zaterdag 27 februari 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: Electronic Tyrannosaurus with Micro T-Rex

Year of release: 2004

Description: like many of Hasbro’s medium sized dinosaur models, this electronic T-Rex doesn’t stand in a neutral posture. It's posed in a bent position, head, arms and tail positioned to the right, as if circling potential prey. It has a large dino damage wound on its right flank, revealing red muscle tissue. Inside this wound a button is located: when pushed it activates a rather high pitched growl. A second button is placed on its throat. Pressing this button produces a fierce attack roar, and makes the jaws open. Both the arms and legs are fully poseable.
A typical 'three-way' paint job adorns this figure. The underside (throat, belly and first half of the lower part of the tail) are coloured greenish beige. The middle section (most of the head, sides of the neck, flanks, most of the arms and legs and middle part and tip of the tail) are coloured green. The top part (back of the head, neck, back, uppermost part of the limbs and top part of the tail) is painted brown. Black spots and stripes of various sizes run over the brown colouring, while additional black spots are found around the figure's eyes (red with black pupils) and the front part of both the upper and lower jaw. The Rex's tongue and inside of the mouth are painted red, in the same colour as the dino damage wound. The creature also has white teeth, black claws on both fingers and toes and a black JP logo on its right upper leg.
The Micro T-Rex stands in an aggressive posture, its head curved to the left and its arms outstretched as if attacking something. The tip of the tail is bent pointing upwards and to the left. The majority of this Tyrannosaurus figure is painted basic brown, while the belly, throat and base of the tail are coloured almost a yellow type of brown. A series of thick black stripes runs from the neck over the back and the first half of the tail, with additional black stripes on the head, black colouring around the eyes and small black dots on the lower jaw, as well as black paint near its knees and the back of the lower legs. On either side of the figure, a pair of long red stripes runs from the base of the neck almost to the end of the tail, while seven smaller red stripes are located on the upper legs. The facial area around its small yellow eyes (with black pupils) is also painted red with tiny small red stripes running out of it over the upper jaw. The inside of the mouth is not painted, but the figure has white teeth, as well as black claws on both arms and feet and a white JP III logo on its left upper leg. Its feet are supported by extra small plastic bases in the same dominant brown colour, so it can stand on its legs more easily.

Analysis: 'Once more unto the breach, dear T-Rex, once more!' Or in other words: 'here we go again'. Hasbro continues its practice of obsessive repainting with the third incarnation of this T-Rex, which features a rather uninspired paint job and a dull colour scheme. Also, it's not high on details, as the dino damage wound illustrates: the ribs are clearly showing but they're not coloured differently, they're just ignored. And while the black colouring around the red eyes may look dark and brooding, the black paint on the jaws makes it look like it has been sipping oil for some reason. Apart from the disappointing paint job, this figure offers nothing new: a not so easy to use biting action, decent and fairly movie accurate sound effects, and an annoying posture which hinders playability.
Its little play mate is even worse off, considering it's not even a repaint, but a reuse. The Lava Rex returns for no other reason but to save Hasbro designers time and the company money. The paint job is still okay, and might actually have gotten a little bit more detailed (though closer inspection on “actual” Lava Rexes reveals that none of them are a hundred percent identical, so this remains open for debate). This sculpt is getting tedious by now, and knowing how many times Hasbro used it in following lines only makes collectors more sick and tired of it. And apart from the black stripes on both figures, there's no connection between both Rexes whatsoever. They might as well be different species, the smaller one providing a meal opportunity for the bigger carnivore.

Repaint: yes. The Rex was originally released in the JP III line. It has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and would also be featured in JPD3 and JP 2009. The Micro T-Rex is more or less identical to the Rex figure from the Camo-Xtreme Lava two-pack. This sculpt was first conceived as a partner for the JP III Military General figure and has since been repainted excessively often for Camo-Xtreme, JPD2, JPD3 and JP 2009.

Overall rating: 4/10. Not much of interest here. The Micro T-Rex is a boring reuse, while the electronic T-Rex's new paint job isn't particularly imaginative or appealing. Like the other JPD2/3 electronic dinosaur figures, this two-pack was very common a few years ago, but has since become much harder to find, despite not being a very popular set. If you really want one, patience is certainly advised, though it doesn't necessarily require a lot of money when you stumble upon it.

zaterdag 20 februari 2016

Today's Review: Dirty Grandpa

Another review up for FilmTotaal:

Dirty Grandpa - recensie

I had a tough time sitting this one out in the press screening, for the simplest of reasons: it was bad. Real bad. Mind you, with a title like 'Dirty Grandpa', one would not have expected it to be much good to begin with, but this is a whole new level of badness. There simply are no redeeming features present.

First things first, there are hardly any sympathetic characters. The titular old man is a horny pervert obsessed with getting laid and leading his son astray in a whirlwind of sex, drugs and general illicit behavior. The grandson is a wimpy control freak, set to marry a total bitch. On the way to Spring Break in Florida, they meet a bunch of co-eds, including a seemingly nice girl who we know the grandson ought to hook up with immediately, but who ends up stealing his money in her first scene. Her best friend is a total slut. Not to belittle female sexuality by using this word, but there simply are no other denominations as apt as this one. Add some drug dealers, corrupt police officers and loads of partying college kids who only want to get wasted and laid, and there you have the cast of Dirty Grandpa. You'll find it a real challenge to care about any of these people.

What movie buffs would care about, is veteran actor Robert de Niro's career. Sure, he's done plenty of dramatic roles so he's entitled to have a little fun every now and then. But his audience, save for people who truly are cursed with a total lack of a sense of humor, simply won't enjoy Dirty Grandpa with him. This is just not a funny, well written or empathetic character. This old horndog has just lost his dear wife of 40 years and his first reaction is to go out and screw nubile young women. In the process, he wrecks his grandson's impending marriage (bad match though it may have been) and constantly humiliates his sexuality and belittles his character during their little road trip. This is nothing to laugh at, it's morally reprehensible. And even if this set-up would allow for some comedic potential, it's utterly wasted on an uninterrupted stream of genital jokes. There's not a single conversation between any two characters in this flick that doesn't involve 'cocks', 'asses' or other rampant assorted swearing just for the sake of swearing. Needless to say, it grows tiresome swiftly. Not to mention it's all talk and no action, save for a gratuitous shot of Efron being facially confronted with his grandfather's penis (obviously a rubber item). But when it gets down to it, the sex is tame and prudish. Or are you telling me American women really do keep their underwear on during intercourse?

Question remains, why did Robert de Niro - or any of the actors and actresses involved for that matter, since they're all making total fools of themselves, and of us for watching their disgusting antics - opt to play this part? The script was obviously terrible from the get-go. Sure, there probably was some monetary compensation involved, but I do like to think an actor of his stature isn't so down on his luck he has no choice but to accept any and all projects, no matter hoe feeble, that come his way? Maybe he's just telling his fans to go screw themselves, tired of his fabled reputation and the pressure that comes with it. I don't know what his motivation was, but the result surely won't bring happiness to many audiences. Dirty Grandpa truly has nothing to enjoy. Okay, maybe Zac Efron's bare body for his fan base. But nothing else for sure.

vrijdag 19 februari 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: Electronic Brachiosaurus with Micro Stegosaurus

Year of release: 2004

Description: this Sauropod (large four legged animal with typical long neck) stands in a fairly neutral position except for the tail, which is bent to the left in an almost circular fashion, and the right front leg, which is lifted off the ground and points forward, so the dino strike action can be activated more easily. This attack feature consists of a swinging tail strike (though the figure's package seems to have put it in reverse and mentions 'stomping action', no doubt activated by pushing the tail back and forth), accompanied by a low roaring sound. A second sound can be produced by pushing the white button in the dino damage wound: when pushed, a shrieking roar can be heard, as if the creature is howling in pain. The wound is located on the right flank, and is basically a dark red spot of muscle tissue with small white bones sticking out of it. As usual for Hasbro figures, the wound cannot be covered up, but is constantly exposed. The figure’s long neck is bendable, but only slightly.
Green is this Sauropod's colour of choice. Its underside (a very long throat, the belly, and the front half of the lower part of the tail) is painted greenish beige, while the rest of the figure is covered in two different shades of green, the darker one found mostly on the top parts (neck, back, upper part of the tail, upper legs) and the lighter shade between the greenish beige and the darker green, most notably on the head, legs, end of the tail and flanks. The two shades of green gradually dissolve into one another instead of being clearly delineated. The neck, back, front half of the tail and legs sport a number of black stripes, with all of them except those on the neck featuring smaller brown stripes in their centre. The stripes are randomly applied to the creature's body. This Brachiosaurus has small black eyes, white teeth, a pink tongue, a black inside of the mouth, black claws on all toes and a big white JP logo on its right upper leg.
The miniature Stegosaurus is basically coloured in four layers. The lowest layer (the belly, throat, most of the lower jaw and underside of the tail) is painted light grey. Above that, the second layer is white, covering the legs, flanks, both sides of the faces and tail. A number of dark grey spots and stripes adorn the white parts of the figure. The top layer is coloured black, covering the creature's back, upper jaw and face, top of the tail, and most notably, the plates and tail spikes. In-between the white and black parts of the Stegosaurus there's the final layer, an orange line on either flank of the figure, running from the base of the neck to the end of the tail, ending just under the last set of plates. The eyes are yellow with black pupils and a black JP III logo can be found on its left back leg. The animal stands in an active posture, with its body bent and its tail dangerously sticking out, like it’s defending itself from an aggressor.

Analysis: you can't (and shouldn't) keep a good sculpt down, especially if it's a Sauropod because the various JP toy lines have made far too little use of those awesome beasties. Therefore, JP Dinosaurs 2 sees the return of Hasbro's Brachiosaurus sculpt. It has remained unchanged, so the neat whipping tail action, funky dinosaur sounds and somewhat bendable neck are still present, but unfortunately so are the irritating dino damage wound and awkwardly bent tail.
This Brachiosaur's paint job is a lot different that that of its predecessor. It's neither an improvement nor a disappointment, but a nice solid new paint job which fits this figure rather well. The green is dark and smooth enough to not feel ridiculously 'in-your-face' green, but a bit more natural instead. The brown stripes are a nice touch and could also be viewed as old battle scars (in which case; poor creature, to have run into so many conflicts!). Overall, this figure might also make a good Camo-Xtreme Jungle Brachiosaurus (though Brachiosaurs would probably be too big for an actual heavily forested environment in reality).
Its Stegosaurus companion is a nice little bonus, but nothing else. Though its paint job is still okay, the fact that it's a reuse instead of a repaint makes it feel like a wasted opportunity. Also, its colouration feels completely inconsistent with its bigger herbivorous counterpart: though it's nowhere stated explicitly that dinosaur paint jobs in two-packs should feel complimentary, these two paint jobs clash a little too much.
Overall, aside from the new Brachiosaurus paint job this set offers nothing new, but it's a good chance to expand your line-up of herbivores, since they're grossly outnumbered in the JP toy lines by their meat eating brethren. And of course, any fairly big Sauropod is welcome, considering this is only the second decently sized Brachiosaurus figure in 13 years of JP toys.

Repaint: yes. The Brachiosaurus was originally released in the JP III line (Wave 2). It is a first time repaint and, so far, last time repaint too. The Micro Stegosaurus is more or less identical to the figure from the Camo-Xtreme Arctic two-pack, though the paint job might feel a bit harder. This particular sculpt was originally paired with Paul Kirby in Wave 2 of the JP III line, and has since been repainted for Camo-Xtreme, JPD2 and JPD3.

Overall rating: 7/10. Not so bad a repaint set. Granted, neither sculpt is new and the Stegosaurus is even a simple reuse, but it still has a solid paint job. The Brachiosaurus is one of Hasbro's better sculpts, and this new paint job fits it fine (though it's not as good as the previous one). Like the other JPD2/3 electronic dinosaur figures, this two-pack was common a few years ago, but has since become much harder to find, in this case even more so than the other JPD2/3 Electronic/Micro sets. If you really want this one, patience is most definitely required, and in this case probably a fair amount of cash as well.

zondag 14 februari 2016

Today's Review: How to Be Single

Oh look, it's another movie review!:

How to Be Single - recensie

A typical romantic comedy for Valentine's Day, I expect the concept was here. But actually, How to Be Single isn't quite so typical. It just plays with typical characters in typical situations searching for typical love. And atypically, not finding it. Because the ultimate message is that you need to get to know yourself and your own desires before you can adequately satisfy or be satisfied by someone else's. And to do that, you need to know how to be self reliable. Like the titel says, how to be single. Seems easy enough, hardly a novel life lesson, but not for these women who prove blind to this notion for far too long. Which also hinders the comedic element quite a bit, and thus the level on which this movie can be enjoyed.

Revolving about the romantics of four different women - plus several men, who all are relegated to the side, since the target audience of course is female - How to Be Single follows their desperate attempts to hook up with members of the opposite sex (quite a conservative approach, there's no other options that characterize our contemporary multisexual society explored here). They suck at it. Young Alice just got out of a relationship and doesn't know how to rely on her own in the busy night life of New York City. Fortunately party animal Robin is willing to teach her, but she specializes in one-night stands, so her advice proves to be of little use for something more serious, nor should her wild tactics be considered exemplary at all. Alice's sister Meg wants a child, but due to her busy career she has no time for a man. Does she have time for a baby then? Not really, it seems. Lucy keeps looking for any available men online, rather than seeing the obvious partner right in front of her. Her story and character are sadly underdeveloped, which is made more regrettable by the fact that this also means underusing Alison Brie's considerable comedic talents. It would have been better if her story line had been eliminated altogether to make room for the others, but since the modern notion of looking for true love on social media is her angle, it was kept in so the movie could appear to say a thing or two about digital dating, which it hardly does.

In terms of comedy, How to Be Single also proves a letdown. The characters of Meg and especially Alice are bland and naive and provide mostly predictable melodrama. It's up to Rebel Wilson's Robin to ensure the laughs, and at least she succeeds admirably at that. In fact, the movie seems to drag and drone on whenever she's off-screen for too long. But when she's involved, the atmosphere quickly gets more appreciable. Makes you wonder whether a movie dealing entirely with her character would not have been preferable. But then, films about loose female characters with questionable dating ethics and a taste for alcoholic indulgence screwing their way through the male portion of humanity are hardly unique. Then again, neither are mosaic romance pictures like this flick. And there's better examples of those available than How to Be Single.

woensdag 10 februari 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: Velociraptor/Tyrannosaurus 2-pack

Year of release: 2004

Description: the T-Rex stands in an aggressive posture, its head curved to the left and its arms outstretched as if attacking something. The tip of the tail is bent pointing upwards and to the left. It has small pads on its feet to give it extra support. The figure is painted entirely light blue, except for its belly and most of the throat which are coloured white instead. On its neck, back, upper legs and front part of the tail it features various sharp edged black stripes, similar to simple depictions of lightning bolts. Additional black stripes are found on each side of the face, close to the eyes (eye sockets are also black). The figure has small yellow eyes with black pupils, a red tongue and inside of the mouth with white teeth and black edges around its mouth. It also sports black claws on its feet (but not on the hands) and a white JP logo on its left upper leg.
The Velociraptor stands in a stalking pose, its right arm and leg stretched outward and its head raised upwards with its mouth open, as if it means to jump on something. The tail is raised upwards and bent at the tip. It's mostly coloured reddish brown (in a slightly shiny hue), though the creature's underside (throat, belly, lower part of the tail) is painted yellowish brown instead. The Raptor carries a long black stripe running from half way of the snout over its neck and back over the first half of the tail. Inside this black stripe two small thin green stripes are located, one on the head and a second one on its back. Two additional black stripes are found on the flanks, running over the very upper part of the limbs to the front half of the tail: these black stripes too each contain a pair of smaller green stripes. The figure also has a thick black spot on each knee. The figure has black claws on all limbs, black eyes with red pupils, a pinkish red tongue and inside of the mouth, white teeth and black edges around the mouth. Lastly, a white JP logo is found on its left upper leg.

Analysis: if you're looking for new sculpts in this two-pack, you're wasting your time. Both the Raptor and the T-Rex have been seen too often before already, both in this line and previous JP toy lines. Oh well, at least these new paint jobs aren't a total loss. In fact, the Raptor's colouring is rather original, apart from the abundance of brown. The little touches like the green stripes and the eerie black eyes with red pupils make it stand out a little among its brethren, though also not by too much. At least all the details have been taken care of. The same could almost be said for the T-Rex, except they forgot the claws on the fingers. Also, differently coloured pads under the feet would have been appreciated. The edgy triangular black stripes go well with the light blue colouring, though otherwise there is not enough colour variation in this figure. It could almost pass for a new take on the Camo-Xtreme Arctic T-Rex, though the quality of the paint job is nowhere near as good as that particular figure's paint job was.
Who'd win in a fight between these two? My money would be on the T-Rex. Though the Raptor is more agile and has those nasty sickle shaped claws on its feet, you can't compare that to a bulldozing, bulky heavyweight like this little T-Rex. Close call though.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The T-Rex teamed up with the Military General, while the Velociraptor was paired with Alan Grant. Both figures have been repainted before for JP III Camo-Xtreme, and would be repainted several times again for this line, JPD3 and JP 2009.

Overall rating: 6/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, unless you don't own the previous releases yet. These new paint jobs are okay though, and by Hasbro standards for two-packs, fairly detailed even. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found easily, usually for low prices because they're just not in high demand.

donderdag 4 februari 2016

Today's Review: Francofonia

The second review by my hand posted on FilmTotaal this year (but more is well underway!):

Francofonia - recensie

This is an intriguing compendium piece to Sokurov's breakthrough film Russian Ark, though it lacks the stylistic punch of that particular film. Of course, doing another 100-minute one-take shot would have felt repetitive, as if the director attempted to capitalize on his own past glory. So there's none of that in Francofonia, but that's not to stop Sokurov from pulling a few more cinematographic tricks out of his hat. That, and the overall message, matters more to him than following conventional narrative expectations. Which is made clear a bit painfully, as Francofonia is literally all over the Louvre, rather than sticking to the single time frame that one would have expected to be the primary focus. Even though the museum's survival of the war years during WW II appears to be the subject at hand, Sokurov has a lot more to tell about the place's long history, not to mention sharing his personal thoughts on both the Louvre's background, its place in art history and the treatment of art in general. That's a lot to tackle for a 90-minute movie...

And of course, as a result, not every episode of the Louvre's story proves as interesting. In fact, all of the film suffers from Sokurovs tendency to change subjects, drone on about the abuse and capitalization of art works and sudden jumps to different time periods. Nevertheless, the message remains clear: museums should not be reduced to pawns of commerce, politics or dictators. They are time capsules that tell all of human history and should be carefully preserved, kept well away from the power hungry. The German occupation is just an example of and an hommage to a period in history where the joining of forces between two like minded men, who by all accounts ought to be diametrically opposed, preserved countless artifacts for posterity. Sokurov thanks both men for their assistance to cultural history. But he also isn't afraid to remind us that the origin of the Louvre itself is steeped in conquest and theft. After all, the emperor Napoleon captured many pieces of art on his campaigns abroad and had them shipped to the capital of his empire. Hitler simply attempted to do the same and failed in the Louvre's case, while succeeding in a lot of other cases. Art and politics certainly aren't mutually exclusive.

It's a point Sokurovs makes with the help of various stylistic choices, some proven in prior works, others applied for the first time in his case. Though there are no excessively long takes used as there were in Russian Ark, his introduction of historical characters sharing their insights and motivations with us is taken straight from that film. In this case restricted to only two characters (Marianne, the French Spirit of Freedom and Napoleon), rather than many. This is not a coincidence of course, as Francofonia's main tale also deals with two characters, the museum director (representing the side of French freedom) and the Nazi officer (the conquering party, the Napoleonic figure). Their story is intercut with historical footage, while it is itself disguised as historical footage by its old fashioned framing and the many print scratches applied. It would have worked even better if it was in black and white, but apparently Sokurov disagreed. He disagrees with a lot of things in Francofonia. Like art being shipped over seas as any other piece of cargo in containers on large freighters, its very existence threatened by a violent storm. Why does art suffer so much indignity and indifference today, he laments. No matter how fragmented his thoughts as shown in Francofonia, it's hard to disagree with him, when ancient buildings and statues are demolished left and right by zealous barbarians, who are also eager to simply sell such cultural heritage to the highest bidder to fund their cause. World War II may have ended seventy years ago, but art remains ever in danger at the hands of subversive ideologies. Francofonia serves as an cautionary reminder of what could be scrapped from the history pages forever if we are not careful and respectful of art's place in our cultural mind.

maandag 1 februari 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: Velociraptor/Spinosaurus 2-pack

Year of release: 2004

Description: the small Spinosaurus figure stands in a walking posture, with its left leg posed forward and the left arm raised, its mouth opened as if roaring and the end of the tail bent pointing to the right. Its underside (throat, belly and inward part of the upper legs) is painted light brown, while the same colour is found on its back below the sail and the front top half of the tail, as well as above the eyes (like eye brows) and on the snout. The rest of the body is coloured regular brown, while the sail is painted dark brown. On either side of the creature, two pairs of black stripes are found, one pair on the flanks and another on the upper legs. The claws on the feet are painted black, but the claws on the hands are unpainted. The edges of the mouth are black, while the animal has white teeth and a dark pink (almost brown in fact) tongue and inside of the mouth. The figure has very small yellow eyes with black pupils, and carries a white JP logo on its right upper leg.
The Velociraptor stands in a stalking pose, its right arm and leg stretched outward and its head raised upwards with its mouth open, as if it means to jump on something. The tail is raised upwards and bent at the tip. Most of the body is coloured very light green (almost beige) except for the lower legs and feet, most of the head (except for the ocular area and underside of the lower jaw) and the back, which are coloured reddish brown. On its back, this brown colouring runs over the upper arms and legs and flanks in triangular shapes. The very middle of the brown section on the back is painted yellow, which also forms similar shapes running over the brown triangular colouring. The claws on the feet are painted in the same yellow, but the claws on its hands are not painted. The figure's underside (throat and belly) is coloured in a very vague different hue of light green, and may actually be called beige when inspecting it very closely. The Raptor has yellow eyes with cat like black pupils and black eye liner, while the edges around its mouth are also black, and the creature sports white teeth and a dark pink tongue and inside of the mouth. The figure carries a black JP logo on its left upper leg.

Analysis: and so the infinite repainting of smaller dinosaur figures kicks into full gear, after having been introduced moderately in JP III Camo-Xtreme. These dinosaur 2-packs offer very little besides the occasional imaginative paint jobs, except for the chance to create huge armies of identical dinosaur sculpts. Why anyone would want that is a good question. Creating armies of Imperial troops from Hasbro's Star Wars lines is not unusual, since such figures usually stand in a neutral pose and they all look alike any way. But having twenty figures of the same species in the exact same attack posture, except with totally different paint jobs, makes little sense at all.
In the case of the Velociraptor/Spinosaurus 2-pack the paint jobs are at least okay. In fact, the Raptor paint job is actually quite good. The double claw like pattern on its back underscores its aggressive nature, attack posture and its own big claws. Such appeal is not to be found in the Spinosaurus, which looks a bit dull by comparison, but not a total loss either. Something more original for the sail would have been welcome. Also a real shame the claws on the hands of both creatures have been omitted, since the detailing of both figures is otherwise fairly good.
The Raptor, which in normal circumstances would be more or less in scale with Hasbro's human figures (though not in the standard JP situation where Velociraptors are hugely oversized), is lucky he's almost as big as the Spinosaurus. In reality any Spinosaurus would just bite the Raptor in half. In a fight between these two dinosaurs, the Raptor with its lethal sickle shaped claws would probably win the day.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The Velociraptor was paired with Alan Grant, while the Spinosaurus belonged to Amanda Kirby. Both figures have been repainted before for JP III Camo-Xtreme, and would be repainted several times again for this line, JPD3 and JP 2009.

Overall rating: 6/10. There's nothing novel to both sculpts, but these new paint jobs are adequate and certainly not as bad as some of the repaints to follow. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found without trouble, usually for low prices because they're not in high demand (for obvious reasons).