maandag 31 augustus 2015
Time for another review. Long overdue in fact.
American Ultra - recensie
You'd think the shady but historically true Project MK-Ultra would make for a smashing political thriller, with its detestable CIA experiments of mind control via drugs and careful conditioning on the unsuspecting American population. Instead, Hollywood loosely appropriated it for a stoner comedy. And sadly, not the funniest imaginable. American Ultra fires more bullets than jokes.
At least the lead casting is a shot in the right direction. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have worked together before and it shows, as they have the right amount of chemistry to make a likeable couple of losers. From Eisenberg, we've come to expect a certain level of quality, especially when it concerns this type of character. Stewart's performance thus leaves more of an impression, since we still needed some convincing of her talents as a true actress. With her much praised serious role in Camp X-Ray recently behind her, we can safely say 2015 is the year she finally came into her own and left her Twilight stigma behind her. Still, it takes more than two good leads to make for a solid movie. A decent plot and the right balance between action and comedy, for instance. American Ultra doesn't have either.
Where the fun is concerned, the movie starts at least promising, and a few good laughs are to be had in the first act. However, the film increasingly opts for action over comedy, which makes for a rather dull and unfunny finale, where both the jokes and the necessary emotional investment in the main characters is lost in all the gun fights, knife fights, and fist fights. There's simply too much fighting as the movie progresses and most of it is excessively violent, but not in any ironic or tongue-in-cheek manner. It's just a bloody mess, as is the story, which also involves rival CIA agents fighting it out in a manner totally devoid of the intelligence the I in their agency is supposed to stand for. There's also room made for a few stereotype drug dealers and deranged super assassins, but none of it works on the levels the writers probably intended. Director Nima Nourizadeh, fresh off the allegedly culturally notable teen flick Project X, shows a little too clearly he has more affinity with destroying things and blowing stuff up than in making us care about it all.
Fortunately we still have RED to show us how a fun time can be had with CIA assassins being hunted by their own employer. However, a definitive movie about Project MK-Ultra is still very much lacking. If Hollywood does tackle the touchy subject again, I hope they make a more serious movie out of it. Mind control simply isn't funny, as American Ultra shows.
zaterdag 29 augustus 2015
Another month, another column:
Column: Het boek of de telefoon?
Not my finest piece of work, but hey, I'm on vacation so I 'tis not the season to be fully inspired. It's that time of the year to lie in the sun all day and wasting away the hours at your leisure, reading some smashing book or stuff. Which I did, when I wasn't taking country excursions, doing some local shopping or chasing stormy supercells and getting woefully drenched. There wasn't as much sun as I had hoped for, I must admit, but that severe thunderstorm made up for it a bit. At least it wasn't a regularly rainy day, but an exciting reminder of nature's awesome power and a death defying road trip to boot. Yes, this, too, one can experience at the beautiful quiet isle of Texel.
As for the non-issue addressed in my column, against my better judgment I took my new smartphone with me, to keep in touch with whomever I felt I needed to keep in touch with and check my mail more often than was necessary. I spent more time on my phone than I had hoped to, but mostly the slow loading time of Buienradar.nl is to blame for that. That site at least proved a useful tool, considering the erratic weather patterns. I didn't watch any movies on my phone, not even some silly YouTube shorts in some lost hour or two. I did visit Cinema Texel this time. I felt I had too, since my last visit was a year ago and I happen to really like this small but idyllic comfy venue. My movie of choice: Ted 2. Not the best choice, but at least there was a major Jurassic Park reference and the evil, greedy Hasbro toy company was made out to be the bad guy, so that scored points with me. This week's film program wasn't stellar to begin with, though at least the theater proved fortitious enough to skip showing that dreadful Fantastic Four movie (which I already had the sincere displeasure of seeing the week before). A light yarn was the best way to describe the time I had at the movies on this year's visit.
Nevertheless, this trip to Texel made it obvious that no movie can compete with nature's raw power and destructive beauty. And nature proved it is no match for smartphones, since despite almost drowning in torrential rainfall myself, my phone, which I brought with me to capture the stormy event on camera, returned home in better shape than I did. It appears it's kinda waterproof.
dinsdag 18 augustus 2015
Year of release: 1999
-Two pieces of capture gear
Description: Baryonyx assumes a walking posture, with its left leg moved forward and its right leg posed backward. Its tail is not bent as much as the other Bary figures, since this figure's card is large enough to accommodate its overall length. Its back and neck are covered in rows of small bumps, while a single small horn is found on the snout. It is equipped with a whipping action: pulling the right leg back and forth makes the head spin around, as if the creature is thrashing its head. This also features a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraint-gear action: when the capture gear is on, the Baryonyx can break free by thrashing its head left and right. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws, though the mouth can’t open really wide so most figures won’t fit.
This dinosaur figure sports brown colouring on its back, neck, head, upper part of the tail and the very upper part of the limbs. This brown gradually shifts to green, which is located on the flanks and the underside of the creature (belly, throat, lower jaw, lower part of the tail) for the most part, as well as on the rest of the limbs. The figure carries randomly patterned black spots all over its back, neck and upper tail, and features a small black horn between its nostrils, as well as blue circles around its white eyes (with cat like black pupils). The claws on both arms and legs are black, while a black JP logo is found on the right upper leg. The figure also has white teeth and the inside of its mouth, including its tongue, is red.
This Bary comes with two pieces of capture gear, which form a sort of harness around the creature’s upper body and restrain its arms and head. However, it wouldn’t stop the creature from just walking away. Both pieces are painted in dark yellow, an unusual colour for capture gear.
The Dinosaur Tracker is a broad shouldered, butch looking figure of a man, sporting a brownish yellow field suit with numerous pockets, wearing a brown shirt underneath the suit, brown arm patches, black utility belts, an almost golden ammo belt around his torso, black boots and a pair of black sunglasses. He also has black hair and a Elvis like hairdo. He stands with his legs wide apart in a bracing pose with his left leg stretched forwards and his right leg backwards. His head is a bit too small compared to his body. Pressing his legs together makes his left arm move, so it looks like he’s making slashing moves when holding one of his weapons.
He has three different weapons, none of which are capable of action features; these weapons are mere props but they’re much more realistic than most of the weapons that come with human figures. The Tracker carries a stun prod with a cross shaped end, as well as a shot gun and a machete. All weapons are coloured dull grey.
Analysis: the first JP: Dinosaurs line introduced a new concept, namely pairing human figures and their accessories with basic dinosaurs instead of hatchlings, making for the bigger dino/human 2-packs of this line (and similar sets for JPD2). For the time this was unique, a little bit of originality in a line consisting solely of repaints. One of the first such sets was this Baryonyx with Dinosaur Tracker set. It's an interesting pairing of figures, though as far as compatibility of action features goes, not the most successful match. The Tracker is too big for the Bary to clutch between its jaws and viciously spin it around, nor is his arm chop movement sufficient to take down the carnivore with whichever of the three weapons he holds. You could say this makes it a draw.
As far as the paint jobs go, this is not a bad set. Though the Bary's paint scheme is identical to that of its TLWS2 predecessor, the colouration has improved. Green and brown fits the Baryonyx well, even being reminiscent of the paint job of the old JPS2 Baryonyx. Also, the figure's details have not been forgotten this time: the claws on both hands and feet, the horn on the snout, the inside of the mouth, it's all painted. It even got some extra detailing round the eyes, though these themselves are less pretty, being simply white. Another improvement for this figure is the fact that it's tail is more stretched out due to the bigger packaging, which means that it is better balanced this time around and can stand up on its two legs more easily, while the tail doesn't hit the ground. Unfortunately this is only the case when its capture gear is not applied. The gear itself got a yellow paint job, which makes it stand out among all JP capture gear. It also adds some extra colour to this set.
The Dino Tracker paint job is not all that different from the original colouring on TLWS1 Peter Ludlow. It's somewhat darker, but overall pretty close to that we got before. Nothing has been added to this human figure, though the JP logo on his right arm has been removed for some reason. His arm chop action is still a solid feature, though it only works on smaller prey. The tall and handsome Tracker makes for a good addition to the small team of human figures of this toy line, but otherwise there's little worth of interest to him, since the Baryonyx is definitely the biggest draw of the set. After all, this line is all about the dinosaurs, eh?
Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original TLWS2 Baryonyx, including that figure's capture gear repainted, along with a TLWS1 Peter Ludlow repaint, including all of Ludlow's accessories save for the Raptor hatchling. Neither the Bary nor Ludlow would be repainted for later toy lines (though Ludlow's head would also be seen on an Ajay repaint in the Stegosaurus with Dinosaur Hunter set of Wave 2 of this toy line, which also featured a single brown Baryonyx figure).
Overall rating: 7/10. A decent set, with an effective and appealing, though not very original, paint job. This set is definitely harder to find than most other JPD1 Wave 1 releases, especially in MOC or complete condition. It probably will require a fair amount of patience and cash to acquire it.
zondag 9 augustus 2015
Year of release: 1999
-Two pieces of capture gear
-Dino damage tail
Description: this bizarre slender reptilian creature assumes a walking posture. It sports a monochromatic paint job, basically being all beige. The underside of the figure (its belly, lower part of the tail, part of the lower jaw and throat) is coloured in a darker tone of beige (almost light brown or orange), which gradually shifts in the regular hue. A large number of red stripes run over its back, tail, flanks, neck and head. The inside of its huge mouth is all red including its tongue, while the figure has white teeth, including a total of six large teeth, almost fangs; two of these stick out of the upper jaw, four out of the front of the lower jaw. The Ornithosuchus has small white eyes with black pupils and carries a black JP logo on its right upper leg. The creature’s claws are not painted in a different colour. The inside parts of the dino damage area are bright red, while the pin sticking out is also beige.
The Ornithosuchus is equipped with a thrashing action: moving the right hind leg makes the head spin round. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws. Ornithosuchus also comes with dino damage: it features a removable tail section, revealing blood tissue and a pin (resembling a bone) sticking out, on which the tail can be pinned back.
The figure also comes with two pieces of capture gear, a small chain to restrain the limbs (though only two of them at the same time, not all four), as well as a large muzzle to keep the creature from biting. It doesn’t stop the beastie from thrashing its head though. Both pieces sport a shiny metallic grey paint job.
Analysis: another cool non-dinosaur figure from a past toy line returns for JP: Dinosaurs 1. Despite it not actually being a dinosaur, Ornithosuchus adds some wonderful variety to the line, while also giving people who missed it the first time round another chance to get a hold of this rather rare and quite sought after figure. The Ornithosuchus sculpt has not been changed and remains as cool as before, with a great but violent take on the classic dino damage feature and a funky head move which doesn't look like a serious attack option unless it has some prey firmly ensnared between its powerful jaws. It comes with the same capture gear as before, though with the more common silvery grey paint style.
So, as with most other JP: Dinosaurs figures, the only new thing in this set is the paint job. It's simple to say the least. It's largely a single colour, except for the red stripes, which fit the creature well, as if it's soaked in blood stripes after gnashing its way through a carcass much bigger than itself. It also has a sort of camouflage quality to it, like a tiger hiding in long grass. This new colouration might not be as appealing as the more colourful previous paint job, but it still works. However, the stripes are applied in much the same way as on its predecessor, so it scores little originality wise since it's basically the same paint scheme (which is not a first for JPD1 of course). And as is common in this toy line, some details are overlooked, like the claws. Also, white is just not a decent colour for prehistoric eyes. But overall, this is not a bad paint job despite its simplicity.
Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original TLWS2 Ornithosuchus, including that figure's capture gear repainted in a more standard colouring. The figure would not be repainted again. Interestingly enough, a second Ornithosuchus repaint was originally planned for release for this line along with a Roland Tembo repaint, but it didn't happen, though small quantities of packaged samples have popped up, indicating it got at least passed the prototype stage.
Overall rating: 8/10. A minimalistic but surprisingly effective paint job, though not significantly special either: like most other JP: Dinosaurs figures, it could have used some more work. The figure itself is as good a sculpt as ever. Despite this figure being a Wave 1 release, it is definitely harder to find than some other JP: Dinosaurs figures for some reason (one thing that comes to mind is general Ornithosuchus popularity), but it's worth a try, especially if you don't own the previous incarnation of this sculpt (which is still the rarer and cooler figure of the two).
zondag 2 augustus 2015
Year of release: 1999
-Two pieces of capture gear
Description: Baryonyx assumes a walking posture, with its left leg moved forward and its right leg backward. Its tail is bent towards the right, mostly so this figure fits on its card. Its back and neck are covered in rows of small bumps, while a single small horn is found on the snout. It is equipped with a whipping action: pulling the right leg back and forth makes the head spin around, as if the creature is thrashing its head. This also accommodates a dinosaur-breaks-free-of-restraint-gear action: when the capture gear is on, the Baryonyx can break free by thrashing its head left and right. Additionally, the beast’s lower jaw snaps back when pulled down and released, making it possible for this sculpt to clasp other figures between its jaws, though the mouth can’t open really wide so most figures won’t fit.
This creature sports a rather intricate and detailed paint job, especially for JPD1 standards. It's mostly brown, save for its underside ( lower jaw, throat, belly and lower part of the first half of the tail) which is beige instead. The brown colouring is darker on the tail and limbs, probably because these are made of different, softer material. Around the eyes, on the back of its head and on its back and front part of the tail, a total of eight small orange stripes are located. Additionally, thin dark brown stripes and swirls are found on the back and tail of the creature, including one that runs in a full circle around the base of the tail near the anal region. On both upper legs, a series of light pink spots and shapes is found. The dinosaur has white teeth, a red tongue, yellow eyes (no pupils) and a black JP logo on its right upper leg. Its claws on both hands and feet are not painted.
This Bary comes with two pieces of capture gear, which form a sort of harness around the creature’s upper body and restrain its arms and head. However, it wouldn’t stop the creature from just running away. Both pieces are painted in a metallic dark grey colour.
Analysis: this Baryonyx seems to have gotten luckier than most other JP: Dinosaurs 1 figures and, other than them, was blessed with a more elaborate an inspired paint job by some creative designer. Though it's still far from a perfect figure (it comes with a bit of a poorly developed and unoriginal action feature and it keeps falling over), this paint job at least makes it stand out in this line. It works well on this figure and gives it a sort of murky and muddy appearance, as if it's been spending too much time fishing in swamps (which wouldn't be unusual behaviour for this particular species of dinosaur). The little details like the pink spots and vague dark brown swirls give it extra character.
Like any JPD1 figure, it does miss some minor detailing though, most notably the horn on the nose and the unpainted claws: in the case of the latter, given the big single sickle shaped claw on each hand, it would have been nice to see these painted at least, since they remain ever a Baryonyx trademark. Also, the lack of painted pupils gives the eyes a demonic touch, as if this is an especially sinister animal. Aside from these minor complaints this is certainly one of the best repaints of the line, though not necessarily one of the best figures.
Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the original TLWS2 Baryonyx, including that figure's capture gear. A second Baryonyx repaint was released for this line along with a Peter Ludlow repaint.
Overall rating: 7/10. An interesting paint job, missing some details but definitely more original than most other JPD1 paint jobs. The figure itself is okay but nothing special. As one of the rarer Wave 2 releases, this figure is much harder to find than most other JP: Dinosaurs 1 figures. It usually fetches rather high prices, also because this sculpt is just not very common in general so it is more sought after (even though it's certainly not the best sculpt around). You better decide for yourself whether this one is worth tracking down and spending fair amounts of cash on.