vrijdag 28 februari 2014

Jurassic Park Chaos Effect: Compstegnathus

Year of release: 1998

Description: this hybrid bipedal carnivore stands in a stalking posture, with its legs braced for action, possibly running or jumping on prey. Its left arm is held backwards, while its right arm is extended, mostly for supporting the creature in a sort of tripod position because it wouldn’t be able to stand up otherwise. Its tail, which like the plates on its back is made of a softer material than the rest of its body, is bent downwards, because otherwise it wouldn’t fit on its card. Compstegnathus has a rather small body with a long neck and a large head by comparison.
Its upper jaw is poseable, which also supports the tongue lashing action this creature is equipped with. Between the larger spiky plates on its back there’s an orange lever which can be pulled towards the front part of the animal. Doing this makes a large orange tongue stick out of its mouth, similar in look to a snake’s, being split in two at the top. Figure’s limbs or accessories can be clamped between the two parts of the tongue. Above the right flank of the creature there’s a small orange button. Pushing it makes the tongue retract back into the mouth, the intention being it pulls whatever is clasped between it along with it. This doesn’t usually work as well as it should though.
Most of the Compstegnathus’ body is coloured sickly green, except for the lower end of the tail which is blue, and also excluding the upper jaw. A large black stripe runs on either flank from the back of the head towards the tail, with the upper tail being all black. A thin yellow stripe is located in the middle of both black stripes, running to about halfway the tail. The monster’s arms and legs are all black, including the claws. The plates on its back and the spikes on the end of the tail are also black, though the three largest plates on either side of the creature, above the legs, feature spiky patterned yellow spots on them. All spikes and plates are arranged in a totally symmetrical pattern. The upper jaw is black, adorned with a trio of large blue spots and tiny orange eyes. The creature’s teeth are yellow. Additional black spots are found on the lower jaw. A large blue JP CE logo is located on the right upper leg, along with the number .49.
This creature does not come with any pieces of capture gear.

Analysis: this creature features a cool hybrid design with a very colourful paint job to match, but has some serious flaws which hamper its overall coolness.
The most obvious point of criticism lies in the tongue assault action. Though it’s quite original (and in fact the first and last time such an attack feature has been seen on a JP figure), it just doesn’t work very well. Pushing the lever forwards does make the tongue stick out far enough, and pressing the little button makes it retract with speed, but it’s just not strong enough to make for an effective or impressive attack action. Though plenty of arms and legs or weapons and other parts of both human and dinosaur figures fit between the two halves of the tongue, they slip loose too easily when the tongue retracts. So the Compstegnathus doesn’t get them between its hungry jaws, but makes them fall down at best. Also, the lever and button, due to their orange colouring, are so blatantly visible they give a way too artificial look to this creature. I get that this was done to make them easy to find and handle, but it would have been preferable to camouflage them within the creature’s overall colour pattern.
Another nuisance this beastie comes with is the lousy playability and poseability. The creature needs to put its right arm on the ground because it falls down otherwise, and this greatly takes away from its playability. In fact, the only pose it looks cool in is the way it’s carded.
Still, there are some positive aspects. The paint job is quite neat, though there’s a little too much black for my taste. The design of this hybrid monster, as a small bipedal hunter with nasty spikes and plates and a retracting tongue for catching unsuspecting prey, also scores some points qua originality. The good ideas found in this figure would have been worthy of a better sculpt.

Playability: feeble. Like stated above, the creature can’t stand on just its legs but needs its right arm to do so. Though both arms and legs are poseable, they’re located quite close to one another and get in each other’s way (this goes especially for the left arm and leg). It would have been cool if the tail was bendable (to apply some good old Stego tail action onto this figure) but despite the softer material this is not the case. The upper jaw can also move but flaps right back.

Realism: the overall look of this animal is well designed and contains sufficient elements from both the large bulky spiked Stegosaurus and the tiny agile Compsognathus, making for a medium sized pack hunter with nasty spikes for protection. The African Tree Frog, which is also part of the DNA mix according to the card, is less visible and seems to be added only to justify the interesting tongue lashing action. It’s also a bit redundant, since the Jurassic Park dinosaurs already featured African frog DNA into their genetic makeup (according to Mr. DNA that is). However, since none of the normal JP dinosaurs featured lashing tongues, the frog connection obviously had to be made more clear because the tongue action made less sense otherwise.

Repaint: no. This figure, like all of the new Chaos Effect sculpts, would not be repainted for later toy lines either.

Overall rating: 5/10. Though original qua concept, this figure suffers from some irritating design flaws decreasing its potential as a successful sculpt. It’s one of the more common Chaos Effect figures and shouldn’t prove too difficult to get should you want one yourself. Ebay is probably your best bet, though this figure was also imported in some territories were this toy line didn’t get an official release, so it may pop up in unexpected places. Costs tend to vary.

donderdag 27 februari 2014

Today's review: Nebraska

It's been a while, but I finally wrote another review for MovieScene:


Now this was truly a charming film, both beautifully poignant and utterly hilarious at times. It has a small but delightful story, a lot of heart, strong performances throughout and a fabulously cinephile style hearking back to cinematic glory from ages past, as is clearly its intention. BUt you can read all that in the actual review. It would be a shame if this movie didn't score an Academy Award or two, though it features very tough competition and in terms of Oscars will likely end up one of those overlooked gems. I'm pretty sure it will find its audience, which will give it the praise it is due.

woensdag 26 februari 2014

Today's Triple News: Heroes and villains

My increasing lack of spare time continues to wreak havoc on my regular, timely updating of this blog. So here's another bit of triple news, some of it days old by now. Expect this sort of thing to occur more often in the future.




Of all the cancelled shows they just had to resurrect the series that least deserved it in my opinion. I disliked Heroes from the pilot on, and couldn't be bothered to
watch beyond the first season. It was severely overhyped
and dreadfully uninspired. Anyone who knows his superhero comics had an easy time recognizing just where they stole the various characters, powers and plot lines from. The show also exceeded its fair share of hommages to similar works, so it was hard to consider it paying tribute to (better) thematic forebears as it blatantly appropriated such names for its own uses. I had a hard time swallowing this show's popularity, but fortunately I got to enjoy a surprisingly similar but superior show called The 4400, which debuted only a year or so prior to the release of Heroes, but also was copied by that show abundantly. That series hardly got any audience love at all, and also ended up prematurely cancelled. I would much rather have seen that series return, as it's highly frustrating to know it left us with so many unanswered questions. Not the first show where that happened though. Enterprise, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Caprica, V and the notorious Firefly... all terrific shows that deserved more episodes but were denied. But apparently Heroes was just popular enough for the network to try again five years later, same people beind the scenes involved. At least it's for only 13 episodes. God forbid it catches on well enough to end up getting more. The shameless intellectual theft that characterized the previous show already seems to continue unabashed, as the title Heroes Reborn is suspiciously similar to the line of comics from the same name that witnessed alternate versions of the Marvel Universe superheroes, after they supposedly died in their regular universe. Won't be the last time Heroes takes a note from Marvel. Again.

Game of Thrones, now there's a fabulously well crafted show not likely to get cancelled anytime soon! Both its general popularity and anticipation for the upcoming fourth season are ever stronger on the rise. To tease us a bit more, HBO released a bunch of moody character posters of the most beloved established characters that are yet alive. But will they be for much longer? Their grim faces aren't accompanied by the ominous exclamation 'Valar Morghulis' for nothing... some of these (or all of them, mayhaps!) are bound to die in the near future. Most likely excruciatingly, knowing this show's nature and HBO's delightfully sick, depraved mind. Of course I spoiled myself big time by reading the books so I know just who are the goners here, but I like the suggestive way HBO handles this marketing campaign, knowing just what buttons to press to ensure its spectators keep on spectating. It's like the contemporary equivalent of a high profile Roman gladiatorial match, and these are the contestans. Who will kick the bucket? Place your bets! But never bet against a lady with three pet dragons.

And Spider-Man got himself another trailer. This time it's a full three minutes and it basically shows you the events of the movie in a nutshell. You know a promotional campaign is nearing its end when they resort to giving so mcuh plot away, even though half of it is old news by now. I doubt we'll be getting any more trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We've got several of those, various behind-the-scenes videos, many a poster and banner: it should suffice to get people's attention. Best thing Sony can do now is sit back and watch the money flow its way. And prep the third movie of course, since this one is bound to break a few more of those annually smashed box office records. Whether the moniker 'amazing' is warranted still remains to be seen, considering the previous installment didn't exactly fit that description. That said, this one does look more appealing in my mind, though with a severe risk of overdoing it in terms of the number of present characters.

maandag 24 februari 2014

Today's Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: ****/*****, or 7/10

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs remains an overlooked piece of animation from recent years. Maybe because it's not a Pixar movie, maybe because it doesn't have as distinct a style as the likes of Aardman or Laika's stop motion features, maybe it's because it does have a somewhat generic quality to it at first glimpse. That said, it's a blast of a film, a great joy from beginning to end. And apparently it did well enough at the boxoffice to spawn a successor, as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has now thundered into theaters.

Its title is a work of deception, aimed to convince audiences this is indeed a sequel. There's few meatballs to be found here, while the meteorological aspect has been toned down significantly. What remains is the characters from the first film, as well as the delightfully whimsical humour and offbeat visual design that characterized the previous movie. Though the directors of the original film decided to do The LEGO Movie instead, they left the project in the capable hands of people who understood and appreciated the quirky subject matter.

After his home island of Swallow Falls got covered in edible stuff during a giant foodstorm he partially caused, young inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) and his friends have relocated to the big city of San Franhosé, where Flint is now working for Live Corp, a big company of science enthusiasts created by his idol Chester V (Will Forte). While that firm is also attempting to clean up the island to make it livable for the human population again, strange things happen to the mop-up crew and Chester calls on Flint for aid. Against his mentor's advice, he recruits his friends, including his girlfriend Sam (Anna Faris) and his stern father (James Caan), to help him in his mission. To their astonishment, Swallow Falls has reverted to a wild, primordial jungle, inhabited by all manner of strange animals and plants, some friendly, others dangerous. And it's all made out of food. Exploring this new wilderness he inadvertently created, Flint finds that not all is as it seems and starts questioning his allegiance. Flint soon must choose between the side of science and cold reasoning or to stick to his irrational friends and family instead, as the two sides of himself prove at odds over the future of the island and its wildlife. 

Cloudy 2 swaps food weather for food animals. That's not a bad thing, as it avoids lazy repetition. No more zany weather patterns like spaghetti tornadoes, now we have 'foodimals' like shrimpanzees and hippotatomuses. It will come as no surprise that a lot of the jokes are provided by such play-on-words, some ingenious, others less clever. Nevertheless, the wonderful look of these beasties – including the cutest strawberries ever! – clearly shows the fun the animators must have had while designing this film. At the same time, the characters we came to know and love from the previous film are left intact. Sadly, not all of them are given their due, as the emotional core of the movie is personified by Flint's idol on one side and his father and girl on the other. The remaining supporting characters are doing just that, without contributing to the whole much. Though the energetic cop Earl and the multi-talented cameraman Manny are still good for a laugh or two, they could have been left out altogether, in favour of developing the new antagonist more closely. No mistake is made from the beginning on that the expert sillywalker Chester is the bad guy, though in the end, the motivations of his diabolical schemes leave something to be desired, considering his supposed intellect. Cloudy 2 can definitely be accused of putting more focus on the look of the film than on the development of its characters.

Such slights are easily forgiven, as the film provides an excellent second course in terms of visuals. The fabulous forests of foodstuff, the clinically clean Live Corp headquarters, the quirky cityscapes, it all looks delectable to behold. Whereas the beasts of the jungle are obviously Jurassic Park inspired, their dwelling place takes a note or two from Avatar's pages, adorned with bioluminescence and all manner of bizarre features. This visual feast definitely sets Cloudy 2 apart from its predecessor, which proved more simple and primitive in this regard, giving it a look and feel all its own. As the plot was inspired by JP, so too the eye candy is only loosely based on Cloudy 1, instead of merely carbon copying it.

The elaborate visuals notwithstanding, there's a thing or two to be said against the film's morality. Its message is one of ecological respect, speaking out against the rape of nature for the sake of making money. However, as cute as the foodimals may be, they remain aberrations. An ecosystem has formed on this island, but what of the original ecosystem that had to make place for it? Our heroes connect to these creatures, seeing them as more than food, because they have grown to be living, breathing entities. But what of the sardines they happily consume, which were living, breathing entities to begin with? Should they not also fall under the same category? Where do the protagonists draw the line in deciding which creatures to stand up for, and which to see as mere food? Uneasy questions like these are formed when they do not eat animals made of food, but teach them how to fish for normal lifeforms instead.

It seems such questions never occurred to the writers, as the story of Cloudy 2 is subject to the execution in terms of jokes and visual flair. The latter works its magic throughout, awing us with one spectacular sight after another and charming us with their inhabitants, both human and food. The former is good for a smile all through the piece: though the number of truly memorable jokes remains somewhat limited compared to the previous installment, most gags prove effective in the short bursts they seem designed for. If the first movie was the main course, Cloudy 2 is a fine dessert, a four-flavoured sorbet, comprised of your favourite taste, two others you like fine, and one you never really cared for.

zondag 23 februari 2014

Today's Poster: the big G returns to do what he does best

I found another neat new poster to post on MovieScene:


This is how you do a good poster, at least in the case of a remake (which is sort of what this movie is, though there's plenty of room for new material). You refamiliarise your audience with the character in question, in a setting that brings about a shock of recognition. It reminds you what you remember most about what you liked about the original character, which is thrashing cities in Godzilla's case. If you like Godzilla at all, that is; which a lot of people apparently do, considering the 28 original Japanese movies and the two American remakes, this being the second. It's a giant monster movie staple, but spectators still get a kick out of seeing human habitat laid to waste at the feet of some ferocious, titanic creature. Especially if the city being demolished is familiar to them (hence why these movies usually tend to favour big landmark cities, obviously). At the same time, this movie makes you curious enough not to get overly negative about this iconic character being milked again for a new generation, by adding the element of curiosity. What are those falling lights above Godzilla's head? Is he gonna get mixed up with alien lifeforms with nefarious schemes again, maybe? This poster also adequately displays what Godzilla is all about (or at least, should be), functioning as the ultimate nuclear nightmare destroying human lives by the thousands after having been resurrected by man's folly of playing with powers too big and volatile for his control or understanding. Nevertheless, if Godzilla will indeed fight extraterrestrial antagonists or rivalling giant mutations, he may also be mankind's only hope. Whether 'Kaiju' enthusiast Gareth Edwards (Monsters) will opt for either take on Godzilla, or just go for both, remains to be seen. That he gets Godzilla however seems clear from this poster. Plus, unlike what happened to the previous Godzilla, he honours the original Japanese design by staying close to it, instead of giving him a giant make-over as occurred in 1998. That also can't hurt.

vrijdag 21 februari 2014

Today's News: Hounsou en Reedus getting some air, blowing off steam

Here's another newsflash, two days old by now:


Sources informed me this is a low budget production, and the script sure seems to suggest it, considering this doesn't exactly sound like an original idea. People go into suspended animation because of some catastrophic event, and those few unlucky souls left behind to keep their cryogenic tubes up and running start to unravel mentally, becoming a danger to themselves and their mission, and thus to everybody else. As is the case with many a Sci-Fi plot, I've already seen this concept on Star Trek. Twice, in fact. Remember that episode of Voyager where the ship passes through a lethal nebula and the whole crew is put in stasis except for Seven and the Doctor, and ultimately she is all alone and goes bonkers big time? Or remember that episode of Enterprise where the ship passes through a lethal nebula and the whole crew is put in stasis except for Phlox, and ultimately he is all alone and goes bonkers big time? Well, there you basically have the same plot as in this movie called Air. Circumstances are different, a post-apocalyptic event - in this case, a lack of breathable atmosphere - is added to up the ante a bit, as befits a movie as opposed to a TV show, where everything is bigger, including the stakes involved. As is the case with most post-apocalyptic films, it mostly revolves around the few survivors interacting with each other and ending up unable to cooperate for mutual benefit, so everybody gets screwed over by that unfortunate human tendency.

Dramatically, the most interesting aspect in this regard is the increasingly tense situation between the parties involved, slowly but surely getting ever more hostile until the shit hits the fan. Man simply cannot coexist with his fellow man, even if his life depends on it, is what this type of films usually informs us. But we sure keep enjoying to watch decent actors go at it and reach that intense crescendo. Norman Reedus definitely is no stranger to this subject matter, as he's experienced his fair bit of post-apocalyptic survival troubles playing Daryl on The Walking Dead. However, Reedus' experience as a film actor is so far limited, which is where Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator, Amistad, Blood Diamond) fits right in. The latter's involvement in a low budget picture like this is somewhat surprising, considering his resumé of big budget Hollywood bluckbusters (he's currently got Fast and Furious 7 and Guardians of the Galaxy on his slate), but maybe he just needed a break from all that in favor of something smaller, and probably more challenging. I have faith in both actors's capability to play characters who at their core are good, but will go to any length when survival is at issue. Both have a habit of playing tough, strong characters who take crap from nobody, so they're rather evenly matched. Since both gentlemen are also terrific actors I'll enjoy seeing what they make in this Trek plot rehash, but otherwise this movie doesn't sound particularly noteworthy.

donderdag 20 februari 2014

Jurassic Park Chaos Effect: Tyrannonops

Year of release: 1998

-Three pieces of capture gear

Description: this carnivorous quadruped hybrid stands in a somewhat active mode, with its right hind leg and front left leg posed forward and its other legs positioned backward, as if walking. The rest of the figure’s body assumes a neutral posture. Tyrannonops comes with biting jaws: pulling the right hind leg back causes the upper jaw, equipped with four nasty looking dagger like fangs, to raise upwards, as if the monster is opening its maul, ready to close those jaws around an unfortunate creature’s body. An interesting detail: the creature’s purple tongue sticks out when the animal opens its mouth. Releasing the leg makes the jaws close with a snap.
Tyrannonops is adorned with an intricate and colourful paint job. The dominant colour is orange, which can be found over almost all of its body, especially on the limbs, around the throat, the midsection and the base of the tail, as well as behind the eyes. A darker, almost brown, shade of orange is located on its back, above the legs and on top of the midsection. The creature sports small beige spots surrounded by black stripes on its tail, and larger versions of this colour scheme around its waist and near the head. The monster’s lower jaw is beige, while the upper jaw is black with a purple spot on each side containing its beige eyes (no irises, unlike the Tyrannonops featured on the card). It’s got some small black spots on its back, the small claws on all four feet are also black, and a black JP CE logo is found on the upper right hind leg, along with what appears to be the number .66, though it’s a bit hard to tell (it might also be .06, .86 or .96).
The Tyrannonops comes with three pieces of capture gear, all painted metallic dark blue. There’s the typical handcuff, in this case large enough to fit around the monster’s muscled neck, as well as some leg shackles shaped like a cross to keep the beast from walking away. Thirdly, there’s a head piece which can go around the creature’s head, in an attempt to keep it from using those strong jaws. It doesn’t work though, since activating the biting action also makes the figure thrash the head piece of when it’s on.

Analysis: another older creature sculpt makes its way into the Chaos Effect toy line, also sporting a colourful makeover. In the case of the Raptor Alpha, the figure benefited from its new colour scheme. Tyrannonops has a less appealing and even somewhat ugly look to him, though this is of course a subjective comment. The combination of orange, black and beige, albeit on the original side, just isn’t my cup of tea.
Fortunately the designers didn’t mess with the biting action, labelled ‘saber strike fangs’ on the figure’s card. Pulling the leg back makes the Tyrannonops open its mouth stupendously wide and sticking its tongue out (it looks a bit silly, but it’s a neat little touch). The jaws snap back with force, tightly gripping anything unlucky enough to be in their path. Be careful though, doing this too often or too rough may cause paint wear (minor though, but paint wear nonetheless). It’s one of the more effective and powerful biting actions off the various toy lines, and always a blast to perform.
The capture gear, also repainted, does its job relatively well. Though the cuff isn’t very useful, the legs restraints secure the monster’s feet to a satisfactory extent. The same isn’t necessarily true for the head muzzle, since the creature has the ability to sling it off using its forceful jaws. But by its own accord the head piece sticks to the head well enough. Other than this, the capture gear doesn’t add much, as usual.

Playability: Tyrannonops comes with the usual range of poseable limbs as well as a moveable upper jaw. Though its legs are positioned in a walking mode this doesn’t hinder playability much. The creature is equipped with a strong and easily accessible biting action, capable of gripping human figures and smaller dinosaurs without problems. However, the tongue of the figure might get in the way when biting something. The three pieces of capture gear form a nice way to restrain the animal, but aren’t much use otherwise, though the head piece can be removed by activating the biting action, so there’s a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraints option involved to some extent.

Realism: being a repaint of the Lycaenops sculpt, this figure obviously shows too much Lycaenops features and no hint of Rex DNA whatsoever. Though the orange paint job echoes the colouring of the large Omega T-Rex of this toy line, it’s the only link to Tyrannosaurs one can spot here. It would have made more sense to call it a cross between a Lycaenops and some other four legged predator, maybe even a modern day animal like a tiger (hence the tiger like paint job). Given the fact the Tanaconda and Compstegnathus figures of this toy line also featured present day creatures’ DNA, it wouldn’t seem strange Tyrannonops underwent a similar genetic makeup. Now this creature just doesn’t live up to its name.

Repaint: yes. This figure is a repaint of the JPS2 Lycaenops, featuring repainted capture gear which originally came with that same sculpt. A second Lycaenops repaint, including the same capture gear, would be released in the first JP Dinosaurs line later on.

Overall rating: 7/10. The sculpt is good as ever, still featuring the powerful biting jaws it originally had, but the new paint job is nothing special and even a bit ugly. This is one of the more common CE figures and thus is easier to find than most of the other figures of this toy line. It shouldn’t prove too hard to find one at a decent price either.

woensdag 19 februari 2014

Today's Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy unleashed at last

Posted the teaser above on MovieScene yesterday, but everybody will agree the video below is much more interesting:


This movie is looking better and better. There's a delightful 'space opera' vibe about the whole project, a seemingly highly entertaining blend between wild adventure, quirky humour and explosive action in a fabulously otherworldly Sci-Fi setting, suppported by an enthusiastic cast that seems to thoroughly enjoy their zany characters. I even look forward to seeing that talking raccoon in action now. Nevertheless, the last movie that gave me this feeling was John Carter, which I ended up loving while most others sadly did not, as it flopped mercilessly. Maybe this type of movie is just passé, over and done with, too retro for its own good? Maybe people these days are too cynical, so it's too difficult to visually entrance them as they're being transporting to extraterrestrial sights and sounds. Call it 'Star Wars prequel trilogy backlash' if you must, you wouldn't be wrong. I'm just hopeful the Marvel logo breeds certain expectations about what audiences can look forward to - i.e., superheroes - that may not fall in line with reality, as this is not really a superhero movie. In most other respects however, this movie appears to fit right in with Marvels canon of films in tone and atmosphere. However, if the Disney logo wasn't enough to draw audiences to go and see John Carter, would the Marvel logo be enough to ensure Guardians of the Galaxy fares better at the boxoffice? Especially with the knowledge (though probably not something general audiences will ever consider) that Disney and Marvel are now sleeping in the same bed. If these Guardians succeed in winning spectators over, as I sincerely hope they will, maybe space opera will be rewarded a new life as well.

dinsdag 18 februari 2014

Today's News: rise of the sustainable superhero

Another MS newsflash from mine own hand:


Not much novel actual content from the movie itself here, except for some new snappy gags showing off Spidey's trademark sense of humour (sorely missed in Raimi's trilogy of Spider-films). Otherwise these are typical puff pieces, in which the cast and crew reminisce about how great it was to make this movie, how much they adored each other on set and how lucky they are to have these jobs. Which is the usual sort of thing for featurettes like these to show. They serve as little more than promotional pieces reminding you of how much you want to see this movie by displaying little new material but showing mostly 'the good times' from the set so you get the idea that these people have the greatest jobs imaginable, and therefore the resulting final film is a work of love, instead of mere business. The 'Sustainability' video is interesting in this regard too, as it reveals how much studios aim to appear as if they care about more than just the huge sums of money that are involved, in this particular case by 'going green'. Producing big blockbuster movies is after all a hugely wasteful exercise, and there's definite room for improvement there. Now that public sentiment towards ecological thinking turns ever more in the direction of widespread embrace by vast audience numbers, studios hop on this bandwagon to show the folks that are likely to buy tickets they care about the environment too. Especially in the case of giant multi-million dollar projects like this one, public relations are of the utmost importance, so the studio must appear as likeable and openminded as possible. You didn't think they were going green because it actually is the most responsible and sound thing to do, right? They're doing this because the audience needs to like their new movie in every way imaginable, and ecological thinking is "all the rage" right now. Sounds harsh? Maybe it is, but time must tell whether the current Hollywood fad of sustainable filmmaking leads to actual permanent changes in the industry and its general short-term way of thinking. That said, it's still a change in the right direction and as such a laudable objective. But I doubt most audiences will care really much about all this hard work on the sustainability front when they sit down in theaters to watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2. They just want to see their webslinging hero wisecracking around as he's kicking bad guy butt. Bad guys like the Green Goblin. See, there's some subverted ideological overtones right there...

zondag 16 februari 2014

Today's News: here's a dreadful trailer for ya

Got this up at MS yesterday:


I hadn't heard of this new series yet, but I must admit it looks rather interesting. The beauty and squalor of Victorian era England, a time of refined culture, daring exploration and unapologetic conquest, the dark nature of literary characters from that period like Dorian Gray and Dracula, games of psychological misconduct and sexual manipulation, and a few good actors and writers/producers to make it all seemlessly come to life... what's not to like here? Maybe for some, the fact it sounds like an adult version of the film adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which is a movie I, unlike most others, hold little umbrage against). As opposed to getting into fisticuffs with each other, in this upcoming Penny Dreadful they seem to jump into bed together and do the nasty instead. Or so it would appear, but as always, trailers can be highly deceiving. Just what these personae are up to and what the role of characters specifically written for this show might be all remains somewhat obscure from just this trailer. The show aims to be a mystery thriller serial (not unlike, say, HBO's Carnivale, which it appears to resemble in tone and mood), and in that regard the trailer delivers that aspect just sublimely. Whether the show itself will be any good is far too early to tell, but I like to think there's room for a gritty unusual terror/noir piece like this on contemporary television. And I have faith in the writers/producers, who have delivered mostly good stuff before (I'll forgive showrunner John Logan for his involvement in Star Trek: Nemesis, as he has redeemed himself with grand movies like Skyfall, Hugo and The Aviator). As for the actors bringing the characters and their strengths and flaws to life, they seem to be a mixed bag. Though I'm always pleased seeing sultry dame Eva Green, suffering Josh Hartnett's blank apathic stare on the small screen for hours on end is not something I hunger for, but I can live with it if needs be. And ah, Timothy Dalton... I sincerely hope this show will turn out as fascinating as the trailer suggests it will be, as the subject matter certainly has potential. In fact, it may just render that announced LXG TV-series redundant.

zaterdag 15 februari 2014

Today's Review: The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie: ****/*****, or 7/10

Movies based on pre-existing toys are often the stuff of anxiety for those that grew up playing with them, especially when it concerns brands that have been around for decades and thus have proven to be multigenerational. Will the alliance between movie studios and toy manufacturers, always driven by mutual profit first and foremost, yield a final viewing experience that not only serves to push kids into nagging their parents to go get them some but also to remind the older spectators as to why they themselves enjoyed the toys so much they feel their kids should continue playing with them, too? So far, few toy based films have succeeded on both fronts, as most of them are pretty dreadful: compare films the likes of Transformers and Battleship for example. Fortunately, The LEGO Movie doesn't fall into that same category of failure at all, as it enhances the feeling of joy and excitement experienced by everyone that ever built something from scratch out of the colourful little bricks. That said, from an ideological perspective, the motives behind the film's plot cannot helped but be questioned by mature audiences when the film is over.

Of course, a movie about toys can't feature the toys themselves being played with for two hours, it needs a narrative structure to suck audiences in. The LEGO Movie introduces the character of Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), about as generic a LEGO minifigure as they come: typical old fashioned yellow head, not much physical accessories, wearing the same smile almost all day every day. He's got reasons to be smiling, as he believes himself to live in the perfect utopia, courtesy of President Business (Will Ferrell) who provides everyone with instructions to live their full life by, ranging from morning exercises, breakfast, buying overpriced coffee (37 dollars, awesome!) and carrying an eternal sunny disposition. The catchy national anthem 'Everything is awesome' not withstanding, it goes without saying this existence is one big lie and no good will come of its continuation.

Emmet is soon drawn into a wholly different life style altogether when he accidentally touches an unusual item that soon sticks to his back, meets a beautiful girl who looks nothing like all the other minifigures he has known and is promptly declared an enemy of the state, necessitating him and the girl named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) to go on the run. Basically a little plastic version of The Matrix, Emmet soon learns there's another realm beyond that which he always took for granted, as many dimensions, each with a theme of its own – including Western and 'Middle Zealand' – peacefully coexist alongside each other. Unless President Business destroys them all by gluing everything together permanently, according to his own rigid instructions. Fortunately, Emmet may be the 'Special', a minifigure with extraordinary master builder skills, who is the only one able to stop the shady schemes at hand. And so he teams up with the blind wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a pirate composed of various random parts called Metal Beard (Nick Offerman) and of course, Batman (Will Arnett), who is kind of a dick, to save the LEGO worlds from blind, obedient universal conformity, to let creative freedom ring.

Directed by the duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have proven themselves to be experts in whimsical animation, The LEGO Movie proves a feast for the eyes as we behold just what you can do with the little bricks. Or at least, what you think you can do. Make no mistake, this film is not stop motion animated with little LEGO figures, it's all computer animation designed to look like the stiff toys are moving about. Deception is key here, but we are deceived pretty well by the fabulous look, as we witness smoke made of LEGO, explosions made of LEGO and even oceans made of LEGO. It's an awe-inspiring sight for everyone who has ever tried to make LEGO look the least bit realistic and ended up being several tens of thousands of bricks too short to get anywhere on that front. Any sense of jealousy on what the computer can create with LEGO is smothered in the film's great sense of humour, building jokes as easily as putting bricks on top of each other. Aside from the traditional number of safe but smart popcultural references, the best gags spring from our plastic heroes witty selfreflection as to being just that. Miller's and Lord's infective comedic talent, joined by the voice cast's audible delight, ensures everyone in the audience is quickly wearing a smile all too similar to those featured on the classic minifigures' faces.

That said, it isn't all fun and games, this is business too. The LEGO Movie takes its message of 'everyone should build whatever the heck they like' very seriously, clearly preferring random creativity over slavishly building stuff based on what the printed paper says it ought to look like. Which leads to a rather serious showdown as the actual status quo of the LEGO realms is revealed and a cheerful kid confronts his ruthless father, begging him to just let him run with his imagination. Being played by Ferrell too, clearly the unimaginative adult mind is in the same league as the childish destructive view of business as presented by the film's bad guy. Rather hypocritical, as the LEGO company is itself a major toy corporation that hasn't gotten to where it is now by giving kids their product to play with, but selling it to them instead for hard cash. Sure, kids can build whatever they want, but it's the business of the product and the parents that pay for it that provides that option for them. There's something eerily uneven between the movie's message and the actual state of affairs, as this movie certainly isn't about spreading the gospel of global creativity, but to make everyone involved in its production money (and then only those willing to cooperate: notice the lack of Marvel superhero figures opposed to those of DC, while both brands are available as buildable sets in every toy store). Of course, kids won't realize this and most parents will be too busy enjoying the movie to care, until their offspring start whining for more LEGO to play with and they have to pay the bills. And at that point it's hard to deny The LEGO Movie is something other than an insidiously effective 100 minute advertisement for the great LEGO product.

But while watching the movie, everything is indeed awesome, as our inspiration is fueled by the grandiosely detailed design of the various LEGO worlds and the sheer fun for young and old that inhabits them. And then the credits roll, and that itch to get some bricks to start building yourself is heartily felt...

donderdag 13 februari 2014

Today's Triple News: Scar-Jo transcends Tarzan

Three news flashes today, I've been busy!:




Not much 'news' among all this news. Tarzan is one of those literary characters that has been made all the more iconic because of the movies, and has been remade, revamped, and reimagined over and over again, giving us a new take on the character every five years or so. In fact, the last version, a German produced animated 3D movie, only debuted this Christmas. But it's been a while since Hollywood did a live-action remake of the Lord of the Apes, and now is as good a time as any. Then again, the last Edgar Rice Burroughs character that got himself a major blockbuster film didn't do so well: remember John Carter? I loved it, but unfortunately most other people couldn't care less (bastards!). That said, this was JC's first movie (and sadly, quite probably his last...), while Tarzan has proved himself an enduring screen legend many times over, putting him into the same category as those other big instantly recognizable big name movie franchises that keep coming back, the likes of Godzilla, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and King Kong. David Yates seems like the right man for the job, having directed four huge box office hits for Warner already (all Potter, so kind of a one-note big budget career, but still). The hunky Swedish vampire Alexander Skarsgard is set to star, no doubt the tallest and blondest actor to have played the character thus far. I hope Jane won't mistake him for a tree as she seeks a vine to swing with. And no doubt Tarzan's gorilla posse will be digital. In the wake of the success of the rebooted Planet of the Apes saga, more on-screen apes should have been expected.

Not exactly remakes, but still suspiciously familiar to movie buffs, is the subject material of both Under the Skin and Transcendence. The former introduces a hot woman looking for men to have sex with, actually being a succubus alien abusing mankind for her own sinister schemes. That screams Species, a lot. And the "plot twist" that she starts to understand and love humanity hearkens back to Species 2, where the former antagonist underwent a 180 degree objective shift and become loveable. Nevertheless, this looks much more esoteric and dreamy than those films, arguably executed to be the arthouse version of that story. Or something else entirely, as a lot of plot material for this film is still left vague. Maybe the trailer only reminds us of Species, while the actual film turns out a whole different animal entirely. No matter. Any film that gets Scarlett Johansson stark naked doing the nasty throughout sounds like it's worth a film nerd's while. And before you accuse me of being a pervert, let me remind you I'm only watching the stuff she chose to act in. I didn't make it.

The latter trailer - of Transcendence, for those readers with short term memory imperfections - features a human intelligence downloading himself into a supercomputer, after which his newfound power gets the best of him and mankind's fate soon hangs in the balance. Also a case of 'been there, done that, keeps being an interesting topic'. Avid Sci-Fi geeks will recognize most of the plot from various episodes of Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, but first and foremost to my mind came the seminal computer thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). That film involved a Cold War supercomputer based on the brain patterns of its creator, that linked with its Soviet counterpart and subsequently decided to end all human conflict by imposing its rule upon mankind. As is typical of the gloomy atmosphere of the late Sixties and the early Seventies (gotta love those dark downer endings!), it did not leave room for a happy end as ultimately, the computer triumphed and man basically became his bitch. I don't think Transcendence will have the balls to go that far. Though not devoid of addressing interesting notions on the increasingly fine line between man and machine, its otherwise looks like a standard Hollywood Sci-Fi action flick, complete with love interest (triangle, even?) and no doubt an ending that won't prove so depressing for the general audience that merely seeks diversive entertainment. That said, it looks like a very enjoyable standard Hollywood Sci-Fi action flick, one which I fully intend to see. After all, when movies fail to develop new ideas and resort to recycling those that came before, what else is a movie lover to do?

woensdag 12 februari 2014

Jurassic Park Chaos Effect: Tanaconda

Year of release: 1998

-Two pieces of capture gear

Description: this bizarre animal looks like a snake with four small legs (which is undoubtedly why there’s a snake element attached to this hybrid figure by claiming it’s got Anaconda DNA), since it has a very long neck and tail sticking out of a relatively small body. When neck and tail are stretched to their fullest extent the Tanaconda measures a good 30 centimetres in length. The creature stands in a walking posture, with its hind left leg and front right leg moved forward and the other legs posed back. Its mouth is open, revealing a set of grizzly fangs and rows of smaller teeth as well as a bloody scarlet tongue.
The lower body parts of the Tanaconda (underside of the tail, belly, legs, lower jaw and most of the underside of the neck) are coloured white. Its claws are not painted. The upper parts (upper tail, flanks, back and upper neck and head) sport a sickly green paint job, adorned with a total of 20 red spots with black rings around them. Small black stripes run out these rings but don’t cover the white colouring. Eighteen black spots are found on each side of the creature’s body between the red spots. The head is covered with black stripes, also surrounding the white eyes (no pupils). The creature’s throat and lowest part of the lower jaw are painted bright red. On the right hind leg a large black JP CE logo is located, along with the number .97.
Tanaconda comes with two pieces of capture gear, both coloured shiny bright blue. The smallest of the two is your average “cuff” piece, which can be attached to various body parts, like the neck, tail, or any of the legs. The other piece is substantially bigger and consists of a long piece of “wire” with a cuff at one end and another one in the middle, and a large muzzle on the other end. The muzzle fits over the creature’s head, while the two cuffs can be put around the midsection of the neck and tail respectively, provided the Tanaconda is bent in the right position.

Analysis: this is a decent repaint of the original green Tanystropheus figure. Though the white underside is rather dull it fits the pattern of unusual colour schemes featured in the JP Chaos Effect dinosaur line. The same goes for the artificial look to the rest of this figure’s paint job. The head’s colouring is quite neat, with its eerie small white eyes and the scarlet tongue, giving this beast a ferocious look, almost vampiric, like it’s not to be messed with.
Apart from the paint scheme there’s not much originality to this figure. Fortunately no changes have been made to the original design, nor does it feature new capture gear. Though that means this sculpt is still one of the more daring and bizarre figures Kenner produced, its original flaws are back too. The animal still can’t stand up easily, since it either falls down because the front part of the creature is heavier than the rest of the body, or it flips to one side when the neck is positioned in the same way it is carded. Also, because of the composition of the flexible material used for the tail and neck, paint wear is always around the corner.
The capture gear is still the same too. The small cuff serves no particular purpose and can be put around any of the creature’s body parts. The large piece does restrain the neck and tail but may cause paint wear. There’s no creature-breaks-free-of-restraints action involved. The original metallic colour of the gear was superior to the new blue paint job, which makes the restraints look too much like pieces of plastic (which of course they are, but it looks less realistic).
Despite these downsides this figure is still quite cool. The neck and tail, paint wear not withstanding, are easily bendable, providing the Tanaconda with the ability to wrap itself around figures and other dinosaurs, as if constricting them during a vicious sneak attack. This makes the figure a lot of fun and more flexible than most other dinosaur figures.

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

Realism: since this sculpt is a repaint of the JPS2 Tanystropheus, the Anaconda part of this hybrid makes little sense. The package of the Tanaconda shows Tanystropheus to be a lizard like animal with a relatively short neck, but this is inaccurate since Tany did indeed have a stupendously long neck like the JPS2 Tany had and this repaint also features. If it wasn’t for the constrictor attack action (which the JPS2 Tany was equipped with) the Anaconda link would have been nonexistent. It would have been more appropriate had this figure been labelled a ‘purebred’ Tanystropheus, like the Raptor Alpha figure of this toy line was a purebred Raptor.
The capture gear isn’t able to fully restrain the animal. Though it might keep the neck, tail and head in check, the Tanaconda can make a run for it since its legs are still in free range. Some sort of limb restraints would be useful here.

Repaint: yes. This figure is a repaint of the JPS2 Tanystropheus sculpt, and comes with the same two pieces of capture gear, also repainted. The figure would again get a paint job makeover for the first JP Dinosaurs line, though including the same two blue pieces of restraints this Tanaconda comes with.

Overall rating: 7/10. This creature is fun as ever, though the new paint job is fifty-fifty and the capture gear still isn’t all that great. Additionally, the figure is still prone to damage. It’s not really rare in the USA, but can be quite hard to find in territories where the Chaos Effect line didn’t get a release. Ebay usually provides a solution, often at relatively low costs.

dinsdag 11 februari 2014

Today's Double News: Game of Gotham, a Foreshadowing

This just in from MS, by me:



15 minutes of previewing GoT, can it get any better? Sure, watching the actual new season itself instead of being hyped to death. Unlike most other (shorter) teasers for the upcoming season, this one proves really worthwhile. Sure, you got the cast and crew joking around a bit, showing they're just people too, but considering all the death, dismay, dismemberment, decapitation, dicks and dragons these folks deal with each year while working on this magnificent show, it's obvious they are in need of such simple diversions to stay sane. Plus, it's always a blast to see the actors, whose performances you utterly love (yes, you do! Even if they're evil people!), had a great time filming this. Of course HBO wouldn't dare show the bad days - and I reckon there are some, up in the frozen wastes of Iceland and the soaring heat of Croatia - but at least nobody is actually losing any body parts. And even if silly shenanigans and zany dance routines are not your thing, there's plenty of actual new footage to get that mouth of yours watering for more sword & sorcery & sex. There's an epic new dragon shot (my, those beasties are growing rather large!) as well as a first Meereen cityscape, which looks splendid and distinct from the Slaver's Bay cities we witnessed so far. Too bad it makes its throne room look somewhat underwhelming (small for a throne rooom really), but with such compelling performances and terrific drama (and loads of naughty bit cleverly intermixed) we won't even begin to notice such trivial trifles. Winter may still be coming after three seasons, but Seven Hells be damned if this show doesn't stay as formidable as ever.

And now for something completely different. Or not really actually. Just a different setting in a different universe. But a similar game of thrones will soon be played on the small screen in Gotham City, as cops and crooks struggle for power of this metropolis. Not to mention a certain Caped Crusader, though since he's still a kid here I wouldn't bet on seeing much of him anytime soon. Which means Gotham's Finest have to make a stand against crime running rampant on its own. Fortunately James Gordon is on the job, and this week news broke that Ben McKenzie has been cast in that role. I have never heard of him, as I haven't watched anything he's in. Not on purpose of course, it just never popped up in my path. I'll be sure to watch a bit of Gotham though, even if just to see whether that town is anywhere near as interesting without Batman as it is with. Considering many ingredients that make the Dark Knight so enduring are present here, and the story unfolds around many of the same characters, except younger, chances are good it'll prove compelling material. Then again, it wouldn't be the first time revamping a franchise completely with a younger cast severely backfired (at least in my opinion, though not necessarily in those of others). But at least J.J. Abrams is not involved with this one. Good thing too, since there's someone I'd really liked to see Batman beat up.

maandag 10 februari 2014

Today's Review: 47 Ronin

47 Ronin: **/*****, or 4/10

'To understand the story of the 47 ronin is to understand Japan' this movie states as its introduction, attempting to place what's to come in a historical context for audiences unfamiliar with ancient, feudal Japan. The story of these 47 samurai, who witnessed the death of their master which caused them to become shamed ronin and afterwards successfully plotted and executed their revenge to regain their honour and die a noble suicide, is one of Japan's most popular and enduring legends. Such a serious tale of death and dishonour is not the usual stuff of grandiose Hollywood productions and therefore this original saga was embellished with plenty of action, romance and expensive effects to make it more worthy of being turned into a blockbuster movie. However, the heart of the story was left unchanged (something Japanese traditionalists at least will appreciate) and as a result, 47 Ronin proves a rather uncomfortable and uneasy mix of Japanese and western storytelling.

47 Ronin is told from the perspective of Kai, a mysterious halfbreed orphan who is found by Lord Asano of Ako province. Despite the advice of his samurai who consider him a demon child, Asano takes him in because he sees 'something' in the boy. Raised alongside Asano's daughter Mika the orphan grows up to be Keanu Reeves, and they develop a typical secret desire for one another (credibility of which is hindered by the fact that Keanu looks and is much older than the actress playing his love interest, though they are meant to be about the same age). Kai is of course an all too obvious attempt to make it easier for western audiences to identify with the strange and unknown Japanese way of life, but as is usually the result of such additions, Kai gets too important for the story's good, as if the movie's 'natives' are unable to carry out their bold plan without a white man's help. Identification is ever a challenge for the audience where the stoic Reeves is concerned, and 47 Ronin proves no different, though his emotionless expression at least suits the subject matter. However, Asano was right, as Kai is no ordinary boy but is indeed connected with the supernatural. Which is just as well, as it turns out 18th Century Japan, unlike the original legend told us, was surprisingly infested with the occult, monsters and wraiths. Did I mention 47 Ronin is also a fantasy movie? Well, it is.

Asano suffers a rivalry with the ruthless Lord Kira (who ironically is played by Tadanobu Asano). Hellbent on taking over Ako (and as is typical, everything else too in the long run), Kira employs the talents of a shapeshifting witch (Pacific Rim's Rinko Kikuchi) to stir things up. Kikuchi is evidently enjoying the role of seductive sorceress, but like her boss plays evil only for evil's sake, which makes for a rather poorly motivated, dull duo of bad guys. Their schemes succeed as Asano is tricked into openly attempting to kill Kira in the presence of their shogun, for which he is sentenced to seppuku. Romanticising this act of suicide, Asano's death is overly poetic and bloodless, despite the fact he's disemboweling himself and getting his head struck off. After his death, his samurai are declared dishonoured ronin and, to turn insult into agony, Mika is forced to wed Lord Kira. This will not do, after which Asano's captain Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada, grave and cold as often) plots revenge. And even though he never liked him, he asks Kai to join the quest. Good thing too, as the revelation of his upbringing by forest ghosts sure aids in defeating their monstrous and demonic opponents. Most of which were already defeated in terms of convincing the audience due to the poor visual effects job done on them.

Amidst all the beheadings and dismemberment that follows, it's evident that a different kind of cutting called editing also did not work in 47 Ronin's favour. At times it's obvious that material was discarded, making for an occasionally jumbled flow of the movie's plot, especially in the case of the scenes on the 'Dutch Island', where Kai is sold into a brief life of slavery and gladiatorial servitude. An impressively tattooed pirate, heavily used in the film's marketing campaign, is seen only for a short moment, while the perceptive eye is able to spot a brief appearance by Yorick van Wageningen: aggressive changes in the post-production process reduced his part to the quickest of cameos. At least there is nothing wrong with the design of the movie, which does at times look sensational and exotic, even in 3D. Though little effective use is made of that technology, as the straightforward quest for vengeance is otherwise quite two-dimensional. Despite all the added fantasy spectacle, the story remains the tale of a group of angry knights seeking revenge for the death of their lord. Their sense of honour is all that matters, a point which the movie gets across, but is hard to be approved by everybody. Despite the addition of various grotesqueries and scenes of supernatural suspense to make the story more entertaining and acceptable for the non-Japanese, the general mood of the film is overly sombre and devoid of relatable humour. Not counting a particularly fat ronin who, as overweight people tend to do in Hollywood blockbusters, is supposed to introduce a bit of comedy to occasionally lighten the tone, but fails miserably.

The only understanding western audiences will take away with them from seeing 47 Ronin is that Hollywood and Japanese legend don't mix to everybody's satisfaction. We understand that Japanese notions of honour are obsessed with ritual suicide, choosing death over life even when the situation, from our point of view, would definitely dictate differently. As the movie is transformed into otherwise fairly standard fantasy fare, the conclusion of the legend is left unchanged: evil has been vanquished, the land made safe, but still the 47 ronin are ordered to die, as per the climax of the original story. No happy end by western standards here, as Keanu and his fellow warriors take their own life (gladly, even!), leaving their grieving loved ones behind, for such is their way of honour. At times it feels like 47 Ronin means to make suicide a popular trend by extolling its virtues. Western audiences can only stand amazed by what at times appears to be a genuine glorification of seppuku. In this regard, the Japanese can be glad Hollywood left the core of their legend untampered despite the addition of witches and monsters to make things more exciting, but a 'gaijin' audience is left estranged as their notions of what constitutes a satisfactory ending – even if it would have been the stuff of cliché – are shattered. To understand the story of the 47 ronin is to acknowledge the extreme clash of cultures between Japan and Hollywood in this matter: 47 Ronin makes that much painfully clear.

zondag 9 februari 2014

Today's Double News: Lilly and Oldman antsy for blockbuster roles

Here's a few more news items I wrote for MS late last week:



Casting rumours abound these days where major tentpole movie franchises are concerned. Basically any news rolling off the Star Wars Episode VII bandwagon concerns casting, while the process of getting new faces aboard the next batch of Marvel movies (Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron both) also continues on its merry path. I can't say I've been very happy with what I've heard about  Episode VII casting so far. Digging up old fossils like Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, and even Harrison Ford, seems like leeching off the success of the old trilogy instead of paying hommage to those classic films. We don't need to be constantly reminded of the good ol' days of past glory when Star Wars was still honestly good by adding these folks back into the mix, even if it's just mere cameos, which I heard is not the case. Those movies were timeless, but the actors are not. That's the good thing about R2-D2, you don't care who plays him since you don't see the guy in the suit, but that doesn't work for actors whose faces you do see. You can patch them up digitally all you want, but even if they do look like they did thirty years ago, what's the point if you can just come up with new characters to keep things flowing instead of getting stuck in the past. I can understand Abrams' emotional attachment to the old characters, I feel it too, but I would much rather see the story focusing on all new characters, even offspring of those we know, than regurgitate the same old same old ad infinitum. That said, Gary Oldman is a step in the right direction. I have no idea what he'll be playing (nobody does after all), but I've never been disappointed by his performances so far. Of course he can still turn it down, which I doubt he will even though he didn't seem all that eager to talk about it (but that's probably due to doing a tiresome press tour combined with an solemn oath of secrecy about anything Episode VII). Other, less concrete, rumours I also found appealing: good solid actors like Hugo Weaving and Michael Fassbender are certainly most welcome. I just hope they don't give the main role to some kid who can't act if his life depended on it, dragging the overall acting quality through the mud again, as happened on the prequel trilogy. Come to think of it, with the occasional exception, even though we came to love many of these characters, grand acting rarely had anything to do with that (but Episode III's acting was especially feeble, almost taking you out of the movie). Considering Abram's lackluster repertoire, I doubt that's gonna change anytime soon.

Same can be said for Marvel movies, where fun characters and witty dialogue also are not in need of top actors to make for entertaining fare. Evangeline Lilly is a decent enough actress but nothing major, so in many ways she fits right in. And as is the case with Oldman, the question is which character will be hers. I'm hesitant about the rumours of giving Henry Pym a daughter when he never had one in the comics, since Marvel Studios has stuck to comic book lore for the most part so far. However, an emotional bridge between old Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) and the younger Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) in the shape of a mutual close acquaintaince seems like a good thing to have in terms of building a story around passing the mantle from one Ant-Man to the next. Of course, you don't need a daughter for Pym to do that, but it does make for more personal drama. Even though I like to see the character of Wasp, Pym's long time wife/ex-wife and fellow Avenger, in some shape or another, I doubt the movie will have Lilly's Wasp married to Douglas' old Ant-Man, nor do I see Marvel screwing around with its own legacy by changing such fairly iconic character relationships from their fifty years of Marvel history by suddenly pairing her with Rudd's second Ant-Man. That said, stranger things have happened. Heck, maybe Lilly's will play someone else entirely and all these rumours were just introduced to keep us guessing. That's also an often employed strategy in the casting process of these major blockbuster movies: keep the audience intrigued by telling them about (or even only suggesting) the involvement of top actors without conveying who they're set to play, so all the nerds will start shouting names and options regarding who they could be playing, without any actual clues. And that always means someone's going to get disappointed. But that doesn't mean such actors and actresses won't play interesting characters after all. Even if they're acting isn't on par with the dialogue, action or otherwise simple good fun these movies provide.