosaur Movies

Wrote another Top-10 list (sort of) for MovieScene:

I started this one as an intended 'companion piece' to my review for WWD 3D, before I had the actual displeasure of suffering that abysmal flick. Nevertheless, it now serves as a reminder to those who contemplate visiting that film in theaters, as well as to those that already have wasted 87 minutes of thier lives watching it, that there's plenty of good dinosaur movies in existence too. Why torture yourself with bland talking dinosaurs on the big screen if you can re-experience true tearjerking emotion in an all too similar plot at home with The Land Before Time? Why bother with talking dinosaurs at all, instead of seeing them fight cavemen and scantily clad ladies in Harryhausen's classic One Million Years B.C.? Or why not enjoy a movie that takes dinosaurs seriously while still delivering a solid suspenseful cinematic performance in that greatest of all dinosaur movies, Jurassic Park? Walking with Dinosaurs 3D may have been a true dud, but dinosaurs have survived bigger extinction events and will also recuperate from this severe blow to their image. And we still have Jurassic World to look forward to.

Incidentally, there was some editorial controversy about this particular Top-10 list of mine, as it didn't wholly fit the parameters. A true 'Top' list would rank these films from worst (10) to best (1) instead of in chronological order as I have done here, in an attempt to illustrate the evolution of the views of dinosaurs in cinema, as well as the techniques necessary to bring them to new life. It would have been jarring to read these ten expositionary pieces in another order, so I decided against that. Also, I think there's something inherently arrogant and egocentric about Top-10, since everybody is bound to have another opinion as to which one is best and which one is worst. So on MS, this article isn't called a 'Top-10', but a 'historical group of ten': who knows, it might inspire similar pieces from mine own hand or those of my fellow writers on the site and start a new category of article. Or it might prove to be soon an extinct form of arranging ten movies, because it was solely done for my personal convenience.

donderdag 26 december 2013

Today's not-so-mini-review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: ****/*****, or 8/10

The middle part of a trilogy is always said to be the hardest part to finish successfully to everybody's approval and acclaim, since it it cursed with the absence of both beginning and end, while it must feel like a coherent piece on its own. In the case of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, this adage is once again proven fact. Whereas The Two Towers established itself as a perfect bridge between both other Lord of the Rings movies while remaining equally convincing and enjoyable on its own merits, the same cannot wholly be said of The Desolation of Smaug. Though a thrill ride of a movie, in many ways it feels simply too much like a set-up for a conclusion, ending in a frustratingly grave cliffhanger which leaves every story line unresolved. At the same time, its tone and style are much darker and more serious than its predecessor's, the wonderfully lighter themed An Unexpected Journey. And I'm positive the Tolkien fanatics amongst the audience have a thing or two to comment about the loose manner in which Jackson and his co-writers have adapted both the Hobbit novel proper and material from Tolkiens' various other works for their own narrative advantage, since, especially in the second half of this film, many creative licenses have been permitted, some of them dubious to say the least. The first half of The Desolation of Smaug however follows the novel more closely, admittingly racing through the original source material with more speed than feels appropriate or desirable.

Picking up where the previous movie left us, we find 'the Hobbit' Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield's (a brooding, increasingly torn Richard Armitage) company of Dwarves still on the run from Azog the Defiler's murderous band of Orcs-on-Wargs. Fortunately, shelter is found at the house of Beorn, an enigmatic, hairy giant of a man, who is said to be a skinchanger specializing in bears. Little is done with both this notion and this persona as he insists the band moves on swiftly, allowing the intriguing character only a mere few minutes of screen time (undoubtedly more to follow in the third installment). Soon after the sickly forest of Mirkwood is crossed, giant spiders (creepy ones too!) are combatted and angry Elves are confronted, the latter scene re-introducing another LotR character not present in the novel but added for the sake of convenience and pleasing the (female) audience, in this case Orlando Bloom's Legolas. Still an angry Elf skilled with a bow and looking gorgeous, Bloom's look and traits remain the same as his lack of notable acting skills when first we met his character. Nevertheless, his personality is fleshed out in regards to his forest home (another impressive design feat) and his fellow Elves, including his stern father Thranduil (Lee Pace overacting a bit) and his socially adventurous female captain-of-guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a character as completely made up for this film as her soon developing romantic interspecies relation with Kili (Aidan Turner), echoing the Arwen/Aragorn affair of the former trilogy, no doubt convincing certain demographics to stay tuned to see where this is going exactly. Not very hospitable, Bilbo is forced to save his friends from the Elves' jail, unleashing a memorable escape scene via barrel and river, with foes on all sides as the Orcs return to plague both Elf and Dwarf, effectively giving Bombur a chance to prove you shouldn't mock comic relief centered around fat people, which also provides us with one of the few grand moments of comedy (Jackson style) this film features, as it is a grittier movie as a whole. Said chase leads to the company meeting Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) of Laketown, a reluctant smuggler and rebel against his city's corrupt regime under the command of the ragged Master (Stephen Fry!). Now also getting mixed up in the politics of Men – and already intertwined in the affairs of several clans of Elves, Orcs, Goblins, Eagles, skinchangers, Wizards and other Dwarves, for those keeping track – matters are complicated even further for Thorin and his companions, making the story both more substantial and increasingly convoluted. Basically it comes down to this: everyone wants dragon gold, but all fear dragon fire. Someone has to start the ball rolling, and of course that sorry job falls to the titular Hobbit. 


And where is Gandalf (the great Sir Ian McKellen), you may wonder? He leaves Bilbo and the Dwarves at the start of the movie, setting on his own adventure in search of the identity of the rumoured Necromancer. As was the case with The Two Towers, The Desolation of Smaug incorporates multiple story lines that won't come full circle until the final film. Gandalf and Radagast travel to the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur in search of much needed answers, a quest which feels like getting in the way of the main plot more than is comfortable, but which still follows the novel, except this time also showing Gandalf's voyage, which was only briefly mentioned in the literate version of the story. Gandalf's journey proves a narrative element which will greatly enhance the feeling of cohesion between both Tolkien trilogies, but forms an uncomfortable plot obstacle in this movie, only enlarging the bleakness of the overall film and adding more characters and plot to the piece, which was already bursting in that regard.

Simply said, a lot is going on in The Desolation of Smaug, as many characters and their various motivations are introduced into the story, while those of others from An Unexpected Journey are pushed to the back a little (no White Council politics in this one, but undoubtedly more to follow in the third installment). Naturally, not everything is given equal opportunity to shine and we would liked to have seen more of many elements, getting to know these characters a little better, which we will next year. Until that time we have to make do with the set-up for said scenes to follow, while an extended cut of this second part is indubitably also to be expected (and definitely called for!), considering we are treated to the bare necessities of all these characters without delving too deeply in their motivations and aspirations, often making us wonder whether additional material was cut to keep up with the fast pace of this film, which still runs a whopping 161 minutes. However, desolation is far from our mind when we finally encounter the big lizard himself, the dragon mentioned on countless occasions so far, even in Jackson's previous trilogy. It cannot be denied Smaug is an astonishing creation, an erudite, intelligent and charming, but naturally ruthless and temperamental dragon of fabulous size and strength, everything we expected him to be if not more so. Credit has to be given to both Benedict Cumberbatch's vocal and mo-cap performance and the Weta design team reponsible for bringing the mighty beast to life so utterly compellingly, resulting in one of the most fantastic and impressive computer generated characters in the history of film. A good thing too, since the reliance on computers over more traditional FX methods is overtly evident in this film's case, giving many scenes a bit too much of a green-screen vibe. Like his golden hoard similarly is the focal point of the entire story, the dragon is the big pay-off for the audience, and Jackson and co. triumph in this department, also succeeding in forging a cliffhanger that is sure to vex spectators to such extent they will return next year in even more record-breaking numbers. In the dragon's case, this may give cause to disappointment though, as those who have read the book will soon come to realize as they remember Smaug's ultimate fate. Fortunately that portion of the audience still has the conclusion of the Kili/Tauriel relationship to look forward to and guess over all year long. Yes, that is a bit of sarcasm there.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a flawed middle part of what may still end up to be another masterpiece trilogy. While there's many a plot element that leaves much to be desired, in terms of good fun, spectacular vistas, grandiose action scenes and fabulous dragons it still proves a great blockbuster movie which leaves us craving more. Unfortunately not holding up on its own so solidly as An Unexpected Journey, it may prove to be a fine piece of work when the trilogy is completed as a whole and everything that is set up in this film is resolved to our satisfaction in the upcoming There and Back Again. One cannot help but keep wondering whether splitting up The Hobbit in three pieces as opposed to two was a good idea. Forging the last two films into one may have resulted in a more agreeable second movie, albeit a very, very long one.

dinsdag 24 december 2013

The Lost World Series 2: Ornithosuchus

Year of release: 1997-1998

-Two pieces of capture gear
-Dino damage tail section

Description: this bizarre slender reptilian creature assumes a walking posture, with its left leg and right arm positioned in a backward move and its right leg and left arm moved forward. This critter sports a greyish blue paint job for the most part: this colour is located on the animal’s back, flanks, tail, neck, limbs and head. The underside of the figure (its belly, lower part of the tail, part of the lower jaw and throat) are coloured beige. A large number of greenish blue stripes run over its back, tail, neck and head, supplying the overall creature with a bit of an aquatic look. Its big mouth sports a red tongue and white teeth, including a total of six large teeth, almost fangs; two of these stick out of the upper jaw, four out of the front of the lower jaw. The Ornithosuchus has small bright green eyes, and carries a beige JP: Site B logo with the number .35 next to it on its right upper leg. The creature’s claws are not painted in a colour different from the greyish blue.
The Ornithosuchus is equipped with a thrashing action: moving the right leg forth makes the head spin round to the left. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws. Ornithosuchus also comes with dino damage: it features a removable tail section, revealing blood tissue and a white pin (resembling a bone) sticking out on which the tail can be pinned back.
The figure also comes with two pieces of capture gear, a small chain to restrain the limbs (though only two of them at the same time, not all four), as well as a large muzzle to keep the creature from biting. It doesn’t stop the Ornitho from thrashing its head though. Both pieces sport a shiny metallic brown paint job.

Analysis: Kenner once again in a bold move decided to add an almost totally unknown non-Saurian prehistoric creature to their list of JP figures, though it took some time before it finally got a release (see ‘repaint’ section of this review). This particular sculpt turned out quite well and is much appreciated by most collectors for being both original and plain cool.
The Ornithosuchus sports a fine paint job, though a bit monotonous: the greyish blue is somewhat overused, but not in such a way that it’s gotten ugly or boring. However, it’s unfortunate the claws aren’t painted.
The creature comes with a thrashing action, which makes it capable of moving its head around. On its own this looks a bit odd, but in combination with other figures it gets a lot more impressive and vicious: imagine a helpless hatchling trapped between those strong jaws and being violently thrashed about the place. Or how about a human figure’s leg? This feature makes Ornithosuchus a foe not to be underestimated when encountered in the wild. The card mentions snapping jaws, however this is saying a bit too much: the jaws only snap when you pull them down and let them go, not on their own accord or in combination with the thrashing action unfortunately. Still, it doesn’t totally keep the fun out of this figure’s action features.
Another option this monster sports is some good old dino damage. Usually dino damage is applied to larger figures, so it’s interesting to see it on a smaller figure like this. The damage is quite severe though: the last seven centimetres of the tail (about three quarters of the entire tail) can be pulled off, as if torn off by some ferocious bigger predator, or maybe a rival of Ornitho’s own species. Of course the designers weren’t afraid to show some blood and bone (sort of), making it look like a nasty wound from which the poor creature might not recover. Unless it’s like a lizard, capable of regrowing its tail.
The capture gear is fun, but doesn’t add all that much. Unlike most other smaller dinosaur figures, this particular sculpt doesn’t feature a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraints action. 

Playability: high enough, Ornithosuchus has a full range of poseable body parts, namely limbs, head and lower jaw. The breakaway tail also adds to playability options, as does the capture gear. The thrashing action is quite neat, but hampers poseability of the right hind leg and the head somewhat. Also, the figure has some problems standing up straight because of the leg supporting the attack action.

Realism: Ornithosuchus has not been featured in the TLW movie nor any of the other JP films. It is purely a creative creature on the toy designers’ part, to add some creativity to the toy line, something much applauded by the majority of JP toy fans.
From a palaeontological perspective, the design of this figure isn’t too far off from the real thing. The overall size compared to the human figures, as well as the body shape are about right, including the front limbs which can be used as hands and feet, making it both a bipedal carnivore and a quadruped. Though the head sculpt resembles Ornitho’s real head, the large teeth make it somewhat inaccurate. For your information, Ornithosuchus was not a dinosaur itself but actually a primitive crocodilian, yet still a relative of the dinosaurs.

Repaint: yes. This figure is a repaint of the JPS2 Ornithosuchus, which sadly never saw a release. Fortunately Kenner decided to release it for this TLW line after all, like they did with the Bull T-Rex, also originally a JPS2 figure. Repainted along with it is the capture gear which came with the JPS2 Ornitho. Both the animal and the restraints were repainted for the first JP Dinosaurs toy line. Apart from that, the capture gear was also featured in other repainted sets, including the JPD1 Dimetrodon and Electronic Dilophosaurus, as well as the exclusive JP III Dino Tracker Set. A second JPD1 repaint along with a human figure, the Ornithosuchus with Dino Trapper set, was planned to be released but was scrapped eventually. Lastly, it was also planned to be repainted for the JP Chaos Effect: Night Hunter Series line, but that entire line was scrapped.

Overall rating: 9/10. This figure is highly original, has a fun action feature and a solid paint job. It may have a minor flaw or two but it’s one of the more interesting TLW figures released and definitely worth your attention. It borders on being rare though and can be hard to find as well as relatively expensive, so be warned.

The Lost World Series 2: Baryonyx

Year of release: 1997-1998

-Two pieces of capture gear

Description: this smaller dinosaur figure sports a lighter, earthy paint job, with predominant brown and yellow tones. A light brown colouring is found on its back, flanks, neck, head, upper part of the tail and the very upper part of the limbs. This brown gradually shifts to yellow, which is located on the underside of the creature (belly, throat, lower jaw, lower part of the tail) for the most part, as well as on the rest of the limbs. The figure carries black spots all over its back, neck and upper tail, and features what appears to be a small black horn on its snout, as well as black spots around his green eyes. The claws on both arms and legs are also black, and a black JP: Site B logo is seen on the right upper leg.
The Baryonyx assumes a walking posture, with its left leg moved forward and its right leg backward. Its tail is bent towards its right leg, so this figure fits on its card. The figure is equipped with a whipping action: pulling the right leg back and forth makes the head spin around, as if the creature is thrashing its head. This also accommodates a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraint-gear action: when the capture gear is on, the Baryonyx can break free by thrashing its head. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws, though the mouth can’t open really wide so most figures won’t fit.
This Bary comes with two pieces of capture gear, which form a sort of harness around the creature’s upper body and restrain its arms and head. However, it wouldn’t stop the creature from running away. Both pieces are painted in a metallic dark grey colour.

Analysis: this figure provides for a totally different take on the Baryonyx, a popular creature among dinosaur aficionados. The JPS2 Bary featured a totally different look: it was somewhat bigger and walked more upright. There are similarities though: both figures have a long snout for catching fish and a large claw on each hand. Both figures are bipedal with their tail towards the ground in a sort of tripod position with the legs, and they both have a tendency to fall down because the front part of the body is heavier than the back. And unfortunately neither of them are very successful figures.
The main concern with this particular Bary is the attack action. It’s virtually identical to the action the Ornithosuchus from this same TLWS2 toy line features, and since these two creatures are the only new dinosaur figures of this line (excluding the hatchlings that is), this attack action lacks originality (I blame the Bary for this because Ornitho was planned to be released in the JPS2 toy line but never made it to stores until the TLWS2 line was released, making Ornitho the more original figure of the two). Baryonyx can thrash its head around by pulling on its right leg. It looked cool on the Ornithosuchus, since it had large jaws capable of gripping other figures, but it doesn’t work on this Bary because its mouth is too small to grab most figures. Basically, Bary looks silly when whipping its head. And like with the Ornithosuchus, it doesn’t snap its jaws on its own, you have to do it by hand, so there’s no improvement of this action feature either.
However, unlike the Ornithosuchus, the thrashing action combined with the capture gear does provide for a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraint-gear action option. It actually works quite well, and redeems the otherwise lousy whipping head feature to some extent. It’s a shame the figure doesn’t come with capture gear to restrain its legs though, seems a bit illogical.
This Baryonyx sculpt also isn’t a great design. It’s head sculpt is pretty ugly, and it often falls down because it’s too heavy on the front and its legs are positioned at the end of the body. Also, the tail gets in the way of activating the action feature because it’s bend in such a way the figure can fit on its card, which otherwise wouldn’t be the case. It would have been preferable if the attack action could be activated by moving the other leg instead. The paint job of this Baryonyx is decent enough, though the yellow is a bit ugly and could have used more detailing. And the dark-spots-on-creature’s-back pattern has been done before (and would be done again). So overall, this creature could have used a more appealing design.

Playability: relatively high. This dinosaur features a total of six poseable body parts, namely the arms, legs, head and lower jaw. However, the right leg and the head support the snapping action and swing right back when moved, as does the jaw. This diminishes playability options somewhat. The two pieces of capture gear add something however, especially since they can also be used in a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraints action. The tail can get in the way at times, since it’s bent in such a way to accommodate the way this figure is packaged. However, with loose Baryonyxes the tail usually bends back over time.

Realism: this figure is certainly reminiscent of a real life Baryonyx (or at least the way palaeontologists think it looked like), due to its crocodilian head sculpt and a single large claw on each hand. It’s not totally realistic though: the claws on the hands are a bit small, the animal itself is quite skinny and it’s unlikely this particular Bary could walk on all fours, like most scientists believe Baryonyx was capable of. Also, the head sculpt isn’t totally accurate, and compared to human figures this Bary is on the small side (Bary’s could grow twice as big).
Baryonyx has not been featured in any of the JP movies, TLW or otherwise. It has been rumoured Baryonyx originally was going to get a role in JP III, but the producers opted for Spinosaurus instead.

Repaint: no. However, this figure would be repainted twice for the first JP Dinosaurs line, once on its own, and again in a 2-pack with a human figure (Baryonyx with Dinosaur Tracker). In both cases it would come with the same capture gear as this figure, though repainted. It was also planned to be repainted for the JP Chaos Effect: Night Hunter Series line, but that entire line was scrapped.

Overall rating: 5/10. It’s not the best TLW figure, sporting a bit of a lousy paint job and unoriginal action feature. It has some positive aspects, but is overall disappointing. Unfortunately, it’s also relatively rare and usually fetches higher prices. If you don’t care much for it, don’t bother.

maandag 23 december 2013

Today's Mini(?)-Review: Frozen

Frozen: ****/*****, or 8/10

Say what you will about conservative Disney, there is some form of modernization in progress in that studio. You might even label it a feminist wave of sorts. Frozen marks Disney's first feature length animated film (co-)directed by a woman and only the second whose screenplay was written by such a creature. Not counting Pixar, since then it would have to contend with Brave, a movie where the girl power backfired, as did the quality of the piece as a whole. And while Frozen largely stays within the trite-and-true boundaries we've come to expect from Disney's fairy tale movies, including princesses, charming princes, faraway lands, comedic (animal) sidekicks and plenty of catchy songs, enough of such regularly exploited material is directionally changed to make the film feel as fresh and cool as the imagery the title inspires. Jennifer Lee's directorial debut introduces not one, but two beautiful young princesses, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), heirs to the kingdom of Arendelle. Both are kind, independent and energetic spirits, but the older girl carries a terrible secret: she's basically a mutant with the power to control ice and snow, except she doesn't control it at all, since her fear to wield it controls her instead. She has cause to be afraid of her powers, as she nearly killed Anna at play as a child. Her parents tried to keep her out of harm's way by largely keeping her confined to her chambers, much to the dismay of her sister, who had her injury and memory of the incident erased by a nice wizard troll (this is a work of fantasy, need I say more?). After the death of their parents and the coming-of-age of the elder sister, a coronation takes place where Elsa is crowned queen and where Anna – hilariously – meets her apparent groom-to-be, the latter event uterly disrupting the former as Elsa unwittingly gets pushed so far she sparks an endless winter that covers the entire kingdom in frost. Fleeing the palace to built her own on a high mountain precipice where she finally starts to accept her powers in her moments of isolation, Anna is determined to bring back her sister and get her to undo her unintentional damage to the realm, which leaves her land vulnerable to the shady ambition of certain visiting foreign dignitaries. Accompanied by a simple but reliable young backwoods man named Kristoff, his carrot obsessed reindeer Sven and a wacky living snowman named Olaf, Anna sets out on a tough voyage to reunite with her wayward sister and bring summer back to Arendelle. And, in typical Disney fashion, to discover True Love in the process. But not in the usual sense of old.

Frozen proves a worthy successor to the similarly themed, equally wonderful Tangled (2010), which also re-established Disney's formidable talent to craft charming, adventurous and romantic fantasy films for all ages after over a decade of creative drought, as well as updating its female characters to the 21st century, a time in which the main focus of a woman is no longer a man to marry (but also not excluding the possibility as not to upset the traditionalists in the audience). Frozen introduces two solid female characters who care first and foremost about eachother, though one of them does not allow herself to show said fact. Both women are sizzling with recognizable character flaws and strengths, familiar emotional family conflict and the talent to burst into song, so despite their ultimately antagonistic nature (though the traditional 'good versus bad' set-up is carefully avoided in their strained relationship), you root for them and their sibling affection both to survive against all odds. Simultaneously, while the sterotypical good looking prince to wed is not an image to be discarded, it develops into quite another direction than is usual, and the expected notion of cheesy True Love messages doesn't end up covering the usual sexual connection between boy and girl. The voice cast delivers impeccable acting and shares an audible chemistry, standout performances including a hilarious Scandinavian tradesman (jå!) and Olaf, the token sidekick, who is not nearly as irritating as he could have been and actually warms everybody's heart with his simple but unattainable desire. Similarly enjoyable are the clan of stone trolls, Kristoff's surrogate family, a group of Smurfesque creatures with the ability to succesfully camouflage themselves as rocks, and who unfortunately don't nearly have as much screen time or background exploration as we would have liked. And if you're afraid the reindeer talks (since animals with the ability to speak are an oft dreaded Disney staple still), fear not: his master does so for him to witty, almost self-reflective results. The songs are a welcome return to tradition; though for a moment at the start of the film they seem to comprise most of the dialogue, better balance to the music is applied later on. Apart from pleasing the aural senses, Frozen offers a delightful visual feast as well with its wondrous winter landscapes and ever present snow motifs, but considering the darkness of many scenes coupled with the obligatory 3D effect, not all the imagery ends up looking as amazing as it could have been. However, many of the 3D shots in the lighter scenes hit their mark, especially those involving snow and icicles, so seeing the 2D version instead isn't wholly recommended either.

In a time where Pixar is increasingly going down the drain creatively because of its lack of inspiration and its current focus on prequels and sequels, a thoroughly wonderful and ideologically original pure Disney film like Frozen is a welcome sight. Even the coolest minds and the coldest hearts will find it hard not to melt due to this film's built-in warmth, and with the dominant motif of snow and ice, Frozen proves to be a perfect Holiday movie for old and young alike.

zondag 22 december 2013

Today's News: Paquin gone rogue

A little flash of news from mine own hand today:

I'm not surprised at this occurrence: considering the vast number of returning characters, not to mention a bunch of new ones, there were bound to be a few left in the cold. Apparently Rogue was only in this one single action scene, so it appears there was little substance to her character anyway. If it helps the pace and flow of the movie, sacrifices have to be made. 'Kill your darlings' is a well established editorial practice, and many a film has fallen prey to scenes featuring fan favorites being chopped out. Compare The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for example, where everyone's preferred evil wizard Saruman was excised, despite being played by the formidable Christopher Lee (blasphemy says I!). At least that movie had an extended cut upcoming, which I doubt will be the case for Days of Future Past. At least Bryan Singer assures us we'll see the scene on the home cinema release regardless, albeit not reintegrated in the movie proper. It is always a hard thing for actors to swallow when they hear they haven't made it into the final film - the Saruman incident for instance resulted in a brief falling-out between Lee and Peter Jackson - but apparently Paquin is enough of a professional to be cool with it, even though it means she did the whole Comic-Con press thing last summer for nothing. That is, Singer tells us she agrees with the decision: we have not had confirmation of her own opinion yet, so maybe it's just a marketing tactic to assure us that despite the change everything has been resolved amicably. Something which I am inclined to believe, considering the director and actress have worked before twice, so they're probably dear friends as these things go. And as for the fanboys, get over it: there's still plenty of mutants around in Days of Future Past to make for an X-travaganza like nothing seen before. Unless Singer goes all Sentinel and terminates a few more to make the movie run more smoothly. It's Marvel, anything can happen.

zaterdag 21 december 2013

Today's Double News: to tease or not to tease

Trailer season continues, as indicated by these two news flashes I posted on MS the other day:

These two short previews differ enormously in their approach to entice their respective audiences, as illustrated by what they show, or rather, don't show. The vid for The Expendables 3 is as clearly a teaser if ever I saw one, making no use of actual material of the movie proper and telling us nothing about the film's plot. It's sole purpose is to reveal to the public that the movie for which it teases is currently underway, for those who were not aware from online or magazine sources. By now the 'Expendables' brand is itself a perfect indicator for what's in store and the main question on everyone's mind - at least, everyone that is interested in this project - is not so much what to expect but more so who to expect. The teaser acts on this anticipation by bombarding the spectator with names (last names only, since otherwise it would get a little too cramped on the screen): this information will have to suffice for now. In fact, the names are of greater importance than the men visually assembled for our entertainment, since even on the big screen it's hard to recognize them all in a window of only a few seconds. Personally I think the teaser would have benefited from the first names too, to avoid confusion as to which actor will participate in cases where that could be in doubt. For instance, the 'Gibson' here is Mel, not Tyrese. Of course Mel is more wellknown anyway, but Tyrese too has compiled a big enough resumé in action movies over recent years to warrant a place in a movie of this type (maybe for a third sequel then). Rest assured: 'Powell' is not Colin, it's Glen (whom I have never heard of before). Overall, an effective teaser with a cast of names to match. I'm looking forward to the appearance of Ford and Grammer too.

Now, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is another animal entirely. In fact, I daresay it shows too much, instead of the opposite like The Expendables 3 does. Not surprising we get to see more of the story and characters in this preview, considering this film has already passed the teaser stage (and tease it did) and the current Holiday season is perfect for getting people enthusiastic about family films due for release in the next six months. But after seeing this trailer I get the feeling there's little more to the story that what is presented here. I for one would have saved the identity of the mysterious female dragon rider, as well as half of the grandiose dragon shots, for the movie itself rather than taking away such surprises. But then, I haven't even seen the first HtTYD, so what the heck do I know... That said, this preview will certainly succeed adequately in piqueing the target audience's interests, especially since in this franchise's case too popularity has already been established. I hear the first film was quite good, even though the trailers failed to excite me. Maybe the same thing will happen here, since I'm not convinced yet, despite getting the feeling I already know what the movie is about. When a trailer gives you that feeling, you know it hasn't done its job properly, but since this film is geared mostly towards kids, that's not a total loss.

donderdag 19 december 2013

Today's Review: Walking with Dinosaurs 3D

Oh my! Look what movie I rated 2 out of 5 (or 4 out of 10) stars on MovieScene:

I really wanted to like this movie more than I could (since it's a dinosaur movie!), but it made it impossible to do so because it was so hugely disappointing. However, I was emotionally prepared for the disappointment by increasingly disturbing trailers and related marketing material that indicated the renowned BBC dinosaur documentary suffered from severe dumbing down under the shameless supervision of  the conservative 20th Century-Fox studio (do execs there even believe dinosaurs once existed for real, instead of only in the easily exploitable minds of innocent children?). So I knew the end result would not be to my liking, and it sadly proved to be true. This movie was just nothing like the original WWD series and everything like Disney's Dinosaur (but worse). Interestingly enough, it's the second 3D movie I reviewed this week that consists of a poor mix of drama and documentary, both featuring animals and using spectactular nature photography (WWD at least has made good use of fabulous landscapes, I'll grant them that). At least Amazonia didn't overly anthropomorphize its non-human protagonists, though in that film's case the addition of a narrative was also used to attract a younger audience.

So that's one new dinosaur film down the drain. I have better hope for Pixar's The Good Dinosaur and Jurassic World, but this certainly does not bode well for a dinosaur popularity revival. Says the guy who bought most of the new WWD action figures regardless. Hey, at least those don't talk, they roar, as dinosaurs ought to.

woensdag 18 december 2013

Today's Review: Amazonia 3D

Wrote another review for MovieScene a while back, it finally got published today:

A mixed bag, this film. The storialized aspect shouldn't be the main draw, that would be the spectacular wildlife photography, as is usual for documentaries. This movie isn't 100% documentary stuff though, which is probably a mistake, since the natural imagery would have been enough to make it worthwhile (both regular and in 3D), yet now you have a plot of sorts getting in the way of that to appeal to a younger audience. That said, I'm glad this movie didn't try to evade the issue at hand, namely the destruction of the rain forest and the loss of all its beauty (and dangers) for human short term greed. It takes a while for that issue to be addressed and the focus on that topic is rather brief but thoroughly effective, as the grim look of a demolished jungle is shocking for all ages, and hopefully succeeds in convincing all ages of the necessity of ending deforestation. Good message, but not perfect execution.

maandag 16 december 2013

The Lost World Series 2: Ajay

Year of release: 1997-1998

-Heavy Strike Weapons Pack, including detachable missile launcher and two missiles
-Parasaurolophus hatchling

Description: Ajay stands in a largely neutral pose, except for his right leg which is moved slightly forwards. He sports an almost military outfit, namely a light grey shirt with a black vest and dark grey straps over it, brown gloves, grey pants with light grey stripes in an asymmetrical pattern suggesting camouflage on them, and black boots. He also has a pair of black sunglasses on. He has absolutely no facial expression, a bald forehead, and black hair on the back of his head. He’s got some detailing on his pants, though it’s hardly noticeable because it’s coloured in the same grey as the pants themselves: on his left leg he’s got one pocket, while on his right leg he has a knife as well as some damage to his pants, indicating he’s had a near miss with some ferocious vermin.
Ajay comes with some impressive looking weaponry. First, he owns a small gun (I’m no expert on guns so don’t ask me what type of gun it is), coloured grey. It doesn’t do anything, it’s just an additional gadget. Second, he sports a large backpack, labelled a Heavy Strike Weapons Pack (I’ll abbreviate it to HSWP). It’s basically a pack carrying a missile launcher, enabling the user to keep his hands free to carry other stuff. The HSWP, sporting an entirely black paint job, looks pretty sophisticated and detailed, but works fairly simple. It can be pinned to Ajay’s back (he’s got a hole there for this purpose). The rocket launcher can move up and down, in about a 100 degree angle: it can also be detached to be used separately from the pack. The launcher comes with two different grey missiles (same colour as the gun), and can hold one of them at a time. The other can be stored in a hole in the pack when it’s not used: the hole also fits both missiles simultaneously. By pressing the button on top of the pack a missile is launched with a decent enough force, over a distance of about half a metre. Interesting little detail, the gun can be pinned on a pin on the right end of the launcher.
Ajay’s reptilian companion is a Parasaurolophus hatchling, according to the package. However, it misses Parasaurolophus’ most recognizable attribute: the horn on his head. Instead, this creature sports a crest. This hatchling stands in an active pose, looking over its shoulder and its left arm raised, while in a walking posture. It is painted beige for the most part, and sports a large yellow stripe all the way from the snout to the end of the tail, also running over the top of the crest. The sides of the crest are coloured bright red. The dinosaur has small black eyes, as well as a black JP: Site B logo on its left upper leg.

Analysis: though this is quite a fun figure, it’s a bit over the top. Ajay himself looks almost nothing like the Ajay seen in the movie, except for the head sculpt. He’s way more muscular and looks more like a special forces commando than a game scout. However, if you leave realism aside this is a pretty butch figure with a good paint job, though it’s a shame the knife and damage to his pants aren’t painted in a different colour. He would have looked more badass with skin or blood underneath the torn parts of his trousers.
His accessories establish him to be a character not to be messed with. His gun, though pretty monochromatic and lacking some detail, makes him look dangerous. The same goes for the HSWP, though this too looks a bit unrealistic, but it works fine. It can be pinned to Ajay’s back easily and fights tightly so it doesn’t fall off (unlike with Nick van Owen’s Catcher Pack for example). The launcher can be posed in various angles and can even be detached from the pack, increasing flexibility and playability of the pack. The missile firing mechanism works perfectly, though the impact force isn’t too great. It’s sure to knock over hatchlings like the Para, but has a harder time doing damage to bigger targets. The storage hole on the back of the pack is a handy detail, though when there’s only one missile in there, it hangs a bit loose. It’s a nice little detail to see the gun can be attached to the pack as well, though it doesn’t really seem to have a purpose.
The hatchling is the only real disappointment of this set. It sports a boring paint job and stands in an awkward pose. Also, it doesn’t look like a Parasaurolophus at all, but rather a different species of Hadrosaur. It also has trouble standing on its feet.

Playability: good for the most part. Ajay has no action features himself, like his fellow Evil Hunters Peter Ludlow and Dieter Stark, but has the usual range of poseable body parts. The HSWP provides for the action of this set. The storage for the missiles and the capability of detachment of the launcher make for greater playability. The launcher itself works fine as well. Like other hatchlings, the Parasaurolophus has no poseable body parts, while its annoying stance further diminishes playability options.

Realism: not much. Ajay (his last name being Sidhu by the way, though the card doesn’t mention this) looks very different from the Ajay character in the movie (played by Harvey Jason), both in body shape and choice of clothing. The head sculpt resembles the movie character somewhat, though in the film he wore regular glasses, not sunglasses. Additionally, he didn’t sport a gun like this, nor a HSWP or any other missile launchers (which weren’t featured in the TLW movie anyway).
Like stated above, the Parasaurolophus doesn’t resemble a real Para or its movie counterpart much. Though the body isn’t far off, and even the paint job is somewhat reminiscent of the paint job of the Para seen in the movie and the TLWS1 Parasaurolophus figure (though simplified and less detailed), it’s the head that’s totally wrong. This figure sports a crest instead of Para’s iconic “horn” (probably used for communication and mating rituals). This hatchling looks more like a Corythosaurus, a related Hadrosaur that did indeed have a crest, though shaped somewhat differently. Incidentally, Corythosaurs were seen in JP III, in a herd that also included Parasaurolophus. But that particular detail doesn’t make this figure more accurate.

Repaint: no. The hatchling would not be repainted either. However, Ajay’s body would be repainted two times for the first JP Dinosaurs line, once as a Dinosaur Trainer (for the Pachycephalosaurus with Dinosaur Trainer set, including a repaint of the HSWP and the gun) as well as a Dinosaur Hunter (for the Stegosaurus with Dinosaur Hunter set). In both cases, the figure would sport a different head sculpt. Ajay’s own head would not be featured in later toy lines, repainted or otherwise.

Overall rating: 8/10. Ajay himself is a badass figure, never mind realism. The HSWP is a fun new weapon and works fine, and the gun is a neat little extra gadget. The hatchling is a bit of a failure though. Unfortunately, this figure is rare and not easy to find. Be prepared to deal with higher than usual prices when you encounter it. However, it’s worth it, if you can stand lousy hatchlings and are also interested in human figures.

The Lost World Series 2: Nick van Owen

Year of release: 1997-1998

-Two pieces of capture gear
-Catcher Pack
-Brachiosaurus hatchling

Description: this Nick van Owen figure stands in a somewhat more active posture than his TLWS1 predecessor. He stands with his left leg moved backward and his right leg forward, while his left hand is closed in a fist. Nick’s arms look pretty muscular, especially his upper arms. Though it’s a matter of millimetres, this figure is one of the tallest figures of all JP toy lines.
Nick sports a blue shirt, covered with a grey vest adorned with a total of four pockets. A belt runs over his torso, orange on the front part of the figure, and black on the other side. Nick wears green pants, covered with several pockets of the same colour. Additionally, he has a black belt around his waist and two smaller black belts around each lower leg with additional pockets, probably used for carrying video cassettes or other equipment for Nick’s camera. Van Owen sports rather odd shoes, coloured orange with a silver metal frame around it, as if they’re enhanced for use in rough terrain. Unlike the TLWS1 Nick, this figure sports brown hair, including his eyebrows.
Nick comes with various pieces of equipment. First, being a documentary film maker, he has a large black camera, which can rest on his right shoulder while he holds it with his right hand (his other hand can’t hold anything). The camera looks more realistic than the camera the TLWS1 Nick came with (if that was indeed a camera). There’s a hole in the camera, so you can look right through it, seeing what the camera is “filming”. A second tool Nick comes with is the catcher pack: this odd looking metallic grey device can be attached around the figure’s waist so he can carry it. It looks pretty sophisticated with its elaborate mechanical detailing, but it doesn’t really have any action figures unlike one would expect. However, there’s a small box on top of the device that can be opened: it reveals what appears to be a piece of meat, coloured brown with a small white bone sticking out of it. Being a vegetarian I won’t try to classify it, because I’m bound to get it wrong. It seems the catcher pack is just a method of luring dinosaurs towards Nick, so he can film them, and if necessary, catch them. Given the fact that this figure also comes with two small pieces of capture gear (namely the typical “handcuffs” many sets of capture gear have featured since the JPS2 toy line), the latter option seems a logical course of action.
Strangely enough, Nick comes with a herbivorous hatchling, so it seems odd it would be attracted to the catcher pack’s meat. The hatchling is labelled a Brachiosaurus, though it looks a lot different than the JPS1/2 Brachiosaurus hatchlings or the Sauropods seen in the first JP movie. The hatchling measures some seven centimetres in length, and sports a light brown paint job, adorned with purple spots on its snout, neck, back and tail. It has small black eyes and a beige JP: Site B logo on its left hind leg. Most notable, it has very plump thick legs, making it seems rather disproportionate and even a bit silly.

Analysis: this third Nick van Owen figure (next to the TLWS1 Nick and the exclusive High Hide Nick) isn’t much of an improvement and has some pros and cons. The pros are found mostly in Nick himself. Though it’s not identical to the garment Vince Vaughn wore in the TLW movie, this figure’s clothes, including their paint job, are more similar than the outfits of the other Van Owen figures. This excludes the shoes, since they’re really quite strange and I’m positive they weren’t featured in the film.
It’s obvious the designers of this figure wanted to establish Nick’s status as a film maker more clearly, something the other Nick figures lacked. Nick comes with a relatively realistic camera (by toy standards of course), as well as loads of pockets for carrying video equipment, most notably the ones on his legs. Though the camera doesn’t provide for any action, which can be said for the entire figure by the way, it’s a fun gadget.
The same cannot be said for the catcher pack, which is plain boring. It looks way more elaborate and detailed than is necessary, considering it doesn’t do anything at all. The only option it features is the small box with the meat in it, but having designed a smaller piece of equipment carrying only this box would have sufficed. Now Nick is forced to wear this large piece of plastic on his back, and given the fact it hangs pretty loose and occasionally even falls off because it’s out of balance when attached to the figure, it’s downright annoying.
The Brachiosaurus is quite cute, but doesn’t look much like a Brachiosaurus at all. Though its large legs make sure the little beast doesn’t fall down, and also make it hard to knock over using missile launchers of other figures, they make the poor creature look very weird. The paint job isn’t bad, though like with most hatchlings it’s lacking detail. The two pieces of capture gear can be attached to the Sauropod’s legs and body, though it’s doubtful they would restrain it in real life.

Playability: not very high. Though Nick has poseable arms, legs and head, it’s quite vexing he can’t hold stuff with his left hand since it’s closed to a fist. Like stated above, the catcher pack doesn’t provide for much action at all. The same is true for the camera, though it does give Nick more character and looks pretty butch on his shoulder. The Brachiosaurus doesn’t have any poseable body parts, like all the other TLW hatchling figures.

Realism: the figure’s head sculpt looks a lot like Vince Vaughn’s head, though less detailed (it’s a toy version of him after all). However, this figure makes Van Owen appear more muscular than he looked in the movie. His clothes are not that different from the outfit Nick sported in the movie, though they’re not an exact copy. Since Nick was established to be a documentary film maker in the movie, it’s nice to finally see him running around with a real camera. The catcher pack was never seen in the movie, which isn’t a great loss.
There were no Brachiosaurs in the TLW movie, though they did appear in the first JP and eventually also JP III. In neither film did they resemble this particular Sauropod. For one thing, they had thinner legs, a shorter tail and a different colour pattern. Also, their heads looked a lot different from this one’s, with a large bump on the forehead carrying the nostrils. This Brachiosaurus looks more like a Diplodocus, judging from the shape of its head. But due to the disproportionately large legs, it looks even more like a made up dinosaur.

Repaint: no. This figure, as well as all its accessories, would not be repainted for later toy lines either.

Overall rating: 6/10. Though the figure itself is quite good, the catcher pack and the hatchling aren’t very appealing. They just don’t look interesting, nor do they provide for any action features. Additionally, this sculpt is one of the rarest of all JP figures and as such is quite hard to find, usually fetching the big bucks. Be sure you really want one before you spent too much cash on it, because it may not prove to be worth it.

The Lost World Series 2: Eddie Carr

Year of release: 1997-1998

-Tranq Bazooka
-Two missiles
-Tyrannosaurus hatchling

Description: this second Eddie Carr figure of the TLW toy lines stands in a totally neutral position. He wears an orange jumpsuit, with grey camouflage spots mixed in on the legs and torso, and a scaly shiny blue shirt underneath. On the left part of his chest he sports a yellow badge with the JP Site B logo. His pants carry several pockets and an odd TV-screen like ornamentation (a knee patch maybe? If so, why doesn't he have one on the other knee too?). He sports black boots, a shiny blue glove on his right hand (his left hand is exposed), a big blue arm patch over his left lower arm, and a small walkie-talkie on his back. Like the TLWS1 Eddie Carr figure, he comes with a cowboy hat, this time light grey with a brown band on it. He has black eyes and eyebrows and brown hair.
Eddie comes with a large bazooka, basically a black tube with a small box at the end and a big one up front. There's a small pin on the bottom of the big box up front, so Eddie can more easily hold this weapon. On top of the gun near the front end there’s a large red button. When the bazooka is loaded with either one of the two red missiles it comes with, pressing the button makes the missile be fired with force, with a firing range of almost two metres and a good impact force. It’s one of the more effective and powerful weapons Kenner ever produced. This set also features a black backpack with black straps so Eddie can carry it on his back. The pack has two holes in it, one for each missile.
The T-Rex hatchling is a cute little critter with large black eyes, standing tall on its legs. It stands in a walking position, left leg posed forward and right leg posed backward, with its head slightly positioned to the right as if something is attracting its attention. It’s coloured in a bright red paint job, with a large black stripe running from its snout all the way to the end of the tail, and with smaller black stripes running out of the bigger one. It has a white JP Site B logo on its right upper leg. It also has a bandage on its lower right leg, hardly noticeable because it’s coloured in the same red colour as the rest of the sculpt.

Analysis: despite being killed halfway through the movie, Eddie Carr is back in a second incarnation, wearing Urban Assault Gear, ready to take on nasty predators running loose in the big city. As such, he's sporting a very different, more elaborate outfit than his TLWS1 predecessor did. It seems to be a dinosaur-resisting suit, much more heavy and bulky in stature as the simpler gear the other Eddie figure wore, but still a neat design (and despite the obvious usefulness of some sort of protective helmet, still sporting Eddie's cowboy hat), albeit asymmetric (why not a big red arm patch on the right arm as well? Or a second knee patch?). Despite its odd looks, it's obvious Eddie is ready for close combat, with an effective weapon to match.
The best part of this set comes from the formidable bazooka. It works very well and has a great firing range for such a small weapon. It easily knocks over hatchlings, human figures and most smaller dinosaurs and even bigger ones (it partially depends on whether the targeted creatures are bipedal or not). It comes with two different missiles, so you have a choice, as well as a spare because with a range like this missiles tend to get lost. Both missiles can be stored in the backpack so you don’t have to let one of them lie loose when the other is loaded in the gun. Eddie's right arm is definitely the one to use for this weapon, since the big arm patch on his left arm gets in the way of positioning the weapon. Slight modifications have been made to this weapon for this TLWS2 figure, since it is a retooled version of the bazooka that originally came with JPS1 Robert Muldoon and was designed specifically for that figure, so few other figures could hold it (see the 'Repaint' section below). The retooling allows more figures to be capable of carrying it. Retooling not withstanding, this bazooka is still one of the best and most powerful weapons of all the JP toy lines.
The Rex hatchling is quite good, but has some minor balance issues. It falls down easily, which does make it a very good target for the bazooka, since that weapon is capable of knocking this little dinosaur over good and slinging it away a fair distance. The Rex's paint job isn’t very appealing and could have used some more work: it’s especially disappointing the bandage on its leg isn’t painted in a different colour, because it’s hard to spot the animal has a bandage there at all. Other than that, the Rex looks cute and cuddly, and is one of the more loveable hatchling figures made by Kenner.

Playability: just fine. Eddie has the usual poseable body parts, namely, head, legs and arms. The bazooka is an excellent weapon with a great firing range and a powerful impact force for such a small weapon. The new pin on its underside makes it compatible with more figures than it was originally designed for. Since there's two missiles, there's a back-up if you loose one, and to keep you from losing them you can store them in the backpack. The little T-Rex has no poseability of any kind.

Realism: 'Urban Assault Gear' would have been handy fighting the escaped Rex in the Lost World movie, but such an outfit, let alone a bazooka, was not featured in the actual film. More importantly, Eddie Carr was already dead in that part of the film, so he seems an unlikely choice to fight dinosaurs in an urban environment. Moreover, this figure doesn't resemble Eddie Carr at all, he looks more like a made-up character on Kenner's part. The Rex hatchling is quite accurate for hatchling standards, aside from the red paint job. It's not as close a match to the little Rex seen in the TLW movie as the TLWS1 Junior T-Rex figure, but comes close enough, right down to the (unpainted) bandages around its right leg.

Repaint: yes, this set is all repaints. Eddie himself has a repainted version of the body of JPS2 Alan Grant (Bola version)(which would also be repainted for the TLW Exclusive Dino Tracker Adventure Set), while his head sculpt comes from the TLWS1 Eddie Carr figure (so there is consistency in that regard). The Rex hatchling is a repaint of the baby Rex from TLWS1 Ian Malcolm. The bazooka, along with both missiles and the backpack, is a retooled and repainted version of the same weapon that originally came with JPS1/2 Robert Muldoon (this weapon, though not retooled or repainted, would also be featured in the TLW Exclusive Young T-Rex set). The differences between the original bazooka and this retooled TLWS2 version are:
-the little pin on its underside, allowing more figures to handle it;
-no hole at the back end of the bazooka;
-a slightly different paint job, still black with red highlights, but different, lighter hues of black and red. The missiles are also painted in a slightly different shade of red than the originals. The backpack remains unaltered though, and is simply a reuse. Despite the minor differences, the bazooka is effective as ever.

Overall rating: 6/10. So it's all nothing new really, but the figure got a pretty decent new paint job, the bazooka is still a kick-ass weapon and the hatchling is cute as ever. If you don't mind repaints, you might want to track this set down, though being part of the infamous TLWS2 toy line it's not the easiest set to get, having only had a limited release in the USA, and virtually no release in other territories. That said, this is probably the most common set of the TLWS2 toy line, so it's at least less hard to find than the other figures of this toy line.

zondag 15 december 2013

Today's Mini-Review: Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips: ****/*****, or 7/10

2013 witnessed the release (in the Netherlands at least) of two very different films based on the exact same theme, ship hijacking (both reportedly based on true events, but not the same events). One was the excellent Danish production Kapringen which for a moment largely seemed to revolve on the reuniting of the cast and crew of Borgen but instead proved a psychological horror propelled by the sheer inadequacy of the ship's company to successfully negotiate terms with the Somali pirates for the release of the ship and its hostages. It kept the film devoid of true action for most of the film and caused the movie to keep its audience waiting endlessly for something to happen, which aptly illustrated the reality that such hostage situations usualy result in a deadlock that leads to months of uncertainty for victims, perpetrators and families alike. And when all seemed resolved, Kapringen still ended on a shocking note of unexpected, needless violence to top the agony that came before. Paul Greengrass takes a whole different approach to hijacking in his more action packed yet equally chilling Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks as the titular character. Commanding a large freighter and sailing it around the Horn of Africa, Phillips too is confronted by armed marauders out for money by seizing commercial maritime traffic and privateering its personnel in exchange for cash. Whereas that other famous American Tom (whose last name also inspires the thought of boats, though that fun fact is totally irrelevant here) plays the occasional everyman and always fails miserably because of his star status, Hanks yet again proves up for said job despite his own famous persona and portrays a stern but decent regular working Joe, insightful as to his situation and not afraid to back down when his opponent bests him and assumes command of his vessel. The lives of his crew come first, his own by comparison he considers dispensable. Money is the brigands' objective, not mayhem for mayhem's sake, but there are no negotiations with the ship's company. While the situation grows ever more tense and a happy end seems less and less likely to transpire, Phillips plays an increasingly dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with his captors that seems only to be able to end in his own unfortunate demise.

Greengrass (of Bloody Sunday and Bourne fame, while also responsible for another factual hijacking of a wholly different kind with United 93) applies his signature handheld 'shaky cam' style to great effect to get up close and personal with both Phillips and the bad guys (and to make spectators with poor stomachs seasick for sure) which delivers both visceral action and intense emotional drama. And though the movie ultimately proceeds into a fairly typical 'good guys versus bad guys' conflict, he inspires more than the slightest bit of sympathy for the perps, who are portrayed alarmingly accurate as people devoid of options. When you spend your life living in excruciating poverty in a rural area that supports no other means of employment or even food than the job of fisherman, and when western fisheries cut deals with your corrupt government to catch all your fish, what else is there to do than to go out to sea and commandeer foreign vessels in the hopes of ransoming their passengers? Somali pirates are desperate people who have no other means of sustaining themselves, Greengrass effectively reveals. The lead pirate, a skinny, intelligent young man (tremendously compelling performance by first time actor Barkhad Abdi, who commendably holds his own next to Hanks) is shown to be a man forced by circumstance to do things he needs to do to survive, but he definitely never enjoys doing them for a second. Both he and Phillips try to contain their crew from letting the explosive situation degenerate into bloodshed, something the pirate surprisingly succeeds in more so than Phillips does, as his crew attempts to regain control of their boat on multiple occasions without his say, further endangering all their lives. When the anti-piracy units of the American Navy arrive, the pirates are forced to make a quick exit in a lifeboat, and drag Phillips along with them as a human shield. It seems obvious that things can only end badly, but the movie delivers a forcibly happy end (of sorts) that does feel bitter for all present parties regardless. Captain Phillips is one-third action, one-third suspense and one-third human drama, but more straightforward in style (it's still Hollywood material after all) than its Danish predecessor, yet making for a fine companion piece to that film in showing a very different way these hostage negotiations tend to conclude.