vrijdag 31 januari 2014

Today's News: Winter Soldier is still coming

We're not rid of the star spangled Avenger just yet, like it or not:


Seems like the second Captain America's promotional campaign is releasing new pics and posters every other day now. Considering its rival at the boxoffice, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (a Sony release despite being a Marvel superhero too) is doing the same, there's a precedent for this. It's basically ensuring people are aware of your movie whether they care to be or not by going all-out releasing new materila in a high frequency: to put it brief, a sort of overkill. Still not particularly popular outside the US of A, Cap could sure use the help of some glorious new posters like these. Too bad his own is rather dull and overly sombre, not a particularly neat piece of visual imagery that sticks to mind. However, Black Widow's fabulously sexy poster, formidably appropriating all of Scarlett Johansson's wonderful physical attributes, certainly makes up for it (not to mention she can act too). That poster is bound to attract some audiences all by itself. Call me a sexist if you much, but please remember I didn't make the poster, I only spread the word about it by posting it online. It reminds us Cap has something Spidey does not have (yet): a superpowered (well, sort of) female sidekick riding along into battle with him, instead of cheering him on from the sidelines like Emma Stone's all too human Gwen Stacy sticks to (so Sony better introduce the Black Cat or Silver Sable into the rebooted Spider-Man franchise soon to keep up!). People who want to see a heroine kick butt as well as any hero, if not more so, will surely get what they want in this film. Nor will the movie feel the need to have its protagonists from both sexes engage in typical romance with each other, as these characters have a strictly professional relationship. So whatever personal demons continue to haunt Steve Rogers in the 21st century, Agent Romanoff will be there to make sure the threat to world peace (but mostly America) is subdued with extreme prejudice. And otherwise there's still their mutual boss to contend with. As if anybody could beat Samuel L. Jackson in whatever regard. Except for impressive feminine looks of course.

And guess what? On the heels of these new posters and set photos, Marvel released yet another new Cap 2 poster. Why do I even bother to keep up... Because that's what I signed up for is why! And in all honesty, that stunning Black Widow is not a poster I would want to have missed. I'll be sure to keep an eye out at work for that one! Hopefully not while covering me other eye with an eye patch and doing Nick Fury imitations. That would be a little too nerdy even for me.

donderdag 30 januari 2014

Jurassic Park Chaos Effect: Ian Malcolm

Year of release: 1998

-Dino Mech Armor Claw
-Body armour
-Tyrannosaurus hatchling

Description: this highly unusual Ian Malcolm figure has black hair, as well as black eyes and eyebrows, but that's where every similarity with previous Malcolm figures ends. His trademark sunglasses (even though they weren't used in the Lost World movie) are absent. Instead, he wears a yellow jumpsuit, covered in various brown straps as well as patches (on both knees and the right shoulder). He also wears a brown belt around his waist and sports black gloves on both hands and black arm bands around both upper arms. His legs are covered in black boot like garments, which end right at the upper legs instead of under the knees. On his left lower leg, a black knife is attached to his boot. His left hand is closed into a fist, so he can only hold stuff with his right hand. Otherwise he stands in a fairly neutral pose, though his left arm is also raised upward to a small extent. The brown strap that runs over the left part of his chest sports a yellow JP Site B logo patch. Malcolm comes with a separate piece of body armour, coloured metallic grey, that fits around his torso, offering him front protection against the ferocious Chaos Effect predators (though his back remains unprotected).
Malcolm's offensive action is supplied by his Dino Mech Armor Claw, a huge metallic grey device that fits over his right arm (and only his right arm), and is equipped with two long thin claws (both of them painted light green), ending in small “teeth” which fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, thus capable of fully closing these claws, preferably around a target. On the back of the Armor Claw a long green button is found: pushing this makes the claws open, ready to grab any prey in its path by releasing the button. The claw piece of this weapon can be used separately from the arm piece, so it doesn't have to be attached to figures to use it.
This set is completed by a T-Rex hatchling, not much unlike other Rex hatchlings, except it has a smoother, less detailed skin surface, as well as overly big feet. This hatchling stands in a walking posture, left leg posed forward and right leg back, while its right arm is raised and his left arm lowered. It sports a two way paint job: the underside of the figure (lower jaw, throat, belly, arms, most of the flanks and legs and lower part of the tail) is coloured bright orange, while its upper body parts (upper jaw, neck, back and upper part of the tail) sport a dark red colour, which partially runs over the upper legs and flanks in triangular stripes. It has white teeth and eyes (no pupils), and carries a black JP Site B logo on its right upper leg.

Analysis: this latest Malcolm incarnation has the distinction of being one of the most unusual human figures ever produced, though not so much by Chaos Effect standards (since this whole toy line is basically unusual, making this Malcolm fit right in. In fact, compared to the Chaos Effect Roland Tembo figure, this Malcolm looks quite realistic!). His outfit looks very futuristic, and certainly not like something you'd see him wearing in the movies since it has a much more 'cartoonish' feel to it (not surprisingly, since a Chaos Effect cartoon was once on the drawing boards). The paint job is quite colourful, though not nearly as imaginative as some of the paint schemes seen on the dinosaur figures of this toy line. The most interesting part of his gear is his removable body armour, which isn't an unlikely tool in a dinosaur invested environment. In fact, it's surprising a tool like this wasn't seen on earlier JP figures (JPS2 Bola Alan Grant got pretty close, though his armour was not removable). The armour can be used by various other Kenner figures, but it obviously fits best around this Malcolm's body, since it was designed for this figure specifically. This figure is overall pretty decent if you can swallow the Chaos Effect premise. For those who can't, this Malcolm is definitely a hideous Jurassic Park figure.
Malcolm's Dino Mech Armor Claw is an interesting piece of equipment. Capture claws have been featured before in earlier toy lines, but never as a separate piece a human figure could hold: they were always missile like weapons that could be fired at dinosaurs. This is a more close range type of capture claw, designed to subdue a creature storming right at you (preferably a smaller animal, since it has little effect on bigger beasts). Though when attached to the arm piece the claw can only be used by Malcolm (since it's incompatible with other human figures as such), it fortunately can also be used separately. Still, its effect is limited: though the gripping mechanism is surprisingly strong for such a small claw, the arms themselves are too thin and the 'teeth' are too blunt to really grab a hold and restrain most dinosaur figures, even hatchlings. Even on the Rex hatchling that comes with this set it doesn't really work, since that figure has much too smooth a skin surface so it slips loose easily. This weapon could have used better and stronger claws to make it really work (and this toy line delivered some on its Land S.A.B.R.E. and Trike Dozer vehicles), but it's a nice concept regardless (and it certainly beats the lousy capture claw Hasbro designed for the JP III Alan Grant figure).
The Rex hatchling is a cute figure and given its smooth skin and huge feet it's easily recognizable as a Chaos Effect dinosaur, though its paint job isn't as elaborate as on most other dinosaurs of this toy line. It's actually a rather decent paint job, though it's a shame the big claws on its feet aren't painted and the Rex lacks pupils in its eyes. Given the abundance of orange on this figure, it's not too dissimilar a paint job to the big Omega T-Rex's paint scheme, adding some much needed consistency to this toy line. A nice little hatchling, but nothing too special.

Playability: decent enough. Malcolm provides the usual range of poseable body parts (arms, legs and head). His body armour is a fun gadget and can be used to some extent by other human figures (though it usually looks out of place on others). The Capture Claw may not be fully effective, it's a fun weapon to use and thankfully can also be used separately from the arm piece, adding some playability to it. The baby Rex has no poseability of any kind.

Realism: this is not a very applicable factor for any Chaos Effect figure and it's certainly not for this Ian Malcolm. It looks like something out of a science fiction Saturday morning cartoon instead of a Jurassic Park toy. It also has little similarity to Jeff Goldblum (who portrayed Ian Malcolm in both the first and second Jurassic Park movie), sporting a much younger and muscular look. The capture claw is also not something likely to be used in the movies, though body armour wouldn't have been such a bad idea. The Rex hatchling is recognizable as a T-Rex (or close relative) by its shape, but its paint job doesn't resemble the colour scheme of the Rexes seen in the movies, or that of most other Rex figures except for the Omega T-Rex of this toy line, which featured a truly bizarre colour scheme.

Repaint: no, this figure is all new and so are its accessories and hatchling. None of the parts in this set would be repainted for later toy lines.

Overall rating: 6/10. It's not the best of human figures (by far!) , but not as totally weird as some other Chaos Effect figures either. It comes with a decent and fun weapon and useful body armour, as well as a good enough hatchling, but overall this set is nothing really special. It's one of the more common Chaos Effect figures, so if you feel like you need one and can get it for a decent price you should get one, but otherwise you needn't bother.

woensdag 29 januari 2014

Today's Double News: Days of Future Past fully covered

As always I prove to be particularly drawn to posting superhero news on MS, and consequently reposting it here:



25 different magazine covers?! Am I glad I'm not a collector of anything X-Men, saves me a lot of money in this case. I doubt there would be many people - though I know there will definitely be some - crazy enough to collect them all if they can just behold them in Hi-Def glory online. And they certainly are glorious, me thinks. (Be sure to check them out right here to form your own opinion on the subject.) Though there's the usual Photoshop editing to post the various characters overly smoothly in the shot, you can't deny the full panoramic view of all 25 covers in the right order, moving from the Sixties to the (not too distant?) future, is quite an ingenious piece of work. I must admit I didn't even notice the big picture (literally) at first when I only saw the first six covers made available. However, it's the characters, new an old, that take centerstage on both the covers and in fan interest, including my own. We finally get to see decent shots of the much anticipated new characters, as well as the grim future appearances of beloved familiar ones from Singer's own first pair of X-movies. I'm first and foremost glad and thankful virtually all of both time frame's major players have returned, including personal favorites like Sir Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Page. Say what you will about the rather pretentious and arrogant cover text 'the biggest ever superhero movie', this film certainly has the most impressive cast to date of all Marvel flicks. The greatest fear in this regard is that with so many characters, few of them get a true chance to shine and many will be relegated to minor tidbits of interaction: a feeling not unwarranted since overcrowdedness has already cost Anna Paquin's Rogue her limited screen time, though oddly enough she's still present on these covers regardless. That said, if Singer proved one thing with X-Men and X2, it's that he knows how to handle star studded ensemble pieces, giving each character his or her due. I have faith he hasn't forgotten how to keep large casts worth our while on screen.

The most notable thing about these covers is the excellent new shots they provide of hot new mutant characters, namely Quicksilver (the first, as another will appear next year in the second Avengers film), Warpath, Sunspot, Blink and Bishop. A diverse bunch appropriated from the whole spectrum of the X-universe throughout its long history and hopefully not randomly thrown in the mix. Though Warpath, Blink and Bishop look a lot like their comic book counterparts (except with blacker costumes, to establish a sense of coherency in the bleak future X-look), Sunspot and particularly Quickie have underwent a few stylistic changes, in the latter's case no doubt to make him distinct from the other Quicksilver, which might follow the character's historically drawn dresscode more closely. As for Sunspot, maybe I'm just used to seeing him in full 'spot mode' too much to remember his actual physical regular appearance. What's more surprising than the addition of novel characters is the unexpected return of old ones, i.e. Colonel Stryker (who looks quite different from his counterpart in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, pushing that movie out of the cinematic continuity even further) and Toad (who also bears little similarity to the original as played by Ray Park). I'm guessing Toad will stay limited to playing the henchman as before, but Stryker clearly will have a bigger part to play as the film's secondary human antagonist (next to Peter Dinklage's Bolivar Trask), likely forming a liaison between the American military and Trask Industries as the pair of them engage in constructing mutant hunting Sentinels. As for those, they look spectacular. The past version looks retro and similar enough to the comic book robots to keep the fans satisfied (or me, at least), while the future Sentinel is a whole different beast altogether, which definitely allowed the design team to go all-out. As for the character design, I'm sure there will be ample whining about the black Batmanesque X-costumes, but I have little against them except they make for too uniform a look as opposed to the wildly divergent styles of costumes from the comics. Some characters make it work, like Colossus and Storm who look badass, while on others (Xavier, Shadowcat (here simply referred to by her real name Kitty Pryde)) the choice is less appealing. However, I'm all for substance over style, and as long as these are compelling characters played convincingly by capable actors, I have no qualms about their outfits. Not everyone can look like Mystique, who has found a perfect balance in that respect.

Aside from the background panorama, there's a few other little details to enjoy. I love Blink's teleporting window, revealing Warpath's back, and vice versa. Maybe the covers hint at a romantic relationship or some other personal connection between these newbie characters? Also of note is the difference between Wolverine's claws in both eras, the past showing the bone claws he originally was born with as illustrated in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (welcome back to the continuity!), the future witnessing him equipped with his well known adamantium claws instead. Since it was established Logan got the rare metal grafted onto his skeleton somewhere in the early Seventies, and the past section of X-Men: Days of Future Past as I understood it takes place in 1963 around the time of JFK's assassination, this fits the timeline neatly. And what's with the military look to Havok and Toad? They undercover or som'thin'? What's up with Quicksilver's utility belt? Why is Rogue all in white unlike the rest of her team members, and what's that spaceship looking thingy above here? These covers provide both answers and new questions, and prove more effective in terms of spawning speculation than the somewhat disappointing first trailer did.

In other news, Marvel is doing with the Russo Brothers what Fox recently did with Matt Reeves on Planet of the Apes, seemingly already hiring them on the basis of great expectations over concrete results for another sequel. I still say this is not the smartest move, but at least in the case of Marvel Studios advance planning of future projects has been shown to be taken much more seriously than is usual. And so far I have no reason to doubt the qualities of the Russos, as I very much liked what I saw of Captain America: The Winter Soldier so far. But who cares about a project at least three or four years in the future when you can drool over them X-covers some more? X-Men: Days of Future Past is only a few months away but thanks to promotional strategies like these the suspense is killing me. Considering the status of the original story line as one of the greatest X-Men classics and the presence of a humongous cast of talented actors, as well as this film's need to also serve as a decent set-up for the sequel X-Men: Apocalypse, the movie certainly has a lot to live up to. I trust Singer realized all of this well in advance. Considering his success on the first X-films, I'm willing to cut him some slack. X-celsior, Bryan!

maandag 27 januari 2014

Today's Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street: ****/*****, or 8/10

You might at first be inclined to ask yourself, 'a three-hour movie about money, how can that be the least bit interesting?' Don't worry, for Martin Scorsese's grand 'dramedy' The Wolf of Wall Street is not a movie about money. In fact, the lead character himself directly acknowledges this fear early on in the movie by stating that 'we wouldn't be interested in all that stuff', afterwards largely avoiding the subject altogether. So don't go in expecting any dreary financial number crunching, since it's really all about what said money (lots and lots and lots of it!) does with people. People, inherently flawed, get progressively flawed – read: fucked up – as their income increases astronomically. Meanwhile, every sense of ethics, responsibility or even plain decency goes right out the window. Scorsese's case in point: Jordan Belfort.

Belfort, a superb piece of acting by Leonardo DiCaprio, starts out as many a regular Joe from the middle class: screwed over by a financial crash and reduced to unemployment, thus unable to provide for his loving wife. All the more disappointing for him as he had just found a job at a large Wall Street firm, where his boss (an impeccably loathsome Matthew McConaughey) saw his potential and advised him not to abstain of sex and drugs while on this job. Thanks to Belfort's talent for agressive sales pitching, he quickly recuperates selling worthless stock at a fifty percent commission rate, and before long he returns to Wall Street triumphantly with a loyal band of peculiar misfits in his wake (including Jonah Hill on steroids), all of whom have their specific place in his grand scheme of taking money from the ignorant masses that hope to make a quick buck on the stock market. The only one making easy money are Jordan and his friends though, and before long they become increasingly desensitized to the plight of their clients in favor of their own ruthless acquisition of wealth. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is born, and despite Jordan's all too human persona, such a term fits him perfectly, as this alpha male and his pack of wild dogs scour the land preying on the weak and gullible to feast upon their cash in a financial frenzy. One that seemingly knows no bounds, as Belfort continues his practices for years without sanctions or indictments, despite ongoing FBI scrutiny. Nevertheless, Belfort needs no help in bringing him down, as he does a fine job at that on his own.

In many ways The Wolf of Wall Street is a fairly typical story of a man gaining the world but losing his soul in the process, as he is unable to keep his base instincts in check. Arguably, it's not the plot that makes the movie stand out, it's the way Scorsese tells it to his audience. Walking a fine line between comedy and drama that finds both in perfect balance throughout the whole, The Wolf of Wall Street proves infectiously hilarious at one moment and effectively poignant the next. As Jordan's novel lifestyle as a millionaire progressively takes its toll, his personal life spirals ever more out of control emotionally and physically as his constant drive for more and more dominates his every move. Fondly remembering his former boss' advice, Belfort sets out on a course of rampant sex and drugs without worrying about any consequences, as money will no doubt solve any obstacles in his path. Small wonder his wife soon leaves him as she finds him snogging a super model. Marrying said model doesn't increase the happiness in his family life, children notwithstanding. Abusing every conceivable illicit substance imaginable also doesn't work in his favor. Despite the many yachts, limousines, prostitutes and drugs, Scorsese makes it amply clear that this is not a life to be envied as Belfort's once decent personality is replaced by a greedy, amoral and self-annihilating character that can only get the better of him, sooner if not later. Having become a veritable slave of money, Belfort remains miserable, and we wouldn't have it any other way, as his road to a personal hell is paved with one outrageously funny messed up situation after another.

Aside from DiCaprio's top performance, Scorsese gets the very best out of his cast and crew in conveying this tale of human deterioration at the hands of boundless greed, which often borders on the unbelievable. Exploding planes, savage storms at sea, goldfish eating, dwarf tossing and the generally lavish parties of debauchery at the office heralding the weekend are among the many elements of The Wolf of Wall Street that are so absurd, they can only be true. In terms of comedy, nothing beats the delayed kicking-in of exceptionally rare drugs that causes a most unwelcome physical reaction at an hour of crisis at which the need to get home fast results in one of the most humorous car scenes ever on the big screen. Despite all the controversy, the many scenes of nudity and excessive swearing feel rightfully placed, and credit must be given to both the director and his brave cast to stick with such daring material instead of catering to a general sense of good public taste, something Belfort severely lacked. The fast paced, witty dialogue written by Terence Winter proves to be in excellent hands of the assembled cast of seasoned actors, including the likes of Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Kyle Chandler and Joanna Lumley. Stylistically there's little to comment against the picture as the ingenious editing, wonderful cinematography and delightful score, featuring many a successful callback to the period in question, are found to be in perfect sync to make for a superior cinematic experience. But The Wolf of Wall Street at its heart remains another intimate collaboration between the grandmaster Scorsese and his personal muse DiCaprio, their fifth and finest thus far. The duo makes damn sure you care enough about Belfort to run along with him for three hours, but never are you really allowed to sympathize with him, given his deplorable nature.

With The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has directed a modern classic warning audiences of the destructive dangers of endless self-enrichment, a film that is easily matched to any already existing films on the topic. Belfort claimed to be inspired in his professional shenanigans by the despicably greedy character of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Despite Scorsese's upsetting picture of the life and times of Belfort in his own Wall Street film, history has proven that there's always people present who just don't get the picture as they consider the wildest possible life of sex and drugs that money can buy the highest achievable goal to strive for. With DiCaprio's sublime performance, it stands to reason, like it or not, that in another three decades we'll be watching movies about similarly morally bankrupt characters based on actual personalities that will claim to have been inspired by Jordan Belfort in 'that classic Scorsese film'. Not something to look forward to, but a sad reality of what money hath ever wrought.


zondag 26 januari 2014

Today's News: are we ready to see this now?

Today for a bit of more recent news:


No Nymphomaniac type of shenanigans here. No suggestive imagery, orgiastic mug shots or full fledged revealing sexual material as in the case of that erotic movie's (excessively titillating) marketing campaign. Just a simple, respectable teaser of Christian Grey's respectably dressed backside. The only thing causing arousal here is what spectators bring to it themselves based on their own expectations, or for those who have read the infamous novel, experiences. For those familiar with the original writings, the poster may exude the promise of financial wealth - not everyone can afford such a splendid Seattle cityscape view after all - in the service of a handsome (?) young billionaire who owns a major company. There's quite a lot of potential for steamy sex right there, considering men with money are generally huge turn-ons. But if you don't know about the novel's (and thus the movie's) premise, this poster simply looks bland and not particularly exciting. 'Mr. Grey will see you now', the tagline states. But are we willing to see Mr. Grey?

Isn't the whole hype surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey since its very cinematic inception (which already is quite a while ago by now, considering all the casting troubles) causing us to spawn expectations that this film simply won't be able to live up to? Considering the recent news that the movie will contain less sex scenes that the book, for fear of overdoing it and thus making the movie feel like its droning on, I don't think this movie is gonna be especially arousing. Those who have read the book will no doubt complain about the lack of steamy sexy material, while those that are new to the franchise will wonder what all the talk was about. Or maybe it's a fact this movie, like is often said about the book, has a target audience that is simply limited to 'housewives': mature women dreaming about sexual escapades with younger men and experiencing them by proxy via this novel, which most other audiences would consider a dull read. If that's true, the movie has found its perfect director in 46-year old Sam Taylor-Johnson, who stopped just thinking about having sex with younger men and fullfilled that fantasy by dating and eventually marrying young Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Nowhere Boy), less than half her age. Oh well, as long as they're happy who are we to judge... Whether Taylor-Johnson will satisfy viewers equally with her direction of Fifty Shades of Grey remains to be seen, and this poster is certainly not at all indicative of the film's eventual success or failure at the boxoffice. Fans will either get wet because of this piece of promotioanl imagery or consider it a boring start. The rest of us will wonder just who the hell this Mr. Grey is and why we should care in the first place.

zaterdag 25 januari 2014

Today's Triple News: the vice of mocking Triffids

This is what you get if you don't get around to posting your own news for a few days: it just piles up:




All fairly predictable news really. The Day of the Triffids is not specifically a commonly known science fiction movie, but has a certain cult following that assured more would be done with the property in the future than to stick to lousy miniseries on TV. It was a given the first Mockingjay poster would continue the trend in showing the bird logo in an altered fashion not so subtly parallelling Katniss Everdeen's rise to rebellion. As for Vice, that is probably the most surprising bit of news, in two ways. First, it's basically a Westworld copy ('synthetic staff of holiday resort abused by visitors strike back in a rage of vengeance' sounds suspiciously familiar, does it not?). Second, Bruce Willis supposedly plays a bad guy (it sure sounds that way judging by the film's plot synopsis), which doesn't happen every day. I'm not saying it's a first; e.g. Planet Terror or Perfect Stranger for example. But Hollywood movie stars of his stature have a tendency to stick to playing the formulaic role of an heroic character, as that's what their agents and studio execs expect the audience wants to see them play. Why change a winning routine that keeps bringing in the big bucks after all? Maybe because these stars themselves get bored doing the same thing over and over again? A change of pace also helps them gain respect as true actors (which some of them really aren't) as they get a chance to reveal their versatility by playing a type of character they usually avoid. I know Willis is talented enough to play a convincingly brutal villain, so that's not what's wrong with Vice in my mind. I just don't care much for an uninspired story like this. Again, judging solely by the synopsis (as nothing else is available yet), which seems clear enough. Especially when there's a Westworld TV series in the making at HBO, which assuredly promises us every vice this movie could come up with, and more.

As for the Triffids remake, it had to happen sooner or later, and the powers-that-be opted for sooner. The last adaptation, a dreadful miniseries of ill repute, debuted less than five years ago, so the name (which doesn't seem mistakable for anything else), may still be fresh on some people's minds, but likely not for the better. So undo the damage done by throwing another adaptation our way, overseen by a notable talent. Newell surely is talented enough, having earned his reputation with a diverse range of movies including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Donnie Brasco and of course his most famous (and undoubtedly most lucrative) film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Carnivorous extraterrestrial plants seem like something he could handle between breakfast and tea easily enough. Still, as is the case with Vice, there's a danger of thematic repetition here. Day of the Triffids already sounds similar to the better know Invasion of the Body Snatchers in terms of story (already remade a few year back, also pretty dismal). What's  more, the Triffids themselves are largely incidental, as the story is more about human intereaction in times of major crises, specifically man's ability to work together in (a lack of) harmony when society collapses. This theme, though still one that has the power to attract viewers easily, has been done a bazillion times already by now. In this regard, there's actually little narrative difference between Day of the Triffids and, say, The Walking Dead, except the latter already has succeeded in getting the audience's attention and respect as a serious (well, mostly) piece of audiovisual entertainment. A zombie Apocalypse is one thing, but the whole notion of an invasion by man devouring vegetables generally sounds ludicrous to most people, so if Newell wants his audience to take it seriously - which decidedly was the intention of the original novel at the least - he'll have to work hard to make us get over our initial negative expectations that would work against the film's favour. Thankfully he has also done Great Expectations, that might help.

As for expectations and thematic repetition (segue!), there's the new Hunger Games poster. This was one bit of repetition most people expected. As such, it's far from original, but given the rise of quality in the movies in question, no less welcome to inflame our hopes for an even more compelling finale (despite being cut in half to allow the studio to scrape every bit of milk out of Jennifer Lawrence's teats, pardon my expression). The movie isn't very subtle in terms of symbolism, and it's easy to deduce the shit has now hit the fan from comparing this poster to its predecessors, which showed a more obsequious jay, despite the constant appearance of flames indicating there's a lot of bottled-up anger involved. This time the repression has failed to keep the rage at bay and the mockingjay is finally spreading its wings in aggressive pride, its head held high as a symbol of defiance. It makes for a striking image, nevermind the little variation as opposed to earlier promotional artwork. Considering the number of different posters released for Catching Fire, I'm sure more inspired artwork will follow soon. This is only a tease after all. Plus, as the same piece of imagery concluded the second movie it isn't even wholly novel stuff to begin with. As such, you could also consider it a cheat. However, it certainly will succeed in drawing attention in theaters (probably just because it looks so familiar, causing an instant shock of recognition from "hungry" fans), and as such it's certainly a successful piece of work. The fact it saves money in terms of design costs is just a bonus for the studio, and a welcome one no doubt, as it's a given Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 will cost a fair amount of cash to produce. Not the least of which will go to Jennifer Lawrence's bank account, as a raise in salary seems inevitable for such a "hot" (pun? You decide!) actress people can't seem to get enough of.

donderdag 23 januari 2014

The Lost World: Exclusive Utahraptor

Year of release: 1997

-Dino Tracker figure
-Three pieces of capture gear
-Capture Trap with backpack piece
-Flash light

Description: this big carnivore is bipedal, equipped with long arms with sharp claws, as well as a big sickle shaped claw on each foot (both of them poseable). This Utahraptor is much bigger than any other Raptor figures (since it's not the same species as the well known Velociraptor from the JP movies): it's a rather bulky figure with a big fat belly (and a glued-over battery cover which reveals this figure once had electronics inside), as well as huge feet. These are rather pointless since the Raptor is not able to stand on them because it lacks proper balance; it can only stand on all fours, not on two legs. It does stand in a fully neutral posture though. Utahraptor is equipped with a 'kick-slash' action: pulling both legs back and pressing the button underneath the base of its tail (the anal region) makes both legs give a powerful kick simultaneously, and also causes the head to move and the jaws to open to a minor extent.
This dinosaur figure has a beige underside (on the lower jaw, throat, belly, underside of the tail, inner parts of the arms and legs and underside of the feet) while it features yellowish brown colouring on its flanks and sides of the tail, as well as on parts of the head. It also has brown colouring on the arms and legs, but darker, mostly because of the hard plastic those body parts are made of instead of the more rubbery material the rest of the body is composed of. Utah has a big black stripe running from the back of the head all the way to the end of the tail with smaller big stripes running out from the main one over the neck, flanks and tail. It has additional black stripes on the arms, and more black colouring on the head and legs. The claws on both hands and feet are also black, including the small ones at the back of the feet, which are usually ignored in the painting process. This figure has bright green eyes with black pupils and tiny yellow stripes in it (though barely noticeable). Its tongue and inside of the mouth are pink, and it has white teeth. Like the other TLW Exclusive dinosaur figures (but unlike all other JP figures), this Utahraptor has no JP logo anywhere on its body.
This dinosaur comes with three pieces of capture gear. There's a big cuff like tag, showing a JP logo on top, which fits well around the creature's neck. It also comes with a leg restraint, which can hold on to both legs simultaneously, but is a bit too long to properly fit between the figure's legs. Lastly, there is a big muzzle which can go around the figure's jaws, effectively disabling them, while also covering the eyes, so the Raptor can't see what's going on around him. All three pieces are coloured in the same metallic grey paint job.
The Dino Tracker stands in a fairly neutral pose, though the way he holds his arms makes him look like a cowboy reaching for his guns in a main street shoot-out. His facial expression is quite grim: he doesn't look healthy anyway, since his skin tone is much bleaker than on most other human figures. He has black hair, eyes and eyebrows. He sports a dark green baseball cap with the classic T-Rex logo on it. He wears a green shirt with pockets on his chest and has beige shoulder patches on with a sort of armour look to them. Additionally, he sports brown pants with similar patches of the same beige colour on his lower legs. He also wears dark green boots and a black belt around his waist.
The Tracker's main accessory is the so called hair trigger capture trap, which is like a bear trap except a few sizes bigger. It consists of a boxy apparatus with two large rectangular “jaws” on each side and a big black pedal between them. When the trap is opened, pressing the pedal causes the jaws to close, trapping anything caught between them. Except for the pedal and a small black antenna at the back (which can be turned inwards), the trap is coloured entirely in a shiny metallic grey colour. Though the trap has a small handle on each side so the Dino Tracker can hold it with his hands, it also comes with a black backpack (for lack of a better term) that can be attached to the back of the trap so the Tracker can carry it on his back. It fits perfectly over this figure's back, but can be carried by various other human figures too. As an extra gadget, this set comes with a large black flash light with a handle on top so figures can hold it, and a flat underside so it can stand stable on the ground.

Analysis: of the three TLW Exclusive sets, this one is the biggest and comes with the nastiest creature, a huge Raptor armed with big lethal claws on hands and feet, ready to slaughter anything that crosses its path, and no doubt inclined to attack bigger predators too. This is not a new figure though, but a repainted JPS2 Utahraptor. It is also retooled, having a harder skin (still softer than the regular hard plastic, but not as soft as the original 'real feel dino skin'), and lacking the electronics its predecessor was equipped with, so no terrifying screech for this Utahraptor. Why exactly they got rid of these electronics is anyone's guess, but it is a damn shame. It still has the other original action features though.
The most obvious one is the leg kick action. The kicking mechanism works well: you can pull both legs back until they set themselves in the right position, then push the button (invisible under its skin). Both legs will plunge forward violently, knocking over anything directly in front of them, including bigger dinosaur figures or small vehicles. However, it's better to raise the arms somewhat, otherwise they get in the way of the action. A great extra detail is that pushing the button also causes the head and jaws to move (though less enthusiastically than on the original figure, probably also a result of the harder skin), so the beastie isn't just giving a kick, it's also taking a bite at the same time. A really cool little detail is the poseability of the big claws on the feet. They can move in at least a 100 degree circle, and can trap unfortunate prey between them. A real shame no other dinosaur figures with large claws have a similar feature.
Despite these nice positive sides, this figure does have some negative ones as well. The most aggravating is the interdependency of the legs, so they can't be posed separately, as well as the fragility of the leg kick system, which gets broken all too easily (in fact, it seems even more fragile than it was before, so that's not much of an improvement). Other points of irritation are the overly big feet and bulky squarish torso, which make this otherwise butch figure seem silly, especially because it is not able to stand on its two legs because the front part of the sculpt is much heavier than the back part (which consists of its tail only). Also, because of the softer material the skin is composed of, this figure's paint job is more susceptible to paint wear.
Like the original JPS2 Utahraptor, this creature comes with a set of capture gear, including the tag that a lot of dinosaur figures come with. It's quite big so less easily lost, and actually has a purpose since it's the only part of this dinosaur showing it's a JP figure, given the lack of a JP logo on the figure itself. The leg piece is certainly of use in this monster's case, but a bit hard to apply because of the small amount of space between the legs. The leg piece actually is too big for this figure's legs. Also, it doesn't stop the Utahraptor from kicking. The head piece does a better job, and subdues the jaws as well as the eyes. There's no restraints for the arms however, so the Raptor can still use those: it may even be able to use its arms to pull off the head piece. This figure could have used a better thought out set of capture gear in this regard.
Like the other TLW exclusives, this set comes with a Dino Tracker and his accessories. This guy sports a simple but effective set of clothes, with some “armour” like highlights on his suit, but limited enough to give him the necessary mobility to scout for dinosaurs while still offering some protection in case things get rough. He seems like a very serious man, given his emotionless face. But then, trapping dinosaurs isn't an occupation you should take for fun, since such a view might cost you your life on a dinosaur infested island. His flash light is just an extra gadget and has no action features of its own.
His dinosaur trap however is an interesting piece of equipment, though it's a bit bulky in size. It works quite well: pushing the pedal closes the jaws with enough force to sufficiently trap anything that comes between them. It looks best when it's used like regular traps sporting this mechanism, lying on the ground (preferably camouflaged, though that's unlikely with a trap this size), waiting for prey to pass along. However, the Tracker can also carry it on his back (in both opened and closed states), making for an excellent defence mechanism in case some sneaky carnivore decides to attack him from behind. But considering the size and weight of this weapon, he is hardly able to stand up straight when carrying it on his back; it certainly hinders his mobility as a Tracker. Also, it just looks plain silly when he's carrying it around (the thing is almost as big as himself), but at least this trap has some options. The trap is capable of trapping almost any dinosaur, though it seems most suited for big figures: after all, smaller figures would be severely injured when they got stuck between this weapon's teeth (even though it's not very sharp material), while hatchlings would just be cut in half altogether. However, the Utahraptor may be a bit oversized for this trap, especially its huge feet which can be caught by the trap, but are so big the impact force is quite diminished. Also, it takes more than just this trap to stop something as lethal as this predator. Some extra weaponry would have been useful here, but this is all the Tracker's got as his disposal.

Playability: pretty good, especially because this set comes with both a dinosaur and a human figure (and their respective accessories), so there's more interaction options in this set alone. The Utahraptor has moveable arms and legs, and even the big claws on its feet can be posed, which is a feature not seen on any other dinosaur figures. The poseability of the legs is hindered by their connection to the leg kick action though, which also makes them incapable of being used separately from one another. The leg kick action works well and will knock over any human figures and most dinosaur figures too, but it's a very close range attack option, and the arms have a tendency to get in the way. The head and mouth motion is a neat little touch which adds some playability to this toy, and the mouth is also big enough to grab and hold human figures (though barely). The capture gear does what it's supposed to do, but adds little to this dinosaur otherwise. The leg kick action is quite fragile and gets broken rather easily, so you shouldn't play too rough with it if you want to keep it intact.
The Dino Tracker has the usual range of poseable body parts (arms, legs and head). The capture trap is a nice addition to this set, it works well and is made mobile because it can be carried on the figure's back, adding playability options. However, it's not the most efficient piece of weaponry to combat the Utahraptor with: something like a big rocket launcher would have been a more likely choice. The flash light has no particular function but is a nice extra tool regardless.

Realism: Utahraptor was newly discovered (in 1991) by the time this figure was originally designed (for the 1993-1994 JPS2 toy line), and as such not that much was known about it (like the almost proven fact that Utahraptor had feathers), so the Kenner designers basically made this into a very big version of the Velociraptor as seen in the JP movie (though Utahraptor did not play a part in the film, the Raptors from the movie are often compared to Utahraptors because they are too big to be Velociraptors, but a bit undersized to be Utahraptors). However, they still got some things wrong, mostly the bulkiness of this figure and the overly short legs and tail, making this figure seem fat and certainly not like the agile superkiller it's supposed to be. The proportions of this figure are just off, also because of the original need for space for the electronics in this figure, making it bulkier than it should be. Even though they took the electronics out for this repaint, they didn't bother redesigning it to make it look better. Of course, the designers did get some basic things right, like the long slender arms and the sickle shaped claws. The head is also not bad, though the jaws could have been a bit longer. The size of this beast in comparison with human figures is pretty close to the real deal.
The Dino Tracker is not meant to resemble any actor from either the JP or TLW movie, but he makes for an excellent Park Ranger or other employee of Jurassic Park. His Capture Trap basically functions like real bear traps (though it's fortunately just a toy version and isn't in any way harmful), but its size makes it an unlikely instrument to carry on one's back.

Repaint: yes, this set consists entirely of repaints or reuses. The Utahraptor is a repaint of the JPS2 Utahraptor, slightly retooled so it isn't electronic any more and has harder skin. It features the same set of capture gear as the JPS2 Utahraptor. The Dino Tracker is a repaint of JPS2 Jaws Jackson, with the same set of accessories that figure sported (capture trap, trap back piece and flash light), minus the Dilophosaurus hatchling. The Utahraptor would not get repainted again, and neither would Jackson (not as a whole at least, though his head sculpt would be repainted for the human figures from the JP: Dinosaurs 'Pachycephalosaurus and Dinosaur Trainer' set and the 'Young T-Rex and Dinosaur Adventurer' set).

Overall rating: 7/10. The Utahraptor is still pretty good, though overly bulky, and it's a shame they got rid of the electronics, but it got a better paint job in return. The Dino Tracker is a fine repaint and makes for an excellent Park Ranger figure, with decent accessories. This set is quite rare, being a Target Exclusive, only available in the USA. Both MIB and complete sets fetch high prices, so be sure you really want this repaint instead of settling for the JPS2 Utahraptor (which also isn't the easiest figure to find) and JPS2 Jaws Jackson (pretty common), before spending lots of cash on this set.

woensdag 22 januari 2014

Today's Review: Ender's Game

Went to another press screening for MovieScene last week, and here's the result:


This movie was more thought provoking than I anticipated. Training kids' minds in order to manipulate them into becoming master strategists with no moral complexion to annihilate the enemy? Not the stuff you usually see in PG-13 movies. A lot of good actors - half of the child actors too have Oscar nominations already - though a lot of them didn't come off as particularly compelling because their characters were given little opportunity to grow on you. It's Ender's movie after all, and Asa Butterfield did a pretty good job carrying his film. Too bad about the obligatory hopeful and happy Hollywood close, but it doesn't hurt the shocking (though not hugely surprising) climax near the end of the film that shows us just how low Ender has unintentionally sunk due to his commanding officers screwing him over, all for the so-called sake of humanity. For a film that most at first glance would consider to be a generic Sci-Fi action flick, as such it packs a more powerful punch than expected.

dinsdag 21 januari 2014

Today's Double News: Amazon wants Barbarella, we want Game of Thrones

A few more items I collected for MS these past few days:



Good television series continue to be made due to ever growing public demand, and so the search for potentially profitable properties also drones on. While Game of Thrones is currently at the height of its popularity - despite its fabulous quality, you know in terms of success it can only go down at a certain point, and I think that's not far off, as there's little new audiences to be reached (except for paying ones instead of them dirty freeloadin' downloaders!) - rival studios won't sit still, looking for that next piece of audiovisual entertainment that grips spectators by the eyeballs and won't let go until the season is over, at which point it has proven so addictive that stopping the show would be nothing less than a crime against humanity. I doubt Barbarella will be that next hit. That is, if they stick to the campy, Sixties' tone of love and permissiveness established by both the original comics and the 1968 movie, which just seems to outdated. It's basically soft-erotic Sci-Fi escapism with a touch of surreal comedy mixed in. There's nothing wrong with that (far from it!), but would audiences be waiting for such fare in these darker, grittier times of crisis and misery, where serious and bloody shows like Game of Thrones reign supreme? Maybe I'm wrong and Barbarella will prove popular amongst mature audiences (certainly won't be a kids' show!) just because it's so cheerful and positive and silly, so it will be a great addition to the existing fantasy shows due to its different style. That is, if they indeed stick to the Barbarella of old instead of needlessly adapting her to the present times, which I hope they won't. With someone like Nicolas Winding Refn, a connoisseur of classic (or less so) movies if ever I saw one, at the helm, I doubt Barbarella will undergo many changes to her promiscuous personality, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Nor would the HBO-saturated audience that expects a fair amount of bare skin these days. But Amazon is not HBO, and would do well not to gratuitously copy HBO. Better the studio develops its own distinct personality, just like Barbarella has. If you want HBO, stick to Game of Thrones. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I'm as pumped for Season 4 as the next man, and I have already scoured this seductive little video for any new revelations it might insidiously offer. Not much of those, except for a first glimpse at Mace Tyrell, and the continuing promise of a badass Red Viper. Just ten more weeks until Season 4 premieres, sit tight! And HBO, please keep these videos coming to help us get over any signs of withdrawal...

maandag 20 januari 2014

Today's Mini-Review: Deep Rising

Rating: ****/*****, or 7/10

Starring: Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald
Directed by Stephen Sommers
USA: Calimari Productions, 1998

Before Stephen Sommers sank his teeth in remaking The Mummy (and soon after milking it dry with various unwarranted sequels and spin-offs) and before going totally overboard with the remaining classic Universal Horror monsters with the lackluster Van Helsing, he had already shown his affinity for monsters with this delightful big budget B-movie. Assembling a diverse cast, including several notable character actors that would later be seen in more ambitious fare, Sommers brings us an excellent action chiller set on a luxury ocean liner on her maiden voyage that has the misfortune of being boarded by a band of ruthless brigands. Their trouble is something even more insidious beat them to their target and swiftly proceeds to move against them as well.

Treat Williams (a veteran of all kinds of TV and movie work, just not of the memorable kind) stars as smuggler captain Finnegan, who has taken on the thankless job of transporting a group of dangerous testosterone dominated mercenaries (think Aliens, except these are bad guys) to the Argonautica, a gargantuan cruise ship and playground for the rich and wealthy, that has just embarked on her first trip across the South China Sea. Offloading the volatile, loudmouth band of privateers – among them Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator, Blood Diamond), Wes Studi (Avatar, Hell on Wheels) and Jason Flemyng (Stardust, X-Men: First Class) – should be all in a day's work, but unfortunately all their plans are shot to hell when it turns out something far more sinister and deadly already boarded the boat and ate most of the passengers and crew. Stumbling upon a few survivors, including sexy con woman Trillian (Famke Janssen), the gang must soon alter their intentions as they are faced with ghastly sea monsters that mean to slither their grotesque tentacles all around their bodies to suck 'em dry. At least the revelation that the mercs planned on torpedoing the ship after they got away with the money allows them some firepower to retaliate and save their skin, provided someone is left alive to blow the boat sky-high. It's soon a matter of 'no honor among thieves' as it turns out nobody here can be trusted, not even in the face of getting devoured by slimey sea serpents, of sorts. Amidst pirates and sleazy cruise ship managers it's hard to step up as the voice of reason, but Finnegan attempts to do so anyway and at least succeeds in convincing Trillian to bail out while they still can, also making for some semi-romantic tête-a-tête between them that thankfully never gets in the way of the real fun but actually gives them both the necessary rogue-ish character. Unfortunately, Finnegan's contractors won't let them walk away and are set to complete their mission, even all through the maritime monster infestation that threatens to kill them all. Working their way through the vessel, Deep Rising's plot soon develops along the old fashioned 'ten little Indians' line, but the pleasure to be had proves none the less of it.

Unlike most of Sommers' monster movies soon to follow, Deep Rising feels like an actual entry into the horror genre, instead of catering to the 'PG-13 happy' crowd of Hollywood execs who want to make their films as accessible to most demographics as they can, which led to all his subsequent movies merely playing with horror conventions but instead devolving into typical FX driven blockbuster spectacle. Nevertheless, Sommers' willingness to throw in CGI where the budget allows him can already be felt in this film as the creatures often look overly digital (not surprising, considering digital effects were still largely new territory around this time) and particularly towards the climax end up being overused, but still the movie contains its fair share of suspenseful and gory moments. If you ever wondered what a half-digested human being looks like, here's an answer for you and it is kinda disturbing to behold. Despite the uneasy reliance on digital FX to allow the monsters to do their horrific killing, in terms of sheer fast paced action interspersed with moments of aptly timed comedy delivered by a cast that seems to thoroughly enjoy itself, Deep Rising proves to be about as entertaining as they come without feeling the need to be more than just solid popcorn enjoyment. There's a reason the film's finale comes with an hilarious open ended note – without the usual sequel pretensions – that underscores that everything that came before should not have been taken at all seriously, in case that was not perfectly clear from the onset of the film. In the annals of 'delightful movie pairings', Deep Rising's 'modern pirates versus sea monsters' deserves to be worthy of some credit.

Ultimately this effective horror extravaganza failed to attract an audience and became a typical box office bomb. Rather undeservedly so in my mind, as I consider this a vastly underrated, hugely entertaining action/horror flick. If you like dynamic action on the high oceans and you don't mind a bit of sea monsters slaughtering humans throughout, this is about as good as it gets. And if out of that sentence only the 'action' part appeals to you, Deep Rising definitely doesn't sink in its efforts.

zondag 19 januari 2014

Oscars 2014: My list of predictions

The long and dreary road to this year's Oscars has been put into motion, and no doubt people will want to know what I expect this year's winners to be. Not that I tend to care all that much about the Acadamy Awards or the whole dull press circus in the first few months of the year that accompanies it. It's just one big ritual going through all the usual motions. I much prefer to focus on the quality of these films on their own merits, without the huge buzz that surrounds them. Nevertheless, here's my list of guesses (which honestly is what they are, since you can analyze all you want but the Academy still has a habit of surprising you in the choices it makes, and often not pleasantly). I am not ashamed to say that in many cases I just go with what my gut tells me, something most critics are not prepared to admit.

Best Picture:

First choice: A tough one, as always. I can tell you which movies it won't be for sure, but as to the winner, for me it's a toss-up - as these events usually revolve around two very promising films with the results being about even, just as with the recent Golden Globes - between 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, while possibly The Wolf of Wall Street has a shot as well. For now, my money is on 12 Years a Slave, which by itself must make up for the lack of other "black" pictures in these nominations, like The Butler and Fruitvale Station, which were lobbying for an award but didn't get very far apparently.
Second Choice: American Hustle.

Best Actor:

First Choice: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave. Same reason as above really. Plus, Chiwetel is a damn fine actor and though a first time Oscar nominee, he has already five Golden Globe nominations on his resumé. It's about time he won something.
Second choice: Bruce Dern for Nebraska.

Best Actress:

First Choice: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. An Oscar favorite that really needs a Lead Actress win, as opposed to a Supporting Actress take a decade ago. All the other female performances are impeccable, but this one just stands out supremely.
Second choice: Any Adams for American Hustle.

Best Supporting Actor:

First Choice: Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips. A stellar performance from a first time actor, holding his own opposite a veteran like Tom Hanks. You don't see that every day.
Second choice: Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave.

Best Supporting Actress:

First Choice: No truly safe bets here, so I'll go with Jennifer Lawrence, since everybody likes her and so do I. Yes, that's also how this game sometimes works.
Second choice: Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave. Same reason as Barkhad Abdi, except she has done slightly more.

Best Director:

First Choice: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave. Again, same reason as why 12 Years a Slave is on this list of mine most of the times (though also because I haven't yet seen it so I can't underscore my argument in more detail). A black director winning an Oscar, doesn't happen often enough. Call me a racist if you must, but remember the b(l)acklash not so long ago when there weren't so many coloured people even nominated despite their considerable contribution to otherwise hugely nominated movies. Yes, they can!
Second choice: Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street. Because it's about friggin' time this man took home another statue, considering how often he gets nominated but leaves empty handed.

Best Original Screenplay:

First Choice: American Hustle.
Second choice: Her.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

First Choice: 12 Years a Slave.
Second choice: The Wolf of Wall Street.

Best Animated Feature:

First Choice: Frozen. Apart from The Wind Rises, the other nominess are nothing remarkable (and poor Pixar simply got ignored this year, which was a long time coming really). However, that film seems too controversial, plus it's foreign material too. Frozen is a safer bet, as it carries all the good traits of a typical Disney movie, but shows the Mouse House is finally flowing with the times a little.
Second choice: The Wind Rises.

Best Foreign Film:

First Choice: La Grande Bellezza. This year's smash hit in arthouse theaters.
Second choice: Jagten. Better late than never, but not in time for a win. This movie is like 18 months old by now!

Best Cinematography:

First Choice: Gravity. The finest, most groundbreaking and impressive camera work I've seen in many years.
Second choice: Inside Llewyn Davis.

Best Editing:

First Choice: Gravity. Cuaron and his team once again make fabulous use of his trademark long takes, and the trick is you don't even notice the cutting.
Second choice: American Hustle.

Best Production Design:

First Choice: The Great Gatsby. Spectacularly lavish, the main reason to watch this film, which leaves something to be desired in terms of story and character. But it looks flawless.
Second choice: Gravity.

Best Costume Design:

First Choice: The Great Gatsby. Like I said, it all looks grand (characters included), it just doesn't feel it.
Second choice: American Hustle.

Best Make-up:

First Choice: already an uproar has commenced due to American Hustle being wrongfully snubbed in this category. Dallas Buyer's Club therefore seems the most eligible choice left.
Second choice: The Lone Ranger.

Best Music:

First Choice: Her. It needs to win something after all.
Second choice: The Book Thief. There's scoring, and there's John Williams.

Best Song:

First Choice: Frozen. Let it go, Academy! Let it gooooohooo!!
Second choice: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Best Sound Mixing:

First Choice: Gravity.
Second choice: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Best Sound Editing:

First Choice: Gravity.
Second choice: All is Lost.

Best Visual Effects:

First Choice: Gravity. I rarely experienced a movie that deserved this honour so badly. If Gravity loses, I call shenanigans on the Academy! Wouldn't be the first time though.
Second choice: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The dragon looked badass, though I admit some other things in the film didn't appear nearly as stunning.

Best Documentary:

First Choice: The Act of Killing. Very disturbing but equally intriguing. May not be the Academy's cup of tea though.
Second choice: Dirty wars.

The first week of March will tell me how wrong, or maybe how right for a change, I just happen to be.

zaterdag 18 januari 2014

Today's News: a deluge of more Spidey pics and posters

Here's another bunch of Spider-Man images I posted on MS:


Are you getting tired of Spider-Man yet? I gotta say, this is really an agressive, in-your-face marketing campaign that Amazing Spider-Man 2 is witnessing. It seems there's new material made available every other day. And we still have more than three months to go before the movie hits, so I don't expect it to get any less any time soon, which means the movie's release will be hard to miss. New images is one thing, but what's the point of so many different posters? One possible answer in this case is building up (unconscious) franchise awareness. The 'Enemies will unite' tagline on the Electro one-sheet is a rather overt reference to the recently anounced upcoming Sinister Six spin-off movie, the groundwork for which is being laid right in this film. TAS-M2 introduces three(!) baddies from that notorious team of super villains from Spidey's rogue gallery, and if you count Lizard from the previous installment as another (though that has not yet been confirmed), you only need to spawn two more in TAS-M3 before the Six can have at the webslinger in the fourth film (also alreayd announced) and their own adventure afterwards (an all-bad guy movie would be a new one even for Marvel). As the trailers revealed - subtlety is not one of this franchise's strong suits - the identities of the missing pair have also been established already. But of course, the danger with so many characters is risking a convoluted, overcrowded movie. Remember how well (or not actually) Raimi's Spider-Man 3 fared in that regard, when it also let loose three antagonists on our hero? At least director Marc Webb will have a decent blueprint on how not to do things storywise.

And if a Sinister Six movie wasn't enough, it seems Spidey's archenemy Venom is getting his own solofilm too, though no word yet on how this character is gonna get introduced prior to that happening. The proposed project certainly won't build on Raimi's third Spider-movie (thankfully!). Since Venom needs to be (re)introduced through a Spider-Man film first (otherwise you completely ignore the origin of the character and his motivations), everybody's guess is he will pop up in TAS-M3 too, which means he could possibly replace Lizard as a Sinister Six member. But why then the privilege of a solo film? After all, it seems unfair and overkill if we would see Venom both in his own film and the proposed Sinister Six flick, unless he would be replaced by another villain in the latter, rendering the Sinster Six Venomless but justifying a Venom movie more strongly. As you can see, Sony Pictures' intended development of the Spider-Universe is already rife with questions about the future of characters not yet introduced, and that universe at present still consists of only one film. But a constant stream of images, posters and the occasional new vague comment from the director and execs keeps the fans' discussions and controversies going and ensures it will survive for a few more years. Are you getting tired of Spider-Man yet? If not, you probably will eventually, if those Spider-fans can't shut up about it until solid information is finally released.

vrijdag 17 januari 2014

Today's Double News: Baron Von Strucker's walk of shame

Two recent newsflashes on MS, courtesy of myself:



*Sigh* Here I go again, getting al emotionally invested in what appears to be a fairly average American comedy starring all the usual suspects. That means, I admit I laughed at this trailer. Not the 'ROFLMAO' type of laughter, but definitely a mild case of smirky giggling in the private confines of my own home where I could not be judged by others for this short loss of self-control. Walk of Shame has some potential, but then, a lot of similar comedies did these past few years and very few of them did not succumb to poor, predictable endings plagued by re-establishing overly conservative ideological social patterns, despite making us suspect they opted for a different route at the start of the film by suggesting a rebellious attitude (We're The Millers, anyone?). Iwould wager coin on the assumption that after her ordeal is over, Banks gets hitched with James Marsden and chooses a generic romantic entanglement over embarking on the busy, prestigious life of a successful career girl (it's usually one or the other, never both). Surprises don't seem in store for us on this one, but there's no great shame (see what I did there?) in saying the trailer looks to deliver two hours of mindless enjoyment regardless.

What was surprising this week was the revelation that the Avengers will face a second villain in their next joined venture, Age of Ultron. As if the likes of a homicidal robot hellbent on the annihilation of the human race wasn't enough of a threat, Earth's Mightiest Heroes must now also face an all too human (more or less) nemesis with ties to Captain America's past as a WW II hero. Former Nazi officer and current Hydra overlord Baron Wolfgang von Strucker has the dubious honor of playing second fiddle to James Spader's maniacal mechanical man, though how the two relate to one another in the context of the plot - if at all - remains to be seen. Considering their goals and personal drives, an alliance between the pair seems unlikely. Kretschmann's ability to make for a worthy adversary is a given though. The noted German actor with his surprisingly durable and flexible Hollywood career has been one of my favorite actors on the European continent since playing the badass Captain Englehorn in Peter Jackson's King Kong. Maybe he'll succeed in making the good Baron an interesting baddie for a change, since I found him to be a rather dull character in the comics. Who needs another ex-Nazi leading Hydra if you already have the formidable Red Skull for that job? Though I would still pick Hugo Weaving (who played that particular character on Captain America: The First Avenger) over Kretschmann every (other) day, I'm positive the latter actor will cause the Avengers quite some grief for our viewing pleasure.

donderdag 16 januari 2014

The Lost World: Exclusive Young Tyrannosaurus Rex

Year of release: 1997

-Dino Tracker figure
-Three pieces of capture gear
-Dino Damage wound patch
-Tranq Bazooka (with two missiles)

Description: this repainted Young T-Rex figure has not been retooled from its JPS1 counterpart, except it stands reared upwards more than the original because of the way it is packaged. Asides from this, it stands in a fully neutral posture, and still features “realistic” dinosaur skin (though there is no such thing of course, since we’ll never know for sure what dinosaur skin felt like), made of a more flexible and softer material than the regular hard plastic. The figure’s arms, lower legs and inside of the mouth are not composed of this rubbery material. On its right flank a piece of skin can be removed, revealing a dino damage wound underneath, showing white ribs and pink muscle tissue. The wound patch itself is largely symmetrical in shape. The Rex’s small two fingered arms are the only poseable body parts. The jaws of this Rex, which can be opened by squeezing the creature’s neck, provide the main attack option, revealing a very bright pink tongue and inside of the mouth, and clean white teeth.
Apart from the noticeable pinkness in this creature's mouth, this Young Rex sports an otherwise dark paint job. At first glance it might as well be entirely black. However, on closer examination, this figure's paint job is made up of dark green with dark brown tones randomly mixed in all over its body, most notably on the tail and upper legs. Its underside (belly, throat, lower jaw, lower part of the tail) is of a lighter green than the rest of its body, but still very dark. The colouring on the lower legs and arms is much brighter, presumably because of the different material they're made of. These body parts are painted in a mixture of brown tones, one dark and one much lighter, making them stand out more. Especially the hind part of both legs and the underside of the feet are of a much different, brighter colour quality than the rest of this figure. Additionally, the dinosaur has black claws on hands and feet, as well as small white eyes with black pupils in black eye sockets. As is the case with the other TLW Exclusive dinosaurs, there's no JP logo found on this figure.
Three pieces of capture gear come with this Rex. There's a cuff like tag, which comes with most dinosaurs featuring capture gear, but is quite big in this case, and fits well around the creature's neck. It also comes with a leg restraint, which can hold on to both legs simultaneously. Lastly, there is a big muzzle which can go around the figure's jaws, effectively disabling them, while also covering the eyes, so the Rex can't see what's going on. All three pieces are coloured in the same metallic grey paint job.
The muscled Dino Tracker stands in a largely neutral pose, though his right leg is pointed outwards to some extent, making him look like he's bracing himself for something. Also, he holds his arms quite close to his torso, more so than other human figures. He wears short blue pants adorned with pockets, a belt and a knife at the back, all in the same colour. He also sports a black vest, revealing a muscular, bare chest underneath. The vest comes with green and red detailing and a JP T-Rex logo (black Rex skull and arms in a yellow circle) on the left part of his chest. Additionally, the Tracker wears black boots with blue socks sticking out, a black belt around his waist and a dark green baseball cap (which he wears with the flap at the back of his head) with a second JP Rex logo on it. His skin colour is somewhat lighter than on most other human figures. He also has black hair, a beard with moustache, black eyes and eyebrows, and a rather stony facial expression.
The Tracker is equipped with a large bazooka, basically a black tube with a small box at the end and a big one up front. 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 produced. This set also features a black backpack with black straps so the Tracker can carry it on his back. The pack has two holes in it, one for either missile.

Analysis: as if two huge Rexes, a hatchling and a Junior Rex weren't enough for the TLW lines, a repaint of the JPS1 Young T-Rex was issued as an exclusive set, expanding the Rex family so it incorporates tyrant king lizards of all ages. None of the TLW Rexes sport the same paint job however, and this Young Rex is no exception, featuring a rather dark, Gothic looking colour scheme. It's a rather original paint job, but looks quite monochromatic on first sight. However, those who take a closer look will find a very naturalistic and “life like” paint job, instead of one of the typical 'brown with black stripes' schemes that have been so overused. However, the arms and legs, and especially the idiotic pink inside the mouth feel out of place on this figure because they're so different, like the Rex sports an unsuccessful mixture of paint styles. But still, the effort to do something different should be applauded.
Apart from the paint job, nothing has changed on this figure, which has had two previous incarnations already. This Rex still comes with two main action features. The first is the typical dino damage wound patch, which was found on most larger dinosaur figures of the first JP toy lines (and is also present on several larger TLWS1 dinosaur figures). Removing the Rex’s wound patch reveals a nasty wound, which makes one wonder what creature would dare attack a T-Rex (a larger T-Rex maybe?). The wound looks gory, but the shape of the wound patch is too perfect and artificial: it looks like someone just cut an almost symmetrical hole in this little Rex, instead of him suffering from a vicious attack by a rival carnivore.
The second option applied to this figure is a so-called biting action. However, these biting jaws are a rather cheap action feature, since it’s only because of the soft material the dinosaur’s skin is composed of that this biting action is produced. Various other big carnivore figures come with biting actions, but more work is put in those by adding inventive biting mechanisms instead, making this figure's biting jaws pale in comparison. Squeezing the neck does open its jaws decently though, while it can also be used adequately to trap unfortunate figures’ body parts between them. It may not look very appealing, but at least it works to some degree.
This Young T-Rex comes with the same capture gear as its JPS2 predecessor It does a very good job subduing Junior Rex, making it unable to walk, bite or even see. The tag that comes with it actually has a function here, since it features a JP logo the Rex itself is lacking, so this dinosaur can be more easily identified as a JP figure. This tag is also rather large, making its less easy to lose.
Though it's still a good figure ans hasn't been really altered aside from the new paint job, there's one slight modification made to this Young Rex which has nasty consequences. It is packaged in such a way that it stands up more straight, which can cause damage to the material that holds together the two halves of this figure (the front part, which consists of the torso with arms and head, and the hind part, which covers the tail and legs). It's not unusual to see Young Rexes that have a big split in the middle, as if someone took a knife and tried to cut the figure in half but stopped halfway through the process. Therefore, if you don't want this to happen to your TLW Young T-Rex, be careful and don't play too rough with it. (This warning also applies to the JPD1 Young T-Rex repaint which often shows the same issue, but not to the JPS1/2 Young T-Rexes, both of which rarely feature this disability because they were packaged differently.)
This set comes with a nameless Dino Tracker figure, sporting less clothing than most other human figures have, which is obviously useful in warm jungle environments where ferocious dinosaurs have to be fought. It's a good new paint job on this figure (which is also a repaint), but the abundance of black doesn't balance well with the rather bleak skin colour on this figure, making him look somewhat sickly. This is especially true of his head, which sports a big black beard and moustache that look like they're fake. However, apart from this minor complaint (and feel free to disagree) this is not at all a bad figure, all the more so because he comes with an excellent weapon. The bazooka, which remains unchanged in paint job and design from the original that came with JPS1 Muldoon, is still a formidable weapon. It works very well and has a great firing range for such a small weapon, no doubt making it the weapon of choice for most JP toy fans. The set also comes with the same backpack to store the missiles in when unused. Both backpack and bazooka are still painted black, which does make this set a little monochromatic, since the Tracker himself sports a largely black outfit as well.

Playability: for the set as a whole, quite good. Though only the arms of the T-Rex are really moveable, the flexible material allows for additional poseability to some extent (including the jaw motion). The dino damage wound patch is easily removable and can also be put back with little difficulty, but when applied to the figure it’s stuck strong enough so it doesn’t fall off on its own accord. Though usually the figure stands well balanced, more worn out Rexes occasionally have trouble standing up straight and tend to stand in a tripod pose with the tail on the ground. Since this figure is easily damaged, it's better not to play too rough with it, also given its rarity. In fact, if you want to play with this sculpt, it's better to play with its JPS1 version instead of risking damage to this figure. The Tracker has the usual range of poseable body parts (head, legs and arms). The bazooka is one of the most effective and playable weapons of all human figures. It has a great range and strong impact force, comes with two different missiles for variety and the backpack provides storage space for both of them, be it loose or on the Tracker's back. The bazooka may not be strong enough to knock the Rex over, but it's always a challenge to try and shoot the dino damage patch off the dinosaur (in which case you need to loosen it a bit, otherwise it won't let go). A bit violent for kids maybe, but fun nonetheless.
Realism: though no Young T-Rex was seen in the movie, a juvenile Rex much like this one played a minor role in Michael Crichton’s original novel. This figure seems to be originally based off the book instead of the movie. Of course, that doesn't matter in this repaint's case, for which its medium size in comparison to the other TLW Rex figures might have been the main reason to re-release it. Its paint job is very different from the other Rexes of the various JP toy lines, and doesn't resemble the paint scheme of the T-Rexes in the movies at all. The Dino Tracker isn't supposed to look like anybody, being an invention on Kenner's part. The bazooka wasn’t featured in the movie, though it’s a more likely weapon compared to some of the other pieces of weaponry Kenner came up with for the TLW lines.

Repaint: yes, this set consists only of repaints. The Rex itself is a repainted JPS1/2 Young T-Rex, with the same set of capture gear as the JPS2 Young T-Rex featured. The Dino Tracker is a repaint of JPS2 Harpoon Harrison. His accessories originally came with JPS1/2 Robert Muldoon, and these have not been altered in any way. The Young Rex would be repainted (and retooled) again for the first JP: Dinosaurs line, along with its capture gear. The Dino Tracker would be repainted a second time for the JP III Exclusive Dino Tracking Set, but with different accessories. The bazooka, including backpack and missiles, would be repainted again (and retooled as well) for the TLWS2 Eddie Carr figure.

Overall rating: 7/10. On close inspection, this Rex has a very original and realistic new paint job, but it hardly holds up from more than a yard away. Other than that it's still a good figure, though the dino damage provides the only real action. The Tracker himself is a fine repaint, though the beard looks a bit silly. The bazooka is still one of the best weapons ever produced for a JP toy. This set is worth getting if you happen to find it for a good price, but since it's very rare (it was only released at Toys'R'Us in the USA) and usually fetches high prices, you might as well settle for a regular JPS2 Harpoon Harrison, Muldoon's bazooka and JPS1 Young T-Rex otherwise.