zaterdag 18 juni 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Electronic Velociraptor with Micro Pteranodon

Year of release: 2005

Description: this Raptor figure stands in a dramatic pose when boxed, showing all its primal predator prowess, its body straight upwards, its legs wide apart and its ferocious claws ready for action, while its head faces upwards and is turned to the right, jaws wide open (and not capable of being closed). The tail is bent in a sort of 'S' shaped fashion. This sculpt has proto-feathers on the back of its head, following the design change of the Jurassic Park III Velociraptors as compared to the Raptors seen in the first two movies. Accordingly, it has a nasal ridge on each side of its head. A dino damage wound is located on the upper base of the tail, revealing some of its tail bones and dark red muscle tissue. Inside the wound a button is found: when pressed this produces a snarling sound. On its back this creature has a small lever, activating the slashing claw action feature. This also produces an eerie shrieking noise.
Apart from the figure's underside (the belly, most of the lower part of the tail, the inside of the upper legs and part of the throat), which are coloured beige, this Raptor looks quite green. Most of the animal is coloured dark green, most notably all of the head apart from the lower jaw, the back and the upper side of the arms and tail. The remaining body parts are painted in a much lighter shade of green, which is found mostly on the legs, underside of the arms and part of the neck. Dark green stripes also run over the legs. The proto-feathers on the back of the head are yellow, as are the eyes (with black pupils). The tongue and parts of the side of the mouth are pink and the teeth are white. The claws on both hands and feet are painted black while the figure carries white JP logos on both upper legs.
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.

Analysis: once again it seems Hasbro thought a JP toy line would be incomplete without a decently sized Velociraptor figure, so they bashed out yet another repaint (instead of creating a new figure). This sculpt was used only the year before, but either Hasbro forgot, didn't care or thought kids wouldn't remember (but most likely all three options combined). This Raptor is very green, which actually suits it rather well, considering green was never really a “Raptor colour” as the previous Raptor figures in this colour indicated. The dark, murky quality of the used combinations of green is rather reminiscent of the scrapped Camo-Xtreme Tropical Velociraptor and so this latest try might make up a little to some people for the loss of that particular figure. The creature is also pretty detailed, as all the claws and the proto-feathers have been taken care of. The yellow on the Raptors' back of the head is a nice little touch, and it would have been nice if a similar colour scheme would have been added to the head (particular the nasal ridges) since this still looks a bit dull. Compared to the Camo-Xtreme Night Raptor, the two sounds have been reversed again, so they're in the same order as they were on the original JP III figure. And the good old slashing claws remain the same: cute, but not particularly effective.
The Pteranodon is much more disappointing, considering it is a total reuse instead of just a repaint. If you already own the Pteranodon and Compsognathus two-pack of this toy line you'll find it a boring and unneeded addition to your JP dinosaur collection. And the paint job is, again, very bland. It makes good prey for the hungry Raptor, if the Pterosaur was ever stupid enough to get too close to it's vicious claws.

Repaint: yes. Both figures are repaints of JP III dinosaur sculpts. The Pteranodon originally came with Eric Kirby, while the Raptor was originally the Alpha Velociraptor of the JP III line. The Raptor has been repainted before for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, and the exact same Pteranodon (identical sculpt and paint job) was featured in the Pteranodon and Compsognathus two-pack of this line. The Raptor would be repainted again for JP 2009, but for the Pteranodon, this would be its last appearance (so far).

Overall rating: 5/10. The Raptor looks decent and is fairly detailed, but otherwise no different than before. The Pteranodon, already suffering from a lousy paint job, unfortunately is identical to the other Pteranodon figure of this toy line, making it redundant and uninspired. Like the other JPD2/3 electronic dinosaur figures, this two-pack was very common a few years ago, but has since become increasingly hard to find, despite not being a very popular set. If you really want one, patience is certainly required, but fortunately it doesn't necessarily require a lot of cash once you've found it.

zaterdag 11 juni 2016

Today's Review: Warcraft

Up to date again.

Warcraft - Recensie

Judging from the on-again, off-again subtitle The Beginning, it's clear Universal Studios hopes for this first entry into the Warcraft film franchise not to be the last. A ton of money has been thrown at the screen on a project that has been in development for nigh a decade to entice both fans and ignorant audiences alike, but the best intentions regardless, it's unlikely the film will sit well with the latter demographic, while it remains to be seen whether it'll be to the liking of the former. After all, the gamers are simple spectators on a quest played by Duncan Jones and his team, rather than their own. General viewers meanwhile get treated to a grand and supposedly rich fantasy universe for which they have a tough time developing a feeling, considering Warcraft only forms the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The World of Warcraft is vast and extensive, yet a film franchise has to start somewhere explaining it all. The Beginning addresses the origin of the wars between Orcs and Men, so it is said in the opening narration. Which also proves a major spoiler to the movie's own plot, considering the outcome of it all has already been determined. While much of the movie follows a minority of Orcs attempting to establish a truce with the world of Men they just invaded, with that opening statement in mind, there's few narrative surprises in store for us. Which doesn't mean we don't feel for this peaceful, noble Orc warriors, who find themselves a pawn of a sinister force's greater schemes to suck this world dry of life like it did their own home before. Brought to life by the latest motion capture innovations, the movie follows the new path of creating convincing digital characters based on intense acting performances, in the same style as the recent Planet of the Apes movie so successfully. It works, as these are some of the finest Orcs we've seen on the big screen thus far.

Alas, the same cannot be said for their human counterparts. The noble knights and conniving warlocks of Azeroth aren't nearly as interesting to behold as their fresh enemies, a victim of both dull, generic fantasy writing and uninspired performances. Though there's definitely a pool of talent assembled here, none of these actors truly seemed to have affinity with the exotic subject matter. All the silly spells and swashbuckling sword moves can't change that, and there's plenty of both to go around. In fact, Warcraft fanatics will recognize plenty of everything from their beloved games much to their enjoyment and to the detriment of ours, the casual viewers not acquainted with this realm. Especially in the first thirty minutes of the movie, the plot travels from one outlandish location to the next without allowing us much room to absorb it all, get to know its rules or develop a sense of geography for the whole. While names like Ironforge and Stormwind are no doubt iconic nomenclature to the fans, they never rise above the sound of generic fantasy to inexperienced ears. Same can be said for the other inhabitants of Azeroth: Dwarves, Elves and the like are briefly seen here and there but otherwise play no part.

Undoubtedly there's more to the World of Warcraft than what's shown here, but for the general audience, what realms are served never really click. It all looks fabulous but none of it makes us truly care on the same level as the Lord of the Rings movies did. Whether the fans will absorb this take on their beloved franchise as much as they did their interactive equivalent remains to be seen, but the studio better hope they do. Other audiences at best get a decent two hours of generic fantasy entertainment out of it, but nobody will be converted to the Warcraft cause. Which, considering the cost of this hugely expensive movie, might easily suggest The Beginning will also prove the end for the Warcraft film franchise.

woensdag 8 juni 2016

Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs 3: Electronic Triceratops with Micro Velociraptor

Year of release: 2005

Description: this four legged rhino like dinosaur is easily recognizable by its large head with the round crest around it and three horns on its face, two large ones above the eyes, and a smaller one on the snout. It has a beak resembling a parrot's. The crest is adorned with small black spikes sticking out of it (16 in total). It has a sturdy body, about twice the length of the head, ending in a short thick tail. Very noticeable, this figure sports a dino damage wound on its left flank, showing white ribs and red muscle tissue. A small button can be found in this wound, which when pressed produces a low howling growl. A second sound can be made by pushing the tail upwards, which also causes the head to rise upwards, as if attacking something with its horns. This second sound is more aggressive, like a hissing growl.
This Triceratops has a rather dark paint job. Its body is mostly coloured grey, covered with thick dark grey spots and stripes on its back, legs and tip of the tail. Its underside (throat, belly and lower part of the tail) is painted bright beige. Its head is coloured in a much lighter shade of grey, except for most of the lower jaw section, the areas around the horns, and the outer most parts of the crest, which are also coloured in a darker grey. The creature has small red eyes in dark grey eye sockets, while the horns and beak are light beige. The figure has a pink tongue, but the inside of the mouth isn't painted. White JP logos are located on both upper hind 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. Its underside (throat, belly and front half of the lower tail) is painted white, while the rest of the body sports an orange paint job, except for a thick dark red stripe running from the snout over the head, neck and back to about half way the tail. On either side of the figure, three smaller red stripes run out of the main red colouring over the flanks. The hands are also painted in this red colouring. The figure has white teeth, a very light pink tongue and inside of the mouth, cat like yellow eyes with black pupils and black JP logos on both upper legs.

Analysis: if a repaint is ever long over due, that would be the case for this particular sculpt. Triceratops is one of the most famous dinosaurs ever, yet the JP III Triceratops sculpt has been oddly neglected in the previous repaint lines, which is all the more shocking considering this is one of Hasbro's most accurate and appealing sculpts. JPD3 finally corrects this mistake and gives the figure a decent new paint job, kinda reminiscent of a rhinoceros, which would already be the first contemporary animal this creature would be compared with. The new paint scheme is not overly imaginative or exciting, but suits the beastie pretty well. It could have used more details on the crest, as well as painted horns, but it's a fine paint job as it is. Otherwise this figure remains the same: predictable but adequate head butting action, some nice dinosaur sounds and the typical uncoverable dino damage wound.
The Micro Raptor is of less interest, mostly because we've seen this sculpt all too often already and it's still boring. It also lacks details, most notably the claws. The only possible redemption this figure offers is the overall paint and colour scheme, which is remarkably similar to the scheme seen on the classic JPS1 Electronic Velociraptor figure. It may not have been done deliberately (knowing Hasbro that seems unlikely), but it does give a little shock of recognition to older JP toy fans who fondly remember that particular Raptor figure. Were it not for this particular point of interest, this paint job would rank right up there with the most forgetful Hasbro paint jobs in existence.
By the way, the Triceratops would either trample or skewer the Raptor to death in a fight between the two. The Raptor better ignore this herbivore if it knows what's best for it.

Repaint: yes. The Triceratops is a repaint of the JP III Triceratops sculpt. The Micro Raptor originally came with the JP III Alan Grant figure. The Triceratops is a first time repaint, and would be repainted again for JP 2009. The little Raptor has been used for Camo-Xtreme and JPD2, one other set in this line, and would also be used for JP 2009, making it one of the most often repainted Hasbro sculpts.

Overall rating: 7/10. The Triceratops is a fine repaint of one of Hasbro's more successful sculpts. The Raptor is nothing special, though its paint job could be seen as an homage to JPS1. Like the other JPD2/3 electronic dinosaur figures, this two-pack was very common a few years ago, but has since become harder to find, though this set is probably the easiest to find of the six JPD2/3 electronic/micro two-packs. If you want one, you might need to practice patience a bit, but it shouldn't require much money once you've found it.

zaterdag 4 juni 2016

Today's Review: Elle

Picking up some speed at last.

Elle - recensie

It's an odd thing, but the press seems to almost unilaterally adore this latest film by Paul Verhoeven, with myself being an exclusion to that fact. Even though I love most of Paul Verhoeven's work - even going so far as to publicly consider the much maligned Showgirls a very fun film - I had a hard time appreciating this film. Even though I admit there's a number of things to appreciate about it.

First thing, it's a superb piece of acting by the lead, the fabulous French actress Isabelle Huppert. She delivers a grand performance as the protagonist, Michele, a powerful director of a videogame company who one day unexpectedly finds herself the victim of a brutal rape by an unknown assailant. She effortlessly navigates the part of rape victim and dominant, matriarchal presence at her job and as head of her family of miscreants. Better yet, the dormant demons of her shady past awake to stir things up even more, which soon makes for an intense psychological game between herself and those around her. Nobody is a match for her, both in terms of character and in terms of acting. Sadly, the rest of the cast is nowhere near as exciting to watch and mostly consists of sleazy personas out to make her life more miserable. It's a shame less effort was put into making Michele's surroundings a bit more interesting, but with such a powerful performance as her own, it's hard to keep up.

Second, Verhoeven basically does what he has always done: not give a damn about cinematic conventions and do as he like without taking what many people would consider 'good taste' into account. His continuation of exploring the underbelly of man proves devoid of adhering to the usual norms of narrative progression. Whoever thinks the rape dictates the rest of Michele's actions is wrong, as she doesn't end up a victim of the act, but rather her environment becomes a victim of herself. There's no tear jerking drama here wherein the violated female must come to terms with the traumatic event, nor is there your typical Hollywood style thriller plot which sees the aggressor hunted down by a revenge driven survivor. Yes, Michele does take matters into her own hands and aims to find her rapist, but this detective story thread suddenly comes to a dead stop as the identity of the culprit is revealed earlier than expected, to unforeseen and rather incredulous results. Wherever you think the story is going, Verhoeven doesn't care about your expectations.

Such stubbornness I generally approve of, since there's enough predictable studio drivel going around already. Nevertheless, despite Verhoeven clearly putting his own stamp on Elle which makes it a rather unique final result, I still found it far from a satisfying movie. It's simply too rebellious for the sake of being rebellious. It's a strange and uncomfortable mix of a thriller, family drama and dark comedy, filled with wholly unsympathetic characters. It echoes Verhoeven's scandalous Dutch film Spetters, which saw the auteur heavily criticized and proved one of the prime reasons for him to switch from Holland to Hollywood (and a good choice that was!). However, that film was torn to shreds by critics, while 35 years later Elle is unanimously embraced. The times apparently have changed, but Verhoeven has not changed with them and continues to be an eternal provocateur. In the current political milieu, such an attitude is apparently rewarded. Just not by me. I appreciate Verhoevens refusal to change his style and stick to his (lack of) principles, but I much lament his cynicism. And though it seems the press doesn't share that perspective, I have a feeling many a regular audience member will agree with me upon seeing the strange shock that is Elle.

woensdag 1 juni 2016

Today's Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Still behind on all the stuff I wrote, but slowly gaining.

X-Men: Apocalypse - Recensie

'Third one is always the worst' says Jean Grey when leaving the theater after watching Return of the Jedi back in '83. She was right about that one, and conscious or unconscious (I doubt the writer intended for this movie to be the weakest in the second X-trilogy), she's also correct about X-Men: Apocalypse. However, also like Return of the Jedi, Apocalypse still is a whole lot of mutant fun for those who didn't expect the franchise to reach new heights anyway.

Granted, it's not the story that provides the mirth, since it's the stuff of repetition, variations on themes and lack of narrative evolution. Basically, another all-powerful mutant rears his head and threatens to destroy the world for mankind so that its stronger successors can take over. And once again, the X-Men, fighting for peace between man and mutant, must get together to stop this megalomaniacal scheme from becoming reality. This time, it's not Magneto who has hatched the diabolical plan, but rather a 5,000 year old ideological predecessor, an ancient Egyptian once worshiped as a god, with the modern moniker Apocalypse. Magneto, once more masterfully performed by Michael Fassbender, merely provides some muscle to help Oscar Isaac's semi-god with his evil shenanigans. Isaac does a decent job playing an age old villain, but he's no Fassbender and his Apocalypse is nowhere near as intimidating or intriguing as the much more relatable Magneto.

Still, the villain suffices for the cause of bringing together two generations of X-Men, the First Class lot and the new batch of young recruits, including novel takes on classic X-characters Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler. Their performances and their chemistry make us hopeful for the future of the franchise, should the studio feel like using them for the next installment Apocalypse seems to be building up to. For although it's meant as a conclusion to a trilogy, the ground work is amply laid for more to come and these young stars succeed in making us curious about what lies ahead. The new additions to the cast are aided by snappy dialogue and light humour, making the shortcomings in the plot not nearly as blatant as they would have been in lesser hands. Nevertheless, it's clear director Bryan Singer, who has made his fourth X-movie with this title, has run out of ideas for the X-universe. Though we appreciate his work on both trilogies, new blood would be equally welcome in the creative room as it proved in the cast.