Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Lego Ideas Exo Suit

Set: 21109
Pieces: 321
Release Year: 2014
Build Time: 1 hr

THE BACKGROUND

I never had a lot of Space Lego as a kid in comparison to say, Pirates, but I always really liked and admired it. The classic Spaceman is a great, simple design – a great example of less being more in design. They still pop, even in comparison to the incredibly detailed paint apps we get these days. But they actually don’t make many sets that feature these guys anymore. We got a couple of different variations of Benny the Spaceman as part of the Lego Movie theme, but he’s a variation on a theme, rather than being a “true” Spaceman. But then came the subject of today’s review – THE EXO-SUIT!
The Exo-Suit is one of the Ideas sets, which are drawn from user-submitted concepts. These have covered some pretty broad topics, primarily covering licensed sets (Ghostbusters Ecto-1, Dr Who) and Creator-style models (Mars Rover, the Birds). But the Exo-Suit is one that looks like it could fit in with numerous pre-existing Space themes.

MINIFIGURES

This set comes with two minifigures, both in the classic Space style – one guy, one girl. Unusually, both of them have names – Yve and Pete, who are apparently boyfriend and girlfriend. But even more importantly, they’ve been released in green for the first time! Green is my favourite colour, so it’s fantastic to see Lego combine my love of space, green and building toys in one convenient form. Hopefully they eventually release more of these guys in the future via less difficult-to-acquire means, but it’s been almost two years since release and there’s no sign yet.  

THE BUILD

I have a couple of close friends who are keen Lego builders – one of them picked this set a couple of months before me, and he had spoken about how amazing it was seeing all the little pieces turn into something so large and intricate. He was right, too. When you first open the box, it’s just a mass of grey pieces, and finding the piece you need at any given time is quite a pain. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a build, but seeing the finished product is extremely satisfying.  

The main downside is that as the suit is made up of about 9483209 different small pieces – and doesn’t really incorporate any larger ones to make up the underlying skeleton, it’s quite fragile. Drop this bad boy and you may be looking at a total rebuild. Even moving it from the lounge room to the spare bedroom was a daunting task; it’s really more of a display piece, as opposed to a toy. This is fine for me, but I can only imagine the frustration this set has caused some parents when they have to help their kids rebuild the whole thing… 

Additionally, the set includes a space “turtle” which is a fun little robot companion for the Spacemen. There's also two yellow barrels, which can be held in the hands of the exo-suit. Neither are groundbreaking in and of themselves, but they are nice little extras that the value of the set as a whole.

AVAILABILITY

Good luck finding a brand new one now – my wife’s sister lives in London so she was kind enough to pick it up for me just before she came to visit us early in 2015. You’ll probably be looking at the secondary market these days. I have never seen it in the wild in Australia.

OVERALL

The Exo-Suit was an excellent use of the Ideas product line. While most of the sets released under that theme have been pretty great, this one grabbed me by the throat and insisted that I purchase it. My main disappointment has nothing to do with the build; it’s that Ideas sets tend to be a real pain to get hold of. Some of them have seen release in Australia through Toys R Us, but not all. As mentioned above, I never saw this set in person in Australia; the only reason I was able to get it was because my sister-in-law was able to pick it up for me in the UK.

Additionally, being released under the Ideas banner means that the price is disproportionately expensive for the piece count. If this was a regular set we’d probably be looking at $40-50; I ended up paying about $60AUD after the conversion rate was factored in. This would have otherwise been a great set for army building, but it’s just too tricky to get hold of. But I definitely rate it – it’s a must-own piece for classic Space fans and great-looking as a standalone kid. If you can find it at the right price, go for it!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Lego Dimensions: Aquaman Fun Pack (71237)

Aquaman is a huge joke in the comics world; many of you are probably already rolling your eyes and scoffing at the prospect of me even mentioning Aquaman on the website as you start to read this article. He’s had an image problem for years, and DC knows it too – when they relaunched the Justice League back in 2011, they were sure to include a scene that made his powers look spectacular even in comparison to his super-powered companions. And to be fair, it did look pretty cool. It's like a weird 90s throwback to the era of EDGINESS, but not in a bad way. 

Pic from here
You'll also notice that Jason Momoa's portrayal of the character in the about-to-be-released Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice looks more than a little different to the likeness of the minifigure we are looking at today. DC and Warner Brothers obviously want to distance themselves from the Robot Chicken-esque image of Aquaman that is permeating popular culture.  

So why even pick this Lego set up? Well, I've had as many laughs as anyone else at Aquaman, but just like the above picture demonstrates, he can be pretty awesome from time to time. Also, I plan to eventually have a complete Justice League (or some variant thereof) and any Justice League worth its salt includes Aquaman. 

The minifigure looks to be identical to the release of the figure that was in included in the last two sets he was in, late last year and back in 2013. He's got the Bieber-style hair, scale-mail print on his chest and a plain green pair of pants. He's also got two faces -- one neutral, and one angry. I prefer the more neutral one myself, but your mileage may vary. He's also armed with his signature gold trident -- it's identical to the ones featured in the Atlantis sets from a few years ago.   

As with Chell in the Portal pack, the instructions only cover how to build the minifigure (which you probably could have figured out yourself). So you’ll either need a copy of the game or to visit the website for further information on how to build his vehicle. At time of writing, I can’t find a pdf version, but here’s the video that I used to build the Aqua Watercraft. The other two modes should be pretty easy to find too.

The included vehicle/s is pretty underwhelming. This might befit the Aquaman’s borderline joke status. The Aqua Watercraft is not too bad; it kind of looks like it could have been a vehicle in the 1980s Super Powers action figure range. But it's not in the same league as some of the other microbuilds we've seen in this range, such as Wonder Woman's Invisible Plane or Benny's Spaceship. The other two are just kind of blah -- though they may be of value in the game itself. And the green and orange colour scheme is unusual for Lego, so the pieces may also be of use to those interested in MOCing. 

Aquaman retails for $24.95, but you can theoretically find him for $20 at a few stores. I’ve only seen him in person once so far – and bought him straight away –  but I’m sure we’ll see more copies pop up over the next few weeks. If you're like me and don't actually own the game, the cheaper option is definitely the better one.  


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Lego Creator – Lakeside Lodge (31048)



Year: 2016
Theme: Creator
Pieces: 368
Price: AUD $35-39

Lego has been having a bit of a “back to nature” subtheme with some of its Creator sets. Last year we got the Mountain Hut (ideal for weekend adventurers) and now we have the Lakeside Lodge, a place for a more subdued getaway.

Like most Creator kits, there are 3 different ways to build this set. Once upon a time this was fairly standard for Lego sets – generally there would be pics on the back of the box of alt modes, but no instructions would be included. It was then up to you to try and figure out how to build them. It was great fun, and it’s a bit of a shame that Lego seems to have ditched the idea outside of the Creative sets. But enough complaining – onto the review. In the next few weeks, I'll do my best to review the other two modes as well.   

The primary mode is probably the best in objective terms, depicting the titular Lakeside Lodge. But today we’re going to look at the second mode. It’s still a cabin – albeit a smaller one – but the roof is now flat to allow for a telescope! 

As with the other two modes, the house splits open on a hinge, allowing you to access the interior. There’s not much inside, just a small corner table with a coffee cup and a letter sitting on it. Simple, but add a laptop and you’ve got an ideal spot for a writer’s retreat. As someone who already writes for a living and has aspirations of becoming an author, the idea of a Lakeside Lodge to get away and devote myself to my craft (imagine me saying this with pretentious hand gestures while wearing a beret). But having that kind of money is a probably long way off, so I’ll just do it vicariously through this Lego set for the time being.     

The included minifigure doesn’t get a name, but he’s a presumably late 20s/early 30s guy. Dressed in a flannel shirt, tan pants and with a dimpled chin, he’s a nice generic City guy on his weekend away. He’s got the Bieber style of hairpiece, but it’s been cast in black this time. It would also work as an emo sort of hairpiece, if you’re looking at creating customs too.

So, what’s the verdict? I don’t generally collect Creator or City stuff, but every now and a set will jump out and grab me – and this is one of them. Truth be told, the telescope on the roof is a little detail that sold me on the set as a whole. I loved astronomy as a kid, and every now and then toy with idea of buying a telescope for the balcony to do a bit of stargazing. It hasn’t happened yet, but you never know; maybe next time Aldi has a sale on them. It's a great little touch that, for me, took a set that was already pretty cool to the next level. Money well spent!





Tuesday, 8 March 2016

POP! Movies – Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter

Company: Funko
Series: POP! Movies
Year: 2013

Silence of the Lambs is an incredible film, and one that has been rightly influential in the 25 years since it’s been released. Jodie Foster as lead character Clarice Starling put in the great performance, and I think it would probably still be a much-admired film had she been the sole drawcard – but what pushed it into truly iconic territory was Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.

This POP depicts Hannibal in his most iconic garb – straitjacket, face mask and propped up on a gurney. This scene is great, as it’s a really good insight into just how horrific Hannibal really is. We already know that he’s an evil man, having heard about his murders and assaults previously, and seen his emotional manipulation of Clarice, but the way he behaves towards the Senator is on a whole different level of cruelty.

The sculpting is a nice, stylised version of his appearance in the film. All the core details are there – mask, gurney, orange jumpsuit. He’s been sculpted with a fuller head of hair than Anthony Hopkins had at the time, but one must allow for some creative license. The restraints on the gurney are cast of hard plastic, rather than being soft rubber, and they’re glued in place. You could probably pry them off, but you would probably damage either the figure or the gurney in the process.  

In the past, Anthony Hopkins has apparently been very reluctant to license his in-character likeness for an item he perceived as a “toy”. Adult collectors know that a Hannibal Lecter toy is not going to be marketed to children, but I can appreciate where his reasoning was coming from – you only need to look at the ridiculous controversy around Toys R Us and Breaking Bad to see how that sort of thing can blow up in people’s faces (even worse than Gus’ did). At any rate, this isn’t a major drama for Funko, as their stylised look means that they don’t need to actually secure likeness rights. But he must have come to the table in some form, as the box depicts his photo on the back, complete with Silence of the Lambs’ signature death’s-head hawkmoth over the mouth.  
It’s a shame that there was no POP of Clarice Starling made – her look wasn’t quite as iconic as Dr Lecter’s here, but given that she was the main character, it’s disappointing. But as this POP was first released in 2013, it seems unlikely that he is going to get a shelf companion anytime soon. Still, Hannibal is a fun, if macabre, addition to the shelves of just about any Funko collector. You don’t need to be a full-blown horror fan to appreciate the character in the same way you do for say, Jason or Michael Myers.



Friday, 4 March 2016

POP! Movies: Army of Darkness – Ash

Year: 2014

Company: Funko


Theme: POP! Movies, Army of Darkness 

In 2016, Ash Williams doesn’t need a lot of introduction to horror fans. As the primary character of the Evil Dead trilogy, (SPOILER ALERT) guest star in the 2013 Evil Dead remake and most recently appearing in the Ash vs Evil Dead online series, he’s been a horror icon ever since his debut in the 1980s.

This POP has actually been out for a while now, but I’ve spent my sweet time waiting to pick him up. I haven’t watched a lot of horror in recent years, so I wasn’t sure I wanted him. Even more so, a good friend of mine is kind of THE Evil Dead guy in my circle of friends. I love the films – but he LOVES them, and I kind of felt like I’d be infringing on his territory if I picked it up. Some of you will know what I mean; it’s like when you’ve been listening to a band for months or years, then all of a sudden your friend who never really showed must interest in them decides he’s their biggest fan.

But late last year I went to a screening of Evil Dead II on the big screen at George St, and it was just as good as I remembered it. And then he popped up (pun fully intended) in a local Co-Op Bookshop, so I thought it was time to take the plunge. 

This is a great caricature of Ash/Bruce Campbell. The raised eyebrow is perfect, and though it doesn’t quite capture Bruce Campbell’s chin, this is simply the nature of the POP format rather than a flaw per se. As should be expected, he’s armed with his signature chainsaw hand and boomstick (shotgun). His blue shirt is appropriately heroically tattered, though he doesn’t look as bloody or dirty as he gets in the movie. I’m sure keen customisers can fix that, though. But at a glance, there’s no doubt as to who this is – and it’s a really fun rendition!

The figure was released in a kind of transitory period for Funko. While it doesn’t display the intricate detail that has been present on an increasing number of POPs, it’s still a couple of steps removed from the basic body that was primarily utilised in Funko’s early days. It’s a good mid-point from my perspective – incorporating all the necessary details and simplifying them, rather than getting a little too busy and over-detailed.

“Well Tom,” I hear you say, “This review has been pretty positive and all, but what about the paint? In virtually every POP review you’ve ever written, you criticise the paint job.”
And that’s true. But this time I’m not going to go down that rude. There is certainly some room for improvement, but on the whole it’s quite acceptable. Check your one in person first, of course, but it’s none too shabby.

Sadly, there were only two (three if you count the glow in the dark Deadite) POPS released from Army of Darkness – Ash here and a Deadite. There are a few different characters that could have been made into POPs if they’d wanted to expand the line; the Pit Witch, Sheila and Evil Ash all spring to mind, not to mention possible different versions of Ash. The most glaring omission, really, is that there isn’t a version of Ash available with a copy of the dread Necronomicon Ex Mortis. Though perhaps this will change with the success of Ash vs Evil Dead. With all the TV shows that are getting merch from Funko, it’s entirely possible they’ll look at doing some of these characters.    

Ash is still freely available, but isn’t as widely stocked as some of his fellow horror companions like Freddy and Jason – if you see him, I’d grab him. The Deadite has now been discontinued, but can still be had for around retail price if you’re a s-mart shopper. He's not quite as essential -- but Ash is a fine addition to any horror POP collection.