zaterdag 28 mei 2016

Today's Review: The Sea of Trees

Another review belatedly posted here:

The Sea of Trees - recensie

If you thought Gus van Sant would be more suited to make an interesting picture about the phenomenon of the Japanese suicide forest Aokigahara than the creators of the recent bland horror movie The Forest would, you thought wrong. Say what you will about The Forest, it had no other pretentions than being an average spooky flick (except maybe for the 'average' part, but then they should have tried harder). The Sea of Trees, not so. It's a bold potpourri of supernatural thrills, Japanese versus Western belief systems, tearjerking drama and philosophical reflections on the nature of suicide. At least, it likes to be. It sadly fails in every respect, making this a prime candidate for the title of 'Worst Gus van Sant Movie'.

The ingredients for a terrific movie are all there. There's a haunting mystery (a forest where people voluntarily come to kill themselves), a shot at emotionally compelling drama (a husband and wife not getting along but coming together over the latter's impending demise), some damn fine actors (McConaughey, Watanabe, Watts, need I say more?) and lots of wonderful cinematography. The movie only succeeds in offering that last bit to our satisfaction. Whether it's the director or the screenwriter who couldn't be bothered with stringing it all together seamlessly into an intriguing whole is hard to tell. It's certainly not the actors, as all of them appear bored or distracted. In Watanabe's case, matters are made worse due to him apparently having been hired as Hollywood's token Japanese man for this occasion, making him rant on about Japanese superstition ad nauseam. We simply can't learn to care about either him or his American companion, who set out to kill himself but had a change of heart in his desire to help his new local friend get home alive. It's seemingly enough of a motivation after the devastating death of his wife to make him find new faith in life and forget all about his suicidal plans, but not for us to go along with his new lust for living.

We simply cannot care about it all, which also stems from Van Sant's odd choice of going nigh 'full Hollywood' in his dramatic scenes set in the States. Usually he opts for what many consider a more European style, but in this scenario, studio tearjerking methods got his preference. And so we have to sit through dull and ultimately predictable flashbacks explaining the protagonist's desire to end his life, even though, illogically, he and his wife never really got along anyway. The scenes in the forest, meanwhile, offer little more captivating moments or surprising twists. Admirably shot and lit as they may be (though much of it not actually filmed in Japan, but rather Stateside) and accompanied for the most part by decently melancholy music, we still grow restless over the lack of empathy triggered at our side of things. It's not so bad that it makes us want to kill ourselves, but it's still frighteningly frustrating to come to realize that a director who often has something worthwhile to share with his audience, really has absolutely nothing noteworthy to say about a fascinating topic of conversation as the so-called Sea of Trees.

donderdag 26 mei 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Electronic Tyrannosaurus Rex with Micro Triceratops

Year of release: 2005

Description: like many of Hasbro’s medium sized dinosaur models, this electronic Tyrannosaurus 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.
This T-Rex is mostly coloured light brown, which is found on the head, neck, back, upper arms, most of the legs and top part of the tail. Its underside (throat, belly and front half of the lower part of the tail) is painted white. In-between these brown and white colours, a sickly greenish brown colour is found, most notable on the flanks. This colour also covers most of the arms and lower jaw, the feet and the inner part of the lower legs. On the head, neck, back, tail and upper legs, black spots and shapes of various sizes cover the light brown colouring in a random pattern. The tongue and inside of the mouth are painted pink, while the animal sports white teeth, small red eyes with black pupils and black claws on both fingers and toes. A white JP logo is found on both upper legs.
The Triceratops appears to stand in a brace-for-impact posture (and rightly so!), its head (almost as big as its torso) held low to the ground, and slightly posed to its right, the front legs more or less in the same position, while the left upper leg is stretched backwards. The tail curves to the right. Its paint job is rather straightforward: underside (belly, most of the tail and legs and throat), as well as parts of the neck shield, beak, cheek horns and nose horn, painted brown, while the back, first half of the top part of the tail and top parts of the legs are coloured dark brown. Most of the face is also coloured dark brown, giving the impression the Trike is wearing a mask. The two horns above the eyes (which themselves are painted light blue with yellow pupils of all things!) are painted a shinier hue of the light brown colouring. The creature carries a white JP logo on both upper hind legs.

Analysis: this Rex again? Yes, indeed, but this time in the company of the “new” small Triceratops sculpt a lot of JP toy fans have speculated over many hours during the long winter nights, so despite the avid repainting in this line there's still at least one thing of interest in this particular set. The Trike is a decent though overly simple figure and has a paint job to match, which in fact looks just boring (making the specimen from the Triceratops/Tyrannosaurus two-pack of this line look far better considering it has a more original paint job). The Trike's eyes however, feature a unique colour scheme for JP dinosaur figure's standards, but the result looks too odd to be taken seriously. And apart from that, the poor critter is just lunch to the much bigger Tyrant Lizard King, who is of course supposed to be the main draw of this set.
The T-Rex also has a paint job of little appeal, one very reminiscent of many past figures' paint jobs, clearly done by an uninspired painter who didn't think originality would be appreciated on a sculpt already repainted twice before. Most of the details, like claws and the mouth, have been taken care of, but the dino damage wound, which clearly shows ribs sticking out, is painted red only, which is rather disappointing. Otherwise the T-Rex sculpt is still okay, though the posture it assumes hinders playability and the biting action should have been easier to access than pushing the creature's throat. The sounds remain the same as before, though it seems the electronics used this time around are even weaker then before considering most JPD2/3 electronic dinosaurs are dead by now in that regard, even when still boxed.

Repaint: yes. The Rex was originally released in the JP III line. It has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2 and would also be featured in JP 2009. The Triceratops first appeared in this toy line, but is very likely a leftover from the JP III line since it's hard to imagine Hasbro bothering to create a single new sculpt for a line which otherwise consists entirely of repaints. The little Trike can also be found in the JPD3 Triceratops/T-Rex two-pack. Like the Rex, it would be seen again in JP 2009.

Overall rating: 6/10. The mystery Triceratops pops up a second time in this line! Its appearance alone makes this set more interesting, but neither sculpt is that appealing and both are adorned with dull and uninspired paint jobs. 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 (though the Triceratops might make this set more interesting to collectors who don't own that sculpt yet). If you really want one, patience is certainly required, though it doesn't necessarily require a lot of cash once you've found it.

zaterdag 21 mei 2016

Today's Review: Quand on a 17 Ans

I've fallen a little bit behind on updating my blog with my latest reviews. Let's see whether I can undo some of the damage.

Quand on a 17 ans - recensie

This film, which in English speaking territories is released under the title Being 17, at first has all the hallmarks of your typical teenage drama. There's two seventeen year old boys and a fair bit of animosity between them. However, where usually there's girls or social status involved in explaining said strife, that is not the case here. In fact, there's no particular cause for their mutual dislike at all, it's just there. So we can imagine the horror on the one boy's face when his mother invites the other to come live with them. It's a generous but odd decision, considering their rivalry is there for everybody to see. It's not the oddest choice Quand on a 17 ans makes, since the intention of this film is showing the start of a homosexual relationship. You'll have a tough time believing this film, which takes place over a period of about 18 months, will see the relation between the boys change from mutual hatred and the occasional bit of violence to underscore that feeling, to genuine, physical affection between the pair.

Director André Téchiné - himself a gay man - is no stranger to both gay drama and teen angst. However, he felt the subject material needed the aid of writer Céline Sciamma to flesh the characters out to their best extent. Sciamma recently came off the teen drama Girlhood, which also showed rough relationships between youngsters (though all of them girls in that particular case), but despite the 37 year difference in age between herself and her director, she proves a right addition to make the teen dialogue that much more snappy and convincing. Aided by strong, not to mention daring, performances from both the young actors and their more experienced counterparts, the script goes a long way to make the unlikely transformation from one state of affairs to the other feel that much more real. Cinematography and editing do their bit as the movie moves from a snowy, cold opening to a warm and colourful close in summer, as a perfect (but rather obvious) metaphor for the change in teen moods.

Nevertheless, for the audience it's still a far cry from hate to love (especially a type of love this deeply felt) in just under two hours time. All the ingredients are there to make us convince this is transpiring, but it just moves too fast to make us feel it with the two main characters. It has the pretention, conscious or unconscious, of an emotional epic the likes of La Vie D'Adele (better known as Blue is the Warmest Colour in many regions), but unlike that wonderful film, it just cuts the time necessary to make it equally emotionally compelling for us by a third. We cannot help but feel things are rushed, even though the movie cannot be accused of being fast paced. A change in teen nature of this magnitude simply begs more illustration for full emotional immersion, it seems.

dinsdag 17 mei 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Velociraptor and Stegosaurus two-pack

Year of release: 2005

Description: the Stegosaurus stands in an active posture, with its body bent, its head and tail pointing towards the left, like it’s defending itself from an aggressor. Its dominating colour is light brown, which is found on its head, sides of the neck, flanks, all of the limbs and both sides of the tail. Its underside (throat, belly and most of the lower part of the tail) is coloured white. The top parts of the animal (top of the head and neck, the back and upper part of the tail, as well as all the back plates) is painted black. On either side of the figure several black shapes stick out of the main black colouring, running over the flanks and tail. The tail spikes are coloured white, while the figure's claws are not painted and it sports small black eyes (with white pupils) and a black JP logo on both upper legs.
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. The figure is entirely painted beige, with the lower body parts being only slightly lighter in colour hue than the top parts which appear a bit more brown (especially around the head and neck). A series of thin blue stripes and shapes are found in a random pattern on the back of the head, neck, back, upper legs and front part of the tail. The inside of the mouth and tongue are painted black, while the figure has white teeth and cat like yellow eyes with black pupils. The Raptor sports black claws on its feet (but not on its fingers) and a black JP logo on both upper legs.

Analysis: and here's yet another dinosaur two-pack for you. This time the all too often repainted Velociraptor is paired with the less often repainted Stegosaurus, and both sculpts have been done much more justice before. The colour schemes on both figures are rather boring. The Raptor's is undetailed and overly simple, and the way the mouth is painted is just damn ugly. The Stegosaurus is not much better. If you feel the paint scheme looks familiar, you're right, since it appears almost a copy of the one used for the JPD2 Stegosaurus figure, except for the shape of the stripes sticking out of the black colouring and less detail on the plates. The used combination of colours, black and light brown, is also far less inspired than the green, dark brown and yellow combination we saw last time. Honestly, how often have we seen JP dinosaur figures painted in black and brown before? It has become almost a cliché!
As for which dinosaur would win in a fight, I'm inclined to bet on the Raptor. It has speed and agility at its side, as well as those nasty claws. The Stegosaurus might do some damage with its tail if it was fast enough, but would most likely meet an untimely end.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of dinosaurs that originally came with human figures for the JP III line. The Velociraptor teamed up with Alan Grant (first wave release), while the Stegosaurus was paired with Paul Kirby. Both figures have been repainted before for JP III Camo-Xtreme and JPD2: the Raptor would be featured again in this toy line, and would also appear in JP 2009.

Overall rating: 4/10. There's nothing new to both sculpts, unless you don't own the previous releases yet. Both figures are adorned with dull and uninspired paint jobs, making this one of the less appealing dinosaur two-packs. Like most two-packs from JPD2 and JPD3, this is not a rare set. It can still be found fairly easily, usually for low prices because it's just not very popular or sought after, for obvious reasons.

zondag 1 mei 2016

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

Year of release: 2005

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. It's mainly coloured dark blue, though on its top parts (neck, back, upper part of the tail) it gradually changes into a greyer tone. The belly and throat are coloured light grey instead. The Rex has black colouring around and in its mouth, as well as white teeth and tongue. It also has small yellow eyes (with black pupils) and a white JP logo on both upper legs.
The Triceratops appears to stand in a brace-for-impact posture, its head (almost as big as its torso) held low to the ground (and slightly posed to its right), the front legs more or less in the same position, while the left upper leg is stretched backwards. The tail curves to the right. Its dominant colour is greyish green, which can be found anywhere on its body except for its underside (belly and throat) which is light grey instead. The figure is covered in various light brown and dark blue spots and shapes on its head and crest, back, flanks, upper legs and tail. Its parrot like beak, the three horns on its face and the two smaller horns on the cheeks are beige, while the Trike has small red eyes with white pupils. Its claws are not painted. It carries a white JP logo on each upper leg.

Analysis: oh, my! A new sculpt! And totally out of the blue! Knowing Hasbro like we do, they sure as heck didn't create this new Triceratops specifically for this repaint line, so it must be a previously unreleased JP III sculpt that finally got a release after all. Better late than never! It's a nice little figure, and fits in decently with the other miniature dinosaur sculpts that originally came with human figures. Due to its plump body and oversized head it does have more of a hatchling feel to it though, but of course hatchling Ceratopsians wouldn't be this well endowed on their head just yet: the neck crest and horns are simply too big for a baby Trike. Its paint job is fairly good. More use could have been made of the crest, but at least this sculpt isn't as monochromatic as some of the earlier Ceratopsian sculpts thanks to the various brown and blue spots.
The T-Rex however is a dismal failure. It has one of the most boring paint jobs ever conceived for a repaint. On first sight it even appears to be one single colour entirely. On second, this is not the case, but it's painfully obvious attention to details has been totally skipped. None of its claws are painted, and the facial features could have used a lot more work too. Maybe Hasbro made this particular repaint so crappy on purpose so the Triceratops got a better chance to shine. In a fight between the two, it would probably stake the Rex to death on those nasty horns. Good riddance!

Repaint: yes and no. While the T-Rex originally came with the Military General for the JP III line, the Triceratops has not been seen before. It's most likely a left-over sculpt from JP III, but there's no proof to support this theory, or proof to the contrary. This is really a mysterious figure and though it seems unlikely Hasbro produced it especially for this repaint line, it does add a little welcome surprise and intrigue to an otherwise dull toy line. The T-Rex, already repainted for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, would be featured again in both this toy line and JP 2009, as would the Trike be.

Overall rating: 7/10. Finally a set that does include something new! The Triceratops is a decent figure, but despite the shock around its very existence it's otherwise nothing special. The T-Rex however gets increasingly boring the more often it's repainted and almost drags the level of interest of this set down entirely. 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 because these two-packs are just not in high demand, even though this set does contain a new sculpt.