Tuesday, 20 March 2018

POP! Movies: Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park)

Well, articles and reviews haven’t been coming nearly as fast as I might have liked this month. There’s a few reasons for that. One is Lost Tunnels, which is in the process of being edited. Another is that I’ve picked up some freelance work (if you would ALSO like to hire me, flick me a message at lupinebookclub@gmail.com).

But the main reason is that I was actually overseas for a couple of weeks. My wife, myself and some other family members headed to New Zealand on a cruise, to celebrate my mother’s birthday. It was great fun, but it did mean that I ran a bit behind on my usual stream of articles. My apologies, dear readers. 

Nonetheless, things are settling back into a more normal routine now. So on to today’s review!
Tyrannosaurus Rex is my favourite dinosaur, hands down. Sure, I love plenty of other dinosaurs too, but gun to my head, T-Rex will always trump all other contenders. So I was pretty excited when I discovered that there would be a T-Rex as part of Funko’s Jurassic Park line. Awesome! It inspired some amazing toys back when the original movie was released – there’s no way it could be anything but awesome. And surely it would be a 6” POP, right?

Sadly, the final product is not quite what it could be.

The first issue is the size of this guy. He’s much too small! Funko seems to have slowed right down on the 6” POPs in general, and I suspect this guy is just a victim of circumstance. I can understand that, given that they seem to shelfwarm a lot harder than most other figures, but it’s still disappointing. How many other T-Rexes are we likely to get in this format? Surely this was a shoe-in for success.

Second is the fact that he can’t stand on his own – his gigantic head is solid, which makes the whole thing far too bulky. A stand is provided but it only plugs into one foot...the softer plastic of the leg has already warped and caused him to fall over once on a hot day, so I am not super-optimistic about long-term display prospects.

The pricing bugs me too. It’s the same price as regular POPs – $19AUD – but it feels like more of a rip-off. Now I didn’t mention this in my Dilophosaurus review; I’m prepared to pay a premium for a Dilophosaurus because there aren’t a lot of Dilophosaurus toys around, and you need to take what you can get. But for a T-Rex…if you’re going to charge $19AUD, it had better be something pretty amazing. Your average dollar store will offer a far better T-Rex toy, at a mere fraction of the cost. This really lacks the necessary x-factor and feels like it’s coasting on the back of the license.   

Finally, a word about the paint. The teeth are incredibly sloppy, and there’s a big mark across the tongue – neither of which was visible while in the box. This time it’s annoyed me enough that I am actually going to take steps to fix it. I know I say this a lot in my POP reviews, but I think this one is bad enough that it’s actually warranted.

While this POP isn’t a total write-off, I don’t think I would have bought Rexy here if I had my time again. But in the absence of a time machine, I’ll have to live with my decision; hopefully he eventually grows on me. Or at least stays standing up. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Novella Update 2: March 2018 – You Can Write Too!

As many of you will be aware, I’m moving towards the final stages of self-publishing a novella of mine – Lost Tunnels. If you missed the update I wrote about it a little while ago, you can find it here.

I’m still trying to set a final release date, which is contingent on a few different factors – not the least of which is me properly getting to grips with Kindle Direct Publishing. I want to make sure it’s a quality product that you – and other readers – get, not something that I have to go in and make a ton of edits to after launch. Watch this space!

But in the meantime, I thought I’d write a little bit about writing itself – to provide a bit of encouragement to anyone else thinking of giving it a go. If you’re thinking of writing a book, a short story or even just a blog yourself, I would really encourage you to do it. Pretty much everyone has at least one book in them, and the rise of digital self-publishing has meant far greater democratisation in publishing. But here are some things you might find helpful to know first, before you launch in head-first.    

You’re going to have to give something up

Many people think that they need to “find the time” to write. True, many of us could use our time more efficiently, but having been a professional writer to varying degrees since I was eighteen, much of my best work tends to happens by deliberately excluding activities from my schedule.

For me, writing in recent years has tended to come at the cost of video games. Now I appreciate that for many people reading, this would not necessarily be a huge sacrifice. But I love video games – to the extent that I actually worked for a prominent video games retailer for many years. Gaming while I worked there was not just a fun pastime; it was actually a necessity. You needed to keep up to speed on which titles were coming out, and you wanted to be able to give customers accurate information. You can fake it till you make it for many forms of retail, but it’s harder with gaming than most.

Now that I don’t work there any longer, I barely play games at all. My wife does; she’s obsessed with The Elder Scrolls Online. But I just get in the odd round of Mortal Kombat X or the occasional session on the SNES Classic. 

My larger point is that unless you are exceptionally disciplined with your time, you are probably going to need to give up one or more things that you like in order to write. Choose wisely; part of the reason I chose gaming was because I knew I could afford to lose it. I love writing more than I love video games, and completing Lost Tunnels was much more important to me than completing whatever Call of Duty came out that year. Your own mileage will vary. You don’t want to exclude yourself from something vital to your being in order to do something that will just cause you resentment.    

Put your phone away

Years ago, my mother-in-law met the one and only Sir Terry Pratchett while on holiday. At the time I was working on some fantasy novel or other, and she asked him if she had any advice for me. I don’t remember the exact wording of what he said, but it was to effect of “Place ass on seat. Begin writing. Remove ass when writing is complete.”

Rarely have truer words been spoken. I am a natural procrastinator and can quite easily chew up my designated writing time with social media, finding a new band to listen to (to help my writing, of course), looking for new t-shirts online, deciding to have something to eat or just simply getting anxious about what I’m about to write. None of this is made easier with a phone by my side. So put it the FUCK away if you’re serious about giving writing a go. NB: I am not always very good at following this advice.  

Why are you doing it?

I don’t write to be rich and famous. It would be amazing if that’s what happens after I release Lost Tunnels, but I am actually working with fairly modest expectations. Of course, I plan to write more – and am working on more already, actually – but I would be a terrible fool if I thought that success was going to be overnight.

So why do I write? It’s because I have to. Ever since I found out what a novelist was as a little kid, I wanted to be one. Writing is one of the only things I’m good at.  I’ve been writing stories since I was a little kid, and though there have been interruptions along the way, I’ve never really stopped. Even if no-one ever reads Lost Tunnels – and of course, I hope you do – I will still know that I’ve done it, and that’s enough for me. I needed to get it out of my system in one way or another.

Similarly, I slogged away at this blog for years before anyone really paid attention. This was partially because I didn’t have a good a grip on how to promote it, and partially because it’s a niche blog which in turn means you attract a niche audience. Either way, it didn’t matter; I wrote because it made me happy and it was therapeutic. And it turns out, Field of Dreams was right: if you build it, they will come.   

I am always pleasantly surprised (if not a little jealous) when I see relatively new writers/bloggers going gangbusters, hitting milestones far beyond anything I have done. I turn 33 this year, and I’ve see authors significantly younger than me hit heights of (material) success that are daunting by comparison. But with that said, I’m also in a position some might envy. I’ve written for Reader’s Digest, I’ve helped other people write their novels, I have a blog with a loyal readership and I’ve managed to make it all the way through a first draft of my own. You would be surprised at how many aspiring writers cannot. Perhaps most significantly, I make my living writing; it is my day job.

With that said, the comparison trap is easy to fall into and rarely helpful; you don’t know people’s individual circumstances, how hard they’ve worked or what opportunities they’ve been gifted. Not to mention your own circumstances; poor health, failed relationships, work and the other vagaries of day-to-day life can literally steal years away from you – years you might have spent writing. So if you’re not where you want to be, don’t worry. 

You do need to work hard, but it’s as much down to chance as it is anything else. This can terrify and overwhelm you, but it can also spur you on to greater heights. I suppose I’m an existentialist, so it does both for me on different days of the week.

I’ve rambled enough, and everything I’ve said above has already been said by others with far more experience than me. Get out there and write – because your idea sure as shit isn’t going to write itself.

Friday, 2 March 2018

POP! Drag Queens – Trixie Mattel

Over the last few years, RuPaul’s Drag Race has become quite the cult phenomenon around the world. My wife is obsessed with it, and so by default I’ve ended up watching quite a lot of it too. It’s not necessarily something I’d go out of my way to watch, but it’s bright, it’s fun and a lot of the celebrity judges are great.

Several stars have emerged from the show already, one of whom is the subject of today’s review – Trixie Mattel. She first appeared on the show’s seventh season – and despite only finishing at 6th place, she rapidly emerged as a fan favourite. At time of writing, she’s appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars and acting as co-host of The Trixie & Katya Show.   

As you may have guessed from her name, Trixie Mattel often styles herself to look like some sort of Barbie doll. This is even reflected in the box design, which uses a parody of the Mattel logo and a very Barbie-esque shade of pink.

I’m not familiar enough with the show to know whether this is based on a specific outfit she wore in the show, but she looks easily recognisable. Paint is solid, particularly on her face – an essential part of getting this figure right. But with that said, this is actually the second Trixie I picked up for my wife. The first was missing its mouth – it just hadn’t been painted on at all!

The POP! Drag Queens has the potential to be an interesting one. Currently there's three figures – Trixie here, Alaska Thunderfuck and of course, RuPaul himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a few more in future, as RuPaul alone lends himself to an absolute ton of variants. It would be great to see Divine get added to the line at some point too. I think it’s a good fit for the format, and will likely appeal to the kitsch sensibilities of some, even if they aren’t otherwise interested in POPs.  

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

POP! Movies – Dilophosaurus (Jurassic Park)

Because everything under the sun is currently getting turned into a POP, Funko have seen fit to release a series of Jurassic Park POPs. Coinciding with the movie’s 25th anniversary, there’s a good selection of human and dino characters alike – so today, we take a look at the regular version of Dilophosaurus.  

Unlike T-Rex or Triceratops, Dilophosaurus was a relatively obscure dinosaur before it was included in the novel and film versions of Jurassic Park. This obscurity allowed both Crichton and Spielberg to take a bit of creative license to turn the Dilophosaurus into a better villain for both page and screen; she got shrunk down, given a frill and the ability to spit poison.

It was an unusual departure for Crichton; those who have read the book will be aware that he poured a ton of research into the book, making considerable effort to keep his dinosaurs in line with then-current scientific findings. That said, Crichton wasn’t totally talking out of his ass when they took this piece of creative license. Given the weak jaws of Dilophosaurus, it has been speculated that it was primarily a scavenger – or that it had a poisonous bite, similar to modern Komodo Dragons. Probably no spitting venom or frill, though. 

Nonetheless, the film had a huge influence on the way the public perceives dinosaurs, and the frill looks set to stay in pop culture images of these beasts. There are worse falsehoods that have done the rounds, I suppose. Interestingly, it was one of the few dinosaurs in the book or movie that actually did live during the Jurassic Period. 

The sculpt of the figure is great, with the face being a particular standout. I'm generally ambivalent about Funko's move away from stylised looks to greater "realism" but this is one instance where I really think it works. 

I do have some gripes, though. From the back I feel like there’s a few too many ugly join lines. Such is the nature of moulding, but we’ve seen Funko do more complex sculpts in fewer pieces in the past. Likewise, the paint is disappointingly sloppy. If you’re in a generous mood I suppose you could palm it off as “unique markings” for each different animal.

Now, there is a 1:6 Chase for the Dilophosaurus – not glow in the dark, sadly. Indeed, many won’t see the value in it as doesn’t feature the distinctive frill. Not so iconic by film standards, but technically it’s more accurate to how a real Dilophosaurus looked. I'd love to get my hands on one, but can't see myself spending big money for it. 

The Dilophosarus is a fun, if imperfect collectible. Those who enjoy repainting their POPs will enjoy the challenge, while the rest of us will simply tolerate it as we always do. And Jurassic Park or no, Dilophosaurus toys are relatively unusual, so it's always nice to have another one out there. Sure to be a strong seller over the next few months, particularly as the real anniversary grows closer. 

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Lego Review: Spinjutzu Training 70606

Theme: The Lego Ninjago Movie
Year: 2017
Price: $15AUD

I’ll be honest; I’m pretty ambivalent to the Ninjago theme as a whole. There were some very cool sets in the 2011 and 2012 releases, back when it was kind of a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe setting, but with Ninjas as the heroes. But it’s since moved into more heavily sci-fi territory, and I don’t really like the tech-heavy look they’ve gone with for the Ninjas. If I had my way, Lego would instead update the Ninja sets from the 90s, which were originally a sub-line of Castle.

However, money talks and AFOL bullshit walks – there’s no doubt that Ninjago has been a huge success for Lego. It’s spawned a huge amount of spinoff material, including books, clothes, TV series and a theatrically released movie. For any theme that isn’t City to run for 7 years continuously is a huge achievement.

As might be expected, the aforementioned film – The Lego Ninjago Movie – got its own series of building sets, which is where the subject of today’s review stems from. But if I’m not that fussed on  Ninjago, why did I pick this set up?

Well, despite my ambivalence to Ninjago specifically, I am a bit of a ninja tragic. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped spark my interest as a kid, but it quickly grew into its own thing. I think it was the black outfits that did it, to be quite honest. Also probably the combination of myth, folklore and flat-out pseudohistory that surrounds the subject. See also: Men in Black.   

As the name of the set implies, this looks like a small training dojo; it’s a total martial arts film cliché, which I find very endearing. There’s four primary elements and two minifigures:
  • a Wing Chun-style training dummy – ideal for practicing close quarters combat
  • a bop-bag style dummy, complete with samurai helmet
  • a katana rack, for safe weapon storage
  • a “shrine”. Presumably, this is where students bow upon entering and exiting the dojo.
  • Kai (the red ninja)
  • Zane (the white ninja)

The shrine is probably my favourite of the bunch. As a corner piece, it could be slotted into other sets easily enough, and it has some nice touches; the scroll on the wall and the red lantern look great, and the sides provide storage for two more weapons.

The minifigures are also pretty solid. The white ninja is particularly striking (if impractical for “real” ninja missions). While I think they should have stuck to solid red for Kai, the added black does make for a nice contrast.  My only real misgivings are about how the cowl has been split into two pieces now. I liked the turban-style mask from the original sets, as well as the armoured masks that were introduced later on. The new ones look pretty good if you can align them properly, but I don’t feel they stand up to play quite as well.  

Nonetheless, this is a nice back-to-basics set. It’s well-priced and can be enjoyed entirely separately from its larger franchise. My main disappointment is that it doesn’t include a traditional black-clad Ninja, but this seems like a relatively small gripe. 

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The 90s Poster Rack -- Part 1

The arrival of 90s nostalgia has been interesting for me. I had a great time as a kid, but a lot of the major cultural touchstones have left me a little cold in hindsight. I mean, I hate Titanic. If I never heard My Heart Will Go On again, it would be way too soon.  

But something I do remember fondly is the posters. Many of them were not particularly good, as you'll see below. But back then you could walk into just about any store on earth – no matter what else they sold – and there would be a display rack of posters available for sale. Reasonably priced and presumably borderline bootleg, they enjoyed incredible ubiquity while offering no discernible for why this should be so. Were lots of companies just getting good deals on printing at the time? It’s a true Unsolved Mystery.
In this feature – the first part of several – let’s take a look at some of the most common items you might see on one of these 90s poster racks.

“Trippy” posters

Remember Magic Eye? Well, how about if it used even more terrible CGI and espoused the virtues of marijuana, LSD or mushrooms? Yeah. Pretty ugly.

I guess maybe this was part of that 60s revival that happened in the 90s. If you look at the first couple of series of POGs or Glo Caps, you see very similar imagery there, too. It was weird for a suburban kid, so I guess it was one way of marking yourself out as different.

“Hilarious” Posters

Hahaha, look at how witty I am for having this poster on my wall. Mildly amusing at first glance and less funny with each successive look, these were an essential addition to any teen’s bedroom. Often found in sharehouses to this day.

Movie Posters

In contrast to the broad range of posters in other categories, movie posters were only available in two varieties – Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting.  

New Age Posters

In the 90s, New Age ideas were a lot more prevalent. The reasons for this are complex and multi-layered, but you really can’t discount the influence of The X-Files. Fuelling a whole cottage industry of weird shit in its wake, posters like this were just the tip of the merchandising iceberg. Often overlapping with the aforementioned trippy posters, these could sometimes engulf up to half a poster rack.

Arty Posters

Showcase how creative you are with ART™ on your wall. Choose from Giger, Escher or Dali. For maximum effect, get all three.

Did you/do you have any of these on your walls? Shout out in the comments below. More to come in part 2!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

POP! 8-Bit: Freddy Krueger (NES)

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the NES version of Jason. Although I didn’t originally intend to, once I had Jason on the shelf it was only a matter of time until I picked up Freddy as well.

Unlike Jason, Freddy’s sculpt is more or less consistent with the game. This isn’t so surprising, as Freddy’s look hasn’t varied as much from film to film. However, he does share the same idiosyncratic colouring; rather than his traditional red and green striped sweater, he’s depicted with yellow and orange colouring. I’m not really clear on why they went for these colours when developing it, but such were the mysteries of 1980s programming and art directors.

As with Jason, the release of this figure is likely due to NECA. Following on from their 2013 Jason convention exclusive, they released a matching Freddy. It doesn’t seem to have taken off in the same way as Jason did, but it still makes for an easy colour variant. 

The two of them look great together – though I must note that Freddy's fedora makes him appear significantly taller than Jason. This would ordinarily be a big no-no, but such is the nature of the format. And since I plan to keep these guys in-box, it's not so noticeable. 

Funko’s commitment to horror since they started the POP line has been quite admirable. I sometimes wish there weren’t such big gaps between releases – but the fact that they’re still pumping out so many unusual things after so many years continues to impress me. Much like Jason, this is a niche but entertaining figure. Given the rapidness with which these figures were released, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually see an 8-Bit Leatherface or Michael Myers, based on their appearances in their respective video games.