zaterdag 30 april 2016

Today's Review: Monsieur Chocolat

This one's near two weeks old now, but circumstances didn't allow me to repost it here until today:

Monsieur Chocolat - recensie

Monsieur Chocolat is one of those typical period dramas that tells a story of days of human degradation gone by more for the sake of the present day than for the desire to accurately reflect the times depicted. Though the director and writers proclaimed their intention of re-introducing a once famous French artist who by the dawn of the 21st Century had slipped into obscurity for a contemporary audience, the issues of race, though certainly a factor of Chocolat's life, are addressed far more strongly than they most likely were back in the days. Of course, Chocolat's entire career was based around his otherness and influenced more by the ignorant cultural notions of white audiences than they were by reality, but that didn't stop him from becoming one of the top theatrical artists of his day. And he was known to be proud of that achievement, even though much of his acts involved getting his arse kicked by a white clown.

But the blatant, painful melodrama of his life suggested by Monsieur Chocolat is more of an attempt to remind modern audiences of the insanity and humiliation on which his career was based rather than on actually reported events. Not to mention Chocolat's private demons involving women, booze, drugs and gambling, which add further obstacles to his career beyond simply attempting to add diversity to his stage acts. Basically, by adding all these other troubles, the writers make it clear that Chocolat is an artist like any other, dealing with the same pitfalls of fame that other artists experienced. It makes for rather generic situations beyond the ever degrading scenes of racial subjugation and does little to push Monsieur Chocolat above the myriad of similar films involving struggling performers of any ilk.

The performances, less so. Omar Sy may actually have hit a career high note in this one, delivering what certainly can be called his most convincing performance since Intouchables. He moves from merry clown entertaining women and children to broken, down-on-his-luck artist plagued by rampant racism seemingly effortlessly. Not to mention he and his co-star James Thierrée are equally matched, with the latter playing a perfect counterpart as the stage obsessed but otherwise grumpy and serious clown Footit, a total opposite to the light hearted Chocolat in many other respects beyond race. The duo makes for a strikingly different pair of personalities you could hardly imagine sharing the circus, though the ultimate break-up feels an inevitable event from the get-go. The circumstances involving their separation were not as 'black and white' as this film suggests though. Again, Monsieur Chocolat feels the need for distorting the truth to underscore the malign racism of the era. That message is well received, but the historical character of Chocolat is not aided by hammering home the message so harshly. However, thanks to this film, he is also not forgotten, so the makers succeeded in that regard as well.

dinsdag 26 april 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Spinosaurus/Tyrannosaurus 2-pack

Year of release: 2005

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 paint job is a combination of greys and greens, the former being found on its underside (throat and belly) and top parts (most of the facial area, neck, back and upper part of the tail), the latter being located on the limbs, flanks, underside of the tail, parts of the upper jaw and all of the lower jaw. The grey and green gradually morph into each other on the parts where there would otherwise be simple overlap between both colours. The sail is dark brown (almost black on first sight). The creature's claws have not been painted. The Spinosaurus has small yellow eyes with black pupils, white teeth, a pinkish beige tongue and the rest of the mouth is all black. A black JP logo is found on both upper legs.
The T-Rex stands in an active 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 animal is all coloured dark brown, except for the throat and belly which is greyish brown instead. A large number of small grey spots is found on the figure's back of the head, neck, back, very upper legs and front half of the tail. The figure's claws have not been painted. The Rex has small red eyes with black pupils, white teeth, a pink tongue and the rest of the mouth is all black. A white JP logo is found on both upper legs.

Analysis: 'Haven't we seen these guys before?'
'Well yes, they've been repainted often enough already.'
'But also these two paired together?'
'Erm... yeah, they've been released together only last year.'
'So what makes this second T-Rex and Spinosaurus two-pack so special?'
Truth is, nothing does. This is total 'been there, done that' territory. Same old figures, typical super predator versus super predator in miniature mind-set, not very appealing new paint jobs. Little focus on details: unpainted claws, ugly black inside of the mouth, too little interesting skin detailing (except for the spots on the Rex maybe). It's basically a big bore, as was the previous T-Rex and Spino pairing, meaning there's also zero progress. The sculpts are still averagely decent, so you might be interested if these are new to you, but the chances of that being the case are very slim considering how often we've seen these dinosaurs already.
Of all four JPD3 dinosaur two-packs, this is the least successful, considering the other sets featured previously unrepainted figures, interesting species combinations, and in one extreme case, a whole new sculpt. But hey, the kids will probably love more Rexes and Spinosaurs because they're big and badass and butch! That's probably the thought that went through Hasbro's mind. Cases like these make it shockingly obvious that real JP fans and collectors just aren't of any real interest to Hasbro execs. Oh well, there's still the new Triceratops sculpt in the other two-pack...

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 Spinosaurus came with Amanda Kirby. Both figures have been repainted before for JP III Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, and would be repainted again for this line and JP 2009.

Overall rating: 3/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, nor are these paint jobs at all interesting. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found with little effort, usually for low prices – not surprisingly – because they're just not in high demand.

zaterdag 23 april 2016

Today's Review: Bezness as Usual

Another review up at FilmTotaal, with one more to follow in the same week:

Bezness as Usual - recensie

This is the type of documentary you don't go to the movies for. The type you expect to see on public access late at night. The kind of topic that doesn't really attract you unless you already experience a personal stake in it. For its own type, it's not bad per se, it just lacks the necessary angle for which it would be a boon to theater audiences on other occasions than festival screenings. That's nothing to be held against it, it's just the way it is. The main actual argument against it is it introduces a despicable man whose shenanigans we have to watch for a good ninety minutes. A man who we can't judge as anything but unsympathetic from the get-go, but who the protagonist feels the need to discover if there's other sides to him that justify his behavior, past and present.

Big surprise: not really, he's just an old con man trying to use his son as a business angle rather than feeling true fatherly emotions for. A hard truth to swallow, but one we saw coming miles away, which makes for little emotional intensity. Considering this movie is basically self-therapy for the director, a child of different ethnicities torn between loyalties to people on two continents, it succeeds in making the protagonist reach a new understanding, but the same doesn't hold true for the audience. At the same time, we get a glimpse of far larger events unfolding in Tunisia, as the threat of terrorism grows ever stronger, but this subject is only slightly touched upon. Bezness as Usual is a small scale drama unfolding between two people, anything beyond that, however intriguing, is not the point. Too bad, since it might have made for a more dynamic and less predictable documentary. The type you would want to see on the big screen.

woensdag 20 april 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Pteranodon/Compsognathus 2-pack

Year of release: 2005

Description: the Pteranodon is rather large for a creature that originally came with a human figure. The second half of each wing can fold in and out, and when folded to their full (realistic) length, the figure has about a 15 centimetre wing span. It has a small hand on each wing, which however is situated far too much towards the end of the wing and should have been placed closer to the body. The Pterosaur has two long legs which end in claws that can grip human or dinosaur figures' limbs as if it is lifting them off the ground. It has a rather thick plump head on a rotatable neck. Most of this figure sports a brown paint job, mostly a darker shade of brown, though there's also a lighter shade mixed in on various parts of its body (most notably on the chest, arms and head). The underside of the figure (lower side of the wings, tail and most of the legs) is white, which gradually shifts into light brown the closer you get to the arms. The claws on the hands are painted black, while the Pteranodon has red eyes, a purple tongue and a small black JP logo on both the upper and lower side of its left wing.
The Compsognathus is a rather skinny little critter, much smaller than the Pteranodon. It stands on a small base resembling a log or a rock, posed in an aggressive stance as if it's leaping off the base onto its prey, its mouth opened and its left arm outstretched. Its underside (most of the throat, belly and inner parts of the limbs) is coloured beige, while the rest of the body is mostly dark brown (particularly the tail, flanks and limbs). A tick black stripe runs from the back of the head over the neck and back almost to the end of the tail, with round shapes running out of it over the neck, flanks and tail. The Compy's teeth and inside of the mouth are white, while its eyes are yellow with black pupils. It has a black JP logo on both upper legs.

Analysis: haven't seen these figures in a while! After the countless repaints of the Rex, Raptor and Spinosaurus figures from the JP III line we've seen so far, you'd tend to forget Hasbro actually made other creature figures to team up with their human figures back in 2001. Two of these are packaged here together: the result is a mixed bag. It's good to see both figures again for a change, but the Pteranodon is still not a very good figure, especially considering the wonderful job Hasbro did on the other Pterosaur figures (why couldn't they just have repainted those...!?). It's larger then most of the other dinosaur two-pack figures since it originally came with the smaller Eric Kirby human figure and it was supposed to lift him into the air. This “action feature” (i.e. gripping claws) has been retained and still hardly works since prey figures just slip out all too easily. The folding wings feature also has been kept intact, saving space but looking silly and unrealistic. And the Pteranodon's new paint job is just ugly. Brown and white just don't go well together, and there's little variety or detailing in this figure otherwise (except for the eerie and weird purple tongue and red eyes).
The Compsognathus faired better for this set, but is also not as good as before. The signature green paint job which looked quite good on it has been replaced by a rather dull and uninspired brown paint job with black colouring on top, something we've seen before all too often. Details have been neglected (claws, inside of the mouth, etc.), but at least the sculpt is still pretty good and a lot different from the other smaller dinosaur figures JPD2 and JPD3 offer. As to who would be most likely to survive a conflict between the two, it depends on the situation. If the Pteranodon managed to swoop down on the Compy with stealth and speed it might be able to grab it or peck it to death easily enough, but the tricky little bastard would probably see it coming well in advance and choose to run and hide. It's probably better if both creatures stuck to eating what they eat best: know-it-all boys for the Pterosaurs and cocky Marlboro men for the Compies to feast on in large numbers.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The Pteranodon originally came with Eric Kirby, while the Compsognathus is one of two different Compy sculpts that teamed up with Alan Grant (the Wave 2 release). Both figures are first time repaints, and ironically enough also last time repaints in the case of these sculpts, though the exact same Pteranodon (identical sculpt and paint job) was featured with the Electronic Velociraptor figure of this toy line.

Overall rating: 6/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, nor are these paint jobs especially appealing. However, it's nice to see different sculpts repainted for a change instead of the same old Rexes and Raptors all the time. The Compsognathus is still a fairly good figure, the Pteranodon less so. Like most dinosaur two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is one of the more common releases and it can still be found with little effort, usually for low prices – not surprisingly – because they're just not very popular sets.

zaterdag 16 april 2016

Today's Review: Mammal

Another review up, with more soon to follow:

Mammal - recensie

Why would a new mother abandon her child and husband? It's an intriguing question, usually surrounded with heavy social stigma, since any mother denying her maternal instincts is either downright abject or at the least a bad excuse for a person, or so society swiftly judges. Nevertheless, it happens and it begs an answer. Those looking for one will not find it in Mammal. In fact, though at first thought the movie seems to revolve around a mother who accepts a second chance for motherhood, that may be too much of a generalization. But some sort of connection, both emotional and physical, between two vastly different but equally lost souls, is certainly in order in this narrative.

Margaret abandoned her family soon after her son was born, and she now has been out of their lives for 18 years. When news about her son's disappearance reaches her, not much sorrow is demonstrated. Nevertheless, around the same time, she accepts a wild kid from the street, roughly the same age as her own child, to live with her. The big question obviously being why. A simple act of generosity? Or perhaps another shot at maternity, after foregoing that responsibility all those years ago? For a while, the latter option seems to be the case, but when things get overly physical between her and the boy, Joe, that theory doesn't hold up any more. If motherhood is indeed Margaret's objective, she has some odd notions of the concept at least.

Unfortunately, Mammal - the metaphoric title suggests a nurturing nature to their relationship based on maternal instincts, though there's also an undeniable social aspect to it as well, so one can look at it from both angles - is short on motivations. It's not Daly's intention to spoon feed us all the answers, which is fine, but there's simply too few of those concerning the various characters' actions to go around. Things happen as they do, while particular reasons are entirely up to the viewer to come up with. It makes Mammal a rather hollow film. Thankfully, there's strong performances throughout, which do make us care enough to stick with the protagonists rather than lose all interest entirely. We hardly get to know these people to the extent that we should for Mammal to deliver the gripping drama it feels like it wants to, but as fellow mammals we sympathize enough to feel some emotional connection to stick with them for a good hour and a half.

zaterdag 9 april 2016

800th Post!: Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 2: (Ultra) Tyrannosaur(us)

Year of release: 2004

Description: this larger T-Rex figure measures some 25 centimetres in length and stands just over 15 centimetres tall. The sculpts stands in an attack posture, with its tail bent upwards and its head slightly tilted up. Its legs stand wide apart from each other. This Rex is pretty skinny and has little body mass, it’s mostly head, limbs and tail. A very large dino damage would is found on its right flank, showing white ribs and red muscle tissue. The upper piece of exposed rib is actually a button which activates a shrieking roar, as if the creature is in pain. A second roar, more aggressive and imposing, can be made by pulling its right arm down: when doing so the mouth will also open. A third sound, the stomping noise, can be made by having the T-Rex stomp on the ground. The sound quality of all three sounds is not very good, static is heard as well.
The overall colour of this Tyrannosaurus is dark green, with a black stripe running from its snout all the way to the end of the tail and numerous smaller stripes on its back, tail and neck running out of the larger stripe. Added to these colours are some light blue stripes on neck, back, limbs and tail. A thick grey stripe runs over the belly and underside of the tail. It’s got a pair of small red eyes with black pupils and the claws on both hands and feet are light grey. The tongue and inside of the mouth are painted pink, with white teeth. A black JP III logo is located on its right upper leg.

Analysis: this T-Rex would undoubtedly be regarded as the top figure of the JP Dinosaurs 2 toy line, being the biggest carnivore sculpt, but apparently Hasbro didn't think it worthwhile to do much work on it, probably under the impression it would sell well anyway so why waste additional money on it... Therefore, if this “new” paint job brings up a distinct feeling of déja vu, it's perfectly normal, considering the paint scheme is more or less identical to that of the JP III Ultra T-Rex, and the dominant colour is still green (though a darker variety of green this time). Close inspection and comparison between this Rex and its JP III counterpart reveals all the stripes and lines on both figures to be in the exact same spot, it's just the colours that vary. And to be frank, the red and brown colours looked better with green on the previous T-Rex. Light blue just doesn't suit a Tyrannosaurus at all. It's a real shame the designers put so little effort in this figure's paint job, considering its Camo-Xtreme predecessor got a surprisingly awesome new paint job that made the whole sculpt appear better than it was.
The paint job, though not very different from before, is the only new feature on this Rex, the rest is the same old same old. A lousy posture hindering playability, a lame and uninspired attack feature and weak electronics that don't just sound crappy, but break all too easily, making working specimens of this figure increasingly hard to find. This may be the biggest figure of this line, but it's also the biggest disappointment.

Repaint: yes. This is a repaint of the JP III Ultra T-Rex figure. The sculpt has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and would be repainted again for JPD3.

Overall rating: 3/10. A near copy of the JP III T-Rex paint job, and zero improvement. The sculpt itself still is quite disappointing for a big figure. Like the other big JPD2/3 electronic dinosaurs, this figure was common a few years ago, but its numbers are in swift decline. You might still get one for a decent price these days, but don't expect this situation to hold much longer.