Cotton Reviews Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Boy oh boy, is the first half complete crap! The filmmakers for whatever reason spent way too much time trying to make the TMNT, like, realistically possible? What a huge mistake. All they did in the original, and far superior, movie from 1990 was present the Turtles, give you a very bare minimum back story, and people bought it. Because it didn’t make you think too much.

The first 35-40 minutes of this movie is spent on the filmmakers struggling to give the TMNT a backstory. And, they even go out of their way to point out that the original Turtles as aliens from outer space idea was “stupid”, as if Mutant Turtles makes any more sense. It doesn’t. And having April point out how stupid it is doesn’t help the movie in any way shape or form. This type of self-depreciating humor de-legitimizes the story, even if it is about Mutant Turtles. SEE! They’ve got me thinking too much! Thanks a lot, Michael Bay. Eat shit and die now!

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The whole thing is based on fantasy. Just stick with the original back story. Turtles fall in a sewer, rat feeds them pizza scraps, mutagen falls in sewer drain, mutagen turns Turtles and Rat into humanoid mutant creatures. That learn karate and become ninjas. Ninjas that love pizza. THE-FREAKING-END! The people watching this thing are not uninitiated and they already buy into the Turtles being Mutant Turtles! And, the audience member who was forced to see it by their kids are bored as crap anyways! Stop it! Get over it! Let’s get on with it! And having April name the Turtles as a kid? LAME! Megan Fox, shut up!

As far as the plot goes, it is non-existent. We get some lame, under developed plot about stealing the Turtles blood to create an antidote for a plague the evil ones are going to infect New York City with so they can get rich. Shredder, who is just there to be the bad guy and is not developed or featured in any meaningful way, and the foot clan serve as mercenaries of sorts (I think?) to ensure that the plague gets spread and they get the Turtle’s blood. You know, maybe if they didn’t waste so much precious screen time trying to decide how the Turtles came to be, perhaps more time could be spent on the Turtles and on Shredder?

As far as the Turtles go, they are the bright spot, whenever they are allowed to be on screen. They really feel like side characters in their own damn movie. The new designs were okay. It took me a while to get used to them, but they are not bad. Each character has a bit of personality in their design concepts. I especially enjoyed the treatment they gave Donatello giving him old fashioned thick rimmed glasses. And, Mikey wearing surfer dude necklaces was also nice. Raph was always the best turtle, in my opinion, and he was the best turtle in this one, too. There are some highly cheesy lines, of course, but there were also several laugh out loud moments. It is, again, a damn shame that the Turtles were forced to play second fiddle to Megan Fox’s limited acting abilities. When she screams “Get up!” or “Shredder!” it is cringe worthy.

If I sound overly negative its because Michael Bay and whoever he got to direct this thing tried their damndest to ruin TMNT. I think the underlying reason is because fans of the old series didn’t like his idea to make them aliens. The “inside joke” about aliens being stupid is proof of that. Spending the entire first half trying to come up with some way to tell an origin story and failing was a huge let down. Just stick with the original story. It worked. Either you buy that there are Mutant Ninja Turtles or you don’t.

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Left to right: Splinter and Shredder in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies.

Alas, the film is saved from total humiliation by the second half. The last 45 minutes or so is basically one long, extended, and fun action scene. From escaping the lab where their blood was drawn to a really well done chase down a snowy mountain, the second half of the movie represents what the entire movie should have been: FUN! Because of this second half, which actually features the Turtles in a meaningful way, it saves this film from a D or lower grade.

I give this film a C-. Because once you get past the first half, it is actually a fun movie. In fact, it would be good if you go straight to scene selections on the DVD or Bluray menu and just start from the middle chapter. The first half makes no sense anyway. If you are a fan of the old series, keep your expectations in check.

 

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Cotton Reviews Tomb Raider (Definitive Edition)- PS4

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The team at Crystal Dynamics deserves a ton of credit for the work that they did in the Tomb Raider reboot that originated on last gen’s consoles in 2013. They turned a character in Lara Croft who was once a gimmick with impossible body dimensions that pleased the eyes of the young male gamer intended audience. That’s not me saying that those games were bad. But, come on, Lara Croft herself started off as a gimmick. What the team at CD did, however, was take the character and reimagine her as a true heroine. And, truth be told, an epic badass.

One thing that should be said right from the start is that the “Definitive Edition” on PS4 (and I assume also on Xbox One) is surprisingly a beautiful game. I didn’t play the game on last gen consoles, but I have looked at screen shots and you tube videos, and it is clear that the developers actually put in work to not just update the graphics a little bit and milk the cow some more. This was one of the first PS4 games that I had way back when I first go the new console and I’m surprised at how good it still looks after playing quite a few PS4 games over the past couple of years. (Just FYI, I got the game in 2014 at a time when I was still addicted to FIFA 14 so I never played it 🙂 ). Lara Croft herself as a grand improvement over the last gen edition. Especially her hair. On the Definitive Edition you can see individual strands of hair which was very impressive.

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As far as gameplay goes, it is not perfect, but it still a fun game to play. Anybody who has played the Uncharted games will feel right at home here. This game feels very much like those games. Lara will make death defying jumps, have to solve environmental puzzles, and will have to fend off countless enemies with her bow, handgun, shotgun, assault rifle, or trusty pistol. The controls feel right, are responsive, and they never get in the way of what you’re trying to do like lesser titles.

Combat is pretty generic, pretty much in line with other 3rd person shooters. You take cover, use R2 to bring up your weapon, and L2 to fire. Again, this combat system is lifted straight from Uncharted so fans of that game will feel right at home when the shooting starts.  One thing missing from combat is the inability to hang from a ledge or cliff and draw your weapon. In fact, I believe that Lara can’t blind fire from behind cover or run and gun. R2 always has to be pressed to fire. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you can’t. This is a disappointing aspect of combat, but by no means is it a game breaker. When surrounded by enemies and trying to run to the next cover spot, it would have been helpful to be able to fire while running. As you progress through the game there are several over the top, cinematic style action set pieces which are a joy to watch and a blast to play through.

There are also several quick time events which I loathe. You’re falling down a water fall and have to watch the screen, the full screen, and wait for a button prompt which takes away from the moment. Or some guy is attacking you and you have to press the corresponding button prompt as it appears. I realize that these are done to make what were once non-interactive cutscenes interactive. But, I hate them. Luckily, they are spread out pretty good and there aren’t that many of them.

You can upgrade your weapons RPG style by collecting scrap and finding treasures and raiding the optional tombs. Lara can also learn new fighting skills and other helpful skills by gaining XP and using earned ability points at camp sites. This system, and the presentation of it, reminded me of the Batman Arkham games. Also, there are optional tombs to raid with each an elaborate, but easy to solve puzzle. The result is getting tons of extra scrap to upgrade your equipment.

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The plot of the game is okay, but nothing special. Despite the game being story driven the story itself is pretty generic. This is an origin story, so the main point of the game’s plot is to show how Lara goes from a young and naïve traveler into the badass Tomb Raider we all know her as. The basic plot involves a ship wreck at the beginning with Lara and the crew of the Endurance trapped on a cursed island (ummm…Uncharted…). From there, Lara must dig deep within herself and she will find her courage and resiliency necessary to complete her adventure and get off the island with as many survivors from the ship wreck as possible. Along the way she will learn that a cult of believers worshipping the Sun Queen control the island and are determined to make sure no one leaves.

The only thing that really bothered me about the story was that the first time Lara kills someone, she cries and tells herself that she had to she just had to. You really can tell that this kill bothered her right down to her soul. By the end of the game, she is such a badass and as the player you merciless kill endless hordes of enemies, that it was just a little striking given this cut scene early on. I realize this is a video game, a 3rd person shooter at that, but I don’t know, it just stuck with me. I guess one could just argue that she’s doing what she must to survive. It is really not even a huge deal, but it is there, and worth pointing out.

Overall, I liked this game a great deal. I’m really pumped to go out and play Rise of the Tomb Raider now that it is finally on PS4. It is not the most original game. It feels like Uncharted: Lara Croft Edition at times. However, Uncharted owes a lot to the original games, so it is kind of a wash for me. CD have outdone themselves in creating a new version of Lara Croft that is a true badass heroine. By the end of the game, ripped tank and all, she feels like a female version of John McClane. And, that’s all right by me!

Tomb Raider gets a B. Not the most original game, limited options in combat, and those damned quick time events hurt the grade, but it is still an awesome game that every PS4 owner should play at least once.

 

Cotton Reviews Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir-Dogs_v2.pngIt was interesting going back and watching Reservoir Dogs again. It was Quentin Tarantino’s first Hollywood film and going to back to his roots made for a good watch. I became a fan of Tarantino’s work well after this film from 1992 was released and it had been well over ten years since I watched it the one and only other time I viewed it.

The film stars Harvey Keitel as Mr. White, Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde, the awesome Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, and Tim Roth as Mr. Orange. Their names were given to them by their ring leader so as to hide each other’s identities. They all are involved in a diamond heist gone wrong where Orange is gut shot and bleeding to death. White takes Orange to an abandoned warehouse where the crew was to meet after the heist. As Pink and Blonde make their way to the warehouse, the crew begins to suspect that there was a rat in their crew who tipped off the police given how fast they arrived on the scene.

What follows is a story told in a non-linear, unconventional manner. We learn about the four main players through flashbacks up to the point where Orange gets shot in the belly. We get a flashback of each character, and then back to the warehouse, then another flashback, and so forth. The story being told in this manner really serves the film well. We don’t know exactly who the rat is until about half way through and in the mean time each one is accusing the other.

There are more than enough shocking moments of gratuitous violence that Tarantino is known for, as well as the sharp dialogue, and laugh out loud moments. It is a gripping story filled with tension that all ends in a Mexican standoff that would make any John Woo fan (me) happy. In fact, there are a lot of themes common in Woo’s “heroic bloodshed” style of gangster films present throughout. And, the black and white suits with white ties and black shades is taken straight from Woo’s A Better Tomorrow 2.

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I know a lot of people who will say that Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s best film. Myself, I am partial to Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds. But, this remains a top notch debut from a director and screenwriter who would become one of the most influential directors of his era. It is always fun and exciting to go back to guys like Tarantino’s roots and watch how their humble beginnings turned them into Hollywood kings.

Reservoir Dogs gets an B+

Cotton Reviews Memento (2000)

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Memento is a film that is difficult to review. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, that person will want to go into not knowing anything. Nothing. You will just want to experience it without knowing much about it. Don’t even watch a trailer. However, Memento is one of my all-time favorite movies. An instant classic from the start of the new millennium from my second favorite director of all-time: Christopher Nolan. (John Woo is my all-time favorite, btw).

There are a couple of things which can be said about the plot. Guy Pearce (this is like the 3rd Guy Pearce movie I’ve reviewed already…) stars as Leonard, or Lenny as his buddy Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) refers to him as. Lenny was just an average Joe who worked for an insurance agency investigating insurance claims. After investigating and denying a claim he gets a big promotion and life seems great. Until that one night when two men broke into his house, killed his wife, and then threw his head against the wall causing brain damage. Now, Lenny has short term memory loss. He can’t make new memories. He knows who he is, where he’s from, and remembers everything about his life up until his wife’s murder. Without the ability to live a normal life he has vowed revenge and, by keeping track of people and places through Polaroid pictures, and tattooing vital information to his body, Lenny seeks revenge for his wife’s death and for his condition.

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The plot itself is remarkably simple. However, it is through Christopher Nolan’s screenplay and direction that the movie becomes complex. The brilliance in the film’s execution is that the story is told backwards. The first scene of the film is actually the last scene and vice versa. The opening shot to Memento as the credits flash on the screen is, for me, one of the most brilliant opening shots. Lenny is holding a fresh Polaroid, but scene is played backwards, like an old VHS tape on rewind. So, you have the picture, but as he fans the picture, it fades to white. Genius.

This type of brilliant execution makes the viewer feel like Lenny must feel. We are just taken scene to scene with no idea why Lenny is where is or what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. In short, we are just as lost as he is. Several plot twists come as the movie moves along until the shocking ending…err beginning…And, it is honestly shocking. Not some stupid plot twist thrown into it. The final twist makes complete sense especially after a repeat viewing.

Now, this is one of those movies that a viewer can easily get confused and frustrated with. I still remember my first viewing and, trust me, stick with it. By now we all know what a genius Christopher Nolan is. Stick with it, you will be glad that you did. Once you get used to the execution it stops being confusing and frustrating and you feel the sense of panic and helplessness as the protagonist. Plus, if you quit watching, you don’t get to see what happens right before the credits roll. And, you’ll immediately want to watch the film again to see what clues you missed. I can only imagine how many people when this film was in theatres went to a 4:00 show and then turned right back to the box office and to get a ticket for the 6:45 show!

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For me, this movie is just as much about the human condition as it is about Lenny’s mental condition. We are all trying to find our own meaning to our lives. We all must have a purpose for living or else what’s it all for if for nothing? Some of us lie to ourselves while others just remember what we want to remember. When the truth isn’t good enough, or it interferes with our purpose or worldview, we simply ignore that truth or make up our own truth. There is a brilliance in this film that goes beyond just the simple plot and clever execution. This is a film about humanity as much as anything else.

Memento gets an A+

Cotton Reviews The Man from Nowhere (2010)

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My favorite director of all-time is none other than John Woo. So, yeah, I am a sucker for a good Asian action film. I randomly stumbled across The Man from Nowhere while browsing through Netflix and I am glad that I did! What an unbelievably good film from South Korea.

The Man from Nowhere stars Bin Won as a mysterious loner, Cha Tae-sik. He is befriended by his neighbor’s daughter, an adorable and equally lonely little girl So-mi (Sae-ron Kim). So-mi’s mother is a stripper who is inattentive to her daughter leaving her to wander off and get into mischief. While Cha begins to grow a connection to the little girl, who secretly paints a butterfly design on one of his nails while he’s asleep, her mother gets into trouble with some drug traffickers and they are kidnapped.

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Why only a dollar, Mister?

Cha is then promised that if he does one drug delivery for the drug runners the mother and daughter will be set free. He agrees to the exchange. Unknown he becomes part of a larger plot to eliminate a rival drug trafficker. Cha flees the scene in a stolen car and in the trunk he finds So-mi’s mother…and all of her organs are missing. Not only is he dealing with drug traffickers but also organ traffickers. Cha is arrested, but he soon escapes, and then goes out on a vigilante one man war against the traffickers to save little S0-mi before she is killed.

One of the things that the film does so well is that the filmmakers take the time in the beginning to establish the two man characters, Cha and So-mi. There’s a scene early on where So-mi confides in Cha that there is nobody she likes and that it hurts her “here” as she points to her chest. You are immediately hit on an emotional level that so many action films lack. It immediately reminded me of Man on Fire which I had just re-watched a little over a week prior to seeing this.

The filmmakers also leave us in the dark about Cha’s past. We slowly grow to learn who he is, that he has a “particular set of skills”, and something traumatic happened to him in the past which led him down the path of a loner. As we grow to care for this character, the action sequences, which are expertly choreographed and shot, have more depth and meaning because we care about Cha. The film does devolve towards the end to a standard blood and guts revenge film, but the buildup is key, because there is actual substance and depth the action scenes have more immediacy.

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You only live for tomorrow. The ones who live for tomorrow always get (destroyed) by those who live for today…I only live for today.

To say that The Man from Nowhere isn’t the most original plot is an understatement. Right from the get go we are reminded of Man on Fire and perhaps Leon: The Professional. Hell, there are even elements of Taken and Cha becomes the Korean version of Jason Bourne without the memory loss. However, what the filmmakers did with this movie is use all of those familiar elements and cook up an emotionally fueled action epic that is different from a lot of the crap coming from Hollywood these days.

Overall, I give The Man from Nowhere a B+. There are no real complaints about it only that it lacks somewhat in originality and the last thirty minutes it becomes a gore fest. The action is solid, with some outstanding hand to hand, knife fight, and gun fight choreography. Through it all, it is the attention to the film’s characters that drives this movie over the heap of steaming crap of the modern Hollywood sequel fest. If you have Netflix, you have no excuse to miss out on it, unless you can’t handle reading subtitles. Personally, I bought the Bluray as soon as the final credits scrolled up my big screen. Highly recommended.

 

Cotton Reviews L.A. Confidential (1997)

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Nothing is what it appears. Appearances are deceptive. Because perception is power. And those that control public perception are the most powerful men and women in America. That is the main theme of L.A. Confidential the film that should have beaten Titanic for Best Picture at 1998’s Oscars.

This theme of power and perception is evidenced from the first frames as tabloid writer Sid (Danny de Vito) talks about the City of Angles as if he’s narrating an infomercial. We are shown pictures of the good life, where you can become a movie star or at least meet a few, and every working man can own his own piece of land for his family because the land is cheap. Through the snickers we get the sense that we are going to learn the true story of L.A. Perception is going to meet reality.

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To show us, the story follows the dealings of three detectives: Edmund Exley (the awesome Guy Pearce), Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and Bud White (Russell Crowe). Exley is a by the books detective, Vincennes is a sleazy one who sells stories to tabloids and is a consultant for the TV show Badge of Honor (where all cops are good, all criminals are bad, and justice is always served), and Bud White serves as muscle literally beating confessions out of punk crooks and wife beaters. Together these three men’s stories will collide as they try to solve the mass murder at a coffee shop called the Nite Owl.

This film’s main strength, and what makes it a damn good movie, is that it has a clear theme and razor sharp focus. There are no wasted scenes or lines of dialogue. Everything about this film serves the purpose of it’s theme. For example, Exley is constantly taunted by other detectives about wearing glasses because real detectives don’t wear them, yet he refuses to take them off. However, when he is photographed by the papers, he takes them off, and tries to look as tough as possible. As the film goes along, we learn that powerful men will kill, kill, and kill to keep their reputations and their darkest desires a closely guarded secret. In fact, everything about the film is not what it appears, and when the final revelations start to come out, one can look back and see how they were fooled.

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My only complaint is that towards the end, the film just feels rushed. This is one of those movies that could have benefitted from being longer. Maybe an extra 45 minutes. After an outstanding build up the thing just kind of ends. A spectacular and unexpected gun fight that is well shot and thrilling does sort of make up for this.

This is a minor complaint given everything that L.A. Confidential does right. While it is not a perfect film, it does get an A+ rating from me. The first A+ on my blog! See it. See it now. If you haven’t, you are in for a treat, if you have already seen it, then see it again and enjoy the ride one more time. It has been years, nearly a decade, in between viewings and I was just as on the edge of my seat as the first viewing.

Cotton Reviews Man on Fire (2004)

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Man on Fire starring Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy is one of the more underrated films in the talented actor’s filmography. I would even go so far as to rank it right up there with his Oscar winning performance in the extremely entertaining Training Day. Washington plays Creasy to perfection: at the beginning as the suicidal drunk loner uninterested with having any human contact with other human beings, then to a tender hearted body guard who grows to love Lupita (Dakota Fanning), and then to a raging man on fire who will do anything to get vengeance for little Lupita Ramos.

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I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to kill ’em. Anybody involved. Anybody who profited from it. Anybody who opens their eyes at me.

The film is definitely a slow burn. The first fifty minutes or so are dedicated to Creasy finding redemption and something to live for by detailing his bond with Lupita Ramos. (Despite being bi-racial with a Mexican father and White American mother, she is played by pasty white Dakota Fanning…go figure). One goes into this type of film expecting certain things. This is a Denzel Washington actioner and thirty-five minutes into it your heart is touched as Pita accuses Creasy (her sad Creasy bear) of smiling. So many action movies and revenge flicks spend mere minutes on these types of contrived relationships so they can get the killing in, but the late Tony Scott shows patience and confidence in his film and takes his time. Their bond isn’t rushed and it feels more natural than it otherwise could have been.

Once Pita is finally kidnapped, the Ramos family sets up a ransom payment, but the ransom is ripped off and “The Voice” (the antagonist in this film) claims that he will kill Pita in retaliation. The tone then shifts completely. When Creasy tells Pita’s mother “I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to kill ’em.” the time that was spent in the first half of the film pays off as there is now an emotional justification for what is about to happen. The second half of the film pulls no punches. Creasy will kill anyone, will cut off fingers (and stop the bleeding with a car lighter, holy…) and blow off other limbs, and will shoot anyone who gets in his way, who profited from the kidnapping, or if he feels like he’s not getting factual information. It is not for the faint of heart and, again, if not for the fact that they spent the entire first half of this film building the attachment between Pita and Creasy, it would just be another film with gratuitous violence and mindless action. No matter what Creasy does to these thugs and killers it all feels justified because you have that emotional connection. There comes a point, at least for me, where I almost felt guilty watching some of the things he does when I first saw it. And every time I felt guilty a well timed flashback reminds me why he’s doing this and its all good again. The ending is anticlimactic, given the build up, but I thought it served as the perfect way to end the story.

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Creasy’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.

One of the aspects that sets this baby apart from other films on top of the surprisingly emotional moments is the over the top cinematography and the over the top subtitles. Instead of boring subtitles that simply tell you what the characters are saying in Spanish, these subtitles put an emphasis on the words. For added flair, the filmmakers even throw in subtitles and still frames when Creasy is speaking English. Good stuff.

Man on Fire is an underrated revenge epic and one of Denzel Washington’s very best performances in his long history of them. From the emotional connections in the story, to the outstanding cinematography, the emotional soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams (with a little hard hitting Nine Inch Nails for some of the more intense scenes), and the exciting action this is one that you don’t want to miss.

Overall, this film gets a B+ with the only thing knocking down the score are some of the more relentless parts in the second half. It is a story that is as much about love and self-sacrifice as it is about greed and bloody vengeance.